The GVP Community Had A Big Night At The National Cathedral And They’ll Have More.

Yesterday I had the great honor and pleasure to attend the United To Stop Gun Violence event at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  I joined hundreds of others for a program of remarks, tributes, musical moments and videos, all focusing on the issue of gun violence and what needs to be done to stop it now.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sit within the lofty and majestic naves of the Cathedral and not feel inspired by what you see and hear.  But I can tell you in this case that we could have been sitting around a campfire in Rock Creek Park and the feelings of strength, dedication and sense of purpose would have been the same.

cathedral2                The program was the handiwork of the Cathedral’s Gun Violence Prevention Group who were described as a “band of determined advocates” in the program that we all received.  Let me tell you something right off the bat.  This bunch isn‘t just determined; they are determined to succeed.  The first thing that impressed me more than anything else about the evening was the shared commitment to solving this problem no matter how long it takes.

The second thing that impressed me was the diversity of the crowd, both on the stage and in the audience watching the event.  Every major religion was represented, there were no racial ‘minorities’ because, if anything, people of color seemed to be everywhere I looked, as well as speaking and performing on the stage.  And as opposed to NRA get-togethers or gun shows where the guys far and away outnumber the gals, at last night’s event clearly the women had the upper hand.

Finally, what impressed me most of all was the number of organizations and groups who displayed literature, sign-up sheets, fresh fruit and (thank goodness) Snickers to slake the hunger and thirst of itinerant travelers like me.  The whole point of the evening was to create a venue in which as many organizations as possible could introduce themselves to a wider audience, engage folks to get more involved, and build an even greater sense of purpose in the gun violence prevention community as a whole.  I spent time chatting with a number of the organizational staff and I figured out that these groups probably represented at least 100,000 activists, if not more.

Now 100,000 may sound like a paltry number when compared to the millions which the NRA claims to represent, but the issue isn’t numbers, it’s energy and commitment, which is what will ultimately prove out.  The fact that the NRA claims to have 4 million members basically means that 3-4% of the nation’s gun owners give the NRA thirty bucks a year to get a monthly magazine (which happens to be a very good publication) and a decal for their car.  They can also buy some low-cost gun insurance, get discounts at some motels, the standard fare offered by any membership organization, whether it’s the NRA or the AARP.

I’m not questioning the fact that some NRA supporters are always willing to stand up, shout out, do whatever they can do to ‘protect’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  But while the NRA makes its members feel they share a common bond, namely, the ownership of guns, I don’t suspect they draw many people into the pro-gun fold unless they own guns. And here is where the GVP community, if it continues to forge ahead, has a potential for strength that the NRA simply can’t match.  Because when all is said and done, more and more Americans just don’t believe in guns.

I was convinced that the push to strengthen gun laws would run for about a year after the massacre at Sandy Hook.  The gun-control clamor didn’t even last that long after Gabby was shot. But I didn’t get the feeling that the people who were present at the Cathedral last night are going to fade away.  If anything, I suspect that GVP as a defining issue in the public dialog is here to stay.

 

 

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Just Because People Are Upset About Charleston, It Doesn’t Mean That They’ll Give Up Their Guns.

It’s now 5 days since the Charleston shooting at Emanuel AME, and the NRA still hasn’t uttered a single, public peep.  It’s  a tough one for them, in some ways tougher than Sandy Hook, because the debate about how and why Dylann Roof drove down to Charleston from Columbia has now morphed into a discussion about racism and hate, with the issue of public displays of the Confederate flag not far behind.  Which means that America’s “oldest civil rights movement,” as the NRA likes to call itself, has an interesting balancing-act to figure out.  The bottom line is that the NRA isn’t going to say something that might make it difficult for any of the Republican presidential hopefuls to experience any difficulties appealing to the pro-gun vote.  At the same time, the not-surprising calls for more concealed-carry from John Lott and other armed-citizen fantasists have not grabbed much media space from what has been an overwhelming outpouring of concern in response to this tragic event.

The problem, of course, is that the moment an event like the Charleston shooting occurs and gun-control activists start beating the drums for more laws that will keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ gun owners begin to feel that they are being attacked.  Why should the average, law-abiding citizen who happens to like or own guns have to jump through yet more legal hoops just because some crazy kid with a white-supremacist fixation got his hands on a Glock 21? And it turns out that he bought the gun legally, even passed a background check, which only goes to show that passing more gun-control laws won’t prevent the next crazy person from shooting up a church, right?

             Glock 21

Glock 21

Sometimes I think that the whole pro-gun, anti-gun argument is misplaced, particularly when an emotion-driven event like the shooting in Charleston takes place.  Unfortunately, the only time we do think about the place of guns in American society is when someone uses a gun in a terribly-destructive way.  But for many people who own guns, events like the Charleston shooting have nothing to do with them.  In fact, such events, as terrible as they are, only serve to provoke more interest in buying and using guns, not the other way around.

The day after the shooting, the Charleston Post & Courier newspaper ran a headline which read: “Church attack kills 9.”  The Courier happens to be the oldest daily newspaper in the South, and this year won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of domestic violence, so we’re not here talking about a weekly shopper or some other kind of journalistic rag.  But the same day that the paper’s headline was all about the church attack, the headline was actually somewhat obscured by a stick ‘em ad announcing a thirty- dollar “Ladies Night” at a local gun shop and range, the cost covering gun rental, a free t-shirt, 50 rounds of ammo and let’s not forget the requisite safety gear to protect eyes and ears.

When someone finally caught up with the Courier’s editor, he issued the usual half-assed disclaimer about how the paper “regretted” the coincidence and blah, blah, blah.  But it turns out that another newspaper, the Florida Times Union, ran exactly the same kind of ad on the front page along with a headline about the previous day’s shooting on a Jacksonville school bus which left two kids only wounded, at least nobody was dead.  Of course the Times Union immediately issued a statement about the “incredibly regrettable coincidence.”  They issued a statement.

The day after Gabby Giffords was shot in a Tucson mall parking lot, sales of Glock 19 pistols, the gun used by her assailant Jared Loughner, went sky high.  Over the next week or so, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Glock 21 sales go the same way. It’s Marketing 101 to take advantage of what’s uppermost in the public’s mind, and I’m not being cynical or sarcastic by making the connection between advertising that promotes gun sales and headlines that proclaim yet another horrific shooting event.

Mayor Bloomberg Wants To Indoctrinate The Media But He Can’t Fool The NRA.

In mid-January the NRA warned its members about an insidious effort by Enemy Numero Uno (Mike Bloomberg) to make yet another attempt to rob Americans of their Constitutional right to gun ownership by sponsoring what they call an “anti-gun indoctrination camp” to teach gullible reporters and other media folks how to research and write about guns.  What Bloomberg’s really trying to do is foist his own ‘discredited’ research on attendees at this conference in yet another effort to distort and cover up the real (i.e., positive) truth about guns.

bloom                What’s really interesting about this two-day workshop to be held in Phoenix this coming May is the degree to which attendees will actually hear from both sides in the gun debate, a significant and I believe first-time coming together of scholars and influencers whose views run the spectrum of how advocates on both sides defend their views on guns.  On the one hand, speaking for what is now known as the gun-sense crowd, we have Garen Wintemute, an ER physician out of California, who has been a thorn in the side of the gun industry since he published studies on the manufacture of small, cheap handguns whose only real use was to arm people who wanted to commit crimes.  At the other end of the spectrum, showing up to push the “guns are good” message, will be Sarah Cupp, whose attacks on Bloomberg and other gun-control ‘threats’ gets her airtime on the usual pro-gun outlets like Fox and the Blaze, as well as crossing over to the other side with appearances on MSNBC.

Standing in the middle will be an economist by training but a gun researcher by vocation named Philip Cook, who has been conducting important and valid research on the social utility of guns for more than forty years.  In general, Cook’s work has focused on the economic costs of gun violence and his conclusions in these studies, as well as other work on gun violence, leaves no doubt as to where he stands; i.e., he’s no friend of the folks who claim that Americans need to own more guns.  But this past year Cook and his colleague, Kristin Goss, published a balanced and reasoned summary of the gun debate, and while they didn’t attempt to hide their own concerns about the proliferation of guns in American society, they also found good reasons why many Americans don’t want to give up their guns.

The fact that the NRA should attempt to malign a public conference whose speaker’s list contains one of their most ardent supporters shows you how unwilling or unable they have become when it comes to listening to any voice other than their own.  But a quick look at some of the information that has lately appeared on their own website makes me think that perhaps the NRA  research and editorial staff might benefit from attending a conference where they might learn how to understand and explain facts.

I am referring to a story that just appeared on the NRA-ILA website attacking Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by Gabby Giffords, for what the NRA says is a ‘bogus’ claim that the number of people who die from gunshots each year equals the number of people killed in accidents involving cars. The story is bogus, according to the NRA, because the number of people who die from shootings that are ruled as accidents are a tiny fraction of the number of dead people pulled from vehicular wrecks.  But of course that’s not the point of the ARS story at all, unless perhaps we should figure out and compare gun deaths to the number of car accidents in which a driver actually tried to kill someone else using his car.

That Bloomberg is asking professional media folks to come together and listen to both sides of the gun debate is a refreshing and important event.  Refreshing because it hasn’t happened previously, important because public policy is only successful when it reflects every valid point of view.  I hope the conference is a great success.

 

Yo Colion – How About A Few Facts?

Now that the second episode of Colion Noir’s new talk show on the NRA Freestyle media network has once again made even the pro-gun bloggers call him out for being about as boring as a rerun of a 1960’s afternoon soap opera, the NRA’s self-professed expert on anything and everything having to do with guns has released a new video in which he gets it all wrong on the issue of gun-free zones.   And just to make sure that he squeezes the maximum number of non-sequiturs and erroneous statements into a three-minute video, Colion doesn’t just talk about gun-free zones, but doubles down on the question of multiple shootings because, according to him, it’s “multiple shooters” who are attracted to victims in places where people aren’t supposed to bring guns.

Noir begins his rant by explaining the mentality of the mass shooter to the rest of us in a tone that leaves no doubt that he really has it all figured out.  Let’s put aside the fact that the official report issued by the Connecticut State Police a year after the Sandy Hook massacre could not find an explanation for Adam Lanza’s rampage, nor has Jared Loughner ever really explained what drove him to shoot Representative Gabby Giffords and nineteen other people in an attack on January 11, 2011. But not to worry because Colion knows that mass shooters are “pathetically non-confrontational” and pick their targets the way sexual predators pick their victims.  A gun-free zone is to a mass shooter, Colion lectures, like a pre-teen chat room is to a sexual predator.  And the answer, of course, is to get rid of gun-free zones and let the “good guys” (that’s Colion, you and me with our concealed-carry permits) go anywhere and be ready to thwart a multiple shooter who otherwise will mow everyone down.

noir                Last year Mike Bloomberg’s group issued a comprehensive study of mass shootings covering 2009 through 2013. Using a combination of law enforcement and media reports, the researchers were able to identify 43 mass shootings, using the FBI’s definition of ‘mass shooting’ as any incident in which at least four persons were killed by someone using a gun.  Of these shootings, 40% arose out of domestic disputes, and at least 6 of the 17 shooters had been named in previous domestic assaults.  In only 10% of the shootings was there evidence of prior contact between the perpetrator and a mental health professional, although friends and relatives of other shooters expressed some awareness that mental health issues might have precipitated the attacks.

Now let’s get down to Colion’s real nitty-gritty, the issue of multiple shootings in gun-free zones.  The report states that, at maximum, one-third of these shootings took place in what might have been considered gun-free zones.  But other than 4 school shootings, the Aurora movie theater and Fort Hood (the report was released before the Navy Yard shooting), it’s not clear that any of the other 37 mass shootings took place in specific gun-free zones, although the researchers probably assumed that the 2 multiple shootings in Chicago and 1 in DC also took place in gun-free zones.  And how many of the 43 multiple shootings ended with a “good guy” pulling out a gun?  None.  In every incident except one, the shooter either shot himself or was arrested by the police.  The bystanders who subdued Jared Loughner after he shot Representative Giffords were unarmed.

I don’t see anything wrong with Colion Noir or anyone else going on YouTube and expressing their opinions about this or that.  But perhaps Colion’s new foray into media entertainment on the NRA Freestyle network would be better received if he would stop trying so hard to enlighten us with his distorted version of the facts.  You’re not just boring your audience, Colion, with a delivery that runs from the un-cool to the bland, you’re also insulting us by pretending that you understand things about guns and shooting that simply are not true.

It’s Time To Figure Out Why Shootings Like Fort Hood Really Occur

Every time there’s a mass shooting we get the usual calls from the pro-gun and anti-gun groups about what we need to do to keep Americans from killing one another.  The pro-gun folks say that everyone should be walking around with a gun, the anti-gun groups say that we need tighter controls.  I don’t notice that either side can produce a shred of evidence to support their position, by the way, but that doesn’t stop them from always repeating their bromides every time a terrible shooting incident takes place.

I have a different view of the situation.  First, shootings like the one that took place at Fort Hood have the potential to be much worse if the shooter was a better shot.  At the end of his rampage Spc. Lopez was confronted by an armed MP whose presence may have made him decide to end his own life before more damage could be done.  But the reason that only three people were killed and 16 were shot but evidently will live is because Lopez wasn’t really such an expert with the Smith & Wesson pistol that he brought onto the base.  The fact is that a 45-caliber weapon is very lethal; the Army should know, it used a 45-caliber pistol as its basic service handgun for more than 60 years.  “One shot, one kill” is the way that soldiers trained with that gun.  The toll at Fort Hood could have been much worse whether everyone was walking around with a gun or not.

hoodWe also learn, however, that by the time Lopez purchased the gun on March 1st, he had already come under medical attention at the base, was being treated for depression and while he was stocking up on a sleeping pill known as Ambien, he was also stocking up on ammunition for his gun.  But according to the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, he gave “no sign” during a recent psychiatric exam that he might become violent.

So everybody’s off the hook.  President Obama and Governor Perry finally find an issue to agree about – they both want to get to “the bottom” of the problem and fix things so it won’t happen again. The Army medics did an exam and couldn’t find anything wrong.  And let’s not forget the poor gun shop owner in Killeen who probably saw his shop invaded and turned upside down by a regiment of ATF agents who were hoping they could come up with something he did wrong.

I’m beginning to wonder whether we have any idea what goes on in the brain of someone who seemingly out of nowhere pulls out a gun and tries to shoot everyone in plain sight.  Connecticut authorities spent a year trying to figure out Adam Lanza and came up with zilch. The Navy Yard shooter liked to play video games – gee, what a telltale symptom that must be. The guy who shot Gabby Giffords still hasn’t authored his best-selling book.  Come to think of it, America’s best-known mass shooter, David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam, is still sitting in an upstate correctional facility telling reporters that people shouldn’t be allowed to walk around with guns.

I suspect that as many as 50% of the people who commit gun violence each year had contact with a medical professional within the last few months before the event.  In the case of suicides, which account for two-thirds of the victims of gun violence each year, the figure is probably closer to 90%. In the case of homicides we know that more than 80% of such killings grow out of ongoing arguments and disputes that, in many cases, landed one or both of the combatants in an ER or other medical facility getting treatment for an injury that will later provoke a response with a gun.

I think it’s time for physicians and other medical professionals to create and use better tools to identify, diagnose and treat patients at risk for the improper use of guns.  There is no law that requires physicians to maintain confidentiality if a patient presents evidence that he is an immediate danger to himself or others, and what could be more immediate than someone exhibiting symptoms of depression or anger who also has access to a gun?  Let’s put aside the endless arguments about the 2nd Amendment and agree that important scientific work in this area still needs to be done.