Is The NRA Ready To Make A Deal on Gun Control?

In the aftermath of the shocking yet exhilarating electoral victory crafted by Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th CD, I have seen numerous comments within the gun violence prevention (GVP) community raising concern about Lamb’s ‘pro-gun’ approach.  That’s understandable, given the fact that his very first television ad contained a snippet showing him blasting away with his beloved AR-15. Which presents something of a dilemma for the GVP crowd going into November, because they have tied themselves to a campaign to ban assault rifles, among other things.

lamb             Actually, Lamb isn’t the first post-Trump Democratic candidate to fashion a campaign around being pro-gun.  Last year a Republican, Greg Gianforte, overcame an assault of a reporter as well as the charge that he was a carpet-bagger to win a special election against Rob Quist, the latter beginning his campaign with a television ad showing him shooting what he claimed was his family’s trusty, ol’ Winchester to prove he was a Montana native through and through.

If I wanted to make a quick buck, I’d go downstairs to my private gun range (that’s right, I can get up from this computer, walk down a flight of stairs and bang away to my heart’s content) and do a couple of shooting videos that could then be sold to the DNC.  And every Democratic candidate running in one of those ‘soft’ red Congressional districts could splice a piece of video into their television ads to prove they are ‘pro-gun.’

Could control of Congress in 2018 depend on which party is better at selling a message about how much they love guns?  Whether or not this turns out to be the case, what I find interesting is how the NRA has suddenly begun to change its messaging in what is obviously an appeal to sell itself beyond its most extreme base. According to Chris Cox, the NRA is ready to engage in a ‘broad discussion’ about the ‘culture of violence’ which exists today. The purpose of this discussion is to “take action to prevent violence and protect 2nd Amendment rights,” including gun-violence restraining orders (GVRO) which the NRA used to oppose.

Even the NRA’s hard-and-fast opposition to expanding background checks all of a sudden appears to have changed.  Before last week, America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ opposed any extension of background checks, anywhere, anytime at all. But last week the narrative changed. Here’s Wayne-o’s latest message to the faithful: “We will oppose any attempt to make people engage in a background check to transfer a gun to a relative, neighbor or friend.” How’s about selling a gun to someone you just met? I didn’t notice that Wayne-o is saying that any and all gun transfers should take place without a NICS check.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that when the 116th Congress begins its 2019 session that the majority switches from red to blue. And let’s further say that a new gun-control is proposed expanding background checks to secondary sales. Right now the bill that has been filed by Senator Murphy (D-CT) basically prohibits the transfer of any gun to anyone without first doing a background check unless the person receiving the gun is a spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling or other relative of the person getting rid of the gun.

Guess what? Figure out how to define ‘friends’ and ’neighbors,’ add them to that list and you’ve got yourself a comprehensive, national background-check bill. But it takes both sides to come up with language which each side can sell to their constituencies as being nothing other than what they have always said.

Until last week the NRA opposed any extension of background checks – no ifs, ands or buts. All of a sudden, the tune has changed. I’m not saying the NRA is morphing into a gun-control organization. But it’s one thing to take a shot at the enemy, it’s quite another to sit down and make a deal. Is either side in the gun debate willing to see something like this actually occur?


A New Gun Law in Florida? Will Wonders Ever Cease?

I was asked to write something ‘happy’ for today so here goes.  The Gunshine State’s Senate has actually passed a gun law which regulates guns. Now you might think this is no big deal because the new law, as written (but not yet approved) puts no new rules on the ownership of black guns (not a racial term, it’s what we call assault rifles in the gun business) but several parts of the law are significant in terms of the potential impact on violence caused by guns.

florida              More important, this is the first time since the last Ice Age that Florida has been in the forefront of what appears to be a national movement to tighten at least some gun restrictions, which is a complete turnaround since this state has always been a laboratory to test laws which will make it easier for everyone to exercise their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Florida was an early state to move from ‘may’ issue of concealed-carry permits to ‘shall’ issue; it was also the first state to pass a ‘stand your ground’ law, and it tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to criminalize doctors who talked to patients about guns.

Not only does Florida lead the nation in developing pro-gun laws, it probably is also the state whose legislators file some of the dumbest and craziest gun laws that simply can’t be true. But they are true.  I’m talking about a bill drafted by State Senator Greg Steube which makes the owner of a public space liable for damages if he declares his property to be a ‘gun free zone,’ and then a customer is shot because he couldn’t respond to an armed threat with his gun.

This law assumes, of course, that if an armed customer was confronted by a threat he would be able to protect himself from getting shot by dint of the fact that he had a gun on his person. Well, since we have a President who pretends to believe the same thing, why should we be surprised when a State Senator in Florida believes the same thing? The good news is that Steube’s bill is still sitting in the statehouse trash somewhere, but the fact that he could even dream up such a stupid idea gives you a hint as to why I am surprised that Florida may actually pass any kind of gun-control measure at all.

The new Florida statute contains language which increases the minimum age for long gun purchases from 18 to 21. It also extends the state’s three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to all guns, bump stocks are banned, and in a compromise, it allows school districts to arm certain individuals who are present in schools but does not authorize arming teachers because Governor Scott made it clear that he would oppose any such move.

Gun-control activists in Florida and elsewhere wanted much more; a ban on assault weapons as a start. But I’m not sure that this bill should be seen by my gun violence prevention (GVP) friends as a loss, and I’ll tell you why.

First and most important, if Florida legislators are willing to split away from the NRA on even the slightest grounds, this makes it easier for office-holders in states that have not been as subservient to America’s first civil-rights organization to do the same thing or more. Second and perhaps equally important is that the debate in Tallahassee on an assault weapons ban was notable for the fact that opponents of the measure didn’t try to convince anyone that an AR-15 was no different from any other ‘modern sporting rifle.’ That cockamamie idea, right out of the gun industry’s playbook, was decidedly left unsaid.

We will surely see more state-level gun debates in the weeks ahead, and I’m willing to bet that in some other reluctant state legislature somebody will stand up and say, “If they could pass a gun-control bill in Florida, why can’t we pass one here?”  That’s a question are which has never been asked before.



Trump Versus The NRA? Not Such A Big Surprise.

Want to watch what may be the most remarkable minute of video ever devoted to gun violence? Try the snippet posted by The New York Times from yesterday’s ‘gun summit’ at the White House, with President Trump (TRUMP? TRUMP?) asking ‘Joe’ and ‘Pat’ whether their bill would include a prohibition against guns being sold to anyone under the age of twenty-one.

prayerNow for those of you who, like me, sometimes suffer from short-term memory loss, Joe and Pat are also known as Manchin and Toomey, whose gun-control bill introduced after Sandy Hook ended up dead on the Senate floor.  And for good measure as Trump’s new-found buddies nodded up and down saying they would add this provision to their bill, Trump adding, “I’d rather have a comprehensive bill that’s harder to pass than a bill that’s easier to pass but does nothing at all.”

Today I’m going to look at Alex Jones who will no doubt be telling me that the entire White House meeting was faked, that it wasn’t the real Dianne Feinstein sitting next to the President and agreeing with everything he said, who even gently smiled when Trump told Steve Scalise, the NRA toady who was shot in the rear end last year, to take his national reciprocity bill and stick it someplace near his wound.

Can you imagine the Breitbart headline, the big one in red, reading: TRUMP THE GUN GRABBER?  No, you can’t. But that’s what came out of yesterday’s sit-down between what was mostly a group of Senators committed to gun control and a President who never stopped reminding the NRA that he was the best friend they ever had. The truth is that with a friend like that, as the old saying goes, the NRA doesn’t need any more enemies. Personally speaking, I never believed that Herr Donald was ever such a great friend of the NRA.

For years Gallup has run a poll asking people to identify the single, most important issue facing the country today.  The last time they ran this poll was in January and the gun issue received the lowest possible score – one percent. Which is more or less the score that guns always receive because other than moments when the media fixates on a particularly nasty shooting, guns simply don’t seem all that important compared to other human affairs.

What gives the NRA its aura of power is that people who are pro-gun activists can usually be counted on to hold conservative positions on most issues – taxes, education, welfare, you know the rest. The NRA is a true membership operation, and take it from someone who has been a member of America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ since 1955, they do a remarkable job when it comes to care and feeding of the folks who fork over $40 bucks a year.

But the fact that NRA stalwarts can be counted on not only to come out in force for a gun issue, but also make themselves heard on other conservative political points is the group’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. Because let’s say that Trump suffered some kind of brain fart and decides that guns have to go. Who will his most devoted followers turn to next? Hillary? Yea, right.

I’m no fan of Schmuck-o Donald, but he and I are both New York guys. And one thing for sure is that guns simply don’t count in New York’s political DNA. On the other hand, if you’re trying to convince the alt-right/white that you’re conservative through and through, what better way than to pretend that anyone who loves the 2nd Amendment is your best friend?

I’m not saying the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement has a new friend. I’m saying that a Republican President may have wriggle room on the gun issue which a Democratic President would never have. And that happens to be a political fact of life that the boys in Fairfax better understand.

Let’s Hear It For Those Parkland Kids.

Yesterday I wrote a column talking about how the post-Parkland gun debate is different from all previous post-shooting debates because of the spontaneous emergence of social media networks driven by high school kids. I’m not saying this is anything other than coincidence, but today’s New York Times is carrying a major article which basically says the same thing. Except that the NYT story goes beyond my basic point, describing in detail about how national gun-control organizations like Everytown have mobilized lobbyists, members and advertising to respond to the usual pro-gun defenses from the other side.

parkland4              Most of what the NYT reportage said about the new-found strength of the gun-control community is correct. But their understanding of what is really driving the dynamics of what they refer to as the ‘anti-gun’ movement misses the larger point. Obviously, having Trump in the White House, as opposed to Obama, creates a fundamental difference when it comes to the public debate about guns. And it certainly is the case that what Trump says today about gun control may be very different from what he’ll say the next day or the next.

Trump’s behavior reminds me of what Sitting Bull once said about Crazy Horse after the massacre of Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876.  Back in 1868, both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse agreed to a treaty which the U.S. Government broke before the ink was dry. Crazy Horse then claimed that he never signed the document, but when asked whether Crazy Horse did sign the treaty Sitting Bull replied, “Of course he signed – Crazy Horse would do anything for a free meal.”

So now we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who will say anything to grab the media spotlight, no matter whether he means it or not. Will Trump really push for increasing the minimum age for purchasing guns? Will he try to get the DOJ to figure out a legal maneuver that would ban bump stocks?  Who knows what’s on his mind, but mind or not, I can tell you this: If Hillary Clinton was the 45th President, she would have gotten on Air Force One and flown down to Florida no later than the day after the shooting, done the requisite hospital visit, then thanked the first responders, photo-ops at every stop. At some point there would have been a tearful, emotional speech and a demand that Congress do what they should have done after Sandy Hook; i.e., pass some kind of legislation to ‘end this horrifying gun violence’ or words to that effect.

Wayne-o Lapierre talked for 37 minutes yesterday at CPAC, a speech which was the ‘official’ response to Parkland by the NRA. He started off with the usual bromides about the ‘terrible tragedy,’ this and that, but then went into a long rant about how the Democratic Party had been taken over by a European-style ‘socialist’ elite, whose headway had been briefly stopped by the election of Trump. The way Wayne-o rambled on and on about this threat, you would have thought that Barack Obama was still in the White House trying to figure out how to push the country further to the Left.

Every time there was a mass shooting since 2008, Gun-nut Nation could and did respond by attacking the guy from Kenya and turning gun control into an issue between ‘us’ – the good guys – versus ‘them.’ Which is exactly how Trump behaved throughout his entire Presidential campaign as well as his tenure in the Oval Office until February 14 when everything changed. And what changed is that, for the very first time, the public debate about a political issue is being defined by the kids. Not by the lobbyists, not by the organizations, not by the media and the editorial boards, but by the kids.

The best thing which has ever happened to the movement to end gun violence is that we no longer have a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thank God for the kids.

Will Trump Lead The Way on Gun Control?

I think the only political event in my lifetime which made a greater impression on me that the assassination of JFK was the announcement in February, 1972 that Nixon was going to China for a meeting with Mao-Tse Tung. After all, I had come of age during the Cold War, and nothing was colder than our relationship or non-relationship with the People’s Republic, a diplomatic freeze which had existed since 1949. And in the intervening 23 years, whenever any public figure even hinted that perhaps it was time for us to rethink a policy that left us unable to communicate with a government that represented one-quarter of the entire population of the globe, it was Nixon who always jumped up screaming ‘Commie, Commie,’ and the idea was quickly shelved.

prayer            Nixon’s entire political career was steeped in anti-Communism.  He was elected to the House in 1946 and quickly established himself as a passionate hunter of Communists hiding under every bed in the government, culminating with his campaign against Alger Hiss. Using the Hiss case to elevate himself to national prominence, he won a Senate seat in 1950 by running a smear campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas whom he called ‘the pink lady.’ When Eisenhower decided to burnish his Presidential campaign with appeals to the anti-Communist right, Nixon was the perfect choice for the ticket in 1952.

When Nixon opened the door to China, it was his unquestioned anti-Communist credentials which allowed him to get away with a political gambit that would have ruined the career of any politician sporting even the mildest of liberal stripes. And if That Schmuck in the White House (TSWH) is actually serious about responding to Parkland with some kind of restrictions on guns, he’ll get away with it because his political base will have no choice but to agree.

Tell you the truth, I always thought that Trump’s fervent embrace of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ was really nothing more than just saying whatever he needed to say to position himself as the opposite of HRC. And I knew this not just because he had been on record as being in favor of the assault weapons ban, but more so because he’s a New York guy and New Yorkers just don’t share the alt-white’s passion for guns. Gun ‘rights’ just aren’t in the political DNA of anyone in New York, in the same way that you would have to dig pretty deep to find anyone in a gun-rich state like South Carolina who would favor any kind of ban on guns.

When the idea of a bump-stock ban was first floated around after Las Vegas, the NRA issued this statement: “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” So, like it or not, TSWH has Gun-nut Nation in his pocket if he wants to move forward with any plan to regulate guns. And his announcement that the Justice Department will figure out a way to ban bump-stocks would reverse a 2014 ATF ruling which declared such accessory items to be legal for sale.

In order to reverse or change the ATF finding, the government would have to redefine the definition of what constitutes a legal firearm; i.e., any firearm which can be owned without going through the tiresome and costly NFA procedure now required for ownership of a full-auto gun. Such a rewrite of the definition of a legal gun would require changes to the federal gun laws passed in 1934 and 1968. But don’t forget that before Nixon met with Mao, it was illegal for American citizens to enter mainland China, a law which was then quickly changed.

From 2009 until 2016 the gun industry called Obama the best salesman they ever had. Is there any chance that the NRA’s best White House buddy could end up as the guy who rolled back gun ‘rights?’ The gun-control movement better not indulge themselves into thinking that it would never take place.


John Lott Meets The New York Times. A Win-Win For Both Sides.

What? The New York Times is carrying an op-ed by John Lott? The John Lott? The John Lott who is the bete noir of the entire gun violence prevention community because he has singlehandedly convinced a majority of Americans that keeping a gun around the house will make them safe? No, not The New York Times. Not the newspaper whose recent op-ed by Gail Collins begged the GVP community to ‘energize’ and not give up.

lott             John has been making arguments about the positive social utility of guns since 1998 when the first edition of More Guns, Less Crime, was published by the University of Chicago Press. I also happen to be a Chicago Press author, so I’m not about to say anything nasty about his book. But I don’t have to worry, because nasty and unkind comments about this book abound.

When John first published More Guns, roughly 35% of all Americans said that guns made their home a safer environment, while 50% said a gun at home made it a more dangerous place. The GVP will tell you that this shift in opinion is due to the power and financial clout of the NRA. And while the boys from Fairfax have certainly done their best to tilt the legislative field their way, the fact is that what the poll numbers indicate is that a lot of Americans have changed their minds about gun risk who don’t happen to own guns. Our friends at Harvard estimate that somewhere under 25% of American adults (most of them men) own guns, and that’s a much smaller percentage than the percentage of people who now say that a gun makes them safe.

There are two reasons why I am pleased to see Lott’s work show up in The New York Times. First, the shift towards guns for self-defense is not just a function of the decline in hunting, nor it can’t just be blamed on the NRA. Something else is going on in the United States which has caused a growth in what scholars like Alan Fiske, Tage Rai and Steven Pinker  call ‘virtuous violence;’ i.e., the use of violence to achieve positive ends. Lott’s research is an attempt to explain why this shift has occurred and needs to be acknowledged from that point of view.

Second, I am not terribly comfortable with using regression analysis to explain human affairs. Finding an ‘association’ between two trend lines is more a kind of statistical alchemy rather than a scientific method to establish causal facts. I agree with Richard Berk who refers to most regression analysis as a good way to describe patterns of data, but description and causal explanations are two, very different things. In that regard, Lott’s reliance on regression analysis doesn’t necessarily persuade me that his argument is true. But none of his critics seem willing to do anything beyond running his data through different statistical models which will always yield different results.

The problem with relying on public health research to explain gun violence is that most of this research usually follows the traditional, epidemiological approach to figuring out risk by defining the victims, figuring out how the risk enters and move through a particular population, and then coming up with protective strategies to protect everyone else. The result is that we know an awful lot about the victims of gun violence, but we know very little about why less than 5% of Americans who commit a serious injury each year, against themselves or someone else, do it by using a gun.

Until and unless the GVP figures out why people commit gun violence, condemning John Lott for offering an answer to that question which they don’t like is a strategy leading nowhere fast. If my GVP friends would examine their own arguments with the same degree of critical vigor that they use with Lott’s work, his appearance in The New York Times will be a positive event for helping to end the violence caused by guns.



Why Do So Many ‘Trafficked’ Guns Wind Up In New York?

Now that everyone has seemed to forget about what happened in Vegas on October 1st, the noise machine is gearing up on both sides about what appears to be the possibility that the national concealed-carry bill will get to the Senate floor for a debate. The law easily floated through the House in December, but any piece of NRA-backed legislation is guaranteed to get out of the lower chamber. The question for Republicans is whether they can not only secure every red Senate vote, but grab a bunch of Democrats from gun-rich states who might be feeling a little vulnerable going into the midterm vote.

trafficking             An interesting media piece about this issue surfaced last week in, of all places, The New York Post.  If there is one newspaper in the United States which has slavishly pumped up Trump, it’s the Fox-owned Post, whose fawning coverage of Trump has been going on for years. But instead of using the gossip space on what is called Page Six, the tabloid usually gives Trump the front-page headline, and goes out of its way to make the headline read as positive as it can.

So here’s a big story about concealed-carry but the headline is a quote from the NYPD Commissioner, Jim O’Neill, describing the national CCW as ‘insanity’ and “a disaster for major cities around the country.” The Manhattan DA, Cy Vance, also chimed in, saying that he wouldn’t presume to tell the residents of West Virginia what their gun laws should say, but neither should anyone take a law written for West Virginia and apply it to New York. Vance was referring to the narrative started by Mike Bloomberg who blamed high levels of gun violence on the movement of illegal guns up the I-95 “iron pipeline” from states with lax gun laws to more restrictive states like New York.

Thank you, Cy Vance, for that quick lesson in federalism.  But with all due respect to the idea that everything would be hunky-dory in gun land if we could just figure out a way to keep those guns from the South down in the South. Back laat May, the Brooklyn DA, Eric Gonzalez, announced the biggest gun “bust’” in the borough’s history, with indictments of 24 Virginia residents who had brought more than 200 guns into the Big Apple, including a Thompson sub-machine gun, you know, one of those rat-tat-tat bangers used by the Al Capone gang. Actually the so-called machine gun is actually a semi-automatic rifle but it looks like a machine gun.

The Brooklyn press conference was quite entertaining, because in addition to all the guns lying around, DA Gonzalez also played a taped conversation between two of the crooks, one of whom was bragging to the other about how he could walk around to 10 different gun shops, buy a legal gun in each one, bring the stash up to New York and unload the guns in the street.

If someone can buy a gun legally in Virginia, they were able to pass the FBI-NICS check. A legal gun purchase is a legal gun purchase no matter where it’s made. So how come all these ‘legal’ guns only seem to come to New York from Southern states? I’ll tell you why.

If you look at the number of federal dealer licenses in Southern states  and compare to the FFL numbers in states like New York and New Jersey, there are three times as many gun licenses per capita in the South as opposed to the North. Gee, what a surprise, given the fact that per-capita gun ownership is also three times higher in the South than in the North. The movement of legally-purchased guns from one section of the country to another is a perfect example of the way the market responds to an imbalance between supply and demand. It’s not the ‘lax’ gun laws which bring Southern guns up to New York; it’s unmet demand, and laws don’t prevent the market from responding to demand.