Are Guns Getting Safer? Don’t Believe What You Hear.

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Once again the gun industry is patting itself on the back for something it didn’t do, namely, reducing accidental deaths and injuries caused by guns. Hey – wait a minute! It’s not the gun which causes the injury, it’s the person using the gun. Remember that one? The NRA will remind you of it every chance they get no matter whether we are talking about a gun which went off accidentally, or on purpose, or on whatever, it’s always the person, not the gun.

nsf              Which is why the gun industry continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth on this one – congratulating itself every time that statistics allegedly show a decline in gun accidents but rejecting any and all efforts to mandate gun safety either through the development of safe-gun technologies or passage of child access prevention (CAP) laws to keep guns out of the hands of kids.

Why do I say that the statistics ‘allegedly’ show a decline in gun accidents?  After all, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) didn’t dream up the latest information on gun safety all by itself.  Their press release is based on the latest report from the National Safety Council (NSC) which says that gun accidents declined 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, the same year that gun sales hit an all-time high.

The NSC’s information comes from the CDC, whose website shows a drop in accidental gun deaths from 586 in 2014 to 489 the following year. Of course the numbers for accidental, non-fatal gun accidents only show a 5% drop from 2013 to 2014, but like unintentional gun mortality, this number has also steadily dwindled down.

Incidentally, although the NSSF couldn’t wait to rush forward and take responsibility for the good news from the NSC, in fact the Council isn’t so enamored of the gun industry’s safety record.  Take a look at the NSC’s Statement on Firearms Policy which actually claims that more than 1,400 deaths occur annually because of gun accidents. The NSC goes on to say, “The absence of a reliable system for collecting and analyzing such accident data makes extremely difficult any meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of accident prevention programs.”  Know why we don’t have any ‘reliable system’ for understanding the true extent of gun injuries?  Because the gun industry has steadfastly rejected any and all attempts to reinstate CDC funding for gun research, remember?

But when it comes to gun injuries, there’s a much bigger problem than just whether we can get good data, and this is a problem which neither side in the gun debate seems to understand. Because the fact is that unless one breaks down gun injuries not by the number of injuries, or by the age, race, sex or location of the victim (the current categories utilized by the CDC,) but by the type of gun that caused the injury, you really can’t tell much about the issue of gun accidents at all. You might find bits and pieces of such information in the data collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) but it’s sporadic and highly fragmentary at best.

Why do we need to know what kind of gun caused the accident?  Because most long gun accidents occur during hunting (e.g., Dick Cheney) but handgun accidents rarely have anything to do with walking in the woods. And if we don’t know the ratio of handgun to long gun accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, then we understand very little about guns, gun use or gun safety at all.

The NSSF is absolutely correct when they use the NSC report to champion the idea that hunting is one of the ‘safest’ outdoor activities around. There’s only one little problem. We don’t hunt as frequently as we used to hunt and most new guns now being added to the civilian arsenal are handguns, and may account for the lion’s share of ‘accidental’ shootings each year. Isn’t it time the gun industry took the NSC at its word and did something meaningful about safety and guns?

Two New Books On Cops And Guns.

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I have reviewed Chris Hayes’ new book, A Colony In A Nation, here and there, and I think it’s a good read.  It also takes a look at ghetto policing that is seriously incomplete.  And what makes it incomplete is the final chapter where Hayes promotes an idea for more effective (and less brutal) ghetto policing based on his experiences as a Brown University student in interactions with the campus police.  This approach is a rather silly way to discuss a very difficult problem and I suspect that the chapter was tacked onto the book because the editor said, ‘Chris, you gotta’ say something about what needs to be done,’ but it would have better be left unsaid.

hayes             If you want to read  a serious discussion about how to fix  ghetto policing, I suggest you read Franklin Zimring’s new book, When Police Kill, which I also previously reviewed, But I focused that review on the first half of Zimring’s book, which explores the data on cop killings, as well as the data on how many cops get killed.  And one of the important issues discussed by Zimring is the degree to which cops get shot while on the job.  If you think the differential between civilian gun homicides in the U.S. versus other advanced countries is very wide (on the order of 6 to 200 percent) you ought to look at the difference between the number of cops shot in assaults in the U.S. as compared to everywhere else. Countries like Great Britain and Germany will go multiple years without a single cop being killed at all, whereas nearly 300 on-duty police are killed in the U.S. each year and 90% of these assaults involve the use of guns.

Hayes is aware of this problem, and he notes that “the threat of the sudden bullet extends to every single aspect of policing.” [p. 103.] But police who patrol the Brown University campus really don’t have to worry about whether the students they confront will be armed, whereas in the inner-city, the reality is that guns abound.  And while this doesn’t mean that every cop riding through Harlem, Watts or Roxbury should believe that he’s in the middle of the OK Corral, the element of uncertainty and fear on the part of police because there are so many guns needs to be factored into any discussion about policing and race.

And that is exactly what the second half of Franklin Zimring’s book is about, namely, a serious and fact-filled discussion about preventing and controlling police killings, which seem to have lately spiraled out of control.  The first issue is a question of data – you can’t fix what you don’t know. And Zimring gives us chapter and verse on how poor, inconsistent and often contradictory the data happens to be.  Along with the lack of good data, the response of cops to being attacked is frequently far beyond the use of force necessary to repel that specific attack.  Take a look at the data covering 2015 (pp. 61-62) and note that in nearly half of the fatal shootings committed by cops, the victim didn’t have a gun at all. Finally, it turns out that there is no solid reporting of police shootings where the victim didn’t die.  So how can we understand the scope of police violence and the reaction of the community to that violence if we don’t even know how often or where it occurs?

Zimring concludes the second half of the book by discussing what he calls “precision in reporting and measurement, and the willingness to invest resources in evaluating new strategies of disarming the dangerous,” and he presents concrete steps for doing both. He believes, and backs up his beliefs with hard data, that such strategies could reduce cop killings  by roughly 90% within a decade’s time.

We now have two books out there that look at the issue of police violence from different points of view.  My recommendation is that you read both.

Don’t Forget: Owning A Gun Protects Your Freedom To Sell A Poster Like This.

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poster2One of our good friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community put a pic of this poster on her Facebook page and said it was for sale at the Trump rally in Nashville. I have no doubt that this was true. Over the course of the campaign, Trump’s rallies, particularly in Southern states, were more like Klan rallies than anything having to do with electing the next President of the United States – the only difference being that Hillary was White, not Black. But this didn’t stop Trump or some of his mouthpieces (ex. Rudy Giuliani) from appealing to the lowest, common social denominator they could find. And what’s lower than someone who tries to make a buck out of pretending that you can craft an effective political message by putting someone’s face behind a target that will be used to sight in a gun?

The strategy of using crosshairs to ‘target’ political opponents wasn’t started by Trump.  In fact, it appeared on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page when she was raising money for her PAC which she actually believed would keep her politically alive. And along with the graphic which has targets superimposed over various states were her usual dopey comments designed to make the connection between her politics and Gun-nut Nation even more real, comments like “this is just the first salvo” or “we’ll aim for these races,” the usual, know-nothing verbal crap.

Palin’s attempt to combine fundraising with allusions to going into political campaigns ‘loaded’ for action turned out to be one, sick attempt at political communication when, several months after she posted this screed, Jared Loughner took her seriously and gunned down Rep. Gabby Giffords who had been identified as a ‘target’ on Palin’s map. Of course leave it to the liberals to defend Palin on the basis of free speech; after all, Loughner was just typical of the basic problem which creates 120,000 gun deaths and injuries each year, namely, that every once in a while a gun gets into the hands of some nut.

Now the fact that a gun gets into the hands of some nut because maybe, just maybe we have too many guns lying around – oh well, that’s the price we have to pay to be ‘free.’  And what’s more important when it comes to defending our freedoms than my ability to walk into a gun shop, tell the guy behind the counter that I’m a law-abiding citizen and walk out with a gun? Please don’t give me all that nonsense about how we need to ‘balance’ out our God-given freedoms with concerns for the rising rates of gun violence in cities like Dallas, Memphis and San Jose.  The answer’s very simple, lock ‘em up and throw away the key.

I wasn’t at that Trump rally in Nashville earlier this week but I guarantee you that at some point during his rambling remarks no doubt #45 got a big cheer out of the crowd by telling them that despite an attempt by a couple of federal judges to make the country unsafe, his administration would ‘crack down’ on the criminal element and put them, along with Hillary, behind bars.

But why waste previous federal dollars on locking up ol’ Hills? Why not just gun her down and, if necessary, take out a few of those ‘illegals’ as well? Our new, tough President won’t let anyone prevent me from carrying around my AR with a magazine that holds 30, 40 or 50 rounds. Then I’ll be armed and ready when the Commander in Chief tells me to go out and help keep America free.

I really believe that the dopes who buy into such nonsense are the same dopes who also believe that the government still delivers food to the Martians who landed at Area 51. And no doubt one or two will read this column and tell me that I better watch out. Maybe Betsy DeVos can figure out how to better educate their kids.

 

Here We Go Again: Another Bogus Attempt To Get Guns Into The ‘Wrong Hands.’

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When it comes to reducing gun violence, Gun-nut Nation and its new fuhrer have the perfect solution: lock up every criminal who ever carried a gun and oh, by the way, ‘fix’ the mental health system to make sure that the nutty guy who uses a gun to settle some delusional score or another isn’t allowed to get his hands on a gun.

mental             I’ve been listening to this nonsense for the past twenty years, and while there certainly is something to the idea of removing violent criminals from the streets, the only people who believe that the phrase ‘fix the mental health system’ means anything at all are the same folks who stand around the fence outside Area 51 hoping to see a Martian space ship come down. But the problem is that every once in a while someone from that bunch gets elected to Congress (or the White House) and when they try to rewrite a law which makes it easier for mentally-ill people to get their hands on guns, then the nonsense takes a more serious turn.

And the latest piece of legislative nonsense is a bill just filed by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) called the “Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act,” which basically undercuts the process by which the VA declares someone to be considered ‘mentally incompetent’ and thus unable to own or buy a gun.  This is a replay of the action taken last month by Congress to annul Obama’s regulation requiring the Social Security Administration to report to FBI-NICS the names of persons who were no longer handling their own financial affairs. In this case, the new regulation goes even further because not only is a judicial exercise required before a final determination of mental incompetency can be made, but the court has to find that the mental impairment is such that the individual would be a “danger to himself or herself or others.”

Incidentally, Congressman Roe is not only a physician (OB-GYN) but is co-chair of something called the ‘GOP Doctors Caucus,’ which claims to be leading the fight for patient-centered health care which, if they inserted the word ‘rich’ before the word ‘patient’ might aptly describe the GOP’s effort to ‘replace’ the ACA.  But either way, if this group of physicians-turned pro-gun legislators believes they are bringing needed clarity to the determination by the VA as to which veterans should have guns and which shouldn’t, it’s about as much clarity as what Trump has brought to the discussion about his connections to Putin and the Russian money-mob.

The proposed law not only calls for a court procedure to determine gun-owning fitness by veterans who collect VA benefits, but requires this procedure to be conducted by a court which doesn’t actually exist. And worse, the law also stipulates that the only criteria which this non-existent court can use to determine gun-owning fitness is that it would have to be shown that the particular veteran was a ‘danger’ to himself or others.

Now I agree that the fact that I designate someone else to handle my financial affairs doesn’t, in and of itself, necessarily create the suspicion that I am prone to engage in dangerous behavior. But that’s not the point. The argument for keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands’ has never been based on any foolproof test that can be used to predict violent behavior before it occurs. The argument is based on the idea that certain people who behave in certain ways (violent criminals, mentally ill, etc.) are more prone to behave violently and the easiest way to commit a violent act is to use a gun.

If the Republicans decide to undo the ‘wrong hands’ argument for determining fitness for gun ownership, they will be erasing public policies that go back to the first federal gun law passed in 1934.  But since every gun-control law has been the handiwork of Democratic administrations, isn’t it time we gave the other side a chance?

Trump Won But The NRA’s Biggest Battle May Still Be Ahead.

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Will ‘Smart’ Guns Ever Be Sold? I’m Not Sure.

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Ever since the Clinton Administration ponied up some R&D money, the idea of creating a smart’ gun, or what is also called a ‘personalized’ gun has been flopping around the edges of the gun-control debate without much to show for it except a couple of government reports, an overpriced 22-caliber pistol that may or may not work very well and an occasional news story which just takes us back to Square One.

safegun             And Square One in the discussion about ‘smart’ guns is whether the average gun owner would be interested in owning a smart gun at all.  Because no matter how you slice it or dice it, putting an electronic gatekeeping device on a gun just isn’t as simple, easy or cheap as putting a fingerprint reader on a droid. The whole point of droid electronics is that everything that makes the device work is wired through a screen. But guns don’t have screens; they have metals and hard plastics and movable parts. Believe me, if someone could have come up with a droid-like fingerprint scanner that worked on a gun the way it works on a phone, it would have already been done.

Back in 2015 our friends at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School conducted a survey which found that 60% of respondents said they would consider buying a ‘smart’ gun, but a major gap in this survey was that the people who answered weren’t asked how much they would be willing to spend beyond the cost of the gun to personalize the weapon with an electronic device. And a comment by a member of the Hopkins research group that such a gun could use technology that ‘already exists’ simply isn’t true.

Sooner or later, someone has to explain how electronic devices that would be used to create a ‘safe’ gun actually work. Because if you read descriptions of smart-gun technologies, they will tell you how the gizmo works that identifies someone who has been programmed to use a particular gun, but what they don’t tell you is what has to happen inside the gun after the scanner reads the database and finds a print which is a match. And what most of the descriptions tell you is that once a match is made, then the gizmo ‘unlocks’ the trigger and away we go.

But unlocking the trigger of a gun isn’t the same thing as just taking a key and unlocking the front door.  In order to ‘unlock’ a trigger so that it can be pulled to fire a gun, at least three separate parts in the gun have to change their positions, these parts connecting the trigger to the hammer to the firing pin or striker, or otherwise the gun doesn’t work. And if one of these parts doesn’t shift its position with enough force, energy or pressure, when you pull the trigger all you will hear is a – click!  This is the reason you can’t just attach a fingerprint scanner to a gun without entirely redesigning the inner workings of the gun. So to make a ‘smart’ gun you are basically designing and manufacturing a new gun, which means you’re not just adding a new part to the gun the way you might change the grips.

The smart gun folks could get around the cost problem if the government would mandate ownership of smart guns. But the odds of that happening are about the same as the odds that Donald Trump would actually say something that’s true. The only smart gun that has ever hit the market (for a day) was the 22-caliber Armatix pistol which had a retail price of over $1,700 bucks, and even though the company has announced a 9mm prototype, I don’t notice that they have announced a price. And the idea that in low-bid America the cops would ever carry a pricey gun of any kind is like Humphrey Bogart’s final words at the end of Maltese Falcon: This is what dreams are made of.”

If Trump Goes Down The Tubes, The NRA Won’t Be Far Behind.

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Before everyone gets all hot, bothered and indignant about Wayne-o’s attempt to out-trump Trump at the CPAC conference, I’d like to point something out. Let’s remember that it’s been a long time since the NRA dropped any pretense towards being a gun-safety organization or a sportsman’s organization or any other kind of organization devoted to what we call the ‘shooting sports.’ Because unless you want to define ‘sports’ as wandering around with a gun in your pocket to protect the neighborhood from some kind of terrorist assault, you’d better look elsewhere to join other folks who just want to have fun with their guns.

wayne             The NRA is now contributing to the political debate with arguments that range from a warmed-over version of The John Birch Society (you’re right, Ladd Everitt) to the usual insurrectionist rhetoric of the dumbest militia-type groups. And if you think I’m being extreme, just listen to Wayne-o at CPAC when he went on a rant which included statements about the ‘violence’ of the ‘paid’ demonstrators at the inauguration that resulted in numerous cops being hospitalized during the event, even though there were exactly two officers sent to local hospitals for injuries which were considered ‘minor’ by the hospitals staffs.

So Wayne-o is now a caricature of Trump himself, the boy from Fairfax exhibiting a total disregard for anything that remotely smacks of the truth, and the question needs to asked: Has the NRA become a real threat?  I’m not talking about the possibility that a national concealed-carry bill might become law or that the movement to expand FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales might get stopped dead in its tracks.  I’m talking about Wayne-o’s thinly-veiled appeal for people to use their guns against the new threat from the ‘violent’ Left: “Make no mistake. If the violent left brings their terror to our communities, our neighborhoods, or into our homes they will be met with the resolve and the strength and the full force of American freedom [guns] in the hands of the American people.”

Now this statement has played again and again throughout the #resistance community on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else. But what didn’t make the digital airwaves was the very next sentence that came out of Wayne-o’s mouth, when he said, “And make no mistake about it – we are the majority.”  This line got a nice round of applause from the CPAC audience who probably felt they were the majority of the folks who ponied up a minimum of $150 for a day pass to hear Wayne-o and other CPAC-ers speak. But the truth is that what he said wasn’t true. It was a complete and utter lie and its within that falsehood that the NRA’s real weakness during the Age of Trump can be found.

Because look what happened yesterday when, according to Breitbart, we were going to see millions of God-fearing and Trump-loving Americans take to the streets to show their support for their Commander in Chief.  If there was a single ‘Spirit of America’ rally which drew more than 100 persons you wouldn’t know it from the pics that have appeared (20 people in Florida, 30 in Atlanta) all over Twitter and it wasn’t some phony troll who was putting this stuff out.

If things continue to go as they’ve been going, everyone will get sick and tired of Trump. Which means they will also get sick and tired of people and organizations that continue to prop him up. The bottom line is the NRA doesn’t represent a majority of any kind. It represents a bunch of well-meaning gun owners, most of whom voted for Trump but like many people who pulled a red lever in the voting booth, are now wondering if they did the right thing. And if these folks decide that Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t deserve support, then they’ll decide that the NRA doesn’t deserve their support as well. Resist Trump, resist the NRA – it may go hand in hand.

 

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