The Whiner-in-Chief Gets Taught By The NRA.

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I don’t necessarily agree with what Charles Blow has to say, but yesterday he made some comments about Trump that are spot on. And what he said is that Trump’s incessant whining and his portrayal of himself as a ‘victim’ is what appeals to his base. Blow puts it this way: “It is in this near perfect state of perpetual aggrievement that Trump gives voice to a faction of America that also feels aggrieved.” But since Trump himself is hardly the embodiment of the undereducated, small-town Whites who have been left behind in the shift to a post-industrial, technological age, where did he learn to play the role of Whiner in Chief?

trump5              He learned it from his friends at Fairfax – the NRA. America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ whines endlessly about how gun owners are victims, and isn’t the Trump message just a warmed-over version of Wayne LaPierre? Here’s how Trump defines his audience, according to Blow: “They are victims of coastal and urban liberals and the elite institutions – economic, education and entertainment – clustered there.” Here’s Wayne-o at the NRA annual meeting back in May: “It’s up to us to speak out against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites.” See any difference? I sure don’t.

America’s oldest civil rights organization is really just America’s oldest gun training organization. And one of their most popular training courses these days is something called Refuse To Be A Victim, which was developed by the ‘women of the NRA.’ The course is aimed at women and covers such topics as security in the home or on a trip, keeping your digital devices secure and using self-protective products like alarms and mace. There’s no mention of guns in this course and there’s also no mention of something else, namely, what women should do if they find themselves in an abusive relationship, which happens to be the Number One reason why women become victims, especially victims of violence caused by guns.

But the last thing the NRA is going to do is talk about women (or anyone) as victims of gun violence because what really victimizes women is when they can’t get their hands on a gun. And if you don’t believe me, just check out some of the recent videos from Dana Mussolini, a.k.a. Dana Loesch, who insists that she can stand up to anyone, any threat, any perpetrator because instead of backing away, she’s ready to pull out her banger and – bam!.

I love her recent attempt to out-Trump Trump: “They use their schools to teach our children that their President is another Hitler. They use their movie stars to repeat their narrative over and over again.” And guess who’s the ‘they?’ The same liberal, urban elite who get up every morning and try to figure out yet another way to victimize all those honest, decent, God-fearing Americans who also happen to be gun owners, because nothing represents the basic traditions and values of this country like a gun. Remember Charlton Heston and his cold, dead hands?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I never had a problem considering myself to be a member of the liberal elite. I also never had a problem being a member of the NRA. How do I reconcile these seeming opposites? It’s simple – I wanted to be a college professor and I also like guns. At some point I got interested in cameras so I sold some guns and bought two Leicas, then realized I wasn’t all that interested in taking pictures, so I sold the cameras and bought some more guns.

I don’t think gun owners are victims at all but I do think that making them believe they are victims is nothing more than a marketing scam. But since we now have to put up with someone in the Oval Office who got there by exploiting the same scam, why should anyone be surprised?

Want An Effective Message About Guns? Learn From Trump.

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My friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should take special notice of the dust-up that occurred between a New York Times reporter and the guy who is responsible for the current anti-immigration stance at the White House, Stephen Miller, regarding whether new immigrants who get hired for low-paying jobs are taking work away from red-blooded Americans who otherwise would be able to grab those same jobs for higher pay.
bibleThis immigration bill, which will go nowhere, is a classic bait-and-switch attempt to make it appear as though the Republicans are siding with the ‘working man’ while getting rid of government regulations which actually protect lower-income Americans from the social disparities caused by the widening gap between rich and poor. And when Glenn Thrush, the NYT reporter, asked Miller to produce hard data to back up his claims, Miller cited several studies which have either been refuted or don’t really speak to the issue at all.

The reason this verbal exchange should be studied closely by GVP advocates is that this is exactly what happens whenever Gun-nut Nation tries to promote some scheme or another to relax regulations on guns. First they remind everyone that gun ownership is a Constitutional ‘right,’ as if the 2008 Heller decision didn’t explicitly give government a ‘right’ to regulate guns. Then they cite surveys which show that a majority of Americans believe that guns make them safe, even though these same surveys show that the percentage of Americans who own guns keeps going down. And they never forget to throw in a couple of anecdotal examples of how this old grandma or that small shopkeeper saved their own lives or the lives of others by whipping out a gun.
Data? They don’t have any data. Studies? The ‘study’ by John Lott is twenty years old and has been debunked more times than I have tried to cut down on carbs. And I’m so successful at cutting down on carbs that the last time I saw my internist he told me that he believes I will never lose any weight.

On the other hand, should Gun-nut Nation spend one second worrying about what the data on gun violence shows? If the President of the United States can lie like hell about phone calls he claims to have received from the Boy Scouts of America and retain the support of his base, why should Gun-nut Nation feel the slightest degree of concern just because some pointy-headed academic in some elitist, Ivy League tower finds for the umpteenth time that having guns around the house increases risk?

I used to buy the argument that by relying on facts and evidence-based information I could more or less hold my own in any public debate. So whenever I post anything on my website or on Huffington, I try to provide a credible source for statements which are based not on my opinions but on facts. And know what happens when I state something as simple and obvious as the idea that access to guns increases risk? I’ll always get a few responses that accuse me of just being a ‘shill for Bloomberg,’ which means that nothing I say could be remotely true. The other day someone referred to my website as “Just another propaganda and manipulation tool.” I liked that one.

I’m certainly not concerned that the GVP community relies on evidence and hard data in order to craft arguments and strategies to reduce violence from guns. But I am concerned when GVP advocates imagine that by producing verifiable and evidence-based data that this will somehow tilt the argument in their favor. If the mountain of public health evidence hasn’t yet persuaded someone that guns are more of a risk than a benefit to community safety, they won’t be persuaded with another study. What needs to be addressed by GVP is how to craft an effective argument which captures emotions, not just facts.

Where’s All The Crime That Guns Protect Us From?

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Once again Gun-nut Nation is celebrating the continued health of the gun industry by misstating the monthly FBI-NICS background check number to make it appear as though gun sales continue in Obama-like fashion even during the Age of Trump.  The Washington Times blared: “Gun purchase background checks hit record after terror attacks overseas,” even though what continues to go up are background checks for gun licenses, not purchase of guns.

sessions                On the other hand, even if folks are increasingly using the NICS system to become legally-qualified to own guns, this still means that many Americans remain convinced that having access to a gun is a good way to deal with their fears of terrorism and crime. So as long as such fears abound, and as long as the gun industry creates messaging that exploits those fears, the more that guns will be floating around.  And guess what? We suffer from an extraordinary level of gun violence for one reason and one reason only, namely, too many guns.

If we regulated gun ownership the way guns are controlled in other OECD countries, the total number of civilian-owned guns would probably be around 50 million, give or take a few million here or there. How do I come up with that number? Because 14 million Americans hold hunting licenses, and let’s say that each hunter owns three rifles and shotguns, throw in another 5 million for trap, skeet and sport shooters and you’re at 50 million guns; i.e., a per-100,000 rate of roughly 15.7, which is half the gun-ownership rate of countries like Canada, Austria and Sweden, which experience little, if any gun violence at all. But in fact our actual gun-ownership rate is seven times higher than the rate calculated above, and probably half are handguns, which is what accounts for nearly all the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries that we experience each and every year. Because when there are 150 million handguns sitting in glove compartments, closets and drawers, it’s not unlikely that 200,000 or more will disappear from their rightful owners every twelve months and wind up in the wrong hands.

Now you would think that in the only industrialized country which has given its citizens relatively free access to guns, that everyone would own a gun.  After all, if the polls show that nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe that having a gun in your home protects you better than if you don’t, then obviously a lot of people out there buy the gun-industry’s idea about the virtues and values of gun ownership but don’t go out and purchase a gun. Meanwhile, for the first time in 15 years, more than half of all Americans (according to Gallup) believe that violent crime is on the rise. But each year the U.S. Department of Justice asks 160,000 adults whether they have been victims of violent crimes, and last year the DOJ reported that there had been “no significant change in the rate of violent crime.”

Talking about the Justice Department, its current boss has a date today with the Senate Intelligence Committee where it’s expected he’ll deny that any conversations he ever had with anyone, not just some guys from Russia, could constitute a crime.  And Sessions is a real expert on crime, having stated that we are in the midst of a ‘criminal epidemic’ even though he also admitted that violent crime is at a 50-year low.  Sessions has a boss who thinks that murder is the ‘highest’ in nearly 50 years; his misstatements on crime are so glaring and stupid that CNN actually ran a major story in February when Trump actually said something about crime which happened to be true.

When people with power and media access say something frequently enough, it often becomes an accepted narrative whether it’s true or not. When the President talks endlessly about American ‘carnage’ I’m not surprised that the average person then believes that crime rates are going up. Maybe the next thing Trump will do is sign an Executive Order requiring that everyone must own a gun.

 

Will The World End If We Lose Our 2nd-Amendment Rights?

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A week after the Presidential election in 2008, I walked into a gun shop in Houston. The place was packed.  In particular, customers were lining up to buy assault rifles along with as much ammunition as they could carry out of the store. I walked up to one guy who was waiting in line to fill out the 4473 form and asked him what was going on. And he turned to me with a very serious look on his face and whispered, “Armageddon’s coming.”

 

gun-sales

Ever notice how many products Glenn Beck peddles like freeze-dried food or gold bars which portend doom?  And we have long noticed that the gun industry has been selling fear as well as selling guns since old timers like me began to fade away and hunting became something of legend instead of a real-time activity.  Owning a gun is now a statement about the importance of self-defense in an age of terrorism, along with, of course, the standard bromide about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

But there’s one other message which resonates among Gun-nut Nation, and it’s the idea that if you own a gun then you have something in common with every other gun owner, and if you don’t own a gun, then you’re not only sh*t out of luck, but you’re also on the outside looking in.  I’m a member of AAA but they never try to make me feel special just because I own a car. Ditto AARP, whose almost daily hearing-aid advertisements just remind me that I’m one of more than 46 million people age 65 or more. In fact, I didn’t even know that May was Senior Citizens Month.

But I do know that I am a member of a very special oppressed minority known as law-abiding gun owners who have to make sure that what makes us so special and so oppressed is the possibility that at any moment, my ‘right’ to own a gun could be taken away. And if you think that the purchase of more than 150 million guns under the Obama ‘regime,’ compared to 75 million during the previous eight years of the ‘decider’ was due to anything other than the fear that I might wake up one day and the gun wouldn’t be there, think again.  Because if sales levels continue for the second half of 2017 like they were in the first half, things will be back to where they were in 2007-2008.

Back last October, I was finishing up my weekly gun-safety class which is required in my state (MA) before you can apply for a license to own or carry a gun. And a well-dressed, professional woman came up to get her safety certificate and said, “Boy, I’m glad I could get into this class.” And when I asked her why she was so excited, she replied, and I am quoting her word for word, “Because Hillary’s probably going to win the election and then I won’t be able to buy a gun.”

How did such a crazy idea get into this woman’s head? I must admit that I simply don’t know because even though the NRA spent $30 million or more during the campaign to tell its members that Hillary would take away their guns, I simply do not believe that any normal adult could think such nonsense was true.

But you know what? That guy standing on the line in the Houston gun shop wasn’t grinning or laughing when he told me that he was willing to wait half an hour for the background check to be completed because he didn’t want to face the end of the world unarmed. He meant it, and if we want to do something reasonable to reduce gun violence, we’d better figure out how to get inside that guy’s brain. Because what’s in his brain is in the brains of lots of folks who own guns.

When It Comes To Guns, It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Mean.

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In 1989 Steven Tyler and Aerosmith released a song, ‘Janie’s Got A Gun,’ which began with the following refrain:

Janie’s got a gun
Janie’s got a gun
Her whole world’s come undone
From lookin’ straight at the sun
What did her daddy do?
What did he put you through?
They say when Janie was arrested
They found him underneath a train
But man, he had it comin’
Now that Janie’s got a gun
She ain’t never gonna be the same.

                This song became one of the group’s biggest hits, and if you don’t have the album, you can watch the video on YouTube.  It’s been seen more than 38 million times. You can also listen to it on podcasts produced and distributed by various pro-gun advocates and organizations, in particular, digital broadcasting efforts of various Evangelical preachers and personalities, such as Albert Mohler, who happens to be the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and leads a religious denomination that is overwhelmingly pro-gun.

aerosmith             There’s only one little problem.  Tyler began writing the song’s lyric’s after reading an article about gun violence which then got him thinking about child abuse. He talked about what happened in a Rolling Stone interview: “I looked over at a Time magazine and saw this article on 48 hours, minute by minute, of handgun deaths in the United States.Then I got off on the child-abuse angle. I’d heard this woman speaking about how many children are attacked by their mothers and fathers. It was f—ing scary. I felt, man, I gotta sing about this. And that was it.”

So here we have an interesting situation which needs to be considered and discussed if we’re really going to understand what to do and what to say about gun violence. Because Tyler wasn’t trying to make a positive cultural statement about guns and he certainly wasn’t trying to cynically promote himself to a certain type of audience which feeds off of pro-gun and pro-violence expressions a la the sick rantings of Ted Nugent, et. al.  He was creating an artistic expression about an idea that meant one thing to him, but ended up being taken much differently by many of his fans. Or maybe they didn’t take it any particular way. They just like his music; the ‘message’ may not be what the song meant to them at all.

But either way, in a debate as emotionally-charged as the gun debate, I think we have to be careful when we use certain words, because those words may have very different meanings depending on who uses them and when. Take for example the word ‘defense,’ as in self-defense. In the pro-gun world, this is a very positive word because it represents the idea that a gun will protect you from harm. In the gun-control community (and folks, in the Age of Trump it’s time to stop pretending that we need to apologize for wanting to control guns) a weapon that can be used defensively usually ends up being used offensively.

Why do some people believe that a gun is a valuable, self-protective ‘tool’ when study after study indicates that access to a gun actually increases risk? And I’m not talking about pro-gun trolls who will say anything to get a rise out of the other side. I’m talking about, for example, religious leaders – among conservative Protestant clergy, of whom more than two-thirds hold to the idea that gun ‘rights’ should be taken more seriously than violence caused by guns.

If we have learned anything from the extent to which a Twitter account can be used to run the United States, what is believed to be a true by one person may not be perceived as a fact by someone else. And if we are looking for messaging that will resonate with gun owners to advance public policies like expanded background checks or smart guns, we better not assume that words like ’fact’ and ‘truth’ will carry the day.

There’s A Right Way And A Wrong Way To Talk About Guns.

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Remember back in 2011 when everyone’s alt-right darling, Sarah Palin, adorned her Facebook with a map of the United States containing cross-hairs over states with gun-control Democrats that she wanted to defeat? One of her targets was Gabby Giffords, who was shot down the same week.  In case you’ve forgotten the pictorial assault by Palin on decency and common sense, here it is again:

SARAH-PALIN-TARGET-LIST

Of course it hardly came as a surprise that someone as dumb, hateful and vicious as Palin would stoop so low as to try and generate political (and financial) support by appealing to the twisted minds of some folks who enjoy thinking about inflicting violence with a gun. But don’t assume that using a gun for political messaging is just a ploy for the Right. Because we now have a Democrat who claims to be a real liberal and is doing exactly the same thing.

I’m referring to the Democratic candidate in Montana’s election today to replace Ryan Zinke. The man who’s running, Rob Quist, is a well-known country song writer who says he wants to go to Washington to fight for jobs, health care, all the usual Democratic stuff, but he’s also a strong 2nd-Amendment supporter who believes that coming out as a gun guy could tilt things his way.

Actually, it was his opponent, Greg Gianforte, who ran an attack ad against Quist because he once made an offhand comment to a reporter about the need to ‘register’ guns. Since he was just defending universal background checks, Quist had no idea what he was talking about at all. But once Gianforte began pushing the idea that Quist was anti-gun, sooner or later the Democrat needed to respond in kind. And his response has taken the form of television ads in which he stands there with what he calls a rifle that has been in the family for a ‘long time,’ even though the gun actually looks brand new. And at the end of the ad he raises the rifle and shoots out a television set that’s playing an anti-Quist ad, saying that by shooting the gun, he’s ‘defending your rights.’

quist

              Using a gun to defend anything, in particular political rights, is to stoop to a level that is just as malicious and uninformed as Sarah Palin’s Facebook page.  And the stupidity of this ad is now matched by an op-ed which appeared today in Politico Magazine by a writer named Bill Scher, who may be the last word on politics but doesn’t know anything about guns. Scher  criticizes Progressives because they haven’t come out against one of their own who is talking pro-gun. And this is a big problem for the Blue Team, according to Scher, because Democrats at the national level sometimes find themselves in opposition to Blue candidates who need to shore up local support by hiding or soft-peddling their opposition to guns.

Gee, what a surprise that a majority of the guns in this country happen to be located in 13 Confederate states, 4 border states and the rural sections of 5 Midwestern states, all of which contain populations that consistently vote red. Gee, what a surprise that the NRA ran most of their ads in these regions because this is where NRA members mostly live.

If Bill Scher really believes that he’s discovered a new fault-line which makes gun rights a toxic issue for the Blue Team, he’s actually exposed a much bigger problem for the Reds because while the DNC has kept quiet about the pro-gun messaging by Quist, can you imagine what the RNC would do and say if any Republican politician came out and questioned the validity of beloved 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ What Quist’s ad team should have done was consult with one of the gun-sense organizations to help craft a message that would disarm the pro-gun opposition but still properly raise the issue of guns and risk. Even Donald Trump used the phrase “responsible gun owners’ when he came to the NRA.

Can You Be Pro-Life And Pro-Gun? Some Try To Be Both.

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The night after Thanksgiving, 2012, a man named Michael Dunn gunned down an unarmed, 17-year old kid in the parking lot of a mini-mart because the kid was sitting in an SUV that was blaring music which pissed Dunn off.  At his trial (he was tried twice before being convicted of Murder One) Dunn claimed that he saw a gun, which turned out not to exist and in fact he drove off after the shooting, went back to a motel room he was sharing with his fiancée, went out for a pizza and drinks but didn’t mention what had just occurred. For all I know Dunn was going to tell his girlfriend what happened, but perhaps the issue simply didn’t come up because he wanted to make sure that the pizza had the extra anchovies that they both liked on their pies.

bible             The other night I finally got around to watching the documentary The Armor of Light, which begins with an appearance by a woman named Lucy McBath, a veteran flight attendant who appears at public events for Moms Demand Action, that gun-hugging gang led by Shannon Watts and supported by you-know-who, the former Mayor of New York.  So I’m watching Ms. McBath as she shows some cute pictures of a young child named Jordan Davis, and all of a sudden I realize – hey! – that’s the kid who was shot by Michael Dunn.  And right as I realize what the film is all about, the scene switches to a monologue from Reverend Rob Schenck, whose journeys through the gun-owning Evangelical heartland is what the movie is really all about.

Reverend Schenck has been a major force in the pro-life movement and runs an organization, Faith and Action, which calls itself the ‘missionary to Capitol Hill,’ but basically promotes pro-life policies in the Senate and the House. Back in 2013 following the September 13 at the DC Navy Yard, Schenk decided that it was time for him to speak out against gun violence and to line up support for gun-control regulations in the wider Evangelical community as well.  In this regard, Schenck was treading on unsteady ground, because white Evangelicals happen to be the most pro-gun religious group around. Not only are white Evangelicals the only religious group with gun ownership registering more than 50%, but they often lead the charge for the expansion of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

Much of the movie, directed flawlessly by Abigail Disney, moves back and forth between harrowing testimonies from Lucy McBath to polite confrontations with other Evangelical ministers whose requests by Schenck for a more liberal view on gun control invariably fall on deaf ears. It’s to Schenck’s credit that he has embarked on this lonely crusade to spread gun-control views throughout the Evangelical fold, but I’m not sure that a scripture-based argument for gun control gets to what the gun violence argument about is really all about.

One thing which unites most Evangelicals is that the Bible represents the immutable word of God. And while you can find Biblical texts that endorse both unarmed (Matthew 5:39) and armed (Luke 22:35-36) responses to threats, the one word you won’t find anywhere in the Bible is the word ‘gun.’ The debate about whether you should or shouldn’t use a gun to defend yourself and your family is a false one because there are many ways to defend yourself from a threat, and anyone who says that guns are more of a protection than a risk is saying something which simply isn’t true.

Every time Schenck talks about gun control with other Evangelical ministers, the first contrary words out of their mouths are the falsehoods and bromides about armed self-defense that come not from Scripture, but right from the playbook invented by the NRA. Schenk might believe he’s talking to men of God, but when it comes to guns, he’s talking to the self-same crowd that stands up and cheers whenever someone dares Obama, Hillary or Bloomberg to take the guns from my ‘cold, dead hands.’

 

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