The War On Drugs Didn’t Work, So Why Should We Expect It To Work With Guns?

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Back in 1963 I got a summer job in a Kentucky shingle mill and reported to the foreman of my shift, a redneck named Slim.  And Slim assigned me to go around the plant helping out ‘that boy sittin’ over there.’ It turned out that the ‘boy’ was a Black man named Gladys Turner who was sixty years old.  We became good friends, at one point I even bought a Browning Hi-Power pistol from Gladys, and we used to joke about how the Whites in the factory referred to him as a ‘boy.’

jail             That was my first but certainly not my last experience regarding the issue of race and, in particular, the assumptions made by most Whites that Blacks were somehow not even with them.  I’m not talking about legal equality; the Civil Rights bill was passed just a year after Gladys and I drove around the shingle factory picking up trash. I’m talking about something less objective but more powerful, namely, the culture of racial beliefs.

Which is why I finally got around to reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which is an argument about how the War on Drugs has resulted in the mass incarceration of Blacks. Once they are in the penal system as prisoners, parolees or ex-cons, Blacks become a sub-caste denied de facto all the basic socio-economic amenities (employment, affordable housing, voting rights, etc.) that are basic for all.

Professor Alexander argues that over the thirty-year period beginning in the early 1970’s, the American incarcerated population increased from 300,000 to 2 million, that these convicts were disproportionately Black young men, and that most of them were in jail because of convictions related to drugs. In addition to the number of Black prisoners behind bars, there are another 5 million who are marginalized politically and economically because they are on parole or under some kind of supervision in lieu of being behind bars. For Professor Alexander, this is what creates what she refers to as the ‘new Jim Crow,’ because convictions and jail sentences for drug offenses among Blacks is seven times higher than convictions and sentences for Whites – even though there are little racial differences in the number of people who use or sell illegal drugs.

Now why would I write about this book when I usually write about guns? Because it’s when you get to the end of the book where the author discusses advocacy strategies for dealing with the new Jim Crow that what she says could equally apply to the strategies adopted by advocates who are fighting to reduce the violence caused by guns.

On pages 225 et. seq., Professor Alexander raises a difficult and challenging question, namely, why is the issue of mass incarceration largely absent from the discussions and priorities of the organizations that continue to push for civil rights? And while part of the answer, she believes, is that many civil rights organizations are more comfortable engaging in strategies based on challenging laws that deny equal status or opportunity based on race, she also claims that there is a generalized reluctance of the established civil rights coalition to demand legal protections for individuals who, because they have been convicted of a drug offense, are considered by the average person to be a criminal, regardless of their race.

The gun violence prevention (GVP) community faces the same problem, when all is said and done. Because of the 120,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries suffered each year, at least 75,000 of these events also happen to be crimes. And like it or not, every time GVP advocates propose any kind of gun regulations, the other side immediately jumps up and yells, ‘We’re law-abiding gun owners. Want to end gun violence? Lock up all the thugs!’

Alexander’s book makes a convincing case that there’s really no connection between the size of the incarcerated population and the incidence of drug crime. Shouldn’t we say the same thing about Trump and Sessions’ plan to ‘get tough’ on gun  crimes?

 

 

Does Gun Violence Go Down When We ‘Get Tough’ On Illegal Guns?

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Our good friends at The Trace have responded to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as the People’s Lawyer by running a detailed analysis of how he prosecuted gun cases during 1993, the last year of his tenure as U.S. Attorney in Mobile. During his recent confirmation hearings Sessions came down hard on prosecuting gun crimes, citing a Federal sentencing statute which calls for a mandatory, five-year prison term for someone who commits a violent crime with a gun.  And the gun sentence doesn’t run concurrent with the sentence for the violent crime itself – it’s tacked on after the other sentence has been served.

sessions              The study published in The Trace covered 70 gun cases that went through Sessions’ office in 1993, of which 19 were tied directly to a violent crime and thus might have become what prosecutors call a ‘tack-on’ charge, which is often used as a threat to get a defendant to cop a guilty plea.  His office also charged drug dealers with being ‘repeat offenders’ if they carried a gun during multiple drug sales on the same day, and these charges often resulted in sentences of between 25 years to life.

Now here’s where things get a little sticky, both in terms of what a detailed analysis of these gun cases shows, as well as how Dan Friedman, who wrote the piece for The Trace, chose to explain what went down.  Of the 70 gun cases prosecuted by Sessions in 1993, 25 were for a felon who had possession of a gun, which is a violation of the gun-control law of 1968.  Most of these individuals were not charged with any other crime, some got reduced sentences by copping a plea, others served three years or more.

Friedman’s article suggests that the surge in the number of felons-in-possession cases wasn’t tied directly to an increase in violent crime, but was simply a way for Sessions and other U.S. Attorneys to ‘pad’ their caseloads with more successful prosecutions which meant more people serving more time in jail.  He notes that when Geoffrey Holder became Attorney General under Obama, he told federal prosecutors to relax the guidance on chasing and convicting defendants of gun charges, no doubt a reflection of concerns about the rising incarceration rates, in particular the incarceration of blacks. The result, according to Freidman, is that federal firearms-violations cases dropped from 11,067 in 2004 to 8,528 in 2015.

Friedman’s article concludes with a statement from Professor Daniel Richman who teaches law at Columbia University and previously served as a federal prosecutor for the Federal District of New York. “Gun prosecutions can cover a range of people,” says Richman, “you are getting someone with a gun and that’s something, but the likely effect on violence is far from clear.” Which was perhaps one of the reasons that motivated Holder to relax the aggressive prosecution of gun cases during his tenure in D.C.

So I decided to test Richman’s theory about what happens when we ‘get tough’ on gun crime, which is clearly uppermost in the mind of the new Attorney General, as well as his boss who ranted endlessly about protecting America from the criminal hordes during the 2016 campaign.  Know how many homicides were committed in Mobile in 1992, the year before Sessions really cracked down on guys who were walking around with illegal guns? There were 35 homicides in Mobile, of which at least half were committed with guns. Know how many homicides occurred in Mobile in 1993, when Sessions was locking up everyone who was found with an illegal gun?  The homicide number for that year was 42 and every other violent crime category was either significantly down from the previous year or remained the same.

In other words, while Sessions was busily locking up all the criminals with guns, more people in Mobile ended up getting killed. So if there’s any connection between getting ‘tough’ on illegal guns and violent crime, it might be exactly the reverse of what Sessions, Trump and the NRA have said.  Hmmmmmmm….

Now Here’s A Sheriff Who Really Knows His Law.

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There’s a little town in the middle of Indiana called Goshen which is the birthplace of the great Hollywood movie director, Howard Hawks, but will now become famous as the residence of America’s most intelligent, perceptive and downright stupid champion of the 2nd Amendment, namely, Brad Rogers, who happens to be the Sheriff in Goshen and recently opined at length in a local newspaper about the importance of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

rogers              The editorial begins with a question about whether safe storage laws should be required for everyone in Indiana who owns a gun.  And Rogers demonstrates his profound knowledge of Constitutional law by stating, “The elephant in the room is the government making those laws” because the government, according to this eminent scholar, exists only for the purpose of ‘protecting’ rights, and since we have the right to own a gun, obviously mandating safe-storage would somehow infringe on that right.

Rogers then goes on to tell his readers that safe storage doesn’t “have much of an impact on safety or crime” and he quotes John Lott “of Yale Law School” whose book, Safe Storage Gun Laws, contains the following verbiage: “15 states that passed safe storage laws saw 300 more murders, 3,860 more rapes, 24,650 more robberies, and over 25,000 more aggravated assaults in the first five years.”

I wonder if anyone in the Goshen News editorial department even bothered to check anything that Rogers wrote, because if it had been checked, they would have quickly discovered that John Lott was a Resident Scholar at Yale only from 1999 to 2001 and that he has never published any book about safe storage laws.  But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be the source for a bunch of meaningless statistics about gun violence and crime that prove nothing at all about the efficacy of safe storage laws, because the real question which needs to be asked is how many gun shootings would have occurred if those states hadn’t implemented CAP laws?

Sheriff Brad is equally opposed to mandated training before someone can buy a gun.  To support his idea, he gives the example of a woman who is the victim of domestic abuse. “She decides to purchase a firearm for her own protection. The gun dealer is not authorized to give her the gun she just purchased, because she has not yet received the required government mandated training and the certificate of proficiency. This woman is not protected from a government created to protect her rights.”  Did you follow that?  I couldn’t and I really tried. The fact that this woman might accidentally shoot herself or someone else because she didn’t know how to use the gun never popped into the sheriff’s head.

There’s an outfit out there called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association that has been going around the last couple of years drumming up support among sheriffs to oppose any Obama-inspired gun laws. I can’t figure out exactly what they are going to do now that a pro-gun President’s coming to town, but for the last eight years they’ve had a good run. On the other hand, you have to remember that most sheriffs are responsible for law enforcement in rural areas that tend to vote red.  Goshen went 60-40 for Trump over Hillary, so one shouldn’t be surprised that Sheriff Rogers would be against gun control since he has to stand for re-election in 2018.

On the other hand, before everyone in the gun violence prevention community (GVP) gets completely hot and bothered about Sheriff Brad’s stance on guns, there’s also a lesson to be learned here by GVP.  Because like it or not, many of the sensible ideas for reducing gun violence bear on the ability and activity of law enforcement agencies to enforce new laws.  And enforcement costs time, and time costs money, and the last thing a local police department wants is to be given a new law to enforce without the funding necessary to carry it out.

 

 

 

A New Study Reveals How And When All Those Bad Guys Get Their Hands On Guns.

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You may believe that the reason the NRA is so powerful is because of all the money they spread around Congress to block any sensible gun reforms. But that’s actually putting the cart before the horse, because what really makes them effective is the fact that a majority of shootings are classified as crimes, and Gun Nation has been very successful convincing everyone that they need to be concerned about crime and not about guns.

conference-program-pic              It’s a hard argument to refute when the numbers are on their side. In 2013, the last year for numbers in every gun violence category, there were 117,613 killed or wounded with guns.  Of this total, just short of 80,000 were homicides or aggravated assaults, another 21,000 were suicides and the remainder, roughly 17,000, were accidents of whom more than 97% lived. The bottom line is that when we talk about gun violence, like it or not, we are talking about crime.

And the NRA never misses an opportunity to remind us that guns aren’t the problem, it’s the bad guys, the criminals who are the problem. And since everybody knows that criminals by definition don’t obey laws, why pass more gun laws, particularly when all you end up doing is making it more difficult for all those law-abiding gun owners to enjoy playing around with their guns?

Ever since Gun Nation discovered that hunting was on the wane, some new rationale had to be advanced to promote the ownership of guns.  And what better use for a gun than to keep it around just in case one of those bad guys comes crashing through a window or the back door? And if you then produce studies which shows that law-abiding Americans use guns several million times each year to protect themselves from all those bad guys, how can you go wrong?

You can go wrong if what you are saying has little, if anything, to do with the truth.  And in that regard the National Bureau of Economic Research has just published a study on teen-age criminality that should be required reading for everyone concerned about GVP. The NBER is an independent economic think-tank that, among other things, is mandated by Congress to tell us when recessions begin and when they end. NBER also looks at a wide variety of issues that affect American society, and one of the issues that obviously impacts our society is the issue of crime.  This particular study examined the various factors which lead teen-age boys to form what the authors refer to as criminal ‘partnerships’ which result in the commission of crimes.  These partnerships or networks appear to develop around age 14, and they result in much higher levels of criminal activity than what is committed by kids acting on their own.

Couple this information with studies on adolescent gun access and a very interesting picture begins to emerge.  Alan Lizotte found that boys start carrying guns around age 14 and “the amount of serious violent crime the boys committed during periods of active gun carrying was more than five times the amount they committed when they did not carry guns.”  And where do these two groups – gun carriers and crime partnerships – intersect?  Not so much in the neighborhood, not so much in the street corner, but in school.  The NBER found that of all the factors involving personal contact which then leads to crime, it is the degree to which these adolescent boys first connect with one another in the same classrooms to which they are assigned.

The NRA promotes gun safety education in schools so maybe we should take them at their word.  But instead of telling kids how to behave safely with guns, how about the NRA saying that they shouldn’t own a gun at all?  If school-age kids don’t start carrying around guns, they can’t turn into bad guys and without all those bad guys, the rest of us wouldn’t need guns. Simple, isn’t it?

 

Ready, Set, Go: Hughes And DeFilippis Versus John Lott And Guess Who Wins?

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Once again we are being treated to the latest confrontation in the ongoing saga known as Armed With Reason versus The Crime Prevention Research Center – the former a research effort led by two economists out of Oklahoma, Devin Hughes and Evan DeFilippis; the latter a fundraising and self-promotional effort conducted by and for John Lott. These combatants have been going at each other for the last several years, with Hughes and DeFilippis trying to maintain some degree of objectivity in what they say and John Lott doing what he does best, namely, reminding everyone that if he said it then it must be true because he said it.

 

John Lott

John Lott

Lott’s most recent rebuke of Hughes and DeFilippis was published on his personal blog earlier this year in what appears to be a lengthy and detailed comment running perhaps 4,000 or more words.  One of the things that makes Lott a formidable adversary is precisely the fact that he is verbose to the point of near-insanity; he overwhelms the reader with data and/or text, he pulls in other references from here, there and God knows where. For a guy who has mastered the art of one-linership which he uses with abandon in his endless appearances on the Fox, shock-jock AM radio circuit, he goes to the other extreme when he puts his thoughts into print.

Not only do Hughes and DeFilippis refuse to be intimidated by Lott’s over-abundant style, they have actually read every word that Lott has written defending his thesis that more guns equals less crime, and this article debunks much of what Lott says in straightforward, clear terms.  In particular, they cover two issues which I always felt have been handled by Lott in ways that have little, if anything to do with the truth.

The first issue has to do with the validity of the data used by Lott to support his claim that when personal-defense gun ownership goes up as judged by the issuance of CCW licenses, the rate of violent crime goes down.  Leaving aside the question of whether there’s any relationship between the number of CCW licenses issued and the number of people actually carrying self-defense guns (an issue that neither Lott nor his critics have ever bothered to raise), the county-wide crime data allegedly used by Lott is so thin in many cases and so unrepresentative of overall crime trends as to be basically useless for arguing anything related to guns or crime at all. In fact, Lott has mentioned that county-level data at least allows him to see differences in crime rates between cities as opposed to rural zones.  But he has never admitted that urban-rural differences in criminal patterns probably bias his work to a degree that makes it shaky at best, untenable at worst.  To their credit, Hughes and DeFilippis drive this point home.

My other pet peeve with Lott, actually related to the previous, is the fact that most communities with substantial numbers of CCW-licensed residents also happen to be places with very little crime.  And this was not the result of an increase in CCW; it was always true for most places that have been granting more CCW licenses over the last ten years.  Hughes and DeFilippis call Lott out on this issue properly and persuasively; the push by Lott and others to create an armed citizenry to protect us from crime has been most successful in areas where all those armed citizens find themselves with nothing to do.

I’m giving Hughes and DeFilippis a ‘high-five’ for their response to John Lott.  But I’m also going to issue them a challenge, namely, to figure out how to undo some of the damage that John Lott has caused.  Like it or not, a majority of Americans now believe that keeping a gun around makes one safe.  And these folks need to hear and learn how little truth there is in such claims.  They certainly won’t hear it from John Lott.

 

A New VPC Report Helps Demolish The Argument That Guns Protect Us From Crime.

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The Violence Policy Center has just released its latest report that covers shootings by concealed-carry licensees since 2007. And while it’s impossible to come up with any kind of comprehensive number that tells us how many times legally-armed citizens yank out a piece and shoot themselves or someone else, the bottom line is that this project is a welcome antidote to the NRA-inspired nonsense about how people walking around with guns protect us from violence and crime.

If it were just the case that the pro-gun gang used the armed citizen la-la to sell more guns, it certainly wouldn’t upset me very much.  After all, every legal product deserves a good marketing scheme, even if it’s a scheme developed out of whole cloth.  But this year the virtue of an armed citizenry has been elevated to a new, almost sanctified level by the entire field of Republican Presidential candidates who are using the ‘more guns = less crime’ argument to make sure that sensible reforms like expanded background checks never get discussed at all.  “New laws won’t do anything at all,“ Donald Shlump tells us, while he preens about having a concealed-gun permit even though he won’t reveal if he actually carries or ever practices shooting a gun.

VPC cropped                According to the VPC report, at least 763 people have been shot to death by legally-armed citizens over the last eight years.  Now this is a pretty puny number when compared to the millions of crimes that are allegedly prevented because so many people are walking around with guns.  But if you think we have no idea about the accuracy of the VPC data, let me hasten to assure you that the pro-gun gang bases their claims about the value of an armed citizenry on no data at all.  The only thing they can point to is the 1994 article by Gary Kleck which has been discredited so many times that even the criticisms are getting a little stale.  And when Kleck went online earlier this year to defend his numbers, he backed away from his original claims.

Now you would think that if a national political party has designated  concealed-carry as its wedge issue in a Presidential year, the least they would do is conduct a survey to see if what they are claiming is really true.  If it turns out that the Kleck research is as bogus as I suspect, they just don’t have to tell anyone about a new poll.  On the other hand, were Kleck or someone else to do an updated study which shows that concealed-carry really was an effective and efficient way to defend against crime, just imagine what this would do for the Republicans if this information was injected into the Presidential campaign.  After all, the Democrats have clearly decided to use gun control as their wedge issue in the coming months, so all the more reason why the Republicans should try to outflank the opposition by proving once and for all that being armed is a good thing.

There’s only one little problem.  Armed citizens don’t protect us from crime.  And the reason is because crime and concealed-carry have nothing to do with each other.  Has there been a significant increase in CCW over the last few years?  Yes.  Do all these new CCW-holders live in localities where most crime occurs?  No.  The increase in concealed-carry applications has been most noticeable in places where legal gun-owners live which are, for the most part, white, small-town or smaller city localities – places where very little violent crime ever takes place.

In defending the recent spate of Republican gun-nuttery, the half-baked intellectual Thomas Sowell insisted it was reasonable to own a 30-shot rifle magazine in order to repel home invasions by three or more thugs.  Sowell might qualify his remarkable flight from reality by looking at what the BJS says are the odds of such events happening in neighborhoods where people own guns.  The odds are zero to none.

 

Oops – Jon Lott Does It Again. He Just Can’t Stop Using Real Or Imagined Women To Advance His Views On Guns.

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Everyone on both sides of the gun debate knows John Lott.  He’s been a leading promoter of the armed citizen nonsense since he published a book which claimed to find a connection between an increase in CCW and a decrease in crime.  The fact that a review committee of the National Academy of Sciences was unable to replicate his findings using his own data was a minor stumble in what has become a full-blown career promoting the idea that carrying guns around protects us all from crime.

In 1997 Lott appeared before a committee of the Nebraska legislature and stated that he had conducted a national survey which showed that nearly all DGUs (defensive gun uses) involved brandishing but not actually firing a gun.  When his survey results were challenged, Lott was unable to produce any data, claiming that it was lost when his hard drive crashed.

John Lott

John Lott

I’m not all that upset about the degree to which Lott has or hasn’t faked information about CCW, DGUs or anything else.  The truth is that once the gun nuts found a willing sycophant who would cloak his pro-gun advocacy in some kind of  ‘scientific’ or ‘academic’ approach, it didn’t really matter whether scholars on the other side of the debate agreed with him or not.  In fact, the more that scholars like Harvard’s David Hemenway and Stanford’s John Donohue call Lott to account, the more the red-meat noise machine comes to his defense.   And what the hell, a guy has to earn a living, doesn’t he?

But I’m beginning to think that Lott may have now gotten involved in a situation that even his most ardent friends and supporters may find it difficult to come to his defense. I’m referring to a story that appeared in Media Matters, regarding what appears to have been an effort by Lott to publish an article supporting  guns on campus that was actually written not by him but by a Brown University student named Taylor Woolrich.  In what can only be described as an act of journalistic identity theft,  Lott got this op-ed piece published on Fox News.com, complete with a headline that read: “Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun.”  The piece was originally sent to Fox under both their names but was rejected, then Fox changed its mind and was willing to run the op-ed under Taylor’s name but she declined but gave Lott permission to send in the piece using her name.  Except she didn’t give him permission to rewrite the entire piece, in particular the conclusion that starts with the following sentence: “Having a gun is by far the most effective way for victims to stop crime.”  What Woolrich thought was going to be a story about the trauma of stalking turned into a Lott-inspired paean to the value of citizens carrying concealed guns.

This episode wouldn’t be so interesting were it not for the fact that John Lott seems to have an interesting history when it comes to using or inventing female identities to advance and defend his own career. In various web postings, particularly websites that were critical of Lott’s work, a former PhD candidate at Wharton named Mary Rosh defended Lott, calling him the “best professor I ever had.” There was only one little problem – Mary Rosh was actually John Lott and he has never adequately explained how or why this case of false identity came about.

There’s been a lot of chatter over the years, much of it harmless or aimless, about the alleged link between sexual inadequacy and gun ownership, the idea being that guys who feel impotent in the bedroom can compensate to their heart’s content when they pull out their AR and head to the range.  In the case of John Lott, we have a major pro-gun personality who keeps using women, real or imagined, in ways that must leave him feeling embarrassed if not ashamed.  And the saddest thing about it is that he always seems to get caught.

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