Have You Taken The Hopkins Gun-Violence Course? If Not, Why Not?

Several months ago, when the stench from Fairfax was just beginning to roll out and the 2020 Presidential wannabees hadn’t yet begun to try and top one another in terms of their plans for gun control, our friends at the Bloomberg School rolled out an online course, “Reducing Gun Violence in America,” which offers a definitive syllabus on the research which has been done on gun violence.  The course modules do a good job of covering what we know and what we don’t know, and each module is accompanied by a bibliography that is the best and most complete compilation of relevant printed sources compiled to date.

So far, 2,750 intrepid students have registered for the course, a number which, in and of itself, has an awful lot to say about the intentions and motivations of folks who want to do something about the violence caused by guns. Because for all the talk about how gun-rights groups like the NRA do nothing except peddle half-baked truths about the joys and blessings of gun ownership, you would think that our side, the gun-control side, would contain a sufficient number of people who want to make sure that what we say about gun violence aligns with the truth. 

Of course who am I to question the honesty and sagacity (I’ve never used that word before) of the folks who create and promote the narratives on gun violence that have become a de rigeur component of the political messaging for entry into the 2020 Presidential campaign? After all, we know that universal background checks keep guns from getting into the ‘wrong’ hands. We know that red-flag laws keep guns away from people who are at risk. We know that leaving a loaded and unlocked gun around the house means that more teen-agers will use the gun to hurt themselves. We know all these things, so why bother to sign up for the Johns Hopkins course?

I’ll tell you why. Because if there’s one thing that emerges from the careful and candid presentations by the Hopkins faculty members, along with some guest appearances by others as well, it’s that when all is said and done, we don’t really know squat.  And the reason we don’t know squat is because gun-control laws are such a jumble from one state to another, and because we are a country of very diverse regions with diverse cultures and diverse histories, the idea that what has worked to reduce gun violence in one place will work just as well when applied somewhere else is, at best, a shot in the dark (pardon my pun.) 

I live in a state – Massachusetts – where it is estimated that only one out of five or six households contains a legal gun. Now these gun owners probably think about their guns the same way that gun owners in a gun-rich state like South Carolina think about their guns. But I used to live in South Carolina, and I can tell you that none of my neighbors even noticed when I walked out of my house carrying a gun. If I lived in Boston and a neighbor spotted me carrying my trusty Mini-14 out to my car, there’s a pretty good chance that the Boston PD would shortly be following me down the street.

And this is precisely what makes the Hopkins course important for folks on our side, because there aren’t any simple answers to deal with the problem of gun violence, no matter what you hear on NPR or MS-NBC.

Oops, I forgot. There is one simple answer. Get rid of the guns. But that’s not going to happen even if, in the best of all possible worlds, Wayne LaPierre gets appointed Ambassador to Moscow and the NRA joins the dodo bird as something which used to exist.

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Want To Teach About Gun Violence? Try Doing What Gun Nuts Do.

              If you haven’t yet taken a look at the online course on gun violence being offered by our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg School, you haven’t been reading my columns. I have posted several columns about the importance and value of this online educational effort, and I am pleased to find that more than 2,100 folks have registered to watch the well-done video lectures which are offered along with a quiz on each section of the curriculum, a very comprehensive reading list and, of course, a feedback form.

              Those of us who form what I refer to as Gun-control Nation like to believe that one of the major differences between what we say about gun violence and what Gun-nut Nation says is the degree to which our beliefs and narratives about this problem are grounded in evidence-based research, whereas the other side, the gun-nut side, doesn’t believe in evidence or scientific research at all. Want an example of how 2nd-Amendment advocates get the information they use to support their ideas? Try any of the loony and stupid videos by Grant Stinchfield, Dana Loesch or Colion Noir that are posted on NRA-TV. These efforts aren’t educational at all – they are nothing more than plain hucksterism disguised as some kind of rational opinion about the positive reasons for owning guns.

              But if you believe that Gun-control Nation has a copyright on internet video messaging which has a rational, educational focus while Gun-nut Nation’s messaging is nothing more than hot air, think again. In fact, if anything, when it comes to imparting real, hard-core information about guns, the folks who produce and distribute educational videos which promote gun ownership and the gun-owning lifestyle are way out ahead.

              Want an example?  Try this YouTube video, which has been viewed more than one million times:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNKKC4ew1Xk.  The company which produced this video has more than 100,000 subscribers to its website and the average video posted on the site has been viewed at least 50,000 times. Now you may not want to believe that a ten-minute video which shows a guy blasting away for 30 seconds with a variety of 9mm pistols should qualify as an ‘educational’ tool. But the reason this video has been viewed so many times is that lots of folks out there are considering buying, owning and carrying a pistol for self-defense, and this video is a very effective and professional effort to provide potential armed citizens with exactly the kind of information they need.

              Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Gun-nut Nation’s online educational effort are aimed (pardon the pun) only at providing information which can be used to promote the sale of self-defense guns.  Take a look at this video which has registered almost 250,000 views: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ODhQmE2OqY&feature=youtu.be

Frankly, if the Department of History at an Ivy League school wants to expand its curriculum to include a course on the history of technology as exemplified by early gun design, they should hire the guy who did this video and runs a website, https://www.forgottenweapons.com/, which contains a remarkable collection of evidence-based articles, book reviews and technical videos that puts many so-called educational websites to shame.

              You would think that with the kind of financial support that gun-control advocates can tap from the likes of Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, that creating some kind of video effort to promote discussions about the risk of guns is something that should have happened years ago. The really silly videos posted on NRA-TV get more than 300,000 views every month. You mean that a solid and informed video presence produced by a gun-control production company couldn’t do just as well?

              Here’s the bottom line. No advocacy effort can afford to cut itself off from actual or potential supporters when the opponents of that effort communicate to their supporters on a regular and ongoing basis every day.  Believe me, the pro-gun video machine is a much more effective way to generate support for gun ‘rights’ than some loony speech coming from Wayne-o at the NRA.

              THANK YOU BRENT GURTEK!

Here’s Your Opportunity To Study Gun Violence. Don’t Miss It.

              Our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg school have produced and published what I believe is the first attempt to create a comprehensive curriculum on gun violence. This is a very impressive online effort and should be viewed, used and studied by everyone who would like to see gun violence come to an end. In fact, if I were running a group which advocates gun control, I would insist that every member of the group register and go through the course. For that matter, I would post the course on my Facebook page and suggest that other FB admins do it too.  In fact, I’m posting and pinning the course on my FB page right now.

              The good news is that the entire curriculum is video-delivered by members of the Hopkins faculty, all of whom know how to stand up in front of a classroom and deliver lectures in a clear and organized way. The better news is that the website is user-friendly and the lessons can be easily accessed even by users with only a slight degree of digital skills. Finally, the lessons are all on video, but you can also refer to text, and there are reading lists attached for further study, as well as a review quiz at the end of each lesson.

              If you take the program seriously, watch every lecture, read the relevant assignments, do all quiz exercises and give feedback, you are looking at more than 11 hours of study time.  In other words, this is serious stuff and the entire effort is obviously meant to be taken seriously. Incidentally, along with four members of the Hopkins faculty, there are lessons provided by outside experts, including our friends Jeff Swanson and Adam Winkler, and of course the website includes forums so that every student also gets a chance to shoot his or her mouth off. God forbid there would actually be a website out there which doesn’t afford everyone the opportunity to make some noise, right?

              If my last sentence reads in a somewhat sarcastic vein, it’s not by accident. One of the reasons I like this effort is because it is advertised up front as being based on ‘evidence;’ i.e., the content is tied to relevant research in the field. Now that doesn’t mean that all the research is totally correct or that more research needs to be done. But the whole point here, it seems to me, is to inject fact-based knowledge into the gun debate, rather than just creating another digital forum for opinions, a.k.a. hot air. The gun-control movement has come into its own since Sandy Hook; if anything, when it comes to the argument about the role of guns in American society, for the first time gun control appears to have trumped gun ‘rights.’ All the more reason why the discussion needs to proceed on evidence drawn from serious research, not opinions out of thin air. 

              Talking about evidence, I have only one suggestion to make to the faculty that created this course, and it’s a suggestion which obviously flows from my own background when it comes to the issue of guns. If it were possible to revise the curriculum at some point, I would ask the faculty to consider adding a section which explains the meaning of the word ‘gun.’ After all, if we want to learn about a certain kind of violence which is defined by the use of a certain object which we call a ‘gun,’ shouldn’t we make sure that all our learners know how to define that object in terms of how it’s designed, how it’s manufactured, how it works and doesn’t work?. I see too many instances on various gun-control forums, FB pages, and questions directly asked of me which indicate a knowledge deficit on both sides of the gun debate about the product which causes the violence itself.

              That’s a minor quibble.  I hope the Hopkins faculty will take seriously the work they have done and promote its access every chance they get. And when you finish reading this text, go to the website and sign up for the course.

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

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?