In States Which Like Gun Violence, They Also Like Trump.

The map below appeared on the Gallup website at the end of July when Trump’s national job ratings were about where they are right now; i.e., pretty damn bad. But the point of this map was to demonstrate that the Whiner-in-Chief still had significant support in most of the really red states. The darker the state, the higher Trump’s support.

Map 1

            And this map, when all is said and done, isn’t terribly different from how the electoral map played out on November 8, 2016, because even in the ‘swing’ states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan whose shift from blue to red put Trump out in front, his support is still much greater than in the blue corridors on each coast. In other words, as long as the popular vote doesn’t determine who sits in the Oval office, right now (I hate to say it) looking towards 2020, the bully with the world’s most expensive head rug isn’t in such bad shape.

But now I’m going to throw another national map at you and notice that the shadings in this one aren’t all that different from what we see in the map of Trump’s state-by-state support. Again, the darker the state, the higher gun-violence rate.

 

 

Map 2

With a few exceptions, it appears to be the case that the states where Trump is most popular are also the states which have the highest rate of deaths from guns. And while a majority of these deaths are suicides, no matter what Gun-nut Nation tells you, using a gun to commit suicide isn’t just like jumping out a window or falling off a bridge.  Because the fact is that there is no other method you can use to end your own life which is as effective and efficient as using a gun.  And when it comes to calling suicide a form of gun violence, I’m sorry but I’ll rely on the definition of violence adopted by the World Health Organization: “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death….” Get it?  Oneself?

The national gun-violence rate is currently 10.6 per 100,000. With the exception of two states – South Dakota and Nebraska – every other pro-Trump state has a rate of gun homicide/suicide rate (GV) higher than the national average, and in most instances, significantly higher. Alaska leads the entire country with a GV rate of 19.6.  Right behind Alaska is Louisiana (19.1), Alabama (17.8), Wyoming (17.5) and Montana (16.9).  Two of these states have elevated rates because of suicide (WY,MT), the other two states make the top ten list because residents of those states evidently enjoy shooting guns not so much at themselves, but at others.

If we examine gun-violence rates in states where Trump’s numbers are the worst (less than 40% approval rating and compare his polls in those states to gun-violence rates we discover exactly the reverse. Thus, with the exception of New Mexico, where the gun-violence rate is 15.6, there is not one other anti-Trump state with a gun-violence rate above 11 per 100,000, which is just about the national gun-death average, and 10 of those 17 states have a per-100,000 single-digit rate, beginning with Hawaii’s 2.7, followed by Massachusetts at 3.2.

Looking at these numbers forces me to say that Trump’s continued outbursts invoking, justifying and supporting violence of all sorts isn’t just a symptom of some kind of mental derangement but may reflect his awareness of where his political strength really lies. Because if nothing else, the maps above force us to conclude or at least suggest that residents of pro-Trump states have no great concerns about the most violent form of behavior within their own communities; namely, the violence caused by guns. And if that’s true, you can bet that Trump will take pains to make sure that nothing is done to reduce gun violence in places which believe he will make America great again.

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Is Gun Violence A Medical Event? Not If You Agree With The NRA.

I’m not exactly sure why The Washington Post would run a big story today on the government’s continued failure to fund gun research through the CDC, considering that when it comes to health matters the new Congress has much more important things to do like getting rid of the ACA. Nevertheless, the story does make the point that gun violence is the least-researched of all major causes of death, and had it received research funding commensurate with the number of gun deaths each year, the total research dollars that might have been spent over the last decade would be $1.4 billion or more.

urban              The Post’s story is hardly the first time that the funding deficit for gun research has been mentioned and it won’t be the last. This story was prompted by a brief JAMA article in which two researchers calculated a predictive figure for gun violence research (the $1.4 billion quoted above) and compared it to research funding for other leading causes of mortality and, no surprise, the gun violence funding lagged far behind.

The number of gun deaths and the whole notion of gun violence has been attacked by Gun-nut Nation in two different ways.  First they argue that the number is wholly out of wack because two-thirds of gun mortality consists of suicides and this behavior is prompted by mental illness, it has nothing to do with guns at all.  Let’s end that one right now: the World Health Organization defines ‘violence’ as an attempt to injure yourself or someone else.  Get it? If you don’t get it, you can stop reading right now.

The other argument that gun-nut Nation uses to disparage the idea that gun violence should be studied as a medical problem is the claim that over the last several decades, coincident with the same time-period during which the Dickey Amendment prohibited gun research, in fact mortality from guns has been going down.  The total number of gun deaths today, including suicides, is roughly half what it was in 1994.  So why spend taxpayer money on researching something which seems to be solving itself?

The fact is (there’s that messy word again) that total gun deaths are about half of what they were twenty years ago, except that 95% of that decrease occurred between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2000 the annual number of gun deaths has stayed more or less the same, and if current numbers can be trusted, gun deaths have started climbing again.  Will the numbers climb back up to levels recorded in the mid-90’s?  God only hopes not, but to say that gun violence continues to go down is simply a big, fat lie.

But there’s one more aspect of gun violence which the authors of the JAMA article didn’t take into account, and they didn’t deal with it because they are physicians which means that every injury is a medical event that must be treated as a risk to health. Except that at least one-third of all fatal gun injuries, and this holds true for no other type of injury that causes death, also happen to be criminal events. And it is the criminal nature of more than 11,000 gun homicides and 65,000+ gun assaults each year which helps Gun-nut Nation support the idea that gun violence shouldn’t be the subject of medical research at all.

Because, so the theory goes, if someone picks up a gun and intends to use it to harm someone else, then that someone has made a conscious decision to commit a criminal act. And we don’t need no stinkin’ research to figure out what to do with all those gang-bangers in the ‘hood.  Just lock ‘em up, throw away the key and that’s the end of that.

Now for those of us who understand that crime is a complicated, multifactorial  phenomenon that can’t simply be reduced to a quick and easy solution, that’s fine.  But a lot of people out there would disagree.  And many of those folks own guns and support the NRA.

A New Book That Can Get You Up To Speed On The Gun Violence Debate.

Thomas Gabor is an American-trained criminologist who taught and researched criminal justice for 30 years in Canada and has now settled in Florida where he and his wife run a consulting business specializing in ‘crime, justice and social research services and advice to government agencies, businesses, law enforcement and correctional agencies.’ To burnish his already-impressive credentials as an expert in these fields he has just published a book, Confronting Gun Violence in America which, according to the promotional announcement, ‘suggests a bold national strategy to confront gun violence.’  And since the gun violence prevention community (GVP) is now faced with figuring out a strategy to reduce gun violence in the Age of Trump, this book couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time.

gabor           Unfortunately, the author admits that he has no idea whether his bold national strategy can ever be implemented either in whole or in parts (p. 279), which renders the effectiveness of his argument somewhat more apparent than real. Because if Dr. Gabor has written this book to frame his analysis of the GVP debate within a context of workable solutions to the problem, then it really doesn’t move the argument forward to suggest a ‘bold national strategy’ without attempting to figure out whether any aspect of that strategy could possibly be implemented or not.  And the truth is there’s not a single piece of Dr. Gabor’s bold strategy which hasn’t been suggested by other experts and researchers in the GVP field.  So what does this book bring to the GVP discussion which hasn’t been brought to this discussion before?

What this book does bring is a well-balanced survey of research on just about every aspect of the gun violence debate, including such issues as the value of gun ownership for personal defense, whether access to guns increases the likelihood of suicide and other intentional deaths, the relationship between the existence or absence of gun laws and rates of gun violence in different states, how and why public opinion about gun violence changes over time, and just about every other relevant topic which is germane to the current gun violence debate.  The book references somewhere around 100 peer-reviewed, published research papers, there’s a mention of most of the important advocacy and research efforts that have appeared online, and best of all, the arguments on both sides for each topic are presented in concise and readable ways.  In other words, the book is a solid resource that can be used to understand the state of GVP knowledge and advocacy at the present time.

There’s only one little problem with Professor Gabor’s approach to the issue of gun violence, and this is not a criticism of what he has done, but rather a comment on the state of GVP awareness as a whole.  There wouldn’t be any reason to publish a book like this or to even need a gun violence prevention advocacy movement if it weren’t for the fact that a majority of Americans do not seem to feel that gun violence is a serious problem at all.  Or if they do believe it is a serious issue they certainly also believe that nothing should be done to mitigate the problem if whatever is proposed might make it more difficult for any law-abiding American to get his or her hands on a gun.  The power of Gun-nut Nation isn’t simply a result of the determination of its members to maintain and enlarge their 2-Amendment ‘rights.’  It’s much more a reflection of the lack of concern manifested by most Americans about the 120,000 deaths and injuries attributed to gun violence each and every year.

Those who take the trouble to read and study this valuable book will be drawn from a segment of the population whose minds about the abhorrence of gun violence have already been made up. But what about everyone else?  How to reach all those people with an effective and persuasive argument for reducing gun violence is a challenge yet to be met.

What Do States That Vote GOP Have In Common? They Love Their Guns.

Take a look at the projected electoral map on Nate Silver’s website.  Now take a look at the map which shows state-level gun-violence rates constructed by our friends at the Center for American Progress (found on Page 6 of their report, America Under Fire.) Notice anything?  I’ll give you a little hint: The states with the highest levels of gun violence are also the states that will probably end up voting for the GOP.  And if you want to talk about the elephant in the living room when it comes to guns, this is it.  Simply put: red states are where most gun violence occurs.

conference-program-pic           You won’t ever see this elephant if you listen to Gun-nut Nation, because as far as they are concerned, gun violence is only a problem in minority neighborhoods, and many, if not most of those neighborhoods are located in cities (Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles) within states which contain relatively few voters who back the GOP.  So when The Groper stands up at one of his Klan rallies and says that violent crime will go down if we make sure to be armed when we walk around those crime-infested spots, he’s pandering to the racist mentality of the lunatic fringe, but he’s also saying something that simply isn’t true.  Gee – what a surprise that Groper Trump would say something that isn’t true.

What is true is that gun violence appears to correlate most of all with lax gun laws, which is a polite way of saying that in many red states that there are no gun laws at all.  Or if there are any laws covering guns, they tend to be laws that actually give people more, not less legal use of guns.  The worst in this respect are ‘stand your ground’ laws (SYG) which allow people to use any level of lethal force if they believe they might otherwise face imminent harm, and they do not have to retreat or otherwise try to avoid the problem before yanking out a gun.  These laws now exist in 22 states, of which The Groper will probably win 17 or 18 of those states unless he screws things up a bit more. And what happens when an SYG law is put into effect?  According to a very comprehensive study from Everytown, the justifiable homicide rate goes up by more than twice.

Why are red-leaning states so resistant to passing laws that reduce gun violence, in particular laws which in other states appear to work?  Why is it so hard, for example, to get extended NICS-background checks in these states when all the polls show that even a healthy majority of gun owners believe that requiring background checks for private transfers would be a good thing? It would be tempting to put it down to the fact that since these are the states where most people own guns, therefore Gun-nut Nation can easily rally the troops, so to speak, whenever a new gun is being discussed.  But the issue goes deeper than that, and here is what it’s really all about.

The most powerful argument that Gun-nut Nation puts forth to block any kind of gun regulations is the ‘slippery-slope’ argument; i.e., if you let ‘them’ have any new law at all, then they’ll take another bite here, another bite there, and sooner or later there won’t be any guns at all.  And there happens to be a bit of truth to this argument, if only because most gun-sense activists, no matter how much they claim to ‘respect’ the 2nd Amendment, would be just as happy if all the guns really did go away.

Because the truth is, and here’s the real elephant in case you didn’t know, there’s one thing and one thing only which accounts for every act of gun violence, and that’s the existence of a gun. I apologize for putting it in such clear and uncompromising terms, but if you pull the trigger of a loaded gun, it’s going to go – bang!

 

 

We Don’t Need Cops Because We Can All Carry Guns, Right?

Back in the 1970s I lived in Columbia, SC, and while my house was inside the city limits, I could jump in my car and within 5 minutes get to a nice, sand pit on the edge of town. So what I would do was reload a couple of hundred rounds of 9mm or 45-caliber brass, then take either my Browning Hi-Power or my Colt 1911 out to the sand pit and bang away.  I made the bullets by melting down and then casting wheel weights that I could scavenge from any gas station around.  At that time a box of factory, 9mm ammo ran about ten bucks, to shoot 50 reloads probably cost me about 60 cents.

ccw            This was what handgun shooting was all about in the 1970s – you loaded your own ammo, went out to a pit or the woods and banged away.  But that’s all changed now because according to Gun-nut Nation, a handgun is an indispensable ‘tool’ for protecting yourself against violent crime, terrorism, God knows what.  Now the fact that all of those folks who stand in line to get concealed-carry permits will almost never be victims of a violent crime is beside the point.  After all, we know for a fact that voter fraud will get Hillary elected this year, even if there’s no evidence whatsoever that there’s any voting fraud at all.  It’s still a fact!

The same thing holds true when we talk about guns.  It’s now more than 20 years since Gun-nut Nation began touting the idea that gun-toting Americans save us from being crime victims at least several million times every year. Now there must be some truth to this argument because handgun sales continue to go up while violent crime rates continue to go down. Of course the possibility that one trend may have absolutely nothing to do with the other is beside the point.  As a gun instructor was quoted by Angela Stroud in her brilliant book, without a gun she didn’t have a ‘self-defense plan.’

Now I always thought that the way you defended yourself against a possible crime, and in fact this happens to be the way it is usually done, is to open your mouth and scream.  Or maybe dial 911.  Or maybe, God forbid, back down. But what Gun-nut Nation wants you to believe is that none of those strategies compares to the protection afforded by pulling out a gun. And in case you need more proof, the Martians have landed at Area 51.

A new study by Andrew Papachristos and colleagues, based on a study of 911 calls in Milwaukee from 2005, found that inner-city residents appear to share Gun-nut Nation’s aversion to viewing police as the primary defenders against violent crime.  The decline in 911 calls took place after a biracial Milwuakee resident, Frank Jude, was severely beaten by several white, off-duty police officers which eventually led to the firing of nine cops following protests in the black community when the news of the attack got around.  The researchers estimate that more than 20,000 calls were not made because of mistrust of the police following the Jude affair, and when people stop asking the cops to protect them from crime, the crime rates have a funny way of going up.

I’m not saying there aren’t occasions when having access to a gun or some other kind of weapon will make it easier to defend against a crime.  What I am saying is that Gun-nut Nation wants you to think that a gun should always be your first line of defense. After all, the average person walking around with a concealed handgun isn’t usually required to demonstrate any competence in using the weapon or, for that matter, even understanding how to determine whether a particular situation might be life-threatening or not.  But citizen-protectors don’t need any training because, after all, the 2nd Amendment gives them the ‘right’ to walk around with a gun.

Don’t More Guns Equal Less Crime? Not Any More.

What’s going on?  After year-to-year declines in the violent crime rate going back twenty years, all of a sudden in 2015 things turned around and now violent crime rates are going back up.  Now the good news is that the overall violent crime rate – 372.6 per 100,000 – is well below what it was five years ago when it stood at 404.5.  It’s also about 20% lower than it was ten years ago and more than 70% lower than its alarming peak in 1994. So yes, we are a lot safer than we were twenty years ago, on the other hand, a two-decade drop in violent crime may have come to an end.

conference program pic            What’s more disturbing about the overall increase is that the biggest year-to-year increase occurred within the murder category which is, for most of us, the sine qua non of violent crime.  Every violent crime category – murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery – showed an increase from 2014 to 2015, but rape was up 5%, aggravated assault increased by 4%, robbery was just slightly higher, but the homicide rate jumped by 10%, and that’s a lot more dead bodies, 1,532 more dead bodies to be exact. And although the difference was not all that great, you might as well know that the percentage of murders committed with guns also slid up from 69% to 71%.

Now according to Gun-nut Nation, as the number of privately-owned guns goes up and, in particular, the number of gun-owners who are allowed to walk around carrying a gun goes up, violent crime is supposed to go down.  The idea that more guns equals less crime is not only the title of a book written by one of Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished mouthpieces, it has been the watchword of the entire marketing scheme for guns since white suburbanites became afraid of crime and people stopped hunting, both of which became kind of obvious even to the gun industry back when Ronald Reagan was making room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the first George Bush.

Remember Willie Horton?  Bush’s 1988 opponent, Mike Dukakis, had the bad luck of having supported the furlough program which let Horton out of slam for a weekend furlough whereupon Horton went down to Maryland, raped a young woman and then was arrested and thrown back into jail.  Maybe the Horton ad swung the election for Bush and maybe it didn’t, but the one thing it certainly did was to focus attention on the issues of race and crime.  And this was the same time that the NRA began ramping up the campaign to get states to issue concealed-carry licenses (CCW), with only a handful of states going along with the idea in 1987 but more than 30 states granting near-automatic CCW by 1995.

It was also in the mid-90’s that a serious increase in violent crime due primarily to the crack-cocaine epidemic began to abate with a ten-year cycle of increasing crime rates from the mid-1980s being replaced with annual declines of violent crime which continued for the next twenty years.  And what accounted for this year-after-year decline in violent crime?  The ‘fact’ that so many Americans owned guns and more and more Americans were carrying concealed weapons outside their home.  The argument was first made by a Florida criminologist named Gary Kleck, then refurbished and expanded by another ersatz academic named John Lott, and just before the FBI released the 2015 numbers the gun industry’s official broadcaster, the National Shooting Sports Foundation blared on its website: “Gun Crimes Plummet As Gun Sales Rise.”

But how will the NSSF explain away the increase in violent crime while gun sales and CCW permits continue to soar?  I’ve got it!  Just blame it on the possibility that Hillary might defeat Trump and then immediately ban all guns. No matter which way you cut it, you’ll always find someone who believes the Martians have established a colony at Area 51.

A New NRA Program On Domestic Abuse Actually Increases The Chances Of Being Abused.

In their endless and uncompromising quest to make sure that all Americans understand the risks of gun ownership (read: there are no risks,) the NRA has just announced a partnership with the gun blog Bearing Arms, to help celebrate Domestic Violence Awareness Month which takes place every October and even rates a Presidential Proclamation issued by the guy who has finally been granted American citizenship by Donald Trump.

domestic            THE NRA has been tirelessly promoting gun sales to women ever since they discovered that most of the guns that were scooped up since the Kenyan entered the White House were bought by the same old, white men.  And the problem with the white-man market is that as a percentage of people living in the United States, it’s not getting any larger, which means that at a certain point gun sales will begin to lag. In fact, the most recent survey on how many Americans actually own guns revealed that less than one-quarter of U.S. adults are gun owners, which means that Gun-nut Nation’s ‘chicken in every pot’ dream of a gun in every home just isn’t coming true.

Of course the new collaboration between the NRA and Bearing Arms isn’t what people think about when the issue of domestic violence is raised.  For most of us, advocating against domestic violence means making treatment options for abused persons more available, streamlining the process for seeking legal protection against abuse, and toughening sanctions against abusers who are charged and convicted of engaging in a domestic assault.

Last year and the year before that and the year before that, women constituted 20% of all homicide victims of whom roughly half were murdered with guns. Most killings where a gun was used grow out of domestic disputes, and many result in the injuring or killing of other family members as well.  Some states make it relatively easy to disarm people involved in domestics, other states make it more difficult, and still other states have disarming laws and procedures that are so complex and so vague that usually nothing is done at all.

But if there is one consistent area when it comes to domestic abuse and guns, it has been the NRA’s opposition to disarming people involved in such affairs.  On occasion, the NRA has quietly supported legislation that disarms persons accused or convicted of domestic abuse, but generally speaking, until a guy is actually convicted of beating up his wife or girlfriend, and even in some instances after being convicted, he can still hold onto his guns or petition the Court to get them returned.  In some states, the same Judge who issues an Order of Protection has no legal basis for issuing an order that would remove guns from the possession of the person who was told to stay away from his wife.  Which means that if the guy decides to violate the Order, he can show up on her doorstep with a gun.

The NRA and Bearing Arms calls this an effort to strengthen one’s ‘personal protection plan,’ and it involves getting shooting ranges to offer training discounts to individuals who are holding an ‘active’ order of protection, which means, of course, that abuse victims also have to own a gun.  The new NRA-Bearing Arms program is a cynical attempt to pretend that the best response to domestic violence is for an abused spouse or girlfriend to respond with violence as well.

 I am not arguing that anyone facing the threat of physical abuse should necessarily rule out any effective response, even if that response increases risk.  But if a victim of domestic abuse decides to arm themselves, they should be aware that there is no credible study which shows that access to a gun is either effective or safe; to the contrary, the odds they will hurt themselves or some other unintended person is a more probable outcome if they have access to a gun. And that’s not something that Gun-nut Nation will ever understand.

 

To reach an advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline call: 1-800-799-SAFE

Website for information and to access chat services: www.thehotline.org and www.loveisrespect.org (the latter is for youth)

Youth can text Loveisrespect services by texting “love is” to 22522

 

What’s The Difference Between Homicide & Suicide? Where You Point The Gun.

Our friends at The Trace have just published an article on guns and suicides which shows that states with high per-capita gun ownership also tend to have higher-than-average suicides committed with guns.  Roughly one out of two successful suicides involve a gun, and it is the only type of suicide plan that rarely, if ever, fails.  So having access to a gun when something as impulsive as suicide is involved, becomes a very dangerous state of affairs.

suicide           The idea of a link between gun ownership and suicide is not new.  In fact, two of the true gun-violence research pioneers, Art Kellerman and Frederick Rivara, published research on this point in 1992, for which the NRA did not give them an award at their annual meeting that year or any other year.  In fact, it was this research among other efforts that was cited by the NRA as ‘proof’ that CDC-funded gun research was nothing more than anti-gun advocacy masquerading as science and led to the defunding of said research.

I happen to think that perhaps we should start taking the NRA and its various mouthpieces at their word and suggest that perhaps the medical community should forego any further treatment of NRA members altogether.  I mean, what the hell.  Since they have decided that getting your head shot off isn’t a medical ‘problem,’ obviously no other injury that a person might suffer should qualify as a medical problem either, right?

Now obviously I’m being a bit sarcastic here to make a point, which is that gun violence is gun violence whether you point the gun at yourself or at anyone else.  The difference, and it’s the only difference, is that it’s a lot easier to shoot yourself than to shoot anyone else, particularly if the ‘anyone else’ happens to be moving around.  And the fact that the official line from Gun-nut Nation is that suicide and guns have nothing whatsoever to do with each other only tells you how far from reality that bunch has strayed.  So let’s get back to reality.

Here’s reality: In 2014, the national gun-suicide rate (per 100,000) was 6.34.  The rate for Whites was 8.3, for Blacks it was 2.75.  Where do all these White suicide victims live?  In small towns particularly in Western states.  This is what the Kerry Shaw says in The Trace, this is what everyone says. And while a state like Montana has a gun-suicide rate seven times higher than New York State, comparing suicide rates at the state level can sometimes obscure as much as it explains. For example, Essex County, which is the far Northern chunk of the Adirondacks, has a gun-suicide rate of more than 10, which isn’t up to Montana but it’s not far behind.  The difference is that New York’s statewide population is overwhelmingly urban and suicides, particularly older suicides, tend to take place in small, rural towns, no matter where they are located.

It should also be mentioned that as the suicide-prone population ages, the use of a gun becomes more frequent.  The rate of gun-suicide for White victims above the age of 60 is 13.36, which is 60% higher than the rate for all White suicide deaths.  On the other hand, the gun-suicide rate for Blacks who are 60 and up is the same as the overall gun-suicide rate for African-Americans. Why is it that Blacks seem so resistant to suicide, in particular gun-suicide, whereas suicide and gun-suicide rates for Whites are three times higher and keep going up?  We have absolutely no idea, and it’s an issue which never seems to get discussed within the GVP community.

It should be discussed because it certainly wouldn’t hurt to figure out why gun violence seems to be endemic to certain population groups whereas other groups appear to be resistant to the gun-violence scourge.  After all, it’s not as if there is anyone in this great land of ours who can’t easily and readily put their hands on a gun.

Why Don’t We End Gun Violence? Because We Don’t Experience It.

This year roughly 110,000 Americans will be killed or seriously injured with guns. And this is often referred to as an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence for which a solution has yet to be found.  But epidemics, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, have a beginning and an end. In the case of gun violence, to quote the brilliant insight of Dr. Katherine Christoffel, gun violence is “endemic” because it just goes on year after year after year.

How does an otherwise basically law-abiding, civil society let this kind of human carnage go on without being able to develop or even talk about developing a basic consensus on bringing this problem to an end? The usual response is that a small but determined coterie of special-interest groups led by the NRA and the NSSF have managed to stymie any serious efforts at political reforms and without changes in public policy, the overwhelming and continuous human toll from guns will continue without change.

conference program pic           To me, this is a rather facile argument which takes an obvious answer and turns it into an unquestioned formula to be trotted out by every GVP organization and advocate whenever they are asked to explain why their efforts to promote sensible gun regulations come up short.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the NRA and its acolytes in and out of politics don’t deserve their share of the blame. What I am saying, however, is that the failure of this country to respond properly to gun violence goes far deeper than simply assigning blame to the folks who own the guns.

When Black Lives Matter sprung up after the murder of Trayvon Martin, the focus was, and continues to be on “broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.”  As regards gun violence, this conversation focuses on gun violence perpetrated by police against residents of the African-American community, of which there have been far too many instances over the last several years. Left unsaid is the degree to which gun violence committed by civilians against other civilians is also a feature of African-American life, with numbers and rates of gun homicides being seven or eight times higher among blacks then among whites.

Of course the GCP community, including African-American community leadership has an immediate answer to deal with this problem, namely, keep the guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands.  Which takes us right back to where we started, namely, the ability of the NRA camp to prevent sensible public policy reforms aimed at keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  No wonder we get nowhere fast.

Take a look at the racial breakdown for all causes of death for the age brackets 15 – 34.  From a gun-violence perspective, this is the killing zone par excellence, with black gun homicides accounting for two-thirds of all gun deaths whereas blacks are, at best, 15% of the overall population in this age bracket. The number cause of death in this age group is unintentional injuries and the numbers are: whites – 24,211; blacks – 3,488.  Second highest cause of death is suicide: whites 9,811; blacks – 1,111. Next highest is medical neoplasms (cancer): whites – 3,980; blacks – 901. Gun death victims aren’t just overwhelmingly African-American; it is the only cause of death in which the racial breakdown doesn’t more or less match the racial composition of society as a whole.

Want to know the real reason why we continue to put up with this obscene event known as gun violence?  Because more whites don’t get killed.  The Viet-Nam War ended because CBS News started flashing the body count on its national news every night, and those were American bodies and, loose talk to the contrary, most (85%) of those bodies were white. I’m not advocating killing or injuring anyone with guns; I’m saying that most of us don’t experience gun violence at all.

Should We Assume That Being A Patriot Means You Like Guns? I’m Not So Sure.

One of my favorite books was Fritz Stern’s The Politics of Cultural Despair. The author, whose family left Nazi Germany in 1938, tried to explain how a cultured and modern society like Germany could descend to the depravity of the Nazis and then destroy itself by launching a world-wide Holocaust which, among other things, resulted in the extermination of six million Jews. The book was a study of three German political theorists whose writings provided the historical and ideological bedrock for the Nazi regime, in particular its rejection of modern liberalism and all its variants (Socialism, Communism), as well as its virulent anti-Semitism.  Basically Stern argued that many Germans felt threatened by the modernism of Weimar and wanted a return to a simpler, more conservative and more traditional life: small villages instead of large urban concentrations, petty craft instead of factory assembly-lines, social and spiritual values supporting hierarchy, discipline and customary family life.

Sound familiar?  It should if only because most of these concepts have become watchwords of the political conundrums that appear to be enveloping the Republican party as it stumbles through the primaries leading up to the Cleveland convention which threatens to implode even before it begins.  But the rejection of modernism in the form of progressivism has also been the watchword of the NRA in its long battle to fight off any and all threats perceived to weaken the 2nd Amendment, thus preventing consumers from getting their hands on guns.

The funny thing about the 2nd Amendment is that the whole idea of maintaining this sacred text unchanged and unchallenged fits perfectly into what is considered to be the typical mental and cultural view of people who own and like guns. There’s a reason why only Republican politicians show up at the annual NRA meeting; there’s a reason why the NRA posts daily messages reminding its members that Hillary is such a threat; there’s a reason why the NRA calls itself “America’s oldest civil rights organization;” there’s a reason why every Wayne-o video ends with the slogan: “Freedom’s Safest Place.”

There’s only one little problem, however, with all these messages that pretend to equate gun ownership with the traditional, conservative values that Fritz Stern showed coming into collision with the modern German society and state, namely, none of this tells us why some people own guns but more people don’t.  The demographics of gun ownership are usually presented as resting on older white men who live in smaller cities and towns that are usually located in the South, Midwest or Mountain states, work in blue-collar occupations, live in traditional marriage/family arrangements and vote Republican every chance they get.

Unfortunately, while this may explain why the NRA annual meeting comes complete this year with a country music jam featuring Brett Eldredge and Jana Kramer (I have absolutely no idea whom either of them are) what it doesn’t explain is the fact that many, in fact perhaps a majority of people who fit the gun-owning demographic don’t own guns at all.  And this is a big problem because the GVP community is comprised overwhelmingly of groups and individuals who would certainly consider themselves as being in the progressive or liberal camp.  But how can they be sure that someone who claims to be a conservative is necessarily going to disagree with them when it comes to the issue of guns?

The GVP community needs to be careful in assuming that cultural attitudes about one particular thing necessarily flow over into attitudes about anything else.  A big hue and cry erupted in 1967 when Dean Rusk’s daughter married a black air force lieutenant. Would anyone other than a schmuck like Cliven Bundy care about an interracial marriage today?  I’m not saying that the NRA membership is ready to be converted to the GVP cause. But the fact that someone considers himself/herself to be a keeper of traditional values doesn’t mean they care one bit about guns. The GVP folks should figure out how to talk to them.