Do Safe-Storage Laws Protect Our Kids?

A group of medical researchers have just published a JAMA article about the effectiveness of child-access prevention (CAP) laws, which are also referred to as safe-storage laws. You can download the article right here. Or you can go to JAMA and read it there.  Either way, this is an important article for two reasons:

  1. CAP laws have become a priority with all gun-control organizations and now exist in 27 states.
  2. For the first time, we have a major piece of gun-violence research which clarifies the definition of ‘child.’

Most gun studies define children as being 0 to 20 years old.  The articles cited in the above link to Giffords use 17 and 20 as the maximum age for their studies. But virtually all 50 states grant hunting licenses to anyone above the age of 15, so to refer to them as ‘children’ is nothing more than an attempt to make the problem of gun injury worse than it is, since most gun injuries, intentional or unintentional, occur after the age of 14. To the credit of the researchers who wrote this JAMA piece, they use the age of 14 as their cut-off point.

Here’s the headline: “more-stringent CAP laws were associated with statistically significant relative reductions in pediatric firearm fatalities. Negligence laws, but not recklessness laws, were associated with reductions in firearm fatalities.” Fine – all well and good. But as usual, the devil’s in the details and I noticed one detail which remains unexplained.

This study looked at changes in gun injuries to children beginning in 1991 and ending in 2016, with the before-and-after comparison being set at 1997 when injury rates began to decline in both CAP and non-CAP states. Over the next eleven years – from 1998 through 2008, the decline was greater in the non-CAP states. Only after 2008 do injury rates in CAP states continue to level off (although they do not continue any downward trend) whereas injury rates in non-CAP states show an increase over the last few years.

The research team carefully explains a number of factors that might influence the results, such as an awareness of CAP laws, misclassification of data, etc. But what they don’t discuss is possible explanations for the decline of child gun injuries in non-CAP jurisdictions. A decline which, until 2008, was almost the same in both CAP and non-CAP states.

If you want to understand the effects of any law designed to require a certain type of behavior, at the very least you need to compare the effects of that law to whether or not the same behavior changed in places where the law didn’t exist. But there is also a bigger issue involved with this research.

The researchers make a distinction between laws which deal with access of children to guns in terms of ‘negligence’ (not locking the gun up or away) to ‘recklessness,’ which basically means that someone took a gun out of safe storage and used it in a stupid or careless way.

I happen to live in the state – Massachusetts – which has the most stringent CAP law of all states with such laws. The law states that unless the gun is under ‘direct control’ by a qualified (licensed) individual, it must either be fitted with a ‘tamper-proof device’ or be locked away at all times. No exceptions of any kind.

Guess what happens? The guy is fooling around with his gun in the living room; his son is playing a board game with a friend on the floor. Phone rings in the kitchen, guy jumps up to answer the phone but leaves the gun behind. Kid picks up the gun, points it at his friend – boom!  This act of utter recklessness, which cost an 8-year old his leg (but at least he’s still alive) was committed by a long-time veteran cop who had served his town with distinction for more than 20 years.

I want to commend the authors of this piece for bringing some important clarity to the CAP debate. I also want to remind them and everyone else that we don’t require seat belts for guns.

Advertisements

Don’t Ban Guns. Just Ban The Ammunition.

              Ever since my late friend Tony Scalia decided that the 2nd Amendment protected the personal ownership of guns, Gun-nut Nation has been falling over themselves reminding everyone that any attempt to regulate gun ownership is an infringement of their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Now the fact that a Constitutional Amendment isn’t a ‘right’ of any kind, so what?  It still sounds good.

              Meanwhile, the Scalia opinion does create some problems for Gun-control Nation because the last thing that any liberal wants to be accused of, is being against the Constitution. After all,  wasn’t it a very liberal Constitutional scholar, Sandy Levinson, who reminded us liberals that if we want to use the Constitution to protect free speech, we also have to use it to protect private ownership of guns?

              But it occurs to me that in all this talk about what the 2nd Amendment means or doesn’t mean, there’s one thing for sure that it doesn’t cover. Nowhere in the Constitution can we find the slightest mention of ammunition, and since it’s the ammunition which is what really causes all those gun injuries every year, who cares about whether or not everyone can walk around with a gun?  Just ban the ammunition for those guns; there’s absolutely no Constitutional protection for ammunition at all.

              Hey, wait a minute! How can you have a gun without ammo?  How can you use a gun without ammo?  I play around and shoot unloaded guns all the time. Last night I was watching one of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, and every time that Kevin Pollak (Hockney) or Stephen Baldwin (McManus) stuck his gun in someone’s face, I raised my Sig 226 and shot the guy dead.  I have probably pulled the trigger of my Sig or my Colt Python thousands of times sitting on my couch and nobody’s ever gotten hurt. You show me a gun-nut who doesn’t dry fire his guns all the time and I’ll show you a gun-nut whose wife made him sell all the guns.

              If you take the trouble to read Scalia’s Heller opinion, you’ll note that he makes a distinction between guns that have always been found in the home, as opposed to ‘unusual’ weapons; i.e., weapons of war. The former are protected by the 2nd Amendment, the latter not. So, in making a somewhat arbitrary definition of civilian versus military arms, his opinion rests on what he and other conservative judges call the ‘originalist’ interpretation of legal texts. But when it comes to the ammunition used by these so-called personally-owned guns, the argument falls flat on its face.

              The most popular ammunition caliber currently sold to civilians who own all those self-defense guns is the 9mm caliber, sometimes called 9×19, sometimes called 9mm Luger, but whatever it’s called, it was designed specifically for military use. The inventor of this caliber was Georg Luger, who also happened to be the inventor of the Luger pistol, a.k.a., the P-08. The gun and the ammunition were standard issue to the German Army from 1900 until 1943.

              Want the second most popular ammunition caliber? It is probably the 45acp round that was developed by John Browning for his Colt 1911 pistol, the military sidearm for the U.S. Army until 1976.  Both the 9mm and 45acp calibers were developed for one reason and one reason only – to give soldiers and other armed forces a highly-lethal round that could be carried in a handgun.  Now if anyone out there wants to claim that ammunition developed for the sole purpose of killing human beings is a ‘sporting’ round, go right ahead.

              It seems to me that if my friends in Gun-control Nation really want to get serious about reducing gun violence, they might consider coming up with a plan that will strictly regulate the ownership of ammunition because those products don’t have any Constitutional protection at all.

              Of course, I can just see my Gun-nut Nation friends starting to yell and scream about ‘threats’ to their ammunition ‘rights.’ Good. Let ‘em yell and scream.

When Are We Really Going To Start Talking About Gun Violence?

Last week I wrote a column raising concerns about the so-called ‘consensus-based’ approach to gun violence being promoted by physicians and public health researchers, many of whom seem to be convinced that as long as they claim to ‘respect’ the 2nd Amendment, that Gun-nut Nation will be more amenable to support all those ’reasonable’ gun laws, one such law having just been blocked by the Virginia State Senate.

This idea of not being opposed to the 2nd Amendment is a riff on another idea which started to appear in the medical literature when doctors began talking about counseling patients who own guns, the riff being the importance of ‘respecting’ the ‘culture’ of people who own guns. Here’s a sample of this approach from several of our most dedicated and respected gun-violence researchers:  ”The provider’s attitude is critical. Patients are more open to firearm safety counseling when providers are not prescriptive but focus on well-being and safety—especially where children are concerned—and involve the family in respectful discussions. Conversations should acknowledge local cultural norms; be individualized; and, when possible, occur within a well-established clinician–patient relationship.”

Given the fact that most physicians aren’t gun owners themselves, exactly how should these clinicians gain the knowledge they need in order to counsel about guns while taking care not to make negative judgements about ‘local cultural norms?’ The only peer-reviewed resource which attempts to define the cultural ‘norms’ associated with gun ownership is the research published by our friend Bindu Kalesan, who asked 4,000 respondents to report on the degree to which their social activities were in some way or another connected to their ownership of guns. What she found was that roughly one-third of the gun owners reported some degree of social contact with other gun owners.

Based on this research, should physicians assume that a patient who owns guns may also feel somehow identified with the social activities that revolve around gun ownership and gun use; i.e., shooting range visits, hanging around a gun shop, joining a gun club? Sounds fair to me.

There’s only one little problem. What do all these social activities involving guns have to do with reducing gun violence? Nothing. Why do I say nothing? Because the guys who go to the shooting range to sight in their beloved shotgun before hunting season, or the guys who stop off at the gun shop to play around with the latest toys on display, or the guys wandering around the gun show munching on a donut because the wife doesn’t need the grass cut or the driveway cleared that weekend, aren’t the folks whose behavior or culture or whatever you want to call it creates 85% of the injuries that we define as ‘gun violence’ each year.

That’s right. Assuming that intentional, non-fatal gun injuries run around 75,000 – 80,000 a year, add that number to the 15,000 fatal intentional gun injuries in 2017, and divide it by that number plus the 20,000 suicides.  Sorry, it’s only 83%. Of course, we know that all this mayhem is created by legal gun owners, right? Yea, right.

The public health ‘threat’ known as gun violence happens to be the handiwork of young men, most of whom live in inner-city neighborhoods and start fooling around with guns by the time they are 14 years old. And by the way, these are also the kids who have overwhelmingly dropped out of school, even though school attendance is never (read: never) used as an indicator of gun risk by all my friends doing all that public health research designed to ‘inform’ policy-makers about the efficacy of various ‘reasonable’ gun laws.

Want to sample gun culture?  Try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZGJcV19gRw. After you watch it, watch it again. Then talk to me about how we need to ‘respect’ the culture of gun owners, okay?

What I am saying is simply this: Either we begin to talk realistically about the causes of gun violence or we don’t. Right now, we don’t.

The Dumbest Pro-Gun Legislator This Year – So Far.

              I used to think that Matt Goetz (R-FL) was the dumbest pro-gun politician in America because when he was a State Senator, he introduced a bill that would have made a business owner financially liable if his premises were a gun-free zone and a customer got shot because some jerk walked in, yanked out a banger and went bang. But I am beginning to think that maybe Goetz has been upended by a State legislator from Michigan, Beau LaFave, who had two guns, a handgun and an assault rifle, stolen from his residence last week.

Just because someone has guns stolen out of their home doesn’t necessarily mean that they deserve the Dumbest Pro-Gun Legislator Award (and yes, we also give out an award to the dumbest gun-control public figure each year.) But in LaFave’s case, his being situated at the lowest point on the left side of the bell curve is much more a function of what he did before the theft took place, and what he said after he lost his guns.

              Back on January 29, just before Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, delivered her State of the State address, this jerk walked into the State Capitol with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder to protest what he claims are her “proposed unconstitutional gun laws.” Whitmer has proposed a red-flag law which is bottled up in some committee; she is also on record favoring some kind of assault rifle ban, although she claims to have no issue with state residents who own guns for self-protection or sport.

              What does LaFave really want when it comes to gun laws?  He probably doesn’t want any new laws. After all, Michigan already requires background checks for private handgun sales. Isn’t that enough? The fact that the state does not require persons convicted of domestic abuse to surrender their firearms even if they are prohibited from owning guns should be reason enough to consider the passage of a red-flag law. But according to LaFave, all a red-flag law would do would be to disarm all those law-abiding state residents who have the ‘right’ to own a gun.

              So, over the weekend, while LaFave was out wandering around, someone broke into his home and stole the AR-15 that he carried into the State Capitol building, along with a .40-caliber handgun. The two guns were nestled side by side in the clothing chest drawer where LaFave keeps his underwear and socks.

              Punto Stupido Numero Uno: The guns weren’t locked up. The guns weren’t locked away. Want to break into someone’s house and find something valuable in 30 seconds or less? Start by looking through the clothing drawers – that’s the first lesson in Burglary 101. Why weren’t his guns locked or locked away? Because according to LaFave, he needed to be able to get his hands on his guns just in case he needed to “access them quickly.”

              Punto Stupido Numero Dos: Right after LaFave pranced around the Capitol building he tweeted a picture of himself with his trusty gun. That’s what he did. You don’t go to all the trouble of making a complete fool out of yourself and then forget to make sure that everyone is reminded as to exactly what a dope you happen to be.

              Did it ever occur to this idiot that maybe, just maybe he was telling everyone that if they took the trouble to break into his house, they might find a stash of guns? In talking to reporters, LaFave denied there was any connection between his self-promoting armed march through the State Capitol and the theft of his guns. Yea, right. No connection at all.

              My friends in Gun-nut Nation still seem unable to accept the fact that somehow, don’t ask me how, every single gun used to commit a fatal or non-fatal gun assault was first bought by someone who could legally own a gun. So how do these guns wind up in the hands of people who commit an act of gun violence against someone other than themselves? 

              I can guarantee you that the guy who swiped the guns from Beau LaFave isn’t some gun hobbyist who just wanted to add two bangers to his private collection. And Beau did everything he could, including advertising the guns on his Twitter account, to make sure that his guns ended up in the wrong hands.

Hopkins Has A New Online Course About Gun Laws.

Several years ago I ran a national survey asking gun-control advocates and activists some basic questions about gun laws. The questions covered the laws that have been part and parcel of the strategies of all gun-control groups: enhancing background checks, better regulation of dealers, purchasing and moving guns across state lines – the usual stuff. I ended up getting more than 250 responses from residents of 46 states, which was certainly representative enough for me.

The survey contained 12 questions; the average correct number was 6.  In other words, at least half the respondents who took the quiz on basic gun laws failed. And I specifically solicited responses from individuals who considered themselves to be involved in some kind of gun-control activity. Incidentally, I ran another gun-law quiz soliciting responses from individuals who considered themselves to be pro-gun.  The average score for that bunch was also around 6 correct answers – they also failed.

But the last thing you’ll find gun nuts supporting are more or stronger gun laws. On the other hand, the gun-control organizations that send me endless emails asking for more money (Everytown, Giffords, Brady – I support them all) consider laws and regulations to be the cornerstone of every strategy designed to reduce violence from guns. So, you would think that folks who donate time, money and energy to gun-control activities would want to understand how current gun laws work and what needs to be done to make such laws more effective.

In any case, our gun-research friends at the Hopkins Bloomberg School are trying to remedy this knowledge deficit by posting an online, interactive course covering the basic law which requires a background check before someone purchases a gun. The effort is part of a new distance-teaching approach being developed for internet users known as a ‘teach out,’ which is a digital version, if you will, of the old teach-ins that occurred on college campuses during the Viet Nam War. 

The Hopkins teach-out can be found here, it will be running for several more weeks, and I strongly urge everyone to register (for free) and support this effort before the course closes down. In particular, I think my gun-nut friends should sign up because the course also includes a nifty give-and-take between the instructors and the people who view the videos, an interactive Q and A that should be of value for both sides.

Now let me make it clear that this effort, like everything that comes out of the Bloomberg School, is a no-nonsense attempt to educate and inform. Which means that anyone who just wants to drop some nasty or snarky comment about all those tree-hugging, anti-gun liberals should stay away. The teach-in hosted by Dr. Cassandra Crifasi creates a forum for a serious, respectful and informed exchange about an important issue that should engage both sides. Want to rant and rave about your beloved 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ Do it somewhere else.

At the same time, I’m not about to simply let the other side off the hook. I learned about this effort because one of my gun-nut friends sent me an email about the online course. Did I get anything from Everytown, Brady, Giffords or one of the state-level gun-control groups who were all vociferously complaining last week when Gun-nut Nation showed up at Richmond for a jamboree? Not one, friggin’ word. And the lack of interest and support for this effort by Gun-control Nation is, to put it bluntly, a disgrace.

You would think that an open-source program that advocates extending the background-check system to private sales and permit-to-purchase licensing would be exactly the kind of effort that would be front and center on the agenda of every gun-control group. But if I have learned one thing from writing more than 1,500 columns on my website over the last eight years, it is the degree to which most gun-control organizations are more concerned about protecting their own, little turfs than getting together to promote a serious and sustained response to the violence caused by guns.

Anyway, enough complaints from me.  Sign up for the course – now!

There Ain’t No Such Thing As Gun ‘Rights.’

Our good friend Eric Foner has just published a book, The Second Founding, which gives a concise and compelling explanation for how the Federal Government got into the business of defining our basic rights. Which makes this book required reading for everyone who wants to have anything to say about guns and gun violence, since so much of this debate turns on the issue of gun ‘rights.’ If you don’t believe me, just read any of the news accounts of the demonstration which took place in Richmond, VA on MLK Day to protest a new law that Trump claims is an infringement on gun ‘rights.’

The Federal Government first started defining Constitutional rights following passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments following the end of the Civil War. These Amendments ended slavery (13th), defined citizenship as a birthright (14th) and granted universal suffrage to all male Americans. Foner refers to the passage of these Amendments as a ‘second founding’ because these laws (to quote a Republican Senator from Missouri) “made the liberty and rights of every citizen in every state a matter of national concern.”

 Foner points out that none of these fundamental Constitutional changes would have taken place were it not for the fact that Southern legislatures were dominated by Black officeholders from 1867 through 1877 when Reconstruction came to an end. But precisely because Reconstruction ended only ten years after it began, the Civil Rights laws passed in 1866 and 1875 to give some legal teeth to the Amendments, were either watered down in court decisions or simply ignored.

Both civil laws were attempts to define what ‘rights’ would be protected under the Constitution once the founding document contained protections which applied to every male citizen in the land. The 1866 Act enforced the implementation of laws that covered the following rights: “to ‘make and enforce’ contracts, own property, testify in court, sue and be sued, and ‘enjoy the full and equal benefit of laws for the protection of persons and property.’” (p. 64.)

See anything here about self-protection?  See anything here about armed, self-defense? You won’t find any reference whatsoever to that terminology in the entire text of the Constitution or any of its Amendments, not even in the blessed 2nd Amendment from which all gun ‘rights’ allegedly spring forth. When the NRA proclaims itself to be the ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ is it referring to the rights embodied in the 14th Amendment and enumerated in the Civil Rights Act of 1866?  No. It’s not referring to anything other than what a clever advertising agency figured out would help promote the sale of guns.

In fact, if you take the trouble to read the 2008 Heller decision where our late friend Tony Scalia propounded his view of gun ‘rights,’ you will note that it is not only a very narrow definition of what the 2nd Amendment says a gun owner can do with his guns (he can keep one handgun in his home) but it’s far from being an uninfringeable right because the government has great leeway in determining who can and cannot own guns.

Not only are gun ‘rights’ not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, nor in any of the federal laws that have been passed to define or enforce Constitutional texts, there is also no mention of the other hallowed Gun-nut Nation ‘right,’ i.e., the ‘right’ to self-defense. When the Constitution talks about being protected from harm, the reference is to equal standing in the courts, not to passing a background check so that you can walk around with an AR-15 on your back.

There’s also the non plus ultra for carrying your Glock, which is that self-defense is a ‘God-given right.’ I hear this all the time from my Gun-nut Nation friends and my answer is simply this: If you want to live in a country where laws are first and foremost the handiwork of Almighty God, move to Iran, okay?

Foner’s book isn’t about guns. It’s a solid work about how the word ‘rights’ should be defined and used in any important discussion about current events. In this respect, the way our friends in Gun-nut Nation use the word fails both historical and legal tests.

What Happened To All Those ‘Reasonable’ Gun Owners?

Yesterday I spent some time looking at various YouTube videos of the gun ‘rights’ demo in Richmond, VA. Frankly, I was surprised by the size of the crowd, if only because the organization that was the primary sponsor of the event, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, isn’t exactly as big or as financially well-endowed as AARP. But to the group’s credit, they not only pulled off a large-scale event, they did it without having to worry about any of the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, the last time a large group of gun-owners went marching around a town in Virginia showing off their guns.

The media mentioned something about a counter-demo that occurred at the event, but the pro-gun rally not only dwarfed the numbers who showed up to protest gun ‘rights,’ but the gun-toters showed little or no concern for the presence of protestors from the other side. The truth is that if Gun-control Nation were to put together a public event to support Governor Northam’s new gun bill, I would be pleasantly surprised if 500 people showed up, and I suspect that most of them would have to be brought down from somewhere in and around D.C.

Despite Schmuck-o Trump’s claim that the mainstream media is the ‘enemy of the people,’ the last thing the mainstream media ever figures out is how to report anything that isn’t within their usual scope of news and events. And a pro-gun rally just isn’t something that the mainstream media is going to understand, if only because most educated, liberal-minded people (which is who usually ends up working for the mainstream media) don’t happen to own guns.

When I went to the Virginia Citizens Defense League website, I noticed there are now 136 counties, cities and towns in Virginia that have become or are becoming ‘2nd-Amendment ‘sanctuaries,’ a pro-gun movement that I suspect is gathering steam in other gun-rich states as well. Does this development align itself with the 2020 Trump campaign? Of course. But how come I don’t see where Gun-control Nation has attempted to enroll a single jurisdiction in any kind of sanctuary movement that would protect residents from the violence caused by guns?

What we have instead on the gun-control agenda are the continued efforts by gun-control organizations and gun-control researchers to come up with ‘reasonable’ laws that will be supported by both sides. According to our friends at the Bloomberg School, gun owners are almost as strong as non-gun owners in their support for the following laws: “universal background checks, greater accountability for licensed gun dealers unable to account for their inventory, higher safety training standards for concealed carry permit holders, improved reporting of records related to mental illness for background checks, gun prohibitions for persons subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders, and gun violence restraining orders.”

How come the researchers didn’t ask these same gun owners how they feel about being able to walk around in public with an AR-15? How come all these ‘reasonable’ gun guys, like the gun guys who showed up yesterday at the Richmond rally, weren’t asked how they feel about gun-free zones? Why is it that every time Gun-control Nation tries to figure out what the other side thinks about gun violence, they always ask questions that gun owners don’t consider to be important at all?

I am still waiting for one, single researcher from the gun-control community to sit down and ask a group of gun owners what they believe needs to be done in order to reduce the violence caused by guns. Come to think of it, if Daniel Webster from Bloomberg or David Hemenway from Harvard really wanted to know what gun owners think would reduce the 125,000 intentional injuries that we suffer annually from guns, they could have come down to Richmond yesterday and talked to some of the thousands of gun nuts who were happily milling around.

And by the way, let me tell you something that all gun nuts hold in common – they love to talk about their guns.

Run Mike, Run.

So this morning I started off 2020 by taking a look at Mike’s website and volunteering to help his campaign. I’ll get into the reasons why I am supporting him below (actually it’s one reason) but before that, I took a look at what he has to say about guns. After all, if Trump’s the first President to fashion an entire political image around his so-called support of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ so Mike’s the first Presidential candidate who has made a national name for himself by trying to do something about the violence caused by guns.

And in case you slept through the 2018 Congressional campaign, there may be a whole bunch of first-time members of Congress who owe their seats to the money they received from Mike, along with millions of dollars he put up to support gun-control initiatives in various states. And let’s not forget that he also has been instrumental in helping our friend Shannon build the first, truly grass-roots organization which fights the good fight against guns. But back to his 2020 campaign.

Mike has a whole section on the website devoted to his plan for controlling guns. To his credit, there isn’t a single word on his website about supporting the 2nd Amendment. He isn’t pandering to Gun-nut Nation by talking about ‘sensible’ gun laws, a la Liz Warren, or ‘respecting’ the 2nd Amendment, which is what Joe says on his site. I really wish the Democrats would stop pretending that anyone believes them when they say how much the 2nd Amendment can somehow co-exist alongside ‘reasonable’ gun laws. Give me a friggin’ break, okay?

Mike’s plan to deal with gun violence is basically to apply the same gun laws throughout the United States that have existed in New York City since 1912; i.e., the strict licensing of all guns which requires a permit prior to every purchase along with registration of all guns.

There’s only one little problem with this approach, however. And the problem happens to be the fact that while New York City now has a remarkably low level of gun violence, a trend that started under Rudy’s administration, accelerated under Mike but now have jumped up again under Bill, the city’s gun laws haven’t changed one bit no matter who is in charge, except that Mike did increase the licensing fees.

Why did gun violence decline so much in New York after it rose to epidemic proportions in 1993? Nobody really knows, except that the downward trend in the Big Apple occurred in virtually every large city throughout the United States. And endless books, articles and hot-air to the contrary, we don’t really know why that happened either, for that matter. All we know is that it did.

So I’m not going to bat for Mike because of his stance on guns. I’m going to support him because I believe, with all due respect to my friend Joe, that Mike has the best chance to beat Trump. And I further believe that in order to beat sh*t-head Trump or sleazy Don or whatever you want to call him, Mike just has to do one thing:

When the time is right Mike, just release your tax returns and that will be the end of that.

Have a great 2020 everyone!

Tom Gabor: Unrelenting Gun Violence and Lax Gun Laws Erode Our Freedoms

The gun lobby and gun rights advocates often claim that increasing gun rights makes Americans more free.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Yes, permissive gun laws increase the freedom of the minority (30%) of adults who are gun owners to purchase virtually any weapon they choose.  However, increasing the availability of firearms erodes our freedoms–including those of gun owners and their families–in a number of ways. 

There is significant evidence showing that higher gun ownership levels, more gun carrying, and increasing the presence of guns in homes tend to make people less safe.  While guns are sometimes used for self-protection, they are used far more often in crime, against domestic partners, in suicides, and in unintentional injuries and fatalities.  It follows that lowering gun ownership and gun carrying will save lives and prevent injuries, thereby sparing many Americans from the loss of life and the unimaginable injuries and horrors associated with losing or caring for a loved one who has been shot. 

More Americans are reporting being mindful of the dangers of being shot when entering shopping malls, houses of worship, theaters and entertainment districts, night clubs and other crowded places.  Such fear is certainly not freedom.  Nor is the fear of students who are often terrified to go to school.  An American Psychological Association survey has found that the fear of being caught in a school shooting is at the top of the list of stressors for students between the ages of 15 and 21.  Freedom is not the term that comes to mind when we think of K-12 students participating in active shooter drills and cowering in classroom corners and under desks.

In response to school shootings, states like Florida with especially influential gun lobbies prefer to do anything but address the widespread availability of guns and assault-style weapons.  They want to focus on arming teachers and school staff, turning school properties into high security prison-like settings, conducting drills, and focusing on mental health despite the fact that most school shooters do not have a serious mental illness.  The militarization of schools represents the antithesis of freedom for students and school staff.

Requiring or incentivizing teachers and school staff to carry guns is dangerous and will cost lives rather than free people from gun violence.   Active shooters are almost never taken down by armed civilians but putting arms in the hands of improperly trained individuals will lead to fatal shootings within the school, thefts of guns, accidental shootings, and other misuses.  It forces talented teachers out of education and interferes with the right of students to have the best education possible.  Teachers, students, and administrators alike oppose the practice and, yet, the gun lobby is pressing to arm teachers since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA famously stated: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

The militarization of schools through arming teachers and active shooter drills provide constant reminders to students of the dangers of an active shooter.  Rather than freedom, this is a constant distraction from their studies.  At the college level, allowing guns on campus seems counterproductive as universities have consistently been shown to be safer than the surrounding community.  Why import the community’s problems onto campuses? 

Two years ago, three University of Texas at Austin professors filed a lawsuit against the stateAttorney General and several officials at the university over a 2015 law allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. The professors argued the law infringed their First Amendment right to academic freedom, saying the carrying of guns into classrooms created a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.  As a former criminology professor, I would imagine that the free-wheeling discussions we had on such controversial topics as abortion, sexual assault, and race and justice, would have been far more subdued or would not have been broached at all had students been “packing.” 

The most extreme manifestation of how individuals wielding guns can deprive others of their First Amendment rights are displays of menacing behavior by gun rights activists aimed at groups who are engaging in activism to bring about gun law reform.  Armed groups such as Open Carry Texas and the Utah Gun Exchange have bullied and threatened individuals organizing voluntary gun buybacks and have stalked activist students seeking changes in gun laws as they made their way around the country.

Finally, a shocking example of how the gun violence epidemic can lead to an erosion of our freedoms is shown by a Senate Republican bill that would tackle mass and school shootings through the enhanced  monitoring of students’ communications.  Rather than addressing the roots of the despair that lead young people to commit school shootings and their easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the GOP, a party historically concerned about invasions of privacy, recently filed a bill that would dig deeply into the online activities of students. 

The legislation would require federally funded schools to install software to surveil students’ online activities, potentially including their emails and searches, in order to identify “violent” or alarming content.  Education groups say that such intensification of social media and network surveillance can discourage children from expressing themselves online.  Social media monitoring has already increased dramatically in response to gun violence.  The Brennan Center for Justice notes that, from 2013 to 2018, the number of school districts across the country that purchased social media monitoring software increased from six to 63.

Schools are being inundated with alerts, with some receiving over a hundred a day.  The technology does not merely monitor student activity during the school day but operates 24/7, monitoring school email accounts, web searches, and, in some cases, students’ public social media accounts as well.

The jury is still out in terms of the impact of this dramatic escalation in student monitoring.  There is a significant concern that student communications may be misinterpreted due to student cultural differences and casual conversations that may be mistakenly viewed as threats by the software employed, potentially exposing a much wider pool of students to the attention of law enforcement.

While some monitoring of student activities may be desirable, there is a difference between encouraging young people to come forward if they witness threatening behaviors or statements and the routine, around-the-clock electronic surveillance of young people that will often misinterpret loose talk of kids as a threat and bring some form of heavy-handed response.  Ultimately, the latter will lead kids to be more secretive and find ways to communicate with their peers that will circumvent the monitoring.  Surveillance may be politically more palatable than dealing with the alienation and trauma experienced by young people, as well as the enactment of effective gun laws.  However, such monitoring does nothing to address the social, psychological, and familial factors that lead young people to commit horrific acts.  To the extent that we persist in ignoring the reasons for the carnage we are seeing, we will continue to fail to free our kids and society from the ever-present threat of gun violence.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis (thomasgaborbooks.com)

When It Comes To Gun Laws, The NRA Isn’t The Last Word.

              All of a sudden the boys down at Fairfax have become very concerned about doing everything with guns in a very legal way. The NRA website no longer contains those obnoxious, crazy videos from Dana, ‘home-school Queen’ Loesch, or the dance-and-prance shooting lessons from Colion Noir. Instead, now we get a whole menu of tips and tricks about how to make sure that everything you do with a gun stays completely within the law.

              Except there’s only one little problem with the NRA‘s new-found concern for making sure that all gun laws are properly observed.  And the problem happens to be the fact that the way the NRA chooses to describe certain gun laws may not be the way some of those laws actually work. Take, for example, their advice on how to purchase a gun as a gift for someone else.

              The comment starts off like this: “Giving someone a firearm carries a certain level of legal responsibility that does not come with gifting iPads or socks. You should know the laws that apply to buying firearms as gifts for another person.” Fair enough. I have no problem with the NRA‘s advice up until now.

              But then things get a little sticky, because the text then goes on to mention the fact that if you purchase a gun from a dealer, you must undergo a background check which involves declaring that you are buying the gun for yourself. But what if you knew that after buying the gun you were going to walk out of the store, wrap the gun up as a gift and give it to someone else? And let’s say further that you live in a state where giving that gun to someone else doesn’t require another background check? Which still happens to be the law in 29 of the 50 states.

              Here is what the NRA has to say about that: “Even if you are not keeping the gun, you are the owner of that firearm until you legally transfer it to the intended recipient.” Sorry,  but that’s not how the background check law works at all. Because what the law says is that you have committed a felony if you knew you were going to transfer the gun to someone else at the time you first purchased the gun and claimed on the 4473 background-check form that you were buying it for yourself.

              This issue was decided by the Supreme Court in Abramski v. United States, which was argued and decided in 2014. Bruce Abramski was a part-time cop who walked into a gun shop in Virginia and bought a Glock. He then took the gun to Pennsylvania and gave it to his uncle who had earlier sent him the money to purchase the gun. But to take the gun out of the shop in Virginia, Abramski had to undergo a background check, and even though he was buying the gun for his uncle, he certified that he would be the legal owner of the gun.

              Had Abramski paid for the gun in Virginia but let the dealer ship it to another dealer in the uncle’s hometown, he would have been following the law. But by walking out of the Virginia gun shop with a gun which he knew was going to be given to someone else, he had committed what we call a ‘straw sale.’

              Abramski didn’t lie on the 4473 because he was going to sell the gun to a ‘street thug.’ He lied to save himself the cost of shipping the gun to a dealer in another state.

              The real problem with gun laws, and this is probably true of the legal system in general, is that you can’t write a law that compensates for stupidity, and there’s plenty of stupidity floating around the NRA.