Let’s Hear It For Shannon Watts And All Those Moms!

This is the 1,000th column posted on this website and I can’t think of a better topic for this special space.   

The day after the Sandy Hook massacre, a stay-at-home mom and corporate media expert sat down at her kitchen table in Indianapolis and sent out a message on her Facebook page asking people to join a group that would begin promoting a ‘common sense’ message about guns. What Shannon Watts meant then and still means now when she talks about common sense is the idea that there is simply no reason why anyone, gun owner or otherwise, should find it difficult to accept the idea that guns should never be used to hurt yourself or anyone else.

moms2             Shannon’s Facebook page quickly became Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the purpose of this column is to give Shannon and her whole gang a loud shout-out for what they have accomplished over the last five years. And before any of the gun trolls who monitor my writing come back with the usual crap and nonsense about how Shannon would be ‘nothing’ without Bloomberg’s big bucks, what she and her organization have accomplished since 2012 goes far beyond anything having to do with the fact that Mike helps to foot the bill.

What makes Shannon’s effort so remarkable and so important is not because she agreed to merge her group with Bloomberg’s Everytown organization back in 2014. Money can certainly make life easier but if you don’t spend it in a way that brings results, it wouldn’t really matter how much dough comes. And it’s not as if there was really any precedent for building the kind of organization that Shannon has put together and now actively promotes its agenda in every one of the 50 states. When it comes to grass-roots messaging and organizational activity, until Shannon began her effort, the entire public discussion about guns beyond the Beltway was basically owned by my friends in Fairfax, a.k.a. the NRA.

Why shouldn’t the NRA be a formidable public relations machine for promoting guns?  After all, they have been around since right after the Civil War, which is longer than any other organization which promotes any kind of consumer item; hell, the American Automobile Association wasn’t founded until 1902. So when messages from Moms Demand Action began to appear on the internet and women with those red tee-shirts began parading around in front of Wal Mart and the local supermarket or Target stores, all of a sudden a two-sided playing field began to take shape.

A little more than five years since Shannon sat down and started blazing away, Moms now has chapters in all 50 states, and these groups aren’t just an email list or some other digital venue for talking back and forth.  Over the coming year, the organization will hold hundreds of public events, and if you want to get an idea of what they did on 2017, you can download and read a very impressive report right here.

Giving Moms a big high-five is not meant in any way to slight the efforts of other gun violence prevention (GVP) groups; I’m always willing and able to help spread the word whenever some folks get together to promote common-sense strategies about guns. But what makes Shannon’s effort so important is her understanding that with all due respect to the importance of laws, public policies and all the rest, making a real difference in terms of gun violence is a cultural issue above all. Forget all the data, all the studies, all the facts, people make up or change their minds when they talk about something to someone else.

Next time you go past a public space where some women are wearing those Moms Demand Action shirts, stop for a moment and notice how they engage other folks who just happen to be walking by. A brief conversation here, a comment or two there, funny how those conversations add up and help pave the way for needed change.

And let’s not forget that with all due respect to Mike and his gezillions, Shannon and the ladies could always use some spare change.


Gun-nut Nation Gets Kicked In The Ass By Its Favorite Federal Court

If the Gun-nut community wanted a judicial decision about gun rights in their favor, they couldn’t have gone anywhere more likely to help them out than the 5th Circuit, which oversees the federal judiciary in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana and is considered to be the most conservative Circuit Court in the United States. Not only was a gun case argued in front of this court, but the case had already been decided at the district level in favor of gun rights, it was now being appealed by the Department of Justice run by you-know-who, and all three judges who heard the case were appointed by either George H. W. Bush or his son.

constitution             The court not only decided against the gun-rights gang, they dashed the hopes of the gun-loving contingent to get rid of one of the legal issues which pisses off gun nuts more than just about anything else, namely, the prohibition against going across a state line to buy a gun. Actually, the prohibition against buying a pistol or revolver in a state other than where you live has been on the books since 1939, when the feds first required individuals engaged in the ‘business’ of selling guns to purchase a federal firearms license and keep records of their sales. The reason that inter-state handgun purchases required a transfer between dealers was because it was recognized that allowing handguns to be moved across state lines without any form of regulation made it easier for criminals to get their hands on guns.

What gun-rights advocates are claiming, however, is that the prohibition against buying a handgun in a state other than where someone resides is no longer necessary because every purchase from a gun dealer, no matter where he is located, requires a background check. Which means that if I had been convicted of a felony in my home state, the felony and the consequent prohibition on gun ownership would come up no matter where I tried to purchase a gun. In 2015 two gun-rights activists decided to test this law by going to Texas and attempting to buy a handgun. After the purchase was denied, they found a district court judge who decided that their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ had been violated; hence, the appeal and decision by the 5th Circuit, effectively standing the district court’s ruling on its head.

Not only did the 5th Circuit reaffirm the prohibition against non-resident handgun purchases, it went further and actually used one of Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished legal principles – strict scrutiny – to find the prohibition constitutionally sound. According to judicial rules, for a law to pass strict scrutiny muster it must be shown that the particular law is justified by a ‘compelling government interest,’ and must be written specifically to ‘serve that interest.’ Lawyers for Gun-nut Nation have frequently used the strict scrutiny argument to attack gun regulations (e.g., New York’s SAFE law’s regulation limiting gun magazines to 7 rounds or less) and they no doubt hoped to do the same thing here.

The 5th Circuit reviewed the discussions leading up to GCA68 which codified the inter-state prohibition and concluded that Congress decided there was every good reason to maintain and strengthen the prohibition because otherwise it would be easy for someone to circumvent the laws and regulations of their home state and hence increase the possibility that an out-of-state purchase would result in a crime gun. The opinion points out that a dealer in one state cannot possibly know the gun regulations which exist in other states (e.g., some states require 10-shot magazine capacities, other states do not) and such knowledge has nothing to do with whether a potential buyer can pass a background check.

The decision by the 5th Circuit is clear on one basic point: the government has a compelling interest to safeguard public safety and a gun even in the hands of a legally-qualified individual could still be a risk. This decision by a conservative court is both a victory for the gun-control movement and a victory for common sense.

Want To Help Figure Out What People Really Think About Guns? Take A Survey.

Right now I am conducting two online surveys to get a better feel for what and how people think about guns. The surveys can be accessed here and if you have not yet participated, feel free to do so.  The surveys are actually sitting on the Survey Monkey website so I can only see answers to survey questions – there is not the slightest possibility that anyone’s identity can be captured, up to and including the I.P address of your machine.

survey1             I am also beginning to post some of the results of the surveys – they have attracted more than 650 participants to date. As of this morning, respondents to both surveys were residents of 43 and 44 states, so I think the information being received is a valid profile for how gun owners and non-gun owners think. I have also posted some initial results from the two surveys covering the gender and age of participants, with more results to come.

The surveys are designed to elicit information from two groups: (1). People who are involved or interested in gun violence prevention activities; and (2). people who consider guns to be important to them. The surveys are not mutually exclusive – if you are a GVP supporter/activist but also are a gun-nut like me, feel free to take both.

I am conducting these surveys because I have been saying for a long time that we need to find common language and common ground that will enable people on both sides of the gun issue to talk to each other in reasonable and reasoned ways. To do that, we need to know how you folks really think about guns, both pro and con, and we need to understand your thoughts as you really think, not as someone else tells us how you think.

Last week the Pew Research Center released their latest and greatest on how Americans think about guns. It’s a very detailed survey but again and again it asks respondents to answer questions that may or may not have much to do with what they actually think about guns. For example, respondents were asked how they felt about such policies as background checks and banning assault rifles with, of course, the non-gun owners favoring both policies to a greater degree than the folks who own guns. They were also asked about what they thought about gun-free zones. The gun-owners were opposed to it by a margin of two to one. Gee, what a surprise.

I think about my guns all the time – which one do I want to trade, which do I want to shoot today, what’s the next gun I’m going buy – thoughts like that swirl through my head all the time. Know when was the last time I thought about background checks? The last time I was contacted by Pew to answer questions in their poll. And since I’ve never been contacted by Pew, I don’t remember the last time I thought about background checks.

After I get done collecting enough responses to get a fairly good take on the basic demographics of the folks on both sides of the fence, I’m going to put up two more surveys and ask people to respond again. Incidentally, I recruit respondents to these surveys through Facebook promotions but again, I have no idea who is actually answering these promotions and taking the polls. Facebook simply tells me how many people click through the promotion and land on my survey page.

The next two surveys are going to ask gun owners and non-gun owners to tell me the questions which they would like to be asked about guns. And in this way what I hope to accomplish is to let the discussion between the two sides be based on what each side would talk about if they ever found themselves in a reasoned conversation with the other side about guns.

Who knows? Something new and interesting might actually emerge.

John Lott Talks About Guns And Gets It Wrong – Again.

My eye caught an op-ed the other in The Hill which is so rife with claims that are simply untruthful or wrong that I just needed to punch out a quick reply. And since I write about guns and I’m saying that someone else who writes about guns is saying things which aren’t accurate or true, obviously I’m talking about my good buddy, John Lott.



John Lott

John has been on this kick for several years about how Democrats discriminate against minorities because they support the idea that big-city residents have difficulty getting licenses to purchase and/or carry guns.  It may come as a shock to John who lives in a nice, suburban town that is 85% white, but in fact the majority of city-dwellers throughout the United States happen to be white. They also happen to be middle class, so for John to say that excessive gun license fees show that Democrats (who usually support higher gun fees) discriminate against minorities and the poor is simply a typical example of how he often gets it wrong.

But what really grabbed my attention was his statement about the concealed-carry licensing procedure in Texas, which he claims has ‘more stringent mandatory training requirements’ than many other states. I’ll let you in on a little secret – I don’t believe that John Lott actually owns a gun. Or if he does own one, I can tell you that it’s been sitting on some shelf in a closet because this is a guy who talks about guns using verbiage that makes no sense.

First of all, Texas doesn’t have a ‘mandatory training requirement;’ in fact, the Lone Star State doesn’t have any training requirement at all. Nor for that matter does any other state. What Texas has is a one-time proficiency test which must be conducted as part of the licensing process and basically requires that the applicant prove that he or she has the ability to hit the broad side of a barn; in this case the barn being a B-27 target, which is the standard torso target used by most law enforcement agencies when the officers go to the range.

The proficiency test is based on a total score derived from where 50 rounds hit the target – the closer to the center of the target, the higher the score.  Some of the shooting is also timed with the shooter having to discharge the gun with several seconds allowed for each shot. A passing grade is 175 out of a maximum of 250 and the shooting is done at distances of 3, 7 and 15 yards.

This test is about as stringent as the diet I went on last night before I sat down to watch a Netflix movie with a big bowl of ice cream. First of all, the shooter doesn’t have to first pull the gun out of a holster so the timed shoots begin with the first shot. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall seeing anyone even in an open-carry state walking down the street with his gun pointed in front of him waiting for a target to appear. And the minimum passing score can be met by only hitting the outside target ring which in real life would mean that the bullet wouldn’t strike anyone’s body at all.

In other words, the proficiency test for getting a carry-concealed license in Texas is bullsh*t.  It’s a joke. Not only doesn’t the test show whether someone can shoot a gun accurately, but it doesn’t replicate to any degree a situation which might occur if someone actually had to use the damn gun.

John Lott has been promoting armed citizens as the first line of defense against crime for twenty years. Buffoons like Ted Nugent may take his research seriously, but when it comes to concealed-carry from a practical point of view, anyone who thinks that the Texas licensing process validates that someone knows how to use a gun for self-defense better hope they never need to use their gun for anything but fun.

It’s Not The ‘Gun Lobby’ That Wants To End Gun Regulations – It’s The Gun Owners Themselves.

The Chicago Tribune has just published an op-ed by Fermin DeBrabender, who wrote a provocative book (Do Guns Make Us Free?) arguing that gun ownership actually reduces freedom by restricting the degree to which citizens will engage in open, political discourse when members of the audience show up toting guns.  In his Tribune piece, Professor DeBrabender makes the argument that the gun industry is facing a “market crisis” due to the collapse of demand since the election of #45 and is responding to this crisis by promoting all kinds of laws and legalisms – open carry, campus carry, permitless carry – that will “make owning and carrying a gun more common, more normal, more ingrained in our culture and everyday life.”

dealers              This is hardly a new thesis and the gun industry’s promotion of the ‘normalization’ of toting around a gun long precedes the collapse of retail sales since the replacement of anti-gun Obama and the appearance of pro-gun Trump.  But to ascribe the easing of gun restrictions to some kind of evil hand belonging to some nefarious entity known as the ‘gun lobby’ is to obscure what I believe is a necessary understanding of what gun ownership in America is really all about.

The truth is that there isn’t a gun ‘lobby’ if what we mean is the existence and activity of some kind of organized, institutionalized effort to support or promote the aims of the gun industry wherever guns are sold. Yes, the NRA has a lobbying arm known as NRA-ILA, which promotes and coordinates pro-gun legislative initiatives both in individual states as well as with the feds. There are also independent pro-gun groups in many states whose members will show up at a public hearing whenever a gun law is being discussed. And make no mistake, these groups are well-funded, they are active and they claim to be able to sway elections with their pro-gun votes.

Except if you look carefully at the history of pro-gun legislation, particularly its spread since the late 1970’s when the first wave of laws liberalizing concealed-carry began to appear, you will note that, again and again, these laws have changed the legal landscape much more in states owned politically by the GOP; gee – what a surprise considering the fact that gun owners, in the main, tend to vote red.  There are still 9 states where the issuance of permits to carry a gun are dependent upon the discretionary judgement of law enforcement officials – every one of those states happens to contain a majority of residents who usually vote blue.

What Professor DeBrabender has overlooked (and I mean no criticism of his otherwise-excellent op-ed in this regard) is that much, if not most of the impetus for liberalizing or discarding gun regulations comes not from the top, so to speak, but from the bottom; i.e., the basic attitudes on the part of gun owners themselves. When the NRA refers to gun owners as ‘law-abiding’ citizens, this may be the one statement they make which is absolutely true.  Most gun owners are law-abiding because otherwise you can’t buy or even own a gun. And guns are the only consumer product which can only be sold to legally-qualified consumers, you don’t need to pass a background check to buy a car.

Every time I go into a gun shop I’m made instantly aware of the fact that just my presence in that shop carries with it the necessity that I must follow various laws. And every weekend when tens of thousands of people visit gun shows they are all equally cognizant of the fact that their legal status is a verifiable issue if they walk up to a dealer’s table to purchase a gun. The existence of 40 million legal gun owners is a much more potent force for doing away with gun regulations than any strategy employed by the ‘gun lobby,’ and talking with those gun owners about gun violence should go hand-in-hand with worrying about whether the gun industry will sell more guns.

Do Armed Citizens Protect Us From Crime? The Cops Don’t Think So.

If you want to check out one of the truly great internet marketing scams, take a look at the website of the Concealed Carry Association of America, an outfit started by a guy named Tim Schmidt who developed something called ‘tribal marketing’ which entices people to join (and spend money) on websites promoting the idea that membership is a very special kind of thing.  And what’s more special than believing you’re fulfilling God’s work by walking around armed? Tim’s CCAA website gets a membership ‘retention’ rate three times’ longer than the average membership website, and the longer the members hang around, the more they’ll spend.

tombstone              And believe me, there’s plenty to buy, including books, videos, clothing, gifts and novelty items, and all sorts of other stuff. Next month you can go down to Fort Worth and enjoy a fun-filled three days at the annual CCAA trade show, which includes a live-fire range where you can bang away with real guns and a guest appearance by none other than the prancing master, Colion Noir.

When I say that CCAA is a ‘scam,’ it’s not because you don’t get anything for your membership fee.  To the contrary, you get a slick magazine, a pretty decent personal liability insurance policy, a newsletter and, of course, a nice decal to stick on the window of your car. But no matter what CCAA gives you for joining, the real reason it’s a scam is because there’s simply no truth (as in none) that walking around with a gun makes you safe.  I didn’t say that you might be a little safer; I didn’t say there was a chance that carrying a gun made you safe, I said there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that you will be safe or safer if you carry a gun.

I know, I know, examples abound about all these armed citizens who pulled out a gun and chased the bad guy away. There’s only one little problem; all these armed citizens who engaged in what we call defense gun use (DGU) don’t really exist. Gun-nut Nation still cites Gary Kleck’s 1993 survey conducted which pegged yearly DGU’s at maybe 2 million and maybe more.  Funny, but the same folks who promote this survey never seem to mention the study Kleck published in 2004 where he couldn’t find any difference in outcomes for resisting crime by crime victims who didn’t use guns.

If you want to attempt a serious and honest look at whether guns keep us all that safe, I suggest you take a look at the article just published by Julie Mack, who interviewed law enforcement officials in Michigan’s 15 most populated counties asking them whether they knew of any DGUs in their jurisdictions, and “most officials could not cite a single incident in their jurisdiction within the past 12 months.” Now this doesn’t mean that the cops are necessarily opposed to concealed carry (CCW); in fact Detroit’s chief, James Craig, is an outspoken and ardent supporter both of CCW and of Donald Trump. But being in favor of CCW  and knowing that an armed citizen prevented a crime just aren’t the same.

Undaunted by their inability to actually validate the ‘widespread’ occurrence of DGUs, Gun-nut Nation has fallen back on the notion that the increase in CCW licenses, estimated at roughly 14 million nationwide, has been a significant factor in the continued decline of violent crime. Once again, the research shows that this rationale for spreading the gospel of concealed-carry simply isn’t true.

Want to play cowboy, walk around with a gun and pretend you’re in Dodge City, you go right ahead. But Dodge City experienced, at best, two murders each year and Dodge City banned guns in the 1870s, a law that was strictly enforced by lawmen like Wyatt Earp. I don’t know a single man, including myself, who didn’t have a Roy Rogers revolver when he was a kid. But I grew up and some of my Gun-nut friends might think of growing up too.

Why Do People Stop Owning Guns? A Possible Answer

Sometimes surprises come from the funniest places, like a study of the relationship between religious belief and gun ownership which turns out to yield possible answers to one of the major points of disagreement in the gun-violence debate. But before we get to the big surprise, let’s spend some time looking at the basic findings of the study itself.  Published by David Yamane, a sociologist at Wake Forest who teaches an undergraduate course on the sociology of guns, this study attempts to create a ‘nuanced’ view of gun owners based on looking at gun ownership relative to religious belief and what Yamane refers to as various forms of religiosity, such as attendance at religious functions and strength of religious beliefs.

church             What Yamane claims to have discovered is that, contrary to what many people believe, evangelical Christians are no more likely to own guns than Catholics, Jews and people who profess no specific denominational orientation at all, although evangelicals are more oriented towards gun ownership than members of mainline Protestant denominations (Episcopalian, Methodist, et.al.) But when Yamane talks about gun ownership, it’s very important to understand that he defines a ‘gun’ only as a handgun, basing this choice on the fact that lately more and more Americans state that the primary reason they own a gun is for self-defense.

Yamane’s focus on handguns is an important nuance to inject into the gun debate because the motives that drive people to own handguns, by definition, will be different than the reasons why people own and use long guns whose design and function basically fit the requirements for hunting and sport. And I wish that more gun scholars would follow Yamane’s lead in this respect and nuance their own research to take into account the differences involved  in the ownership of handguns as opposed to the general ownership of guns.

On the other hand, Yamane has to be careful not to push his nuanced methodology too far.  Because as he admits, most gun owners own multiple guns, and the fact that they consider their primary reason for currently owning guns to be self-defense doesn’t mean that they aren’t also buying and using long guns for hunting and sport.  So the fact that someone decides to own a self-defense gun because he doesn’t trust the government to keep him safe, still leaves open the question as to why that same person owns other types of guns. Which makes correlating the reasons for gun ownership with other social or cultural factors a bit more difficult to do.

But let’s leave those issues aside and get to the big surprise which awaits the reader if he/she can wade through the sociological jargon which permeates sections of the text. Yamane states at the outset that gun owners tend to live in rural areas, the South and the Great Plains/Mountain West. But he notes that when these folks move out of those places, the only population which retains the same or higher rate of gun ownership are former residents of rural zones. But what he doesn’t tell us (perhaps the data simply doesn’t exist,) is where these ‘out-migrants’ go to live, because with the exception of former rural dwellers, folks who leave the South or the Midwest and Great Plains show a significant decline in their ownership of guns.

This is a very important finding and may represent a great gift to the gun violence prevention (GVP) community because a major proposition of the gun-control crowd, fiercely contested by the other side, is that more laws help curb gun violence. So if the ‘out-migrants’ caught in Yamane’s data become less involved with guns after they leave the places where they were born and grew up, does this perhaps mean that they are moving into areas which have greater regulation of guns?

The fact is that most states with strong gun regulations also tend to be states with lower per-capita ownership of guns. But which came first – the lack of guns or the tough gun laws?  Too bad the answer to that question still isn’t known.