Want To End Gun Violence? Figure Out Why People Own Guns.

              In  1960, the Gallup organization ran a national survey in which they asked respondents whether they would support a ban on handguns. Not stricter licensing, not PTP, an absolute ban. By a margin of 60 percent, the respondents said ‘yes.’ Had we passed a gun-control law which had reflected this national survey, we would not be dealing with a public health issue known as gun violence today. And the reason that we are the only advanced country which suffers from this public health problem is that we are the only advanced country which gives law-abiding citizens the right to own handguns.

              In 1975, two years before the ‘revolution’ at the NRA meeting in Cincinnati, when a more aggressive leadership began to shift away from supporting sports shooting to pushing armed, self-defense, this same survey found that the percentage of respondents who favored a ban on private handgun ownership had dropped to 41 percent. In 2002, the number was down to 32 percent and in 2016 it hit its lowest point – 23 percent.

              Since I signed a non-disclosure agreement I am enjoined from identifying the gun company involved in this episode; let’s just say it was one of the biggest and certainly best-known gun companies in the United States – then and now.  In 1985, I was part of a team which began putting together an incentive program for gun dealers who carried this company’s products, a strategy that was a response to the ‘invasion’ of European handguns; i.e., Beretta, Glock and Sig.

              Before we designed the program, the company engaged a consulting firm to conduct a survey of potential customers, the first such survey the company had ever done. It turned out that roughly two-thirds of everyone who participated in the survey believed that law-abiding Americans should have the right to own a handgun.  This response cut across every demographic (gender, race, income,) category, every geographic area, every other way in which the respondent population was sliced and diced. And non-gun owners were just as willing to support the idea of law-abiding gun ownership as were the respondents who said they owned guns.

              Anyone who thinks that John Lott created a national ‘movement’ for armed, self-defense with the publication in 1998 of More Guns, Less Crime, needs to spend a little time thinking about the Gallup surveys mentioned above as the results of a national, marketing survey conducted in 1985.  The purpose of this column is not to validate John Lot’s work; in fact, I have published a very clear critique of his argument which can be downloaded here.

              The issue isn’t whether John Lott is a stalking horse for the gun industry’s desire to sell more guns. The issue is whether my friends in the gun-control community really understand or even want to discuss how to deal with the fact that, like it or not, America is truly a gun culture. Our belief in using a gun to commit ‘virtuous violence’ wasn’t invented by the NRA or by John Lott, and sad to say, the idea that guns are more of a benefit than a risk isn’t just a fantasy confined to the lunatic fringe.

              I keep seeing survey after survey which shows that most people now own guns is for self-defense. Are they afraid of being victims of a violent crime when the crime rate has dropped by more than half over the last twenty years? Are they afraid they might be sitting in a hi-rise office building when a 727 controlled by a terrorist slams into the 50th floor? Are they afraid they won’t be able to own a gun?

              I have yet to see a single, gun-control group try to create a narrative that acknowledges these fears. After all, it’s much easier to demonize John Lott and the NRA than to sit down and figure out feelings that are not necessarily based on reality, but are nevertheless strongly resistant to change. This task remains to be done.

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Why Do Some People Own Guns? A New ‘Scientific’ Explanation.

              Because I fervently believe that we must try to find some way to eliminate the scourge of gun violence, I tend to be somewhat more accepting of arguments for gun control than for pro-gun arguments made by the ‘other side.’ But every once in a while a narrative floats around Gun-control Nation which is either so dumb, or so arrogant or so both, that I feel compelled to respond with the same degree of hostility and dismissiveness that I usually reserve for the jerks who lecture about the sanctity of their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

One such narrative floating around gun-control land is an article in Scientific American that claims to be based on a ‘growing number of ‘scientific studies’ which explain why white men are stockpiling guns. If these articles represent science, Galileo must be turning in his grave, or in his tower, or wherever he ended up. In fact, these so-called studies are nothing more than junk science designed to appeal to an audience which may be committed to scientific inquiry, but also happens to be an audience that doesn’t know squat about guns.

The scientific approach to understanding gun ownership claims that guns are increasingly found in larger and larger private arsenals owned by white men “who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears.” So says a sociologist who her study based on interviews with a whole, big sample of people who applied for concealed-carry licenses in Texas –  she talked to 20 men. That’s some definitive sample, I must say.

The most disturbing finding from this and other scientific investigations into the minds of guys who are stockpiling weapons is that many of them also harbor strong, racist beliefs and worse, often channel these beliefs into opposition to gun-control laws and support for conservative (read: Republican) politicians and right-wing political ideas.

Then there’s another foray into scientific research by two sociologists at Baylor University who claim to have uncovered a connection between white guys who use gun ownership to feel empowered after losing their jobs. Yet white women and minorities who suffered financial setbacks did not feel demonstrate the same affinity to guns, which obviously meant they had developed “other sources of meaning and coping when facing hard times.” Yea, they probably stuffed themselves with Fritos while sitting in front of the tv. Other sources – my rear end.

Let me break the news gently to all these intrepid researchers who are pushing the boundaries of scientific gun research to new extremes. White men have always owned most of the guns in this country. Gun owners have always been politically conservative and vote the Republican line. Gun owners also tend to be less educated because guns are most frequently found in rural areas where opportunities for higher education still lag behind.

In other words, all of these so-called scientific studies designed to explain why a certain group of people keep acquiring more and more guns, don’t tell us anything new about Gun-nut Nation and worse, completely ignore the way in which gun ownership has dramatically changed over the last several years.

You would think that, if anything, the alignment of the gun industry with the most reactionary and racist President of all time, a President who went out of his way to use the threat of gun violence as a motif for explaining his political success, would motivate all these conservative, GOP-voting, racist gun owners to stock up on even more guns. In fact, exactly the opposite has occurred. Gun sales continue to drift downward, there has yet to be a single month since Sleazy Don was inaugurated where NICS-FBI checks on gun transfers was higher than the same month of the year before. Back in 2015-2016 you couldn’t buy a new AR for less than a thousand bucks. America’s ‘favorite gun’ is now priced at $600 or less.

The Scientific American article isn’t science – it’s fake news. But since when do we need to rely on facts to develop or validate any idea at all?

Plenty of Gun Owners Still Love Their Guns.

              Yesterday I attended a jam-packed meeting of the MOMs group and listened to speakers who delivered moving testimonies about how their lives were affected by the violence caused by guns.  Along with those presentations, the Chapter leader also spoke about achievements of the past year as well as what lies ahead. And this part of the meeting was quite upbeat, particularly when the audience was reminded about the new #gunsense majority which now controls the House.

              But before my friends in Gun-control Nation decide that the tide has finally turned, I think they need to step back a bit and consider the possibility that their new-found success might turn out to be less than what it appears. I’m not saying that because I want my gun-control friends to fail. To the contrary, we must find a way to stop suffering from behaviors which result in more than 125,000 deaths and serious injuries every year.  We must. But it’s not going to happen until and unless Gun-control Nation truly understands what they are up against, and I’m not sure they do.

              Ask the average gun-sense advocate why it’s so difficult to pass laws whose purpose is to control gun violence while still allowing Americans to own guns, and the answer you’ll get every time is one variation or another on those ‘bad people’ who run the NRA. I heard this again and again at the MOMS meeting and I see it on every #gunsense website – among Gun-control Nation it is simply assumed without question that the NRA is the ‘enemy’ and that the NRA’s power and financial influence needs to be stopped or at least curtailed.

              There’s only one little problem. The NRA operates very much like the AAA; the latter provides services for people who own cars, the former provides services for people who own guns. You might think the NRA spends its time and money lambasting tree-huggers and gun-control liberals in the public square, but a quick glance at how the boys in Fairfax spend their money shows this not to be true.  For every buck the NRA dishes out to its legislative allies in Congress, it spends two bucks on the care and feeding of its own members, somewhere close to $200 million a year.

              The NRA claims around 5 million dues-paying members, maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But the organization’s real strength is that they speak not just for their membership, but for everyone who owns a gun. Yea, yea, I know the gun-control groups claim to be enrolling all those ‘reasonable’ gun owners to support their ‘sensible’ demands.  I also claim to have stayed on my diet during the Super Bowl.

              Want to know what’s really going on in Gun-nut Nation?  Take a look at NICS-FBI background check numbers which have just been compiled for 2018.  I not only looked at those numbers but I compared 2018 to every year back to 2001, and this is what I found.  In 2001, the number of new and used guns that were transferred across the counter of guns shops was 7.1 million, in 2018 it was 11.5 million, an increase of more than 50 percent. How much has the U.S. population increased over that same period of time? 16 percent. Here’s a little graph which shows the per-capita trend of background checks over the last twenty years:

              The great jump occurred in 2013, the year after Sandy Hook, when Obama tried, without success, to push through a gun-control bill. And while the background check numbers have fallen off over the last several years, they are still running nearly 60% higher than during the mid-years of Bush #43. And remember who’s sitting in the Oval Office – the gun owner’s best friend.

              My friends in Gun-control Nation are certainly entitled to celebrate their growing effectiveness and strength; I saw it first-hand at the meeting of MOMS.  But don’t forget – there are still plenty of Americans who believe in the importance and value of their guns.

I Would Still Like To Know Why Gun Owners Love Their Guns.

Despite what some of my dear Gun-nut Nation friends may think, I have no ego invested in explaining why some of the beliefs they share for reducing gun violence or explaining gun violence are simply wrong. Nor have I decided to go over to the ‘other side’ and make common cause with Wayne-o, Chris Cox or John Lott. Folks should understand that pointing out what may be errors in GVP policies or research supporting those policies isn’t a backhand effort to justify violence caused by guns.

NRA showI joined the NRA in 1955. At that time the organization focused on the use of guns for hunting and sport. There was a bit of talk about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but nobody within the organization believed that the occasional gun-control bills introduced in Congress reflected the coming of Armageddon or any attempt to turn America into a Fascist state. Even the Gun Control Act of 1968 was a half-hearted attempt, at best, to pretend that dividing the population up between good guys and bad guys would help the cops in their fight against crime.

Obviously, the world has changed in many respects over the intervening sixty-plus years. But I still believe that guns play a positive role in my life because I enjoy buying them, selling them and even occasionally shooting them since those activities usually afford me the opportunity to get together with other gun nuts like me. And don’t ask me how and don’t ask me why, but I always have a good time talking to other gun nuts about guns.

On the other hand, I will not and cannot accept the idea that we should ever assume that armed citizens can or should take the place of police in keeping the community safe. Sorry, but listening to someone drone on for a couple of hours and then shooting a few rounds into a non-moving, paper target doesn’t qualify anyone to either walk around with a self-defense gun or even think they are prepared to use that gun in a proper and effective way. I’m not saying there aren’t instances, documented or not, where a gun-owner picks up his/her gun and prevents some serious crime from taking place. But handguns and assault rifles are designed to do one thing and one thing only, namely, to shoot someone else. And to quote the great novelist Walter Mosley, “If you walk around with a gun, it will go off sooner or later.”

Notwithstanding my implacable and determined stance against self-defense guns, I am still waiting for someone in the GVP research community to explain how and why a remarkable example of cognitive dissonance exists when it comes to how America feels about guns.  Ready?

In 1959, a Gallup survey found that 60% supported a ban on private ownership of handguns. Not more restrictive licensing, not some kind of permit-to-purchase, but an absolute ban. This number has now dropped to slightly above 20%. At the same time, public health researchers have published endless studies showing that guns increase risk. And since less than 40% of American adults own guns, obviously the idea that a gun is not a risk but a benefit, is shared by many non-gun owners as well.

I cringe every time a GVP-leaning outfit produces a survey showing that Gun-control Nation and Gun-nut Nation agree on various ‘reasonable’ gun regulations (example: comprehensive background checks) because these so-called ‘reasonable’ policies invariably reflect the agenda of folks who want more regulation of guns, not the other way around. How come these surveys never include ask the two sides how they feel about getting rid of gun-free zones or a national, concealed-carry law?

This is the first time that the noise being made by Gun-control Nation seems to be matching, if not exceeding, the noise made by the other side. But arguments need to be based not just on noise, but on facts. I’m still waiting for my GVP research friends to supply some of those much-needed facts.

 

Tom Gabor: It’s The Guns, Stupid

America is an enormous outlier, relative to other high-income countries, both in terms of its gun ownership levels and its rates of gun mortality.  We have about one gun for every man, woman, and child in the US —about 300 million in all.[1]  No other country has a civilian arsenal that approximates this number.  At the same time, we have 25 times the gun homicide rate when compared to the combined (aggregated) rate for 23 other advanced countries.[2]  We are global leaders in women and children murdered with guns, mass shootings, and school shootings.

shows The obvious interpretation for America’s “exceptional” status as a leader in gun homicide and mortality is its exceptionally high level of gun ownership and widespread access of citizens to guns.  However, gun rights advocates take issue with this interpretation and argue that America’s high rates of gun violence and mass shootings are due to its exceptionally high rates of overall violence, mental illness, and even violent videos.  In fact, the US is around average in its overall violence levels and does not stand out with regard to its rates of mental illness.[3]  Countries like Japan, South Korea, and the UK, each of which have a fraction of America’s gun violence death rates, spend more per capita on violent videos.

To illustrate how a segment of society will contort itself to avoid attributing gun violence to the vast civilian arsenal in this country, consider Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Diane Black’s claim that pornography is responsible for America’s “exceptional” level of mass shootings.  This statement is utterly absurd and displays the challenges of trying to have a reasonable, evidence-based discussion on gun policy with some conservatives.  What’s really pornographic is the continuing refusal of many political conservatives to yield an inch on policy in order to prevent the slaughter of children and other residents of this country.

Unintentional (accidental) shootings illustrate how gun violence and mortality are closely linked to the number of guns in an area, state, or country.  Unlike intentional shootings, one cannot plausibly attribute these shootings to a more violent culture, mental illness, or violent videos because they are by definition unintentional.  Nor can one make the argument, as if often made in relation to gun homicide and gun suicide, that in the absence of guns people will merely substitute another method to kill another or oneself.  This argument does not apply where there is no intention to harm others or oneself.

Therefore, the examination of unintentional shootings provides a good test as to the role of gun availability in firearm-related deaths.  If there are more accidental shootings where there are more guns, there are few conclusions one can draw other than the obvious one:  more guns equal more gun deaths.

When we compare Japan and the USA, the impact of the difference in the prevalence of firearms is striking. The US has about two and a half times Japan’s population. However, according

to the most recent data available, the USA has over 120 times Japan’s number of unintentional gun deaths.  Adjusting for population differences, the USA has about 45 times more unintentional gun deaths than does Japan (2.7 vs. .06 deaths per million people). This is an astounding difference. Is this due to the enormous disparity in gun ownership or are Americans just much more accident prone and careless with guns than the Japanese?

The USA has about 88 times the rate of gun owners per million people as Japan. Recent surveys show that in the USA about 22 % of the population are gun owners; whereas, in Japan, there are about 2.5 licensed gun owners for every 1000 people, well under 1 % of the population.  Are Americans more prone to gun accidents due to carelessness or other factors? I calculated the fraction of gun owners who die from a gun accident and found that in Japan there is approximately one fatality for every 42,000 gun owners. In the US, there is an unintentional gun fatality for every 81,000 gun owners, illustrating that the average American gun owner is less likely to die of an accidental shooting than his counterpart in Japan.  Thus, US owners are not more accident prone and the massive gap between the two countries in fatal gun accidents is very likely due simply to the much higher level of gun ownership in the USA. This is the case because the number of these fatalities is far higher—45 times higher adjusting for population differences—in the USA despite the fact that the average Japanese gun owner is about two times as likely to be the victim of a fatal gun accident.

Researchers in the US support the idea that accidental gun deaths are simply a numbers game.  Harvard researchers examined the link between gun availability and state unintentional gun death rates over a 19-year period. For every age group, states with more guns tend to have more accidental gun deaths than states with fewer guns. The death rate was seven times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns.[4]   Douglas Wiebe of UCLA, using national data, found that the relative risk of death by an unintentional gunshot injury was nearly four times greater for subjects living in homes with guns than those living in homes without guns.[5]

In his book Lethal Logic, attorney Dennis Henigan recounts the story from his childhood of a neighbor who was shot accidentally by her husband while he was cleaning his handgun at the kitchen table. It is an obvious truth that people are rarely killed during the cleaning of knives, baseball bats, or other potential weapons.   Henigan explains that, apart from their greater lethality, guns are more susceptible to accidentally injuring the user or others because they are more complex than these other weapons.  For example, accidents often occur because people, often children, are unaware that a gun is real or loaded. In other cases, a gun discharges after it has been dropped. In still other cases, hunting accidents are enabled by the long range of rifles and shotguns as people are mistaken for game.  Henigan notes that Americans are six times more likely to die from an accidental firearm discharge than from an accident involving a knife or other sharp object.  This is the case despite the fact that knives are present in far more homes, are greater in number, and are used more frequently than are guns.

 The most obvious explanation for high levels of gun violence is a high level of gun ownership.  From the gun lobby and gun rights advocates, we get many convoluted alternative explanations as they try to find every conceivable reason for America’s unacceptable levels of gun mortality other than the most obvious one:  we are a nation awash with guns.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D., is a criminologist, sociologist, and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers

[2] https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(15)01030-X/abstract

[3] http://fortune.com/2017/11/07/texas-church-shooting-donald-trump-mental-health/

[4] Miller M, Azrael D, Hemenway D. Firearm availability and unintentional

firearm deaths. Accid Anal Prev. 2001; 33(4): 477–484.

[5] Wiebe D. Firearms in US homes as a risk factor for unintentional gunshot

fatality. Accid Anal Prev. 2003; 35(5): 711–716.

A New Survey Doesn’t Tell Us What Gun Owners Think About Gun Violence.

In the endless quest to locate ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ gun restrictions, Gun-control Nation has just been given a new road map courtesy of the gun-control research group at Johns Hopkins, who have released their third national survey comparing the attitudes of gun owners to non-gun owners regarding different laws and policies for regulating guns. I notice in all these surveys, by the way, that gun-control advocates and organizations never find it necessary to look for ‘responsible’ folks on their side of the argument, the assumption being that anyone who wants to reduce gun violence is, by definition, a responsible and reasonable sort.

may22             That being said, the Hopkins survey asked the two groups of respondents how they felt about 24 different gun-control policies, setting as an agreement – disagreement baseline between the two groups of 10% or more.  In other words, if 75% of Gun-control Nation supports a certain policy but only 65% of Gun-nut Nation supports the same idea, the survey authors pronounce such a gap to mean that the two sides don’t agree. Fair enough.

The publication of this survey was greeted by huzzahs on the gun-control side because universal background checks, Gun-control Nation’s most endearing policy change, was supported by both groups to the tune of 85.3 percent for gun owners versus 88.7 for non-gun owners, basically a dead heat. There were also significant and high rates of agreement for yanking licenses from ‘bad apple’ dealers, mandated proficiency testing prior to issuance of a concealed-carry license and tightening up reportage to NICS of individuals who are nut jobs either because they have been stuck away in a loony bin or some judge said they don’t know their right minds.

What I found most interesting about this survey was that of the 24 policies which respondents were asked to support or not support, only one of these policies was something that Gun-nut Nation has been trying to achieve; i.e., allowing legally armed citizens to bring a concealed weapon (CCW) into a public school. Not surprisingly, at least not to my surprise, this was the one policy in which the gun owners showed themselves to be more strongly supportive than non-gun owners, the gap being 42% to 20%.

The survey is described as an effort to determine public support for ‘gun violence prevention policies,’ but excepting the policy that would allow CCW access in schools, every one of the other 23 policies happen to be policies that will reduce gun violence as defined not by the general public, but by a slice of the general public, otherwise known as the advocates and researchers in favor of gun control.

This may come as a great shock to my friends at Johns Hopkins and other academic centers where gun violence is studied as a public health risk, but there happens to be large numbers of Americans who do not necessarily subscribe to the ideas proposed by Gun-control Nation to reduce the carnage caused by guns. The fact is that a majority of Americans, contrary to the standard mantra of the gun-control movement, actually believe that a gun around the home is a benefit rather than a risk. And I guarantee you that if a ‘nationally representative’ survey asked gun owners and non-gun owners how they feel about such gun-violence reduction strategies as a national, concealed-carry license or ‘constitutional’ carry, the gun-owning respondents would support these ideas with the same degree of fervor and unquestioned belief that gun-control advocates embrace comprehensive background checks.

A survey which tests attitudes of gun owners and non-gun owners based almost entirely on gun-control policies dreamed up by one side in the debate is a survey whose results are nothing more than whole cloth. And worse, such a survey creates false expectations about the degree to which gun-control advocates will be joined by a broad swath of ‘responsible’ gun owners in the effort to strengthen gun-control laws.

There may be some gun-control scholars who define their role as shaping false beliefs. This scholar, for one, doesn’t agree.

 

 

Does Every ‘Responsible’ Gun Owner Hate The NRA? Don’t Count On It.

Now that a new momentum seems to have infected the gun-control movement, the media has responded by publishing all kinds of surveys and personal testimonies which claim to show that many gun owners aren’t just the red-blooded defenders of God-given gun rights, but are responsible, reasonable people who not only accept the idea that gun ownership needs to be regulated, but even go along with such radical ideas as extending background checks to secondary transfers and sales.

eva             One of the recent surveys that caught my eye was published by Huffington Post, which asked gun owners who weren’t members of the NRA the reason(s) why they opted not to join America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization.’  The survey was taken by 1,000 adults of whom HP says includes 184 gun owners who are “not members of the NRA.” And when asked why they were not NRA members, almost half the gun owners said that the organization didn’t represent them politically or otherwise. If this survey is correct, it tends to verify a cherished and long-held belief on the part of gun-control activists that the people who are most adamant about protecting their beloved 2nd Amendment, may not represent the ‘average’ gun owner at all.

Which brings us to the most salient question floating around since Parkland, namely, how do you sustain the energy and activity of the ‘silent majority’ (or near-majority) of gun owners who might be willing to support more regulation of gun ‘rights?’ Yesterday, the Governor of Oklahoma vetoed a bill which would have basically ended gun regulations in the Sooner State, and if gun ‘rights’ can be curbed in Oklahoma, they can be curbed anywhere.

The day before Governor Mary Fallin told Oklahoma gun-lovers to stick their guns up their you-know-where, the 9th Federal Circuit Court basically said the same thing to California gun nuts, when it upheld a county ordnance preventing a gun shop from operating within 500 feet of a residential zone, the majority opinion citing the 2008 Heller decision which said that the 2nd Amendment did not prohibit the government from regulating the sale of guns. This opinion will be appealed by Gun-nut Nation to the Supreme Court in the hopes that with a conservative majority still intact, the ruling will be overturned. Don’t bet on it.

Meanwhile, to help the gun-control contingent promote their new-found strength and public élan, Huffington published ‘An Open Letter From Hunters About Gun Reform’ (note the substitution of ‘reform’ for ‘control’) that was signed by ten members of what is called the Circle of Chiefs, which is what the Outdoor Writers Association of America refers to as their ‘conservation conscience,’ whatever that means. Their letter promotes the standard laundry-list of gun-control items which have taken on a new life since the appearance of the Parkland kids – an assault weapon and high-cap magazine ban, comprehensive background checks, no bump stocks – the usual things. These new ‘reforms’ are referred to as “responsible limitations that do not infringe the ability of Americans to hunt, shoot or protect themselves and their families.”

The last gun shop that any of these letter-signers entered was probably the Dallas Gun Room, where the cheapest gun is a Holland & Holland shotgun that cost at least five thousand bucks. I didn’t have time to stop off there when I came to Dallas last week for NRA, and I’ll bet I wasn’t the only person at NRA who didn’t have time to stop by that store. What I like about NRA are the number of people I meet whom I have seen at previous shows. It might be difficult for Gun-control Nation to accept this idea, but NRA is just like a Boy Scout jamboree – you go because it’s fun.

Either the good folks who seriously want to reduce gun violence will figure out how to attract gun owners to their cause or they won’t. They certainly won’t do it by getting behind a small group of ‘gentlemen hunters’ who wouldn’t know a $200-dollar shotgun if they tripped over one at a local or national gun show.

Khalil Spencer: Gun Owners Need A Credible NRA.

Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ memorable novella A Christmas Carol, uttered the equally memorable phrase “I’ll retire to Bedlam” when he thought everyone he was talking to had gone nuts. In the heated and often unfocussed rhetorical aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting I wonder if its time to do the same.

bears1The National Rifle Association has gone off the rails. It promotes a toxic view of citizenship as well as gun ownership. With hunting on a downward spiral, perhaps its goal is to gin up a gun market designed around self-defense, even if we aren’t sure from whom we are defending. Furthermore, prominent NRA organizational spokespeople Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch compete with people like Alex Jones for who can be the most outrageous.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Ohio wrote a bill equating innocuous, 22 rimfire hunting and target rifles from the ninteen-sixties to so-called “assault rifles” used to mow down people at the Parkland Fl school. “Kill the NRA” is a popular hashtag. On the local front, a thoughtful leader of a local gun violence prevention organization demands that school, law enforcement, and government organizations purge themselves of anyone with NRA affiliations, which amounts to McCarthyism. This in spite of people like NRA Life Member Mike Weisser being an outspoken critic of NRA leadership and an outspoken supporter of gun violence prevention on his blog and in the pages of the Huffington Post. My stepdad, also an NRA Life Member, dutifully follows the most recent NYS Safe act, putting ten round plugs in his magazines. Breaking with his single-issue tradition, he refused to vote for the Orange Loose Cannon.

As far as the NRA, gun owners need a voice in government. It’s a fact of life that any party subject to government rulemaking needs a competent, full time representative in the halls of the various legislatures to make sure its voice is heard and story understood; gun owners will be heavily impacted by any state or Federal gun control legislation. Indeed, the gun violence prevention community has multiple full time advocates, such as those funded by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Mr. Bloomberg’s people don’t always get it right on the details. Neither does the NRA. Most thoughtful gun owners work full time and cannot descend on their elected representatives. We depend on competent spokespeople lurking in the halls of government. I wish we had more

An example of a glaring misunderstanding that could affect legislation was recently provided by Lois Beckett, a thoughtful analyst who extensively covers US gun issues for the UK based Guardian. She noted that in a recent CNN poll indicating 57% of Americans would ban “rifles capable of semi-automatic fire such as the AR-15” the pollsters never defined semi-automatic firearms nor the difference between traditional autoloading hunting rifles and assault-style semiautomatic rifles based on military models.

The problem with the NRA isn’t that its claims that someone needs to represent the interests of gun owners is invalid. The problem is that the NRA leadership no longer represents gun owners; it has become a voice of the far right in the culture wars rather than a voice representing the bulk of the estimated 30-40% of Americans who own firearms. Likewise, many on the left see “guns and bibles” through the eyes of left of center culture warriors.  Thus, we don’t discuss the actual problem of gun violence so much as the overprint of our cultural values. That’s what we need to fix.

If I were still an NRA member, I would demand that the entire NRA Board of Directors be recalled and that the organization find spokespeople who understand the role of guns in society rather than competing for the Atilla the Hun Award. How about we start there?

Tom Gabor – Concealed Carry Reciprocity.

In the aftermath of the two deadly mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, Congress should be protecting Americans from gun violence by strengthening our gun laws, not weakening them. Instead, in a party line vote last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 38), a National Rifle Association (NRA) priority.

CCW1If this bill is enacted into law, each state would be required to honor a concealed carry permit issued by another state, even if the permit holder’s state of residence has much lower standards or no permit requirement at all for those carrying concealed weapons. This would be a dangerous law, as it would allow people to seamlessly carry guns across state lines, regardless of the vetting and training required by the state issuing the permit.

It is ironic that during a period in which gun deaths have been increasing and mass shootings are claiming an unprecedented number of victims, our first national law in many years would prioritize the rights of gun owners rather than enhance public safety. It is also a paradox that we would have a national law that, rather than setting a high national standard for individuals who carry lethal weapons, would instead preserve a system of disparate state laws in which the lowest standard would be imposed on all states. The NRA and Republicans also violate conservative doctrine by undermining the right of states to protect their residents through the imposition of rigorous requirements on gun permit applicants.

Asserting federal authority in gun policy might be worth considering if there was compelling evidence that such an approach would improve public safety. However, research clearly shows that increasing gun carrying offers few advantages and imperils public safety. John Donohue at Stanford University has shown that right-to-carry laws have increased state violent crime rates by 15%. An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 found that just one of these incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, found that just one in every 2,000 potential or actual mass shootings is successfully stopped by an armed civilian. Meanwhile, the Violence Policy Center has documented over 1,100 killings by concealed carry permit holders since 2007.

Gun carrying also raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion in active-shooter incidents. In 2016, an individual shot five Dallas police officers as the officers were providing security at a rally attended by open-carry activists armed with assault weapons. The police chief stated that these activists impeded responding officers, creating confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were additional shooters.

Gun carrying also raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion in active-shooter incidents. In 2016, an individual shot five Dallas police officers as the officers were providing security at a rally attended by open-carry activists armed with assault weapons. The police chief stated that these activists impeded responding officers, creating confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were additional shooters.

Currently, 12 states do not require a permit to carry a firearm and about two dozen states require no training in the safe handling and use of firearms.  Even states requiring such training do not approach the standards recommended by experts.  Joseph Vince, a leading national expert,  states that training should include mental preparation, knowledge of the law, judgment, and expertise and familiarity with firearms.  Just a handful of states take training seriously and, under the proposed Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, they would be forced to allow individuals to bring in guns from states that require no training at all.

With gun violence and mass shootings presenting grave threats to Americans, this bill represents a retreat in standards governing the carrying of guns.  This retreat would ignore the shortcomings of civilian training, as well as polls showing the public’s increasing desire for stricter regulation of firearms.  Congress should reject this bill in favor of one that will actually keep America safe.

Thomas Gabor is author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This op-ed was originally published in Fortune Magazine.

Don’t Forget That Guns Are Different From Every Other Product That I Can Buy.

If there’s one thing that makes guns different from every other consumer product, it’s that the damn things just don’t wear out. And this lack of product obsolescence, planned or otherwise, impacts every aspect of the gun business and should alert my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to be careful when they promote policies and strategies that have worked to lessen risk and injury from other consumer products (ex. automobiles) but won’t necessarily work when it comes to guns.

westinghouse             I own a Colt 1911 pistol that was manufactured in 1919.  The finish is perfect and it works flawlessly. I even have about 10 rounds of 45acp ammunition made in 1920 by the Remington factory in Bridgeport, CT in the original 20-round box which was shipped with the gun as a promotion and the ammo still works too. In other words, I am still using a consumer product that was made and first sold almost one whole century ago!

How many cell phones have I owned in the past 15 years? Probably at least ten. How many new cars have I purchased in the past 15 years?  I’m on my fifth one.  How many bags of potato chips have I consumed in the last month?  I’d rather not say.  The point is that virtually everything we purchase either wears out or is consumed and therefore has to be replaced. And the companies which make those cell phones, those t-shirts, those crummy I-Pads and everything else know that if they can get me to buy their product for the first time, they are usually looking at repeat business for the remainder of my life.

Not true with guns.  Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made the astounding discovery that roughly 3% of all Americans owned roughly half of the privately-owned guns. Which works out to an average of 17 guns apiece. But if you buy your first gun in your 20’s and now you’re in your mid-50’s, which happens to be the average age of gun owners today, this works out to a gun purchase every other year.  Which is basically the same rate at which I have purchased a laptop – one every other year. But the laptops are junk, so is my droid, so is my GPS.  They all break or simply one day don’t work.  Guns don’t break.

About five miles from my office is the rubble of a factory, Westinghouse New England, which was built in 1915 and produced nearly 1 million Moisin-Nagant rifles that were supposed to be shipped to Russia during World War I. Then something known as the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, the whole deal went south, and the U.S. government which had paid for the tooling was stuck with the bill. The Feds ended up selling off the rifles as surplus guns to civilians for three bucks apiece. I happen to own one of those guns and it shoots just fine. The factory is rubble.  See the pic above. Get it?

Gun makers have never figured out how to overcome the fact that unless your product needs to be replaced on a regular basis, sooner or later you’ll go broke.  The good news is that every other Presidential administration since FDR has tried in one way or another to get rid of guns. And the political effort to regulate (read: prohibit) gun ownership has become, for the gun business, what product obsolescence is for everything else that we own.

I don’t blame the gun industry for inventing the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime. Because at least criminal behavior is a constant factor which never seems to go away. So if gun makers can make people believe they should buy this particular product because it’s an effective way to deal with crime, at least there’s a chance that sales won’t collapse even if the current Administration has no plans to take away the guns.