Another State Wants At-Risk Gun Owners To Protect Themselves From Their Guns.

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Last week I wrote about a bill in the Oregon legislature that would allow family members to petition a court for removal of guns in cases where a gun owner was an immediate risk to himself or someone else.  The bill, known as a measure to be used only in instances of ‘extreme risk,’ would require the gun owner to surrender his firearms for up to one year, but the gun owner could also appear in court and present evidence that his access to guns no longer represented a risk to himself or anyone else.

gun-suicide             The Oregon initiative follows the adoption of a similar law in California, which allows family members to ask for a restraining order on access to guns. But this week the virus seems to be spreading to the other coast, because a similar measure has just been introduced in the Massachusetts House, and it appears to have enough sponsors to be taken seriously when and if the Massachusetts legislature stops arguing over the annual budget.

I learned about the Massachusetts law because of an email I received from my friends at the NRA, which linked to a statement about the law by the NRA-ILA.  According to America’s oldest civil rights organization, the Massachusetts law, if enacted, would “result in the immediate suspension and surrender of any license to carry firearms and firearms identification card which the respondent may hold.  The respondent would also be required to surrender all firearms and ammunition.” The NRA then goes on to repeat the usual canard about how such an order would be issued based on ‘little, if any real evidence,’ but that’s simply not true.

But the best part of the NRA’s attempt to explain Constitutional law to its membership is the sentence which reads: “Constitutional rights are generally restricted only upon conviction of a felony.”  Did the legal geniuses at Fairfax ever hear of something called ‘prior restraint?’ The rights enumerated in the Constitution are all subject to ‘reasonable’ restrictions imposed by governmental authority, as long as those restrictions meet basic tests regarding the intent and result of what government intends to do. Such restrictions are even explicitly stated in the landmark Heller decision, which states that “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited, and “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.”

Which is exactly what these ‘extreme risk’ laws are designed to do, namely, keep guns out of the hands of individuals who have shown a disregard for the traditional rules of behavior under which we all live. Sorry, but telling someone that you are depressed to the point of wanting to commit suicide isn’t just an idle threat. Ditto stalking or threatening someone who told you to leave them alone. The Constitution doesn’t enshrine such behavior and such behavior becomes a much greater threat when it might involve a gun.

But remember who we are dealing with here, namely, an organization which increasingly promotes the idea that there should be no restrictions of any kind on the ownership or use of guns. Believe it or not, I would have no problem with the NRA or any other pro-gun advocacy group if they would just drop the nonsense about how guns aren’t really dangerous because we can use them to protect us from crime.  If the NRA would admit the truth, namely, that guns are extremely lethal and that access to a gun increases risk, I would fold up this website immediately, stick my guns, my wife and my cats in the Subaru and take off to a trailer park in the Florida Keys.

The fact that something is dangerous doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be owned. I know a guy who keeps rattlesnakes but treats them with extreme caution and care.  Are we asking too much of my gun-owning friends to behave the same way with their guns?

Some Suggestions For A Gun Violence Prevention Strategy In The Age Of Trump.

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gun-violence           Now that the dust is slowly beginning to settle and the smoke slowly beginning to clear, Gun-sense Nation has to sit down and come up with a workable plan to drive the issue of gun violence prevention in the Age of Trump.  Because at least for the next couple of years, until he really screws things up and/or everyone gets sick of his noise, the organizations and individuals committed to ending the senseless behavior that kills or injures 120,000 Americans ever year are going to have to figure out how and what to do with the lunatics in charge.  So while I’m not suggesting that what follows should be adopted as an agenda by the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, I do hope that at least some of these ideas will at least be discussed as plans for the future of GVP begin to take shape.

  1. There must be a dedicated and serious effort to prevent Gun-nut Nation from achieving its most fervent goal, namely, a national concealed-carry law that will be valid in all 50 states. And I am opposed to national CCW not because it would necessarily increase gun violence, but because it would make walking around with a gun just as normal and mainstream as driving a car.  Which would lead to even less restrictions on the ownership and use of guns.
  2. States and individual communities should be encouraged to more strictly regulate the most lethal guns. A town north of Chicago – Highland Park – banned the ownership of AR-style rifles by town residents following Sandy Hook and the ban was upheld. The Attorney General in Massachusetts banned purchases of black guns in the Bay State which unleased a spate of lawsuits that will probably end up in the trash.  Let’s remember that the 2nd Amendment protects private ownership of guns but doesn’t say anything about purchasing a particular type of gun.
  3. Gun buyback programs work. The buyback program in Worcester, MA, has taken more than 2,500 guns off the streets of Worcester and surrounding towns at an average cost of $60 a gun.  Let’s increase the buyback tariff to $150 a gun and see if 20 cities with high levels of gun-violence could pull 500 guns of the streets of each city every year.  So it would cost $1.5 million to reduce the gun arsenal by 10,000 guns – that’s chump change for someone like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or (God forbid) the Clinton Foundation to pony up for collecting a really big pile of guns.
  4. Start pestering school districts to mandate gun violence instruction in the primary grades. Guns don’t show up in high school; they first start appearing in the middle-school years.  Massachusetts mandated an anti-violence curriculum several years ago but confined the instruction to lessons about bullying after several unfortunate student suicides took place.  Shouldn’t they also have added a module on violence cause by guns?
  5. Don’t stop talking about gun violence – no public forum is out of bounds. Public discussions about gun violence used to be of the moment, provoked by this mass shooting or that.  The GVP community has gone far beyond rallying around the issue only when something dreadful takes place.  But keeping the dialog going and increasing its volume is not something that should only occur in response to specific events.  It should go on all the time.

Note that I did not mention the ‘usual GVP suspects’ like universal background checks or tightening up taking guns away in at-risk situations like suicide or domestic disputes.  I didn’t mention these issues because there is enough momentum behind them now to sustain such strategies even when the chances for success are less positive than they were before.  I just wanted to throw a few more items on the table because we need to attack this issue from as many different perspectives as we can, and let’s not forget that the next election is now less than two years’ away.

Center For American Progress Has Issued An Absolutely ‘Must Read’ Report On Gun Violence.

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Our good friends at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have published a new study on the link between gun laws and gun violence which is a ‘must-read’ for everyone who is concerned about reducing gun violence.  Which means that nobody in Gun-nut Nation needs to read this report because Gun-nut Nation doesn’t believe that we need to regulate guns at all.  But notwithstanding the dwindling Trump supporters, for those who support the concept of reasonable discourse based on at least some attention to facts, the CAP report is a significant effort to figure out (I’m now quoting the report) “whether strong gun laws are effective at reducing gun violence.”
cap-logo2           What makes this report so important is not the fact that the authors attempt to answer the problem stated above about the effects of strong gun laws on rates of gun violence, but for the first time we have an attempt to connect the effect of gun laws to the totality of gun violence based on data covering 10 different categories of gun violence recorded in every, single state.  This is not the first time that scholars have attempted to link gun violence to the legal environment, the CAP study references the work of my good buddy Eric Fleegler and his colleagues, who found a clear link between gun laws and firearm-related deaths in a 2013 article which you can download here.

But there are two important differences between the Fleegler research and what CAP has now produced: first, the 2013 study only defined gun violence by combining state-level homicide and suicide rates, the CAP study breaks down gun violence into 10 separate categories covering every type of incident where the use of a gun creates physical harm; second, Fleegler’s group analyzed state-level gun law environments using the Brady CenterLaw Center reports from 2012, and it was after 2012 (following Sandy Hook) that many states changed their gun laws, in most cases making the legal environment less restrictive in terms of access to guns. So what we get from this CAP report is not only an updated analysis of the relative strength (and weakness) of gun regulations on a state-by-state basis, we also get a much deeper analysis of the different ways in which gun violence occurs.

And what is the result?  Same old, same old, namely, states with stronger gun laws suffer less gun violence, states with weaker gun laws suffer more.  Gee, what a surprise!  But don’t take my cynicism as in way a criticism of the CAP report. Because if you break gun violence down into its component parts, this at least gives you some leverage in trying to figure out not just whether gun laws work to reduce gun violence, but what kind of new gun laws might be implemented or current laws strengthened to address this issue in states where gun violence rates are simply out of control.

Montana is one of those mountain states which has a very high gun-suicide rate but very few gun homicides. It ranks 9th overall for gun violence, but 3rd for gun suicides and only 36th for gun homicides, which puts it below Massachusetts for gun homicides even though Massachusetts ranks dead last for gun violence overall.

But guess what? Montana goes back up to 16th for IPV female homicides, so gun violence in Montana isn’t just driven by suicides, it’s also a very deadly place for women involved in domestic disputes.  Which means that a safe storage law in Montana might have an effect on suicides, but you can be sure that a law which allowed cops to pull guns away from people engaged in domestics would save some lives in the Big Sky State.

By breaking down gun violence into its component parts, the CAP report gives us a realistic view of what gun violence numbers really mean. Which makes this report an inestimable resource for crafting proper laws.  But isn’t that what we expect from CAP in the areas of their concern?

Does Gun Violence = American Exceptionalism? Sure Does, Particularly In The South.

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If you find yourself in a discussion with someone who doesn’t think that gun violence is a problem, just refer them to Jennifer Mascia’s great article in The Trace where she aggregates the data for 2015.  Or better yet, memorize some of her statistics and repeat them to the person with whom you are talking and if he doesn’t admit that we do have a gun violence problem, he can go lay brick.  Because along with some very nifty graphics, Jennifer really does look at a variety of data points that clearly illustrate how far we still have to go to change a gun violence trend that shows little, if any signs of ending soon.

traceBottom line according to Ms. Mascia: 2015 is going to be a “bloody year.” And it’s not ‘mass shootings’ or domestic terrorist attacks that account for all that blood being spilled; it’s the day in, day out random shootings that claim two children every day, fifteen black men every day and more than 50 suicides every day.  No wonder Trump and the other Republican clowns don’t want any more gun laws.  After all, if you make it more difficult for people to get their hands on guns, thus making it more difficult for them to shoot themselves or someone else, you can kiss this particular form of American exceptionalism goodbye, right?

But in looking at the numbers, I’m not so sure that our affinity for gun violence is necessarily an American problem. Because like so many other things, there are some remarkable regional variations in gun violence rates, and when you break the problem down on a regional basis, just as the numbers begin to change, so maybe the discussion about gun violence needs to change as well.

In 2005, according to the CDC, 30,694 Americans were killed by guns.  This number covers every type of gun violence – homicide, suicide, unintentional injury – and it’s probably somewhat less than the real total but the CDC is as close as we can get (although the numbers from the CDC-Wonder database are slightly more accurate).  In 2014 the total was 33,599 and estimates from the GVA folks point towards another increase this year.  In 2005, the Southern census region accounted for 44% of all gun deaths; in 2014 the South accounted for 46%.  The South, incidentally, is the only part of the country in which the percentage of gun deaths is higher than the percentage of the country’s population as a whole.  Further, while the gun violence rate between 2005 and 2014 fell in the Northeast and the West and stayed just about even in the Midwest, in the South it rose by 4%. If gun violence is an exceptional American phenomenon, it’s particularly exceptional in the South.

There is one other category of gun violence which is remarkably exceptional in the South, and that’s when the shooter points the gun at himself.  We can be gender-specific here because 90% of gun suicides are committed by men. And where do most of these events occur?  In the South.  In 2005, the South accounted for 44% of all gun suicides, it rose to 46% in 2014.  Meanwhile, the percentage of gun suicides in every other region has not changed over the last ten years, even though on an overall basis, gun suicides now account for 65% of all suicides, whereas they were 40% of suicides in 2005.

I’m not sure why the South has such a love affair with gun violence, but if the Southern numbers on gun violence were similar to the rest of the country, America’s most exceptional social phenomenon would look very different indeed.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the South’s exceptionalism just reflects the disparity in gun violence between Blacks and Whites.  What is the only region of the country where the percentage of Whites killed by guns is higher than the percentage of Americans living in that region as a whole?  Where else?

HAVE A HAPPY AND SAFE HOLIDAY AND IF YOU GO TO A PARTY, PLEASE LEAVE THE GUN AT HOME.

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