Do We Really All Support Background Checks?

If I had a nickel for every gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate and/or gun violence researchers who believes that the American public is not so polarized about controlling guns, I would be somewhere at my golf club and not sitting in my office writing, doing emails, answering the phone and doing all the things I do in order to keep my checkbook occasionally in balance. And this GVP belief in the ability to work with the ‘other side’ stems primarily from endless surveys which show that even gun owners and/or Republicans (usually the same thing) support comprehensive background checks.

polls2             The latest pronouncement in this respect comes from one of our leading gun researchers, Garen Wintemute, who is now overseeing a $5 million grant from the State of California to fund research that has been left undone since the CDC stopped funding gun violence research back in 1998. As ‘proof’ that we are not so divided over the issue of background checks, I quote Wintemute from a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times: “90% of the general population supports (background checks for all firearms purchases), 80% of gun owners support it and 70% of self-reported NRA members support it. Things are not as polarized as they seem.”

I’m assuming that Wintemute took these numbers from the Pew poll published back in June which found, among other things, that 19% of all gun owners were members of the NRA. If this were true, the $165 million they pulled in from dues in 2015 would be chump change compared to what they would really rack if the 19% ‘NRA members’ were paying annual dues. Try about $250 million, okay?

But since the Pew researchers made no effort to ask people why they said they were members of America’s oldest civil rights organization, for the moment let’s accept the number as true even if it’s not. Here’s a bigger truth. The NRA has come out officially and publicly against any expansion of background checks. Period. No compromise whatsoever. So what the Pew researchers should have asked, and perhaps one of Wintemute’s research colleagues will get around to asking at some point is this: ‘If you favor background checks, would you drop your NRA membership because the organization is opposed to background checks?’  Or perhaps instead of that question, the researchers would ask something along the lines like this: ‘Would you vote for someone whose stance on issues included expanding background checks?’

Remember a political candidate named Hillary Clinton? She used a very strong GVP argument to knock Bernie out of the box. The only problem is that the same argument didn’t work in the general election worth a damn. I’m not saying that Trump won the election only because of his stance on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ What I am saying is that asking the average person if they favor expanded background checks doesn’t really tell you very much about how that individual will really line up and be counted when a new gun law is being debated in the jurisdiction where that individual happens to live.

I’m also not saying that gun owners are ignorant of the importance of background checks for the transfer a gun from one set of hands to another set of hands. Nor am I saying they are lying when they tell a survey-taker that they support expanded background checks. But asking someone to respond to a specific question about guns doesn’t really tell you how the answer to that question lines up with other thoughts the same person holds about guns and how best to use public policies to diminish the violence caused by guns.

The same gun owners who told Pew they favored comprehensive background checks also said they wanted teachers to carry guns in schools and in case you don’t remember, arming teachers was the NRA’s response following the massacre at Sandy Hook.

If only the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ could be measured by responses to a single question in a poll.

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A New Survey Which Raises Issues We Need To Better Understand.

The Pew Research Center is often considered to be the authoritative source for figuring out what Americans think about a wide range of social, political and economic issues. Its survey findings are also used by many groups and organizations to help develop or shape their strategies for the kinds of public policies and the messaging about those policies that should be put forth into the public domain. In other words, when Pew says something about an issue like guns, people tend to listen. But the question has to be asked: what are they hearing?

pew            This week Pew published, with appropriate fanfare, a detailed survey on what Americans think about guns. The results come from a “nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults,” whose answers are then weighted appropriately to take into account gender, age, race, region and the usual statistical blah, blah, blah which survey machers claim will make what they tell you to be more or less true.

I not only read every word of this report multiple times, I also closely read the detailed reports on each topic where I often found very important results that did not make it up to the overall summary of the report.  Like they say, ‘the devil is in the details,’ and I therefore urge everyone who reads this document to get as granular as possible and read all the fine print.

The survey on which this report is based was conducted in April, which means that it was taken before the shooting of Scalise and the others last week. I suspect that if that same survey was conducted today that some of the attitudinal findings would be different on both sides, in particular respondent attitudes about regulating assault rifles and hi-cap mags

I’ll forego a discussion of the overall findings of this survey because that information will no doubt be broadcast here and there. I understand why pew ties so much of its survey findings (in this and every survey they conduct) to political leanings, votoing behavior and such. But probably 60% of all guns in the civilian arsenal can be found in 13 Confederate states, 3 border states and the rural parts of 4-5 midwestern states. Gee, what a surprise that the white residents in those places always, always vote resoundingly red. That’s new news?

There is, however, a remarkably interesting finding peeping out in the details covering gun-owning demographics, namely, that the percentage of people living in safe or unsafe neighborhoods who cited personal protection as the chief reason for having a gun was roughly the same. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of all gun owners who said that ‘the world’ was less safe cited personal protection as a reason for owning a gun, and nearly seven out of ten survey respondents, gun owners or not, said the world had become a less safe place.

These findings tell me that the spread of gun ownership and, in particular, the ownership of highly lethal but concealable handguns is not so much a function of people worrying about their personal safety, as it is about safety fears in a more general, almost generic sense.  I’m not saying that people who buy or walk around with a concealed weapon are necessarily a threat to themselves or anyone else.  On the other hand, don’t ask me how or why, but somehow an awful lot of those little guns get stolen or lost and wind up in the street.

If the gun violence prevention (GVP) community is looking for some messaging that will make people think twice before assuming they can protect themselves with a gun, they might think hard and long about the mentalities detailed above and ask themselves how to respond to a daily media bombardment which makes the average person feel unsafe in some general way because this so-called War on Terror just drags on and on.

Is America’s continued infatuation with guns a reaction to the age-old fears about ‘crime,’ or is it because we do not yet fully understand how and why we think about the risk of terror attacks?

 

A Little Early But Here’s My GVP Resolutions For 2017.

 

The truth is that nothing succeeds like adversity, and if there’s one group that probably feels they’ve been hit with adversity it’s the community that really cares about gun violence prevention, a.k.a. GVP.  Because if this election was anything, it was something of a plebiscite on America’s gun culture and the American fascination with guns.  Talk about making the country exceptional – what other country has more than 300 million small arms stacked away in closets and drawers?  And you can’t argue with the fact that Hillary made new gun regs a major part of her pitch and Shlump made a point of promising to protect the 2nd Amendment at every campaign stop that he made. No, I take that back – the one place he didn’t mention gun ‘rights’ was when he tramped around Flint.

trump5             For many GVP advocates, having a virulently pro-gun President in the White House is a new state of affairs, which is why it’s understandable that the GVP community would feel somewhat vulnerable going into 2017.  Let’s face it, we all had visions of expanded background checks to secondary gun transfers under Hillary – was there a single pollster who told us it wouldn’t come true? But maybe, just maybe, the Age of Trump will prove to be a blessing in disguise for GVP because, if nothing else, his continued pandering to the lowest common denominator on the gun issue will waken people up to the fact that now’s really the time to get involved.

Which is why although I usually wait until after Christmas to publish my gun violence prevention (GVP) resolutions for the next year, I’ve decided to get started now.  And the reason I’m doing it early this time is because of some postings about how Vanity Fair’s subscriptions soared after the magazine was attacked by Trump, ditto a massive wave of new subscriptions for The New York Times after the results on November 8th.  So I think we need to get ready because sooner or later El Shlumpo will say something stupid or really stupid or really, really stupid about guns and GVP better be ready to respond.  So my New Year’s GVP resolutions are aimed at making my own response as effective as it can be.

Resolution #1. – I will never write anything that contains the slightest concern for, or support of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ The second that a GVP advocate says that Americans have a ‘right’ to own a gun, the other side has won.

Resolution #2. – I have absolutely no interest in trying to figure out how to communicate a GVP message to ‘responsible’ people who own guns.  If they’re so responsible, let them figure it out.

Resolution #3. –  I am not going to bother any more with explanations about the difference between a ‘modern sporting rifle’ and an AR-15.  There is no difference except that the latter is designed to kill people and the former is an entirely made-up name.

Resolution #4. – I will not entertain any discussion about whether there should be a training standard for civilians who want to carry concealed (or open) guns.  Anyone who wants to carry a self-defense gun can join the military or, if you’re too old to enlist, you can always move to Israel because up to age 60 you can serve in the IDF reserves.

So those are my New Year’s resolutions when it comes to GVP.  And if you’ve bothered to read them you’ll notice one common thread, namely, that when it comes to reducing gun violence, the GVP community needs to take a very strong, aggressive and uncompromising stance.  The fact is that 90% of the small arms being manufactured and sold in the United States are designed to do only one thing.  And if they weren’t designed to do that one thing we wouldn’t need to be advocates for GVP.  Get it?

The Dumbest Writing About Guns In 2016.

Our good friends at The Trace have just published what they call the gun violence reporting which inspired them in 2016.  It’s a good, solid list and it contains some reportage that I hadn’t previously seen, so I recommend it highly for everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, as well as for everyone in Gun-nut Nation (I’m trying to be more compassionate and inclusive as we head into 2017.)

ccw             I’m going to steal a little thunder from the folks at The Trace and publish my own list of don’t-miss gun journalism, but in this case I’m going to nominate one article for my list known as The Dumbest Gun Article of the Year.  Now you might think that I would nominate something written by John Blowhard Lott, or maybe an editorial from NRA-ILA, or perhaps a prancing video produced by Colion Noir, but nothing from Gun-nut Nation comes even close to making my dumbest list for the simple reason that I expect gun messaging from the Gang That Can’t Think Straight to be dumb. Anyone who sincerely believes that owning a gun makes him ‘free’ is simply incapable of understanding any discussion about anything that uses language taught beyond the second grade. Consequently, I reserve my concerns about dumb gun journalism for writers who should know better because they are allegedly crafting their messaging for folks from our side; i.e., the population that is concerned enough about gun violence to think and talk about it in intelligent terms.

Okay, enough with the forshpayz and here we go. For dumbest writing about guns in 2016 I nominate an article just published in GQ, written by someone named Ashley Fetters, entitled “Why Women Own Guns.” I did a quick online search and I can’t find any other article that Ms. Fetters has ever written about guns; her reporting specialties appear to focus on pop culture, a smattering of political stuff and some articles about restaurants and food. Now maybe she knows how to hold a knife and fork, but she sure doesn’t know how to hold a gun. Just take a look at the pic which leads off the story and notice that the lady’s trigger finger is stuck behind the trigger which is one place your trigger finger should never be.  But that bit of stupidity pales with what comes next.

The article’s second sentence states that “a curiously large proportion of U.S. gun owners are women,” and then cites the standard NRA noise about women getting into shooting which has never been validated at all.  She further says that a Harvard-Northeastern study found that 50% of gun owners with one gun are women, but what she doesn’t say is that most male gun owners own more than one gun. She then gushes over the comments made by four women gun-toters, including a woman who hucksters a product called the Flashbang Bra Holster which both gives her more ‘lift’ and puts her on equal ground with anyone who might do her harm.

Now here’s where things get about as stupid as they might get.  The author wants you, the reader, to know why she’s writing this piece.  Because she believes that “a gun isn’t just a weapon – it’s also an unambiguous way to signal to someone that they should fuck off and leave you alone.”  Wow! How decisive!  How hip!  How cool! How…GQ! We are then treated to the requisite stories about the bad guy standing on the back porch and the stranger at the front door, both to convey the vulnerability of womenhood in the modern age.

Let me break the news to you gently Ashley.  Gun-nut Nation has been peddling guns based on fear for the past thirty years, and the idea that women constitute a special type of victim if they venture outside the home is really rather quaint.  Women are as capable today as men (if not moreso) of making informed decisions about everything in their lives. And grabbing a gun just isn’t all that informed.

What To Talk About Gun Violence? Facts Aren’t Enough.

When all is really said and done, there’s one basic point of disagreement between Gun-sense Nation on the one hand, and Gun-nut Nation on the other. And the difference goes like this: Gun-sense Nation believes that 120,000+ or more gun deaths and gun injuries each year is a public health crisis which needs to be addressed the way we deal with all threats to public health, namely, through a combination of research, education, and enforced legislation. Gun-nut Nation, on the other hand, does not believe that guns cause any kind of threat to public health; to the contrary, legal gun ownership protects the public from threats to its welfare both from within the country and without.

area51           I think that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community needs to stop worrying about what the other side says or what the other side thinks. To be honest, I’m not sure that anyone who truly believes that the 2nd Amendment keeps us ‘free’ or protects us from an invasion by ISIS has actually thought about the issue at all. And let’s not forget that we now have a real bully in the bully pulpit who appears to share Gun-nut Nation’s point of view. Nevertheless, the folks who want to do something about gun violence still need to figure out what to do.

Or more specifically, what to say.  Because the argument between the two sides resembles a similar argument that made a brief appearance during the 2016 Republican primary campaign, when Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, made a remarkable statement during the 2nd debate when he said there were many vaccines that aren’t really necessary, a claim that medical science has long ago decided is simply not true.

Carson was responding to a slimy attempt by Trump-o to thrill his supporters with yet another conspiracy theory, in this case the idea that childhood vaccines lead to autism, a loony and completely disproven idea that’s been floating around on the fringes of the mentally-challenged population for years. Unfortunately, what’s scientific fact to one person may be fiction to someone else, and if you don’t believe me, just spend some time perusing websites which claim that global warming is a complete and total hoax.

In essence, the GVP community faces the same issue every time they talk about gun violence as a public health problem, because they run smack up against a response from Gun-nut Nation which has nothing to do with science, or research, or facts at all.  How many peer-reviewed articles have appeared in scientific/medical journals over the last 50 years which provide substantive data showing that access to guns increases the risk of getting shot or shooting yourself with a gun?  Probably somewhere around 1,000 articles, give or take a few. How many articles have appeared in scientific/medical journals over the same time period which provide data supporting the idea that access to guns protects us from harm?  None.  That’s another way of saying ‘zero,’ in case you didn’t know.

So when it comes to figuring out whether guns are a good thing or a bad thing, or what I call the ‘social utility’ of guns, the scientific evidence goes in only one direction, the research uniformly says one thing: i.e., the social costs of free access to firearms outweighs the social benefits – period, done

There’s only one little problem.  The people who promote free access to guns, who want everyone to walk around with a gun could care less about what the scientific evidence shows.  And didn’t they just help elect a President who could also care less about the difference between fiction and fact? So Gun-sense Nation better figure out some messaging which can respond to how Gun-nut Nation feels about their guns. Because talking about gun violence by citing this or that scientific study works fine when you’re talking to someone who believes in science and facts.  But what happens when you find yourself in a discussion about gun violence with someone who believes that Martins really did land in Area 51?

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.