What Should We Do About Gun Violence?

              Our friends at March For Our Lives have just issued an impressive document, A Peace Plan for a Safer America, which can be downloaded here. If the server traffic keeps you from pulling it off the cloud, you can also go to my website and download the report here. The document, or better yet the proclamation, begins like this: “The next President must act with a fierce urgency to call this crisis what it is: a national public health emergency.”

              The good news is that the Parkland kids and their allies aren’t operating under any illusion that the current Administration will get anything done. The only problem is that I’m also not sure that the ‘next’ President won’t be named Trump. Unless of course we are talking about 2024. But that’s a long way off, which means that in the interim at least another 185,000 or more Americans will massacre themselves or others with guns. So what should we be trying to do about it now?

              The Peace Plan lists what is called six ‘bold’ steps, none of which are particularly or different from what we have seen before. There’s Cory’s idea for a national gun licensing system, repeal PLCCA which is a standard gun-control demand, cut the gun-violence rate in half although Lizzie says she will figure out a way to reduce it by 80 percent, support community-based, anti-violence groups, and two new, rather clever ideas. The first is that the President should name a gun-violence czar who would coordinate all federal gun-control efforts as well as give out a much bigger chunk of research about guns; the second is to push for a domestic peace corps for gun violence that will be called the ‘Safety Corps.’  I like that idea; it’s actually different and new.

              What concerns me, and I trust what I now say will be taken in the same constructive manner in which I have read and evaluated this plan, is that the only mention of law enforcement is in a paragraph about the need to produce ‘better policing’ so as to cut down on gun violence committed by the cops. What about the fact that right now the odds of someone getting arrested for committing a non-fatal gun assault are roughly one out of five. Don’t the cops deserve some more resources considering the fact that probably somewhere around 75,000 people are gunned down every year and survive simply because the shooter didn’t shoot straight? 

              We seem to have a serious problem in this country when it comes to talking about gun violence because the discussion always ends up looking primarily at the victims (call them ‘survivors’ if you will) with scant attention being paid to the individuals who shoot the guns.  In fact, while gun suicides claim more than 20,000 casualties every year, the total number killed and wounded in felonious assaults is now probably around 90,000, although we really don’t know a good number because the CDC has decided that its estimates for non-fatal shootings can no longer be used. So much for the public health ‘approach’ to gun violence.

              The bottom line is that somewhere between 75% and 85% of all gun injuries happen to be crimes. And we can express all the concern we want about the root causes of criminal behavior, but when someone walks down the street and gets hit by a bullet that happens to be flying by, the injury isn’t going to be somehow less serious because that guy just spent the afternoon cleaning up a vacant lot. 

              Again, I want to make it clear that I share the frustrations and concerns of everyone in Gun-control Nation who would like to see us turn a corner and really do something meaningful and successful about the violence caused by guns. But as often as they make mistakes or give in to popular prejudices, when it comes to gun violence, the cops aren’t causing 125,000 gun injuries every year. And neither is it the fault of the crazies, not the guns, to quote Number 45.

              It’s the guns, stupid. The small, concealable handguns occasionally mixed in with an AR.

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Shouldn’t The Cops Be Leading The Charge Against Mass Shootings?

              Yesterday we were treated to a spate of reports covering the arrest of suspected mass shooters in Connecticut, Florida and Ohio. The incidents were unrelated, but all three suspects were arrested either because they made digital threats or had tried to purchase mass-shooting equipment online. What appears to have been the key ingredient in all three episodes was a heightened awareness of mass shooting possibilities by law enforcement agencies both at the local, state and digital levels.

              Yesterday I also received an email from a gun-control advocacy group alerting me to the September 25th hearing on the national assault weapons ban (H.R. 1296) before the House Judiciary Committee. The bill has picked up 201 co-sponsors; it goes without saying that not a single member of the GOP House delegation appears on the co-sponsor list.

              I’m going to pause my current-day narrative for a moment and go back in time.  Some may recall that a wave of arson which destroyed more than 145 Black churches in the rural South crested during the 1990’s and then abruptly came to an end. It’s still not clear to what extent these attacks were coordinated throughout nine Southern states, but we do know how the problem was ultimately solved.

              In June, 1996 the feds created a National Church Arson Task Force (NCATF) under the leadership of the ATF.  This was accompanied by the passage of a law, the Church Arson Prevention Act, which funded a multi-jurisdictional effort coordinating federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. In two years this effort, based on 670 separate investigations, resulted in 308 arrests and 235 convictions, including the arrest of 119 juveniles.  In the years which followed, there was almost a complete disappearance of Church vandalism, both for Black and non-Black houses of worship.

              I am beginning to think that in a less-organized or formal fashion, the same degree of cooperation and diligence may be at work in the arrests of these mass-shooting wannabes over the last several days. What is clearly happening, and it happened in the church burnings back in the 1990’s, was a similar copy-cat behavior which spread from place to place, from dope to dope, from messed-up kid to messed-up kid. It can’t be coincidence that the three young men arrested for possibly planning mass shootings were all in their early 20’s, were all in some way or another attracted to racialist beliefs, were all trying to attract attention to themselves through posts on various social media sites.

              Which brings me to a question that I need to ask my Gun-control Nation friends: Why do you think that an assault weapons ban that does not include a buyback will work better than setting up a national task force on mass shootings like the task force that was created in response to church burnings all over the South? One of the first things that the NCATF did was to create and publicize an 800 number which anyone could call with information about a threat, said information was then routed to the appropriate law enforcement agency along with follow-up monitoring by the NCATF group itself. Remember the law enforcement response to a phone tip about the guy who then murdered and wounded 34 teachers and students at Stoneman High? There was no response.

              I’m not trying to disparage or in any way undermine the efforts of dedicated, devoted activists who are trying to promote a national assault weapons ban. I have made it clear again and again that these man-killing products are simply not (read: not) sporting or hunting guns. But I also don’t understand the reluctance of Gun-control Nation to enlist the support and cooperation of law enforcement agencies who, after all, happen to exist for the purpose of preventing crimes. And the last time I checked, shooting up a school or any other public space happens to be a crime.

              As far as I’m concerned, every strategy to reduce or prevent any kind of criminal gun violence needs the cops to be in charge.

Sorry, But The AR-15 Isn’t Just Another ‘Sporting’ Gun.

              Back in 2016 the Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, issued an order which effectively made the Bay State assault-rifle rein. Not only did her ukase extend the state’s continued adherence to the extension of the Clinton assault-rifle ban, but it expressly prohibited the sale of assault-style guns which were jimmied around one way or another to circumvent the Clinton ban.

              The problem with the Clinton approach (which was actually copied from an earlier assault-rifle ban enacted in California) was that the definition of an ‘assault rifle’ was based largely on whether the gun had certain design features (folding stock, flash-hider, hand grip, etc.) which made it look like a military gun, but didn’t really make the gun any more lethal than many other semi-automatic guns. Which made it both easy and plausible foe Gun-nut Nation to attack the ban since, according to those savants, law-abiding gun owners would be deprived of owning what was just another ‘sporting’ gun.

              I happen to own a bunch of assault rifles, an AR, an AK and a couple of Mini-14s, and they are all fun to shoot. Set up some tin cans (or better yet some pumpkins) at the range, go prancing around blasting away a la Colion Noir and have a good time. But whenever I refer to these guns as ‘adult toys,’ which is what they are, I get all kinds of angry responses from my gun-nut friends who tell me in no uncertain terms that I’ve become a Judas Goat because I don’t understand that Americans need these guns to guarantee their sacred right to self-defense.

              Last week I received my annual dues notice from the local gun group which asked me to make an additional donation so that they can petition the Supreme Court to “take up our challenge of AG Maura Healey’s 2016 gun ban.” And why do they want to challenge the ban? Because according to them, “self-defense is a human right.” By the way, Maura’s ban was upheld by the First Circuit and I can’t imagine that in the current climate the SCOTUS would even consider hearing the case.

              The problem for Gun-nut Nation in fighting against an assault-weapon ban is that they are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, they argue that since the AR is a semi-auto gun it is no different from any other semi-auto ‘sporting’ gun, which would make a ban on such a product clearly a violation of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ On the other hand, they have also been promoting these guns as necessary for self-defense, and like the gun-nut brigade in Massachusetts claims, self-defense is a human right.

              Both arguments happen to be total and complete crap. The AR is designed to do one thing and one thing only, which is to deliver massive amounts of man-killing ordnance in a brief period of time. And even with my cold, not-yet-dead hands (to paraphrase Charlton Heston), I can get off 30 rounds with my AR is 15 seconds or less. As for self-defense, the idea that I need to protect myself with 30 rounds of military-grade ammo when that ‘street thug’ breaks down my back door is, if anything, an invitation to commit more harm than good. The round from an AR is lethal out to 500 yards or more; a shotgun blast travels 40 or 50 yards. Which gun would be safer to use if my house is located across the street from someone else?

              I understand why my gun-nut friends view the attempt to ban assault rifles with a mixture of fear and alarm. I don’t disagree with the idea that once you ban this kind of gun, it’s easier to ban another type of gun next time around. But sooner or later we must confront the fact that some guns are simply too lethal to be in anyone’s hands, law-abiding hands or not. And anyone who thinks that an AR-15 is no different from the 22-caliber Sears Roebuck shooter that used to go under the Christmas tree, doesn’t know anything about guns.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ 2nd Amendment.

              I bought my first, real gun in 1956 from some swamp rat at a tag show in the Florida Glades. From then until 2008, when my friend Tony Scalia told me I had a Constitutional ‘right’ to own a gun, as long as it was a handgun and I kept it in my home, I probably bought and sold at least 500 guns. At an average of 10 guns a year, for a gun nut that’s no big deal.

              One of those guns was a Colt Single Action Army manufactured in 1886. Another was a beautiful, pristine Colt 1911 built in 1919. There was also a Walther P5 that I bought from a Lufthansa  crew member one night when we were all sitting around drinking in some Hofbrau Haus on East 86th Street in New York. At some point, I think I traded those guns and some others for a Harley Low Ryder. I then rebuilt my gun stash when I sold the Harley the following year.

              Not one of those transactions had any Constitutional protection at all. In not one instance when I either bought or sold a gun was I exercising any kind of Constitutional ‘right.’ Know what? As far as the Feds were concerned, there wasn’t a single one of those transfers that was against the law. Well, maybe I wasn’t old enough to buy that beautiful Smith & Wesson K-38 when I was twelve years old, but you get my point. Americans bought and sold millions of personally-owned guns, probably hundreds of millions before the 2008 Heller decision, and nobody cared.

              I have been writing about guns and gun violence since 2012, there are now nearly 1,400 columns on my blog, 10 books in print, profiles in The New Yorker and The (failing) New York Times. I have been consistent in my argument from first to last, namely, that guns should be owned for hunting and sport. Anyone who thinks they should be walking around defending the neighborhood with a gun in his pocket is concocting an argument that has no basis in reality at all. Unless, of course, he also happens to be wearing a shield, because that’s what he’s being paid to do.

              Every time I say the above in print I receive emails and Facebook posts from my friends in Gun-nut Nation accusing me of being a Bloomberg stooge, a liberal jerk pretending to be a ‘gun guy,’ or worse. When I first started writing I received some threats, but those seem to have stopped appearing since the internet has become somewhat patrolled. I never took the threats seriously, by the way, although our friend Shannon Watts is still obliged to hire protective services when she appears.

              The truth is that all this talk about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ ramping up again as even Trump says something about supporting background checks, is nothing more than sturm und drang nonsense that has nothing to do with guns or gun ownership at all. The government is never (read: never) going to ‘take away’ everyone’s guns; the slide into Fascism that was accompanied by a restrictive gun law passed by Hitler isn’t going to happen here.

              Notwithstanding last week’s mass shootings and Trump’s encouragement of racist (‘send ’em back’) screeds, we happen to live in a remarkably law-abiding country, something which is often forgotten on both sides of the debate about guns. Most of the folks fervently supporting more gun laws happen to live in neighborhoods where gun violence rarely, if ever occurs. For that matter, all those armed vigilantes who fantasize going around and protecting their neighborhoods also happen to live in peaceful, quiet zones.

              So why is there such a big deal about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ Because that’s how the narrative has been framed over the last ten years, and most folks find it easy and convenient to repeat what they hear from someone else without taking the trouble to think it through on their own.

              Remember ‘make love not war?’ Now we can say ‘make noise not war.’

When We Talk About Gun Violence, Aren’t We Talking About Crimes?

For all the talk about a new gun law which is sweeping across both sides of the Congressional aisle following the mass shootings of last week, there seems to be one response to the problem of gun violence which somehow never gets said. And this response would take into account the fact that more than 75% of all gun injuries happen to be crimes. That’s right – crimes. 

Here are the numbers from 2017, rounded off a bit: Unintentional injuries – 15,000; suicides – 21,000; homicides and aggravated assaults – 90,000. Oops, that’s only 72% but it’s close enough. 

I know all the reasons why so many guns wind up in the ‘wrong hands.’ I also know all the reasons why so many shootings occur in inner-city, what we politely refer to as ‘disadvantaged’ zones. The latter topic may not be as popular for trade books as why America is quickly becoming a Fascist state, but a new book on this subject has a way of appearing every year.

Our most eminent gun researchers, Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, have begun developing a different approach to this whole problem which my friends in Gun-control Nation should spend some time thinking about instead of always promoting the ‘public health approach.’ According to Cook and Ludwig, the average arrest rate for aggravated assaults in major cities is somewhere around five percent.  In other words, if I’m walking down Blackstone Avenue in Chicago and I decide to yank out my Glock and shoot someone else in the head, even if I miss and only hit him in the shoulder, the odds that I’ll get away with the assault are better than nine out of ten.   

The good news for my intended victim is that like most people walking around with a legal or illegal gun, I don’t practice enough to hit what I’m trying to hit. So even using a very lethal round like a 9mm or an S&W 40, chances are my intended target will survive. The better news for me is that when the cops show up and ask the three or four people who witnessed the assault to give them a description of what I look like, what they’ll be able to broadcast over the radio is that they are looking for someone who ‘I didn’t see nuttin’ at all,’ is the way I’ll probably be described.

Know why so many street-corner shootings appear to be just random, drive-by events? Because the nabe knows that if they go to the cops to complain that someone dissed them or someone assaulted them or someone’s just being a pain, the chances are better than even that the cops won’t do anything at all. Yea, yea, I know all about community policing – tell that one to communities of color in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., where the gun-violence rates in both cities have lately increased by more than 30 percent!

Let me make it clear. Believe it or not, I’m very pro-cop.  I earn my living doing lethal-force certifications for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and I appreciate the fact that when police show up at a home that is burning down they will rush right in to make sure that all the occupants are safely outside, including the family cat. So the purpose of this column is not (read: not) to dump on the cops.

On the other hand, I don’t understand why anyone who shoots someone else isn’t charged with attempted murder, since the only reason it was attempted and not completed was because the shooter didn’t shoot straight. Unfortunately, according to Cook and Ludwig, that even when someone actually aims accurately enough to leave a dead body in the street, the arrest rate for capital gun crimes is less than 20 percent.

My friends who promote the idea of a ‘public health approach’ to gun violence might take some time to consider the implications of the Cook-Ludwig research. Somehow I just don’t buy the argument that crimes as serious as gun assaults should go unpunished because we don’t want to be ‘judgemental’ about life on inner-city streets.

When It Comes To A New Gun Law, Here’s How To Get It Done.

Now that the momentum appears to be building for a new federal gun law, my Gun-control Nation friends will no doubt get busy trying to figure out: a) what would be the best law to try and get passed; and b) how to go about getting it passed. The GOP has suddenly begun warming up to the idea of a ‘red flag’ law because such a measure would basically hand the gun-control problem over to the cops, which means that the NRA-toadies on the right side of the aisle can say support ‘common-sense’ gun laws and Blue Lives Matter at the same time.

Last year the Parkland kids spearheaded an event, March For Our Lives, which brought as many as 2 million people to DC and may have been one of the largest, mass protests of all time.  Which was exactly the problem with the event, namely, that it was a protest against gun violence rather than a guide to what needed to get done.

Want to know how to figure out what could or might get done? My advice is to heed the experiences and words of a woman who, when a definitive history of gun control finally appears, deserves to be considered as the Susan B. Anthony of the gun-control movement (we’ll make Shannon Watts the Elizabeth Cady Stanton), a.k.a., Donna Dees Thomases, who put together the first, national gun-control event in 2000 known as the Million Mom March.

Donna got going after she saw a news report about a shooting in a Jewish Community Center in California which wounded two adults and three children, although luckily nobody was killed. I want to pause my narrative for a moment and give a big shout-out to two women, Donna Finkelstein and Loren Lieb, whose children were wounded in the attack and who remain active in the local Brady chapter to this day. I just sent a contribution to Brady in their names and I urge you to do the same. Now back to Donna.

Last year following March for our Lives, Donna published a piece in which she uses her own activist experiences of the past two decades to state both some concerns and hopes for what Gun-control Nation might possibly achieve. Her biggest concern, and I share this with her in spades, is that the gun-control movement continues to be splintered into a multiplicity of groups which makes the whole issue of branding difficult to achieve. And in the age of instant media known as the internet, branding is not only essential, but it’s particularly important when you go up against Gun-nut Nation that gathers just about everyone under one brand – the NRA – which has been around for more than 140 years.

Now the fact that the NRA is at the moment having problems keeping its brand from coming apart at the seams shouldn’t lull any gun-control activist into some kind of dream-like fantasy that America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ is about to dry up and go away. The boys in Fairfax will wait until things quiet down, they’ll give Wayne-o and his team a graceful good-bye, and back they’ll come to continue the rhetorical shoot-out over gun ‘rights.’

Donna’s concern about the plethora of organizational efforts on the gun-control side is balanced by the fact that between herself, Shannon, Sarah Brady and others, women have played a leading role in the gun-control fight. And she makes a point of the fact that one of the strengths of Moms Demand Action is the red t-shirt which is easily identifiable at public events. Just imagine what it would look like if a million people showed up for another gun-control rally on the Mall and everyone was wearing the same shirt (hint, hint.)

Last but not least, and here I couldn’t agree more with what Donna says, which is that nothing happens overnight. Advocacy is always a long, difficult and often frustrating struggle so be forewarned and prepared. On the other hand, who ever said that important issues like human life don’t deserve a serious fight?

And you can also read an interview I gave yesterday about the attempt to put an assault-weapon ban on the 2020 Florida ballot – another tough, long fight.

Who Says Guns Can’t Protect Us From Mass Shooters?

              There’s a story going around the alt-white/right network that el Shlump-o is going to propose a national registry of all AR owners that will be managed by the FBI. I’m hardly surprised that Newsmax and other venues which push their content to the paranoids amongst us would trot that one out, but it may also be the work of some clever guy who does marketing for the gun industry since the events of the past weekend will surely result in a spike of assault rifle sales.

              It’s no secret that whenever the tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a Democrat, gun sales go up, just as when the tenant is a Republican, gun sales go down. And the reason is very simple, namely, that both political parties depend on support from groups and individuals who either do, or do not like guns. In this respect, I have to say that the pro-gun gang is more honest in their intentions and beliefs, because they make no secret about the fact that they really do want to hold onto their toys. On the other hand, I cringe every time that some gun-control proponent starts off by saying that he or she ‘supports’ the 2nd Amendment because that just happens to be a load of crap.

              Yesterday the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington’s National Cathedral, issued a statement in which he asked, “How long will we tolerate this epidemic of gun violence?” He then went on to note that he grew up hunting birds and target shooting with family and friends, so he was addressing his letter to all his fellow gun owners, since he claims a kinship with them.

              The National Cathedral has an active gun-control group. I am privileged to work with this group and have appeared at one of the public conferences on gun violence which they hold from time to time. Let me break it to the Very Rev. Hollerith as gently as I can: The Cathedral has never asked a bone-fide gun nut to show up and explain why he loves his guns and why he is opposed to every ‘reasonable’ gun-control measure that the Cathedral leadership supports.

              Yesterday our friend John Lott was informed that his Twitter account had been closed down because it was decided that an op-ed he wrote for The New York Daily News somehow violated the guidelines of what Twitter believes is proper content for their site. Lott’s op-ed was a comment about a manifesto published by a mass shooter in New Zealand which somehow tied his anti-Muslim feelings to support for environmentalism – go figure that one out.

              Let me say the following as directly and bluntly as I can, okay?  I am opposed to censorship of any kind. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who censors the writings, statements or public appearances of anyone else forfeits their right to exist (rhetorically speaking) in the public space. Frankly, my liberal friends who decry gun violence on the one hand but applaud attempts to muzzle someone like John Lott on the other should be ashamed of themselves, no matter what.

              Whether we like it or not, people who really believe that the Democrats, the liberals and the gun-grabbers of all stripes just can’t wait to take away their guns aren’t just a bunch of paranoid nuts. They are reacting to real fears, even if those fears are then exploited by the paranoia hucksters on the alt/white-right. If nothing else, these mass shootings will make the gun argument more toxic on both sides.

              A week after the 2008 election, I walked into a gun shop in Houston and the place was mobbed. I asked someone why there were so many people trying to buy guns and he replied in a completely serious tone, “Haven’t you heard? Armageddon’s coming, we have to be prepared.”

              The guy in the Houston gun shop wasn’t buying a gun to go out and shoot up the town. To the contrary, he really believed that he needed a gun to protect himself from some nut. Was he so wrong?

How Do We Get Guns Off The Street?

              One of the strategies most favored by gun-control advocates to reduce gun violence involves personal interventions with people who are most at-risk for using guns in ways they are not supposed to be used.  These at-risk individuals tend to be men between the ages of 16 and 30, many are minorities and most of them live in poor, inner-city neighborhoods.

              The strategy usually involves identifying the at-risk kids or young adults, mentoring them on the risks and dangers of carrying guns, and in some cases involving the target population in programs and activities that will help them get jobs or learn skills because otherwise they will just continue to ‘hang out’ and sooner or later gun violence will again rear its ugly head.

              Probably the best-known of these programs is Cure Violence which approaches the issue of gun violence as a contagious disease, and seeks to limit the contagion by first figuring out where the pathogen can be found, then sending troops to those specific locations to wait, watch and then intervene at the beginnings of conflict between two small groups which starts with a few ‘fuck-you’s,’ then escalates into violence, ultimately resulting in the gun or guns coming out and – bang!

              The street-level intervention model sometimes works well and sometimes doesn’t work so well. Evaluations of the program tend to be positive except that in just about every case, the work is limited to a specific, geographic area (usually a particular neighborhood identified by the cops as being extremely ‘hot’) where the decline in violence may or may not change the violence rate for the city as a whole. It is also difficult to assess whether a successful social service type of intervention can be achieved without increased attention to that area paid by the cops. Right now, New York City runs Cure Violence programs in multiple neighborhoods and as everyone knows, gun violence in the Big Apple, has almost completely disappeared. But how much of this decline is due to Cure Violence as opposed to the stepped-up anti-gun efforts by the NYPD?

              Philadelphia has just announced the adoption of an interesting twist to the Cure Violence approach, in this case a program out of Boston known as LIPSTICK – Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing. This programs counsels women to refuse requests from husbands or boy friends to buy a ‘straw-sale’ gun and then hand it over to the man who is legally unable to purchase a gun for himself.

              Several years ago I asked a LIPSTICK staff member whether they also counsel clients to contact the cops if or when they learned that their husband or boy friend possessed an illegal gun. She basically told me that such an idea was an invasion of the couple’s privacy and that it was something that LIPSTICK would never tell its clients to do.

              Guess what? The same refusal to alert the cops when a kid on the street has a gun but walks away from a confrontation because of the intervention of a peacemaker is SOP for Cure Violence and other, street-level programs aimed (pardon the pun) at keeping things under control. To alert authorities to the presence of a gun would probably result in the street peacemaker losing his creds or worse, might provoke a retaliatory attack.

              There is no greater risk to community health than a teenager walking around the neighborhood toting a gun. And maybe if an adult is carrying an illegal gun it’s not quite as much of a risk, but let’s not waste time trying to decide which is worse.

              I am hoping that my friends in Gun-control Nation will stop trying to convince gun owners of their fervent support of the 2nd Amendment and start telling gun owners and everyone else that certain types of guns are too lethal to be in anyone’s hands. And you don’t get that message across to a fifteen-year old by letting him walk away with a gun.  

Bleeding Out – An Important Book.

              Want to read the latest attempt by a liberal social scientist to tell us what we need to do about gun violence? Try Thomas Abt’s Bleeding Out, the sub-title proclaiming this book to be a “bold new plan for peace in the streets.” And what Abt believes we can accomplish if we follow his bold plan is an annual 10% drop in homicide every year in cities with high homicide rates. If the 20 cities with populations of 50,000 or more which register the highest rates of fatal violence all initiated Abt’s plan this year, the result would save 12,132 lives over the next eight years.

              The author’s focus isn’t on gun violence per se, but he realizes that no significant reduction in urban violence will ever occur without doing something about guns. With reference to the usual suspects (Hemenway, et. al.) he makes the argument that we suffer from such a high rate of fatal violence because we have too many guns. But there’s nothing wrong with the existence of guns per se, it’s when the guns get into the wrong hands of young men who use them in a violent way.

              Abt believes there are three categories of wrong-handed gun owners (‘owning’ as in access to a gun, not necessarily legally owned) whose behavior needs to be regulated in order for his bold plan to work. These categories are:

  1. Would-be shooters – individuals who view using a gun as a way to be accepted within their social milieu.
  2. Legacy shooters – individuals who grew up in families that are “entrenched in criminal violence.”
  3. Wounded shooters – individuals who were subject to extreme trauma (beatings, molestations) during childhood.

Abt’s grand plan for dealing with these individuals relies on a mixture of effective policing, even-handed justice, community-level outreach and behavior modification. Sounds interesting, it’s certainly a new and different approach, but I happen to disagree.

Want to know why most kids in the inner-city carry guns? They carry them for the exact, same reason that the middle-class guy in my town walks into my shop to buy a gun – for self-protection. The difference, of course, is that the guy who comes into my shop, plunks down six hundred bucks and walks out with a Glock, has about as much chance of ever needing to use that gun to protect himself as I have a chance to lose the next 20 pounds that my internist has been hocking me to lose for the last ten years.

Having created a portrait of inner-city gun users which may or may not have any connection to reality, Abt then shifts his focus back to where he believes the primary responsibility for reducing gun violence should rest, namely, reducing the demand for guns amongst the at-risk kids and young adults. The whole point of Abt’s approach to gun violence is to move the discussion away from various supply-side schemes to reduce the flow of guns, substituting instead his grand plan that will, he claims, wean people away from their desire to carry and use guns.

Like every other liberal-mined scholar who wants to reduce gun violence, Abt makes a point of explicitly stating that none of his policies would in any way prevent law-abiding citizens from safely owning guns. What we have is yet another attempt to somehow get rid of the results of guns but allow the guns themselves to remain. This country has gun violence for one reason: we allow private ownership of what Antonin Scalia calls ‘weapons of war,’ which just happen to be the handguns made by Glock, Sig, Smith & Wesson, etc., all initially designed and used as military guns.

Everybody keeps telling me it would be next to impossible to forge a national political consensus around the idea that some types of guns are simply too lethal to be owned. Think it would be easier to get hundreds of relevant organizations in 20 large cities to do something which has never been done in even one urban site?

By the way, I liked the book.

Attacking John Lott Doesn’t Explain Gun Violence.

              If there is one person more disliked than anyone by Gun-control Nation, that person has to be John Lott. His book, More Guns, Less Crime, is considered the single, most important reason behind Gun-nut Nation’s embrace of armed, self-defense, and his ongoing effort to eliminate gun-free zones provokes anger and negative reactions throughout gun-control land.is book, More Guns

              In fact, at least one noted gun-control researcher, Stanford’s John Donohue, has basically created an entire academic career based on articles critical of Lott. Not far behind Donahue is the chief of gun research at Harvard, David Hemenway, who has likewise published multiple denunciations of Lott’s work.

              I happen to believe that the attacks on Lott’s work reflect the failure of liberal social science to explain what is really the only issue in the entire gun debate which needs to be understood, namely, how is it that less than ten percent of the individuals who each year commit a serious act of violence against someone else commit this violence by using a gun? John Lott’s basic thesis, that criminals switch from face-to-face crimes (assault) to anonymous crimes (burglary) is an attempt to explain the behavior which lies behind at least three-quarters of all gun injuries. Have either Donahue or Hemenway ever attempted any explanation of this problem? They have not.

              I have two criticisms of Lott’s work. First, the idea that criminals switch from one type of crime to another type of crime assumes that one type (assault) is really no different from another type (burglary), and that criminals switch their modus operandi depending on how they perceive degrees of risk from different types of criminal behavior. This assumption flies in the face of everything we know about criminal behavior and to argue, a la Lott, that the issuance of concealed-carry licenses (CCW) creates a ‘substitution effect’ for burglary versus assault, is to misread the nature of how and why these very different types of crimes occur.

              Second, and more important is the fact that most of the perpetrators and victims of gun violence are individuals who share similar socio-economic circumstances and demographic profiles. Both groups are overwhelmingly minority males living in under-served neighborhoods who rarely, if ever qualify for concealed-carry licenses, an argument Lott has made in other works. If the average inner-city resident is more frequently armed than years ago, this simply cannot be explained with reference to the spread of CCW over the past forty years.

              For all the sturm und drang whipped up by Donohue, Hemenway and others about the pernicious impact of Lott’s research, I have yet to see one, single response to his work which even hints at the issues I have raised above. It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sit down, pull some numbers together and create a regression analysis model that will yield a result which aligns with your particular point of view. Want to argue, as Hemenway argues, that we have high rates of fatal gun injuries because we own so many guns? Use the number of guns as your independent variable to control against fatal gun injuries and the United States will wind up on top every, single time. Now the fact that we have absolutely no idea how many of those 300 million guns are in the hands of people who might use those guns to commit a violent crime, oh well, oh well, oh well.

              I think my friends in public health gun research need to stop confusing research with hot air. God knows we have enough of the latter on both sides of the gun debate; it’s the former where most of the necessary work remains totally undone. Gun injuries are the only injury tracked by the CDC where the person who is injured and the person who commits the injury are two different people at least seventy-five percent of the time. I’m still waiting for anyone in the public health research community to ask why this fundamental fact escapes their research.