When It Comes To Mass Shootings, The Media Gets It Wrong Every Time.

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When truckloads of media descended on Newtown, CT after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, the rush to get something onto a television or print report overwhelmed any concern for getting the facts straight. Within a couple of hours after the rampage came to an end, the shooter had been incorrectly identified, another ‘credible’ report said the rampage had involved multiple shooters and it was these reports, among others, which gave the conspiracy nuts the opening they needed to begin yelling that the whole thing was a hoax.

LV            In the Las Vegas shooting the media seems determined again to repeat the same mistakes it made at Newtown, with the first reports concerning whether or not the shooter used a full-auto gun or not.  It’s clear from various audios of the incident that the gun or guns he used could not have fired so rapidly had they been standard, semi-auto guns which require the trigger to be pulled for every shot. On the other hand, if the gun could be fired in full-auto mode, this doesn’t mean that it was an ‘illegal’ weapon, because there are more than 11,000 machine guns owned and registered in Nevada, although we do not yet know whether Paddock was what is called a Class III of NFA licensee himself.

On the other hand, what we are being told is that Paddock brought a bunch of military-style, semi-automatic rifles into his hotel room, of which perhaps a dozen were legally modified to produce a rate of fire not unlike what is produced by a full-auto gun.  This modification, known as a ‘bump stock,’ uses the gun’s recoil to simulate a rapid rate of fire although the internal part of a gun which controls the firing mode, known as a ‘sear,’ is not changed in any way.

So here was yesterday’s headline from the Washington Post: “The Las Vegas shooter modified a dozen rifles to shoot like automatic weapons.”  And how did the Post learn this? The story quotes unnamed ‘law enforcement officials” who turn out to be a single ATF agent named Jill Snyder, who was quoted in an online story on the UK Telegraph website which also contained pictures of two of the shooter’s guns lying on the floor of his hotel room.

Were these two rifles actually fired during the assault? We don’t know. Were these two rifles actually fitted with the accessory ‘bump stock’ device which is what the Washington Post wants us to believe were used in the assault?  We also don’t know. But here’s what we do know. The existence of those two photographs means that one of the most important crime scenes in the recent history of the United States was contaminated by the time the investigation of this incident first began.  And I don’t see anyone in the media or elsewhere professing the slightest concern about this egregious collapse of law enforcement protocol, even though a spokesman for the Vegas Metro Police said that an ‘internal investigation’ was underway to identify the source of the leaked pics. When the cops use the phrase ‘internal investigation’ what they are really saying is that there won’t be any investigation at all.

Give the Democrats and their friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community one more day to ramp up the noise about how we need stronger gun laws; give Trump one more day to praise the ‘first responders’ for their valiant work; give the NRA one more day to keep their mouths shut until the can figure out which way the political winds will ultimately blow; and I guarantee that we’ll start to see a swarm of social media comments about how what happened in Vegas is just another attempt to create an atmosphere so the government can take away all the guns.

Think I’m kidding?  There are already Facebook pages accessed by thousands of viewers which claim that Stephen Paddock had links to Antifa, even though the government’s trying to hush it up.

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Why Own A Gun? Because It’s Fun.

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Back in 2006 one of GVP’s stellar researchers, Kristin Goss of Duke University, wrote a book in which she tried to explain why there was no mass movement for gun control in the United States. As opposed to mass movements which sought to end the Vietnam War, or reduce drunk driving, what she found after mass shootings like Columbine was the following pattern: “collective outrage, followed by a momentary flurry of unorganized calls and letters and donations from thousands of individuals, and then a quick return to the status quo.” Otherwise, the issue of gun violence would lie dormant between the random, high-profile shooting events.

gun-sales             Goss argues that the pro-gun folks were much more successful than the gun-control crowd in building a mass movement for two reasons: they were funded both by industry and private sources whose resources the gun-control groups couldn’t match; they took advantage of a fragmented, federalist political system which rewards political initiatives at the local level but frequently restricts the implementation of national policies even when such policies gain broad, popular support.

Is it time to revise Kristin’s argument about the lack of a mass movement for gun control given how the landscape appears to have changed in the ten years since she wrote her book? To some degree yes. Despite the sycophantic utterings by Forbes and various other pro-gun media outlets, the decision by Mike Bloomberg to pour 50 million bucks into gun-control initiatives each year isn’t chopped liver, and money like that always has an effect. There has also been a shift in the tactics of gun violence prevention (GVP) organizations towards a greater focus on state-level gun issues rather than only thinking and organizing in national terms; an example of this being the spread of laws which force persons served with a domestic abuse order to turn in their guns.

Of late there also appears to be some parity developing between the two sides on social media venues which have become an important, indeed necessary venue for how organizations connect with the folks they represent.  Right now on Facebook, the NRA page has 630,000 Likes, the Moms Demand page has 570K.  As for website traffic according to SimilarWeb, the NRA site registers around 300,000 visitors a month, visits to Everytown are around 200K every thirty days. How many years has the NRA been around? At least 150 years longer than Everytown or Moms – I would say that the numbers for those GVP sites are pretty substantial and pretty good.

On the other hand, over the last five days I received six email communications from the NRA, including three messages offering to sell me clothing, backpacks and all kinds of other consumer crap. During that same five-day period I received only three emails from the GVP, and every message consisted of asking me to donate money to the cause.  Several of the NRA emails were also straight out of the organization’s fundraising kit, but overall the NRA messaging did one thing that the GVP messaging didn’t do – it conveyed the idea that being involved with the NRA is not only important but also fun.

The idea that you can have a good time by being a member of America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ is an important aspect of the pro-gun messaging strategy that I’m not sure the GVP community understands. It certainly isn’t mentioned or analyzed in Kristin’s book. But later today I’m going to drive over to Marlborough where the semi-annual gun show is going on, and the reason I’m going to the show is the same reason that millions of people attend gun shows all over the country every weekend – the shows are fun. I can wander around, play with lots of guns, eat a hot dog and wash it down with a full-calorie drink and buy a Make America Great Again baseball cap for under five bucks.

Spending money on some useless junk may not be the preferred method for raising political awareness within the GVP, but it sure works for the NRA.

What’s The Difference Between Accidental And Non-Accidental Shootings? No Difference.

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When I entered graduate school in 1967, the very first book I purchased was a big, fat compendium known as the Chicago Manual of Style. It was published by The University of Chicago Press and was considered the non-plus-ultra guide to anything having to do with writing or editing scholarly and non-fiction articles and books. And since I was studying economic history, I was going to be writing lots of academic papers which needed to meet the standard for how to do footnotes, end notes, quotations, references and all that other bothersome stuff which writers of academic works need to pretend they understand.
kids and gunsOf course in 1967 there was no internet, for that matter there were no such things as word processors and I don’t recall even putting my fingers on the keyboard of an IBM Selectric typewriter until 1970 or 1971 (although I had actually seen one a few years prior to that date.) Because I come from the Stone Age in terms of communication technologies and skills, I don’t take for granted the degree to which so much of what I had to do by hand when I first started writing is now done online. And one of those online resources which helps me and countless other writers and bloggers get things done in an efficient and orderly way is the AP Stylebook which is an extremely useful reference work containing definitions, topics, themes and other information to be used when an event or an issue has to be quickly understood and described. I just clicked on the topic – hurricanes – and up came a whole list of definitions for every type of tropical storm, the name and address of various federal agencies that deal with hurricane relief, and so on.

The AP Stylebook stays up to date by giving users an opportunity to suggest either new topics and/or content which should be added or revised. In this way, writers who are covering topical events can feel confident that if they utilize a resource from the Stylebook it will reflect the most recent way in which that issue is described or understood. One of our good GVP friends, Ladd Everitt, has just initiated a campaign through his organization, One Pulse for America, to have the Stylebook revise its definition of an ‘accidental’ shooting because, as Ladd says, “’Accidental’ implies that nothing can be done to prevent such shootings, when nothing is further from the truth.” Most accidental shootings, as Ladd points out, occur either because of negligence (the gun was left unsecured) or the owner was acting like a dope. The AP Stylebook team responded by saying they would consider changing the description of ‘accidental shootings’ when a new edition appears next year.

There is no question that referring to unintentional injuries caused by guns as ‘accidents’ gives a misleading impression about whether or not anyone should be blamed when a gun goes off when it’s not supposed to go off. But I also think that making a clear distinction between accidental, as opposed to non-accidental gun injuries can create its own misleading impression for what gun violence is really all about.
Lester Adelson was the coroner for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) nearly 40 years, during which time he saw thousands of individuals who were killed with guns. In 1992 he published a summary article on gun violence, “The gun and the sanctity of human life; or The bullet as pathogen” which for me, ranks as the single most incisive and profound work ever published on this issue, and you can download it here. Here’s what Adelson says is the most salient feature of gun violence: “With its particular lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

Does it really matter if the gun is used intentionally or not? To quote the novelist Walter Mosley, “If you walk around with a gun it will go off sooner or later.”

All The Way To D.C.

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Yes!!!!!! He made it.  In DC on Monday for a press conference with Rep. John Lewis at 10 A.M. at the House Triangle and then to the White House.  

If you can be there – be there!

Go Demetri – Go!

Are Silencers Used For Hunting? Yea, Right.

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Now that a bill which removes gun silencers from the list of weapons that are strictly regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 has cleared a House Committee by a party-line vote, both sides in the gun debate are gearing up for what will no doubt be a contentious and loud debate when the bill gets to the House floor.    It should come as no surprise that most of the truth-stretching about silencers is coming from the pro-gun side, because they have a lot more to gain if silencers are dropped from the NFA list.  Anyone can go to Amazon, for example, and purchase a light or a laser which fits on a gun; this would be the case with silencers as well.

silencer             Our friends at The Trace tell us that since 2010, the number of NFA-registered silencers has increased from 285,087 to 902,805, a serious problem if you believe that silencers can somehow be linked to the rate of gun violence which during the same five-year period has not gone down but is actually trending somewhat up. But like everything else in the gun business, using national data to understand how, why and where people own and use anything having to do with guns hides important local and regional differences which need to be explained and understood.

Back in 2010, there were an average of 5,700 silencers registered in each of the 50 states, but seven states (AZ, FL, GA, IN, PA, TX, VA) were the location of 47% of all registered silencers at that time. At the beginning of 2016, the per-state average had increased to 18,056, but these 7 states alone still accounted for nearly 44% of all registered silencers owned. Last year these same seven states issued 3,677,143 hunting licenses, which was 23% of hunting licenses issued by the 50 states. The state which issued the most licenses, Texas, sold 1,132,099, or 7% of the national total. But Texans own 18% of all the registered silencers in the U.S., and the number of silencers in the 7 silencer-rich states represent twice the percentage of all silencers than the percentage of hunting licenses issued by these same states.

Wait a minute. I thought the whole point of owning a silencer was to use it when you go out into the woods to take a crack at Bambi, right?  If that’s the case, how come silencers outpace hunting licenses by a margin of two to one?

What seems to be lost in the silencer debate, and the anti-silencer contingent seems to ignore this issue as well, is that in order to put a silencer on a gun you have to replace the standard barrel with a threaded barrel or the silencer simply won’t work. And while some of the silencer companies have started selling threaded gun barrels in addition to the silencers themselves, unless the gun you want to silence is of modular design, which happens to be only about 10% of all current handgun models along with variations of the AR-15, buying a silencer means buying another gun. This is particularly true when it comes to standard bolt-action or semi-auto hunting rifles because the barrel in most cases is welded to the receiver, so you can’t just pop out one barrel and pop in another the way you might do it with a Glock. When was the last time that someone went hunting deer or high-flyers with a Glock?

The bottom line is that the argument for silencers based on the idea that they are nothing more than a new accessory for hunters is simply not true. And the folks who are trying to prevent the gun industry from turning silencers into a product that is no different from a flashlight should be pointing this out. You can certainly find a story here and there about how a gun with a silencer was involved in this crime or that, but the threat represented by silencers is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the crimes and injuries caused by guns.

Smart Guns Take A Giant Step Forward.

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The development of ‘smart’ guns has been flopping around for more than twenty years, largely because the gun industry regards the technology, with good reason, as something that might be imposed on them by the government, and if you think that any industry looks favorably at government regulation, spend some time around Wall Street and you’ll quickly discover that when it comes to government, the business community just wants to be left alone.  The gun industry faces a double whammy in this regard, because not only does the government regulate what kinds of products it can make and sell, it also regulates the behavior of gun consumers, because it sets the criteria for who can and cannot legally buy and own guns.

smart             But the long-time opposition to ‘smart’ technologies by gun makers and their supporters also reflects a more subtle but nevertheless powerful factor at work, namely, the perception created by the ‘smart gun’ community that guns are inherently a risk. Forgetting for a moment that numerous credible studies indicate that all categories of gun injury go up in households with access to guns, the gun industry has tried, with some success, to promote the idea that whatever small risk might be incurred by keeping a gun in the home, this is more than counterbalanced by the ‘fact’ that guns make us safe.  Actually, they don’t. But why quibble over facts when emotions can carry the argument any day, right?

Last year, a former NYPD officer turned State Senator and now Borough President of Brooklyn, Eric Adams, announced a ‘smart gun’ competition with a prize of one million dollars going to the team which submitted the best proposal; the entrants being connected to a college-level engineering program located in New York. Yesterday the five finalists presented their concepts to a press conference at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, and the group from NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering walked off with the prize.

In the interests of full disclosure, as they say, Mike the Gun Guy was a member of the panel that chose the recipient student team which received the award. But it was a tough choice because all the submissions were serious, contained multiple technologies, and most of all indicated a great deal of thought and hard work. The fact that four teams did not win doesn’t mean that any of the student engineers will necessarily abandon the quest. In fact, there is no reason why the group from NYU wouldn’t profit from ideas generated by research conducted by other teams.

The truth is that making a ‘smart’ gun doesn’t mean that someone has to make a new gun. Most current handgun designs are modular, consisting of a frame, a slide, a barrel, a trigger and hammer assembly – stick the parts together like a jigsaw puzzle and, as my Uncle Ben (who was a gun maker) used to say, det’s it. If you want to add some smart technology, figure out whether you need an RFID chip or a print-reader or whatever will be used to authenticate the user and stick the components into the gun.

The real trick is not developing the technology itself, but making sure it really works. But here is where the student developers have a real advantage, because remember they are training to become engineers. And no matter what kind of engineering these students want to pursue, if it doesn’t work they might as well go back to school and learn something else. So becoming an engineer means not only designing a product, but also designing a valid test methodology which will move your idea from R&D to something sitting on a retailer’s shelf.

What safe gun development has lacked first and foremost is an industry standard which will define a safe gun and a test protocol that will validate that standard as a workable idea. The million-dollar award announced by Eric Adams is a major step in meeting those requirements which means that, yes Virginia, safe guns will appear.

What Happened To Hillary? Here’s What Happened.

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In April 1994, I drove across better than half the country and spent several hours each day listening to Rush. This was the first time I heard him and was also the first time I heard the beginnings of what we now refer to as the alt-right. The internet only sent brief messages without pictures or sound, Fox News as a cable network didn’t exist, Glenn Beck was enrolled in a sobriety program, Sean Hannity was working at a small, AM talk-show radio station in Georgia and Alex Jones was sitting in a classroom in Austin Community College twiddling his thumbs.

poster2              So here I am driving through Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois, and listening to Rush who talked endlessly about Whitewater without telling his audience that his entire story-line was picked up each day from the Whitewater coverage in the most mainstream of all mainstream publications, a.k.a., The New York Times.  The Times was obsessed with Whitewater, probably because they blew the Watergate scoop, and it was their reportage, particularly error-riddled stories written by Jeff Gerth, which provoked more than six years of government investigations that ultimately came up with nothing at all.

What was most interesting listening to Rush’s daily excoriation of possible Clinton malfeasance was what happened every time that Rush opened the phone lines and took a listener’s call. Just about every caller told Rush he was doing a ‘great’ job by exposing the Clinton’s dark side, but the real anger was directed at Hillary, not Bill. A story had just broken that Hillary cleared nearly $100,000 in commodity trading with an initial investment of $1,000 in 1978-79. Where was the story? In The New York Times. Rush never mentioned Whitewater without also talking about the commodity profits, reminding his audience that it was Hillary, not Bill, who profited from those trades. And the people who called in to voice their reactions to Rush’s daily riff always emphasized that Hillary was the villain, the evil force behind all the shady deals.

I was recalled this when I read Hillary’s new book, What Happened, which puts her back into the center of things thanks to a fifteen-city publicity tour. The book is actually about Hillary and what she likes and doesn’t like, eats and doesn’t eat, wears and doesn’t wear, along with an exhaustive list of the wonderful, talented and extraordinarily expert people who worked on her campaign. A little mistake here and there? What the hell, we’re human and we all make mistakes.

On the other hand, the chapter on the gun issue is very well done, perhaps the clearest and least self-aggrandizing section of the book. But here again, it wasn’t her, it was that damned NRA which has become “one of the most dangerous organizations in America” because Wayne-o saw Hillary as such a mortal threat.  Hillary admits that her gun-control rhetoric was particularly aimed at female voters in swing states. So how was it that in those critical swing states most of the Republican women stuck by the man?

I’ll tell you why. Because those female voters, along with many voters who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, didn’t vote against the message, they voted against the messenger who has been a toxic presence in the political arena since I started listening to Rush. I’m not sure how and why Hillary has been such an easy target for the alt-right/white, but the bottom line is when it came to going after her, the NRA couldn’t wait.

Hillary did the GVP community an important service by bringing the gun issue back out of the closet where it had been snoozing since the alleged impact of the pro-gun vote in 1994. But if we learned anything from the unthinkable success of You Know Who last year, voters are as much or more influenced by who says it than what they say.

Want to use the next election as a mechanism for promoting sensible gun regs?  Find a candidate whom the voters really like, not someone with a shopworn name.

 

 

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