Tom Gabor: Gun Violence Is A Violation Of Human Rights

With mass shootings this summer at a Walmart in El Paso, a California garlic festival, and in Dayton’s entertainment district, Americans can justifiably ask whether they are safe in any setting.  A related question is whether people have the right to be safe in their communities.  Do children have the right to attend school without fearing a mass shooting? 

            Debates over gun policy take place on two major fronts.  First, there are the scientific arguments as to whether gun ownership levels in an area, gun carrying, or the presence of guns in the home enhance or detract from public or personal safety.  Most of the science in this area indicates that raising levels of gun ownership is detrimental to public safety overall.[i]  Certainly, there are instances in which guns are used successfully in self-defense but these cases are outnumbered many times over by those in which guns are used to commit crime, to threaten or intimidate others (including domestic partners), or to commit suicide.  Consider an FBI investigation of active shooter incidents.  Despite the fact that there are 120 guns for every 100 Americans, just one of 160 of these incidents studied by the Bureau was stopped by an armed civilian.[ii]

            The second front on which the gun debate is waged relates to civil rights.  This debate has largely been one-sided with gun rights advocates and the gun lobby frequently thwarting the passage of gun laws on the basis that the laws in question violate their Second Amendment rights. 

            The Second Amendment was interpreted historically by the courts as the right to bear arms within the context of militia service.  For example, in United States v. Miller (1939), two defendants who had been prosecuted for failing to register and pay a tax for possessing and carrying a sawed-off shotgun across state lines argued that such requirements under the National Firearms Act violated their Second Amendment rights.  The US Supreme Court ultimately ruled that such a weapon had no role in an organized militia and was therefore not protected by the Second Amendment. 

            Following a decades-long campaign by the National Rifle Association to promote the view that the Second Amendment guaranteed a right to bear arms to individuals outside of militia service—a view characterized by former Chief Justice Warren Burger as the greatest fraud on the American public—the US Supreme Court did rule in the 2008 Heller decision that individuals had the right to own an operable gun in the home for protection.  However, writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia—a hunter and a conservative—made it clear that this right was not unlimited and that laws regulating the carrying of firearms, denying gun ownership to felons and the mentally ill, and prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons did not violate the Second Amendment. 

            The militia view of the Amendment does not recognize the “right to keep and bear arms” as an individual right at all and, hence, is not an impediment to laws that would restrict gun ownership outside of militia service.  The Heller decision, too, leaves a great deal of room to regulate guns. In fact, since Heller, an overwhelming majority of Second Amendment challenges to federal, state, and local gun laws have been rejected by the courts.[iii]   Still, the NRA’s campaign to sell the narrative that individuals have an absolute right to possess virtually any firearm has altered public opinion and has led to endless debates about how limited or expansive is the right to bear arms. 

            What gets lost in these debates about gun rights is the vast majority of Americans who are not gun owners or who are otherwise concerned about public safety.  What about their rights to feel safe?  What about the rights of children who are terrified to go to school?  What about the right to speak one’s mind or to enjoy a night out without intimidation by people carrying guns?  These are not academic questions as the US has the most armed population in the world.  The US is also an outlier, relative to other high-income countries, with regard to the permissiveness of its laws in relation to gun carrying and the ownership of military-style weapons.  In addition, with one hundred Americans dying from gunfire and one mass shooting each day, the US is exceptional with regard to its high level of gun mortality.   Communities of all sizes are affected and marginalized communities suffer disproportionately.

            While the rights-based debate rages on about the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment, the right of the public as a whole to be safe from gun violence has been ignored.  The absence of attention to the public’s right to safety is surprising given that the US has signed or ratified a number of human rights conventions that can be applied to gun violence.  Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”[iv]  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no person “shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life (Article 6).[v]  

            The US has also signed the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination; however, African Americans have exceptionally high levels of gun mortality relative to the rest of the population, are disproportionately the victims of police-involved shootings and of vigilante-type shootings enabled by the Stand Your Ground laws passed by half the states.  While the US has signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the country has also been slow to protect women in the US as they are far more likely to be murdered by gunfire than in other advanced countries.  An abuser’s access to guns increases the risk of death to women by five-fold, yet laws generally allow men with a history of violence to get around background checks by purchasing guns on the private market, permit abusive boyfriends to own guns, and fail to require the surrender of guns by those who threaten women.  The US has signed but not ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child.  Still, US children and teens are 32 times more likely to die of a gun homicide and 10 times more likely to die of a gun suicide or accident than their peers in the other high-income countries combined.[vi] 

            The human rights group Amnesty International argues in a 2018 report,  In the Line of Fire, that the US has breached its commitments under international human rights law.  AI writes:  “The USA has failed to implement a comprehensive, uniform and coordinated system of gun safety laws and regulations particularly in light of the large number of firearms in circulation, which perpetuates unrelenting and potentially avoidable violence, leaving individuals susceptible to injury and death from firearms.”[vii]  

            AI further notes that, as part of the right to life and other human rights, the responsibilities of nations to prevent gun violence requires: 1) restricting access to firearms, especially on the part of those at an elevated risk of misusing them; and 2) implementing violence reduction measures where firearm misuse persists.  The human rights group asserts that nations should establish robust regulatory systems, including licensing, registration, restriction of certain weapon types, safe storage, research, and policy development.  Nationally, the US has done little or nothing in relation to any of these policies and has seen Congress, at the behest of the NRA, suppress funding for research dating back to 1996.  Amnesty notes that countries not only have obligations to protect the life of individuals from state agents but from actual or foreseeable threats at the hands of private actors as well.  Violence is especially foreseeable in low income neighborhoods with persistently high levels of violence, poor public services, and policing that may not comply with international standards.    

            It is time to recognize public safety as a human right and for the US to adopt national policies, such as the licensing of gun owners, restrictions on gun carrying, and a ban on weapons of war.  Consistent with the notion that public safety is a human right, I have drafted A Declaration of the Right of Americans to Live Free from Gun Violence—please visit: http://thomasgaborbooks.com/a-declaration-of-rights/.  I’m hoping that different levels of government and groups concerned about gun policy will endorse the Declaration and issue proclamations asserting that safety from gun violence is a human right.       


[i] For a review of the vast body of research on these matters, see T. Gabor’s Confronting Gun Violence in America (2019) or David Hemenway’s Private Guns, Public Health (2006).

[ii] FBI, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013.

[iii] Giffords Law Center, Second Amendment Basics; https://lawcenter.giffords.org/gun-laws/the-second-amendment/second-amendment-basics/

[iv] Universal Declaration of Human Rights; https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[v] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ccpr.pdf

[vi] Children’s Defense Fund.  Protect Children not Guns.

[vii] Amnesty International, In the Line of Fire:  Human Rights and the US Gun Violence Crisis, p.5; https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/egv_exec_sum.pdf

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Dave Buchannon: Legislation Can’t Fix This.

Congress returned to work this week and the first order of business is gun control legislation, at least according to all the news we’ve been reading since El Paso and Dayton.  The mission seems to be, “do something, anything, to make this stop.”  Everyone’s talking about banning this gun or that high capacity magazine.  There’s also the movement to pass a national red-flag law that will take guns away from those who shouldn’t be allowed to have guns because of their mental state.  Or the best one yet – comprehensive background checks for every gun transfer.

It’s all hogwash that might make some people feel they’ve done something meaningful, but it will not change anything.  Sadly, not one thing. 

Because, no matter how horrible gun violence has become in America today, it is not something we can legislate away.  The problem goes much, much deeper than anything a new law or background check can solve.  Some would say its root is in bad parenting, genetics, is the result of our overcrowded prison system, a failed mental health system, gangs, the list could go on and on.

Dear Congress, write all the new laws you want (whether the President will sign them or not), wanna know why they won’t put a dent in gun violence?  Because the bad guys don’t care about laws – isn’t that part of the definition of “bad guy?”  No matter how many laws are enacted, the bad guys have already figured out a way to get around it.  I could give two hoots what the NRA says about this, I’ve seen it first hand as a cop – if a bad guy wants a gun, he’s going to get a gun and there’s no law that’s going to stop him.  Nice try.

Universal background checks are a great idea, if all of the agencies across the country are reporting as they are supposed to.  They aren’t.  Remember the Sutherland Park, Texas  church shooting in November, 2017?  It most likely wouldn’t have happened had the US Air Force reported Devin Patrick Kelley’s less than honorable discharge after his court-marshal for a domestic violence arrest.  You see, he passed the NICS check when he bought the rifle he used in the shooting… because the US Air Force failed to report.  Many states and municipalities do not report criminal or mental health issues that would prevent someone from buying a gun. So long as there are states, agencies, and armed forces that are not fully reporting to NICS, universal background checks will not work.  Another nice try. 

So what about those red flag laws everyone is crowing about?  Congress can pass a national red flag law with the best of intentions.  At some point an angry ex-spouse, ex-business partner, angry neighbor, or other person who is upset with a legal gun owner will fraudulently report that person as being a hazard to self or others.  The lawyers will be circulating, waiting to sue the reporting party and challenge the law.  The legal beagles will probably be successful because many of the state red flag laws currently on the books completely disregard any due process for the legal gun owner.  In my home state of Massachusetts, no hearing is required before the police show up at the gun owner’s door with a warrant to seize his guns.  After the gun owner has sold his house to pay the legal bills and proves he’s in charge of his faculties or never made any threats, how does he get his guns back?  He doesn’t, because in Massachusetts there is no mechanism in the law to return the guns to the original owner.  He winds up having to keep paying the bonded storage charges (yep, the owner has to pay for storage when’s guns are taken away).  I give the red flag laws about a year before the courts over turn them. 

What can be done?  My point is that there is no single answer to the gun violence problem.  Anyone who tells you passing a law will solve the problem is flat-out lying to you.  If you believe and embrace this hokum-filled philosophy, I’m sorry, but you are sadly misguided.  This is a much, much larger problem that has less to do with the gun than with larger societal issues. 

How Should We Deal With Gun Violence?

Turner Syndrome is a genetic abnormality which results from an absence or partial absence of the X chromosome, preventing the development of healthy ovaries in women, as well as certain heart defects.  It can be detected by genetic screening prior to birth, but sometimes a diagnosis doesn’t take place until the teen or young adult years. Once diagnosed, “girls and women with Turner Syndrome need ongoing medical care from a variety of specialists,” so says the Mayo Clinic. In other words, it’s a complicated disease.

How often does this disease appear? Roughly 1 out of 2,500 live births. If we take the best estimate for the number of fatal and non-fatal injuries caused by one person shooting a gun at someone else, the incidence of this type of gun violence within the age cohorts 16 through 34, would also be around 1 out of every 2,500 individuals in those age groups.

If we didn’t experience 90,000 fatal and non-fatal intentional gun assaults each year, it would be difficult to argue that gun violence should be considered a public health problem at all. But wait a minute, you say. What about the 20,000 people who end their lives every year by using a gun? Isn’t gun-suicide also a problem that needs to be addressed?

Of course we need to eliminate gun suicides but the issue in that instance is quite simple because overwhelmingly, people who commit gun suicides happen to use a gun that they legally own. And they use a gun because they know using a gun will almost always get done what they want to get done.

But that’s not the case with the homicides and aggravated assaults which account for more than 80% of all gun violence every year. This public health event is almost always committed by individuals who do not have legal access to the gun used in the assault. Which means that even before they use the gun to hurt someone else, they have already committed a serious crime. It’s called ‘illegal possession’ of a firearm which, under Federal law, can be punished by as much as five years in jail.

For all these reasons, I find it difficult to understand how my friends who conduct public health studies on gun violence seem to go out of their way to avoid contact with criminologists who have produced significant research on violent crime. I am referring, for example, to the study by Paul Tracy and Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, Continuity and Discontinuity in Criminal Careers, which analyzed the life histories of the 27,160 men and women born in Philadelphia in 1958, and followed them through 1984; in other words, from birth through age 26.

This longitudinal study allows criminologists to do what public health researchers do not do, namely, develop a profile of potentially high-risk behavior over time, rather than relying on one data entry for one point in time; i.e., when someone with a gun injury shows up for treatment in an ER. Here’s the bottom line: “The frequency of delinquent activity is the most consistent and strongest predictor of adult crime.”

What we get from public health gun research are the immediate symptoms which appear when the injury occurs. What we get from criminology is the case history leading up to the medical event. Can we really develop effective public policies to reduce gun violence without combining both?

This is why I began today’s column with a brief discussion of a medical problem – Turner’s Syndrome – that occurs within the overall population to the same degree as another medical problem – gun violence – occurs within the age cohorts which exhibit the overwhelming number of injuries caused by guns.

Diagnosing and treating Turner’s Syndrome is a very complicated affair. To repeat: it requires ‘ongoing medical care from a variety of specialists.’ Why should we approach gun violence in any less of a comprehensive way?  When it comes to gun violence, public health and criminology should stop avoiding each other and join together to solve this dread disease.

Should Doctors Base Their Response To Gun Violence On What Everyone Wants To Hear?

              Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on an assault-rifle ban, and what made the headlines was the testimony of a former cop, Diane Muller, who told Jerry Nadler and the other Congressional gun-grabbers that she wouldn’t give up her gun. Muller says that she is the organizer of The DC Project, which describes itself as a ‘nonpartisan initiative to encourage women to establish relationships with their legislators, and reveal the faces and stories of real firearms owners and 2nd Amendment supporters.”

              This ‘organization’ is nothing more than an online shopping cart selling the usual retail crap (clothing, concealed-carry purses, etc.) with some exhortations about personal safety, getting involved, protecting civil rights, the whole nine yards.  Websites which focus on female self-protection as a vehicle for selling gun-related junk keep popping up, but no matter how they slice it or dice it, the gun industry has never been able to persuade women to buy guns.

              Diane Muller’s claim to be running a ‘non-partisan’ advocacy organization is about as truthful as my claim that the 45th President is smarter than Leonard Mermelstein, who  happens to be my cat.

              I don’t really care if hucksters like Diane Muller pretend to be committed to views from both sides. The fact that someone with so little real presence in the gun world would be representing the 2nd-Amendment bunch in front of a Congressional committee says an awful lot about the gun ‘rights’ movement during the waning days of Donald Trump. On the other hand, when physicians get together to talk about gun violence and also claim to be ‘non-partisan’ in their approach, this doesn’t just rankle me, it really gets me pissed off.

              Physicians aren’t supposed to be dealing with a medical crisis like gun violence by finding a ‘non-partisan’ cure. But it has now become fashionable in medical circles to talk about a ‘consensus’ approach to gun violence, which is how the ‘historic’ Chicago summit meeting in February of 43  medical organizations promoted their Magna Carta for reducing gun violence.  In fact, what they produced was nothing more than the same load of recommendations which the medical community has been using to chase after its gun-violence-prevention tail for the last twenty years: expanded background checks, safe storage, red flag laws, blah, blah, blah and blah. Oh, and let’s not forget the all-important research money from the CDC.

              Now we have a new medical group on the scene, courtesy of a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, which calls itself FACTS, a.k.a., Firearms Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium. Most of its members are the same research crew which show up everywhere else, and they also promise to take a consensus-based approach to understanding violence caused by guns. The consensus in this instance is provided by a single individual representing gun owners who runs something called Gun Owners for Responsible Gun Ownership, which like the DC Project, is just a website but doesn’t yet have anything for you to buy.  I’m sure a shopping cart will appear in time. The odds that what this guy references as ‘responsible’ gun behavior could ever remotely pass muster with most people who own guns is about a great as the odds that #45 is smarter than Seymour Sliperman, who happens to be another one of my cats.

              Doctors who promote the idea that their research represents some kind of consensus are doing nothing more than hoping that if the CDC starts giving out research monies on guns, they can pretend that their work is not intended to be used for gun-control advocacy because, after all, what they will say reflects the views of both sides.

              The day that physicians all agree that treating disease should be based on remedies which meet everyone’s interests and concerns, is the day I stop going to the doctor and hope for the best. This is nothing more than cynical pandering at its worst and physicians should know better than to engage in such nonsensical crap.

There Really Is A Way To End Gun Violence.

              One of the favorite games played by members of Gun-Control Nation (myself included) over the last couple of years was to look at the monthly background check report issued by FBI-NICS and announce with glee that the number of checks for gun transfers each month was going down. We all figured that if the slide continued through four years of Trump (and God forbid eight years if he won again) that the problem of gun violence would take care of itself because as a consumer item, the guns would simply go away.

              Guess what? We forgot that gun sales have always been pushed or pulled by the fear that guns might disappear. And now that virtually every 2020 Democratic candidate has promised to do ‘something’ about gun violence, the fear has returned within the ranks of Gun-nut Nation and the virus is beginning to spread.

              When it comes to gun retailing, August is always the slowest month of the year. Guns can’t compete with the beach. By the time you pay for that beach house rental, buy some sand toys for the kids and eat at the Clam Shack every night, the five hundred bucks you stashed away because you just have to have that little walkaround Glock, is money that has been spent.

              It turns out that not only did the August NICS numbers show a 15% increase over the August numbers for 2018, they were the highest numbers for any August going all the way back through the years of the hated Obama regime. The increase was strongest in the ‘other’ category, which happens to be the category which usually designates ‘black’ guns, a.k.a., AR-15’s. In Florida, where our friends are trying to get a Constitutional ban on assault rifles on the 2020 ballot, the increase in ‘other’ background checks was 48.7 percent.

              The good news for gun nuts is that this spike in sales has not yet generated any upward movement in prices for either ammunition or guns. One of the big online resellers, Cheaper Than Dirt, is listing quality 22LR ammunition for five cents a round, which is a price in adjusted dollars out of 1975. Another outfit has fully-assembled AR’s for less than $500 bucks. When Obama was turning America into a Muslim state, you couldn’t find a black gun anywhere for under a thou.

              My friends in Gun-control Nation who are busily promoting an expansion of background checks or Red Flag laws or some other type of ‘reasonable’ restriction that will keep guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands, need to remember that every, single one of the more than one million NICS checks done in August represents a gun being transferred into the ‘right’ hands. How do any of those new additions to the civilian gun arsenal wind up being used by someone to blow someone else away, which happens to be most of the gun injuries which happen every day?  We have absolutely no idea.

              Back in 1993 and 1994, Art Kellerman and Fred Rivara published research which definitively found that access to guns increased homicide and suicide risk. And by the way, these studies didn’t differentiate between guns that were, or were not safely stored. These studies got the gun industry to push their friends in Congress to delete gun research from the budget of the CDC, a budget item that my friends in public health are now clamoring to restore.

              If there had been a grass-roots movement for gun control in the 1990’s, the findings by Kellerman and Rivara might have been translated into a law to strictly regulate the ownership of assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols. This kind of law exists in every other advanced nation-state, which is why they don’t suffer from gun violence and we do.

With all due respect to my liberal friends who remain enthralled by the 2nd Amendment, we don’t need no stinkin’ research,  we don’t need no stinkin’ reasonable laws.  We just need to get rid of certain guns which were never designed for hunting or sport.

Gee, that was a tough one to figure out.

Why Do We Enact Gun-Control Laws?

              Tuesday night C-Span carried the debate and vote of the House Judiciary Committee about the ‘red flag’ law. The statute was sent to the full House where it will pass and then no doubt languish until sometime next year when the GOP begins to read the tea leaves seriously and decides what legislation will and will not help or hurt them in the 2020 race.

              There’s a chance that three gun bills will be waiting Senate action during the current Congressional session: comprehensive background checks, red-flag laws and another assault-weapons ban. If there’s a blue sweep come next November, we might even seen these bills consolidated into one, major piece of legislation, which would mark the fifth time the Federal Government enacted a gun-control law, the previous laws having been passed in 1934, 1938, 1968 and 1994. The initial assault weapons ban was also enacted in 1994, but it was stuck onto the Omnibus Crime Bill which was also passed that year.

              The four statutes which got the Federal Government into gun-control big time, defined certain guns as being too dangerous for ordinary purchase and sale (1934), defined the role and responsibilities of federally-licensed gun dealers (1938), created the definition of ‘law-abiding’ individuals who could purchase or possess guns (1968), and brought the FBI into the mix to make sure that people who claimed to be law-abiding gun owners were, in fact, what they claimed to be.

              These laws approached the issue of gun control from four different perspectives, but they all shared one common thread; namely, they were enacted to help law enforcement agencies deal with the issue of crime. Here’s the preamble to the 1968 law: “The Congress hereby declares that the purpose of this title is to provide support to Federal, State and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence….” The other Federal gun laws basically say the same thing. In other words, these laws may have been enacted to regulate the ownership and commerce of guns, but their real purpose was to help fight crime.

              Every other advanced nation-state also enacted gun-control laws, for the most part either before or after World War II. Most of these laws were patterned after our initial law, the National Firearms Act of 1934, but these laws were all different from our gun-control laws in one, crucial respect, namely, they prohibited the purchase of handguns except under the most stringent and restrictive terms.

              Why do we suffer from a level of gun violence that is seven to twenty times’ higher than any other advanced nation-state? Not because we have so many more guns floating around, but because we make it very easy for folks to get access to handguns, which happen to be the guns that kill and injure just about all those 125,000+ Americans every year. Oh, I forgot. Some of them aren’t real Americans. They snuck in here, got on welfare and deserve to get shot.

              The reason that countries like France, Italy and Germany banned handguns had nothing to do with crime. The gun-control laws passed in these and other countries were based on government fear of armed, rebellion from the Left – Socialist and Communist labor unions to be precise. The United States Federal Government also once had to deal with a serious, armed rebellion, but this was a rebellion not about class oppression or workers versus owners. It was a disagreement about race.

              For all the nonsense about how guns keep us ‘free,’ the truth is that owning and carrying a Glock has nothing to do with freedom at all. It has to do with a totally irrational belief that we are surrounded by predators who just can’t wait to invade our homes, beat us up and run off with that wide-screen TV. Since we know this to be a fact, how come the violent-crime rates in countries where nobody can protect themselves with a handgun are lower than the rate of violent crime in the United States?

Greg Gibson: Stop The Gun.

Our son Galen was killed in a school shooting in 1992. In the aftermath of shootings like the ones that have taken place recently in Texas and Ohio, and then in Texas again, friends still send emails and texts. They can imagine the pain such incidents evoke, and they want us to know that they’re thinking about us.

 As much as we appreciate these expressions of love and support, and as important as they’ve been to our survival, they’re somewhat off the mark by now. Mass shootings no longer re-awaken the trauma and pain that accompanied Galen’s senseless murder. The fact is, my family doesn’t follow the reports of these incidents very closely. My wife and daughter spend time with friends on social media. My son and I are addicted to what sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy once referred to as Moron Sports Talk Radio. A survival tactic, no doubt.

 When I do turn my attention to reports of mass shootings, I’ve begun to notice a formulaic aspect to way this news is delivered. Reports are likely to feature the 911 call, squad cars and SWAT teams responding, smartphone footage recorded during seconds or minutes of mortal terror, traumatized survivors weeping and hugging, and ambulances wheeling away. The perpetrator, of course, is of interest. Sometimes we even get a mug shot of the crazed young man. We desperately need to know, and we will never know, Why did he do it? If we could figure that out, we think, we might be able to prevent the next one from happening. So we read on. Mass shootings account for only about 2% of gun deaths each year, and yet they suck up a far greater percentage of our attention.

 Without our even being aware of it, we’ve entered into a sort of symbiotic relationship with the phenomenon of mass shootings. The news media commodify reports of these horrific events as “content” and we unwittingly consume this content along with the rest of the news. Not because we need more data in our tireless quest to end gun violence, but because these reports feed our news habit.

 We know that mass shootings have become creepy memes that morph and evolve on the basis of information gathered from prior shootings. Yet we continue to make that information available – in mind-boggling abundance – to the next wave of racists and madmen. I understand that there is not a conscious conspiracy between the news media and the forces of evil. But I do believe the time has come to take a hard look at the role the media play in this problem.

 It’s clear by now that cultural change will be an important factor in reducing gun violence. It’s equally clear that, as much as reporters rely on cultural activity to create content, the content they create helps shape the culture upon which they report.

 Why do we not hear more about the destructive effects of gun violence – 100 deaths each day – on families and communities, particularly among people of color? Where is the reporting on the devastation that trails in the wake of suicide with firearms by teens, vets, and law enforcement officers – which has risen by 30% since 2013? Why do we not hear more about the link between ownership of firearms and domestic violence?

 In my experience, people who are affected on a daily basis by gun violence – people of color who live in specific, socially isolated areas in almost any big city – hardly ever ask why? They’re more interested in how. Ruth Rollins, one of the founding members of Boston’s Operation LIPSTICK told me that when someone is killed in her neighborhood the first thing people want to know is where the gun came from? How did it get into the shooter’s hands? She said, “If you stop that gun you stop a shooting.”

 We need to dispense with the 911 tapes, the second-by-second descriptions of the carnage, the postmortem psychological profiling, and the gnashing of teeth over warning signs disregarded.

 Let’s talk instead about what kind of gun did what kind of damage. We need solid reporting on how the shooter got his hands on the weapons he used, and where they came from. It’s as true in your town as it is on the streets of Roxbury, Massachusetts or El Paso, Texas.

 You stop that gun and you stop a shooting.

Khalil Spencer: It’s Not About Assault Rifles, It’s About Assaults On Decency.

Along with the current discussion about gun control, assault rifle bans, and domestic terrorism, Uncle Sam is working on reinvigorating the nuclear weapons program in New Mexico and South Carolina. Given that a few of us in Northern New Mexico are affiliated with certain large Federal installations involved with making things that can create very large holes in the ground, I see a lot of chatter about both topics. This leaves me uneasy.

Guns and bombs are necessary evils albeit fascinating creations when not employed for their intended purpose. That’s why people enjoy shooting sports, especially with military design rifles, for example, as described here and here. But lethal weapons are solutions of last resort to real problems. Whether someone is kicking down your door or your frontier at o-dark thirty, you need a way to defend yourself. The problem is, when things get to the point of a shooting war, whether in the kitchen or the Ardennes, the less destructive solutions have failed or have been ignored. Cleaning up the blood and lost treasure gets more complicated as weapons become more advanced. During the American Revolution, a few thousand soldiers faced each other and opened fire when they could see the whites of each others eyes. The American Civil War, which bled America white, was the harbinger of WW I with trench warfare and the introduction of modern weapons. Nowadays, advanced heavy weapons and highly lethal infantry weapons (not to mention, nukes) can blow somewhat larger holes in the other side’s strategic interests. High capacity semiauto weapons can drench the neighborhood with a rainsquall of full metal jacket (or jacketed hollow point, I suppose). Or as Bruce Cockburn once sang, “who put that bullet hole in Peggy’s kitchen wall?”. Nowadays, it would be more than one hole. I think Bruce thought up that song when people generally shot at each other with revolvers.

Things won’t get better if we concentrate on more guns and bombs as solutions. There are more of us in the U.S. (and of course on the planet) and here at home, resources are becoming more unequal, leading to rising stress. Our civilization’s reliance on dinosaur juice, methane, and coal to power our cars, homes, and other stuff is on track to double atmospheric CO2 concentrations over Holocene levels by mid-century. This will, by most reputable accounts, lead to global energy retention via the Tyndall effect resulting in heating on the order of 1.5-4 degrees C and the associated climate adjustments that likely are associated with warming (sea level rise, changes in regional precipitation, changes in average temperatures, more extreme weather due to changes in the jet streams, etc). As an aside, note the uncertainties here. We can predict the big picture, but not the details, hence the constant bickering.

If you think forced migration due to climate and political problems is bad now, I suggest a friendly trip in the time machine to see what things will look like in a few decades. For those who are skeptical of forward climate models, we have plenty of historical geochemical records suggesting significant change is likely in the century to come. Even on the regional scale, we see the results on societies of past climate change in the abandoned settlements of the American Southwest and Greenland. I wrote something for the Albuquerque Journal about that here. Far fewer humans lived back then, so there were places to resettle. Where do people resettle in a few years, as their wells run dry and crops wither, now that we live in a No Vacancy world?

Our ability since the Industrial Revolution to change atmospheric chemistry and thus the atmosphere’s ability to retain the sun’s heat, in a nutshell, is why humans can profoundly – at least with respect to our own existence – impact climate.

me, in the Albuquerque Journal


My guess is we will probably deal with climate change using guns and bombs, since that seems to be the historical tradition. Yes, I am increasingly pessimistic. With the world order drifting towards authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, and ethnic/racial extremism and increasingly, with people showing up unannounced at each other’s national doorsteps, I think the stresses will overcome reason. Plus, its been 74 years since we had a world war. Few living today remember what a world war looks like and frankly, I worry that today’s leaders can only see war as an abstraction. Reagan and Gorbachev knew WW II. Putin and Trump do not. My parent’s generation, now pretty much gone, saw it in its smoke, blood, and destruction filled reality.

The bottom line is if we continue to fixate on using Maslow’s Handgun to stave off change rather than hunkering down to fix what is broken, we will kick the underlying problems down the road until a crisis overcomes us and we solve the problems with…guns and bombs. Its the way Homo sapiens has always done it before. Why change now? Because the guns and bombs are too lethal to use? That’s the underlying idea behind deterrence, but it assumes rational actors acting in their best interest. Hmmm. Does anyone see a potential problem with that assumption? Orwell did:

The passage in the Declaration of Independence that starts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” with its references to equality, liberty, and happiness, is literally impossible to translate into Newspeak. “The nearest one could come to doing so,” Orwell wrote, “would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”

Tom Stern, discussing Orwell’s idea of Newspeak.


As Kurt Vonnegut, who himself rode out the WW II Dresden firebombing, ironically enough in a slaughterhouse, would say, “So it goes“. Unless we choose otherwise.

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.

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.