Why Should The Gun Debate Have Anything To Do With Facts?

              So now that Democrats no longer have to fear that talking about gun control is a big no-no on the campaign trail, how will Gun-nut Nation respond?  For the last twenty-five years, the alliance between the GOP and the 2nd-Amendment gang held firm, and with the exception of a few Congressional seats in Communist states like California and New York, all a politician needed to do was wave the ‘don’t tread on me’ flag as regards gun ‘rights’ and the issue would disappear. 

              Thanks to some serious spending, the media spotlight grabbed by the Parkland kids and some overreach by various pro-gun Congressional candidates, the case can probably be made that the ability of the blue team to wrest control of the lower chamber of Congress certainly wasn’t hurt by a more aggressive gun-control pitch in many swing districts and might have even helped.

              So the question which now looms for 2020, particularly in key swing states whose votes will probably determine whether or not we have to put up with that schmuck for four more years, is this: How does Gun-nut Nation move the needle back to the center-right or at least the center of the gauge which measures the respective strength of the two sides in the gun debate?

              For the last twenty-five years, the gun-nut noise machine has promoted itself through a combination of patriotism (2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’) and protection from crime (concealed-carry and stand your ground.) But what made the NRA appear to be such a fearsome political opponent was the simple fact that there was basically no opposition from the other side. Occasionally there would be a break-through, like the Million Moms March put together by our friend Donna Dees Thomases in 2000, but by and large the pro-gun narrative went unchallenged in most parts of the country, even in places where a majority of voters didn’t own guns.

              Without doubt, Sandy Hook was a watershed event, because out of the tragedy of senseless violence emerged a true, national, grass-roots effort funded primarily by Mike Bloomberg and his friends, and organized by a little lady from Indianapolis named Shannon Watts. For the first time the pro-gun narrative was countered by a gun-control argument which continues to shape the entire gun debate, namely, that you just can’t justify 35,000 or more fatal shootings each year as representing some kind of support for ‘civil rights.’ Sorry, but the argument just doesn’t work, particularly when, every once in a while, some of those 35,000 victims happen to be kids sitting inside a school.

              So what do you do if the health and welfare of your particular industry depends on whether the average, law-abiding American consumer can still have more or less free access to the products on whose sale your industry depends? You come up with a way to argue the issue which may or may not have any connection to reality at all.

              What caught my eye in this respect was an op-ed in The Daily Mississippian, ‘The Truth About Guns,’ whose author approaches the subject without even the slightest concern for the relevant facts. Here’s the formative statement: “States like Illinois and California have implemented increasingly strict laws against gun ownership, but numbers of gun deaths per capita in those states is significantly higher than in places like Mississippi, where permits are not required in order to own firearms.”  

              Ready?  The gun-violence rate in California from 2010 to 2016 was 7.92, in Illinois it was 9.29.  In Mississippi, the rate was 18.15.  This op-ed was published in the student newspaper on the campus of Ole Miss, so we shouldn’t expecting the editorial staff to operate as if they are running The New York Times.

             But I have a funny feeling that this is the kind of narrative, devoid of even the slightest concern for facts, which is how Gun-nut Nation will define its side of the 2020 gun debate.  After all, the guy who’s still heading the GOP ticket wouldn’t know a fact if it hit him in the face.

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Don’t Think For One Second That Trump And The Gun Nuts Can’t Win Again.

              My friends in Gun-control Nation certainly should be patting themselves on the back for their efforts that helped flip the House from red to blue in 2018. But before everyone decides that the 2020 election will see the end of Trump-world and a good chance to get a gun bill turned into law, we need to step back and ask ourselves whether gun violence is quite the wedge issue that some of the media thinks it might be.

              Trump’s election in 2016 was basically the result of flipping five states – MI, WI, OH, PA, FL – which together counted for 93 electoral votes; recall that his EV total was 304 to Hillary’s 227, which was 34 more than he needed to win. Now hold that thought.

              In 2018, the Democrats flipped 40 seats but only 8 of those red to blue seats were located in the 5 swing states. Overall, the GOP caucus will seat 48 members from those 5 states, the Democratic caucus will only seat 36.  And in not one of those states do the Democrats have a majority of House members now sitting in D.C. 

              Want some more unsettling news? The week after Trump was inaugurated, he was up or tied in terms of likability in 38 states. As of the beginning of February, 2019 he was even or ahead in only 17 states. But 3 of the states where he is still either 50-50 with or without the margin of error are OH, PA and FL, which together count for 67 electoral votes, which gets him over the top again.

              Now here’s the question: What do the states of OH, PA and FL have in common?  Answer: They are what we call ‘gun-rich’ states.  Now they aren’t as rich as states like Montana and North Dakota, but Montana and North Dakota don’t have any people, so their electoral votes don’t count for squat. But if Obama learned anything from the 2008 primary campaign, it was that if you said anything snarky about guns in a state like PA, you could doom your candidacy before you got out of the starting blocks.

              How many gun owners live in FL, Oh and PA? Nobody knows for sure, but I can tell you that when I managed a national gun wholesale business, we shipped plenty of guns to those three states. All three states issue concealed-carry on demand, and both FL and OH have enacted stand your ground laws which are to Gun-nut Nation what Friskies are to my cats.

              Until and unless someone comes up with better numbers, or Trump does something so stupid that even his die-hard supporters begin to fade away, the fact that he still commands a big chunk of followers in those three, crucial states, should give my Gun-control Nation friends some pause. Because if you want to run a political campaign wrapped around the gun issue, it’s a no-brainer in blue states like California, New Jersey or New York. But those states wouldn’t go for Trump even if he donated a million dollars of his own money to the ACLU. Will a slogan like ‘reasonable’ gun laws necessarily work in PA?  It sure hasn’t worked so far.

              I am still not convinced that the gun-control movement has developed effective messaging to convince gun owners that there’s any necessary connection between 125,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries each year and the ‘right’ of any law-abiding American to own a gun. Because when all is said and done, our friends in Fairfax (a.k.a the NRA) have done a remarkable job promoting the idea that no law-abiding gun owner is in any way responsible for what the tree-huggers refer to as gun ‘violence,’ so why do we need any more gun laws?

              This happens to be a powerful message, it resonates very well with folks in Fl, OH and PA whose votes could keep Trump in the White House for five more years. My friends in Gun-control Nation still need to figure this one out.

Did Voters Think About Gun Violence When They Went To The Polls?

              Yesterday I received my weekly (sometimes daily) email from our friends at Everytown asking me to give them some bucks. If it weren’t for the fact that a gun-nut friend of mine wants to sell me his Smith & Wesson Model 41 for $700, I’d respond positively to Everytown’s solicitation today. But I’ll get another email from Mayor Mike tomorrow. I won’t see another Model 41 out there for $700 bucks, okay?

              What caught my eye in the Everytown email was not the request for dough, I will send them something soon. It was this statement which sums up the Everytown analysis of the election results in 2018: “For the first time, it’s clear that across the country gun safety is a winning issue.” Which happens to be what every Gun-control Nation organization is saying about the mid-terms, by the way.

              When either side in the great gun debate makes a claim, I try to verify the statement before I accept it as being true; I’m just a contrarian when it comes to noise made by advocates on either side . Take a look, if you will, at the House races where major donations from Bloomberg helped Democratic candidates grab the brass ring.  Of the 44 seats which will now be occupied by Democrats and were either GOP seats or vacant last year, 19 of those races evidently turned on major cash infusions from Bloomberg, either monies he directly gave those campaigns or money which he gave to other outside organizations which then used the dough to bolster those same campaigns. These campaigns also received money from the Everytown PAC, so we can assume that for these contests, the gun issue was a ‘winning issue,’ correct? The answer: yes and no.

              In Virginia’s 2nd CD, a pro-gun Democrat, Elaine Luria, beat out a ‘pro-gun’ incumbent. In Virginia’s 10th CD, the defeat of Barbara Comstock had nothing to do with the gun issue at all. In both of these races, the issue was Trump. In New Jersey’s 11th CD, an open seat, Mikie Sherrill won an open seat against her GOP in a race where guns meant nothing to either side. Take a look at the issues in Pennsylvania’s 6th CD, guns aren’t mentioned by either side. And even in a race where the blue candidate, Jason Crow, touted his gun-control bone fides against NRA stooge Mike Coffman, the loser was against an assault weapons ban but he supported a red-flag law, too.

              The one race where guns were certainly front and center was Georgia’s 6th CD, where the incumbent Republican, Karen Handel, lost her seat to a first-time Congressional hopeful, Lucy McBath. What created the noise in this race was the fact that McBath has been a spokeswoman for Everytown, following her son’s shooting death in 2012.

              Am I saying that gun-control issues didn’t make a difference? No. Am I saying that the energy and determination of Gun-control Nation didn’t outdo the efforts of the other side? No. Am I saying that the NRA’s lack of fungible cash wasn’t a factor in how the mid-terms turned out? No.

              What I am saying, however, is that the gun issue, in and of itself, just doesn’t explain how most electoral contests turn out.  The CNN exit polls for House races found that support for stricter gun laws ran 59% in favor, 37% opposed. But 76% of Democratic voters favored stricter laws, while 76% of Republican voters were opposed. The Parkland kids generated lots of media attention, but if you’re a Democratic candidate, you’re in favor of expanded background checks. If you’re a Republican, you’re not.

              What my GVP friends need to remember is that while NRA political contributions went down the drain in 2018, lobbying expenditures slipped from the previous year but were $1 million higher than 2016. Wishful thinking about the demise of the NRA to the contrary, the balance sheet of America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ shows them $26 million in the black.

              Want to reduce gun violence? Maybe the fight’s just begun.

Do Guns Win Elections? Not So Far This Year.

Earlier this year a special election to fill the Montana House seat vacated by Ryan Zinke created something of a dilemma for gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates because the Democratic candidate, Rob Quist, ran a series of television ads using a rifle to destroy a likeness of his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, who was running ads stating that Quist was ‘soft’ on gun ‘rights.’ No surprise, the NRA endorsed Gianforte for the seat which he comfortably won, and the fact that Quist had earlier made a foolish remark about backing a ‘national’ gun registry (actually he didn’t know what he was talking about) may have contributed a bit to the margin of Gianforte’s win.

strange2             Until the gun issue reared its ugly head, liberals both within and without Montana had no trouble supporting Quist.  He was in favor of universal health care and expanding social security, both of which are standard talking-points for politicians on the Left. But in Montana being in favor of universal health care is one thing, being ‘against’ guns is something else. Montana has only slightly more than 1 million residents but I’ll bet you there are at least a couple of million guns kicking around in the trucks, barns and ‘family’ rooms of the Big Sky state. Guns are so normal in Montana that the issue is never discussed at all and would have remained unmentioned in this election if Quist had just kept his mouth shut instead of blurting out something stupid about gun registration as he was walking away from a campaign event.

Last week guns got back into electoral politics in a big way when Luther Strange, running for the Republican line in the upcoming Senate election against Ray Moore in Alabama, yanked out a handgun at a campaign rally to prove that he was ‘pro-gun.’ He was responding to a series of attack ads which accused him of being against 2nd-Amendment ‘rights even though he had earned the coveted NRA endorsement, along with the endorsement of YKW. If you have been following my blog you know that YKW refers to the individual who currently occupies a certain executive position in Washington, D.C.  So ol’ Luther gets up on the stage Monday night and pulls out a gun.  At least he had the good sense to keep his finger off the trigger while he waved the piece around.

Incidentally, it should be pointed out that the gun ol’ Luther was carrying was either a Smith & Wesson Model 36 or a Charter Arms Undercover, both of which only hold 5 rounds. Those are hardly the guns of choice any more when you can buy a Glock or a Kahr pistol which is smaller and has a capacity of 8 rounds. On the other hand, there’s a good possibility that Alabama will become a ‘constitutional carry’ state next year, which means that no matter whether your handgun holds 5 rounds, or 10 rounds or even 20 rounds, you’ll be able to walk around with it in Alabama without going through any kind of permit process at all.

But back to the election which took place last night. Regardless of his stance on guns, Luther Strange was handily defeated by Ray Moore who continues to cast himself as America’s public official most dedicated to ‘one nation under God’ which means, of course, that he’s a good guy when it comes to the issue of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Guns in Alabama are like guns in Montana, everybody has one (or two or three) and the idea that gun ownership could become a deciding issue in any political election is simply too far-fetched to be believed.

On the other hand, we now have gone through two electoral contests in two gun-rich states and when it comes to using guns as a way to garner votes, the ‘I love guns’ strategy is zero for two. So much for the idea that cozying up to the ‘gun vote’ can help you win.

Want To Reduce Gun Violence? The Real Battle Is In The States, Not The Feds.

Now that The New York Times has once again become the newspaper ‘of record’ even for Donald Trump, we can sit back and wait for the Gray Lady to begin pronouncing on everything and anything having to do with the election results on November 8th.  And the newsroom started right off with an ‘analysis’ of whether Trump’s victory was fueled by the ‘gun vote,’ and to nobody’s surprise, at least not mine, they discovered that it was.  Or at least Gun-nut Nation thinks it was.  And since the NYT will now begin to feature story after story about all those ‘forgotten’ folks who came out for Trump – in the interests of fair and balanced journalism –  you can bet that the gun-nut gang will be a central feature of more articles to come.

Of course the Times made sure to give a bit of space to the other side, quoting Everytown’s Erika Soto Lamb and also Jenn Crowe who worked on the Nevada background-check vote, but basically the piece was fluff and nonsense for various pro-gun advocates, including none other than C. J. Grisham from Open Carry Texas who proudly stated that he went out last week and bought two more AR-15 rifles just in case Hillary actually won.

Let me break the news gently to the gun violence prevention (GVP) community:  the real problem going forward will not be to figure out what to do; nor will it be to craft some kind of ‘new’ message about the politics of guns.  The real problem will be to find some way to push back against what will surely become an attempt by liberal influencers, pundits and newsmakers at the national level to cloak the wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak, and shift the spectrum towards a more ‘balanced’ view on guns.  And like it or not, this attempt by liberal media to find some way of making ‘gun rights’ a more reasonable proposition will last for as long as the liberal media feels that its relevance is dependent on how much access it can maintain with President Shlump.

But since pictures usually are worth lots of words, especially my words, I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of pics that highlight what I believe is the challenge faced by GVP.  Here is a map which shows how many states granted CCW (blue or green) in 1986:

rtc1986

            And here’s how the map has changed from then until now:

rtc2016

Want to know what’s also changed over those same thirty years?  Republican control of state governments has gone from one-third to two-thirds. Now many of those Democratic-controlled state governments were in the hands of southern Democrats whose views, at the time, not really all that different from the Republicans who would replace them and many of these states were gun-rich states anyway, so it wasn’t like either party was going to run around proclaiming the virtues of regulating guns.  But if you think for one second that state legislatures are awash in NRA lobbying money, you’re wrong.  In the Nevada fight over extending background checks, the NRA was outspent by more than two to one.

After the 1994 election when the GOP grabbed control of the House for the first time since 1952, much of the post-election narrative was based on the idea that the vote was payback time by the NRA for how representatives voted on the assault weapons ban bill.  And even though subsequent research indicated that this narrative wasn’t necessarily true, the notion that guns represent a toxic element for politicians at the national level continues to take hold.  And the proof of what I just said can be found in the NYT article quoted above.

I got a good idea for my friends in the GVP.  Do what you gotta do on K Street in DC but let’s not take our eyes off the ball because where the ball really bounces is in those increasingly-red state legislatures from sea to shining sea.

Did The Gun Vote Swing This Election? I Don’t Think So.

As an unrepentant, yellow-dog Democrat, I wasn’t enamored of the election results from last night.  But the first thing that caught my eyes as the returns started to roll in was the drop-off in vote totals from four years’ before.  Trump is going to end up with about the same number of votes as Romney got in 2012; Hillary’s total will probably be somewhere around 3.5 million less than what Barack pulled that same year. Trump will end up getting something less than 59 million votes this year; he won because lots of Democratic voters didn’t show up, not because he was so strong at the polls.

trump4The decline in both red and blue vote totals at the statewide levels was also evident in the two really surprise states, namely, Wisconsin and Michigan which, had they gone for Hillary, she still would not have awakened this morning with a larger Secret Service detail guarding her house, but the results in those two states probably would have been reflected in the count from Pennsylvania and other states as well.  Trump’s totals from Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania will end up somewhere south of 7 million; Hillary won’t be far behind. Trump will end up pulling about 300,000 more in PA than came out and voted red in 2012, but in Michigan and Wisconsin the 2012-2016 totals will be the same.

Where I am going with these numbers is to try and judge the impact of the ‘gun vote’ on the outcome as a whole.  Because from the very beginning of this campaign, gun and gun violence played a central role in how these two candidates presented themselves both to those who ended up voting as well as to the substantial numbers who didn’t bother to vote. Hillary kick started her primary battle against Bernie in a take-no-prisoners statement after the shooting at Umpqua CC.  And Trump never stopped reminding his audiences that he was the NRA’s official candidate almost before his campaign began.

Now the fact that the NRA ran television spots in gun-rich states like Georgia, Texas and Tennessee probably didn’t affect the results in those states at all.  A majority of residents in these states, wishful thinking to the contrary, will always vote for the GOP, and they don’t need the NRA to remind them that no matter who sits atop the national Democratic ticket, that individual represents a ‘threat’ to their guns.

But it’s in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania where the value of the gun issue needs to be understood.  Because all three states have large, urban populations who are generally resistant to any appeal about guns, but they also have many rural residents, almost all of whom are gun owners and, in theory, might come out in force to protect their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

The NRA is already taking credit for getting their man into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but the overall and most statewide numbers belie their claim. What cooked the Clinton goose was not the turnout for Trump; it was the fact that she was unable to retain the voting strength that the Bomber demonstrated in 2008 and 2012.

Which brings me, of course, to the obvious question: given the fact that all three branches of the federal government are now or will shortly be red, what will be the future for GVP?  First of all, three states passed significant ballot initiatives: banning hi-cap mags in California, extending background checks to private sales in Nevada and temporarily blocking hi-risk individuals from access to firearms in Washington State.

There are now 19 states that require background checks beyond the initial point of sale.  There were six states that granted unrestricted concealed-carry licenses in the mid-80s; it took the NRA twenty-five years to extend shall-issue to just about all 50 states. So the issue is not where GVP stands today; it’s where it was ten years ago and where it will be ten years from now.  Remember – if reducing gun violence was so easy, there wouldn’t have been anything that needed to be reduced.

Does The Gun Vote Still Swing Elections? Maybe It Swings Them Against Guns.

I knew that Marco Rubio was unfit to be President (as if the current Republican candidate could pass a fitness test) when he visited the Ruger gun factory back in January and declared that he believed in the 2nd Amendment because a gun was the only thing that stood between our safety and an imminent ISIS attack. Ruger then presented Rubio with a Hawkeye bolt-action hunting rifle that would be about as effective for defending against a terror attack as me using my pen knife against Godzilla or King Kong.

voting           Rubio’s back on the gun beat again, announcing a bill that would allegedly keep terrorists from getting their hands on guns. Rubio’s bill allows the government, following a Court hearing, to deny the purchase of a gun to anyone who has been the ‘subject of a terrorism investigation’ during the previous ten years.  The NSA, for example, tracks millions of electronic communications each year, many of them made by American citizens. Does this activity constitute an ‘investigation’ and, if so, to whom would the NSA turn over all those names?

Be that as it may, the gun issue is now beginning to move downstream to Senate races, and while there has been a lot of talk about how Kelly Ayotte’s refusal to vote for Manchin-Toomey back in 2012 might cost her a reelection in New Hampshire, the truth is that she’s up against a pretty tough competitor in Maggie Hassan, who would give her a run for her money, gun issues or not.

In Missouri, on the other hand, which is truly a gun-rich state, a GOP veteran, Roy Blunt, finds himself in a surprisingly tight race against a relative newcomer, Jason Kander, who has just released what I think is the most original political ad with a gun theme in the entire 2016 campaign.  The ad shows Kander, who served in Afghanistan with a National Guard infantry unit, assembling an AR-15 while he’s blindfolded and challenging Blunt to do the same.  The ad also makes clear that Kander, as opposed to Blunt, favors an expansion of background checks to secondary sales. The ad is a response to a completely-discredited NRA attack ad against Kander which accused him of voting against a bill that would have made it easier to use a gun against an attacker inside someone’s home, when in fact the actual bill, which Kander supported, expanded the right to use a gun outside the home.

Let’s get something straight.  Nobody who is perceived as being anti-gun in Missouri gets elected to anything.  That’s just the way things are.  But the fact that the NRA has put up more than $650,000 in television ads dissing Kander during this campaign tells you two things: first, it says something about the potency of expanded background checks as a campaign issue not just in Missouri but other states as well; second, it validates Hillary’s decision to ignore warnings about the strength of the ‘gun vote’ in deciding to make gun violence a centerpiece of her campaign.

We won’t know until the votes are counted on November 8th and the exit polls appear whether the blue team has been helped or hurt by coming out so strongly against violence caused by guns. But the fact that in the Gunshine State an incumbent like Marco Rubio in a tight campaign for reelection files a totally meaningless bill to prevent ‘terrorists’ from buying guns is another straw in the wind regarding how the gun issue has come into its own.

Until this year it was assumed that in gun-rich states you had to be pro-gun in order to get to the finish line with any chance of beating the other side. And this is still true to a certain extent.  But it’s the word ‘certain’ that may now start to be redefined.  And I’m not sure that I would take the short odds on redefining that word in favor of guns.