Lots Of Folks Have Lots Of Guns But It Only Takes One.

Gun-sense Nation is all agog because of some news out of Harvard and Northeastern which claims that roughly 3% of Americans adults – which is 7.7 million – between them own 8 to 140 guns each, for an average personal ownership of 17 guns.  These ‘super’ gun owners, according to the not-yet-but-soon-to-be released study, together have 130 million guns sitting around their homes which constitutes what Mother Jones calls the ‘craziest’ statistic about guns.

buyback            Let me break the news gently to my friends in Gun-sense Nation: having 17 guns around is nothing.  Down in Chesterfield County, SC, ol’ boy name of Brent Nicholson’s got, according to the County Sheriff, an ‘ass-load’ of guns, probably around 5,000 or so. Out in Southern California in the ritzy neighborhood known as Pacific Palisades, the cops broke into the home of a fellow who had been dead for a couple of days and found over a thousand guns.

Right now I’m kinda light when it comes to guns that I personally own; last time I looked my pile was somewhere around 60 or so, and I hope my wife doesn’t read this column because she’ll tell me to sell some more.  I got a call from a fellow the other day who’s step-father just died, his mother found a bunch of guns down in the basement and doesn’t want them around the house so I told him that I would buy the whole bunch, sight unseen, for five thousand bucks.  To which my wife then said, “we don’t have any room for the damn things so do me a favor and sell some of the ones you have.” I don’t see her selling any of her shoes, btw, but I gotta sell my guns, right?

I get lots of nasty comments from members of Gun-nut Nation whenever I refer to my guns as ‘adult toys.’  But that’s exactly what they are.  Owning all that metal doesn’t in any way make me ‘free’ (actually it ties me down because I can’t imagine packing the damn things up and moving them all to a new home); it doesn’t protect me from terrorism or any other kind of threat; it doesn’t support my 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  I own all those guns because I like owning guns – it’s as simple as that.  I had toy guns around me from almost the time I could walk, I bought my first, real gun when I was twelve years old, over the sixty years since then I have probably bought and sold more than 1,000 personal guns. Sound like a lot?  That’s a little more than one a month. That’s no big deal.

And by the way, between 1956 when I bought my first real gun and 2008, not a single one of those transactions was protected by any kind of Constitutional ‘right,’ and not a single one of those transactions was in any delayed or prohibited because I didn’t have any kind of Constitutional protection for owning a gun.  If the 2nd Amendment is what keeps a gun-grabber like Hillary from taking away my guns, how come gun-grabbing liberals didn’t try to ban guns before Dick Heller took his case to the Supreme Court?

You can invest gun ownership with any kind of social, cultural or legal rationale that you choose, but the only reason why most people actually own guns is because there’s nothing that says they can’t. They might want to believe that their guns will protect them from crime, and on very rare occasions someone actually does use a gun to keep a bad guy from breaking down the back door, but a lot more people accidentally shoot themselves than shoot someone else who otherwise might cause them harm.

Is there any connection between the number of guns I own or have owned and the fact that 115,000 Americans get injured or killed each year with guns?  There sure is.  Called a gun.

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What You Hear Is What You Get – The NRA Response To Obama.

It didn’t take Wayne-o 48 hours to respond to Obama’s remarkable SOTU speech, and his response really points up both the success of the GVP movement to date, along with the challenge faced by GVP going forward. The fact that LaPierre felt compelled to call the President a ‘liar,’ ‘narcissist,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘long-winded,’ ‘gas bag’ and basically a shill for the Hillary campaign, reveals the degree to which Gun Nation and Trump-ist political rhetoric have merged; i.e., if you insult your opponent enough times, you can avoid any serious talk.  What’s the difference between Trump bellowing ‘Make America Great Again’ and LaPierre saying that Obama has “laid waste to the America we remember?”  No difference.  And that’s a good thing.

lapierre              It’s a good thing because the GVP strategy shouldn’t be based on trying to convince 2nd-Amendment nihilists that there are sensible solutions to the problems caused by guns.  Obama’s attempt to push a small percentage of gun transfers into the ATF-FBI-NICS framework by requiring individuals who make a ‘continuous’ profit from gun sales is hardly an attack on gun-owning rights, and LaPierre’s totally false description of this effort obliterates even the slightest possibility that his video message was an attempt to engage in an honest exchange.

We like to say that Obama has been the gun industry’s best salesman because gun revenues have soared over the past seven years.  But he’s also been a magnet for the NRA’s attempts to expand its own ranks.  According to Advertising Age, the circulation of the American Rifleman magazine surged by nearly 30% from 2012 to 2013, although the total circulation of all NRA membership magazines still doesn’t nearly add up to the 5 million members that the NRA now claims to represent. But numbers are one thing, the message going out is something else.  If you take the time to watch Wayne-o’s video (quoting don Corleone, “Keep your friends close but your enemies….”) you’ll quickly realize that the organization which claims to speak for America’s gun owners has abandoned even the slightest pretense for anything remotely connected to reality, facts or common sense.

Take the alleged ‘failure’ of the Obama Administration to prosecute gun crimes. According to LaPierre, the President could simply pick up the phone and direct his Justice Department to mount a scorched-earth campaign to rid Chicago of every drug dealer, violent felon and gangbanger currently prowling the Windy City’s streets.  This statement, incidentally, is made less than one minute after Wayne-o accused Obama of using his executive authority to destroy the Constitution, as if one can find anywhere in the Constitution the legal grounds for using a federal agency to deal with local crime.

You may recall that back in 1995, Wayne-o sent out a fundraising letter referring to ATF agents as ‘jack-booted thugs’ who were the shock troops in the “final assault to eliminate firearms ownership forever,” rhetoric that caused President George H. W. Bush to resign from the NRA. Now he’s at it again, claiming in this video that Obama is creating a ‘federal gun force’ that will be four times larger than the number of Special Forces currently leading operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  I don’t think that combat against ISIS has cost the lives of more than a handful of our beloved and heroic troops but gun violence kills more than 80 Americans every day.  More resources to respond to domestic gun violence as opposed to overseas terror attacks?  Doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.

Watch the entire video because Wayne-o saves the best for last.  After referring to the President in the most indecorous and insulting terms, he then flips and obsequiously asks Obama to engage in a one-on-one debate.  I can see it now – Wayne LaPierre in the Oval Office lecturing the President on the 2nd Amendment and why Michelle should be walking around with a gun.  If the NRA thinks that such amateurish grandstanding appeals to anyone beyond their most devoted members, they better think again.

Do Americans Spend A Lot Of Time Thinking About Guns? An Interesting Answer From Google.

My friend David Yamane runs a pro-gun blog called Gun Culture 2.0.  In fact, what he really does for a living is teach sociology in North Carolina, and this year gave a course on the sociology of guns which included a trip to a shooting range, along with lectures on just about every facet of the gun world, along with off-line arguments with me.  Make no mistake about it, Yamane’s a pro-gun guy.  But he’s also a smart guy, a diligent researcher and someone who’s not afraid of the facts.  Which makes him somewhat unique among pro-gun folks, most of whom are about as interested in evidence-based discussions as I’m interested in staying on my diet.

trump2In any case, he’s just published some very interesting data on his website that was inspired by a bit of internet research conducted by his wife.  The research consisted of a state-by-state listing of all Google searches performed in 2015, which caught Mrs. Yamane’s attention because one of the most popular search terms listed for their state of North Carolina was “concealed weapons permit.”  And it turns out that this term was also one of the most popular search terms in Florida.  And then it turns out that if one takes the trouble to read through the popular search terms for all 50 states, the term doesn’t appear anywhere else.

Now wait a minute.  Didn’t we just go through two months of Republican Presidential clap-trap in which every one of those clowns endorsed the idea of carrying a gun?  Didn’t Donald Trump proclaim his own preference for concealed-carry after the Virginia shooting of two journalists followed by the Umpqua mess?  I don’t ever remember anything having to do with guns playing such a central role in any political campaign, and yet the issue at the center of the argument hardly gets a ripple at all.

And it’s not as if the Republican campaign was absent from the Google search engine.  In fact, Trump and other Republican candidates were mentioned 16 times in the most popular internet searches, which was 6% of all Google search terms – to put that into perspective, ISIS was searched exactly twice. I should add, incidentally, that one-third of the search terms for Presidential candidates were racked up in New Hampshire, which should hardly surprise given the fact that the Granite State probably suffered through more political visits than all other 49 states combined.  Bear in mind that the Google listings did not break down each term by specific number of searches; it just listed the most popular searches in each state.

While concealed-carry was obviously on the minds of residents in North Carolina and Florida, there were a few other states where something having to do with guns was also a popular search term.  The term ‘2nd Amendment’ was popular in Arizona, ‘mass shootings, in Colorado, ‘gun control’ in Idaho, ‘right to keep and bear arms’ in Missouri, and believe it or not, ‘NRA’ in Tennessee.  Wyoming must be a real gun-nut state because of the 6 most popular search terms ‘guns’ and ‘AR-15’ both made the list.

So the bottom line is that of the most popular 250 Google search terms throughout the United States, something having to do with guns made the list 3% of the time.  Again, be advised that I don’t have specific metrics for each term; for all I know maybe residents in Wyoming searched for AR-15s more than five million times.  But since the state’s total population is less than 600,000, this work would have kept every man jack, woman and child busy in Wyoming for a long time.  Get it?

I think the data presented by David Yamane (and his wife) is an important contribution to the GVP debate. Because if nothing else, it perhaps reflects the fact that guns aren’t quite the mainstream issue that the NRA would like you to believe. And if that’s the case, is it really all that important whether Donald Trump walks around with a gun?

 

 

 

The NRA Calls It The ‘Age of Terror.’ Does The GVP Community Have An Effective Response?

“You and I didn’t choose to be victims in the Age of Terror,” say Wayne-o, as he kicks off the NRA response to the San Bernardino event.  And you can be sure that as the NRA continues to ramp up their end-of-year fundraising drive they will continue to remind current and prospective members of the connection between the 2nd Amendment and the necessity to defend ourselves from foreign or home-grown terrorists whose attacks Obama and his muddle-headed bunch can’t or won’t do anything about.

lapierre               “But when evil knocks on our door,” Wayne-o continues, “Americans have a power that no other people on the planet share.” And what is that power? “The full-throated right to defend ourselves and our families with the 2nd Amendment.”  And in case you still don’t get what the message is all about, there’s a one-liner about how the NRA needs “your help.”

Which is all fine and well.  There’s no reason why the NRA shouldn’t be out there raising money and using a cockamamie slogan like Age of Terror to drive their message home. But the real point of the message, and we are going to hear it again and again from the pro-gun gang, is that we are all facing a threat that is much more serious than some guy who just tries to jimmy the lock on your back door.  Now we are dealing with “monsters” who dream of “inflicting more damage, more suffering,” and it’s not going to stop.

The revelation, even if only vaguely true, that one of the San Bernardino shooters had some connection to ISIS couldn’t have been dreamed up by any PR firm that helps the gun industry promote guns.  Stop and think about it – we’ve been engaged one way or another in military engagements against terrorism since 2001, but this is the first time since the attack on the World Trade Center that, as the saying goes, chickens have come home to roost.  And the good news about San Bernardino for the 2nd –Amendment crowd is that pro-gun politicians and promoters don’t even have to get into the sticky mess about gun violence and nuttiness; the assertions by experts like Liza Gold on the lack of any real relationship between gun violence and mental illness just won’t sway the conversation at all.

The fact is that owning and/or carrying around a gun has no real impact on whether and how we decide to make ourselves and our society safer from terrorist attacks. Despite a thirty-year NRA drumbeat on the values and virtues of an armed citizenry, the number of times each year that armed civilians prevent any kind of violence is slight.  It turns out that there was an armed civilian on the scene in San Bernardino – a shopkeeper who rushed towards the melee with his 45 pistol but quickly retreated beck into his store because he “couldn’t figure out” what was going on.

I’m not surprised that a brave young man who first ran towards the carnage with a gun decided to stop and then backed away.  The Police Foundation estimates that half of the current law enforcement officers in the United States don’t have sufficient training to deliver lethal force in a safe and effective way.  The NRA never stops reminding its members that they should always use guns safely, but if anyone suggests that having the right to respond with lethal force should require mandated training of any kind the answer is always that such requirements would be contrary to 2nd-Amendment rights.

I think we may be entering a period in the discussion about gun violence in which the GVP community may have to rethink some of its messaging about guns.  Because for most folks, emotions will trump facts just about every time.  We can say again and again that research shows guns are a risk, but the average person doesn’t care about research. Events like San Bernardino create fear. Does the GVP community have a message that tells people how to deal with fear in ways other than getting a gun?

 

Do We Really Know How To Talk About Gun Violence When People Are Afraid?

I teach the gun safety course in my state that is required for anyone who wants a license to buy a gun.  The license also allows most gun owners to walk around with a concealed handgun, even though the state doesn’t actually mandate live fire as a requirement prior to buying a gun.  Which shouldn’t surprise, since there isn’t a single state whose training/proficiency criteria for CCW would meet what most trainers like myself would consider even minimal exposure to shooting, but that’s beside the point.

I usually teach 50-60 people each month.  But in the one week since the Paris attacks, almost that many people have signed up for the class.  The same thing happened after Sandy Hook, but I put that down to the fact that the massacre in Newtown provoked a clamor for tougher gun laws, which always creates a counter-response, i.e., more interest in guns.  But the ISIS attack was somewhat different, because this time the worst of our political fraternity, like Donald Trump, used the event to cynically and stupidly call out for more citizens to walk around with guns.

jihadBut let’s be honest about Trump and his publicity-mongering friends.  His calls for personal, armed resistance to jihadist threats wouldn’t garner the kind of support that he’s getting if there weren’t lots of folks out there who truly believe that their lives are made safer if they have access to a gun.  Even though Trump tailors his message to what the British used to refer to as “the mob,” a street-level terrorist attack in Paris can easily be conjured up to be like a street-level attack in New York.  And make no mistake about it, people are scared.

And this has always been one of the elephants in the living room for the GVP community, if only because their calls for ‘sensible’ gun regulations run up against a continuous and long-time effort by the gun industry to promote the ownership of guns based on fear.  It used to be fear of street crime, or what Dana Loesch lovingly refers to as ‘thugs.’  But now the fear is taking on a new dimension because while violent crime has always tended to be a factor of inner-city, ghetto life, violent terrorist attacks are much more targeted at the middle class: a commuter train blows up in Madrid, a luxury hotel is shot apart in Mumbai, in Paris it’s a fancy club.

Advocates for GVP have attempted to counter this linkage between fear, personal safety and gun ownership by producing solid research which shows that CCW not only doesn’t protect the average person from violence of any kind, but actually increases the risk of physical injury because of access to a gun.  The problem with this approach is not that the evidence about gun-risk can’t be found, it’s that evidence of any kind just doesn’t work very well when it is used in an argument created and sustained by emotions, particularly the emotion of fear. I have a very close friend who has 4 weeks of a Florida time-share every January but he gives up an entire week by driving rather than going down and back on a plane.  He has a fear of flying and no matter how many times I tell him that the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1/1000th the odds of smashing up his car, he’s still getting behind the wheel.

What makes it so difficult for us to protect ourselves from terrorism is its irrationality; like the President says, they’re not afraid to die.  Which is the same reason why trying to use a fact-based argument against self-protection with a gun isn’t necessarily a viable strategy in a time of generalized fear.  The GVP community needs to develop solid options for mitigating fear that reflect not just data-based research, but respond to honest emotions provoked by events which we cannot control.  If we are indeed in a War Against Terror, that’s the challenge that lies ahead.