All Of A Sudden, Talking Nicely About Gun Violence Is ‘In.’

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If Alex Jones was really the conspiracy expert which he claims to be, instead of just huckstering to the crowd that believes the aliens landed in Area 51, he would take a look at the way in which Gun-nut Nation develops and puts out its messaging, because he would discover that it starts and ends at the same place.  And that place happens to be the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where Donald ‘I could shoot someone in the street’ Trump is trying to change his tune on violence and guns.

nugent             I said last week that Trump’s muted and respectful response to the shooting of Steve Scalise and others represented an awareness that his dwindling base doesn’t provide enough traction to get his political agenda through Congress, never mind keep him from getting burned by Russiagate.  And his foolish attempt to promote himself by posting a tweet about a Rasmussen 50% score, a poll result which went south the very next day, can’t hide the fact that unless he starts appealing to folks outside of his crazy base, he’s all done.

So now it’s almost a week since the ‘good guys’ with guns in Alexandria turned out to be cops instead of civilians, but that didn’t stop John Lott from going on a right-wing noise-making radio show and saying how important it was to have people with guns on the scene. And it really doesn’t matter whether those guns belong to cops who may actually be trained to use lethal defense, or belong to civilians who aren’t required to undergo any training at all.  And if the gun is in the hands of a ‘good guy,’ then everything’s going to be okay. I know, it’s as dumb as you can get.

But when it comes to real dumbness, this week’s award has to go to none other than Ted Nugent, who figured out how to prolong his career by creating a new standard for saying dumb and stupid things about violence and guns. And I don’t mean a high standard because here’s a guy who’s so friggin’ dumb that he posted pictures of gun-control politicians on his Facebook page, all of whom happened to be Jewish, adorned each pic with an Israeli flag, and then claimed he didn’t ‘know’ that something so tasteless would be taken as an anti-Semitic slur.

Anyway, this jackass has now publicly disowned every hateful and nasty remark he ever made, and has promised to tone down his remarks, become ‘more respectful to the other side,’ and if “it gets fiery, if it gets hateful, I’m going away.” What? The man who told Obama to suck his you-know-what is pulling back from the rhetorical venom which Trump imitated again and again during the 2016 campaign?

This can only be happening because the alt-right has realized that since they now own the White House, that their brand of hate won’t sell.  Oh, it will still sell to the ‘make America great again’ crowd that will line up at Trump rallies and buy the hats and other overpriced paraphernalia which generates revenues for the Trump Organization bottom line. But that’s not going to work with the rest of us, and it’s the rest of us who will ultimately determine whether Trump keeps his job or not.

So now we have a report that Chris Collins (R-NY) whose announcement that he will always go around with his gun marks him as one of the dopiest schmucks in the U. S. House, is now crafting a bill to protect lawmakers from getting shot, and he’s doing it with help from the NRA. Perfect, just perfect. The NRA, which wants no restrictions of any kind on concealed-carry, is going to help write legislation that will make it easier for jerks like Rep. Collins to walk around DC with a gun. But this is a ‘responsible’ way to react to a mass shooting, right? And ‘responsible’ is now what Donald Trump is all about.

A Perfect Opportunity To Blame Gun Violence On The Left.

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In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s shooting in Alexandria, VA, there was shock, concern and a rather dignified tone to the public reactions, up to and including the rather out-of-character remarks of the Commander in Chief. After all, here was ‘I could shoot someone down in the street’ Trump saying only that his thoughts and prayers went out to the victims, with Rand Paul thanking the Almighty for the presence of the police even though in his heart of hearts I’m sure he would have preferred if all the Members and their staffs had been armed.

newt2             But give it 24 hours, actually it took less time, and this event becomes just another chance to promote a political narrative which will end up pushing the idea that we all should be walking around with guns.  And who started the ball rolling this time? None other than Newt Gingrich who because he briefly served as Speaker of the House and has then been kept politically alive thanks to the graces of Fox News, is able to shoot his mouth off about anything and everything whenever the occasion might arise.  Here he was last night on a Fox roundtable, saying that the shooting was “part of a pattern, you’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the Left.” He then went on to say, “You’ve had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it’s OK to hate Trump, it’s OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it’s OK to consider assassinating Trump.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle.  Given a Presidential campaign in which one candidate not only energized his audiences with frequent appeals to using violence, but even hinted that his opponent might find herself in the crosshairs of someone who wanted to protect their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ it’s amazing how a blowhard like Gingrich could take the argument used by the alt-right to condemn gun violence and stand it on its head.  And what I’m referring to here is the unequivocal assertion made by every pro-gun and alt-right noisemaker that all mass shootings are the work of ‘nuts, or ‘crazies,’ whose access to lethal weapons should in no way prevent all law-abiding Americans from getting their hands on guns.

Now, for the first time, Gun-nut Nation is changing its tune and blaming this latest episode not on a loony tunes, but on the same people who want to take away the guns, namely, the political elites who openly despise the attempts by #45 to make America great. What we have here is a remarkable argument which justifies the use of guns to ‘protect’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but deplores gun violence when the guns are used to attack people like Steve Scalise who have been in the forefront of the gun ‘rights’ campaign.

But why should I be surprised when mass or high-profile shootings become the stuff with which political narratives are then made?  Our good friend Shaun Dakin just shared with me and others a piece in Esquire where the writer states that “Historically, mass shootings have been used as political opportunities,” and then goes on to mention how the NRA used both Sandy Hook and the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords to promote fewer restrictions on guns. He concludes by saying that, “the NRA politicizes collective grief to advance its narrative to the benefit of those who would commit acts of violence.”

Excuse me but didn’t Obama tried as hard as he could to get a new gun law passed after the rampage at Sandy Hook? And wasn’t it a Republican-controlled House Committee that cancelled a hearing yesterday on a bill that would make it easier for Americans to put silencers on their guns?

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to gun violence, I’m not excusing the NRA or the alt-right (which is my name for the GOP) for appealing to emotions over facts. But the argument over gun violence shouldn’t turn on emotions either way – we just have too many guns.

How Come Trump Is Being So Polite About The Shooting Of Steve Scalise?

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For the very first time since he was inaugurated, Trump’s negatives in the Gallup tracking poll have hit 60 percent and positives are on the way to one-third. No President since Truman has hit such lousy numbers in such a brief period of time, and if there’s one thing that all politicians know how to read, it’s the numbers in the polls.

trump5             Not that Trump seems inclined to depart from his belligerent, showboating stance.  His twitter feed continues to be used as a combination ego-boosting vehicle and insult machine.  Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting which turned into a prayer service was shameless pandering to what remains of his base, and his obsessive effort to promote alt-right media venues as ‘real news’ just demonstrates how true media professionals can’t find anything substantive to report about him at all.

But his reaction and the reaction of other Republican stalwarts to the unfortunate shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and staff members during the warmup for a Congressional baseball game at a ballfield in Alexandria, VA, across the river from DC. Details are still somewhat sketchy, but it appears that some guy opened fire with a rifle, discharged multiple rounds, and wounded Scalise, several Congressional staff members and two law enforcement officers as well.

Scalise is the Majority Whip of the House, represents the 1st C.D. in Louisiana and is considered a staunch conservative when it comes to voting and promoting issues on Capitol Hill. Not surprisingly, he refers to himself as a ‘strong’ supporter of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’  and in that regard submitted a bill in 2012 – HR58 – which would allow  residents from one state to journey to any other state in order to buy guns.  This bill, if enacted, would undo the fundamental foundation of all federal gun-control regulations since 1938, which requires that guns be purchased in the state of residence in order to track the movement of firearms from place to place. It goes without saying that Scalise gets a top rating from the NRA.

Within minutes after the shooting, a former Congressional colleague of Scalise went online and tweeted: “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police- public servants and heroes today and every day.” This was Gaby Giffords,and when it comes to being the victim of gunfire, Gabby knows what she’s talking about, right?  But at exactly the same moment, another tweet came down from someone who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, particularly when it comes to talking about guns.  Here’s the full tweet from the ‘real’ Donald Trump: “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”

Hey – wait a minute!  How come the President didn’t use the opportunity to push the idea that civilians should be walking around with guns?  How come we haven’t heard anything from the usual, pro-gun noisemakers like John Lott about whether the ballfield was or wasn’t a gun-free zone?  Senator Rand Paul, who has been an adamant supporter of gun rights, was just about to take some batting practice when the shooting started, and he later said, “I do believe that without the Capitol Hill police, it would have been a massacre,” he said. “We had no defense at all.”

When a guy walked into the Pulse nightclub in Florida with an assault rifle and murdered 49 people last June, pro-gun advocates, including the not-yet-elected President couldn’t wait to blame the whole thing on the fact that nobody inside the club was carrying a gun.  But all of a sudden, when it comes to how an armed citizen could have stopped the carnage this morning on a ballfield in Alexandria, stillness reigns supreme. And something tells me that part of that stillness is due to those poll numbers which, if nothing else, demonstrate that all of Trump’s pro-gun bluster isn’t paying off at all.

The Worst Gun Salesman Of All Time Coming To The NRA.

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When Obama was President, the pro-gun gang used to jokingly refer to him as the best ‘salesman’ they ever had. But there was lots of truth to that statement, particularly after the massacre at Sandy Hook, when Barack tried to get Congress to expand background checks to secondary gun transfers, a remarkably mild response to gun violence which nevertheless still failed. Meanwhile, in the final four years of his ‘regime,’ the gun industry may have pushed as many as 90 million additional guns into the civilian arsenal, two to three times as many guns as were made and sold during the eight years of George W. Bush.

trump5               Since the NRA’s pet President took over, however, things have changed, and not for the better. Since the beginning of this year, gun sales are back down to their pre-Obama levels, and nobody expects things to turn around all that quick. Let’s face it: for all the talk and hogwash about everyone walking around with a gun, what always drives gun sales is the possibility that the last gun you bought might be the last one you could ever buy.

Back last October at the end of one of my classes on handgun safety, a woman who took the class told me that she was very happy to have come to the class because she was afraid that Hillary would win the election and then she wouldn’t even be able to apply for a gun license, never mind actually buy a gun. How did such a crazy idea get into her head? Don’t ask me, ask my friends in Fairfax, because they spent $30 million last year trying to convince voters of exactly the same thing.

I think that Everytown, Brady and the Violence Policy Center should create an award for the person who has done the most to reduce gun violence, announce a big, public event, and give the award to Donald Trump. Because no matter how you slice it and dice it, there’s a direct and clear connection between the amount of gun violence that we endure and the ease with which Americans can get their hands on guns. Now I’m not saying that legal gun owners go around shooting up their neighborhoods each and every day. What I am saying is that with all due respect to the 2nd Amendment, which is a nonsense excuse for the 120,000+ gun deaths and injuries which occurs every year, the bottom line is that gun violence would come to an end if we got rid of the guns.

And by the way, not only is Trump the reason for a drop in the number of guns floating around, he also may be responsible for a disappearance of the most horrific form of gun violence, namely, those gun-violence events like Sandy Hook which result in ten, twenty, thirty or more people getting murdered with guns at the same time and at the same place.

These events aren’t just ‘mass’ shootings, which the FBI defines as three or more people killed at one place all at the same time, they are rampage shootings, where someone just keeps pulling the trigger again and again until everyone around him is either wounded or dead.

I was looking at a list of what NPR calls the ‘deadliest’ shootings in U.S. history, and I noticed there have been 15 such events since Chuckie Whitman climbed to the top of the Texas Tower in 1966 and started blasting away. Of those 15 events, which together netted almost 300 dead and another 350 injured, nine of them occurred in just eight years of that fifty-year span – the eight years between 2009 and 2017. 

Can it just be coincidence that two-thirds of the most horrific shootings in American history took place when we had a President who was venomously and hatefully accused of being anti-gun? Let’s give Trump-o a year or so in office and maybe we’ll find out.

The Myth Of The ‘Sensible Gun Owner.

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In 1890 the U.S. Census declared that wilderness no longer existed in the continental United States. And this announcement provoked the first, public debate in this country between the fledgling conservationist-naturalist movement on the one hand, and the proponents of unrestrained, economic growth on the other.  This debate continues in the present day except now it has taken on a global perspective known as Global Warming, but the two sides – conservation versus development – haven’t really changed their respective positions at all.  And the reason the debate is so rancorous and unending is that neither side seems willing to engage in an effort to find some kind of compromise middle ground which will allow us to preserve part of what is still natural while, at the same time, giving economic development incentives to spread.

heston            This same profile – two sides unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle and compromise over basic goals – exists in the argument over guns and, more specifically, the argument over violence caused by guns.  On the one hand we have seen a recent growth in the size and activity of groups and organizations dedicated to reducing gun violence; on the other we have an entrenched and well-organized pro-gun community which denies that guns are responsible for any violence at all.  Or if there is a bit of violence that results from someone using a gun in an inappropriate way (Sandy Hook, Pulse, et. al.,) it’s a price we need to pay because of the value of gun ownership in terms of history, tradition, freedom, sport and most of all, self-defense.

But what about all those surveys which show that a whopping super-majority of Americans and even a substantial majority of gun owners support the idea of ‘sensible’ restrictions on guns?  The latest polls disclose a near-90% positive response to the question of whether background checks should be conducted on all transfers of guns and even four out of fine gun owners, according to the recent surveys, also endorse this particular form of ‘sensible’ restrictions on ownership of guns. So if just about everyone agrees that a ‘sensible’ strategy like universal background checks is a good thing, how come all these sensible folks, particularly gun-owning sensible folks, don’t show up to vote for expanded background checks whenever the issue appears on a state-level ballot or is the subject of a debate on Capitol Hill?  Yes, California passed a law mandating background checks for ammo purchases, but a ballot initiative in Maine to extend background checks on gun transfers failed.

So where are all these ‘sensible’ gun owners that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community will tell you really exist?  The truth is that their existence is more apparent than real.  And the reason it’s more apparent is because not one of those surveys which keeps discovering the existence of all those sensible gun owners ever asks the crucial follow-up question which is: Do you support the NRA?  Because if the polls did ask that question I guarantee you that the same four out of five gun owners who say they are in favor of expanded background checks would also state that they support America’s ‘oldest’ civil-rights organization, whether they are NRA members or not.

And guess what?  Back in August the NRA announced unequivocally and without reservation of any kind the organization’s total and unalterable opposition to expanding background checks, “because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration.” And that’s that.

If one were to go back and ask all those ‘sensible’ gun owners whether they agreed with the NRA’s stance on background checks they would probably say ‘no.’  But if you were to then ask them whether this disagreement would make them withdraw their support for the NRA they would stare at you in shock and reply, “Who’s going to support my right to own a gun? And that last statement is the reason why the notion of the ‘sensible’ gun owner is a myth.

Sorry, But None Of The Arguments About Why We Need Guns Work For Me.

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One of the true champions in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community is my friend Donna-Dees Thomases, whose Million Moms March in Washington on Mother’s Day, 2000, was a signal event in the growth and significance of GVP.  Donna wrote a book about her experience which is certainly worth a read, and she remains a committed and energetic persona (God – where does she get that energy?) to this day. She and I were recently going back and forth because I was telling her that I was unlikely to show up at a public event where I had been asked to debate someone from the ‘other side.’  And she quickly replied, and then gave me permission to quote: “I refuse to debate the other side.”

rampage           And the more I think about her comment, the better I feel about not getting involved in a ‘guns are good, guns are bad’ discussion with anyone from Gun-nut Nation, because the moment that you let someone tell an audience why they believe that everyone should carry a gun, or why the 2nd Amendment is a fundamental civil right, or why gun ownership is part and parcel of the American dream, you are basically admitting that such arguments deserve to be heard.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by the brilliant economist Paul Baran, shortly before his death in 1964. He told us about a time in Germany in 1934 when he refused to debate a student who would later become a high-level functionary for the SS.  The way Baran put it, “a meaningful discussion of human affairs can only be conducted with humans; one wastes one’s time talking to beasts about matters related to people.” Which is how I feel when Gun-nut Nation trots out one of it noted authorities to argue in favor of gun violence because guns are what protect us and keep us free.

The reason that such arguments in fact promote gun violence is because guns were designed and manufactured to be instruments of violence, no matter how justified you want that violence to be.  And the fact that our society has decided that these weapons of war can be kept in every household, whether or not any member of that household is being called up to fight in a war doesn’t change the essential nature of these weapons at all.  Sure, guns can be used for hunting, sport or just for plain old fun.  That’s why I keep 50 or 60 of them around and fool around with a couple of them every day. But investing gun ownership in some of cultural charisma based on a pack of lies about how we need them for self-defense is to allow a discussion about human affairs to be shared with beasts.  Sorry, it doesn’t work for me.

If you think I’m being harsh and unyielding in my comments about people who promote gun violence, you might want to read a new book, Rampage Nation, whose author, Louis Klarevas, spent a year collecting and studying data about mass shootings that have occurred in the United States over the past 50 years. I have some quibbles with Professor Klarevas about some of the methodology he employs as well as his views on what he believes might reduce gun violence, particularly mass shooting violence, in the years ahead. But notwithstanding my slight hesitations about accepting everything he says, the bottom line is that when you finish reading this book, the most sacred arguments used by Gun -nut Nation to promote gun violence vanish into thin air.

Gun-free zones do not attract shooters.  Gun-toting civilians do not prevent crime. The data is solid, the analysis is convincing, the only problem is that this book won’t change the minds of Gun-nut Nation advocates, because to quote Paul Baran, such people aren’t interested in human affairs. But the good news is that people like Donna Dees-Thomases will use what Louis Klarevas says to recruit more people to GVP.  And that’s a good thing, it really is.

How Many Victims Of Gun Violence? A Lot More Than You Think.

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Now that we are getting down to crunch time, stories are beginning to appear about how HRC is beginning to look beyond the election and starting to plan how things will work once she gets down to work. So without giving November 8th the evil eye, maybe it’s time for Gun-sense Nation to start thinking along the same lines.  Because if she wins, and if the Senate turns blue, and if enough red seats in the House turn various shades of purple, a real, honest-to-goodness gun bill will wind up on her desk.

pulse            But in order to craft a good bill, the first thing we need to do is define the problem.  And the problem is very simple: too many people get injured with guns. More than 30,000 of these injuries each year are fatal, another 75,000 or so result in serious wounds.  Most of the injuries are intentional, some are accidents, but according to the CDC, the exact figure in 2014 was 114,633.

So if Gun-sense Nation wants to get behind a strategy that will, it is hoped, reduce gun violence, then we need to start with this benchmark figure in order to evaluate whether a new set of regulations will have much effect.  But using a figure like 115,000 gun injuries a year is actually a number that is much lower than the actual injuries caused by guns.  Which doesn’t have to do with the way we count injuries; rather, it reflects the way we define injuries, regardless of whether they are caused by guns or anything else.

When we talk about gun violence, what we really are talking about is violence of a particular type, namely, violence caused by a gun.  But what is violence in and of itself?  I think the best, most comprehensive definition is given by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says that violence is: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”  Note that violence, according to the WHO, goes far beyond the physical injuries sustained when someone is shot with a gun. Because every time that someone is hit by a bullet, someone else sees them lying, bleeding in the street or within their home, someone sticks the victim in a car and drives like crazy towards the ER, and someone is standing there as the trauma surgeon comes out shaking his head.

Would it be wrong to assume that for every one of the 115,000 people who are physically injured with a gun each year that another several hundred thousand are psychologically traumatized and emotionally damaged even though the bullet entered the body of someone else?  And if you think that the psychological impact of seeing one person bleeding to death is horrendous, imagine if you end up witnessing a mass shooting, such as at Aurora, Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook. In 1991, George Hennard drove his truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, shot and killed 23 people, wounded another 27 and then shot himself to death. In the aftermath, a health team interviewed 136 people who were on the scene during the shooting or arrived after it began. Nearly one-third of them had to be treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)  I thought that PTSD was a hazard of military deployment, not something that might break out in a cozy little town like Killeen.

So the bottom line is that we are making a mistake if our benchmark for evaluating how new gun regulations might reduce gun violence is determined by counting only the number of people who get shot. The truth is we don’t have any way of counting the number of people who witness gun violence and suffer extreme emotional pain. And they often bear scars that are just as deep as any physical wound made by a gun.

 

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