The NRA Goes After Mike Bloomberg Over Soft Drinks.

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Anyone who says that guns aren’t a threat to public health is either consciously lying or doesn’t understand what the words ‘public health’ actually mean. And what those two words mean is anything which might be a community-wide health threat and could be monitored or regulated by public authorities. Which is why the self-appointed as well as paid representatives of Gun-nut Nation have been proclaiming that guns shouldn’t be considered as anything having to do with public health, because the whole point of their strategy is to eliminate all government regulation of guns.

bloomberg              Except now the pro-gun narrative seems to be going beyond a concern about regulating guns to an attack on regulating anything else having to do with threats to health. And what I am referring to is a commentary on the NRA-ILA website which attacks Mike Bloomberg not just for funding an effort in New Mexico to expand NICS background checks, but also for pushing an attempt in Santa Fe, NM, to impose a 2-cent per ounce ‘soda tax’ on sugar-filled beverages, an effort which, along with the background check initiative, ultimately failed.

Now why would the NRA link background checks for gun transfers to whether consumers should pay more for caloric drinks?  Well, for one thing, any time they can dump on Bloomberg they’ll give it try, if only to remind Gun-nut Nation that even with Adolph Trump in the White House, there still are threats to the 2nd Amendment lurking around. But I think there’s something even more insidious going on when the NRA equates the ‘freedom’ to drink high-caloric soda with the ‘freedom’ to own a gun.  Which is exactly what the NRA-ILA statement says: “And make no mistake: he’s just as focused on coming for your guns as he is on coming for your Dr. Pepper.”

Remember a guy named Ronald Reagan?  It was during his Presidency that we first stuck warnings on packs of cigarettes. And then what happened is that we started passing additional taxes on cigarettes to discourage people from starting or continuing to smoke. And we did it because smoking is a serious risk to health.  Which also happens to be true when we talk about high-caloric drinks.  Every day, at least 5 percent of all adults add 567 calories to their food intake by drinking soda and juice with sugar; one in four adults adds at least 200 calories to their daily food intake with sugary drinks. Right now we spend nearly 200 billion a year treating the health conditions caused by obesity and the complications from obesity are probably responsible each year for 300,000 deaths.  We also probably lose 480,000 Americans to smoking every year, but that number has been going down while the obesity number keeps going up.

The amount of money spent by Bloomberg on anti-smoking campaigns around the world has gone above one billion bucks.  When it comes to personal freedom, you don’t hear the NRA or anyone else saying that Bloomberg’s attempt to get more stringent anti-smoking laws is a threat. But that’s because as loony as the NRA’s messaging has become, nobody would take Wayne-o or Chris Cox seriously if they told the membership to demonstrate their support of the 2nd Amendment by buying a pack of cigarettes and enjoying a smoke. But public opinion hasn’t yet come to a consensus on how sugary drinks contribute to the epidemic of excess weight, so the NRA can pretend that regulating soft drinks, like regulating guns, is another example of government overreach into an area of personal choice which should be left alone.

Here’s how the NRA sums it up: “we’ll happily join the residents of Santa Fe in toasting liberty with the soft drink of their choice, whatever its sugar content might be.” And on the way back from the Mini-Mart, why not stop off at your local gun shop and pick up some ammo or even another gun? After all, you can still strap on your Glock even if you can’t fit into your pants.

 

Everytown And Cosmopolitan Get Together And Get It Right!

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What I find to be the most significant change in the gun debate recently is the extent to which the whole issue has become a topic of mainstream conversation. It started with the decision by Hillary to inject gun violence into her Presidential campaign, the very first time that guns became a talking-point in a national political contest, and it has now spread to the mainstream media through such venues as Marie-Claire and now Cosmopolitan magazine.  And what the Cosmo gals have done is partner with Everytown to produce a new project, SingledOut, which gets right to the issue of how and why women think about guns.

everytown logo                Before I get to the Cosmo-Everytown effort, I just want to remind the readers again that Gun Nation has been making a loud and concerted effort recently to promote the idea of women and guns.  There’s no end to NRA videos that now feature women commentators like Home-School Queen Dana Loesch; you can also read an entire report and graphic on the emerging female gun market courtesy of the NSSF.  But a recent survey of 5,000 gun owners, the most comprehensive survey ever published in this field, reveals that 5% of the women who own guns bought one in the past five years!  So much for the idea that women are joining Gun Nation in droves.

The video produced by SingledOut is, to my mind, the best video on the gun debate ever produced.  And it gets right to the point at the beginning when the gunsplaining guy tells the woman he’s hitting on that guns are what protects us from ‘tyranny,’ while he proudly shows her that he’s packing a chest-full of guns.  And the woman, who is active military, responds by telling him that his comment means that soldiers like her might come and take them all away. Beautiful, just beautiful.

Of course Gun Nation wasted no time responding to this new effort, putting out the usual ‘Bloomberg is Enemy Number One’ comment which then found its way to the mélange of pro-gun sites that faithfully reproduce anything that the boys in Fairfax have to say.  But I notice that in all the responses to SingledOut by Gun Nation, the one issue that is studiously avoided is exactly what Gun Nation has been promoting as the most important reason for owning a gun, namely, that guns keep us free.  And if the producers of the SingledOut video wanted to find one, single statement that could be used to illustrate the stupid, condescension of pro-gun noisemakers when it comes to talking about guns, they couldn’t have picked a better comment than what the ‘good guy’ said in the bar to explain what guns mean to him.

Now let’s be honest.  It’s 2016, a Presidential election is looming ahead, and the NRA makes no bones about the fact, 501c3 status notwithstanding, that the organization wants to have an important voice in determining the outcome of state and national electoral events.  And since the Republicans can’t get any more mileage by claiming that Obama wasn’t born in America (which, by the way, may be used by Trump against Cruz), they’ve come up with a new one, namely, that Obama has been shredding the Constitution and thus undermining American freedoms; in other words, under the Democrats, ‘tyranny’ is just one step away.

Let’s get one thing very clear: Republican presidential candidates can defend the 2nd Amendment all they want in front of red-meat audiences on the campaign trail, but asking a majority of Americans to support their pandering to Gun Nation is a very different kettle of fish. And while every word that plops out of Wayne-o’s mouth ends up as unquestioned content on various Gun Nation websites, you can’t tell me that any of those outlets get a fraction of the mainstream audience that Cosmopolitan reaches every month.

 

 

The NBA Takes On The NRA And I’ll Take The Short Odds On The NBA.

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You may recall that before he was appointed Attorney General that Eric Holder gave an interview in which he said that the way to deal with gun violence was to tell kids that guns “weren’t cool.”  That statement a storm of acrimony from the NRA and its various noisemaking minions, all of whom were committed to a strategy that promoted guns to millennials and other non-traditional gun-owning demographics on the basis that they were cool.

spike              Probably the most outrageous attempt to sell this nonsense has been the video antics of an African-American lawyer who calls himself Colion Noir, who has been prancing around on the NRA video channel coming up with all kinds of hip and cool reasons why we should all own and carry guns.  The folks who write his scripts have come up with some kind of concocted blather about using guns for self-defense, but what’s really going on here is an effort by the NRA to capture the hearts and minds of younger minority folks, most of whom don’t appear to be all that interested in guns.

Of course the truth is that Colion Noir and the NRA in general have about as much to do with defining “cool” as the veritable man in the moon.  Most NRA members are older, White men who listen to country music and live in Southern states and smaller, Midwestern towns.  They represent a demographic that’s about as far away from anything hip and cool as could ever be imagined; getting this audience to respond to an inner-city, jive-talking Black dude would be tantamount to bringing back the Miles Davis Quintet to play the weekly barn dance at Grand Old Opry in Tennessee.

Which is why I sat up and really took notice yesterday when a group of NBA players announced that they were joining with Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown to run ads on messages about gun violence that will appear during a series of marquee games that will air on Christmas Day. The ads will feature NBA players like the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Clippers’ Steve Paul, along with testimonies from survivors of shootings and relatives of folks killed by guns.

I knew something was when I noticed that Spike Lee was becoming very visible on the gun violence issue, particularly when he and Al Sharpton announced a gun violence initiative following the premiere of Spike’s new movie, Chi-Raq, which is all about gun violence on Chicago’s South Side.  At that press conference, Spike and the Reverend Al pledged to hold a series of summit meeting in various cities, but you can’t begin to compare the impact of such meetings to the power and force of the ads that will appear on national tv.

These ads represent a level of interest and concern that could be (pardon my pun) a real game-changer when it comes to the national discussion abut guns. Because the people featured on these ads don’t represent cynical politicians scurrying around for votes by lamenting the loss of our ‘freedoms,’ they don’t represent noisemakers for the manufacturers who want to sell guns, and they certainly don’t represent some amateur-hour video huckster who wants you to think he’s a real dude because his skin color happens to be something other than white.

I never thought that gun violence was about race, or poverty, or inner-city life or anything of that sort.  I always thought that gun violence was about one thing and one thing only: guns.  And the remarkable thing about this effort is that every person who appears in these ads says something about guns and what guns have done to their lives and to the lives of people they love and used to love.

I’m going to catch these ads on Christmas because I want the ratings of these games to reflect how I feel about gun violence. And I don’t think it would be a bad idea if someone (hint, hint) would let us all know when future ads will appear.

 

An Open Letter To Professor Alex Gourevitch: Guns Are One Thing, Racism Is Another.

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You recently published a long and detailed commentary on gun control and racism which I have read with interest and care.  Your basic point seems to be that the usual response to mass killings, as reflected in President Obama’s first remarks about Charleston, is to call for stricter gun control laws which you believe will have the ultimate effect of increasing the racism of our criminal justice system while having no real impact on controlling gun violence, particularly mass gun violence.  You assert that there are already too many arrests of minorities, too many racially-motivated defendant pleadings and too many incarcerations, all of which would simply increase if we institute more criminal laws to control gun violence in response to events like the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church.

roof               You also bring to the discussion some comments about research by scholars like Levin, Fagan and others concerning stop-and-frisk policing methods employed by the NYPD whose value in allegedly bringing down gun crimes has been evaluated in both positive and negative terms. Some of this research argues that stop-and-frisk was entirely based on racist assumptions about who might have been walking around with illegal guns, and that this strategy, useful or not, was yet another example of an extra-legal effort to combat gun violence that served only to engender racism between the police and the community whom they are sworn to protect.

I’d like to respond to the second issue first.  It’s true that New York City experienced an unprecedented drop in gun violence first under Rudy and then continuing with Mayor Mike.  And much of this decline is tied to stop-and-frisk policing tactics which is obviously tied to racial profiling which is tied to racism, etc.  But you have to be careful about perhaps pushing this argument too far.  The decline in violent crime and gun crime in particular since the mid-1990s (although the decline largely flattened out after 2000) occurred in virtually every metropolitan center whether a change in policing and police tactics took place or not.  In fact, an entire cottage industry has grown up around figuring out why America and other OECD countries appear to be less violent over the last twenty years. I am not sure that any of the multiple crime-decline theories explain the issue pari passu, but inconvenient or not,  scholars have yet to settle on a single, determining factor when it comes to explaining criminal behavior with guns.

Now let’s move to your central argument, namely, that from the perspective of the inner-city community, more gun control means more criminal laws and, hence, more racism in the legal and penal systems that minority populations disproportionately endure.  Nobody would or should argue that the penal process delivers equal justice to minorities and the poor.  And with all due respect, we really didn’t need Dylann Roof to walk into Emanuel AME Church with a Glock 21 to remind us that racism is still alive and well.  But where I think your argument falters is the assumption that because the President calls for more gun control, there will be more criminal laws that will result in more minorities getting arrested, going up before a judge on some trumped-up charge and then going off to jail.

What is really happening is that laws making it easier for anyone to gain access to a gun, or carrying a gun on their person, or bringing that gun into what was formerly a gun-free zone have increased exponentially, while laws that restrict gun access or restrict ‘gun rights’ are the exception, not the rule.  One year after Sandy Hook, 70 new laws had been passed easing gun restrictions, while only 39 more restrictive measures had been signed into law, half of which concerned updating mental health records, a strategy with minimal impact on controlling the violent use of guns.

We need to defeat racism and we also need to defeat violence caused by guns. But each issue deserves to be challenged on its own terms.

 

Mayor Bloomberg Wants To Indoctrinate The Media But He Can’t Fool The NRA.

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In mid-January the NRA warned its members about an insidious effort by Enemy Numero Uno (Mike Bloomberg) to make yet another attempt to rob Americans of their Constitutional right to gun ownership by sponsoring what they call an “anti-gun indoctrination camp” to teach gullible reporters and other media folks how to research and write about guns.  What Bloomberg’s really trying to do is foist his own ‘discredited’ research on attendees at this conference in yet another effort to distort and cover up the real (i.e., positive) truth about guns.

bloom                What’s really interesting about this two-day workshop to be held in Phoenix this coming May is the degree to which attendees will actually hear from both sides in the gun debate, a significant and I believe first-time coming together of scholars and influencers whose views run the spectrum of how advocates on both sides defend their views on guns.  On the one hand, speaking for what is now known as the gun-sense crowd, we have Garen Wintemute, an ER physician out of California, who has been a thorn in the side of the gun industry since he published studies on the manufacture of small, cheap handguns whose only real use was to arm people who wanted to commit crimes.  At the other end of the spectrum, showing up to push the “guns are good” message, will be Sarah Cupp, whose attacks on Bloomberg and other gun-control ‘threats’ gets her airtime on the usual pro-gun outlets like Fox and the Blaze, as well as crossing over to the other side with appearances on MSNBC.

Standing in the middle will be an economist by training but a gun researcher by vocation named Philip Cook, who has been conducting important and valid research on the social utility of guns for more than forty years.  In general, Cook’s work has focused on the economic costs of gun violence and his conclusions in these studies, as well as other work on gun violence, leaves no doubt as to where he stands; i.e., he’s no friend of the folks who claim that Americans need to own more guns.  But this past year Cook and his colleague, Kristin Goss, published a balanced and reasoned summary of the gun debate, and while they didn’t attempt to hide their own concerns about the proliferation of guns in American society, they also found good reasons why many Americans don’t want to give up their guns.

The fact that the NRA should attempt to malign a public conference whose speaker’s list contains one of their most ardent supporters shows you how unwilling or unable they have become when it comes to listening to any voice other than their own.  But a quick look at some of the information that has lately appeared on their own website makes me think that perhaps the NRA  research and editorial staff might benefit from attending a conference where they might learn how to understand and explain facts.

I am referring to a story that just appeared on the NRA-ILA website attacking Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by Gabby Giffords, for what the NRA says is a ‘bogus’ claim that the number of people who die from gunshots each year equals the number of people killed in accidents involving cars. The story is bogus, according to the NRA, because the number of people who die from shootings that are ruled as accidents are a tiny fraction of the number of dead people pulled from vehicular wrecks.  But of course that’s not the point of the ARS story at all, unless perhaps we should figure out and compare gun deaths to the number of car accidents in which a driver actually tried to kill someone else using his car.

That Bloomberg is asking professional media folks to come together and listen to both sides of the gun debate is a refreshing and important event.  Refreshing because it hasn’t happened previously, important because public policy is only successful when it reflects every valid point of view.  I hope the conference is a great success.

 

What Does I-594 Mean Going Forward? It Means Trouble For The NRA

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As expected, in Washington I-594 won and I-591 lost.  The margins of victory and defeat were about equal, which meant that, at least in this state, voters know how to read because the way the two propositions were worded, a ‘yes’ vote on both would have effectively cancelled them out. But proponents of gun safety were smart enough to see through the cynical ploy by Alan Gottlieb, who uses a non-profit called the 2nd Amendment Foundation to disguise what is a very successful right-wing direct mail operation and he put- 591 on the ballot because he knew that I-594 was going to pass.

Basically, I-594 makes Washington the sixth state to restrict all gun transactions to NICS checks.  This closes what has always been considered a major loophole in the effort to keep guns out of the “wrong hands” because in those states where all gun transfers must go through NICS, a person with a criminal record or other disqualifying issue would not be able to get a gun no matter when or where the gun became available, as opposed to the current system in which individuals who do not meet legal qualifications for gun ownership can only be denied gun ownership at the initial point of sale.

nics                The NRA has steadfastly rejected an expansion of background checks because, they claim, it targets law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent crime.  Imagine, says the NRA, “if your mother had a prowler at her home, having to do a background check on your own Mom before you could give her one of your guns for protection.”  Now I can’t figure out how someone’s going to get a gun to dear old Mom when the prowler is already in her home, but that’s hardly the only thing the NRA says about armed defense that I can’t figure out.  Without a shred of evidence-based data they have been tirelessly promoting the idea that an armed America is a safer America for the last twenty years, but why let facts stand in the way of a good marketing campaign, right?

The good news is that the voters in Washington didn’t buy this nonsense and, the last time I looked, were approving I-594 by a margin of nearly 20 points.  Taking this issue directly to the voters was a smart move for the issue’s supporters, first of all because they knew that the NRA would bottle up such a bill in the Legislature, but second of all because universal background checks appear to have wide popular support.  Even groups that generally support the NRA, such as Republican men, appear to favor NICS checks on most, if not all gun transactions, and ballot initiatives are a clever way to turn such grass-roots support into laws.

If gun safety advocates use the experience in Washington as a template and begin moving ballot initiatives for background checks into other states, they will not only negate the lobbying power of the NRA at the legislative level, but can use the financial resources of their chief supporters to equalize or overcome the monies that the NRA doles out for political campaigns. In the I-594 contest the supporters spent nearly $8 million to gain what will probably be somewhere above 1 million votes, the measure’s opponents spent slightly under half a million and vote-wise fell far short.  Bloomberg kicked in $2.3 million, the Microsoft boys – Gates & Ballmer – threw in another $1.6 million and Paul Allen added half a mil. Gates, Ballmer and Allen are all residents of Washington, but if Mayor Mike decided to move his funding cavalcade to another state he’d no doubt dig up a few wealthy friends to help foot the bill.

Don’t get me wrong.  You could fund a citizen’s initiative on background checks in Alabama with a gazillion dollars and it would probably fail.  But the first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2004.  Now the list is up to 32…

Can Bloomberg Win A Big One In Washington State?

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Everyone on both sides of the gun debate will be watching the vote in Washington State on I-594, which would expand background checks to nearly all private transfers of guns.  Like most states, Washington does not require a background check for transfers between individuals, only transfers conducted by federally-licensed dealers tied into the FBI-NICS system.  The issue has become an early test of the strength of Mike Bloomberg’s recently-announced strategy to promote gun-control initiatives at the state, rather than the federal level.  Hence, media interest has been intense.

As part of the pre-election game plan, Bloomberg’s group Everytown just rolled out a new report, “Online and Off the Record,” which documents the ability of disqualified individuals to circumvent background checks by purchasing guns listed for private sale on websites like www.armslist.com.  Armslist is kind of like a Craigslist for gun sales (Craigslist doesn’t permit sales of firearms) and its ads distinguish between sellers who are licensed dealers as opposed to private individuals just wanting to get rid of some guns.  Since private transfers in Washington State do not require approval from the NICS system, this means that any gun sold privately on this and other website might potentially wind up in the wrong hands.

bloom                The report argues that as many as 4,500 guns are purchased each year by individuals who would not be able to acquire a weapon if they had to submit to a background check.  The report then details an example in which an individual convicted of multiple felonies, including domestic violence assault and assault and battery of a police officer, posted a message on Armslist stating that he wanted to buy a certain kind of gun.  Although it was not possible to determine whether this particular person proceeded to acquire a weapon, there was nothing that would have necessarily prevented him from making contact with a seller and getting his hands on a gun.

This is hardly the first time that Bloomberg’s folks have issued a report showing the connection between gun violence and unregulated gun transfers.  In 2010 the Mayor’s Group issued “Trace The Guns” which showed the alarming number of guns originally purchased in southern states that ended up in northern cities like New York.  This report not only focused attention on the interstate movement of unregulated guns, but also heightened concerns about “straw sales” in which a qualified buyer would purchase guns from a dealer, pass a background check but then give or sell the guns to someone else.  To the extent that I-594 in Washington embodies legal constraints on private gun transactions of all kinds, this effort could become something of a template for extending state-level gun controls into other states as well.

Ironically, the vote is not only a test of Bloomberg’s strategy, but also puts him up against one of the gun lobby’s chief supporters, Alan Gottlieb, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is headquartered in Bellevue, WA from where he organizes and directs mail-order campaigns, lawsuits and other activities to spread the gospel of the gun.  To counter I-594, Gottlieb filed his own ballot initiative, I-591, which prohibits any expansion of background checks in Washington unless a national expansion takes place which the state would be required to join.

I don’t necessarily see a connection between what gun-control activists really hope to achieve and the expansion of background checks to cover all private transactions of guns.  Why bother expanding background checks to rifles and shotguns when they are rarely used in acts of violence or other types of crimes?  Know what you get by requiring long gun transfers through NICS?  A bunch of pissed-off rifle and shotgun owners who might otherwise support background checks where it really counts; i.e., keeping handguns out of the wrong hands.

 

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