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

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.


A Gala Event For A Good Cause: Brady Honors The Million Mom March.

Want to cough up some bucks for a worthy cause and spend an evening at one of America’s top hotels?  The folks at the Brady Center are kicking off this year’s ASK campaign with a gala banquet and fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, at which time they will honor Donna Dees-Thomases who organized the Million Mom March on Washington, DC.  Her efforts brought three-quarters of a million people into the nation’s capital on June 5, 2000, and marked the beginning of  grass-roots campaigns to promote gun safety, gun safety laws and more discussion about gun violence, in particular, the impact of gun violence on kids.

donna                When the march was announced, the pro-gun gang swung into action, immediately launching their own campaign to convince everyone that they were first and foremost concerned about safe guns.  A group called Second Amendment Sisters sprang up, held a small counter-demonstration on the Mall, and Wayne LaPierre went on television to announce a million-dollar safety fund that the NRA would use to promote a gun safety program in the nation’s schools.

The ASK campaign is important for three reasons.  First, it’s a public health issue, and the NRA has gone out of its way to demonize pediatricians because the American Academy of Pediatrics had the audacity to suggest that guns were a risk to children’s health.  Rather than taking the halfway step of proposing that guns should be locked up or locked away, the AAP went so far in 1992 as to tell parents that they shouldn’t have guns around at all. This was the time when the NRA was girding up for battle against the Clinton gun-control schemes, so taking on the anti-gun pediatricians was fair game.  But pediatricians aren’t going to pretend that injuries from guns are a private affair. After all, there’s really no difference between locking up a gun and locking a kid into the seat of a car.

donna2                The second reason that ASK is important is because it came out of the Million Mom March, and the march is a significant milestone in the development of grass-roots concerns about guns.  The gun-sense side bemoans the fact that the NRA has been in business for nearly 150 years, whereas the folks who want more sensible gun regulations have only been really active for less than three decades.  But the fact is that the NRA wasn’t all hot and bothered about legal or political threats to their existence until thirty years ago; even when the feds got into gun control in a big way in 1968 the NRA hardly made a peep. It’s true that the NRA has become a major player when it comes to political influence on Capitol Hill.  But it doesn’t take a century to build a serious and sustained campaign either for or against guns.

Finally, the third and most important reason to support ASK is the fact that every industry – guns, cars, communications to name a few, wants to make the product safety argument on its own terms. Most gun makers, car makers, or whatever makers, think first about sales and profits, with safety coming in a distant third, or fourth, or fifth.  In 2009 Toyota recalled almost five million vehicles after claiming they couldn’t find anything wrong with the brakes.  It turned out to be a problem with floor mats, not brakes, but either way, consumers weren’t going to accept the company’s word on whether their vehicles were safe.

I think it’s a very healthy thing for the gun industry to share discussions about safe use of guns even with people who aren’t particularly fond of guns.  The ASK campaign recognizes a simple truth, namely, that parents should talk to other parents about children having access to guns. Children are naturally curious. If you tell a child not to touch something they will grab it as quickly as they can.  But if a parent tells another parent to put away the guns, then there’s nothing for the kids to grab. Period.