Let’s Hear It For Shannon Watts And All Those Moms!

This is the 1,000th column posted on this website and I can’t think of a better topic for this special space.   

The day after the Sandy Hook massacre, a stay-at-home mom and corporate media expert sat down at her kitchen table in Indianapolis and sent out a message on her Facebook page asking people to join a group that would begin promoting a ‘common sense’ message about guns. What Shannon Watts meant then and still means now when she talks about common sense is the idea that there is simply no reason why anyone, gun owner or otherwise, should find it difficult to accept the idea that guns should never be used to hurt yourself or anyone else.

moms2             Shannon’s Facebook page quickly became Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the purpose of this column is to give Shannon and her whole gang a loud shout-out for what they have accomplished over the last five years. And before any of the gun trolls who monitor my writing come back with the usual crap and nonsense about how Shannon would be ‘nothing’ without Bloomberg’s big bucks, what she and her organization have accomplished since 2012 goes far beyond anything having to do with the fact that Mike helps to foot the bill.

What makes Shannon’s effort so remarkable and so important is not because she agreed to merge her group with Bloomberg’s Everytown organization back in 2014. Money can certainly make life easier but if you don’t spend it in a way that brings results, it wouldn’t really matter how much dough comes. And it’s not as if there was really any precedent for building the kind of organization that Shannon has put together and now actively promotes its agenda in every one of the 50 states. When it comes to grass-roots messaging and organizational activity, until Shannon began her effort, the entire public discussion about guns beyond the Beltway was basically owned by my friends in Fairfax, a.k.a. the NRA.

Why shouldn’t the NRA be a formidable public relations machine for promoting guns?  After all, they have been around since right after the Civil War, which is longer than any other organization which promotes any kind of consumer item; hell, the American Automobile Association wasn’t founded until 1902. So when messages from Moms Demand Action began to appear on the internet and women with those red tee-shirts began parading around in front of Wal Mart and the local supermarket or Target stores, all of a sudden a two-sided playing field began to take shape.

A little more than five years since Shannon sat down and started blazing away, Moms now has chapters in all 50 states, and these groups aren’t just an email list or some other digital venue for talking back and forth.  Over the coming year, the organization will hold hundreds of public events, and if you want to get an idea of what they did on 2017, you can download and read a very impressive report right here.

Giving Moms a big high-five is not meant in any way to slight the efforts of other gun violence prevention (GVP) groups; I’m always willing and able to help spread the word whenever some folks get together to promote common-sense strategies about guns. But what makes Shannon’s effort so important is her understanding that with all due respect to the importance of laws, public policies and all the rest, making a real difference in terms of gun violence is a cultural issue above all. Forget all the data, all the studies, all the facts, people make up or change their minds when they talk about something to someone else.

Next time you go past a public space where some women are wearing those Moms Demand Action shirts, stop for a moment and notice how they engage other folks who just happen to be walking by. A brief conversation here, a comment or two there, funny how those conversations add up and help pave the way for needed change.

And let’s not forget that with all due respect to Mike and his gezillions, Shannon and the ladies could always use some spare change.

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We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Training To Carry A Gun. No Stinkin’ Brains, Either.

This week the ‘show me’ state, a.k.a. Missouri, found itself embroiled in a major debate over gun violence because a bill known as SB 656 was sitting on Governor Jay Nixon’s desk awaiting his signature.  What the bill got was a veto, and while this immediately provoked calls for an attempted override, right now thanks to the Moms Missouri chapter, efforts by Gun-nut Nation to introduce ‘Constitutional carry’ into Missouri may be dead.

moms           Not that the NRA won’t try to explain Governor Nixon’s behavior as just another example of how out-of-state money (read: Bloomberg) surged into Missouri to help defeat what otherwise would have been a sensible effort to give the state’s citizens a little help in defending themselves against terrorism and crime. In fact, the NRA immediately issued a statement after Nixon’s veto, stating that “if events in Orlando and San Bernardino have taught us anything it’s that the need for self-protection can occur anywhere at any time.”

But the Governor’s refusal to sign the bill had nothing to do with making a pro or con judgement about the right to self-defense.  The real issue in this instance had to do with whether or not people who want to go around armed can prove that they possess even the slightest ability to defend themselves or others with a gun.

There’s a Youtube character named Yankee Marshal who shoots his mouth off about various gun issues and he’s an entertaining sort of fellow if you like to be entertained on a third or fourth-grade level, and he’s put out a video in which he claims that training to use a gun is a waste of time: “I think that most people with common sense and average intelligence can figure out how to safely operate a firearm.”  And he then goes on to say that if you want to carry a gun, you should also be able to exercise that ‘right’ without getting any training at all.

Which brings us back to the 2008 Heller decision that defined the 2nd Amendment – clearly and explicitly – as a Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a loaded handgun in the home for personal defense.  Not in the street, not in a holster or fanny pak as you walk around – in the privacy of your home. And what Heller unleashed was a torrent of nonsense from Gun-nut Nation, Yankee Marshal to Donald Trump, that everyone also has the ‘right’ to walk around with a gun.

Now the good news is that the judiciary hasn’t seen it that way.  We have the Peruta decision in California which upheld the ‘right’ not of the gun owner but of the county government to decide whether or not someone who owned a gun could also carry it outside his home. And back in 2014 the Supreme Court with Antonin Scalia alive and still well refused to review a New Jersey decision which basically said the same thing.

But those decisions haven’t stopped a growing movement known as ‘Constitutional carry’ which basically says that anyone who is qualified to own a gun is, ipso facto, entitled to carry it around not just within their home, but any place they damn well please.  There are now 10 states that do not require any special licensing to carry a gun outside the home, and Missouri would have been the 11th had Jay Nixon not shown some common sense and political backbone by vetoing the bill.

I would love to see whether idiots like Yankee Marshal or Donald Trump, for that matter, could actually pull a gun out of their pants and hit the broad side of a barn. The Police Foundation estimates that half the active law enforcement officers can’t do it, but why should we impose gun training requirements on civilians that we don’t even require for cops?

OK Moms.  You know what you have to do. Won a big one in Missouri but make sure it sticks.

 

Sorry, But The NRA’s Notion Of Gun Safety Just Doesn’t Work.

One of the big changes in the gun debate is the degree to which advocacy organizations like Moms Demand Action and Brady have started moving into the safety space.  Shannon et les filles have launched a program called Be Smart, Brady wants to cut gun deaths in half by 2025 with their ASK campaign, suddenly a field that the NRA and the NSSF had all to themselves has attracted a new and vigorous group of gun safety campaigners who have the money and the experience to make their views count.

But if Moms and Brady are going to level the safety playing field, I think they need to really understand what the current gun safety problem is all about.  Because both groups seem to be looking at gun safety in a way not much different from how gun safety has been defined and taught by the NRA, and I happen to think that the NRA  approach ducks the biggest safety problem of all.

safety                Shannon’s program asks parents to try and keep their guns secure, keep the guns out of the hands of vulnerable people like those suffering from depression, keep the guns locked up or locked away at all times.  Brady focuses on one issue, also promoted by Moms, that parents should always ask other parents whether there is an unlocked gun where the kids are going to play. The NRA would never endorse the idea of parents communicating with other parents about guns ownership, but locking guns up or locking them away, what the NRA calls storing guns “so they are not accessible to untrained or unauthorized persons” is a standard M.O. announced in every NRA course.

Keeping guns secure in the home, making sure that kids can’t access guns under any circumstances is all well and good, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Shannon’s gals and the Brady Campaign are now engaged in safety programs as an aspect of their involvement in the gun debate.  But all that notwithstanding, I still don’t believe that ‘lock ‘em up, lock ‘em away’ is either sufficient or necessary for responding to the safety risk posed by guns.  Because as long as the gun industry and its supporters continue to promote gun ownership primarily as a means of self-defense, by definition you can’t defend yourself with a gun if it’s locked up or locked away.

The problem becomes even more vexing because the 2008 Heller decision, which proclaimed a constitutional right to private ownership of guns, was based on what Scalia called, the “tradition” of keeping a handgun in the home for self-defense.  In fact, the Court’s Number One Gun Nut invented this so-called tradition out of whole cloth, unless he really believes that a cynical marketing ploy to compensate for the decline in hunting after the 1980s constitutes some kind of traditional belief.  Be that as it may, if you’re going to walk around in the daytime with a concealed weapon and then leave it out on the end-table when you go to sleep at night, you can’t lock it up or lock it away.

And this is where I think Shannon’s ladies and the Brady folks need a message that more clearly distinguishes their notion of safety from the nonsense being peddled by the NRA.  And why do I call the NRA safety message nonsense?  Here’s a quote from the 2011 edition of Home Firearm Safety, a book the NRA has been selling for twenty-five years: “A gun stored primarily for personal protection must be ready for immediate use.  As a general rule, a gun stored for any purpose other than personal protection should never be loaded in the home.”  My italics and thanks a lot.

One week after Sandy Hook, Wayne-o belligerently reminded America that a bad guy with a gun could only be stopped by a good guy with a gun. Which means we need a lot of good guys walking around and lying down to sleep with their loaded, unlocked guns.  Sorry, but that doesn’t sound all that safe to me.

The Be Smart Video On Sets A New Standard On Gun Safety.

This week a new gun safety campaign was launched by Everytown and Moms Demand Action called Be Smart, and you can usually judge the value of such efforts by the degree to which the pro-gun media weighs in on the other side.  They weighed in right away with multiple blogs and, as always, the infantile Breitbart response.  And one of the pro-gun bloggers got it right when she wrote that “allowing the anti-gun side to control the gun safety message is a big mistake.”

Until recently, the pro-gun gallery has owned the issue of gun safety, which they mostly define as keeping guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands, i.e., crooks, creeps and other undesirables who want access to guns for no other reason than to inflict harm.  The NRA has given a new hip-and-cool look to their Eddie Eagle program which has allegedly distributed millions of flyers although it’s unclear whether this effort has had any real impact at all. The NSSF gives away cable locks and has been running a public service campaign with the ATF about the danger of “straw” sales.  They also promote a competitive shooter with instructions for talking about gun safety with children, as if being a competitive shooter gives you the slightest credibility when it comes to knowing how to communicate with kids.

melissa                Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against any of the gun industry’s safety programs.  But opposing background checks for private gun transfers makes it pretty hard to argue that you’re all that worried about criminals and other disqualified individuals getting their hands on guns. The new Be Smart campaign, on the other hand,  goes beyond the usual arguments about gun safety that you get from both sides, and this is what makes it such an interesting and potentially effective effort which the gun folks better not simply deride or ignore.

The centerpiece of the program is a video narrated by Melissa Joan Hart, which for no other reason than she votes Republican makes it difficult for the pro-gun chorus to simply brand her as another liberal, gun-grabbing, Hollywood star.  But aside from the image, what we get are serious comments about issues the gun industry would rather you and I forget.  For example, there’s a very sober message about teen suicide and how much easier it is to commit suicide with a gun. For another, Melissa actually uses the phrase ‘risk factors’ when talking about gun-owning families where there is evidence of mental illness or substance abuse.  The most important comment, however, is when she notes that “kids are naturally curious,” and that a gun is therefore a risk unless it is locked up “one hundred percent of the time.”

I’m really happy to see these issues injected into the gun safety debate and let me break it to you gently:  Melissa’s being perfunctory when she mentions her concern about the 1.7 million kids living in homes where guns are loaded and unlocked.  It’s children living in every home where there is a gun who are at risk, because sooner or later every one of those guns will be left around. If you haven’t figured it out yet, let me break it to you gently:  We are human. We are careless. We forget.

The industry’s approach to gun safety is that they want it both ways.  People should own guns to defend themselves, but the reason guns are touted as the best defense against crime is because of their lethality and nothing else.  Sooner or later, if you are a gun-owner who believes that owning a gun makes you safe, that gun is going to be left out, unsecured and unlocked, which poses a risk to the kids.

I have a suggestion for trigger-heads who  get nervous giving up space in the gun-safety debate to folks who aren’t particularly enamored of guns.  Start talking about gun safety in a realistic way. Stop pretending that guns aren’t a risk just because we “always” lock them up or lock them away.  There’s still only one way to guarantee that you can’t have an accident with a gun.

 

Wayne LaPierre Wasn’t The Only Person At Nashville Talking About Guns.

Now that the NRA annual big deal has come and gone, there will be the usual post-mortem as to whether the show was the biggest and the best, which Republican candidate gave the best speech and, of course, whether the Donald is still looking for that birth certificate.  You can get a taste of all this and more on the NRA website where most of the celebrity speeches have been posted, but what I found interesting was a comment made by Wayne-o in his annual attempt to scare gun owners into buying more guns.

The appeal to fear first started with Wayne’s predecessor, Harlon Carter, who ran the NRA from 1977 until 1985. It moved into high gear when Charlton Heston was featured in a series of anti-crime television ads that showed the former Hollywood liberal walking down back alleys in Washington, D.C. while saying that the streets were “ruled by criminals” and that criminals should be “banned” rather than guns.

moms logo                Unfortunately for the NRA, the problem with using crime as a rationale for owning guns is that violent crime in the United States keeps going down.  For that matter, so does the percentage of older, White men, who just happen to be the demographic that buys and owns most of the guns.  So sooner or later, if these trends continue, the NRA is going to have to craft a new message and find a new reason for all those guys and gals walking around armed.

They began to take a new approach last year before the mid-term elections with a series of cable ads that featured the “five million NRA members” standing up for honesty, truth and various so-called core values, while at the same time swiping at you-know-who in  the White House and the elitist culture that is undermining everything we hold dear.  The problem with this ad campaign, however, is that it doesn’t do what the NRA has been most successful at doing for the last twenty years, namely, ginning up fears about something that can only be overcome if you go out and buy a gun.  But Wayne-o and his PR staff have evidently come up with their latest scare technique, which came at about the 4th minute of his speech to NRA members when he mentioned that “terror cells” were operating in cities all across the United States and that a major terrorist attack was about to take place.

At last year’s meeting Wayne-o told the audience that terrorists were just one of a large group that were threatening America, a group which included home invaders, drug cartels, campus killers, airport killers, power-grid destroyers – it was quite a list.  This year he got his act somewhat more focused, pulled the ‘terror cells’ out of his hat, and then reminded his listeners that only a national CCW law and every NRA member renewing their dues would truly make Americans safe.

Meanwhile, outside the NRA meeting, Shannon and the Moms held a rally to promote a different idea about whether guns make us safe.  Immediately after the rally, various pro-gun bloggers went out of their way to assure their readers that the small attendance at Shannon’s rally showed that the anti-gun forces would never be a match for the NRA.

I have gone to more than 20 NRA meetings and for people who like guns, the exhibit hall is a cross between a swap meet and a Scout jamboree.  As for core values, just wander into the sales area and see how much the NRA charges for a t-shirt or a hat.  In all the years I went to the annual meeting, the only person demonstrating outside the hall was some old guy with a ‘Prey To Jesus’ placard, and not the Moms who have chapters in all fifty states. The NRA’s attempt to use terrorism as a bogey-man to sell more guns is a new riff on an old strategy that sooner or later will wear out.  Shannon and her Moms are truly new, different and here to stay.

When It Comes To Guns, Breitbart Gets It Wrong And Moms Gets It Right.

Readers who follow my column no doubt understand that I spend most of my time debunking what I consider to be mistakes, intended or otherwise, made by anyone and everyone who writes about guns.  And while some organizations and writers on both sides get it right most of the time, there are others who virtually every day get it wrong.  Topping that latter list is breitbart.com, which pushes out a comment on guns just about every day, and just about every day gets it wrong.  Their latest is a comment about women and guns that was made by Moms Demand Action activist Kristen Moore, who was interviewed by Michigan Radio following Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to approve a new law which allows women to have their CCW applications expedited in situations where they face potential domestic violence.

Typically, the Breitbart story started off by falsely accusing the Moms group of stating that it was “wrong” for women to carry guns.  But that’s not what Ms. Moore said at all.  What she said very clearly was that if women were thinking about applying for a CCW and purchasing a gun for self-defense, that they needed to make an “informed” choice in the matter, which means understanding whether, in fact, having a gun around the home or in the pocketbook provides any real safety at all.

open                The gun industry has been going all out for the last twenty years trying to make us all believe that guns serve a positive social utility because when we own and carry one we are more safe.  First we had the nonsense produced by Gary Kleck, who claimed on the basis of 213 telephone interviews that millions of crimes were thwarted by gun-carrying individuals each year. Then we had the bigger nonsense by John Lott, who basically said the same thing, even though it’s never been clear whether he had any real data at all.  If the gun industry wants to promote the virtues of arming citizens in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that’s fine.  After all, they’re in the business of selling guns, not conducting research about gun risk. But the reason that so many people read Consumer Reports is that maybe, just maybe, the manufacturer’s claims aren’t always exactly true.  That’s what the Moms group means when they talk about making an “informed” choice.

For me, the issue of whether anyone will be protected by carrying a gun, however, goes to something else.  Because it’s not just a question of whether the statistics show that a gun makes you safer or not, it’s also whether someone who decides to carry a gun is trained so that their gun could even be used for self-defense.  It turns out that Michigan requires that anyone applying for CCW must show that they have shot a gun a whole, big 30 times.  Meanwhile, a 2006 FBI study of violent assaults on police officers concluded that criminals who used guns to attack cops practiced using their guns roughly two times every month!

If anyone thinks that raising the issue of “informed” choice about CCW is a back-door way of getting rid of all the guns, go right ahead and delude yourself as much as you can. The real reason that keeping a gun around for self-defense means first of all that the wrong person may get his hands on the gun, which is why, as Kristen Moore pointed out, women are five times more likely to get killed in domestic disputes when there’s a banger stuck in a drawer, a closet, or even a safe.  But even if the gun can only end up in the ‘right’ hands in the event of an attack or a threat, does the person to whom those hands belong really know how to use that gun to protect themselves just because they spent a few evenings fooling around at the local range?  As Ian Fleming says, “Shooting hell out of a piece of cardboard doesn’t prove a thing.”

A Tale Of Two States: Vermont And Texas Debate Gun Bills.

There can’t be two states in these United States more different than Vermont and Texas, right?  The Green Mountain State is quintessential New England, with picturesque town squares, maple sap running from the trees and let’s not forget America’s only Socialist, aka Senator Bernie Sanders, who just might try to run for President in 2016. And what can we say about the Lone Star State?  Remember the Alamo, the best doggone chili and barbeque this side of the Pecos and the Rio Grande, and a former Governor named Rick Perry who might also try to run (again) for President in 2016.

  Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

But despite the clear contrasts between these two states, in one way they are very similar, and the similarity was on display last week when the two State Legislatures held public hearings on new laws about guns.  In the case of Vermont, the bills being considered would have tightened gun regulations, bringing in background checks on private sales and setting standards for taking guns away from people at risk to others or themselves; in the case of Texas the bills will allow open carry of handguns and end the long-standing practice of considering college campuses to be gun-free zones.

        Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

Two different states, two different types of gun bills, but one thing in common, namely, the degree to which the pro-gun community was organized, turned out in force and made arguments which, rightly or wrongly, shaped the public debate.  In Texas the push for open carry was led by an organization called Open Carry Texas which gained notoriety last year when its members publicly disavowed the NRA after the latter organization denounced gun-owning ‘extremists’ who were parading around with their guns.  Last week in the run-up to the legislative hearings on the new laws, a group of open carry agitators not only openly threatened a gun-owning state legislator in his office, but also showed up at the hearing and loudly denounced anyone who would commit ‘treason’ by  not voting the right way.

In Vermont, the debate over a gun bill occasioned the largest turnout at the State House since the debate over civil unions in 2000, and while supporters of the legislation cited personal anecdotes about a family shooting or the psychological damage caused by schoolchildren having to undergo active-shooter training, the prevailing sentiment during the debate was summed up by one female gun enthusiast who said, “If I’m being assaulted on a city street, I’d rather have my .38 with me than a copy of Senate bill 31.” Much of the credit for packing the gallery with orange-shirted gun owners should be given to Gun Owners of Vermont, which says it’s committed to a “no-compromise position against gun control” which is ironic since Vermont has no state-level restrictions on gun ownership or CCW at all.

This is not to say that folks who took a dim view of the proposed gun bills didn’t show up. There’s a group in Vermont  known as Gun Sense Vermont, whose members appeared at the hearing and voiced their concerns.  In Texas, the open carry gang got a little taste of their own tactics when a bodyguard hired by Moms Demand Action allegedly tried to stop Open Carry’s C.J. Grisholm, from filming an interview with a Moms activist by grabbing his phone.  This brief incident occasioned all kinds of heated rhetoric on right-wing blogs about how the Moms group (behind which, of course, is the sinister Watts-Bloomberg combine) has no respect for the 1st Amendment, never mind the beloved 2nd.

I don’t know who is going to win the legislative contest over gun laws in either state, but the pro-gun forces clearly won and continue to win the argument in the public, and certainly the internet space.  The plain truth is that fear-mongering sells, while reasonable and earnest debate gets little or no airtime at all. For that reason, the gun-sense community may need to re-think the manner in which they present their point of view.  In the public argument about guns, opinions seem to trump the facts every time.

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Dumb, Dumber, Not Yet Dumbest

This year we will hold a contest for the dumbest thing that anyone says about guns.  Believe me, there will be plenty of candidates and I invite all my readers to submit any candidates for the award.  In the meantime, I’m going to start off with the first nomination: State Legislator Leslie Combs (D-Pikeville) who “accidentally” shot off a gun in her State House office.  “I didn’t want to use it any more,” she explained, “so I thought that I would just put that sucker away.”

Rep. Leslie Combs

Rep. Leslie Combs

Want to make sure a gun is empty before putting that ‘sucker’ away?  Just pull the trigger and if the sucker goes off, at least you know that the round in the chamber is no longer there.  Of course another round could now be in the chamber but what the hell, as Representative Combs explained to the media, “I’m a gun owner, it happens.” Duhhh.

Actually, Leslie Combs has to share this week’s Dumb award with someone else, namely, Tracey Goodlett, head of the Kentucky chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense which just last week came together with Mike Blooomberg’s organization to form one big, happy coalition to help rid America of the scourge of guns.  Ms. Goodlett and her organization called for the “immediate resignation” of Representative Combs because her behavior not only endangered her own life but the life of another legislator who happened to be standing in her office when the little sucker went off. The Moms press release went on to say that “Rep. Combs’ actions set a poor example for those who hold her in high regard, including Kentucky’s children.”

I don’t know whether the citizens of the Blue Grass State hold Leslie Combs in high regard or not, but it seems to me that if anyone calls for her resignation it should be because she’s too dumb to hold elected office and certainly too dumb to own a gun.  Oops!  The 2nd Amendment doesn’t qualify the right to bear arms based on IQ, so I guess we’ll have to let that one fly.  On the other hand, the whole point of owning and carrying a gun is that what happened in Leslie Combs’s office shouldn’t happen and her comment, “it happens” because she owns a gun gets the first Dumb Award of 2014.  After all, would it have happened if she didn’t own a gun?

The NRA has three basic rules that every person must follow when they pick up a gun: (1). Always point it in a safe direction; (2). Don’t touch the trigger until you’re ready to shoot; (3). Make sure the gun isn’t loaded unless Rules #1 and #2 are in effect.  Virtually every gun accident occurs when one or a combination of those three rules aren’t followed and Leslie Combs has no doubt been taught those rules as well.  The issue isn’t whether Rep. Combs was careless and  forgot how to deal safely with her gun.  The real issue is whether anyone should be walking around with an item where the briefest lapse can result in terrible harm.  Leslie Combs can  afford to downplay the seriousness of that ‘sucker’ going off because neither she nor her legislative colleague took a bullet in the leg.  But what if the gun had been pointed up instead of down and the round ended up going through her head?

Unfortunately, the hysterical-nonsensical comments from the Moms organization don’t clarify the problem but simply make it more difficult to figure out what, if anything, we should do.  I really wish the Moms and all the other gun control advocacy groups would stop pretending that they support the 2nd Amendment because the truth is that from their point of view, safety doesn’t begin with everyone carrying a gun, it begins when guns are no longer around. So let’s drop the false pretenses and have an honest debate.  The novelist Walter Mosley put it this way: “If you carry a gun around, it’s going to go off sooner or later.”  Is he right or is he wrong?  That’s really what the gun debate is all about.