What Policies Will Reduce Gun Violence? Maybe The New York Times Should Ask People Who Own Guns?

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The New York Times has just released a very detailed survey of academic experts regarding the effectiveness of various policies to help reduce gun violence.  In addition to the academic experts, the surveys also captured views both of the general public and law enforcement personnel.  The survey queried respondents on 29 specific policies, and compared their responses to views of the general public as well as the gun-control views of the incoming President-elect.

nyt logo             If the purpose of this survey was to contrast the gun-control views of the academic community versus the policies advocated by Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, The Times didn’t need to waste anybody’s time.  The NRA ponied up $30 million in television advertising for Trump after the organization endorsed him at their annual meet, and the one time he briefly deviated from the approved script by calling for guns in nightclubs and bars, he quickly fell back into line. Academics, on the other hand, usually tend to be anti-gun, although in this case The Times made sure that the pro-gun academic community (Kleck, Lott, Kopel, Volokh) was represented as well.

Many of these policies mentioned in the surveys are found in some states, such as expanded background checks, child access prevention (CAP) laws , banning or regulating hi-cap mags. But most state gun laws exist in places with smaller numbers of gun owners and/or states whose electorate is still largely colored blue.  Go into a gun-owning, red-vote state like Missouri or Alabama and see how much support you find for a bill to expand background checks. Meanwhile, states with fewer gun laws tend, by and large, to suffer more violence from guns.

So why is it that none of the ten policies rated to most effective for curbing gun violence, all of which had public support ranging from 63% to 88%, have actually become federal law?  The usual explanation is what you would expect, namely, the power and the money of the NRA.  But when I look at The New York Times survey it actually reflects something much more concerning about why sensible ideas for gun regulations at the federal level never get beyond first base.  And my concern is based not on who participated in the poll, but who did not.

Virtually every single policy which the experts were asked to rate in terms of effectiveness for increasing safety from gun violence would require some behavioral or attitudinal response on the part of gun owners themselves. And while the survey may have caught a few gun owners in the ‘representative sample’ of voters who were queried for this poll, the Times made no effort to reach out to the gun-owning community at all. They did what liberals concerned about gun violence always do – they came up with a ‘balanced’ roster of participants representing both sides and they ended up with results that tell us nothing about how people will react who ultimately be affected by any change in gun laws.

The inability of the gun violence prevention community to communicate with gun owners about the risks of firearm ownership is a much more potent weapon in the NRA’s arsenal than any amount of money dumped into a legislator’s lap.  Public health researchers publish their work in peer-reviewed, academic journals with minimal notice beyond academe;  leading gun-control advocates aren’t invited on the shock-jock media circuit, none of the major gun-control organizations (in comparison to the NRA) has a digital video presence which has become the real information superhighway over the last several years.

For gun owners to understand that sensible gun regulations don’t represent Armageddon, they need to be engaged with language and arguments they understand.  You don’t do this by publishing scholarly articles in JAMA or Saturday Review. Instead, you find a hunter or sportsman to send an article to Field and Stream.  And then you figure out a message that tells gun owners they can be pleased and safe with their guns at the same time.

If Minorities Are Buying Guns, It’s Not To Exercise Their 2nd-Amendment ‘Rights.’

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During the Presidential campaign there were all sorts of stories floating around about how some of Trump’s supporters were planning armed insurrection if it turned out that their candidate was somehow cheated out of his rightful prize.  And even The New York Times ran a story based on some interviews with Trump loyalists, none of whom actually said that they would lead an armed revolt (which even to verbally promote such nonsense happens to be a federal crime) but they knew other people who were ready to take their guns into the streets.

hate           Luckily we were saved from a revolutionary situation because Shlump actually won.  But in the aftermath of his victory, while the guy who really understands the ‘common man’ lines up an Executive management team which represents the billionaire class, we are now being treated to the opposite of the ‘Trump loss equals armed revolt’ crap with stories about how people who consider themselves targets of Shlump-o’s fascist-populist message are arming themselves in response to the impending warfare that will sooner or later break out.

This latest effort to sensationalize every aspect of political news and commentary was the handiwork of NBC, which ran a story about how ‘fearful minorities’ (read: African-Americans) were ‘buying up guns,’ the reportage based entirely on interviews with a black lady who lives in Alpharetta, GA, a black gun-shop owner in Virginia and the guy who heads something called the National African American Gun Association, which just happens to be occasionally featured on the Breitbart website (where else?) because of the group’s strong support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

This idea that African-Americans should become gun owners predates the 2016 campaign, reflecting an attempt by the gun industry to reach out to new markets, in particular women, Hispanics and blacks.  The problem is that none of these demographics have ever shown any serious inclination to join Gun-nut Nation, and while noisemakers like Dana Loesch (for the women segment) and Colion Noir (for the African-American segment) push their stupidly-contrived videos on the NRA website and YouTube, they are basically speaking for themselves. The FBI, under statute, does not maintain or release data on the racial breakdown of NICS-background checks (my request for such information was politely refused last year) and anecdotal evidence is anecdotal but it’s not evidence.  What we do know from the latest Pew survey is that roughly one out of five African-American and Hispanic households contain guns, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

But let’s assume for the moment that even with the shallowness of the reportage, the NBC story about how minorities are streaming into gun shops is true.  You would think this would be a salutary news event for Gun-nut Nation, given how the gun industry has tried to promote the ownership of its products to non-white groups. But judging from a Breitbart story based on the NBC report, the enthusiasm is less than real.  Because the problem that Gun-nut Nation now faces is to find a way to promote the idea of minority gun ownership while, at the same time minimizing (or simply lying about) the reason why African-Americans are buying guns.  And the reason is very simple:  the incoming President of the United States has made it clear that minority communities can expect little, if any protection from a federal government whose Chief Executive pollutes the digital airwaves daily with a mixture of racism, appeals to violence and outright scorn.

If, as the NBC story suggests, minorities are considering gun ownership out of fear of what an unbridled racism promoted by Donald Shlump might bring, this also creates an important turning-point for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community as well. Because the one thing we know is that defending yourself or your community by going around armed basically does nothing except create circumstances and situations in which more gun violence occurs. I’m not denying the reality of a palpable sense of fear created by the shenanigans of Jerk Trump. But sticking a gun in your pocket will only make it worse.

The Government Issues A New Report On Safe-Gun Technology Which Moves The Discussion Backwards.

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It’s official.  The newspaper of record, a.k.a. The New York Times, has just announced its support of a new government statement on safe-gun technology which probably represents the last thing the Obama Administration has to say about guns.  And if The New York Times believes that this report is the non-plus-ultra statement about safe guns, then this must be a very solid and very impressive report.  In fact, it’s not.

safegunThe report is an amateurish cut-and-paste job which was obviously put together so that someone deep inside the bowels of the Department of Justice could complete some end-of-year checklist and get on with looking for a new job. But of course once The New York Times gives this report its official imprimatur you can bet this shabby effort to make something out of nothing will become the new argument for adoption of safe-gun technologies, an argument that has been floating around for more than 20 years under the guise of how digital innovation can help us be safe with guns.

Entitled “Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology,” the report is an effort to nudge the safe-gun discussion a little further by setting out design and performance standards that would have to be met by any manufacturer hoping to sell such a product to any federal agency whose personnel carries guns.  Actually, since the document is not any kind of official RFP, it represents no legal or practical advance at all.  For the most part the text consists of nothing more than a combination of the government’s handgun performance criteria which will be used to possibly adopt a new military handgun sometime in the future, along with design specifications which were taken from an RFP issued by the FBI for a new pistol awarded to Glock.

Buried near the end of the report is a brief section which describes the safe-gun technology itself except that all it basically says is that some kind of ‘security device’ will be a permanent part of the gun, will be programmable and may include something worn by the operator, like a wristband or a ring.  By the way, if the security device ‘malfunctions’ the gun will still work.

Now I thought the whole point of safe-gun technology is to prevent a gun from being used at any time except by someone digitally authorized to use the gun. But the problem with these digital gizmos is they need some kind of power source which comes from a battery and batteries wear out.  Is the average cop going to check to make sure while he’s on the job that the gizmo is always ready to go? He won’t, which is exactly why the gun defaults to being used by anyone which is exactly why nobody’s going to adopt this gun.

The NYT Editorial Board says this report is a positive step forward in the development of safe-gun technology because it creates “industry standards for reliable battery power in a smart gun, for ensuring unhindered speed in drawing the weapon and for the distance allowed between the gun and its owner’s ID device.”  In fact, what the report does is give the gun lobby an excellent opportunity to once again claim that gun-grabbing bureaucrats will find any reason to take away our guns.  The NRA called the report another example of “empty gestures meant to placate a gun control constituency that was disappointed Congress had spurned efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights.,” and went on to list several parts of the report (beyond what I mentioned above) which demonstrated the lack of substance and understanding about the actual use of safe guns.

The gun industry opposes safe-gun technology because it fights any effort to reduce gun violence through government mandates, government regulations or anything else that interferes with the industry’s ability to control the kinds of products it decides to put out for sale.  But the gun violence prevention community shouldn’t make it any easier for the gun lobby to pursue its aims, and the decision of the NYT Editorial Board to promote this report moves the safe-gun argument in a direction it shouldn’t take.

 

Want To Reduce Gun Violence? The Real Battle Is In The States, Not The Feds.

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Now that The New York Times has once again become the newspaper ‘of record’ even for Donald Trump, we can sit back and wait for the Gray Lady to begin pronouncing on everything and anything having to do with the election results on November 8th.  And the newsroom started right off with an ‘analysis’ of whether Trump’s victory was fueled by the ‘gun vote,’ and to nobody’s surprise, at least not mine, they discovered that it was.  Or at least Gun-nut Nation thinks it was.  And since the NYT will now begin to feature story after story about all those ‘forgotten’ folks who came out for Trump – in the interests of fair and balanced journalism –  you can bet that the gun-nut gang will be a central feature of more articles to come.

Of course the Times made sure to give a bit of space to the other side, quoting Everytown’s Erika Soto Lamb and also Jenn Crowe who worked on the Nevada background-check vote, but basically the piece was fluff and nonsense for various pro-gun advocates, including none other than C. J. Grisham from Open Carry Texas who proudly stated that he went out last week and bought two more AR-15 rifles just in case Hillary actually won.

Let me break the news gently to the gun violence prevention (GVP) community:  the real problem going forward will not be to figure out what to do; nor will it be to craft some kind of ‘new’ message about the politics of guns.  The real problem will be to find some way to push back against what will surely become an attempt by liberal influencers, pundits and newsmakers at the national level to cloak the wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak, and shift the spectrum towards a more ‘balanced’ view on guns.  And like it or not, this attempt by liberal media to find some way of making ‘gun rights’ a more reasonable proposition will last for as long as the liberal media feels that its relevance is dependent on how much access it can maintain with President Shlump.

But since pictures usually are worth lots of words, especially my words, I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of pics that highlight what I believe is the challenge faced by GVP.  Here is a map which shows how many states granted CCW (blue or green) in 1986:

rtc1986

            And here’s how the map has changed from then until now:

rtc2016

Want to know what’s also changed over those same thirty years?  Republican control of state governments has gone from one-third to two-thirds. Now many of those Democratic-controlled state governments were in the hands of southern Democrats whose views, at the time, not really all that different from the Republicans who would replace them and many of these states were gun-rich states anyway, so it wasn’t like either party was going to run around proclaiming the virtues of regulating guns.  But if you think for one second that state legislatures are awash in NRA lobbying money, you’re wrong.  In the Nevada fight over extending background checks, the NRA was outspent by more than two to one.

After the 1994 election when the GOP grabbed control of the House for the first time since 1952, much of the post-election narrative was based on the idea that the vote was payback time by the NRA for how representatives voted on the assault weapons ban bill.  And even though subsequent research indicated that this narrative wasn’t necessarily true, the notion that guns represent a toxic element for politicians at the national level continues to take hold.  And the proof of what I just said can be found in the NYT article quoted above.

I got a good idea for my friends in the GVP.  Do what you gotta do on K Street in DC but let’s not take our eyes off the ball because where the ball really bounces is in those increasingly-red state legislatures from sea to shining sea.

Will Gun Owners Start A Rebellion To Defend Their 2nd-Amendment Rights? Don’t Hold Your Breath.

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Notwithstanding  Donald Trump’s jeremiad against the ‘corrupt media,’ I still believe The New York Times adheres to its masthead slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” But perhaps the paper slipped in a story last week about Trump supporters calling for a revolution if Hillary wins. The most aggressive statements about a looming Trumpian apocalypse came from several people who identified themselves as gun owners and predicted armed insurrection if Hillary won the election and then attempted to take away their guns.

times-logo           You would think that two experienced reporters, when confronted with serious threats of armed revolt, (which happens to be a Federal felony) would at least attempt to figure out whether there was even remotely connected to reality before telling their readers that such views represented a ‘dark fear’ about the country heading for a violent political end. But these predictions about armed rebellion were presented without even the slightest effort to determine whether there was anything lurking behind such comments that could possibly translate into an insurrectionary event.

I have sold guns to more than 9,000 gun owners and can count on the fingers of one hand the few who will pull a Clinton-Kaine lever on November 8th.  Know why gun owners are going to vote for Trump?  Not because he’s telling them to ‘take care of Hillary’ if she messes with their 2nd-Amendment rights, not because their guns will protect them from the corruption of the elite, and certainly not because he says we will be a safer country if everyone walks around with a gun. Gun owners are going to vote for Trump for one simple reason: they have always voted for the Republican candidate, no matter what he says. And if they are then asked why they are voting for that candidate, they’ll repeat whatever the candidate said about why they should vote for him.

Want to take a guess as to how many gun owners came into my gun shop during the 2012 election and told me they were voting for Romney because he was on the side of the ‘givers’ and Obama was on the side of the ‘takers?’  Just about every single one.  And the few who didn’t tell me that the country had too many ‘takers’ didn’t say they wanted to make America ‘great’ again, they said they ‘believed’ in America, which just happened to be the Romney campaign slogan since everyone knew that someone born in Kenya couldn’t possibly believe in the U.S.A.

Last week Wayne-o sent an ‘urgent message’ to the NRA membership, warning them of Hillary’s plan to ‘forcibly’ take away their guns which could only be prevented if everyone joined with him, ‘arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder,’ to fight and ‘make America great again.’

Wayne’s exhortation to man the barricades was immediately dismissed by mainstream journalists as an example of an ‘alternate universe,’ but what gun owners hear and then repeat to inquiring reporters is one thing; whether they are willing to put up anything beyond their mouths is something else again. In 2013 a radio shock-jock radio named Adam Kokesh announced that he and a hardy band of supporters were determined to march from Virginia into Washington, D.C. They would carry loaded guns into the Nation’s Capital to initiate what he called the ‘Final American Revolution’ that would dissolve the Federal government and, I guess, install him as King. The revolution, of course, was cancelled when Kokesh realized that all he’d get for his trouble was a quick trip from the bridge in Virginia to a jail in D.C.

Being a law-abiding citizen happens to be a requirement for the legal ownership of a gun.  And NRA members and gun owners in general tend to be a very law-abiding bunch. The good news is that predicting that someone else will engage in armed rebellion happens to be protected by the same Bill of Rights which protects their ownership of guns.  And they’re not about to do anything that might really cause them to lose those guns.

 

If Hillary Wins Big, Will There Be A New Gun Bill? I’m Not So Sure.

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Lets’ say for the sake of argument that HRC kicks his ass on November 8th.  And she does such a good job of ass-kicking that the Senate turns blue.  And the ass-kicking is so remarkably well done that the House comes within three or four seats of also no longer being red. Now you probably couldn’t have imagined such a scenario just a few short weeks ago, but Trump just keeps saying what he shouldn’t say to the point that the unthinkable is no longer shorthand for a Trump victory next month, but is what some of us are beginning to whisper as regards a blowout victory for HRC.

hillary3           And if this does happen, you can bet that one of the first orders of business will be sending a gun bill up to the Hill that has a fairly good chance of getting passed.  And you can further bet that if there is such a bill, that its core provision will be revival of the extension of background checks to downstream transfers and sales, not only because this was the core of the post-Sandy Hook bill which almost made it through the Senate, but it’s an idea which even Gun-nut Nation, or at least some part of the Nation, appears to support.

Last year a CBS/New York Times poll asked the following question: “Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?” A whopping 92% said ‘yes.’  And a positive response to this question was even registered by 87% of the poll respondents who identified themselves as Republicans, which for an issue as divisive as gun control, that’s about as near to absolute unanimity as you’re going to get.

Since there’s nothing like voting for a bill which appears to have near-universal support, you might think that after more than twenty years of wrangling over the extent to which gun regulations can be implemented that will keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ that finally some common sense will prevail, the NRA will make an attempt but not too much of an attempt to keep expanded background checks from becoming law of the land and – glory hallelujah – thy will be done. Duh, not so fast.  If you think for one minute that Gun-nut Nation will roll over and play dead, even if a lot of gun nuts are telling pollsters that on the issue of background checks they really don’t care, then you don’t really understand how gun owners think about guns or why the NRA can continue to defeat legislation that even many of its members are willing to let fly.

In 2012 (Sandy Hook happened in December) the NRA collected $107 million in dues.  In 2013, while Washington argued back and forth over extending background checks, revenue from dues shot up to $175 million bucks. The following year when the heat was off, revenue from dues drifted back down to $128 million. So how do you explain the fact that the NRA fought an unyielding battle against extending background checks, virtually all Americans agreed that it was a good idea, and yet dues collected by the NRA went up by a staggering 60%?

I’ll tell you how to explain it.  There is simply a complete disconnect in the brains of gun owners between their ownership of guns and the 115,000+ deaths and injuries which occur each year because of guns.  After all, you can’t buy a gun legally unless you pass a background check, so by definition, with the exception of suicides, law-abiding gun owners rarely shoot themselves or others with their guns. And even though it’s not true, most people believe that if someone wants to commit suicide it will happen, access to a gun or not.

So if the NRA wants to wage an all-out effort to defeat a new gun bill next year, they’ll get the same support from their members that they always get, and that will be the most active support.  Will they also be passively supported by the millions of gun owners who aren’t dues-paying members?  I’ll take the short odds on that one, too.

The Trump Campaign Really Wants The Minority Vote As Long As The Minorities Are Evangelicals And Folks Who Own Guns.

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As much as we don’t want to admit it, more than 60 years after the Supreme Court said that separate wasn’t equal, a Presidential election appears to be turning on the issues of religion and race.  More than any previous Republican candidate, Trump-o injects religion and racism into just about everything he says, from leading the birther movement, to calling for the deportation of all ‘illegals,’ (read: non-whites) to ‘joking’ about ejecting non-Evangelicals, this guy’s campaign rallies sound and look like an advertisement for the Klan.

trump2            While his supporters as well as media kibitzers continue to imbibe the Kool-Aid that Shlump’s success is based on something known as ‘anger about the present course of government,’ the truth is that the anger is all about religion and race, specifically, the feeling held by many Evangelical whites that their days of being in a majority of the population are coming to an end; i.e., today’s New York Times article profiling an Evangelical couple in Iowa who got some media attention three years ago when they refused to rent out a chapel on their property for a marriage ceremony involving two gay men.  They ended up being used as stage props by Ted Cruz before the Iowa primary and now feel betrayed and abandoned as the age of ‘Christian values’ appears to be coming to an end.

And why this loss of enthusiasm for a presidential candidate who is going out of his way to pander to the Evangelical vote?  “It all flipped so fast,” says Dick Odgaard. “Suddenly we were in the minority.”  The article goes on to say: “One day they felt comfortably situated in the American majority, as Christians with shared beliefs in God, family and the Bible. Overnight, it seemed, they discovered that even in small-town Iowa they were outnumbered, isolated and unpopular.”

As the grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, I find it a little difficult to sympathize with the Odgaards and their Evangelical compatriots because I knew from the gitgo that I wasn’t in the majority; I also knew from the gitgo that it made no difference at all. Which is why my grandparents came to the United States from a pogrom-torn zone in Russia rather than going somewhere else.  So I really have no idea how it feels to lose one’s ‘majority’ status, but perhaps my experience as a member of Gun-nut Nation might provide a lesson for how people who feel racially and culturally dispossessed should respond.

Want to know what it’s like to be a member of a minority group?  Buy a gun.  After all, according to the latest survey, only one out of five American adults owns a gun.  This happens to be about the same percentage who describe themselves as Evangelical Christians, according to a recent Pew poll. And even though gun ownership is protected by the 2nd Amendment, there’s also something in the Constitution known as the 1st Amendment which guarantees all those ‘minority’ Evangelicals the right to practice their religious beliefs as they see fit.

Meanwhile, talk to most members of Gun-nut Nation and they’ll tell you, 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, they are not only members of a minority, but a ‘persecuted’ minority at that.  And what’s the proof of this persecution?  Well, for beginners, we know that Hillary is hell-bent on taking away all the guns.  Now in fact she’s never said that, but decoding what she really means no matter what she says is a special technique used by members of persecuted minorities to identify and protect themselves from enemies both without and within.

When Fox News decided to produce a new show called Trump for President it was no accident that they asked the NRA to develop (and pay for) an advertising campaign.  After all, America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ has developed messaging for the persecuted minority of gun owners that is second to none.  Persecuted or not, Hillary better hope that Shlump-o’s Evangelicals and gun owners are still in a minority on November 8th.

 

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