The New York Times Thinks The NRA Has Won. I’m Not So Sure.

It’s official.  The NRA has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. The victory has been announced by none other than The New York Times in an editorial from Charles Blow, reporting on a report from Pew Research, which shows that more Americans favor “gun rights” than favor “gun control.”  The margin is narrow, 52 to 46, but in surveys conducted since 1993, the gun-control folks held a substantial lead over the pro-gun gang in every poll.  Now for the first time, the positions have “flipped,” leading Blow to announce that “The NRA appears to be winning this round.”

Not surprisingly, this opinion piece caught the attention of the gun-sense community, and not in a particularly positive way.  After all, the Times has published numerous editorials calling for stricter gun licensing, and the paper went out of its way to highlight the news that none of the guns displayed at the recent NRA show in Nashville could actually be made to shoot.  Want to get someone on the pro-gun side to quickly lose his cool?  Mention Mike Bloomberg or The New York Times.  Take your pick.

nyt logo                After announcing the results of the Pew survey, Blow gave his best guess as to why public opinion appears to be favoring less gun control.  I’m being polite by characterizing Blow’s explanations as being a ‘best guess.’  The truth is that nobody really knows whether anyone who is asked a question about something as politically insignificant as guns has spent more than two seconds thinking about the issue before they picked up the phone.  Guns only register as an important issue in polls that are conducted immediately after a high-profile shooting (Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook), and with all due respect to Mr. Blow, I have never been convinced that we should take public opinion all that seriously about an issue whose significance rises and falls following random events.

Be that as it may, I want to offer a counter-argument to the Times and Charles Blow, and I want to make it clear that neither am I looking for some kind of silver lining in what otherwise might be seen from the gun-sense side as a depressing state of affairs, nor am I suggesting that the survey question no longer captures a valid view of what the gun argument is all about.  Because no matter what people who want to see an end to gun violence might think, changing public policy on gun ownership means making changes in the law.  And even if the laws are only changed to make it more difficult for guns to get into the ‘wrong hands,’ (e.g., domestic abusers, violent misdemeanors), this still means extending the reach of government as to whom should be able to own guns.  If that doesn’t qualify as new or additional controls, no matter how you dress it up, then perhaps I need a refresher course in English 101.

One thing I do know is that the mortality and morbidity resulting from the use of guns amounts to more than 100,000 Americans every year.  And it doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or unintentional, whether it’s self-inflicted or inflicted by someone else, the one thing that all this mortality and morbidity shares is that it involved a gun.  And the other thing we know is that changing anything that results in this kind of behavior takes a very long time.  Tobacco was proven harmful fifty years before warnings appeared on cigarette packs.

Widespread advocacy about gun violence is really only twenty years old.  And let’s not forget that the survey used by Charles Blow was actually conducted and published last December, with public opinion about all progressive issues in the doldrums after the mid-term election results of 2014.  The fact that the NRA continues to marginalize and sensationalize its own message is not symptomatic of strength, but of a failure to attract new demographics (women, minorities, etc.) to its fold.  I wouldn’t be so quick to move the NRA into the winner’s circle.  Not just yet.

 

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Want To Take A Public Health Approach To Gun Violence? Ask The NRA For Help.

Here we go again.  Another state, Texas, is going to try and keep physicians from talking to patients about gun ownership thanks to a bill newly-filed by a state representative named Stuart Spitzer, who happens to be a general surgeon with a medical degree from UT-Southwestern Medical School.  The proposed bill goes further than the celebrated Docs vs. Glocks Florida statute which prohibits inquiry into gun ownership but makes an exception in cases where the physician believes that a serious medical problem might arise if the patient has access to a gun.  The Texas law contains no such provision, and simply says that any physician, other than a psychiatrist, cannot ask a patient to disclose firearm ownership, period. The end.

The bill’s sponsor peddles the standard nonsense about how this law will protect gun ownership because, according to him, the moment that such information is entered into a patient’s file, the Federal Government will be able to find out who has guns and who doesn’t.  This outright lie has been floating around the paranoid internet since Obama took office, even though the NRA has refuted it on their website.   But if Glenn Beck can find customers to stock up on freeze-dried food for the coming apocalypse, how hard is it for a Texas legislator to make others believe that Big Brother is waiting to grab their guns after a visit to their local doctor?

docs versus glocks                Even though studies show that most patients really don’t care if their doctor asks them about guns, people are sometimes susceptible to this blatant attempt at fear-mongering because they simply don’t understand the methods used by the public health community to define and treat medical risk.  It’s easy to get all worked up about Ebola because the danger is obvious; you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that with mortality rates above 50%, doing whatever is necessary to avoid this disease is a priority for government and citizens alike.  But is there a consensus on the medical risks posed by guns?  In a funny way there is such a consensus, but it’s based on the idea that guns don’t pose any medical risk at ball.

At the same time that public health researchers argue that the risks of guns outweighs the benefits, the NRA pushes the opposite point of view.  And while research clearly supports the public health position on gun risk, the NRA continues to use a bogus telephone survey by Gary Kleck and some thoroughly-discredited statistical nonsense from John Lott to sell the idea that guns are essential tools  in protecting us from crime. Using the fear of crime as a justification for guns is a master stroke of marketing because a majority of Americans now agree with the pro-gun point of view.

Know why the NRA and its allies have been so successful selling the positive utility of guns?  Because they have adopted a public health strategy for convincing the public and the lawmakers that what they are saying is true. First, identify the disease, which in this case is harm caused by crime.  Then identify how the disease is spread, in this case contact with a criminal.  Now develop a vaccine, i.e., the gun, and immunize as many as people as possible with concealed carry, now legal in all 50 states.

The problem in trying to sell the public health solution to any medical problem, as David Hemenway reminds us, is that unlike medicine, “the focus of public health is not on cure, but on prevention.” This usually requires a long, comprehensive strategy combining research, education and laws. Recognizing that most people aren’t usually responsive to solutions which don’t immediately work, the NRA has fast-tracked the process. The real problem in the gun debate is that the side which is totally resistant to an honest, public health approach to guns has shown itself remarkably adept at turning that same approach on its head and getting exactly what it wants.

 

Physicians And Guns: Another NRA Sycophant Ignores The Truth.

As physicians slowly but surely push their way back into the debate about gun violence, you can be sure that the NRA and its legion of willing sycophantic journalists will be right behind them attempting to explain why doctors should avoid any discussion with their patients about guns.  The latest such effort comes from a right-wing blogger, Vic Khanna, who identifies himself as a health-care consultant and gun owner in an opinion-piece found on the Federalist blog.

The piece begins with the usual nonsense about how Obamacare is a threat to everything and that it threatens everyone’s individual liberties, most of all the liberty to own a gun.  This is the standard crap that has been promoted about every liberal program or policy since the Republicans realized that protecting the 2nd Amendment was a good wedge issue for them to use at the polls.  But Khanna then goes into detail criticizing the efforts by Adam Goldstein and other physicians to create standards for judging CCW fitness among patients, an issue for which Goldstein has published several important peer-reviewed articles over the last several years.

docs versus glocks                Of course Khanna neglects to mention the fact that Goldstein, who happens to be Professor of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill, got into the CCW-competency business after receiving requests from sheriff’s departments in North Carolina who are required under law to consult a physician if a person’s mental or physical condition might make granting of CCW a risk.  Now isn’t that amazing? North Carolina actually had the good sense to codify a requirement that recognized the unique competencies of physicians in diagnosing mental or physical impediments to carrying around a gun.  What?  Let those gun-grabbing, elitist doctors decide whether you or I can walk around with a gun?

But Khanna isn’t about to tell the truth and enlighten his readers to the fact that law enforcement is in kahoots with the medical establishment to keep North Carolina residents from carrying their guns.  He’s also unwilling to honestly summarize the gist of Adam Goldstein’s publications on this issue, namely, the lack of clinical guidelines that physicians need to use when they diagnose all sorts of physical and mental conditions which might otherwise keep Americans from doing such non-essential activities as driving a vehicle or going to school.  Perhaps in his role as a health care consultant Khanna tries to figure out ways to help parents avoid taking their children for the mandated health exam that most jurisdictions require before a kid can enroll in school.

Last year Adam Goldstein and other researchers sent out a questionnaire to 600 North Carolina physicians asking whether the recipients believed that they possessed sufficient medical knowledge to make a determination about the CCW fitness of individual patients.  Of the 40% who returned the questionnaire, “a majority felt that they could not assess their patients’ physical capability to carry concealed weapons,” and nearly all the respondents felt that they needed special training before making medical assessments for CCW that might be required under North Carolina law.

Did Goldstein and his colleagues use these findings to promote the idea that issuance of CCW should be curbed or discontinued?  No.  Did they use these findings to challenge the rights of North Carolina resident to own guns? No. They did what the Hippocratic Oath requires them to do, namely, to raise concerns about their own ability to identify and reduce harm, in this case the harm that might occur if someone who was mentally or physically disabled could go around with a gun.

The NRA and its sycophant journalist crew like Vic Khanna have been playing fast and loose with the facts about physicians, patient care and gun ownership for the past twenty years.  They’ve gotten away with it quite simply because most people visit doctors for medical conditions that don’t involve guns.  But the tide is beginning to turn, and when the American College of Physicians urges their members to ‘educate’ patients about guns, physicians like Adam Goldstein  won’t be turning to the likes of Vic Khanna in order to figure out how to respond.

 

Here Come The Real Good Guys To Protect Us From Gun Violence.

Yesterday NPR put out a story, “Lawyers Band Together To Fight Gun Violence” based on an interview with Cy Vance, Jr., and Mike Feuer.  Except these guys aren’t just lawyers.  They happen to be the prosecutors of the two largest cities in the United States, Los Angeles and New York.  Next week they are meeting in Atlanta with prosecutors from such other major cities as Boston, Miami, Seattle, Detroit and Houston to discuss strategies that all these cities and others can adopt to deal with gun violence.

If anyone thinks that such an event isn’t a major step forward in dealing with the 11,000+ gun homicides, 120,000+ gun robberies and 140,000+ gun assaults that occur each year, they better think again.  Most of the gun violence that makes America the numero uno advanced country for gun crimes occurs in the cities and metro areas whose top crime-fighters will be at this conference.  In a word, this is serious sh-t.

In their unending effort to keep Americans from passing gun control legislation, the NRA goes out of its way to cultivate good relations with law enforcement officials and cops.  Except with one or two exceptions (the Detroit Police Chief, for example), this usually takes the form of getting sheriffs from rural and small-town jurisdictions to make public statements about the uselessness of gun control.  Invariably, these sheriffs are Republicans, they are aligned with pro-gun national politicians and organizations in their own states and their opposition to anti-gun measures are no less politically-driven than their opposition to any other piece of the Democratic party line.

But when we talk about big-city prosecutors, we’re talking about a different breed of cat. These folks don’t develop anti-crime agendas at the ballot box, their success or failure is based on keeping their cities safe.  And none of these prosecutors buy into the NRA nonsense that giving everyone a concealed-carry permit will get their job done.  They know from long experience that public safety is always based on solid laws, aggressive enforcement and community support.  It’s a triad that has been used again and again for all sorts of law enforcement concerns, and there’s really no room in it for debates about whether taking away my hi-cap gun magazine robs me of my Constitutional rights.

gun crime               The last time there was a coordinated, national effort by law enforcement to deal with gun violence grew out of the Clinton crime bill passed in 1994.  Nobody has yet been able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the law was responsible for a 40% drop in gun homicides between 1994 and 1999, but it sure wasn’t because all of a sudden all the good guys were walking around armed with a gun.

Over the last fifteen years, beginning in 1999, the level of gun violence hasn’t gone up but it sure hasn’t gone down.  And the number and severity of multiple shootings has certainly increased, no matter what NRA sycophants like John Lott would otherwise like to pretend.  Even New York City, which saw the greatest drop in gun crime of any major urban center under Mayor Mike, has experienced a slight increase in shootings over the past year.

The appearance of a national effort by prosecutors to develop coordinated gun violence strategies has been paralleled by the recent emergence of another national organization, the National Network to Combat Gun Violence, representing city-level legislators from such cities as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore, Albany, Berkeley, Jersey City, Madison, Yonkers, Newark, Hoboken, White Plains, Richmond, Mt. Vernon, Olympia and Indianapolis.

The NRA might want its membership to believe that if they walk around with guns in their pockets they constitute the front-line defense against violence and crime.  But the truth is that the real good guys (and gals) are the people who are coming together at the legal, legislative and grass-roots levels to develop common-sense solutions to gun violence and gun crimes.

All Of A Sudden The NRA’S Armed Citizens Aren’t So Armed

Maryland was one of a number of states in 2013 that enacted gun control statutes in the wake of Sandy Hook, and last week a Federal District Court Judge upheld the state’s authority to ban most of the popular brands of assault-style rifles, along with limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds or less.  This is a very significant ruling for two reasons.  First, ,notwithstanding the fact that the NRA would like you to believe that armed citizens are the first line of defense against crime, the ruling affirms that government has a “compelling interest” in protecting public safety which allows for the regulation of guns.  Second, the ruling flies directly in the face of the gun industry’s effort to legitimize assault-style weapons as no different from any other type of gun that might be used for personal defense.  And while the 2008 Heller decision explicitly recognized the right of citizens to keep handguns in their homes for self-defense, it did not vacate the government’s right to regulate the types of weapons that might be used.

In their attempt to overturn the Maryland law, the plaintiffs, including the NSSF, argued two basic issues:  (1). Banning assault-style weapons was a violation of the 2nd Amendment because it deprived shooters of a product that was in common use; (2). Banning assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines deprived individuals of a weapon that was frequently kept and used in the home for self-defense.  I found it interesting, incidentally, that the plaintiffs did not try to push the notion of AR-15s as “modern sporting rifles,” a totally phony nomenclature invented by the gun industry to overcome the resistance of big-box, chain stores like Wal-Mart who believed that such products interfered with their image as destinations for family shopping.

assault                As regards the argument that a ban on assault guns would deprive Maryland residents of an increasingly popular type of firearm, Judge Blake noted that while the total number of the banned guns was upwards of 8 million, this represented less than 3% of all firearms held by civilians.  Further, the Judge, using numbers from the NSSF, found that assault-style rifle ownership tended to be concentrated, with the average assault gun owner possessing more than 3 such weapons, meaning that less than 1% of the entire American population owned any assault weapons at all.  [Pages 19-20.]

As for the question of using an AR or AK rifle for self-defense, the ruling cited a report submitted by Lucy Allen, who has been called as an expert witness in other cases involving sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  This report, based on data from the NRA, found that assault weapons are rarely used in instances of armed self-defense, nor did persons discharge more than ten rounds when using their guns in instances of armed self-defense.  The plaintiffs, in arguing against Allen’s evidence, claimed that she did not “independently verify” the data on which her report was based, a claim rejected by the Court since the evidence came from the NRA, which although not a formal party to the case, certainly was in favor of a decision that would uphold the plaintiff’s suit.

The NRA has been promoting the idea that armed citizens protect themselves and others with guns for as long as I can remember.  They now have an online repository for these anecdotes and you can submit a self-defense story, real or imagined, which is then edited and republished for all to read.  And yes, even if you don’t have a story, the NRA will send you an armed citizen bumper sticker.  The NRA claims that millions of Americans use guns in self-defense every year, but when someone uses the evidence posted on their website to contradict their claims about the self-defense value of AR-15s, all of a sudden the data is no good.  I really can’t imagine how Judge Blake wrote that part of her decision with a straight face.