Do God And Guns Go Together?

Today’s Des Moines Register contains a Letter to the Editor that sums up everything that works and doesn’t work for people who are trying to figure out a way to reduce the violence caused by guns.  The author, who identifies himself as a practicing Catholic, comments positively on an earlier letter from a reader who did not understand how someone could be pro-life and, at the same time, be against ‘common-sense’ measures for gun safety.  To which the writer of this letter opined: “Anyone claiming to be pro-life but silent on gun safety is irrational.”

church2             What the author seems to be saying is that pro-life activists who also identify themselves as gun supporters are crazy, which means that there are an awful lot of crazy people wandering around. The pro-life movement has always found its message receptively received by people who consider themselves to be religiously and socially conservative; i.e., Evangelicals, many of whom, particularly white Evangelicals, also tend to be extremely pro-gun.

Does the fact that someone might hold religious and social beliefs which appear to be inconsistent to someone else make that person a nut?  Or is it possible that what at first glance seem to be inconsistent religious and social beliefs aren’t really inconsistent at all?

Evangelical preachers were wandering around spreading the gospel in colonial times (basically because most were tossed out of England because they criticized the Anglican Church) but the movement really came into its own in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in particular when Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell began to make common cause with the rightward shift of the Republican Party in the years leading up to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.  This period happened to coincide with the emergence of a much more aggressive, politicized NRA leadership following what is referred to as the 1977 Cincinnati ‘revolt.’

Although the Evangelical movement has now spread all over the country and has even shown surprising popularity with inner-city, new immigrant groups, its basic strength has always been in the South among whites who also happen to be the population that overwhelmingly owns guns. And while Evangelical belief is based on a literal interpretation of the Good Book, another strain which runs through the faith is the idea that family safety and security are basic cornerstones of the faith.  That being the case, how could the gun industry and its NRA allies not attempt to promote a narrative which linked guns to protection from crime?

The fact that someone believes in the sanctity of life doesn’t mean they are being inconsistent by promoting at the same time an argument which views owning a gun as a means of preserving life when or if that life is threatened by someone else. Ask any gun owner if he practices proper safety measures and he’ll always say ‘yes.’ Ask the same individual what he would do if someone tried to break into his home and he’ll unhesitatingly tell you that he’ll pick up his gun and blow the bad guy away.  What’s inconsistent about that?

At the beginning of this column I said that there were things which worked and didn’t work for advancing the idea that we need to make a stronger effort to reduce the violence caused by guns. What works is reminding people again and again that no matter how you cut it, more than 120,000 gun injuries each year is simply a cost we shouldn’t have to bear. And it doesn’t work to wait until after the injury occurs, then grab the guy who committed the injury, slam him into a cell and throw away the key.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that just because someone believes a gun doesn’t represent a threat to themselves or anyone else means that such an individual has no honest respect for human life. I long ago decided that what I believe may conform with reality but that’s only because I define reality in a certain way. Which may or may not work for anyone else.

 

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Tom Gabor – Concealed Carry Reciprocity.

In the aftermath of the two deadly mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, Congress should be protecting Americans from gun violence by strengthening our gun laws, not weakening them. Instead, in a party line vote last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 38), a National Rifle Association (NRA) priority.

CCW1If this bill is enacted into law, each state would be required to honor a concealed carry permit issued by another state, even if the permit holder’s state of residence has much lower standards or no permit requirement at all for those carrying concealed weapons. This would be a dangerous law, as it would allow people to seamlessly carry guns across state lines, regardless of the vetting and training required by the state issuing the permit.

It is ironic that during a period in which gun deaths have been increasing and mass shootings are claiming an unprecedented number of victims, our first national law in many years would prioritize the rights of gun owners rather than enhance public safety. It is also a paradox that we would have a national law that, rather than setting a high national standard for individuals who carry lethal weapons, would instead preserve a system of disparate state laws in which the lowest standard would be imposed on all states. The NRA and Republicans also violate conservative doctrine by undermining the right of states to protect their residents through the imposition of rigorous requirements on gun permit applicants.

Asserting federal authority in gun policy might be worth considering if there was compelling evidence that such an approach would improve public safety. However, research clearly shows that increasing gun carrying offers few advantages and imperils public safety. John Donohue at Stanford University has shown that right-to-carry laws have increased state violent crime rates by 15%. An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 found that just one of these incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, found that just one in every 2,000 potential or actual mass shootings is successfully stopped by an armed civilian. Meanwhile, the Violence Policy Center has documented over 1,100 killings by concealed carry permit holders since 2007.

Gun carrying also raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion in active-shooter incidents. In 2016, an individual shot five Dallas police officers as the officers were providing security at a rally attended by open-carry activists armed with assault weapons. The police chief stated that these activists impeded responding officers, creating confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were additional shooters.

Gun carrying also raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion in active-shooter incidents. In 2016, an individual shot five Dallas police officers as the officers were providing security at a rally attended by open-carry activists armed with assault weapons. The police chief stated that these activists impeded responding officers, creating confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were additional shooters.

Currently, 12 states do not require a permit to carry a firearm and about two dozen states require no training in the safe handling and use of firearms.  Even states requiring such training do not approach the standards recommended by experts.  Joseph Vince, a leading national expert,  states that training should include mental preparation, knowledge of the law, judgment, and expertise and familiarity with firearms.  Just a handful of states take training seriously and, under the proposed Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, they would be forced to allow individuals to bring in guns from states that require no training at all.

With gun violence and mass shootings presenting grave threats to Americans, this bill represents a retreat in standards governing the carrying of guns.  This retreat would ignore the shortcomings of civilian training, as well as polls showing the public’s increasing desire for stricter regulation of firearms.  Congress should reject this bill in favor of one that will actually keep America safe.

Thomas Gabor is author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This op-ed was originally published in Fortune Magazine.

What Should We Do About The National Concealed-Carry Bill?

Now that H.R. 38, the national concealed-carry (CCW) bill, has come out of a House committee and appears headed for a positive vote on the floor, let’s put all the yelling and shouting aside and discuss what this law will and won’t do.  The NRA has been pushing national CCW reciprocity since Senator Larry Craig introduced the first measure in 1997 before he was found groping beneath the public toilet stall, and for the first time the bill may get the necessary votes in both chambers to be sent up to the Oval Office for a signing ceremony organized by Herr Goebbels – oops! – I mean Trump.

CCW1The bill basically says that anyone with a CCW license from their state of residence, or a legal gun owner in a state which does not require specific CCW licensing, can carry a gun with them as they move anywhere within the United States. Incidentally, if this bill is signed into law, it will immediately put to rest a whole scam industry known as ‘non-resident’ concealed-carry licensing which creates revenue for gun trainers and public treasuries in states that offer CCW to residents of other states. On the other hand, this bill doesn’t quite open the floodgates to a horde of legal concealed-carrying killers moving from state to state. And here are the reasons why.

First, the bill does not open gun-free zones in any state to non-residents carrying guns. In other words, if you own or manage a property and have decided that guns aren’t allowed, this decision cannot be challenged by anyone just because they happen to be walking around armed. More important, the law does not challenge a 4th Circuit decision handed down this past January, which affirmed the conviction of a West Virginia resident who was searched after the cops got a tip that he was carrying a gun and decided that he was therefore ‘armed and dangerous’ even though state law did not prohibit him from carrying a gun.

The conviction was upheld because the Court ruled that the police had ‘probable cause’ to conduct a search which then resulted in an arrest.  And what was the probable cause? It was, according to the Court, the fact that even if the armed individual was carrying a legal gun, there was still the possibility that being armed made this person dangerous as well.  The national CCW bill does contain language that imposes sanctions on any local or state government which arrests someone whose carrying of a gun doesn’t conform with concealed-carry laws in the non-resident state, but it also clearly suspends the right of non-resident CCW in cases of ‘probable cause.’

Right now it’s estimated that 14 million Americans possess a license which allows them to walk around their state of residence with a gun. There are also 12 states which have some form of ‘constitutional carry,’ which means no special permit is required in order to walk around armed.  These states probably have about 10 million adults, and if we assume a per-capita gun ownership in these states at or above 50%, this means that altogether maybe 20 million legal gun owners will be able to move with a concealed weapon from state to state. Perhaps one out of five gun owners actually walks around with a concealed gun; my own experience is that the ratio is closer to one out of 10.  Either way, opening up every state to CCW-carriers from other states won’t result in a tidal wave of armed travelers crossing state lines.

The problem with H.R. 38 is not that it will unleash a horde of CCW-killers going from state to state. Rather, the bill reinforces the mistaken notion that guns are an effective and necessary device to protect society from crime. This is a view now held by a majority of Americans, gun owners or not. The GVP movement needs to confront this issue head on, not by simply trying to keep people from walking around with a gun.

 

How Come You Have To Be Pro-Gun To Enjoy Shopping?

I would say that I get about 30 weekly emails asking me for money.  The Wilderness Society is pretty aggressive, ditto Brady and MOMS, a local charity that feeds the homeless also sends something out every week and let’s not forget the Democratic Senate Committee to whom I recently some dough because of the mess in Alabama, which unfortunately now appears to be tilting back towards harm’s way.

NRA certs crop2

But the Numero Uno when it comes to pestering me for cash is America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ to which I have belonged since 1955.  And to prove that I’m not just a regular member, the pic above are several of the diplomas that I have been awarded by the NRA, the Defender of Freedom certificate containing not only the signature of Wayne-o, but also the signature of a real freedom defender, none other than Ollie North.

These little wall decorations come to me because I’m still of the belief that at some point in time the NRA will stop trying to convince Americans that guns aren’t a risk and get back to doing what it used to do, namely, helping sports-minded shooters enjoy the ownership of their guns. The truth is that I find all this blabber about ‘2nd-Amendment rights,’ ‘protecting our freedoms,’ and ‘keeping us safe’ not only total nonsense but boring and silly at best. Every time I pick up one of my guns, it’s like petting Leonard the Cat; makes me feel good to know that an old friend is still around. But it’s nothing more than that and I wish more gun nuts would stop taking themselves so damn seriously. I mean, give me a break.

On the other hand, maybe the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would also think of lowering the decibels a tiny bit.  Nobody’s saying that we should accept, justify or excuse 30,000+ gun deaths and 75,000 gun injuries each and every year, a number which lately appears to be creeping up. On the other hand, when I send money to the GVP groups, which I do on a regular basis, I get back an email acknowledging the donation and that’s it. When I donated to Obama’s campaigns, I got a nice picture of Barack and Michelle, and at the end of the year I received a pretty Christmas photo of the parents and the kids. The photos have become wall decorations stuck right next to the certificates from the NRA.

This may sound kind of corny and stupid, but I like to feel that I’m part of something, that somehow I’m in a group which, for a certain kind of issue, believes the way I believe. I’m not saying that GVP organizations should or could ever attempt to become merchandising operations like the Fairfax boys. About the only thing you can’t buy on the NRA website these days is a gun or a truck. But sportswear, gifts, accessories and gear abounds.

On the other hand, I go to the Brady Campaign store and what do I see? A bunch of coffee mugs, a tote bag, the usual t-shirts with slogans – hey, there’s got to be some more interesting consumer items out there which can make me feel more excited about supporting the GVP campaign.  I’m not saying that gun violence isn’t serious, but why can’t I enjoy giving money to a good cause?

I wouldn’t be diluting my commitment to reducing gun violence just because I can do a little online shopping on the same website which reminds me that I’m supposed to make a donation to a good cause. Consumerism and advocacy go hand-in-hand. If anything, a nice online shopping consumer experience might tempt me to donate a little more dough. It sure seems to work for the NRA.

Thomas Gabor–The Myth of the Benefits of an Armed Citizenry.

Following the slaughter of elementary school children in Newtown (CT), Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, stated: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  This statement was not only highly insensitive in removing the focus from the children and their grieving families, but was also cynical and dishonest, as LaPierre suggested that arming school staff was the only way to avoid such slaughters.  Every other advanced country has figured out a way to protect their children without turning schools into armed fortresses.

armedConsider the logic of arguing that more guns will reduce incidents of gun violence.  It is like saying that the best solution to opiate addiction is to make opiates more accessible or that our best means of tackling an influenza epidemic is to expose more people to the agent involved.

Following America’s worst church mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, much was made by gun rights advocates about the confrontation of the shooter by an armed resident as he left the church and the pursuit by truck of the shooter by the resident and another individual.  The church shooting was not stopped by the armed man but it has been claimed that the perpetrator may have harmed others had the armed citizen not intervened.  That is an unknown but the large-scale shooting (26 killed, 20 wounded) occurred before the armed resident became involved.

Previous incidents illustrate how infrequently armed private citizens intervene successfully to stop a shooting.   An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000-2013 found that just one of these incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. By contrast, 21 incidents were resolved when unarmed individuals restrained or confronted the shooter.  Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, examined potential and actual mass shootings from 1966 to 2015 and found that just one twentieth of one percent (about one in every 2,000 cases) is successfully stopped by an armed civilian.

 

If arming civilians produced a net benefit with regard to public safety, we would expect places with more guns to have fewer crimes.  The US has about 90 civilian-owned guns per 100 people, the largest civilian arsenal on the planet.  At the same time, the US stands alone among high-income countries with a gun homicide rate that is 25 times that of the aggregated rate for other high-income countries. This pattern is repeated at the state level where states with higher levels of gun ownership tend to have more, not fewer, gun deaths.  In the five states with the highest gun death rates, half of all homes own a gun.  In the five states with the lowest gun death rates, just one in 7 homes owns a gun.

 

Each year, 90,000 US households are interviewed in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).  This survey, which does not cover homicides or suicides for obvious reasons, reveals about a half million gun crimes a year.  In addition, based on surveys of the prevalence of domestic violence, there are likely several hundred thousand gun threats each year against targeting domestic partners and other family members.  If the number is 200,000 (a conservative figure), the total number of harmful gun uses a year is in the 750,000 range.  The NCVS finds that the annual number of defensive gun uses against attackers is under 50,000.  Therefore, criminal and other harmful uses of guns likely outnumber defensive uses by a ratio of at least 15:1.

 

David Hemenway and Sara Solnick of Harvard used NCVS data to see examine the frequency and consequences of defensive gun uses in 14,000 personal contact crimes committed when the victim was present.  They found that fewer than one percent (.9%) used a gun in self-defense. They also found that using a gun for protection, as opposed to taking some other protective action, did not diminish the chances that a victim would incur an injury.

 

Genuine defensive gun uses are not just infrequent; gun carrying raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion during active-shooter incidents.  On July 7, 2016, an individual opened fire and killed five Dallas police officers.  The officers were on duty to provide security at a demonstration in which the killing of African-American men was being protested.  About 20-30 open-carry activists were also on the scene, carrying assault weapons and wearing fatigues and body armor.  Police Chief Brown stated that the armed individuals impeded the law enforcement response as they created confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were multiple shooters.

 

Another side effect of an increase in gun carrying is more gun thefts from cars.  These thefts are skyrocketing—2-3.5 million firearms have been stolen in the last decade– and they are more commonplace in states in which more people carry firearms outside the home.  States in the South (e.g., Texas, Georgia, and Florida) with the most permissive gun laws are overrepresented among states with the largest number of guns stolen between 2012 and 2015.

 

Currently, 12 states do not require a permit to carry a firearm and this list has been growing.  Even in states requiring a permit, the vetting and training of permit applicants do not even approach the standards for law enforcement officers.  Since May 2007, concealed carry permit holders have killed more than 1100 people and have committed many other crimes, including 31 mass shootings and 19 police officer killings.

 

Joseph Vince is a former agent with the ATF for 27 years and is one of the leading experts on firearms and gun-related crime.  He and his associates state that for a citizen to carry a firearm, training should include mental preparation, knowledge of the law, judgment, as well as expertise and familiarity with firearms. They recommend basic initial training to receive a permit and biannual recertification to maintain the permit.  Both training and recertification should consist of decision-making during real-life scenarios, shooting accuracy in stressful situations, and firing range practice.

 

While half the states require some firearms training in relation to an application for a gun carry permit, most of the features emphasized by Vince et al. are seriously lacking in most states.  For example, Florida law does not specify the content of these courses, only the qualifications necessary for instructors.  There is no test for retention of the information covered about the law or the handling of a firearm, no test of marksmanship—a few shots are fired down the range or into a barrel—and no training with regard to judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), no recertification, just an online renewal every 7 years.

 

Pete Blair trains law enforcement personnel to respond to active shooter situations.  Real-world scenarios prepare police officers for high-stress situations. Blair notes that one would expect people without training to “freeze up or not know what to do, and to have difficulty performing actions correctly.”  Research and police records show that even trained police officers miss their targets more often than they hit them during stressful combat situations.   Several analyses show that, in combat situations, trained officers miss the mark more than 80 % of the time.

 

Harmful and criminal uses of guns outnumber genuine defensive uses by a wide margin.  The average violent attack is over in 3 seconds.  Poor training makes it unlikely that a civilian without police or military training will use a gun successfully against an attacker and makes deadly mistakes more likely.  Poor vetting means that individuals who pose a serious risk to the public may gain access to arms through legal channels.  Yet the gun lobby and a certain segment of gun owners keeps trying to sell the fable of the armed citizen.  The evidence is clear that arming the average citizen seriously undermines public safety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Poster-Girl For Concealed Carry.

     I knew it was only a matter of time until Sarah Palin would try to salvage what’s left of her tattered political career by stooping to the lowest common denominator and appealing to the concealed-carry crowd.  And when you stop top think about it, what better way to make a headline then by combining the idea of armed, self-defense with the current media frenzy about sexual harassment in the workplace, the public park and just about everywhere else?

palin     Palin shot her wad yesterday in an interview with a reporter from MSNBC following a meeting in the U.S. Capitol with Rand Paul.  God knows what those two jerks are cooking up; probably an alt-right/white national ticket for 2020 now that Trump appears to have lost whatever claims he once had to represent the populist-nationalist-racist rantings of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Roy Moore.

There’s no way that Palin’s comment, “a whole lot of people know I’m probably packing so I don’t think there’s a whole lot of people who would necessarily mess with me,” wasn’t rehearsed over the last couple of weeks. Because her PR firm knew that sooner or later the media would be so desperate to continue pushing the sexual harassment angle that they would get around to her. And notice how she repeats the phrase ‘whole lot of people’ just to make sure that: a) everyone knows how dumb she pretends to be; and, b) everyone else who is ‘packing’ can feel a real kinship with her.

This attempt to build some kind of special, personal relationship based on concealed-carry has been the stock-in-trade of every huckster and merchandiser who wants to promote some kind of product or service to the population that really believes they are protecting themselves by walking around with a gun.  It’s called ‘tribal marketing,’ and it’s based on the idea that consumers are linked together because of a shared belief about a particular brand. And in this case the brand is the ‘armed citizen,’ a phrase actually trademarked by the NRA, which has now been spun off into insurance, clothing, and of course, guns.

Take a look at Palin’s website. Prominently displayed is an ad for the Concealed Carry Association of America along with a ‘Free Guide To Choosing Your Best Concealed Carry Handgun,’ also courtesy of the CCAA.  Her website drew slightly less than 2 million visits over the last 30 days, so it’s not like her jumbled message about love, faith, God, and everything else is reaching any kind of a big crowd. All the more reason why she’s run the concealed-carry message up the media flagpole and hoping for a big response.

Here’s the real problem with using a celebrity like Palin to promote concealed-carry as a lifestyle kind of brand. You can’t carry a gun around unless you actually own a gun. And as gun sales continue to slide under Trump and the number of households containing a gun also seems to be on a steady decline, convincing more Americans that a gun may protect them may work in terms of public opinion, but it won’t help gun makers sell more guns.

WISHING EVERYONE A WONDERFUL AND SAFE HOLIDAY!

 

 

Who Owns All The Guns? We Don’t Really Know.

One of the long-standing issues in the gun debate has been to calculate the number of guns actually floating around the United States.  This is an important number, if only because public health researchers have published very credible research which indicates that our elevated gun-violence numbers are directly related to a civilian gun arsenal which may now number more than 300 million guns.

traffic            We have a pretty good idea about the number of guns added to the civilian stash over the last 25 years thanks to the manufacturing reports published by the ATF.  And while this report is based on the number of guns made, not the number which the gun makers actually sell, it’s not necessarily an accurate number, but for purposes of this column it will do.  Since 1998 we also know more or less exactly how many new guns move into private hands thanks to the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI.

The real problem in coming up with a valid number for the total stock of guns is twofold: first, we have no idea how many guns that were manufactured between 1900 and 1990 were actually sold, and we also don’t know how many guns that were sold between 1900 and today are still floating around. Guns last a long time, that’s for sure. But they also break, they get lost, they get thrown away after Grandpa dies and Grandma moves into the nursing home; counting the civilian ‘gun stock’ is an inexact science at best.

Our friends at Harvard and Northeastern have recently come up with a pretty solid number based on the survey they conducted which at some point will be published by Russell Sage. Their current number is 265 million, which they derived by estimating overall totals from answers to their survey, then deducting a percentage for loss, wear and tear. Until some research group comes up with a new approach to figuring out the size of America’s gun arsenal, I’m content to stick with what the Harvard-Northeastern group would like to believe.

On the other hand, believe or not, if we are trying to understand the cause and effect relationship between the number of guns that are privately owned and the 115,000+ deaths and injuries caused by guns every year, I am yet to be persuaded that figuring out the number of guns in civilian hands is the right way to go. Because although 115,000 gun deaths and injuries is a shockingly-high number, it happens to represent a tiny fraction of the number of people who either own guns or put guns to the wrong use. And moreover, at least 80% of those deaths and injuries occur because someone shoots a handgun at themselves or someone else.

In addition to trying to figure out handgun ownership as opposed to ownership of all guns, there’s another problem which makes any attempt to develop public policies based on restricting or diminishing the number of privately-owned guns a risky business at best. At least two-thirds of the gun deaths and injuries that occur every year are criminal events, and even with our elevated gun-suicide rates, if gun crimes didn’t occur, our overall gun-violence rate would be no higher than the rest of the OECD.

How many of these 75,000 or more homicides and aggravated assaults are committed with ‘illegal’ guns? How many people possess a gun even though they cannot, under law, put their hands on a gun?  We have absolutely no idea. The NRA doesn’t miss an opportunity to consign all gun violence to ‘street thugs,’ but the truth is that we have no evidence-based research which necessarily proves the Boys from Fairfax to be wrong.

We have a pretty good idea about how many guns are legally owned – the information is found in all those FBI-NICS forms that everyone who buys a gun from a dealer has to fill out. But if we want to reduce gun violence, shouldn’t we try and learn something about the gun owners who don’t fill out those forms?