What Kind Of Training Do Gun Owners Receive? None At All.

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I have decided that it’s time for Mike the Gun Guy to become a little less polite (imagine – Mike the Gun Guy ‘less’ polite) and start responding to some of the things that are said on the gun violence prevention (GVP) side which I feel hold us back, rather than help us to move ahead. This decision should not be taken in any way, shape or form as a criticism or even a concern about the importance and necessity of GVP. To the contrary, as a fundamental issue with which all Americans to be engaged, in the Age of Trump GVP tops the list.

training             Last week a group of public health gun researchers published the results of a national survey which found that 4 out of 10 Americans who are legally allowed to walk around with a gun (CCW) have not received any gun training at all. And the results of this survey are not much different from similar surveys published in 1994, except that the number of CCW-holders has probably doubled, if not tripled from that earlier date.

That a majority of people who can legally walk around with a concealed weapon have received some kind of formal gun training is now validated again by the results of this survey, and the narrative will slowly but surely circulate throughout the public domain and in and around the GVP. On the other hand, the fact that four out of ten CCW-holders have not engaged in any formal gun training demonstrates the degree to which “no national standards or requirements for firearm training in the USA exist.” And this lack of consistent standard (or any standard for that matter) regarding how to use a gun is particularly concerning given the expected push by the Republicans who might not get a new healthcare law but just might vote through a national, reciprocal CCW law that their President will surely sign.

There’s only one little problem with this survey and by pro-GVP media efforts to publicize the findings hither and yon, namely, that despite what the researchers believe they were asking respondents to tell them, what in fact they were asking respondents in this survey had nothing to do with training at all. Know where the word ’training’ comes from as it applies to guns? It’s a word first used by the NRA which was actually founded as a ‘training’ organization in 1873. Not only does the NRA continue to promote themselves as America’s premier gun-training organization, but they have launched a new training effort focusing on CCW techniques called Carry Guard, which they refer to as a “first-rate, elite program” aimed (pardon the pun) at people who lead the ‘concealed-carry lifestyle’ and want to be ready for ‘real-life situations you must be prepared to face.’

This isn’t training – it’s a sham. It’s used to entice people to purchase an insurance policy which will allegedly pay all their legal fees after they shoot someone, assuming they don’t get convicted for some kind of felony committed while they were using their gun. Along with this training program, the NRA now offers its standard training programs on video, and these programs are used by most CCW-issuing authorities in states where pre-CCW training is still required. What’s the difference between NRA video training and video games like Call of Duty that you can play on your X-Box?  There is no difference.

I’m an old-fashioned guy so words have meanings, whether we like the meanings or not. I think GVP is making a profound mistake using words whose meaning has been distorted beyond all recognition by the NRA. If GVP is going to convince people that what they say about gun violence is true and what the other side says is false, then the words we use should be our words and not words that are bandied about by the NRA in order to help sell more guns.

And what I just said about GVP applies to public health researchers as well.

Women Do Need To Protect Themselves But Not With A Gun.

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It figures that while the women were marching around the NRA headquarters, the boys in Fairfax would crank up the usual pro-gun noise to promote the idea that what women really need to do to make themselves safe is to own and carry a gun.  The march, incidentally, was in response to the NRA video narrated by home-schooling queen Dana Loesch which features the usual, racist crap America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ has been throwing out for years. Notice that I’m not providing a link to the video because I believe that it should be, and should have been ignored.

ccw             When it comes to women and guns, the real issue as far as I’m concerned is not whether an alt-right media personality can promote herself by pimping for the NRA, nor is it whether the NRA did or didn’t say anything after the police murder of Philando Castile (which, in fact, they did.) The real issue is the issue of women and guns. Because the latest data shows that men outnumber women as gun owners by a margin of two to one, which means that women still represent an untapped market for gun sales, a particularly important issue because gun sales continue to lag and sag during the Age of Trump.

Meanwhile, although the gun violence prevention (GVP) folks often find themselves on the defensive when it comes to new laws on guns, they have scored some notable successes in one area, namely, the push to keep guns out of the hands of (usually) men charged with domestic abuse, with new restrictions being passed in 23 states since 2014.  In this regard, it’s the NRA which has been on the defensive, even though they recently scored victories in Indiana and Tennessee, but what these laws do is allow domestic abuse victims quicker access to guns, they don’t make it easier for the abuser to keep or get his hands on a gun.

Gun-nut Nation’s legal strategy to sidestep the issue of guns which cause injuries to domestic abuse victims and concentrate instead on why guns are everyone’s essential tool for self-defense flows directly from the way the NRA has been talking about domestic abuse for years, namely, to not talk about it at all.  One of the most popular courses in the NRA training curriculum is something called ‘Refuse To Be A Victim,’ which the Fairfax boys claim has been taught to more than 100,000 people and is allegedly an ‘award-winning’ crime prevention program although it’s not clear which organization actually gave the NRA this award.

I am, in fact, a certified NRA trainer in this particular course, and I took the certification because I wanted to see what the course was all about. What’s it about is a mélange of half-baked, vague bits of paranoia which cobbles together all the usual crap about online security and identify theft, buying and installing a burglar alarm, making sure that nobody’s following you down that dark street or about to jack your car. The student manual says the course was designed by the ‘women of the NRA’ and presumes that everyone taking the course lives in a nice, split-level suburban home. The curriculum says absolutely nothing about guns.

It also says next to nothing about domestic abuse. The student manual contains one statement to the effect that people who want information about domestic abuse situations should contact a national, non-profit hotline, but that’s as far as it goes. In fact, you would think from the course content that online identity theft for women is a much bigger threat than the fact that women are assaulted domestically millions of times each year.

NRA’s effort to promote female gun ownership as a response to domestic abuse is an insult and a sham. And idiots like Dana Loesch who pretend to represent all those tough, gun-owning women just waiting to pull out their guns on some street ‘thug’ only dishonor themselves and the organization they claim to represent.

 

THANKS TO GAIL LEHMANN.

Fixing Commuter Lines Is Like Fixing Gun Violence: We Need Someone in Charge.

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My friend Mitchell Moss is Professor and Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy at New York University and he can best be described as a pain in the rear end. And the reason he’s a pain is because he’s one of those guys who really believes that trains should run on time – not because he’s a follower of Mussolini, but because he knows that with proper planning and execution, services like public transportation on which we all depend to get through our daily lives, can be made to work and run the way they are supposed to work and run.

nycentral              The problem is that we take public services for granted until the moment they break down. When was the last time you thought about the 12 billion tons of solid waste that’s collected each day in New York City except on the day that the garbage truck that’s supposed to come through your neighborhood doesn’t show up? How about what to do if you turned on the tap in the kitchen sink and the water that came out was brown? And worst of all, how do you feel when you squeeze into a commuter train or subway and the train just sits, and sits, and sits. Or maybe you can’t even get into the train. Or maybe the train that you’re riding suddenly goes off the tracks.

Which is what has been happening during what Andy called the ‘summer of agony’ in a letter he sent to Donald Trump begging for federal funds. But the commuter mess in New York City isn’t just a question of replacing tracks and tunnels which are 100 years old. As Professor Moss describes it, the problem begins at the very top because, simply put, there’s nobody in charge.  When Amtrak took over the management of Northeast corridor railroads from the bankrupt Penn-Central back in the 1970s, nobody really gave much thought to the crumbling infrastructure – tracks and tunnels – which links the massive Pennsylvania Station commuter platforms to the lines which carry millions of commuters in and out of the city every day, along with the interface to the city’s subway system which has always been plagued by lack of repairs and lack of infrastructure funds. Last year I was in Chicago and as I was sitting on the subway that runs from the Loop out to O’Hare, a man came through the train with broom, sweeping up the floor. In the thirty-odd years I lived in New York City I never saw anyone cleaning a subway car while the train was in service – not once.

Now why would a guy like me who writes about guns and gun violence write a column about subways and commuter trains? Because sometimes I think that when it comes to figuring out what to do about gun violence we react in ways that somehow leave certain important things undone. And what I am going to say now should not be taken in any way as the slightest criticism of the good faith, hard work, commitment and energies of anyone who is involved with gun violence prevention; a.k.a. GVP. But it needs to be said nonetheless.

The GVP community has to develop some kind of messaging venue which competes with the NRA in terms of timeliness, reach and effectiveness. There’s a reason why a majority of Americans believe that keeping a gun in your house is less of a risk than not having a gun, and that’s because the NRA has been pushing the phony ‘armed citizen’ message for years. But you know what? Say it enough times and sooner or later it gets through.

I don’t think a week goes by without the boys in Fairfax mounting a video which repeats the ‘guns are great’ argument again and again. And I don’t see anything on the other side – our side – making the honest argument about the risk represented by guns.

Isn’t it high time GVP got together and began firing back?  Pardon the pun.

Check Out The New Betsy Riot Website!

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I was just about to post one of my usual, boring columns when I found myself looking at a new website which just went up today: https://betsyriot.com/.  As someone who got into media long before there was an internet, I have ambivalent feelings about the fact that anyone can turn on their computer or their tablet and become an immediate sensation just by putting something online which strikes some kind of chord.

betsy             But the world changes, thank God, and maybe the open-source media universe is a very good thing. Because if we had to depend on market-based media for all our information and news, it would preclude us from engaging with the kind of folks who are running this Betsy Riot website and frankly, what they are doing should be seen by as many people as possible both within the U.S. and around the globe.

Let’s start right at the beginning and ask: Who is Betsy?  Actually, that’s not the right question. What we need to ask is what is a Betsy since Betsy isn’t someone’s name, it’s a descriptive for how certain people think and behave. And the answer is right on the front of the website: “an unapologetic feminist patriot who has fucking had enough of Trump culture and gun culture and the death and terror they inflict on America.”

I like this approach because I’m frustrated at the degree to which many people who don’t like Trump and reject his embrace of a pro-gun narrative tend to be quite polite. And politesse is a generic issue with liberals, because they tend to be educated and education teaches people to be polite. You can’t yell out obscenities in a classroom the way Trump does at his rallies; for that matter, you can’t do it in front of an MSNBC camera, but you can do it if you’re in a studio owned by Fox.

Let me make it clear that when I talk about obscene language, I’m not talking about using words like sh*t and fu*k. To me, saying something obscene means something hurtful, nasty, racist, homophobic or something you know not to be true. I can’t recall a single Trump tweet which isn’t obscene. I have never seen an NRA video which doesn’t contain language which isn’t obscene. When that dope Dana Loesch does a video I which she talks about how she uses a gun to protect herself from ‘street thugs,’ she’s both a liar and a racist and that’s obscene.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong by talking about gun violence with the same language which Gun-nut Nation uses to promote the idea that anyone opposed to gun ownership is un-American, unpatriotic and worse. I like the fact that the Betsy Riot website refers to the ‘gun lobby’ as the ‘death lobby.’ It’s appropriate and it’s true. I like the fact that Trump’s staff is referred to as ‘dutiful fascists’ because that’s what some of them are. And most of all, I like when they say that their mission is to “rescue our country from this fascist fucking sideshow” because frankly, I can’t think of a more apt and accurate description of what’s going on in the Oval Office right now.

The reason Trump made common cause with the NRA and the reason that the boys from Fairfax continue to promote Trump’s agenda is because both Trump and ‘America’s oldest civil rights organization’ have a vested interest in mainlining gun violence if it’s the kind of gun violence which suits their ends and needs. The NRA promotes gun violence if someone defends himself by shooting a ‘street thug,’ and Trump made a point of telling his campaign rallies that violence committed against anti-Trump protestors was a good thing.

It’s time to stop being so polite and let the other side know in no uncertain terms that what they are promoting is violent, dangerous and wrong. And the message needs to be delivered in a direct and no-nonsense way.

Go to it Betsy Riot – go, go, go.

How Many Members In The NRA? Depends Who’s Talking.

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When the Pew Research Center released a detailed report on U.S. gun owners, I knew it wouldn’t be long until the organization which claims to represent all gun owners – the NRA – responded in kind. And the response appeared on the NRA-ILA website which tried to explain how and why Pew’s estimate that the NRA has 14 million members may have been wrong but was actually right.

NRA building             What Pew did was ask its survey panel, which they claim to be representative of a cross-section of Americans, to indicate whether or not they were members of the NRA. And then extrapolating the ‘yes’ answers against the percentage of Americans which Pew claims own guns, you wind up with 14 million people who say they have joined America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ as the boys in Fairfax like to say.

Now since the NRA itself claims only to have 5 million members, how do we explain that all of a sudden the organization has added 9 million more to its membership rolls? Here’s how the NRA is handling it as of today: “we have millions more Americans who support us and will tell pollsters they are members, even when they are not.” And to underscore this point, the NRA website also linked to a story from The Washington Times (a real, balanced piece of journalism) which states that the Pew report shows that 21% of gun owners had contacted a public official about gun policy at some point in their lives, but only 12% of the nonowners said they did.

Now before everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community gets all hot and bothered about a tidal wave of gun owners out there who are endlessly surging forward to defend their ownership of guns, let me inject a bit of reality into the NRA’s membership claims. In 2015 the organization claims to have received $165 million in dues, which happens to be $10 million less than what they picked up in their biggest year, which was 2013.  At the current rate of $40 a year, this works out to slightly more than 4 million members, although there are various multi-year deals which might alter those numbers somewhat.

The other way to estimate the NRA membership is to figure out the circulation of their four magazines – American Rifleman, American Hunter, Shooting Illustrated, America’s Freedom – one of which every dues-paying member receives. But if you take a look at their press kit, you’ll notice that the figure for American Rifleman of 5.5 million refers to ‘total audience,’ which is based not on circulation of the magazine, but on a survey conducted by a firm, GfK, which does consumer research about all kinds of things. In fact, this same company conducts surveys for Pew.

How many members does the NRA really have?  As many as they want to have as long as their numbers aren’t totally crazy or based on things they say which simply can’t be true. But if, according to Pew, 9% of gun owners contacted a public official this past year as opposed to 5% of nonowners, then what these numbers tell me is that, pace what the NRA is trumpeting about the political activism of their members, the numbers don’t show that at all.

Remember that Pew reported gun ownership as representing 30% of the adults who answered the poll. Which means that there are 73.5 million who own guns in the United States and 171.7 million who don’t. And if you do the math on the percentages of both groups who contacted a public official, the gun-owning group numbers 6.6 million but the non-owning political activists topped 8.6 mil.

I would be willing to bet that gun owners, by and large, probably reach out more frequently to lawmakers because the NRA has its communication strategies down pat. But if anyone believes that the playing field over gun rights hasn’t become more level since Sandy Hook, they better think again. The NRA is hardly moribund, that’s true, but the other side seems to be keeping pace.

Is Keeping Guns Out Of The Wrong Hands The Way To End Gun Violence?

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Increasingly I find myself uncomfortable with the prevailing orthodoxy in gun violence prevention (GVP) circles that the way to reduce gun violence is to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ As far as I’m concerned, gun violence, intentional or not, has little to do with whether the hands holding the gun are the ‘right’ hands or the ‘wrong’ hands, because this approach defines gun ownership in legal terms, and legal terms don’t speak to the reasons for most gun injuries. In fact, the whole concept of defining gun behavior based on ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ hands comes out of the debates which led to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68) which was crafted to avoid or at least lessen arguments over whether Americans could or couldn’t own guns.

Here’s the preamble to that law:

“The Congress hereby declares that the purpose of this title is to provide support to Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence, and it is not the purpose of this title to place any undue or unnecessary Federal restrictions or burdens on law-abiding citizens with respect to the acquisition, possession, or use of firearms appropriate to the purpose of hunting, trapshooting, target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity….”

gun-violence             The whole point of gun regulations is to deal with crime, not with gun violence per se. This is because gun violence and crime simply aren’t the same. There are roughly 32,000 gun deaths each year, but only 11,000 or so are criminal events – homicides – the rest are suicides, accidents and police shootings, none of which represent a gun that was, legally speaking, in the ‘wrong’ hands. As for non-fatal injuries, somewhere around 60,000 are assaults, but many of those events (we don’t actually have any idea exactly how many) grow out of ongoing disputes between family members, spouses, friends; in fact, the FBI says that only 20% of all gun assaults occurred during the commission of another felony crime. And then there are somewhere around 20,000 non-fatal gun accidents which don’t result in any criminal charges at all. Add it all up, and the number of gun injuries which occur because a gun ended up in what the law says are the ‘wrong’ hands is not even half of the gun injuries suffered by Americans each year.

The NRA has a habit of saying things which are stupidly true, such as the idea that criminals don’t obey laws, so why make more laws that regulate guns? If the criteria for creating any law was that it had to be a statute that would be obeyed by criminals, then you could throw out the entire legal system altogether. We pass laws to establish behavioral norms, and if the norms are violated, the violator pays the price. We believe that intentionally shooting someone else with a gun is a bad thing to do. Does that mean that only ‘bad guys’ will commit armed violence with a gun? Of course not. Does everyone drive at the posted speed limit or stops at a red light before making a right-hand turn?

But the real problem is that if we want to stop gun violence before it occurs, we have to figure out who might be prone to commit gun violence and try to keep guns out of their hands. Tell that to the research team which studied every emergency room visit in Flint, MI of boys, 14 y/o and older, and discovered that the exact same social factors (poverty, lack of education, drug use, joblessness, etc.) which were associated with violent injuries were also associated just as frequently with patients who never sought medical help for a violent injury at all.

Keeping guns out of the wrong hands may pass the 2nd-Amendment litmus-test for all those folks who are worried about Constitutional ‘rights.’ But was anyone walking around Wal Mart with an AR slung over their shoulder when the Constitution was ratified in 1789?

 

Is Gun Violence Endemic Or Epidemic? It’s Both.

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So far this year our friends at the Gun Violence Archive are posting 7,821 deaths from guns. Which means that if the rate of gun deaths continues for the remainder of 2017, this year will end up seeing an increase in gun deaths over last year of around 15 percent, and an increase since 2014 of nearly 25 percent.

urban            I thought that gun deaths were going down because all law-abiding citizens are walking around with guns. Or at least they should be walking around with guns if you agree with the NRA. After all, the gun industry has been bragging about the ‘decline’ in violent crime at the same time that so many Americans are buying guns. Since the early 90’s, according to the NSSF, “homicides, other crimes, and accidents involving firearms have decreased dramatically,”

Actually, this dramatic decrease in gun violence more or less ended around 2000, then went up a bit, went down a bit, but now seems to be moving quickly upwards again. And don’t make the mistake of believing that this is just Chicago’s problem, even though the jerk in the White House keeps saying he’s going to send the troops into the Windy City to help Rahm out.  In fact, homicides in Chicago appear to be down by roughly 15% so far this year; too many lives are still being lost but we’ll take every bit of progress we can get.

Cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland rank far ahead of Chicago for murder rates, Newark and Memphis are also more dangerous cities in which to live. Guns and gun violence are so endemic in many locations that the IPO of Shotspotter, whose technology tells the cops where guns are being shot off, jumped 26% as soon as shares went public, a sure sign that the violent use of guns isn’t going to disappear.

What appears to be happening in gun violence is what a brilliant physician and public health researcher, Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, wrote about in 2007 when she analyzed a shift in gun violence from ‘epidemic’ to ‘endemic’ rates. I happen to think that Dr. Christoffel’s article is one of the most important and informative contributions to the public health literature on gun violence and you can download it here. What she argues is that gun violence quickly spiked and then just as quickly declined between the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s because it was perceived as an ‘epidemic’ and treated as an emergency through a combination of local policing and health initiatives, coordination between stakeholding agencies and national legislation (e.g., the Brady bill.)

The result of these efforts, which also paralleled an overall decrease in violent crime, was that gun violence rates fell back to where they had been in the early 1980’s, but have since then remained steady and, in the last several years, started to go back up. But the transition from epidemic to endemic gun violence doesn’t mean that a fundamental ‘cure’ for the problem has been found. To the contrary, the problem with endemic public health conditions, as Dr. Christoffel points out, is that not only do they result in much suffering within the populations where the problem still exists, but they can ‘flare up’ as epidemics from place to place and time to time.

What we are witnessing in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit are exactly the return of an epidemic of gun violence which grows out of an endemic condition that has stabilized nationally but has never really been brought under control. In 1993, there were just under 40,000 gun deaths (homicide, suicide, accidents) which set a national gun-violence rate of 15.4. If the year-to-year increase continues at the recent rate, we could exceed the 1993 gun violence numbers within the next two or three years.

I hate to say it but it needs to be said: A lot more people may have to get killed or injured before something that really reduces gun violence ever gets done.

 

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