A New Report Spells Out The Real Costs Of Gun Violence.

Our friends at The Violence Policy Center (VPC) have just issued a very important report on the ways in which gun violence goes beyond creating dead and injured victims, but also disrupts and diminishes the quality of life in neighborhoods where too many shootings occur. And in case you didn’t know it, when I say ‘too many’ I mean more than none. This subject has a lengthy pedigree, going all the way back to the 1970s when Phil Cook began looking at this issue for the Ford Foundation, a subject he has revisited over the years, including an informative book on the issue published by Oxford University Press.

dontlie              But what makes the VPC report both timely and important is the fact that it starts where most reports on the costs of gun violence leave off, namely, going beyond measuring the financial costs (medical intervention, lost wages, decreased property values) and looking instead at the individual and community-wide psychological costs which are more difficult to immediately discern but may have a greater impact on how people live their lives. The report blends data on gun violence with “advances in recent brain science research” to show how ‘early life adversity’ resulting from violence can precipitate a condition known as ‘toxic stress’ which leads to difficulties in brain development, which leads to all kinds of adverse social and mental behavior both on an individual basis and for the community as a whole.

Consequences of toxic stress in young people include:

  • Reduced school performance leading to workforce difficulties and stagnant careers;
  • Increased incidence of substance abuse, potential for suicide and heightened anxiety;
  • Greater tendency to engage in violent and anti-social behavior.

And what could be more violent and anti-social than pulling out a gun? So what this research appears to indicate is that gun violence not only creates a large population of individuals who have suffered the physical effects of gunfire (if they survive the attack,) but an even much larger population that will suffer long-term problems that will impede the development of a normal life. How do we put a dollar figure on such outcomes the way that we put a dollar figure on how much medical responses to gun violence cost? We can’t, but if we could, the $229 billion that Mother Jones says are the direct and indirect costs of gun violence to the victims and institutions (hospitals, jails, etc.) which directly respond to the problem would be a drop in the  bucket compared to the real costs.

Which brings me to the report’s suggestions for how to respond to this problem, in particular the idea (Page 15) which calls for “anti-trafficking measures that could help interrupt the flow of illegal firearms to impacted communities,” and “public education campaigns and outreach materials to educate communities at risk regarding the risks of firearms in the home.”

Which happens to be the ‘Don’t Lie for the Other Guy’ program funded by the NSSF. What? The gun industry’s lobbying arm which has been front and center in pushing programs which allegedly promote gun violence is actually paying for an educational program which talks directly to one of the pet issues of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, namely, preventing guns from getting into the ‘wrong hands?’

You may not believe what I just said, but it happens to be true. And the reason it’s true is that I have personally seen full-size roadside billboards like the one pictured above in two cities, and I don’t mean on the Interstates that run around the towns. They were right in the middle of neighborhoods which experience high levels of gun crime.

The NSSF has put up signage in more than twenty urban centers and, frankly, I find it astonishing that the GVP community hasn’t conducted a similar campaign. To the degree that the GVP fights for stronger laws against straw sales, a national program educating the residents of gun-violent neighborhoods about straw sales would be a no-brainer, right?

So tell me, GVP, what are you waiting for?

 

Thanks to Fritz Walker.

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

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.

 

Are Guns Getting Safer? Don’t Believe What You Hear.

Once again the gun industry is patting itself on the back for something it didn’t do, namely, reducing accidental deaths and injuries caused by guns. Hey – wait a minute! It’s not the gun which causes the injury, it’s the person using the gun. Remember that one? The NRA will remind you of it every chance they get no matter whether we are talking about a gun which went off accidentally, or on purpose, or on whatever, it’s always the person, not the gun.

nsf              Which is why the gun industry continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth on this one – congratulating itself every time that statistics allegedly show a decline in gun accidents but rejecting any and all efforts to mandate gun safety either through the development of safe-gun technologies or passage of child access prevention (CAP) laws to keep guns out of the hands of kids.

Why do I say that the statistics ‘allegedly’ show a decline in gun accidents?  After all, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) didn’t dream up the latest information on gun safety all by itself.  Their press release is based on the latest report from the National Safety Council (NSC) which says that gun accidents declined 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, the same year that gun sales hit an all-time high.

The NSC’s information comes from the CDC, whose website shows a drop in accidental gun deaths from 586 in 2014 to 489 the following year. Of course the numbers for accidental, non-fatal gun accidents only show a 5% drop from 2013 to 2014, but like unintentional gun mortality, this number has also steadily dwindled down.

Incidentally, although the NSSF couldn’t wait to rush forward and take responsibility for the good news from the NSC, in fact the Council isn’t so enamored of the gun industry’s safety record.  Take a look at the NSC’s Statement on Firearms Policy which actually claims that more than 1,400 deaths occur annually because of gun accidents. The NSC goes on to say, “The absence of a reliable system for collecting and analyzing such accident data makes extremely difficult any meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of accident prevention programs.”  Know why we don’t have any ‘reliable system’ for understanding the true extent of gun injuries?  Because the gun industry has steadfastly rejected any and all attempts to reinstate CDC funding for gun research, remember?

But when it comes to gun injuries, there’s a much bigger problem than just whether we can get good data, and this is a problem which neither side in the gun debate seems to understand. Because the fact is that unless one breaks down gun injuries not by the number of injuries, or by the age, race, sex or location of the victim (the current categories utilized by the CDC,) but by the type of gun that caused the injury, you really can’t tell much about the issue of gun accidents at all. You might find bits and pieces of such information in the data collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) but it’s sporadic and highly fragmentary at best.

Why do we need to know what kind of gun caused the accident?  Because most long gun accidents occur during hunting (e.g., Dick Cheney) but handgun accidents rarely have anything to do with walking in the woods. And if we don’t know the ratio of handgun to long gun accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, then we understand very little about guns, gun use or gun safety at all.

The NSSF is absolutely correct when they use the NSC report to champion the idea that hunting is one of the ‘safest’ outdoor activities around. There’s only one little problem. We don’t hunt as frequently as we used to hunt and most new guns now being added to the civilian arsenal are handguns, and may account for the lion’s share of ‘accidental’ shootings each year. Isn’t it time the gun industry took the NSC at its word and did something meaningful about safety and guns?

What’s the difference between a modern sporting rifle and a weapon of war? A court decision, that’s what.

When it comes to court decisions, it hasn’t been a particularly good few days for my friend at the NRA or, for that matter, the NSSF.  It’s the latter group, after all, that has been promoting this marketing scam known as the ‘modern sporting rifle’ to make everyone believe that an AR-15 or AK-47 is just a modern version of the same, old semi-auto hunting rifle that Grandpa used to lug out into the woods.

AR2            I used to own one of these guns.  In my case it was a Remington Woodmaster 742 which had a magazine that held 4 rounds and was almost as accurate as my bolt-action Remington 700 – the best hunting rifle I ever owned.  The Woodmaster was a heavy old thing and it didn’t work so well with the lighter-weight 30-06 bullets, but put a 220-grain Federal Express cartridge up the pipe, aim the gun at Bambi standing 200 years downrange, and parts of Bambi ended up in the pressure cooker that night.

Folks – that Woodmaster was a ‘modern sporting rifle.’ My Colt AR H-Bar, which means it has a heavy barrel is not. And it’s not a sporting rifle because it’s a weapon of war. Yea, yea, I know that Colion Noir and all the other Gun-nut stinkheads like to post videos of themselves prancing around in some sandpit blasting away with their ARs at this Coke bottle or that tin can. And of course they’ll all repeat the NSSF nonsense about how their AR can’t be a military weapon because it only fires in semi-auto (one trigger pull, one shot) mode. But what these marketing warriors all fail to mention is that the standard rifle used by our troops in the field also can be set to fire one round at a time.  So if a trooper decides to set his battle rifle in semi-auto, is he now taking a modern sporting rifle into the field?

The good news is that the 4th Circuit Appeals Court understood this issue exactly when they upheld the new Maryland law on assault rifles which basically puts Maryland back to the situation that existed for ten years after the 1994 Clinton assault rifle ban.  The law defines an ‘assault rifle’ as any semi-auto rifle with a detachable magazine and other military-style attachments (handgun grip, etc.) and also bans magazines which hold more than ten rounds. The majority opinion says that such guns are ‘weapons of war’ and therefore do not fall under the 2nd-Amendment protections enumerated by the Heller decision handed down by the SCOTUS in 2008.

Last week another court case rocked Gun-nut Nation, in this case where the 11th Circuit tossed out the Florida law that criminalized the behavior of doctors who counsel their patients about guns.  In the 8-3 decision, which is about as definitive as you can get, the Court held that doctor-patient discussions are protected by the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech because in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities, physicians must be able to talk about anything they please.  Of course such conversations are entirely confidential and, like any other counseling by a physician, the patient is always free to reject the doctor’s advice or refuse to discuss the issue at all.

Right now Gun-nut Nation is 0-2 on issues that have been at the forefront of the promotion of gun violence over the past twenty years.  And why do I say that this bunch is trying to promote gun violence instead of, as they claim, just protecting all our 2nd-Amendment rights?  Because the argument that 125,000 gun deaths and injuries each year are the price we have to pay to protect ourselves with guns is an argument with no basis in truth.

But let’s remember that we are in the Age of Trump where truth and evidence-based information have little relevance to the public debate on gun violence or anything else. At least the majority of two federal courts have chosen to disagree.

Hunting Deer In Pennsylvania? Don’t Bring A Modern Sporting Rifle.’

At the end of this month the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold their first quarterly meeting of 2017, and the agenda will include approval of new changes in hunting regulations which go into effect.  Hunting is a big deal in Pennsylvania; only one state (Wisconsin) issues more resident hunting licenses, and the only state which derives more licensing revenue is Colorado because buying a license to hunt elk ain’t cheap. So when the Game Commission sits down to revise hunting regulations, the changes will affect a lot of Pennsylvania hunters this year.

hunting             Yet despite these impressive numbers, the truth is that hunters in Pennsylvania, like everywhere else, are a vanishing breed.  Since the early 1980’s, the Pennsylvania deer-hunting population has dropped by more than 25%, and in a 2004 survey, more than one-third of all Keystone State hunters said that declining health and increasing age would keep them from engaging in the sport any more.

So what do you do if you’re an industry that depends, in part, on hunters to buy your products and those particular consumers tell you that they no longer want or need the products you sell? You come up with a new type of product, sell it to a new group of consumers and let them decide how best it can be used.  Voila! – the modern sporting rifle, a marketing slogan of the gun industry whose nomenclature bears absolutely no resemblance to even the remotest definition of the word ‘truth.’  But now that we have a President who also seems unable to discern the difference between the words ‘true’ and ‘false,’ what difference does that make?  Well, in the case of the Pennsylvania Game Commission it seems to make a big difference, at least when it comes to the 2017 version of their hunting regs.

What the Commission is proposing is a rule change which will define the capacity of any rifle that can be used to hunt big game, which in Pennsylvania basically means the ol’ white-tail deer.  Pennsylvania contains some of the most rural (and beautiful) uninhabited landscapes in the eastern half of the Lower 48, and the deer abound, even if the number of hunters keeps dwindling down.  And what the new regs say is that if you want to go into the woods to take a pot-shot at Bambi, your rifle cannot have a ‘total aggregated capacity’ (breech and magazine) of more than five rounds.  Which means that you can’t go hunting with an AR-style rifle and only put 5 rounds in the mag. It means you can’t take an AR-style rifle (that’s an assault rifle, by the way) into the woods to go hunting at all.  Period.

Try as they might, the geniuses in the gun marketing community have obviously not convinced the Pennsylvania Game Commission that an AR-style rifle is no different in form or function than the old, semi-automatic Remington or Winchester hunting rifles that have basically stopped selling because the kind of people who used to buy them are either too dead or too old.  The industry has been lying about ‘modern sporting rifles’ ever since Chuckie Schumer and Di Feinstein first started going after assault rifles in 1994. And the NSSF has convinced a lot of people who should know better that any rifle that can’t fire all its ammunition with one squeeze of the trigger is just another type of sporting gun which can and should be used for any kind of shooting at all.

The military rifle – M4 – that our troops use in battle theaters does, in fact, allow its user to pull the trigger once and shoot a three-round burst.  But the gun can also be set to fire one round at a time, just like any other semi-automatic rifle.  So when a soldier decides that the tactical situation calls for using his rifle in semi-auto mode, does this mean he’s going into battle with a ‘sporting’ gun?  At least the Pennsylvania Game Commission seems to understand the difference.

 

A New Partnership To Reduce Gun Suicides Which Might Help.

How many people die annually from gun violence?  If you’re a gun-control advocate, you’ll usually say that it’s somewhere around 31,000.  On the other hand, if you’re pro-gun, you’ll say it’s 11,000, give or take a few. The difference is whether or not suicide is considered a type of gun violence, because every year more than 20,000 Americans end their own lives by using a gun.  And if you want to meet your Maker before He wants to meet you, there’s nothing as efficient as pulling out the ol’ firearm, aiming it at yourself and – bam! Gun suicide is effective 90% of the time, no other life-ending behavior is half as good.

gun-suicide            According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence is defined as someone who attempts to injure themselves or someone else.  So from a medical point of view, gun suicide is certainly a type of gun violence.  But the disagreement between pro-gun and anti-gun forces isn’t about medicine, it’s about politics, messaging and whether we need guns around or not.  Which is why until recently, the gun industry has preferred to keep discussions about gun suicide on the back burner, but that’s about to change.

Last year the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s lobbying and trade organization began talking to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in an effort to find some common ground.  And what has emerged from these talks is a four-state, pilot program that will put suicide prevention messaging in gun shops and shooting ranges, a program that will then be widened with the goal of reducing gun suicides 20% nationally by 2025.  The project was officially kicked off with a press conference at this week’s SHOT show, and is publicly displayed on the websites of the AFSP and NSSF.

Predictably, the fringe elements in Gun-nut World were reluctant to jump on board unless this initiative and other similar programs would steer clear of any explicit or implicit attempt to use this activity to regulate guns.  Alan Gottleib, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is really a cover for his very-profitable mail solicitation business, helped craft a bill before the Washington State legislature that establishes a ‘safe homes’ task force that will create messaging and training materials for ‘voluntary’ use by gun dealers. The Task Force membership includes Gottleib and a rep from the NRA. I don’t notice any representation from the groups in Washington State that pushed through an extension of background checks over the vigorous opposition of the NRA and the Gottleib gang.

This is the problem with the new suicide initiative announced by the NSSF and the AFSP, namely, that it’s a voluntary effort, which when it comes to educating about gun violence is where the gun industry always draws the line.  Gun-nut Nation’s phobia about government mandates is about as extreme as the phobia that some people have about immunizing their kids against disease.  And frankly, both phobias come from the same place; i.e., mistrust of government and a total misrepresentation of the facts. Fact: There is absolutely no connection between NICS-background checks and national registration of guns.  Fact: There is absolutely no connection between immunizations and autism, despite what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says.

If you walk into a gun shop today, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a ‘Don’t Lie For The Other Guy’ poster on the wall.  This is a long-standing partnership between the ATF and the NSSF to discourage straw sales at the counter-top, a project that is dear to the hearts of everyone in the GVP community as well.  In fact, displaying this message is mandatory, although ATF agents don’t check to see if the poster is hanging on the wall or not.

Of course we would like gun-suicide prevention programs to have some teeth. Of course we would like Gun-nut Nation to stop opposing sensible laws that would enable family members of at-risk individuals to remove their guns.  Of course, of course, of course.  But the NSSF-AFSP partnership is a good start.

Don’t More Guns Equal Less Crime? Not Any More.

What’s going on?  After year-to-year declines in the violent crime rate going back twenty years, all of a sudden in 2015 things turned around and now violent crime rates are going back up.  Now the good news is that the overall violent crime rate – 372.6 per 100,000 – is well below what it was five years ago when it stood at 404.5.  It’s also about 20% lower than it was ten years ago and more than 70% lower than its alarming peak in 1994. So yes, we are a lot safer than we were twenty years ago, on the other hand, a two-decade drop in violent crime may have come to an end.

conference program pic            What’s more disturbing about the overall increase is that the biggest year-to-year increase occurred within the murder category which is, for most of us, the sine qua non of violent crime.  Every violent crime category – murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery – showed an increase from 2014 to 2015, but rape was up 5%, aggravated assault increased by 4%, robbery was just slightly higher, but the homicide rate jumped by 10%, and that’s a lot more dead bodies, 1,532 more dead bodies to be exact. And although the difference was not all that great, you might as well know that the percentage of murders committed with guns also slid up from 69% to 71%.

Now according to Gun-nut Nation, as the number of privately-owned guns goes up and, in particular, the number of gun-owners who are allowed to walk around carrying a gun goes up, violent crime is supposed to go down.  The idea that more guns equals less crime is not only the title of a book written by one of Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished mouthpieces, it has been the watchword of the entire marketing scheme for guns since white suburbanites became afraid of crime and people stopped hunting, both of which became kind of obvious even to the gun industry back when Ronald Reagan was making room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the first George Bush.

Remember Willie Horton?  Bush’s 1988 opponent, Mike Dukakis, had the bad luck of having supported the furlough program which let Horton out of slam for a weekend furlough whereupon Horton went down to Maryland, raped a young woman and then was arrested and thrown back into jail.  Maybe the Horton ad swung the election for Bush and maybe it didn’t, but the one thing it certainly did was to focus attention on the issues of race and crime.  And this was the same time that the NRA began ramping up the campaign to get states to issue concealed-carry licenses (CCW), with only a handful of states going along with the idea in 1987 but more than 30 states granting near-automatic CCW by 1995.

It was also in the mid-90’s that a serious increase in violent crime due primarily to the crack-cocaine epidemic began to abate with a ten-year cycle of increasing crime rates from the mid-1980s being replaced with annual declines of violent crime which continued for the next twenty years.  And what accounted for this year-after-year decline in violent crime?  The ‘fact’ that so many Americans owned guns and more and more Americans were carrying concealed weapons outside their home.  The argument was first made by a Florida criminologist named Gary Kleck, then refurbished and expanded by another ersatz academic named John Lott, and just before the FBI released the 2015 numbers the gun industry’s official broadcaster, the National Shooting Sports Foundation blared on its website: “Gun Crimes Plummet As Gun Sales Rise.”

But how will the NSSF explain away the increase in violent crime while gun sales and CCW permits continue to soar?  I’ve got it!  Just blame it on the possibility that Hillary might defeat Trump and then immediately ban all guns. No matter which way you cut it, you’ll always find someone who believes the Martians have established a colony at Area 51.

Taking Guns Away From At-Risk Individuals Does Save Lives.

When the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) announces that it is teaming with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to reduce gun suicides, you know that something new and different is happening in the gun business.  Because until this moment, the gun industry has never shown the slightest interest in doing anything about the fact that 20,000+ Americans kill themselves each year by using guns, in fact, the party line has always been that guns and suicide have nothing to do with each other at all.

gun-suicideMeanwhile, close on the heels of this announcement comes a study (Dan Friedman has written a good summary in The Trace) by one of our most prolific and respected gun-violence researchers, Jeffrey Swanson, whose team evaluated the results of a Connecticut law which allows individuals and/or law enforcement to petition the courts for temporary removal of guns from someone who is believed would otherwise be at risk to harm himself or someone else.  The law, passed in 1999, has been copied in Indiana and California, and has always been a hot-button issue with Gun-nut Nation, which usually views any attempt to regulate guns for any reason to be an infringement on their beloved 2nd-Amendment rights.

Be that as it may, the fact is that suicide has been increasing of late, and while there has not been any causal link between service in Iraq and Afghanistan and suicide, military veterans of all ages are at greater risk for attempting a life-ending event than for the population as a whole. And everyone from the NRA to Obama to Trump tries to present themselves as the best friend that military vets ever had.

Which brings us back to Swanson’s study, which is the first attempt to look at the results of the Connecticut law in terms of whether or not temporary, court-ordered firearm seizures really do make a difference in preventing life-ending events with the use of a gun.  The CT law was actually passed not so much in response to suicide risk, but as a result of a terrible mass shooting incident where a pissed-off State Lottery employee stabbed and shot four of his bosses after he was denied a salary increase, then killed himself. But of the 762 cases of firearm seizures examined in this study, one-third were initiated out of concerns that the individual might try to harm someone else, while two-thirds of the seizure warrants were issued because it was believed that the affected individual was going to hurt himself.

Swanson’s team not only carefully reviewed the circumstances surrounding the issuance of these firearm-seizure warrants, but also attempted to follow the life paths of individuals who lost their guns.  It turns out that while the number of people who both lost their guns and still committed suicide was much greater than the normal suicide rate, not one of those suicides occurred during the 12 months that these individuals had their guns removed, and the number who later used guns was far below the usual rate for successful suicides using a gun. In other words, laws allowing a court to decide whether someone might harm themselves with a gun can, in fact, save lives.

I do have one major issue which is not intended as a criticism because it goes beyond the parameters of the article itself.  There were 762 firearm seizures ordered in Connecticut between 1999 and 2014.  But how many gun-seizure petitions were denied?  And how many people knew someone who was behaving in a way that made them appear to be a threat and yet decided that it wasn’t their ‘place’ to say anything or didn’t want to ‘get involved?’  There were people in San Bernardino who knew the two shooters were stockpiling weapons; there were people in South Carolina who heard an armed Dylann Roof make racist threats. Have we become so inured to violence that we need law to tell us that someone who exhibits great anger is someone who shouldn’t have access to a gun?

 

When Is A Sporting Gun Not A Sporting Gun? When It’s A Gun.

One of the issues that pervades and distorts the ongoing debate about gun violence is whether guns are designed for ‘sporting’ as opposed to ‘non-sporting’ use.  This attempt to differentiate between ‘sporting’ and ‘non-sporting’ goes to the heart of the 2nd Amendment because the courts have always held that this difference is the basis upon which Constitutional guarantees of gun ownership rest; namely, civilian ownership of ‘sporting’ guns are protected by the 2nd-Amendment, ‘non-sporting’ (meaning military) guns are not.

chinese-gun           Since 1968, the ATF has been granted the authority to classify guns as ‘sporting’ or ‘non-sporting’ when it comes to allowing the import of gun manufactured overseas.  Most of the criteria that ATF uses to determine whether an imported gun does not meet the criteria for ‘sporting’ use ended up being incorporated into the 1994 assault weapons ban and these design features (rifles with pistol grips, flash hiders, etc.) effectively keep many types of what are generally called ‘assault rifles’ from being shipped in from overseas.  But ever since the assault weapons ‘ban’ ended in 2004, with the exception of a few states that opted to maintain the ban, or have subsequently reinstated it, the question of what really constitutes a ‘sporting’ as opposed to ‘non-sporting’ weapon remains confused.

Ten years ago or so, when the gun makers realized that hunting, a true sporting activity, was dying on the vine, they began promoting the idea that ‘black’ guns like the AR-15 were no different from any other type of ‘sporting’ gun.  And their rationale for this argument was that the civilian version of the AR lacked one essential feature of the non-sporting (i.e., military) gun, namely, that it could not be fired in full-auto mode.  And because the AR could only be fired in semi-auto mode, this made the gun no different from any other traditional semi-auto hunting gun, many of which had been around for 50 years or more.

The problem with this argument, of course, is that it’s not true.  Oh well, oh well, just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say it anyway. Right, Mr. Trump?  But the truth is that the current battle gun allows its user to set the firing mode as either a 3-shot burst or semi-auto pull.  So if a soldier decides that the particular tactical situation of the moment requires that his gun operate in semi-auto mode, should we say that he or she is now going into battle with a ‘sporting’ gun?  Give me a break, okay?

The gun industry has always claimed that ‘sporting’ guns, are not designed to be used for shooting humans, as oppose to ‘non-sporting’ (military) guns that are considered weapons of war. This is also not true.  The first gun that was ever invented came out of China in the 13th Century, utilizing a new technology called gunpowder to push a solid, ball-shaped object, out of a metal tube with the gases created by igniting the powder creating the necessary pressure to put the cannon ball into flight.  This technology and the corresponding weapons began to appear in Europe in the 15th Century, and very quickly the same technology appeared in weapons that could be used by individual soldiers – which is how and why the small arms industry was born.

In this country, some of these military designs were adapted for hunting use, but non-commercial hunting was and never has been more than a marginal social and sporting activity, and commercial hunting was generally outlawed because otherwise the various species would have been killed off – and some like the bison almost disappeared.

The point is that what the gun industry calls ‘sporting arm’ were never designed to be used for sporting purposes at all.  The fact that a relatively small population enjoys shooting their guns at paper targets on a range or trying to bag that elusive White Tail doesn’t change the fact that guns were designed and are still designed to do one thing, and we all know what that one thing is.

 

An Assault Weapon Is An Assault Weapon Is An Assault Weapon. It’s Time To Put This Argument To Sleep.

dallas            In the aftermath of the terrible events in Dallas, the argument has once again erupted over the definition of an ‘assault rifle,’ because the early but unconfirmed reports identified the shooter’s gun as an AR, but some unofficial statements referred to the rifle as an SKS.  Now in fact both guns were originally designed for military use, but the SKS, generally speaking, has a fairly modest ammunition capacity, whereas the AR generally comes with hi-cap mags.  But once President Obama said the magic words yesterday about how the shooter used a gun that was “not intended for city streets,” then Gun-nut Nation went into an immediate rant about how the gun used in Dallas was nothing other than a semi-automatic, top-loading rifle which is just like any other modern, sporting gun.

Since I can’t play golf on a rainy, Saturday afternoon, and in the interests of helping my GVP friends to understand the ins and outs of the assault rifle debate, here is a picture of a standard, assault rifle which can be found and purchased in just about every location that sells guns.  It can also be acquired in most states via a private transaction, and can also carried openly in places like Texas and a few other dumb states.

AR2

This gun, plus or minus a few other attachments, is what is generally considered to be an ‘assault rifle’ or an ‘assault weapon,’ for the simple reason that when the Feds declared a ten-year ban on such guns back in 1994, a gun fell into the prohibited category if it had a detachable magazine and two of five of the other design features numbered #1, #5, #7 or #8.  If it didn’t have at least two of those design features it could still be manufactured and sold, as long as the detachable magazine only contained a maximum of 10 rounds. The magazine limitation applied to magazines that were used in handguns as well.

When the ban on assault weapons expired in 2005, Gun-nut Nation struck back with a vengeance, not only greasing its Congressional friends to vote against an extension of the ban, but also starting up a loud campaign to rid the American lexicon, particularly the shooting lexicon, of using the word ‘assault’ at all.  And this campaign took the form of declaring that, by definition, ‘assault’ weapons had nothing to do with civilian, sporting guns because the former were automatic weapons that were prohibited from civilian use.  Additionally, any semi-automatic rifle (one trigger pull – one round fires) was a ‘sporting’ gun because, because, duh, Gun-nut Nation declared it to be a sporting gun.  Period. End of debate.

Know this: The campaign to promote ownership of AR rifles by rebranding them as ‘modern sporting’ anything is totally and completely full of crap.  Because it doesn’t really matter whether my friend Dianne Feinstein gets it right or wrong when she refers to ‘automatic guns.’  It doesn’t matter whether AR rifles ‘only’ figure in 1% of all the shooting deaths each year that involve the use of guns. It doesn’t even matter whether the Dallas shooter used an AR or an SKS.  The real issue, the only issue in the argument about assault weapons is how we understand the word ‘assault.’

Because guns like the AR or the SKS, even if they can only fire in semi-automatic mode, weren’t designed to go after Bambi in the woods or knock Big Bird out of a tree.  They were designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that was to kill human beings, and to kill as many humans as many times as the trigger of those guns can be pulled.  So why should we allow Gun-nut Nation to set the terms of the debate for determining the lethality of this gun or that?  Remember, they believe that it’s the people who are lethal, not the guns.  Tell that one to the families of the dead cops in Dallas whose dear ones were killed with a legally-purchased gun.