No Matter Where It Happens, Gun Violence Is Still Gun Violence.

Like it or not, much of the discussion about gun violence flows over to the issue of race, or more specifically, how racial minorities are disproportionately the victims of violence caused by guns. According to our friends at the Violence Policy Center (VPC), black Americans “are only 13% of the U.S. population, yet represent 50% of homicide victims,” of whom 83% were killed with guns.

town              Things don’t get any better when we break the numbers down by racial and age groups. In 2016, the leading cause of African-American mortality for men and women ages 15-24 and 25 -34 was homicide, accounting for 42% of all deaths for the 15-24 group, and ‘only’ 26% for the age group 25 to 34.  For whites in those some age groups, homicides ranked 7% and 5% respectively for all deaths.

These are terrible numbers, for the most part reflecting the degree to which African-American communities continue to experience the socio-economic manifestations of poverty which divide such populations from everyone else. I recall the shock and dismay when Michael Harrington ‘discovered’ this seemingly-intractable indigence in his classic The Other America, published in 1962. In the more than half century since that time have things really changed?

I think it’s a major step forward when a Parkland kid like David Hogg, who refers to himself as ‘white and privileged’ makes it clear that he wants to speak not just for his classmates but for “all of the people that have died as a result of gun violence and haven’t been covered the same can now be heard.” As terrifying as mass shootings are, let’s not forget that such events add a tiny fraction to the overall gun violence body count, and most of that count are bodies which are young and black.

The purpose of this column, however, is not to advocate for more attention paid to inner-city gun violence, but rather to discuss another aspect of the gun violence issue which is too-often ignored.  Because if we are going to concentrate our concerns on what gun violence does to the quality of life and the length of lives in our inner cities, we skip over what gun violence does in communities not of color, but communities where only folks in the majority race tend to live.

Ever been to Wirt County in West Virginia?  It covers some 250 square miles of rolling hills and small farms some 40 miles north of Charleston, in 2016 four out of five voters marked their ballots for D.D.D. Trump. The county is home to some 5,800 people, median family income is around $36,000 (the U.S. median is now just under $60,000) and the racial diversity is zero; i.e., it’s all white.  In 2014, there were 9 murders in Wirt County, which doesn’t sound like a heckuva lot except on a per-100,000 basis, which is how we figure crime rates, it works out to 155.  The last time I checked, the murder rate in gun-happy Philadelphia was 16.

Look at the murders in Wirt County from another point of view.  The population density in New York City is 66,000 per square mile, which means that in Manhattan, the average city block is home to roughly 3,300 folks.  Put two city blocks together and you have about the same number of people that live in Wirt County.  How would you feel if 9 people were murdered in one year on the block where you lived?

In 2016, more than 8,600 white men and women were murdered, three-quarters with guns. But we don’t hear about these killings because they take place in small, dispersed, isolated places like Wirt County, and believe me, there are plenty of Wirt Counties all over the national map.

I’m really hopeful that the Parkland kids will create more pressure on the media to talk not just about the spectacular, rampage shootings, but as well spend more time reporting about the humdrum, one-on-one shootings which happen every day. But let’s just remember to include all the victims of gun violence in those reports.

 

Advertisements

Tom Gabor – A New Approach to Regulating the Most Dangerous Weapons.

 AR red

Much has been said of late about the need to ban “assault weapons” (AW) or “weapons of war”. Polls show unprecedented support for a nationwide ban on these weapons.[1]  When used in the context of legislation or bills, these terms have been defined in a variety of ways, needlessly offend certain gun owners, and may even serve as impediments to effective laws.  In this article, we propose a different approach and one that avoids the pitfalls of previous AW bans as well as bills filed since the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

 

The Problem:  Unless one has lived in a cave over the last 20 years or so, it has become apparent that mass shootings have become an increasing concern in the US.  The largest massacres have almost always involved the use of weapons like the AR-15 and its relatives in Las Vegas (with the aid of bump stocks), at the Orlando Pulse nightclub, Virginia Tech, Aurora Century Theater, and Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as in Parkland. One analysis has found that an average of 9 more people are shot and 3 more people are killed in mass shootings in which these weapons or high-capacity magazines (HCM) are used, illustrating the emptiness of the slogan:  “Guns don’t kill, people do.”[2]

An analysis conducted for my book, Confronting Gun Violence in America, shows that the number of public mass killings by firearm more than doubled from the 1980s to the 1990s and 2000s.[3] Between 2010 and 2015, the annual number of incidents has again increased sharply, at over four times the frequency observed in the 1980s.  More than half of the 30 deadliest mass shootings since 1949 have occurred since 2007.  The average number of deaths per year resulting from mass public shootings also has increased and, since 2010, was almost four times that of the 1980s.  It is worth noting that the acceleration in the number of large-scale mass shootings occurred following the expiration of the national AWs ban.

 

The increasing annual number of fatalities is especially noteworthy because great strides have been made in the management of bullet wounds over the last 15 years or so due to lessons learned on the battlefields of Afghanistan.  Thus, despite higher survival rates, we see an increasing toll from mass shootings, reflecting the greater lethality of weapons and an increasing proportion of victims who incur multiple bullet wounds.  This makes sense as we know that there is a growing number of military-style weapons in the civilian market.  The gun industry introduced these weapons into the civilian market in the 1980s in response to the saturation of their core market (white, rural males) with conventional firearms.

 

The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994:  The federal AWs ban, in force between 1994 and 2004, prohibited the manufacture, transfer, and possession of those semi-automatic firearms designated as AWs.  The weapons subject to the ban were characterized by features (see below) suitable to military and criminal applications rather than sport shooting or self-defense.  Over one hundred firearm models, including certain pistols and shotguns, were covered by the ban.  The ban also covered HCMs holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.   This aspect of the ban extended beyond designated AWs as it applied to many non-banned weapons that could be equipped with these magazines.  At the time the ban took effect, it was estimated that 1.5 million AWs were privately-owned in the US along with about 25 million HCMs.[4]  Millions more of the HCM’s manufactured before the ban were imported into the country by 2000.

 

The ban yielded mixed results with regard to its effect on violent crime.  While there was no discernible reduction in gun crime or gun homicide, in six major cities—Baltimore, Boston, Miami, St. Louis, Anchorage, and Milwaukee—the share of gun crimes committed with weapons covered by the ban declined by between 17 % and 72 % during the ban.  Nationally, traces of guns used in crimes were 70% less likely to involve AWs during the ban.  Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, found that gun massacres, defined as incidents involving six or more fatalities, were nearly cut in half during the ban in comparison with the ten-year period preceding it.  In the decade following the ban’s expiration, fatalities again increased dramatically, more than tripling the deaths seen during the ban.[5]

 

The reduction in crime by assault weapons was, in part, offset by the substitution of military-style firearms that technically did not qualify as AWs. Also, during the ban, a study of four cities indicated that guns with HCMs actually rose as semi-automatics were being equipped with them.  In addition, the grandfathering provisions of the AWs ban, which allowed weapons and HCMs already manufactured to continue to be sold, undercut its effectiveness.  Approximately 25 million of these magazines remained in the country and millions more were available for import from other countries.[6]  In fact, manufacturers took advantage of the grandfathering provisions by boosting production of designated AWs in the months leading up to the ban, creating a large stockpile of these items.  By contrast, in Australia’s well-known and successful ban, pre-ban weapons were bought back rather than exempted from the ban.

 

The manner in which weapons covered by the ban were defined also undermined its effectiveness.  The federal ban and current state laws define “AWs” by their features, some of which are irrelevant to the harm the weapon can produce.  Under the 1994 ban, an assault weapon included semi-automatic rifles capable of accepting detachable magazines and possessing two or more of the following features:

  • Folding stocks for concealment and portability;
  • Pistol grip protruding conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
  • A bayonet mount;
  • A flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; or
  • A grenade launcher.

 

Definitions based on these features create a loophole by allowing manufacturers to circumvent the law simply by making minor modifications to a weapon.  For example, removing flash suppressors and bayonet mounts makes a weapon no less dangerous but can get around a features-based definition.

 

Overall, the 1994 ban showed some promise but the potential effectiveness was reduced by the grandfathering provisions and the features-based definition of “assault-style” weapons.  In addition, those evaluating the law made the point that the ban’s exemption of millions of AWs and HCMs manufactured before the ban meant that the impact of the law would be gradual and would not be fully realized for several years beyond its expiration, especially as HCMs made before the ban kept pouring into the market.[7]

 

A New Approach Focusing on Weapon Lethality: The first AW ban in the US, The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, was enacted in California following the massacre of schoolchildren by a drifter who fired 106 rounds of ammunition in three minutes with a semi-automatic military-style weapon.  The law defined an AW as one with “a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.”  Unfortunately, the law failed to explicitly define such terms as ‘high rate of fire,’ and ‘capacity for firepower”.   Instead of defining these terms and banning weapons that met these definitions, the law listed over 50 specific banned guns, and added some cosmetic features (collapsible stock, flash hider, etc.) which have no impact on a gun’s lethality.

When the Federal Government enacted its AW ban in 1994, it borrowed the list of California-banned guns, included the various design features but dropped any reference to lethality; i.e., no mention of ‘high rate of fire’ or ‘capacity for firepower’ at all. This opened the door for gun rights advocates to claim that, functionally, there is no real difference between an AR-15 and any other kind semi-automatic rifle.

To address this void, I propose identifying the most dangerous firearms and regulating them, not on the basis of what they look like but on their ability to kill and injure as many people as possible in the shortest time frame.  National gun expert Mike Weisser proposes a method of scoring the lethality of a firearm on the basis of five factors:[8]   This system is an objective one which is not influenced by cosmetic modifications intended to circumvent regulations.

  1. Caliber – Larger and faster projectiles tend to cause more damage to human tissue, although the design of bullets and the materials used to make them are also important;
  2. Capacity – The number of cartridges that can be fired without reloading;
  3. Loading mechanism – The speed at which a rifle can be reloaded;
  4. Action – Time required to fire a single cartridge and bring the next cartridge into the breech;
  5. Design flexibility—the ability of a firearm to accommodate accessories, some of which increase lethality (e.g., lasers, electronic aiming devices, fore grips).

Once a scoring system is in place, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has the expertise and facilities in place to evaluate each firearm on the market and give it a lethality score.  This will allow for a classification of firearms on the basis of their lethality, with regulation increasing with the growing lethality of the category in which a firearm belongs.  Restrictions that might be considered can vary from complete bans to special licenses and vetting for owners of more lethal weapons, registration requirements, special taxes, longer waiting periods, increasing penalties for noncompliance, and storage requirements for more dangerous weapons.  One option for semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 is to regulate them under the National Firearms Act, as is done with fully automatic firearms.

 

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist, sociologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Quinnipiac Poll, February 20, 2018; https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2521

[2] Everytown for Gun Safety, Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings; https://crimeresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/everytown-mass-shooting-analysis.pdf

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Confronting-Violence-America-Thomas-Gabor/dp/331933722X/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=

[4] Christopher S. Koper, America’s experience with the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  In D. Webster and J. Vernick (eds.),  Reducing Gun Violence in America.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, p.161.

 

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/02/22/the-real-reason-congress-banned-assault-weapons-in-1994-and-why-it-worked/?utm_term=.7aab6b1f3ce5

 

[6] https://www.factcheck.org/2013/02/did-the-1994-assault-weapons-ban-work/

[7] Christopher S. Koper, America’s experience with the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  In D. Webster and J. Vernick (eds.),  Reducing Gun Violence in America.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, p.166.

[8] Mike Weisser, Measuring Gun Lethality; https://mikethegunguy.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/measuring-gun-lethality.pdf

When The 3rd Way Gets It Wrong, They Really Get It Wrong.

Far be it for the little ol’ gun guy to question the creds or experience of political activists like Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, but every once in a while, even the self-appointed gurus of the Left get it wrong. And not just a little bit wrong. Completely and totally wrong.

3rd way             Actually, the Third Way group isn’t really Left, they are…gee, I’m not sure what they are. But they certainly aren’t on the alt-right/white. And they certainly believe that their ‘high-impact advocacy campaigns’ will help liberals figure out what to say and what to do about the important issues of the day. And with all those Parkland kids marching around, what could be more important than gun control today?

What Kessler and Cowan have come up with is the idea that the NRA has never been as panicked as it is right now, that the future for America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ is even more dim, and that the boys from Fairfax  are “the most vulnerable they’ve been” in the combined 50 years that the authors of this piece have been “battling” the NRA.

There’s only one little problem.  All the facts used to bolster their narrative are true (remember, Third Way is a ‘think tank’ so they only base their arguments on real facts) but these facts are mostly besides the point. Yes, the NRA has lost some contests at the ballot box; yes, their rural base is shrinking; yes, their advocacy magazine has ‘only’ 650,000 subscribers; yes, they joined the rest of the alt-right/white in demonizing the Parkland kids.

But here are some facts that Cowan and Kessler didn’t mention, and the reason they didn’t mention these facts is that for all their combined 50 years of battling Gun-nut Nation, these two guys don’t really know anything about gun-rights organization and they certainly don’t know anything about guns. Which happen to be typical among members of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, but since these groups only talk to each other, this lack of knowledge and experience makes no difference at all.

I subscribe to the American Rifleman which, along with American Hunter, are the two NRA magazines which Cowan and Kessler believe aren’t read by the gun-activist crowd. This only proves that neither of them has ever bothered to look at Rifleman or Hunter because they would discover that both contain countless advocacy and activist content, it’s basically the advertising which appeals to a different readership, not what the editorials say. True, the rural base is shrinking and this could affect the electoral landscape after 2022.  But what do Cowan and Kessler have to say about the upsurge in concealed-carry (CCW) licenses, most of which are issued to people living in the burbs? Finally, Stinchfield did some Gonzalez-bashing on his NRA television show, but did the NRA say anything after Parkland which remotely resembled Wayne-o’s crazy rant a week after Sandy Hook?

Let me break it gently to Cowan and Kessler: In 1960 Gallup asked Americans how they felt about a ban on handgun ownership. Not restrictive licensing or more regulations – an absolute ban.  And 60% of the respondents said it would be a good idea.  Know what that number fell to last year? Less than 25 percent!

The fact is (note the use of the word ‘fact’) that a majority of Americans believe that keeping a gun in the home is more a benefit than a risk. And since less than 40% of American homes contain a legal gun, obviously the majority who believe in the positive social utility of personally-owned weapons includes many people who don’t own guns.

This dramatic shift in how we think about guns isn’t the handiwork of the NRA. It’s a function of how American society has evolved and what America thinks and believes about violence, crime and serlf-defense. Until and unless organizations like Third Way acknowledge and understand what this means, casting the NRA as the bogey-man preventing gun control won’t accomplish a thing.

 

 

Gun-nut Nation Better Come Up With A Better Rant Than What Nugent Said.

If nothing else, the emergence of a national gun-control movement led by a bunch of high school students has not only forced the pro-gun cabal into a defensive mode, but raises the possibility that the NRA’s cherished ‘good guy with a gun’ mantra may finally be running out of steam. And who among the ‘good guys’ has been more vocal in promoting the pro-gun anthem than Ted Nugent, who took a shot at the Parkland kids by calling them ‘mushy-brained children’ who have been ‘fed lies’ by the usual liberal, moneyed types, you know, Soros, Bloomberg, et. al.

nugent1              After the 2016 election I wondered how alt-right attack dogs like Palin, Nugent, Loesch, Hannity, Rush and Coulter would adjust to defending, rather than verbally assaulting the status quo. Because no matter how many times Schmuck-o Trump pretends he’s ‘cleaning the swamp,’ he now represents the Beltway crowd and he can only survive by making deals which means giving up something for everything he gets. And don’t think the NRA and their noisemakers aren’t sitting in Fairfax wondering what they’ll do if the Congress turns blue later this year and Trump has to strike some kind of deal over guns.

I happen to think that Ted Nugent is a genius when it comes to writing lyrics for his songs. I also think he’s pretty smart for having figured out how to sustain a musical career by occasionally saying extreme and crazy things that other artists and public figures would never dare say. Am I accusing Ted of using his celebrity status to promote himself both on and off-stage? He’s certainly not the only entertainer to mix politics and show-biz by appealing to a following that will respond to both. After all, Joan Baez just announced a new concert tour by spending several days with ‘more than two hundred Indian tribes who have gathered to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.’

I hate to break it to Ted, but if the best he can come up with for criticizing the Parkland kids is the idea that they are being ‘fed lies’ by the gun-grabbing crowd, he won’t get much traction from this rant. Because what makes this moment so different from every previous effort to use a rampage shooting to spread the gun-control gospel is that Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg don’t have a friend in the Oval Office on whom they can lean. And there’s an old rule in military strategy which says you can’t come up with an effective way to deal with the enemy unless the enemy is right in the middle of your sights.

When Wayne-o went on national television a week after Sandy Hook and blabbed on and on about ‘good guys with guns,’ he wasn’t trying to besmirch the parents from Newtown, he was reminding the faithful that these parents had been invited to the White House by Gun-Grabber Number One. But what can the boys from Fairfax say when the guy whose political campaign cost them thirty million sits there respectfully listening to the Parkland kids and then issues a statement commending these same kids for their ‘courage’ in marching against guns?

When Schmuck-o Trump showed up at the 2016 NRA show I knew right then that the NRA might have made a tremendous mistake. Because you don’t spend eight years selling the idea that ‘gun rights’ can only be threatened by a liberal President when the guy you decide to back has a long history of being less than enamored about guns.

I’m not saying that Trump wasn’t a clear alternative to Hillary who would have made a new gun law a priority if she had won the gold ring. What I am saying is that the Gun-nut Gang and its acolytes like Ted Nugent better come up with a narrative that goes beyond accusing some high school students of being ‘dupes’ or ‘pawns’ in the national debate about guns. Because if nothing else, these kids witnessed first-hand a rampage shooting, and for all his tough talk, Motor City Ted’s career can’t compete with that.

Wishing Everyone a Peaceful and Joyous Easter!

 

 

No Matter Why You Use A Gun, It’s Still Gun Violence.

skidspring

Yesterday I wrote a column pointing out that for the very first time in my lifetime (and I was born in 1944,) the gun-control movement finds itself on a level playing field with the other side. If anything, the field may even be tilted a bit in the favor of gun control.  Why do I say that? Because it’s pretty hard to convince the mainstream that these high school kids from Parkland are just a bunch of dupes being fed this lie and that lie by the Bloomberg-Soros cabal.

Just about everyone who is a parent knows the one thing you can’t tell a teenager is to follow the advice of his or her elders unless it’s advice they really want to hear. And let’s remember one other thing about these Parkland kids – they are veterans of a rampage assault, it really happened to them. And for all her blather and nonsense about how she’s always armed to protect herself and her loved ones from any kind of a threat, Dana Loesch has never, never found herself in a real-life situation where she actually used that gun.

We are now at the point when the gun-control community needs to come up with an argument that will convince mainstream Americans that the ‘good gal with a gun’ narrative isn’t a legitimate response to armed threats.  And with all due respect to my public health researcher friends, most people really don’t make up their minds because of evidence-based research.  As Daniel Kahneman has explained it, decisions about what to do both for the important and the unimportant things in life flow as much or more from emotions as from facts.

The scenes pictured above are where gun killings have occurred. The picture on the left is Skidmore, MO, in front of the saloon where the town bully, Ken McElroy, was shot down by several gun-wielding local residents while the rest of the townsfolk stood and watched. The picture on the right is Union Street in Springfield, MA, where someone is gunned down at least once a month.

Law enforcement spent six years trying to get someone in Skidmore to identify the killers of Ken McElroy, but nobody ever did. The cops in Springfield will tell you that what happens on Union Street is just a gang killing, and when they walk around looking for witnesses, nobody saw nuttin’, even when the shooting takes place at mid-day.

The murder of Ken McElroy is something we call ‘virtuous violence;’ i.e., using violence for positive ends.  After all, McElroy got what was coming to him, and what better way to even the score than to use a gun? On the other hand, the gang member who shot another gang member on Union Street is also committing an act of virtuous violence – the guy he shot may have welched on a drug deal, or may have tried to shake down a friend, or break into a neighbor’s house.

Murder is overwhelmingly an event that occurs between individuals who have some degree of connection to each other before the killing occurs.  Whether the connection is between people who live in the same small town or who hang out on the same corner makes no difference at all. To quote the brilliant Lester Adelson: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

When the NRA talks about how ‘good guys with guns’ will protect us from ‘bad guys with guns,’ what the boys from Fairfax are really saying is that violence is the most effective way to respond to violence, and nothing could be further from the truth. If the gun-control movement wants to convince mainstream America that gun violence should not be an everyday affair, they need to address the issue of virtuous violence and argue that violence in any form, used for redressing any real or imagined threat, is a type of behavior which does not work.

Now That The March Is Over, What’s Next?

Now that the smoke is beginning to clear and the dust beginning to settle from Saturday’s remarkable events, we get down to the nitty-gritty and try to figure out what comes next. Because if the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement doesn’t figure out how to build on this past weekend’s display of genuine interest and concern by millions of people who never previously thought about the issue of gun violence, an opportunity which I have never previously seen in my lifetime will have come and gone.

march              I spent Saturday at a march in the toney, seaside town of Old Saybrook, where the organizers were expecting 500-600 people more or less, the cops ended up estimating the crowd at around 2,500, and there might have been even more. I spoke perhaps to 30-40 people, not one of them had ever previously been involved in any kind of activity dealing with guns. Not that these were hardcore gun owners, of course not; this is a wealthy town and the only hard-core you get around here are people whose trust funds together could probably pay off the national debt.

The point is that GVP activists and advocates have often felt themselves marginalized by the mainstream which gets concerned for a day or two when something really bad happens like Parkland or Sandy Hook, but then turn to other issues, allowing the NRA and the gun industry to define and set the terms of the debate. What was interesting this time was the degree to which the usual pro-gun noisemakers had little or nothing to say; the NRA rolled out a spiel from spokesman Colion Noir who pranced around but was basically ignored; the video of Emma Gonzalez allegedly tearing up the Constitution turned out to be a fake. Even Trump came back from hiding out in Florida and kept his mouth shut about what happened on the 24th.

It turns out however, that the NRA hasn’t been particularly silent, they’ve just decided for the moment to follow the lead of the Parkland kids and promote themselves on social media, particularly Facebook, where they spent an average of $47,300 a day on advertising, up from a daily average of $11,300 before Parkland took place. The problem for the NRA however, is it doesn’t matter how much they spend, they don’t have a message that can reach anyone beyond the folks they always reach. And the way they reach their audience is to mix together the usual bromides about freedom, 2nd-Amendment rights and protecting family and home with a nasty and shrill condemnation of the tree-huggers on the other side.

They were at it again last week with a series of video clips in which the usual NRA noisemakers (Loech, Stinchfield) discounted the impact of the demonstrations by running the usual ‘Bloomberg-Soros conspiracy’ up the flagpole and warning parents to avoid having anything to do with the ‘socialist’ efforts to brainwash their kids. Believe me, none of the people with whom I talked at the Old Saybrook march would be swayed by that kind of crap.

To Bloomberg’s credit, not only is he going out of his way to let everyone know that he’s putting his money on the line, but Everytown has just announced a million-dollar grant program to fund more “student driven advocacy” and spur more than 200 additional organizing events planned for the next couple of weeks. What the NRA doesn’t seem to realize is that demonizing Bloomberg doesn’t make a bit of difference to these kids and warning their parents about the evils intentions of gun-grabbers doesn’t fly at all.

The reason the NRA’s Eddie Eagle isn’t flying so high is very simple; a bunch of high school kids took advantage of funding from people like Bloomberg and showed everyone that you can’t sell violence by pretending that violence can be used to achieve good end. ‘Guns don’t kill people’ doesn’t work when a shooter walks into a high school with a loaded gun. The Parkland kids had no trouble figuring that one out.

 

There’s More To March 24th Than Just A March.

Now that March 24th is dawning and people from all over the country will be coming to DC to let themselves be seen and heard about the need to reduce gun violence, I thought it would be interesting to see what plans are afoot to for Gun-nut Nation to get out their message to the other side. What got my attention was a snarky comment yesterday from the mouth of fat-head Rush Limbaugh who tried to diminish the impact of the march by claiming that one of the Parkland activists, David Hogg, was behaving just like every other ‘mainstream’ media flack by blaming what happened at Douglas High School on the NRA.

march24            If the best that Gun-nut Nation can come up with is a 30-second blab between advertisements for food supplements and generic Viagra pills by Rushbo, they aren’t going to make much of a dent in the public debate on March 24th. And I also suspect that many of the self-appointed Trump noisemakers will also duck for cover, if only because nothing that Trump says about guns or anything else is necessarily valid before his next fusillade of tweets.

The NRA is talking about conducting some kind of event in DC on March 24th, but so far the only actually planning I have seen is a place on the NRA website where you can reserve a bus seat to go to Trenton, the capital of New Jersey, for a 2nd Amendment rally on Monday, March 26th.  Meanwhile, here it is March 20th and the rally organizers haven’t posted any information about where folks can actually get on a bus that is going to Trenton, and the website warns that trips may be cancelled and “seating cannot be guaranteed.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, the event on March 24th is actually shaping up to be an international event, with rallies and demos planned in most major American cities as well as at sites in at least 25 foreign countries, including China, Viet Nam and the Philippines. Can you imagine a gun-control demonstration in Manilla or Hong Kong? What is the world coming to? I’ll tell you what it’s coming to; it’s coming to a bunch of scrappy teen-agers who decided they would show everyone else how to use social media to plan and carry out an international event.  Right now the media is droning on and about how Trump or Hillary or Obama used social media to run their political campaigns. Which gives all those intrepid news-gatherers an opportunity to ignore the main event.

I’m not surprised at the degree to which the March 24th worldwide demonstrations have garnered so little coverage from the mainstream media, in particular the alleged, liberal media which always presents itself as being anti-gun.  Remember Occupy Wall Street? And by the way, Fox News and those other alt-right messaging services reacted to the Occupy movement in 2011 exactly the same way they are reacting to March for our Lives on March 24th: a bunch of stupid, misled kids who have nothing better to do.

Yesterday I received a 25-page research paper, complete with graphs, maps, notes and bibliography written by a high school sophomore and submitted to a local science fair.  The title of the paper: “A Violent Connection: Mass Shootings and Domestic Abuse.” I’m going to post this remarkable piece shortly, but in the meantime trust me when I say that this essay represents a significant piece of research and thought. Would this young man have done this work without what happened at Stoneman Douglas High? I don’t know. But what I do know is that high school students throughout the United States and all over the globe are right now talking about gun violence in a way they never talked before.

Don’t let anyone kid you – the marches, protests and events on March 24th are the real deal, and if the young man who wrote the paper on mass shootings is now thinking about something he previously didn’t think or care about, he’s surely not the only one.

 

Let’s Hear It For Those Parkland Kids.

Yesterday I wrote a column talking about how the post-Parkland gun debate is different from all previous post-shooting debates because of the spontaneous emergence of social media networks driven by high school kids. I’m not saying this is anything other than coincidence, but today’s New York Times is carrying a major article which basically says the same thing. Except that the NYT story goes beyond my basic point, describing in detail about how national gun-control organizations like Everytown have mobilized lobbyists, members and advertising to respond to the usual pro-gun defenses from the other side.

parkland4              Most of what the NYT reportage said about the new-found strength of the gun-control community is correct. But their understanding of what is really driving the dynamics of what they refer to as the ‘anti-gun’ movement misses the larger point. Obviously, having Trump in the White House, as opposed to Obama, creates a fundamental difference when it comes to the public debate about guns. And it certainly is the case that what Trump says today about gun control may be very different from what he’ll say the next day or the next.

Trump’s behavior reminds me of what Sitting Bull once said about Crazy Horse after the massacre of Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876.  Back in 1868, both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse agreed to a treaty which the U.S. Government broke before the ink was dry. Crazy Horse then claimed that he never signed the document, but when asked whether Crazy Horse did sign the treaty Sitting Bull replied, “Of course he signed – Crazy Horse would do anything for a free meal.”

So now we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who will say anything to grab the media spotlight, no matter whether he means it or not. Will Trump really push for increasing the minimum age for purchasing guns? Will he try to get the DOJ to figure out a legal maneuver that would ban bump stocks?  Who knows what’s on his mind, but mind or not, I can tell you this: If Hillary Clinton was the 45th President, she would have gotten on Air Force One and flown down to Florida no later than the day after the shooting, done the requisite hospital visit, then thanked the first responders, photo-ops at every stop. At some point there would have been a tearful, emotional speech and a demand that Congress do what they should have done after Sandy Hook; i.e., pass some kind of legislation to ‘end this horrifying gun violence’ or words to that effect.

Wayne-o Lapierre talked for 37 minutes yesterday at CPAC, a speech which was the ‘official’ response to Parkland by the NRA. He started off with the usual bromides about the ‘terrible tragedy,’ this and that, but then went into a long rant about how the Democratic Party had been taken over by a European-style ‘socialist’ elite, whose headway had been briefly stopped by the election of Trump. The way Wayne-o rambled on and on about this threat, you would have thought that Barack Obama was still in the White House trying to figure out how to push the country further to the Left.

Every time there was a mass shooting since 2008, Gun-nut Nation could and did respond by attacking the guy from Kenya and turning gun control into an issue between ‘us’ – the good guys – versus ‘them.’ Which is exactly how Trump behaved throughout his entire Presidential campaign as well as his tenure in the Oval Office until February 14 when everything changed. And what changed is that, for the very first time, the public debate about a political issue is being defined by the kids. Not by the lobbyists, not by the organizations, not by the media and the editorial boards, but by the kids.

The best thing which has ever happened to the movement to end gun violence is that we no longer have a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thank God for the kids.

There’s A New Player On The Gun-Control Field.

Now that the gun industry’s response to Parkland has been effectively communicated to all relevant noisemakers from Trump on down, maybe it’s time for the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement to evaluate what they are saying in a calm and dispassionate way. Because like it or not, the chances of getting rid of assault rifles are slim to none, but I can see the Republican leadership jumping around gleefully imagining how a program to put armed guards in every school might play out in the upcoming elections on November 8, 2018.

CPACNobody takes That Schmuck in the White House (TSWH) seriously when he suggested that one out of every five school teachers should be armed.  But what if the GOP decided to add a few more billions to the deficit by coming up with the money that would allow every school district to hire some more cops? You wouldn’t get an argument from the police unions, that’s for sure.

A week after the Sandy Hook massacre, Wayne-o gave a belligerent press conference in which he denounced any talk about new gun regulations and unveiled the NRA’s new school security program, National School Shield, which if implemented, would keep killers away from schools. The program was a hodgepodge of the usual security stuff, first an assessment of school security needs, then a conference with a security professional, then a plan to do this and that, then everyone’s secure.

The program went nowhere, of course, because the NRA was too busy promoting its concealed-carry agenda, including an insurance program for folks who get arrested because they shot some guy coming through the front door even though this ‘street thug’ was the UPS driver delivering a pair of those LL Bean winter boots. But at today’s CPAC conference, where Wayne-o spent most of his talking time reminding the audience that the Democratic Party was now completely under the control of ‘European-style, socialist elites,’ he also pulled out the School Shield program again and no doubt will try to make a deal with Trump, trading a ban on bump stocks for armed guards in every school.

This list may be somewhat incomplete, but the data appears to support the idea that there have been 12 mass shootings at educational sites since the Columbine massacre in 1999, resulting in 167 deaths. Of this total, only 4 occurred in primary or secondary schools, although three of the four worst massacres took place at Columbine, Parkland and Sandy Hook. These horrific events should not blind us to the fact, however, that primary and secondary schools remain locations where little fatal injuries take place. For the 2013 – 2014 school year, according to the Department of Education, there were 26 homicides in 98,000 primary and secondary public schools with a total enrollment of 98 million kids. That’s pretty safe.

Putting a police resource officer in every school sounds like a great idea, but if any police department were to ask for additional monies to hire more cops, the first question which would be asked was whether the particular jurisdiction was experiencing more crime. And if the DOE mean anything at all, putting a cop or armed guard in every school would be like using the elephant to swat the fly.

The real problem that TSWH and the NRA have is that for the very first time, they aren’t dealing with a reaction to gun violence which is led by the usual suspects – Schumer, Feinstein, et. al. Even Rush went out of his way yesterday to assure his audience that his comments about how the ‘Left’ always politicizes mass shootings was not meant, in any way, to disparage the Parkland kids.

I hate to say it, but it may have taken a senseless slaughter of some high school students to invigorate the GVP movement with a new kind of leadership whose motives and credibility are beyond reproach. We’ll soon see if the playing-field for dealing with gun violence continues to tilt their way.

 

Thomas Gabor: Gun Licensing Could Have Prevented Parkland Shooting

Tragically, fellow Americans, this time in Parkland, Florida, have once again been slaughtered ruthlessly by a young man wielding a weapon of war.  This is well past the time to discuss how these events can be prevented.  One does not need to be an expert to conclude that military-style weapons that can receive external magazines capable of holding 10-100 rounds of ammunition have no role in civilian life, other than to murder as many people as possible in the shortest time span.

parkland3Aside from banning these weapons, we need to do much better in screening individuals for their fitness to possess, own, or carry firearms.  In a January 8th post, I laid out some preliminary ideas for a national gun licensing system, although such a system could also be established at the state level.  The rationale is simple:  People operating a variety of forms of machinery and in many occupations require a license to ensure they meet certain requirements and maintain their qualifications to continue to engage in those activities.  In Florida, for example, licenses are required of motor vehicle operators, barbers and cosmetologists, mold remediation services, contractors in the construction industry, and many others.  If those operating cars and construction machinery need a license, it stands to reason that those owning and operating lethal weapons also ought to be licensed.

I mentioned in the previous post that expanding background checks to all gun sales and tinkering with our current system of checks is the low-hanging fruit with regard to reform as 95% of Americans support such actions.  Unfortunately, the obsession of gun safety advocates with this system has led us to lose sight of fundamental flaws in the way we screen prospective gun buyers.  Searching FBI electronic databases is not sufficient as, aside from clerical errors (seen in the lead-up to the Charleston church shooting) and the failure to forward data to the FBI (seen in the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting), every criminologist knows that official criminal records represent just the tip of the iceberg with regard to someone’s criminality and will miss troubling warning signs.  I therefore propose a comprehensive screening process including:

  • An in-person interview with law enforcement;
  • Reference checks;
  • Where applicable, notifying a current or former domestic partner of a license application;
  • Successful completion of gun safety and skills training provided by law enforcement or security firms;
  • Certificate of mental aptitude for applicants under 26 years of age; and,
  • A waiting period of 10 business days.

The shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School, just like many previous mass shooters, obtained his weapons legally.  The proposed licensing system may have prevented him from obtaining his weapons at four different stages of the process:

  1. The in-person interview may have uncovered some troubling attitudes on the part of the shooter in relation to guns. He may have even been deterred from pursuing a license due to the need for an interview.  With the private sale loophole closed, he may have either given up the idea of purchasing a gun or been forced into the illegal market.  With an accompanying assault weapons ban, the supply will eventually be reduced dramatically, substantially elevating the price of an illegal AR-15, which can cost $1,500 with all the accessories when purchased legally.  An illegal purchase might cost several times that amount, making it inaccessible to most young persons.
  2. Reference checks with peers, family (in this case surrogate family) members, school personnel, and social media checks would have uncovered his troubling behavior, statements, and threats.
  3. The psychological evaluation done for the certificate of mental aptitude may have uncovered disturbing attitudes and intentions.
  4. Even the requirement that he receive rigorous safety training—something not required to purchase a gun in Florida—may have raised some red flags for instructors.

No system is foolproof but experience with licensing in virtually every other advanced country with far better outcomes than the US indicates that it is time to develop such a regulatory system.  A national system is preferably to state licensing, as porous state borders mean that individuals who would be denied a license in one state can obtain firearms in nearby states that have lower standards.

Tom Gabor, Ph.D.

Criminologist and Sociologist

Author, Confronting Gun Violence in America (Amazon’s #1 new release in Criminology)