Why Did Sandy Hook Happen? Because He Had A Gun.

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We are slightly more than four sad months away from the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook. The deaths of 20 young schoolchildren, 6 adults, plus the shooter and his mother unleashed a firestorm of emotion and controversy which persists today and shapes the attitudes and strategies of the two opposing sides in the gun debate. One side, led by national gun-control organizations Brady and Everytown keeps up a steady drumbeat to strengthen laws which promote keeping guns away from high-risk individuals; the other side, led by the NRA, wants it easier for individuals to arm themselves as well as abolishing gun-free zones.

sandy             There’s only one little problem with both arguments: neither would have prevented what happened at Sandy Hook. If you don’t believe me, read the thousand-plus pages produced by the State’s Attorney, the Office of Child Advocate and the Department of Emergency Services to try and learn why a 20-year old, part-time college student who was never considered a risk or a threat to himself or anyone else put four bullets into his mother, then shot 26 adults and children, then turned  a gun on himself. I’ll save you the trouble of reading and tell you that you won’t find out why Adam Lanza did what he did.

On December 20, 2012, six days after the shooting, a family therapist who gives advice to lovesick callers on her bi-weekly radio show wrote an article for Psychology Today: “Was Adam Lanza an Undiagnosed Schizophrenic?” This expert judged the event as a ‘failure of the mental health system’ because had the shooter been diagnosed properly, perhaps all those dead adults and children would still be alive. The author, Jamie Turndorf, also knew that his behavior represented ‘extreme acting out of pent up rage.” The fact that Dr. Turndorf had never seen Adam, was writing on the basis of a few pieces of informal gossip and was helping the hucksters at Psychology Today turn an unspeakable tragedy into a quick buck is, or course, besides the point.

In 1999 following Columbine, the government convened a team of experts drawn from relevant disciplines (mental health, law enforcement, education) to study mass shootings and create a ‘treat assessment’ tool which could be used to identify youngsters who might pose a significant risk to themselves and/or others in school.  Their report, which still guides emergency planning initiatives, was based on the study of 18 school shootings and concludes that the reasons why such events occur “remain elusive.”

At the same time, the experts also identified misinformation about such events which “is not necessarily complete, accurate, or balanced. News coverage magnifies a number of widespread but wrong or unverified impressions of school shooters.” And what is stated to be a major unverified explanation for mass school shootings? Ready? “Easy access to weapons is THE most significant risk factor.” [Their bold.]

Are these so-called experts serious? Do they have any idea what they are talking about? Unless I don’t know how to read English, what this blue-ribbon panel is saying, and this report was endorsed both by the Director of the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States, is that they don’t know the exact reason why young men commit acts of mass violence in schools, but they do know that it’s not because they get their hands on guns.

I am currently writing a book about Sandy Hook and one issue I am forced to examine is the Alex Jones-type of conspiracy theories still proliferating throughout the alt-right blogosphere, theories that take advantage of initial reportage from mainstream media which contained statements that were either bungled or wrong. But nobody, not even the looniest conspiracy hucksters have ever tried to claim that a mass shooting would be possible without access to a highly-lethal, hi-capacity gun.

You can play around with all the behavioral theories you want, but Adam Lanza killed 26 people inside two classrooms, standing in each room for two minutes or less.

A Perfect Opportunity To Blame Gun Violence On The Left.

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In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s shooting in Alexandria, VA, there was shock, concern and a rather dignified tone to the public reactions, up to and including the rather out-of-character remarks of the Commander in Chief. After all, here was ‘I could shoot someone down in the street’ Trump saying only that his thoughts and prayers went out to the victims, with Rand Paul thanking the Almighty for the presence of the police even though in his heart of hearts I’m sure he would have preferred if all the Members and their staffs had been armed.

newt2             But give it 24 hours, actually it took less time, and this event becomes just another chance to promote a political narrative which will end up pushing the idea that we all should be walking around with guns.  And who started the ball rolling this time? None other than Newt Gingrich who because he briefly served as Speaker of the House and has then been kept politically alive thanks to the graces of Fox News, is able to shoot his mouth off about anything and everything whenever the occasion might arise.  Here he was last night on a Fox roundtable, saying that the shooting was “part of a pattern, you’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the Left.” He then went on to say, “You’ve had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it’s OK to hate Trump, it’s OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it’s OK to consider assassinating Trump.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle.  Given a Presidential campaign in which one candidate not only energized his audiences with frequent appeals to using violence, but even hinted that his opponent might find herself in the crosshairs of someone who wanted to protect their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ it’s amazing how a blowhard like Gingrich could take the argument used by the alt-right to condemn gun violence and stand it on its head.  And what I’m referring to here is the unequivocal assertion made by every pro-gun and alt-right noisemaker that all mass shootings are the work of ‘nuts, or ‘crazies,’ whose access to lethal weapons should in no way prevent all law-abiding Americans from getting their hands on guns.

Now, for the first time, Gun-nut Nation is changing its tune and blaming this latest episode not on a loony tunes, but on the same people who want to take away the guns, namely, the political elites who openly despise the attempts by #45 to make America great. What we have here is a remarkable argument which justifies the use of guns to ‘protect’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but deplores gun violence when the guns are used to attack people like Steve Scalise who have been in the forefront of the gun ‘rights’ campaign.

But why should I be surprised when mass or high-profile shootings become the stuff with which political narratives are then made?  Our good friend Shaun Dakin just shared with me and others a piece in Esquire where the writer states that “Historically, mass shootings have been used as political opportunities,” and then goes on to mention how the NRA used both Sandy Hook and the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords to promote fewer restrictions on guns. He concludes by saying that, “the NRA politicizes collective grief to advance its narrative to the benefit of those who would commit acts of violence.”

Excuse me but didn’t Obama tried as hard as he could to get a new gun law passed after the rampage at Sandy Hook? And wasn’t it a Republican-controlled House Committee that cancelled a hearing yesterday on a bill that would make it easier for Americans to put silencers on their guns?

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to gun violence, I’m not excusing the NRA or the alt-right (which is my name for the GOP) for appealing to emotions over facts. But the argument over gun violence shouldn’t turn on emotions either way – we just have too many guns.

A New Law That Will Make Assault Rifles Easier To Own.

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I want to make a suggestion to my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community and it goes like this. I think that every year on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, or maybe on the Wear Orange day, or maybe on the Concert for America day, the GVP should get together and give an award to the public figure who has done the most that year to promote gun violence. Maybe the award would go to a President, maybe to a Detroit police chief, maybe to someone who heads a pro-gun advocacy group, the usual suspects list is obviously quite long.

AR2              But for the inaugural award I want to nominate Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) who has just introduced a bill called – get this – the “Lawful Purpose and Self Defense Act,” which has to rank as the single most dangerous piece of federal legislation which has ever been crafted to increase the violence caused by guns.  The bill is H.R. 2060, and I’ll get serious now and tell GVP that they better get their sh*t together and start working against this measure right now. Because if GVP doesn’t shove this bill up you know where and it becomes law, what happened at Sandy Hook and The Pulse will look like child’s play compared to the violence that a statute like this could cause.

What this bill basically does is prohibit the ATF from determining what kinds of weapons can be imported from overseas based on whether any particular gun meets the criteria for being ‘sporting’ or not. And if the ATF determines that a gun isn’t a ‘sporting’ arm, then it doesn’t come in. And what this means is that AR-style rifles, a.k.a assault rifles, don’t come in. You can import some foreign parts and assemble the gun over here, but those weapons can only be sold if they also contain a certain number of US-made parts.  Here’s the bottom line: if this bill becomes law, we will be flooded with cheap AR-15s and AK-47s, along with any other type of gun that could be used for ‘self defense.’

Now you might think that the attempt by Gun-nut Nation to pass a national concealed-carry law is a more serious threat to community safety and peace. But I actually tend to agree with the Gun-nut gang that there really isn’t a connection between gun violence rates and the fact that someone who has a clean background record is walking around with a gun. The connection is a little more incidental than whether CCW-holders commit crimes, because what’s really behind the push to validate national CCW is the expectation that such a law would increase the overall sale of guns. And the more guns that are out there, the more that get stolen or lost, the more that wind up in the wrong hands, you know the drill.

Which is exactly what would happen if every Tom, Dick and Harry manufacturer of assault weapons anywhere in the world could ship their products over here. Domestic ‘black gun’ manufacturers like S&W, Rock River and Bushmaster would drop their prices even further, dealers would discount both the guns and the ammo (and by the way, the bill also prevents ATF from deciding whether imported ammunition is ‘sporting’ or not) and the idea that an AR-15 or an AK-47 is a ‘defensive’ weapon would gain the upper hand.

Leave it to my friends in Fairfax, of course, to push this terrible piece of legislation by saying something which simply isn’t true, namely, that the ‘core’ purpose of the 2nd Amendment, as stated in the 2008 Heller decision, is self defense. What Heller says is that Americans have the Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a handgun in their homes to defend themselves; there’s not a single word about keeping an AR around the house.

I meant what I said that H.R. 2060 is the worst piece of pro-gun legislation ever introduced. Let’s not wait until a bunch of NRA toadies in the People’s House put it up for a vote. It needs to be stopped now.

When It Comes To Guns, The ‘Truth’ Will Really Set You Free.

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Now that the 45th President has started dismantling the Affordable Care Act, I feel it incumbent upon myself to remind all my gun-nut friends that they might now be facing a serious, indeed highly-threatening assault on their 2nd Amendment ‘rights.’  What?  The 45th President taking away all the guns?  Wasn’t that what the 44th President tried to do?  Isn’t the 45th President the best friend that gun nuts ever had?  Oh…my…God.

wayne              The reason that Gun-nut Nation better figure out how to deal with this problem is because the ACA actually contains a provision which, believe it or not, protects gun owners who refuse to tell a physician whether or not there’s a gun lying around the house. But this section of the ACA is always conveniently overlooked when the Gun-nut noise machine pushed out its usual quotient of fake news about doctors and guns.  Here’s a comment from the NRA Blog: “The reality is, I should be able to receive medical care without being subject to a politically motivated inquisition regarding a right guaranteed by the United States Constitution.” The comment is found in a post entitled, “Should a doctor be allowed to ask if you own a gun?”

But what happens if the ACA is scrapped and isn’t immediately replaced with some other health-insurance law?  It means that the poor, defenseless gun owner won’t have the 45th President around to protect him, and this means that the doctor can not only ask whether the poor guy owns guns, but can immediately report gun ownership to the cops.  Think I’m being a little bit over the top?  Think again.

Recall that after Sandy Hook, the 44th President issued a series of Executive Orders covering guns.  Basically Obama’s action had one result, namely gun sales shot up and remained at historically-high levels until a few weeks before the 45th President was sworn in. But if you had listened to the noisemakers who pander to the Obama-burnished craziness of the NRA, you would have thought that Obama was planning to call out those ‘jack-booted government thugs’ (as Wayne LaPierre once characterized the ATF) to invade every gun-loving American home, grab all the hardware and cart it away. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but since the 45th President is now blatantly lying to the Congressional leadership about how many votes he did or didn’t receive, who cares about the truth?

Actually, there is a professional group out there which does try to base its behavior on information that is evidence-based, and that group happens to be physicians, who know a lethal product when they see one.  And the reason they know that guns are lethal is because physicians have to repair 85,000-thousand or so bullet wounds each year, and also have to pronounce some 30,000+ whose bullet wounds can’t be repaired.

There is simply no other consumer product lying around an American home which is as lethal as a gun. Which is why physicians have been advocating that guns shouldn’t be in the home.  By the way, they also advocate that other lethal things, like cigarettes and pills that aren’t in bottles with child-proof caps, also shouldn’t be in the home. But somehow guns are different because many Americans have come to believe that it’s a gun’s lethality which makes it such a valuable item to own.  After all, what if Mister Bad Guy comes crashing through the back door?  What better way to protect yourself and your loved ones than with a gun?

There’s only one little problem. All the talk about how armed citizens constitute a necessary line of defense against violence and crime is just talk.  Even the NRA can’t seem to produce more than 8 or 9 instances each month in which an armed citizen made the difference protecting anyone from crime.  But let’s not forget that we’re no longer in a time when the truth counts for anything at all.  And that’s the reason that the NRA worked so hard to help elect Donald Trump.

A New PSA From Sandy Hook Promise Which You Should Watch.

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This week a PSA was released by Sandy Hook Promise which is a graphic and disturbing effort to draw attention to behavior which might indicate that someone is at-risk for engaging in violence with a gun.  The purpose is to build awareness about gun violence prevention through collaboration, training and group discussions in schools and other public venues.  The group claims to have trained more than 1 million educators, parents, community leaders and students in their “Know The Signs” program, and they must be doing something right because Gun-nut Nation has lost no time in warning their folks that the project is nothing more than another attempt to take away everyone’s guns.

sandy-logo           One part of their website which drew my attention is a downloadable factsheet on gun violence with data divided into daily and annual numbers based on an average for the years 2003 to 2013.  Thanks to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, some of the gun violence numbers, which come from the CDC, have been shown to be pretty far off, particularly true for accidental shooting deaths and even moreso for the number of individuals shot by cops. But the number I found most interesting was the topmost category of the Gun Facts sheet, something called “Acts of Gun Violence” which is a category of gun violence that I have never seen before.  And the number, which is an average of 549,380 each year between 2003 and 2013, is so astonishingly large that I decided to look further and try to figure it out.

The number comes from a DOJ – Bureau of Justice Statistics publication, “Firearm Violence, 1993-2011,” used by the Sandy Hook people to come up with their half-million average gun violence figure by averaging yearly numbers from 2003 to 2011.  What pushes the overall average up to just slightly under 550,000 is a big jump in one year- 627,200 shootings in 2006 – moving the annual average to what otherwise would have been around 475,000 gun assaults each year. I’m not saying that 550,000 criminal gun assaults is something to sneeze at; I’m saying that the ‘annual average’ of just under 550,000 does not accurately represent these stats.

The number that DOJ calls ‘criminal firearm violence’ and Sandy Hook calls ‘acts of gun violence’ comes from the annual survey of criminal victimization known as the National Crime Victimization Survey or NCVS. This annual survey is mandated by Congress because the only other national crime data is generated by the FBI, and their numbers are based on how many people are arrested or crimes are reported, both of which, as we know, are far below the actual number of crimes.  The NCVS numbers are collected from interviews with more than 160,000 people each year and I can tell you from personal experience that the NCVS analysts know how to crunch numbers and crunch them very well.

There’s only one little problem with the NCVS numbers on gun violence. They are based on nothing more than a good guess. Because if you take the trouble to drill down to the actual survey questions from which this data is derived, you discover that respondents are asked whether they were attacked with a knife or a gun but they are not asked to specify which was which.  And since the FBI tells us that for every ten reported assaults, six involve a gun and four involve a knife, I guess this is how the NCVS come up with their number on gun crimes which then are used by BJS which then end up in the factsheet published by Sandy Hook.

Now you would think that for something as serious and costly as gun injuries that we would try to establish some numbers that are even reasonably accurate, never mind simply meeting the test of good, common sense.  But neither accuracy nor common sense will define how government will collect or use data over the next four years. If they bother with data at all.

The Myth Of The ‘Sensible Gun Owner.

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In 1890 the U.S. Census declared that wilderness no longer existed in the continental United States. And this announcement provoked the first, public debate in this country between the fledgling conservationist-naturalist movement on the one hand, and the proponents of unrestrained, economic growth on the other.  This debate continues in the present day except now it has taken on a global perspective known as Global Warming, but the two sides – conservation versus development – haven’t really changed their respective positions at all.  And the reason the debate is so rancorous and unending is that neither side seems willing to engage in an effort to find some kind of compromise middle ground which will allow us to preserve part of what is still natural while, at the same time, giving economic development incentives to spread.

heston            This same profile – two sides unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle and compromise over basic goals – exists in the argument over guns and, more specifically, the argument over violence caused by guns.  On the one hand we have seen a recent growth in the size and activity of groups and organizations dedicated to reducing gun violence; on the other we have an entrenched and well-organized pro-gun community which denies that guns are responsible for any violence at all.  Or if there is a bit of violence that results from someone using a gun in an inappropriate way (Sandy Hook, Pulse, et. al.,) it’s a price we need to pay because of the value of gun ownership in terms of history, tradition, freedom, sport and most of all, self-defense.

But what about all those surveys which show that a whopping super-majority of Americans and even a substantial majority of gun owners support the idea of ‘sensible’ restrictions on guns?  The latest polls disclose a near-90% positive response to the question of whether background checks should be conducted on all transfers of guns and even four out of fine gun owners, according to the recent surveys, also endorse this particular form of ‘sensible’ restrictions on ownership of guns. So if just about everyone agrees that a ‘sensible’ strategy like universal background checks is a good thing, how come all these sensible folks, particularly gun-owning sensible folks, don’t show up to vote for expanded background checks whenever the issue appears on a state-level ballot or is the subject of a debate on Capitol Hill?  Yes, California passed a law mandating background checks for ammo purchases, but a ballot initiative in Maine to extend background checks on gun transfers failed.

So where are all these ‘sensible’ gun owners that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community will tell you really exist?  The truth is that their existence is more apparent than real.  And the reason it’s more apparent is because not one of those surveys which keeps discovering the existence of all those sensible gun owners ever asks the crucial follow-up question which is: Do you support the NRA?  Because if the polls did ask that question I guarantee you that the same four out of five gun owners who say they are in favor of expanded background checks would also state that they support America’s ‘oldest’ civil-rights organization, whether they are NRA members or not.

And guess what?  Back in August the NRA announced unequivocally and without reservation of any kind the organization’s total and unalterable opposition to expanding background checks, “because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration.” And that’s that.

If one were to go back and ask all those ‘sensible’ gun owners whether they agreed with the NRA’s stance on background checks they would probably say ‘no.’  But if you were to then ask them whether this disagreement would make them withdraw their support for the NRA they would stare at you in shock and reply, “Who’s going to support my right to own a gun? And that last statement is the reason why the notion of the ‘sensible’ gun owner is a myth.

Center For American Progress Has Issued An Absolutely ‘Must Read’ Report On Gun Violence.

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Our good friends at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have published a new study on the link between gun laws and gun violence which is a ‘must-read’ for everyone who is concerned about reducing gun violence.  Which means that nobody in Gun-nut Nation needs to read this report because Gun-nut Nation doesn’t believe that we need to regulate guns at all.  But notwithstanding the dwindling Trump supporters, for those who support the concept of reasonable discourse based on at least some attention to facts, the CAP report is a significant effort to figure out (I’m now quoting the report) “whether strong gun laws are effective at reducing gun violence.”
cap-logo2           What makes this report so important is not the fact that the authors attempt to answer the problem stated above about the effects of strong gun laws on rates of gun violence, but for the first time we have an attempt to connect the effect of gun laws to the totality of gun violence based on data covering 10 different categories of gun violence recorded in every, single state.  This is not the first time that scholars have attempted to link gun violence to the legal environment, the CAP study references the work of my good buddy Eric Fleegler and his colleagues, who found a clear link between gun laws and firearm-related deaths in a 2013 article which you can download here.

But there are two important differences between the Fleegler research and what CAP has now produced: first, the 2013 study only defined gun violence by combining state-level homicide and suicide rates, the CAP study breaks down gun violence into 10 separate categories covering every type of incident where the use of a gun creates physical harm; second, Fleegler’s group analyzed state-level gun law environments using the Brady CenterLaw Center reports from 2012, and it was after 2012 (following Sandy Hook) that many states changed their gun laws, in most cases making the legal environment less restrictive in terms of access to guns. So what we get from this CAP report is not only an updated analysis of the relative strength (and weakness) of gun regulations on a state-by-state basis, we also get a much deeper analysis of the different ways in which gun violence occurs.

And what is the result?  Same old, same old, namely, states with stronger gun laws suffer less gun violence, states with weaker gun laws suffer more.  Gee, what a surprise!  But don’t take my cynicism as in way a criticism of the CAP report. Because if you break gun violence down into its component parts, this at least gives you some leverage in trying to figure out not just whether gun laws work to reduce gun violence, but what kind of new gun laws might be implemented or current laws strengthened to address this issue in states where gun violence rates are simply out of control.

Montana is one of those mountain states which has a very high gun-suicide rate but very few gun homicides. It ranks 9th overall for gun violence, but 3rd for gun suicides and only 36th for gun homicides, which puts it below Massachusetts for gun homicides even though Massachusetts ranks dead last for gun violence overall.

But guess what? Montana goes back up to 16th for IPV female homicides, so gun violence in Montana isn’t just driven by suicides, it’s also a very deadly place for women involved in domestic disputes.  Which means that a safe storage law in Montana might have an effect on suicides, but you can be sure that a law which allowed cops to pull guns away from people engaged in domestics would save some lives in the Big Sky State.

By breaking down gun violence into its component parts, the CAP report gives us a realistic view of what gun violence numbers really mean. Which makes this report an inestimable resource for crafting proper laws.  But isn’t that what we expect from CAP in the areas of their concern?

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