By Khalil Spencer.
Following the slaughter of elementary school children in Newtown (CT), Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, stated: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This statement was not only highly insensitive in removing the focus from the children and their grieving families, but was also cynical and dishonest, as LaPierre suggested that arming school staff was the only way to avoid such slaughters. Every other advanced country has figured out a way to protect their children without turning schools into armed fortresses.
Consider the logic of arguing that more guns will reduce incidents of gun violence. It is like saying that the best solution to opiate addiction is to make opiates more accessible or that our best means of tackling an influenza epidemic is to expose more people to the agent involved.
Following America’s worst church mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, much was made by gun rights advocates about the confrontation of the shooter by an armed resident as he left the church and the pursuit by truck of the shooter by the resident and another individual. The church shooting was not stopped by the armed man but it has been claimed that the perpetrator may have harmed others had the armed citizen not intervened. That is an unknown but the large-scale shooting (26 killed, 20 wounded) occurred before the armed resident became involved.
Previous incidents illustrate how infrequently armed private citizens intervene successfully to stop a shooting. An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000-2013 found that just one of these incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. By contrast, 21 incidents were resolved when unarmed individuals restrained or confronted the shooter. Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, examined potential and actual mass shootings from 1966 to 2015 and found that just one twentieth of one percent (about one in every 2,000 cases) is successfully stopped by an armed civilian.
If arming civilians produced a net benefit with regard to public safety, we would expect places with more guns to have fewer crimes. The US has about 90 civilian-owned guns per 100 people, the largest civilian arsenal on the planet. At the same time, the US stands alone among high-income countries with a gun homicide rate that is 25 times that of the aggregated rate for other high-income countries. This pattern is repeated at the state level where states with higher levels of gun ownership tend to have more, not fewer, gun deaths. In the five states with the highest gun death rates, half of all homes own a gun. In the five states with the lowest gun death rates, just one in 7 homes owns a gun.
Each year, 90,000 US households are interviewed in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). This survey, which does not cover homicides or suicides for obvious reasons, reveals about a half million gun crimes a year. In addition, based on surveys of the prevalence of domestic violence, there are likely several hundred thousand gun threats each year against targeting domestic partners and other family members. If the number is 200,000 (a conservative figure), the total number of harmful gun uses a year is in the 750,000 range. The NCVS finds that the annual number of defensive gun uses against attackers is under 50,000. Therefore, criminal and other harmful uses of guns likely outnumber defensive uses by a ratio of at least 15:1.
David Hemenway and Sara Solnick of Harvard used NCVS data to see examine the frequency and consequences of defensive gun uses in 14,000 personal contact crimes committed when the victim was present. They found that fewer than one percent (.9%) used a gun in self-defense. They also found that using a gun for protection, as opposed to taking some other protective action, did not diminish the chances that a victim would incur an injury.
Genuine defensive gun uses are not just infrequent; gun carrying raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion during active-shooter incidents. On July 7, 2016, an individual opened fire and killed five Dallas police officers. The officers were on duty to provide security at a demonstration in which the killing of African-American men was being protested. About 20-30 open-carry activists were also on the scene, carrying assault weapons and wearing fatigues and body armor. Police Chief Brown stated that the armed individuals impeded the law enforcement response as they created confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were multiple shooters.
Another side effect of an increase in gun carrying is more gun thefts from cars. These thefts are skyrocketing—2-3.5 million firearms have been stolen in the last decade– and they are more commonplace in states in which more people carry firearms outside the home. States in the South (e.g., Texas, Georgia, and Florida) with the most permissive gun laws are overrepresented among states with the largest number of guns stolen between 2012 and 2015.
Currently, 12 states do not require a permit to carry a firearm and this list has been growing. Even in states requiring a permit, the vetting and training of permit applicants do not even approach the standards for law enforcement officers. Since May 2007, concealed carry permit holders have killed more than 1100 people and have committed many other crimes, including 31 mass shootings and 19 police officer killings.
Joseph Vince is a former agent with the ATF for 27 years and is one of the leading experts on firearms and gun-related crime. He and his associates state that for a citizen to carry a firearm, training should include mental preparation, knowledge of the law, judgment, as well as expertise and familiarity with firearms. They recommend basic initial training to receive a permit and biannual recertification to maintain the permit. Both training and recertification should consist of decision-making during real-life scenarios, shooting accuracy in stressful situations, and firing range practice.
While half the states require some firearms training in relation to an application for a gun carry permit, most of the features emphasized by Vince et al. are seriously lacking in most states. For example, Florida law does not specify the content of these courses, only the qualifications necessary for instructors. There is no test for retention of the information covered about the law or the handling of a firearm, no test of marksmanship—a few shots are fired down the range or into a barrel—and no training with regard to judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), no recertification, just an online renewal every 7 years.
Pete Blair trains law enforcement personnel to respond to active shooter situations. Real-world scenarios prepare police officers for high-stress situations. Blair notes that one would expect people without training to “freeze up or not know what to do, and to have difficulty performing actions correctly.” Research and police records show that even trained police officers miss their targets more often than they hit them during stressful combat situations. Several analyses show that, in combat situations, trained officers miss the mark more than 80 % of the time.
Harmful and criminal uses of guns outnumber genuine defensive uses by a wide margin. The average violent attack is over in 3 seconds. Poor training makes it unlikely that a civilian without police or military training will use a gun successfully against an attacker and makes deadly mistakes more likely. Poor vetting means that individuals who pose a serious risk to the public may gain access to arms through legal channels. Yet the gun lobby and a certain segment of gun owners keeps trying to sell the fable of the armed citizen. The evidence is clear that arming the average citizen seriously undermines public safety.
Last week the gun violence prevention (GVP) community went into overdrive when the release of a batch of FBI Sandy Hook documents indicated that the Newtown cops were warned about Adam Lanza’s intention to commit mayhem at least four years before the actual event took place. The information appears in interview notes of an unidentified man who claimed he heard Adam Lanza make the threats which the man claims he transmitted to the local police. According to the man’s testimony, the cop who took the call told him that Nancy Lanza was the legal owner of the guns which meant there was nothing the cops could do but the caller could contact the State Police.
Coming on the heels of Las Vegas, where another shooter evidently killed and wounded more than 500 people with a legally-owned AR, the story out of Newtown only adds fuel to the GVP argument that some way has to be found to keep guns like the AR-15 out of civilian hands.
But there’s only one little problem, namely, that the story full of holes. And it cannot be accepted even on face value, never mind the fact that the Newtown police can’t find any record of someone making such a call, because it would have been simply impossible for someone answering the telephone at the police station to have said what was allegedly said.
Please believe me when I say it’s too bad that facts keep getting in the way of opinions, but the fact is that nobody working for any police agency in Connecticut would have been able to know whether: a) Nancy Lanza owned an AR-15; b) whether she had purchased it legally or where it came from; or, c) whether the State Police should have been contacted or not. Why? Because first of all before 2014, when Connecticut passed a new gun-control law in response to Sandy Hook, purchasing a long gun from a dealer did not require anything other than the standard FBI-NICS check, information which the FBI has to destroy within 24 hours after the check is complete. Purchasing a handgun in CT in 2008 required an additional background check conducted by the State Police and this procedure was then extended to long guns but only after the new law was passed in 2014.
It would have been impossible for anyone employed by the Newtown Police Department to tell a caller about the legal status or even the existence of an AR-15 allegedly owned by someone else. On the other hand, if someone contacts a police department in Newtown, CT or Oshkosh, WI or anywhere, reporting a threat that involves potential injury to numerous individuals isn’t brushed off. There isn’t a police department in the United States which doesn’t have a very clear procedure for responding to a report about the possible commission of a serious crime. Maybe the cops don’t respond immediately, maybe the patrol car goes to the wrong address, but don’t tell me that if I called up and said that someone just told me they were going down to the local elementary school to shoot everyone in sight that I would lean back, yawn and tell the caller to contact the State Police.
Remember when Elliot Rodger rampaged through Isla Vista, CA and killed six people on May 23, 2014? Three weeks earlier his parents contacted the Isla Vista PD and said they were concerned because their son had voiced threats and they were worried about his mental state. The cops dispatched no less than three officers who confronted Elliott outside where he lived but unfortunately made the mistake of forgetting to ask him whether he had any guns. But the bottom line is that police don’t dismiss credible reports about violence which has not yet taken place. And if we are going to advocate measures to reduce gun violence, let’s just make sure our strategies align with the facts.
When truckloads of media descended on Newtown, CT after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, the rush to get something onto a television or print report overwhelmed any concern for getting the facts straight. Within a couple of hours after the rampage came to an end, the shooter had been incorrectly identified, another ‘credible’ report said the rampage had involved multiple shooters and it was these reports, among others, which gave the conspiracy nuts the opening they needed to begin yelling that the whole thing was a hoax.
In the Las Vegas shooting the media seems determined again to repeat the same mistakes it made at Newtown, with the first reports concerning whether or not the shooter used a full-auto gun or not. It’s clear from various audios of the incident that the gun or guns he used could not have fired so rapidly had they been standard, semi-auto guns which require the trigger to be pulled for every shot. On the other hand, if the gun could be fired in full-auto mode, this doesn’t mean that it was an ‘illegal’ weapon, because there are more than 11,000 machine guns owned and registered in Nevada, although we do not yet know whether Paddock was what is called a Class III of NFA licensee himself.
On the other hand, what we are being told is that Paddock brought a bunch of military-style, semi-automatic rifles into his hotel room, of which perhaps a dozen were legally modified to produce a rate of fire not unlike what is produced by a full-auto gun. This modification, known as a ‘bump stock,’ uses the gun’s recoil to simulate a rapid rate of fire although the internal part of a gun which controls the firing mode, known as a ‘sear,’ is not changed in any way.
So here was yesterday’s headline from the Washington Post: “The Las Vegas shooter modified a dozen rifles to shoot like automatic weapons.” And how did the Post learn this? The story quotes unnamed ‘law enforcement officials” who turn out to be a single ATF agent named Jill Snyder, who was quoted in an online story on the UK Telegraph website which also contained pictures of two of the shooter’s guns lying on the floor of his hotel room.
Were these two rifles actually fired during the assault? We don’t know. Were these two rifles actually fitted with the accessory ‘bump stock’ device which is what the Washington Post wants us to believe were used in the assault? We also don’t know. But here’s what we do know. The existence of those two photographs means that one of the most important crime scenes in the recent history of the United States was contaminated by the time the investigation of this incident first began. And I don’t see anyone in the media or elsewhere professing the slightest concern about this egregious collapse of law enforcement protocol, even though a spokesman for the Vegas Metro Police said that an ‘internal investigation’ was underway to identify the source of the leaked pics. When the cops use the phrase ‘internal investigation’ what they are really saying is that there won’t be any investigation at all.
Give the Democrats and their friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community one more day to ramp up the noise about how we need stronger gun laws; give Trump one more day to praise the ‘first responders’ for their valiant work; give the NRA one more day to keep their mouths shut until the can figure out which way the political winds will ultimately blow; and I guarantee that we’ll start to see a swarm of social media comments about how what happened in Vegas is just another attempt to create an atmosphere so the government can take away all the guns.
Think I’m kidding? There are already Facebook pages accessed by thousands of viewers which claim that Stephen Paddock had links to Antifa, even though the government’s trying to hush it up.
It is now almost five terrible years since a young man got into his car, drove five miles from his home to the elementary school he had once attended, shot his way through the locked front door, and then proceeded to murder twenty first-graders and six school staff, including the school principal, who happened to be the first adult to get killed. The death toll ended up at 28, because the shooter had already killed his mother before setting out for the school, and at the end of the rampage he shot himself.
Before writing this book I conducted an informal survey to get some sense of the effect of this event on Americans who lived both near and at a distance from Sandy Hook. Over a period of several days I randomly called about a dozen people, six of whom lived within the tri-state area surrounding Sandy Hook (CT, NY, MA) and six other people who lived in the Midwest or the West Coast. I asked them all to tell me what they remembered about the event, and with one exception, every one of them not only remembered where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the massacre, but they remembered details – the shooter’s name, his mother’s first name, the type of gun he used, and so forth.
Most of the individuals who took my brief ‘survey’ also remembered the fact that a week after the rampage, the ATF raided the gun shop where Nancy Lanza purchased the AR-15, which I found very interesting, because as much as I know about mass shootings, I couldn’t tell you the name of any shop which supplied the guns used at Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or Aurora, or any of the other mass shootings which seem to occur on a continuous basis within the United States. Nevertheless, just about all the respondents with whom I talked mentioned the gun shop being closed down by the ATF, and several even remembered the name of the store -Riverview Sales.
I happen to know the owner of Riverview, Dave Laguercia, because my gun shop was located about twenty miles away from his shop and we both purchased inventory from the same wholesaler, so we would meet from time to time when we went to pick up guns, ammo and other stuff for reselling in our respective stores. I called Dave after I completed my little survey and asked him why he thought his shop was so prominent in what people remembered about Sandy Hook and he said, “Oh, that’s easy. Once the ATF raided my store, there were more stories about the fact that I sold the gun than there were stories about what happened at the school.”
It was Dave’s comment that persuaded to write a book about Sandy Hook from the perspective of what happened to him. But understand one thing: the book is not an apologia for the gun dealer, in no way is this book an attempt to shift the discussion about Sandy Hook and other gun violence events away from where the discussion needs to focus and remain, namely, the inability of the most advanced society in the contemporary world to prevent 125,000 gun deaths and injuries from occurring every year.
What this book attempts to explain is that the only difference between what happens when someone shoots someone else as opposed to someone shooting lots of people is a difference in degree, but certainly not in kind. And to the extent that mass shootings like Sandy Hook are considered by the experts to be unique events, this both distorts and obscures what gun violence – every type of gun violence – is really all about. The book goes into detail to explain this point of view.
The families and friends of the Sandy Hook victims will never overcome their loss. Neither will the families and friends of anyone else whose life is shattered by the irrational and unstoppable violence caused by guns.
— Mike Weisser (@MikeTheGunGuy) September 25, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.