Thomas Gabor: It’s A Folly To Arm Teachers.

Since the atrocity at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump has been promoting the idea that arming instructors, or at least some of them, would have prevented the carnage.  The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre has weighed in predictably with the tired slogan he created following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”   States like Florida are considering adopting some version of this approach in lieu of significant changes in firearm policy.

teachThe recitation of LaPierre’s slogan in the aftermath of these slaughters of our young is, in my view, cynical, offensive, and unsupported by empirical evidence.  It is also as illogical to suggest that increasing the volume of guns will reduce gun violence as it is to make opiates more accessible as a way of addressing the opioid crisis.  The solution of arming teachers is also highly cynical as this measure often depicts teachers as the last line of defense preventing our schools from descending into complete chaos.  Arming teachers or school staff does nothing to address the reasons why so many young men in America, relative to other countries, wish to murder as many of their peers as possible and nor does this proposal address the accessibility of weapons that enable these massacres.

Surveys show that neither teachers nor the public like the idea.  Like their college and university counterparts, most educators are not interested in doubling as security guards and students would feel less safe with schools awash in guns.  Teachers worry about undermining their special role as educators and mentors, which consists of a different skill set from that of security staff.  School teachers are usually women and women tend to have low gun ownership levels.  Schools would likely lose valuable talent.  Even if just some teachers were armed, incentives would likely be required to recruit and retain teachers with armed training, creating a preference for those prepared to undergo the necessary training over talent in the classroom.  In addition, scarce educational resources will be diverted from the classroom to firearms training.

The cost of training teachers and/or other school staff willing to serve as armed marshalls would be prohibitive and ongoing training and recertification would require time out of class, with its associated costs.  Kansas gave school districts the prerogative of arming teachers and the state’s largest insurer of schools refused to cover schools with armed instructors, deeming the situation as unduly risky.

In general, across the US, the training required of those with permits to carry guns, in states where a permit is required, is woefully inadequate.  Rigorous training ought to include instruction in the law pertaining to the use of force, gun safety and handling, judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), awareness of the possibility of friendly fire incidents, and marksmanship under stress.  Even trained police officers miss their targets about 80% of the time in combat situations.  Deployment of a gun in a crowded school being attacked by a shooter requires exceptional skill, judgment, and composure.

While there are far too many school shootings in the US relative to other countries, there are about 60 per year in about 150,000 public and private schools or 1 in every 3000 schools.  Just as in the case of firearms kept in the home, arming teachers in every school may well result in many more unforeseen misuses of firearms, including  unauthorized uses of force, accidental shootings and discharges, and thefts of guns.  Teachers may over-react in dealing with unruly students and use deadly force to control them, a departure from the intent of arming them.  Issues relating to the disproportionate use of firearms against minority students may arise, as it is an issue with full-time, professionally trained law enforcement officers.[1]

Also, arming at least some teachers will create a new market for the gun industry, one reason the gun lobby supports this initiative.  The industry is currently experiencing a major downturn in sales.  In addition to helping deal with slumping sales in the industry, the entire idea is not just dangerous and harmful to the mission of schools but a huge distraction from what we ought to focus on:  The community and societal issues that produce school shooters and the weapons that enable them.

 

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

 

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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)

 

Why Are School Shootings Different From Other Shootings? They Aren’t.

When we say goodbye to our kids in the morning as they trundle off to school, we all hope they will spend their day in a safe and secure space. But ever since the Sandy Hook massacre near the end of 2012, the issue of school shootings and gun violence in schools is never far from our minds. And while I don’t think that the arming teachers and staff is a smart thing, I can sympathize with parents of school-age kids who fear that their school might be next.

sandy              Now we have a detailed report by a research team at Northwestern University who believe that school shootings are ‘significantly correlated’ with increased unemployment and conclude that these shootings reflect ‘increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition’ which became more problematic during the Great Recession beginning in 2008.

Not surprisingly, this effort is gaining its usual share of attention from both sides of the gun violence debate, with Gun-nut Nation claiming that the findings underscore the need to have armed guards in every K-12 school, and Gun-sense Nation of course arguing the other way.  But after reading the report closely and carefully, I’m not so sure that the correlation between rates of school shootings and indicators of economic distress are as meaningful or exact as the authors of this report would lead us to believe.

First as to the raw data on the number and trend of K-12 shootings – it’s pretty thin.  Which is not the fault of the researchers, you work with what you have. But what they have are six datasets, only one of which goes past 2012, and none of which are particularly exact or comprehensive in terms of giving us any kind of complete information on K-12 shootings, particularly over the last 5-6 years.

Despite these gaps, there are some findings of note.  When all the datasets were merged and checked for accuracy, the researchers were able to construct a list of 381 school shootings, which works out to an average of 15 shootings per year.  That works out to a rate (per 100K) of .03 shootings a year, and while the report does not quantify the deadliness of the shootings or the number of victims, if we assume a mortality rate of 50% and one victim per incident, notwithstanding the fearsome emotions precipitated by such events, K-12 schools still seem to be pretty safe places where kids can spend their days.

As to the increase in school shootings since 2008 and the onset of worsening economic trends, we can also see an increase in gun violence outside of school environments over the same period of time.  If we combine data on gun homicides and gun assaults published by the CDC, we come up with a yearly average between 2001 and 2014 of 62,316 gun injuries, an annual number that was at least 20% higher in 6 of the 7 years between 2008 and 2014.  In other words, if school shootings are on the rise, so are shootings which occur everywhere else.  And since more than 60% of all school shootings, according to the report, were attempts by an armed individual to injure a specific person who happened to be present on the property of a particular school, why should the reasons for school shootings be any different than the reasons for gun violence wherever it takes place?

If I had a nickel for everyone with a theory about why gun violence occurs I wouldn’t have to work for a living, so I’ll add my own pet theory to the mix.  I believe that every act of gun violence occurs for at least one reason, namely, the presence of a gun.  And since 2008 there are a lot more guns around.  And no matter who owns all these guns and no matter how strict the laws, more and more guns will get into the ‘wrong hands.’ Know how it used to be the economy, stupid?  Now stupid, it’s the gun.

 

 

Doesn’t Matter Whether It’s An A-Bomb Or A Glock – Get Your Hands On It And It’s Going To Go Off.

Sunday morning I watched the Trumpster being interviewed by Chris Wallace, and if it were not for the fact that he was talking about nuclear weapons, I found his comments so stupid that they were actually entertaining and fun. And what they brought back to me was a memory from the fourth or fifth grade when every month or so we would be told to get out of our seats and huddle under our desks to protect ourselves from an A-Bomb blast, which was over when the teacher yelled ‘all clear.’

trump2              While my mind was reliving those ridiculous drills, a public notice flickered on the television screen that the high school in Yonkers was going to conduct an ‘active shooter’ drill, an exercise that the Yonkers PD has done several previous times beginning in 2014.  What is referred to in the industry as ‘Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training’ has become a big business since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, and just to make sure that such training is as relevant as possible, a training outfit called Strategos International offers training specifically designed for schools, hospitals and faith-based organizations too.

Of course if it were up to the NRA, all you need to do to protect any workplace, school or other facility that might be a target is to make sure that every adult on the premises is walking around armed.  This was basically the organization’s initial response to Sandy Hook, but when the public response to Wayne-o’s loony “good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns” speech was not overwhelmingly positive, the NRA then issued a report called ‘National School Shield,’ which recommended 40-60 hours of firearm training for school employees who could then carry around guns.

How often does a gun go off at an educational institution?  Nobody has a comprehensive answer, but the research group at Everytown calculates that it has happened more than once a week since the beginning of 2013, of which roughly half of these 174 shootings took place in K-12 schools. And I’m not about to get into the stupid argument over whether a ‘school shooting’ is really a ‘school shooting’ if it takes place in the school playground rather than in a school building itself.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly 90% of all K-12 schools control physical building access, which is always the best way to monitor threats to safety, and 28% of all schools are patrolled by security personnel carrying guns, in the case of high schools, professional security personnel are present 63% of the time.  The percentage of police in schools has been fairly constant since 2005, which certainly predates all the hue and cry about school security post-Sandy Hook.

The biggest problem in dealing with school shootings is not how to secure the building, but identifying who among the current or former student body might be capable of carrying out such a violent act.  Because a school shooting, like all school violence, is usually precipitated by someone who is either a student at the time of the incident, or was a student at that school and returns with a gun intending to right some past wrong.

Crouching under a wooden desk is about as much of a positive response to nuclear attack as giving someone a week-long course in armed force and then have them walking through a school hallway looking for a kid with a gun.  The whole point of nuclear non-proliferation is the recognition that once the weapon is out there, the chances of it being used go way up. Trump seems to be unaware that this is why a basic consensus exists that the world needs to be a nuclear-free zone.

The same argument can be made about gun-free zones which, despite the nonsense peddled by the NRA, make every place safer if guns aren’t allowed.  And it’s no violation of anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights to leave the gun at home.

 

 

An Important And Compelling New Book About Gun Violence.

Gun Violence and Mental Illness is the most important book on gun violence published since Sandy Hook.  And what makes it important is not only the eminence and research capability of the contributors, but the breadth of the discussions about gun violence itself.  In a sense, the title of the book is somewhat misleading, because the work goes far beyond mental issues.  In fact, this superb collection touches on every aspect of gun violence – causes, mitigations, public policies – even though the authors and editors often define the issue in mental illness and mental health terms.

gold bookIt must be mentioned, however, that Dr. Liza Gold, her co-editor Dr. Robert Simon and the 27 expert contributors, are hardly the only ones carrying on a public discussion about guns and mental illness at the present time.  In fact, none other than such esteemed medical specialists as Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and all the other know-nothings running for the Republican Presidential nomination have been speaking their empty minds about gun violence and mental illness, and let’s not forget that the Republican field even includes a real-life medical expert, Benjy Carson, who when he opens his mouth and talks about gun violence actually sounds like the dumbest of all.  At least Trump, unlike Carson, hasn’t yet tried to blame the Holocaust on all those unarmed Jews.

But to get back to people who know what they are talking about, or for sure writing about, the format of Dr. Gold’s book lends itself to a very clear awareness just how complicated and diverse gun violence can be, in terms both of understanding it and responding to it.  If there’s one thing above all that spawns my opposition to the current iteration of the NRA, it is the ‘dumbing down’ of every commentary produced by the pro-gun community simply by dividing the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’  From the capable introduction by Dr. Gold, all the way to the concluding essay on public health interventions by Shannon Frattaroli and Shani Buggs, you are made aware that there ain’t no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys;’ instead there are many complex issues, each of which must be studied on its own terms.

I mention the chapter by Frattaroli and Buggs because it happens to focus immediately on one of my own pet peeves in the whole gun violence universe, namely, the notion that children can and should be taught safety procedures around guns.  This represents the single most pernicious attempt by the pro-gun community to remove the whole notion of lethality from the discussion about guns, and unfortunately, some of the GVP adherents subscribe to the alleged mitigating effects of childhood gun safety education as well.  Basically, what the authors conclude is that interventions based on educating children about gun risk are, at best, a mixed bag, with most of the studies producing results that are too ambiguous to be of any real outcome-predictive value at all.

I concur.  There’s only one way to guarantee that your children won’t shoot themselves or someone else with a gun in your home.  Either the kids get out or the guns get out.  And the idea that all those responsible gun owners will always lock up their guns has no empirical basis at all; we are human, we are careless, we forget. Thank you Shannon, thank you Shani.

All 14 chapters treat different aspects of the problem (mass shootings, school shootings, youth violence, suicide, etc.) and each compellingly begins with a list of ‘Common Misperceptions’ about each topic followed by ‘evidence-based facts.’  A book on gun violence held together by facts?  What an interesting, new approach. Hyperbole notwithstanding, I did a quick calculation and it appears that the pro-gun community’s mis-perceptions about gun violence lead GVP mis-perceptions by better than two to one.  It’s too bad that the folks who really need to know what’s in this book probably won’t be reading it.

 

Everytown Updates Its Report On School Shootings And It’s A Must Read.

Want to see one of the best and most penetrating videos on gun violence?  Take a look at the new Everytown video that was mounted to coincide with the two-year anniversary of Sandy Hook. I haven’t seen any depiction of the stark reality of gun violence that beats this effort.  The video is accompanied by a new report analyzing the nearly 100 school shootings that have occurred since Newtown, and is an updated version of the report on school shootings originally published earlier this year.  Since this report, like the previous version, will no doubt come in for the usual slash-and-burn hysterics of the pro-gun crowd, I thought I would get my licks in first. So here goes.

The report is built on public (i.e., media) reports of school shootings defined as a gun being discharged within a school building or the campus around the facility.  This would include shootings that take place in school playgrounds, school parking lots and other areas that are considered school property but are not enclosed within the school building(s) proper.  Because it is based on media reports by definition it is incomplete and therefore has to be considered as representing a smaller number than the actual shootings that take place on school property.

everytown logo                The report breaks down shootings between K-12 institutions and colleges/universities, noting that the number of shootings that occurred in the two environments was roughly the same, with 49 shootings in K-12 and 46 in colleges and universities.  But while there were 18 shootings resulting in at least one injury on a college campus, as opposed to only 14 shootings that caused injuries suffered in K-12 institutions, the lower grades were much more deadly with 15 K-12 schools being the scene of gun homicides, whereas gun deaths occurred at only 8 college locations.

When Everytown’s previous report was issued in June, the pro-gun apologists immediately found all sorts of “inconsistencies” and “exaggerations” about the degree of danger posed by guns being used in and around educational institutions.  The most bizarre statement came from a right-wing blogger named Charles Johnson who determined that the numbers were overstated because a “gang” shooting that took place on school property, like a playground, was not actually a school shooting per se, but was just a random act of violence that happened to take place on school property. But the fact is that most acts of violence are random; they take place between individuals who knew each other before the violence occurred and break out because one party or the other decides to escalate a dispute from a verbal to a physical altercation.

It really doesn’t change things because someone decides to bring a gun onto school property who doesn’t happen to attend that school.  After all, Adam Lanza wasn’t a student at Sandy Hook Elementary when he opened fire on December 14, 2012.  But what differentiated him from many school shooters was his age; i.e., the most difficult aspect of the Everytown report is the age breakdown of the shooters in the K-12 schools.  While 60% were 17 years old or above, 40% were 16 years old or younger, with 3 shooters being 12 and one unbelievably age five.  How in God’s name does a five-year-old tote a gun to school and then shoot it?  For that matter, what can you say about twelve year old kids with live guns?

Earlier this year one of the so-called NRA commentators, Billy Johnson, posted a video in which he argued that teaching gun competency in school was as important as learning how to read and do math.  It’s easy to dismiss such dopey rhetoric as pandering to the fringe of the pro-gun crowd. If the best the pro-gun community can come up with is to quibble over whether or not this shootings took place during the school day or that shooting involved students from a particular school, then they are making it clear that a serious and sober discussion about school violence is beyond their abilities or concern.

 

The ‘Show Me’ State Won’t Show Anyone Anything With Its New Gun Law

Nobody really knows how Missouri got the nickname the “show me state,” but what we do know is that under a new gun law passed last week, Missouri residents will be able to walk around openly showing their guns.  And what we further know is that this law drops the CCW age requirement from 21 to 19 and allows local school districts to grant CCW privileges to teachers whose job will be to protect everyone else in the school from all those bad guys carrying guns.

The intent of this new law obviously is to make Missourians more safe because lowering the CCW age to 19 will qualify more people to walk around armed and letting teachers bring concealed weapons into schools will also protect the children and other teachers when a bad guy with a gun comes into the school.  In other words, the new law supports a favorite theory of the NRA which can be summed up as “more guns equals less guns.”  Oops, what we mean is more guns carried around by the “good guys” means less guns carried around by the “bad guys.”

The last time Missouri made it easier for its citizens to arm themselves was in 2007 when the Legislature abolished a law which required that people wishing to buy handguns first had to go to the police department and get a permit-to-purchase (PTP,) in order to take possession of the gun.  To show you how successful this measure was in helping good-guy Missourians use guns to protect themselves from bad-guy Missourians, the gun homicide rate over the next three years jumped by almost 25%, even though the non-gun homicide rate remained about the same.

pink gun                Of all 50 states, only Louisiana currently has a higher gun homicide rate than Missouri, and while the overall violent crime rate in Missouri has declined by about 20% between 2007 and 2012, the homicide rate has remained remarkably stable and remarkably high, a testament no doubt to the Legislature’s uncanny ability to understand how making it easier for everyone to acquire handguns would lead to a safer and more secure place to live.  Having seen the positive impact of easier handgun access on gun homicide rates, the Legislature in its wisdom now believes that it will move the gospel of ‘good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns’ into the schools.

But what are the facts about the utility of using guns to protect kids (and teachers) in schools?  Actually, the number of homicides that take place in schools each year has shown the same gradual decline over the last twenty years that has characterized violent crime rates in the United States as a whole.  From 1994 to 2013, violent crime dropped roughly 50%, with most of the decline taking place prior to 2004.  As for school homicides, according to a Justice Department study, they have dropped by about the same amount over the period 1992 to 2010, and serious victimizations, including robberies and assaults, have declined by as much as two-thirds.

Most of this decline in school criminality seems to have been the result of increased attention paid to people entering school buildings and increased surveillance within the buildings.  By 2011, nearly 90% of all public schools had some kind of security measures to monitor access and the same percentage reported requiring visitor sign-ins.  On the other hand, less than one-third of all schools had armed security patrolling on a full-time or part-time basis.  And while I don’t have specific numbers on school security in Missouri, I can tell you that the last school shooting in the ‘show me’ state occurred in 1993.

Do you think there was any connection between the passage of the new Missouri gun law and the racial strife in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown?  It’s as good a theory as any about what really motivated legislators to let guns into schools, because there sure isn’t any violence problem in Missouri schools that this law will solve.

Massachusetts Gets A Gun Bill That’s Not About Guns

Last week the Massachusetts Assembly voted a gun bill that was initially submitted to the Legislature last year by Governor Deval Patrick following Sandy Hook.  The bill was debated at a half-dozen public forums attended by advocates on both sides, went through any number of iterations and finally appears to be making its way for final passage and approval before this year’s legislative ends on July 31st.

In fact, the bill doesn’t contain a single change in the current law covering how state residents purchase or transfer guns.  The only change that has any application to gun ownership clarifies the manner in which town police chiefs, who are the ‘issuing authority’ for gun licenses, can determine how and when an applicant for a gun license could be denied either the license itself or the CCW privilege even if they meet the legal requirements for the basic license or, as it is known, the LTC-A.

deval                So the changes in current gun law as it impacts gun owners are benign and slight.  But the changes were very significant in areas that have never been the focus of gun bills before; namely, in issues relating to safe schools, mental health and, most of all, suicide and guns.  The law requires every school district to create a plan to deal with in-school emergency events;  to develop a “safe and supportive school” plan to help identify and treat troubled student  who might become risks to themselves or others; and to hire a resource office to help implement safety and security in the schools.

But the most important part of the bill has to do with the issue of suicide.  Guns are the method of choice for 50% of all suicides, a percentage which is growing particularly in suicides committed by teens and young adults.  Nobody is saying that someone who wants to commit suicide wouldn’t do it if a gun wasn’t around; our national suicide rate is roughly similar to other Western countries where there are very few guns.  But anything that can be done to keep mentally-distraught people from impulsively grabbing a gun and using it to end their lives is an important goal, and along with requiring gun dealers to post suicide warnings in their shops and mandating suicide prevention programs in schools, this bill contains a provision that is, without doubt, the most innovative and significant response to suicide that has ever been tried.

The bill creates a task force to consider ways to create ‘safe harbors’ that can be used by families and friends of “distressed individuals” to remove and store their guns temporarily – and informally – until the mental crisis is considered as having passed.  The whole point here is to give loved ones, family members and close friends a way to prevent a depressed father, sibling or child from having access to guns while not invoking or involving formal contacts with the courts or the police. Maybe it would be another town resident, or perhaps some storage space could be set aside in a local church, but here is a law that will empower individuals to deal with controlling guns precisely so that the government doesn’t have to get involved.

For the very first time a gun control issue will be determined not by the government, but by the people themselves.  This is a remarkable precedent, and it has gone unnoticed in all the pro and con reactions to the bill.  In typical fashion, the NRA wasted no time trying to gin up its membership to oppose the whole thing, stating shortly after its passage that the bill “still contains provisions which will directly and adversely affect your constitutional right to keep and bear arms.” The fact that the bill gives us the responsibility to protect people from using a gun to hurt themselves is something that the NRA wouldn’t even understand, even though “We The People” is emblazoned on virtually every NRA poster that you can find.

 

Everytown Vs. NRA: The Slugfest Begins

When former Mayor Mike Bloomberg first announced that he was ponying up $50 million to fund gun control, it didn’t take the NRA long to react.  They quickly published a long commentary on their NRA-ILA website that basically accused Bloomberg of buying his way into grass-roots advocacy by creating the illusion of a mass movement through “slickly-produced” television ads and other media-driven appeals.  The NRA glossed over the fact that some of Bloomberg’s money would go to augment the work of Shannon Watts and her Moms Demand Action campaign which has certainly become a national advocacy organization, even though the size of its membership doesn’t yet compare to the NRA.

I wrote a column on this blog when Bloomberg’s new campaign hit the wires in which I poured some cold water over his plan to fund political activity that would result in new gun control laws, particularly laws that widened the scope of background checks. But I focused more on whether the data on background checks really proved that it was an effective way to deal with gun violence, which I happen to believe is not the case.  I didn’t think it was yet time to judge the degree to which fifty million bucks, no matter how it was spent, might tilt the gun-control playing field away from the NRA.  But now I’m beginning to see the direction in which things seem to be going and I don’t think the news for the NRA is all that good.

bloomLast week Bloomberg’s newly-funded campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety, released a report on school shootings since Sandy Hook.  The report painted a grim picture of more than one shooting per week, and within 24 hours this statistic was repeated by President Obama and immediately went viral on Youtube and everywhere else.  The reaction to Obama’s comment was so intense on both sides was so intense that Politicfact.com ran one of its Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checks on the Everytown report and concluded that it “contained some elements of truth” but was “mostly false.”  Their judgement was based on the report’s counting of every gun incident whether it involved shooting at unarmed students or school staff at all, even including shootings that took place on school playgrounds at night after the school was closed.

Yesterday I received an email letter from the NRA that linked to a story about the Everytown report that is now posted on the website of the NRA-ILA.  And it was this email that made me begin to think that, when all is said and done, Bloomberg’s fifty million could make a difference in turning the advocacy tide against the NRA.  Because the problem with the NRA’s response to the school shootings report is not that what the NRA said was incorrect (it wasn’t,) nor that they quoted other sources who are generally pro-NRA (they didn’t.) The real problem is that unless you are a member of the NRA you’ll never even read their response, and successful advocacy ultimately gets down to who will listen to you and who won’t.

Despite all the nonsense about internet “democracy” and the ability of grass-roots movements to use the “free” digital environment to promote their points of view, the fact is that when Bloomberg says something that’s repeated by Obama and goes into overdrive on the internet, the former Mayor of New York is getting his message out to a much wider audience than any group which listens to the NRA.  Energizing gun owners to take sides in a pro-con debate over gun rights is a no-brainer that the NRA wins every time out. But getting non-gun owners, who are a majority of Americans, to understand and support the 2nd Amendment is a very different kettle of fish.  The NRA better figure out how to do it or Bloomberg will get his control agenda on the cheap.