Does Gun Violence Include Defending Yourself With A Gun?

Want to know the basic issue dividing Gun-nut Nation and Gun-control Nation?  It’s whether or not guns are good things or and things to have around the house. The whole argument gets down to that.  Period.

VPC logo            In 1992 and 1993, Art Kellerman and Fred Ricard published two articles which claimed that higher rates of gun homicide and gun suicide were found in homes with guns. Then Gary Kleck published an article in which he claimed that armed citizens prevented upwards of 2.5 million crimes each year. And these three pieces of research, alternately applauded and damned by pro-gun and anti-gun activists, still continue to set the parameters for what the argument about guns is all about.

The latest contribution to the debate is a brief report just issued by our friends at the Violence Policy Center, which says that “for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 334 criminal homicides.”  In other words, the positive social utility of gun ownership is clearly outweighed a ton by the negative social utility of guns. The data behind this proposition comes from the usual suspects – the CDC and the FBI.

I would be a little careful about using FBI data on justifiable homicides, if only because their numbers on the other category of justifiable shootings which is called ‘legal intervention,’ and that means civilians being shot by cops, may be off by as much as half.  At least this is what is claimed by the Washington Post which has been tracking police gun-violence for several years. But anyway, back to the VPC report.

I would be the last person to promote the idea that armed citizens should be considered as a protective shield against violence or crime. That someone could maybe hit an unmoving, paper target and then walk around ready to take on society’s enemies with a real gun is nothing more than a stupid, childish fantasy except it’s being played out in real-life terms. Want to pretend you’re ready to blow away all the bad guys?  Go to a video arcade and play one of the shooting machines.

Unfortunately, the VPC report comparing what one might call offensive gun use (OGU) to what has often been called defensive gun use (DGU) is based on a comparison which doesn’t conform to what the two sides say about how personal-defense guns are used. The DGU supporters basically argue that just about all the successful events where a gun prevents a crime don’t actually involve anyone getting shot at all. Gary Kleck’s famous (or infamous) DGU study found that a gun was discharged in a DGU event less than 15% of the time.

When the VPC defines a DGU as an event when a gun is discharged and then compares such events to all the gun homicides committed each year, of course the difference in numbers is enormous to the point that there’s really no comparison at all. But if there ever was an orange to apples comparison in the gun world, this is it. The whole point of using non-shooting DGU numbers to promote the positive social utility of guns, is that you don’t have to rely on any real data at all. And this is where things get difficult for our friends in Gun-control Nation, because the folks at the VPC and other advocacy organizations would like to believe that people can be persuaded to support reasonable gun-control policies because, after all, arguments are won and lost based on facts.

In the case of guns, the facts really have no bearing on the debate. How else do you explain that a majority of Americans really believe that access to a gun keeps you and your family safe? Until and unless the VPC and like-minded groups explain this remarkable instance of cognitive dissonance, all the reports and all the data won’t make much difference at all.

 

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

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

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

Consequences of toxic stress in young people include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks to Fritz Walker.

Has The Number Of Gun Dealers Declined? Not Lately.

Our friends at the Violence Policy Center (VPC) have just released a new report which details a 77% decline in federal gun dealers since 1994, which they believe reduces the number of dealers who might be “a known source of weapons for criminal gun traffickers.”  Exactly how large a role FFL-dealers actually play in pushing guns into the ‘wrong hands’ has never been adequately analyzed or explained, but looking for any piece of silver lining when it comes to regulating guns in the Age of Trump isn’t a bad thing.

vpc             The only problem with this particular piece of silver lining, however, is that the data actually gives a somewhat different perspective on the whole issue of FFL-dealers than what the VPC would like us to believe. Because while it is true that the number of FFL licenses has declined by more than two-thirds over the past twenty years, the number has actually increased by more than ten percent in the last nine years.

And why has there been an increase in FFL dealers after the drop in license-holders after 1994?  Remember this guy named Obama and a doubling in gun sales beginning in 2008? Remember an even greater sales increase after the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook and an abortive attempt to widen NICS-FBI background checks to cover secondary sales?  Between 2007 and 2016 the number of gun dealers increased in 38 of the 50 states.  North Carolina dropped from 6,486 dealers in 1994 to 1,327 in 2007, but FFLs in the Tar Heel State are back up to 1,921, an increase of 45%!  In South Carolina the numbers went from 2,332 in 1994 down to 529 in 2007 and now back up to 886, not a bad jump in just nine years.

The real reason that FFLs dropped so steeply after 1994 (mentioned in the VPC report) was the cost of the license went up from $30 to $200, which meant that many of the pre-94 dealers were not really in business so a 700% increase for the license fee was just too steep. But it’s not as if the Treasury Department lost any money when all those guys buying guns for themselves at wholesale prices gave up the ghost. The license fees under the pre-94 regime would have generated around 7 million bucks.  When the fee went to $200 the revenue from the 56,000 current dealers amounted to 11 million and change.

The fact that there are roughly one-quarter the number of FFL-holders today as compared to 1994 says absolutely nothing about the relationship between the number of dealers who actually sell guns to consumers as opposed to selling guns to themselves or to a few friends.  Even with the ATF’s backslapping about their vaunted programs to keep dealers in line, probably no more than 5,000 dealers are actually bringing new inventory to the civilian market and thus might be contributing to the spread of crime guns.

Where do I get that number?  It’s simple – just go to the website of Smith & Wesson or Glock or one of the other gun manufacturers and do a search for their stocking dealers in any particular state.  Gun makers go out of their way to promote product sales by listing every dealer who stocks and sells their wares.  Glock lists 272 dealers in North Carolina and the ATF says there are 1,921 FFL-holders in the state.  Smith & Wesson has about 50 dealers in its home state of Massachusetts and there are 386 active FFLs in the Bay State.

If you want to write about regulating any industry you need to know how to figure out how to understand the industry itself.  And you’re not going to get a complete view by using information created outside the industry by regulators like the ATF. Remember, in the Age of Trump it doesn’t matter whether anything is based on facts or not. All the more reason why folks who don’t share his love of the gun industry need to know how that industry really works.

 

What Happens When People Walk Around With Guns? People Get killed.

This week the Colorado legislature showed itself to still have enough members with brains to beat back the annual brain-dead attempt to ‘restore’ gun ‘rights’ to the good citizens of the Centennial State. The Colorado GVP community shot them all down. You may recall that in 2014 Colorado expanded background checks to cover private transactions, and while the pro-gun strategy this year did not include an attempt to repeal the background check law, it did include Gun Nation’s favorite gun-rights ploy; i.e., permitless concealed-carry, including on school grounds.

ccwSpeaking of the joys and virtues of concealed carry, our friends at the Violence Policy Center have just updated their website which contains data on gun fatalities committed by CCW-holders, with the number now standing at 863 non-defensive deaths since 2007.  Since there is no official count for how many of the 31,000+ gun deaths each year occur thanks to someone using a gun that was being legally carried around for self-defense, we have to assume that the VPC number is far below the real number, but that’s not the point.

The point is that I have been listening to this crap about the millions of times each year that legal CCW-holders use their guns to prevent crimes, and if this is really true, then what’s the difference if a few hundred or even a few thousand people kill themselves or kill someone else with their concealed-carry guns?  One of the brain-dead legislators in Colorado explained why state residents should be able to bring permitless concealed-carry guns into schools in the following way: “I, for one, am tired of sending my daughters to school on blind faith that they will return home from a place where people are prevented by state law from equipping themselves to protect my daughters.”  Okay, so this friggin’ dope can go lay brick.

But to give the all dopes their due, I decided to look into the situation a little further by trying to figure out whether, in fact, all these people walking round with a concealed gun are making our communities more safe.  And what better place to examine the situation than in Florida because, after all, the whole concealed-carry movement first erupted in the Gunshine State.  And according to the Florida Department of Agriculture, which issues CCW, there are now 1.5 million active concealed licenses, so Florida must be a pretty safe place, right?

Wrong.  Let me give you a few numbers.  In 2011, the metropolitan area with the highest violent crime rate in the entire United States wasn’t Chicago, wasn’t Philadelphia, it was Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach.  In 2014, that wonderful family vacation spot known as Orlando had a higher violent crime rate than Chicago or New York. I could go on like this but the truth is that the massive armed citizenry in Florida hasn’t been worth a damn when it comes to keeping the good citizens of that state free from crime.

But let’s drill down a little further and look specifically at the issue of how CCW guns are actually used for or against the commission of crimes.  According to the VPC, there have been at least 21 Floridians killed by CCW-holders since 2013, an average of 7 each year.  On the other hand, justifiable homicides, have averaged roughly 23 per year in Florida since ‘Stand Your Ground’ was passed in 2005.  But while gun homicides have increased since SYG, no other violent crime category showed any real change at all.

Now wait a minute.  I thought the whole point of concealed-carry is to make communities safe.  So how come in Florida of all places the number of people getting legally killed with guns keeps going up but the crime rate doesn’t go down?   Here’s the bottom line and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand what it means.  Know what happens when more people walk around with guns?  More people get killed.  Gee, that was hard to figure out.

A New VPC Report Helps Demolish The Argument That Guns Protect Us From Crime.

The Violence Policy Center has just released its latest report that covers shootings by concealed-carry licensees since 2007. And while it’s impossible to come up with any kind of comprehensive number that tells us how many times legally-armed citizens yank out a piece and shoot themselves or someone else, the bottom line is that this project is a welcome antidote to the NRA-inspired nonsense about how people walking around with guns protect us from violence and crime.

If it were just the case that the pro-gun gang used the armed citizen la-la to sell more guns, it certainly wouldn’t upset me very much.  After all, every legal product deserves a good marketing scheme, even if it’s a scheme developed out of whole cloth.  But this year the virtue of an armed citizenry has been elevated to a new, almost sanctified level by the entire field of Republican Presidential candidates who are using the ‘more guns = less crime’ argument to make sure that sensible reforms like expanded background checks never get discussed at all.  “New laws won’t do anything at all,“ Donald Shlump tells us, while he preens about having a concealed-gun permit even though he won’t reveal if he actually carries or ever practices shooting a gun.

VPC cropped                According to the VPC report, at least 763 people have been shot to death by legally-armed citizens over the last eight years.  Now this is a pretty puny number when compared to the millions of crimes that are allegedly prevented because so many people are walking around with guns.  But if you think we have no idea about the accuracy of the VPC data, let me hasten to assure you that the pro-gun gang bases their claims about the value of an armed citizenry on no data at all.  The only thing they can point to is the 1994 article by Gary Kleck which has been discredited so many times that even the criticisms are getting a little stale.  And when Kleck went online earlier this year to defend his numbers, he backed away from his original claims.

Now you would think that if a national political party has designated  concealed-carry as its wedge issue in a Presidential year, the least they would do is conduct a survey to see if what they are claiming is really true.  If it turns out that the Kleck research is as bogus as I suspect, they just don’t have to tell anyone about a new poll.  On the other hand, were Kleck or someone else to do an updated study which shows that concealed-carry really was an effective and efficient way to defend against crime, just imagine what this would do for the Republicans if this information was injected into the Presidential campaign.  After all, the Democrats have clearly decided to use gun control as their wedge issue in the coming months, so all the more reason why the Republicans should try to outflank the opposition by proving once and for all that being armed is a good thing.

There’s only one little problem.  Armed citizens don’t protect us from crime.  And the reason is because crime and concealed-carry have nothing to do with each other.  Has there been a significant increase in CCW over the last few years?  Yes.  Do all these new CCW-holders live in localities where most crime occurs?  No.  The increase in concealed-carry applications has been most noticeable in places where legal gun-owners live which are, for the most part, white, small-town or smaller city localities – places where very little violent crime ever takes place.

In defending the recent spate of Republican gun-nuttery, the half-baked intellectual Thomas Sowell insisted it was reasonable to own a 30-shot rifle magazine in order to repel home invasions by three or more thugs.  Sowell might qualify his remarkable flight from reality by looking at what the BJS says are the odds of such events happening in neighborhoods where people own guns.  The odds are zero to none.

 

Is Gun Ownership A Risk Or A Benefit? The VPC Report Says It’s Definitely A Risk.

If there is one issue which continues to define the gun debate, it’s whether the 30,000+ gun deaths and 60,000+ gun injuries that occur each year can be justified because guns also protect us from crime. Not surprisingly, the pro-gun community led by the NRA has not only embraced the notion that armed citizens protect us from crime, but use this notion to explain the decline in violent crime over the past twenty years.

While nobody would argue with the idea that a gun can be used as a protective device, the problem is trying to figure out just exactly how often what is called a Defensive Gun Use, or DGU, actually takes place.  Most of the DGU evidence is purely hypothetical, based on anecdotal accounts which total less than 100 DGU events per year.  For that matter, the DGU survey conducted by Gary Kleck, which claimed that DGU events totaled more than 2 million per year, was based on interviews with 213 respondents, at a time when, according to Kleck, most people with access to a gun that could be used defensively didn’t necessarily have the legal right to own a gun at all.  So if you’re trying to gauge how people behave with an object that they can’t necessarily tell you they actually possess, you have something of a problem validating anything they might say.

conference program pic                The issue of how often guns are used in self-defense is the point of a new study released by the Violence Policy Center, which studied data on DGUs for the period 2007 – 2012.  THE VPC study uses data from two sources to get at the number of DGUs that happen each year.  The first source is the FBI, which tabulates justifiable homicides, defined as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”  In 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides committed with a gun, and over the five-year period beginning in 2008, the yearly average was 221.

The other source for DGUs is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted each year by the Department of Justice, which shows an average of 47,140 DGUs each year.  The NCVS data doesn’t indicate whether a gun that was used in self-defense against a criminal was actually fired, but it does disclose that of all methods used by victims of violent crimes to defend themselves before or during the attack, a gun was the preferred method of defense less than 1% of the time.  What was the most frequent way in which crime victims defended themselves?  What you would expect, namely, by using their mouths to yell, scream or otherwise alerting either their attacker or others that something dangerous was going on.

Not surprisingly, pro-gun advocates have been taking pot-shots at the NVCS and other surveys which show minimal DGUs with guns.  Gary Kleck recently re-surfaced in Politico where he defended his 1994 estimate of 2.5 million yearly gun DGUs without advancing any new data, even though the extension of CCW to all 50 states has rendered his basic thesis (that most people could not admit to carrying a gun outside the home) basically invalid.

I buy the NVCS data about DGUs for one simple reason, namely, that the survey covers a large number of respondents – more than 90,000 households – and is conducted yearly so that trends can be developed and verified over time.  I also buy the FBI data because, when all is said and done, justifiable homicide is an objective definition for DGUs, rather than a subjective opinion about a criminal event that may or may not have taken place. In that regard, by comparing the scant number of gun DGUs to the 90,000+ gun mortalities and morbidities that occur each year, the VPC report represents a positive contribution to the gun debate.  And if the pro-gun folks don’t feel comfortable engaging in a debate using evidence-based data, so what else is new?

Do We Really Know How Many Americans Own Guns? Depends Who Wants To Know.

How many Americans own guns?  The answer to this question is probably the single, most important piece of data for both sides of the gun debate.  If the number of Americans who own guns is increasing, then arguments for gun control will be accepted by fewer and fewer people every year.  However, if fewer people turn out to be gun owners, then efforts to push new gun control legislation will run up against less resistance over time.  Either way, figuring out the actual number of people who own guns is difficult because very few jurisdictions actually require that every individual gun owner register his or her guns.  So we are forced to fall back on various surveys or polls, which always leave room for doubt because, by definition, the results of any public survey can be interpreted in more than one way.

The latest example of how a survey of the number of gun owners can be looked at from two very different perspectives are the reactions to the latest General Social Survey conducted by the AP-NORC Center at the University of Chicago and published every two years.  The survey asks many questions that have been unchanged since 1972, it is based on interviews with 2,500 respondents, and it is generally considered the most reliable indicator of American socio-political attitudes and how these attitudes change over time.

The GSS has been asking the following question since 1972: “Do you happen to have in your home or garage any guns or revolvers?”  Since the question was first asked in 1972, when the overall response was roughly 50%, the number of positive responses has been slowly but surely going down.  It’s higher in households who declare themselves to be Republicans as opposed to Democrats or Independents, but in all three groups, notwithstanding a brief Obama-provoked increase among Republican respondents between 2008 and 2012, the overall number keeps edging South, with the high watermark of 53% reached in 1978 and the 2014 figure sliding to its current 32%.

gss                This part of the report, as you can imagine, came in for its share of positive versus negative press depending on the general attitude towards guns.  The Violence Policy Center issued a very detailed analysis of the findings, and announced that the shrinkage of American gun ownership was an “unavoidable conclusion” of the GSS survey, reflecting “the aging of the current-gun owning population, primarily white males, and a lack of interest in guns by youth.”  The NRA, on the other hand, touts a Gallup survey which showed household gun ownership at 42%, although they neglect to mention that this number has also dropped nearly 10 points since 1994.

I happen to think that the GSS findings are probably accurate for three reasons.  First, the GSS develops its data based on in-person interviews, rather than telephone contacts, and the in-depth questioning of each respondent tends to make it easier for the post-interview analysts to differentiate between valid, as opposed to questionable responses received by the survey teams in the field.  Second, while the specific numbers on gun ownership between GSS versus Gallup may differ, the trends over time are the same.  Finally, I am at a loss to understand why the pro-gun community still believes that gun owners are afraid to disclose their ownership of guns, which continues to be the nonsensical, knee-jerk response to every survey that points to Americans losing interest in guns.

If the NRA is still convinced that gun owners tend to be afraid of disclosing their ownership of guns, why don’t they conduct a study like the one conducted by the head of the GSS,  Tom Smith, who found in a 2001 survey of 800 CCW-holders that 90% admitted to owning guns. This study was conducted, incidentally, to eliminate the possibility that the GSS data was based on too many false-negative responses, which it turned out wasn’t true.  Instead of theories, opinions and random selection of data, I’d love to see the pro-gun folks just once produce a serious survey to back up their own claims – just once.

The Violence Policy Center Has Something Important To Tell Us About Guns.

When the Violence Policy Center began tracking shooting homicides committed by persons with concealed-carry permits, they were attacking the most cherished totem of the pro-gun community, namely, the idea that armed citizens play a positive role in protecting themselves and others from crime.  The fact that there is no credible research to back up this bromide is beside the point; it’s the stock-in-trade of every statement made to justify the concealed-carry of guns.  You can hear it from the NRA’s chief Florida lobbyist, Marion Hammer, arguing for concealed guns to be permitted on college campuses, you can hear it from national legislators on Capitol Hill as they debate a national, concealed-carry reciprocity law.

To the Violence Policy Center’s credit, they have not only maintained their stance regarding CCW-holders who use guns to shoot themselves and others, they have now augmented their effort with an updated website which lets viewers  examine specific information about CCW shootings on a state-by-state basis. One thing I should say right from the gitgo; the data is not meant in any way to be comprehensive, nor could it reflect the true degree of violence caused by individuals who are licensed to walk around with guns.  Nobody collects such data, which forces the VPC to fall back on media reports that are, by definition, very incomplete, vague and therefore capture only the tip of the iceberg at best.  But anyone who attempts to discredit this effort by getting into a spat over whether the numbers show this or the numbers show that is missing the point.

conference program pic                What the new presentation allows you to do is look at the details of these CCW shootings, compare what you read from one state to another, and draw some conclusions not about the connection between concealed-carry and gun violence, but the much greater issue of access to guns and gun violence per se.  After all, pro-gun proponents will tell you that virtually all gun violence is caused by guns getting into the ‘wrong’ hands, which means that if we take guns away from criminals and the mentally unstable, there won’t be any gun violence at all. But the content on the VPC website belies such nonsense, and what it says deserves to read in full.

Here’s a couple of quick examples drawn from the first entry of various states picked at random for purposes of review.  Mississippi:  Three drunks get into a bar argument and two end up shot dead.  Arizona: Husband shoots wife to death.  Oregon: Shooter kills father, kills another guy and then kills himself.  Ohio: Two guys are drinking at a party, one disses the other, bang.  Maine: They leave a bar, they are both boozed up, an argument starts, and that’s that.

Notice a pattern?  Five shootings, eight people dead, seven knew each other well before the fatal incident occurred. Not one of the shooters was a ‘criminal.’  Not one of these shootings involved the commission of any crime.  In fact, the shooters in every single case were law-abiding citizens or otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to carry a gun.  Despite what the NRA and the other pro-gun propagandists say, these reports picked at random from the VPC website are exactly what true gun violence is all about.

According to the FBI, less than one out of five fatal shootings in the United States takes place during the commission of a serious crime.  Homicide is impulsive, it usually grows out of disputes between relatives or friends, and if a gun is present the argument gets very violent, very fast.  And this is particularly true when the homicide victim is a woman; virtually every woman killed with a gun or any other weapon lost her life during a domestic dispute.

The pro-gun community can talk from today to next year about how we much safer we are because more people are walking around with guns.  I don’t think this argument should turn on numbers; I think it should turn on the lethality of guns.  The VPC website hits that one right between the eyes.

On Amazon.

Gun Trafficking in America - cover

 

Can The ATF Beat The NRA? I Won’t Take The Short Odds.

Last week I wrote about the decision by the ATF to ban certain types of 5.56 ammunition based on whether it could be chambered in AR-style handguns, several of which have been on the market for the last few years.  And while nobody can show that any cop has ever been shot or even menaced by one of these guns, the fact that there are now weapons classified as handguns that use such ammunition means that this ammunition might be carried in one of those guns, thus constituting a violation of the 1986 ‘armor-piercing’ law.

As suspected, once the ATF began asking for public responses to this possible change in the regulations governing the definition of ‘sporting’ ammunition, the usual suspects began cranking up on both sides.  Mark Glaze, former head of Everytown,  got himself onto Fox and Friends while Josh Sugarmann, who runs the Violence Policy Center, put out a long piece on Huffington Post.  Both of them argued that the ATF wasn’t trying to find a back-door method of getting rid of AR ammunition, but only responding to product innovations developed by black gun manufacturers whose AR-style handguns loaded with M855 and SS109 ammo, would be capable of penetrating bullet-proof vests. I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention, by the way, that the most popular AR-style handgun is made by Bushmaster and is appropriately called the “Patrolman’s Pistol.”

bushmaster pistol                Meanwhile, not to be undone by the spate of gun-sense activity, the pro-gun folks swung into high gear, launching not only a national petition campaign through the usual social media channels, but also getting one of their Capitol Hill minions, Congressman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) to author and circulate a letter in the House of Representatives that raised “serious concern” about the ATF’s proposed new guidelines for exempting ammunition from the ‘armor-piercing’ ban.  The letter quickly garnered over 230 signatures, and while you could probably get as many House members to sign a letter stating that the Earth was flat, I’m not so sure that the importance or true intent of this letter is clearly understood.

The Congressional letter to the ATF is a milestone for the pro-gun community because, for the first time, a significant number of elected officials are supporting the idea that the AR-style rifle should be considered a ‘sporting’ gun.  In fact, according to the letter, such rifles are used for “target practice, hunting, organized and casual competition, training and skills development, and instructional activities.”  The gun industry has been trying to promote AR-style rifles as ‘sporting’ guns because the market for real sporting guns – hunting rifles and shotguns – is drying up.  Millennials don’t hunt, but they do grow up playing video games, and the most popular games are shooting games which feature black guns.

The Congressional letter is important in another respect because it raises an issue that is toxic to the pro-gun crowd; i.e., the idea that something related to guns is being banned. Here’s the relevant quote: “Under no circumstances should ATF adopt a standard that will ban ammunition that is overwhelmingly used by law-abiding Americans for legitimate purposes.”  I don’t know if the NRA wrote this letter for Goodlatte or not, but to refer to the new ammunition guidelines as a method to “ban” ammunition is to guarantee that every gun-owning activist in America will climb on board this campaign.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not criticizing groups like the Violence Policy Center for framing their side of the argument by supporting common-sense policies that will protect cops. But if the intent of the framework is only to keep people from using the ‘armor-piercing’ ammo in new handgun designs, why not just issue an advisory letting everyone know that loading M855 or SS109 ammo into a semi-automatic handgun was against the law? The gun-sense community had to know that the ATF’s decision to withdraw the exemption for all uses of this ammo would be construed, rightfully, as a ban.  Want to take the short odds on the ATF in this argument?  I don’t.

The VPC’s New Report On Gun Violence And A New Book On Murder Both Deserve To Be Read

Every year the Violence Policy Center issues a depressingly similar report on gun death rates in all 50 states.  Based on data from the CDC, the report appears to confirm a basic tenet of the gun-sense approach to gun violence, namely, that states with high rates of gun death rates have fewer gun violence prevention laws and tend to have higher per capita ownership of guns.  The report ranks all 50 states by the rate of gun violence, the highest being Alaska at 19.59 per 100,000, the lowest being Hawaii at 2.71. Of the 50 states, 31 rank at or above the national mean of 10.64 and the other 19 below, with the lowest 7 states being Hawaii and 6 Northeastern states which traditionally have the tightest laws and the lowest per-capita gun ownership rates.  A quick glance at the state-level chart appears to confirm the VPC’s basic argument about the connection between gun violence prevention laws, rates of gun ownership and death rates involving guns.

VPC croppedThis is all fine and well except for two little things.  First, the gun “violence” captured by the VPC is of two very different types.  In the case of the five states with the highest rates of gun deaths, two of them – Alaska and Wyoming – have extremely low homicide rates (according to the FBI,) the gun death rate in these two states reflecting abnormally high suicide.  Is gun suicide is a form of gun violence? Of course,  but laws restricting access to guns by persons considering suicide would have to be much different measures than laws that keep crime-prone individuals from getting their hands on a gun.

Second, states that have strong gun violence prevention laws and low per capita gun ownership are able to institute laws preventing gun violence precisely because gun owners don’t constitute a threat at the ballot box, the recent re-election of Connecticut’s Governor Dannell Malloy a case in point.  Do strong gun laws prevent gun violence or does the lack of gun violence and the lack of gun ownership make it easier to pass such laws? It’s a classic chicken-and-egg question but my state – Massachusetts – passed a very strong gun violence prevention law in 1998, and while the state now ranks near the bottom in gun violence rates today, it also ranked near the bottom before the 1998 law was passed.

ghettoDon’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to undermine or devalue in any way the important work of the Violence Policy Center on issues like gun violence or the other problems which Josh Sugarmann and his team tackle every day.  Nevertheless, I still believe a basic question is being overlooked.  And the question has just been addressed frontally in a new book, Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy, which takes the reader through a series of murder investigations conducted by detectives of the LAPD.

The bottom line is that for all the talk about America’s abnormally high gun violence rate, the fact is that one specific group – African-American males – constitutes 6 percent of the population but 40% of the people killed every year.  Pretend this group does not exist, pull their numbers out of the overall murder count, and America isn’t such a violent place. Leovy’s argument is that in terms of addressing this problem, Black homicide victims don’t exist. Her book is an attempt to “penetrate the mystery of disproportionate black homicide,” for which she offers some tentative but hardly compelling ideas.

When Leovy writes about events at the street level, her descriptions are remarkably vivid and clear.  When she brings a wider sociological perspective to the problem, the text becomes suffuse and vague.  To her credit, she admits that we simply don’t know why black-on-black homicide, even with today’s lowered numbers, remains so disproportionate when compared to violence levels experienced by any other race.  The same, for that matter, could be said about gun violence and in the face of such uncertain explanations, we might be a little more modest in assuming that we know how to bring gun murders down.

On Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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