It’s Not Guns That Cause Gun Violence. It’s Handguns.

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By the time I went to bed last night, the ether was filled with reactions to the Alexandria shootings, most of them reflecting the alt-right view of things about guns and violence, namely, that if there had been more good guys at the ballfield with guns, the bad guy wouldn’t have shot anyone at all. But at least one sane voice emerged belonging to Chelsea Parsons and her colleagues at the Center for American Progress (CAP) who put up a podcast, ‘Too Many Guns in America,’ and discussed the event.

cap-logo1CAP has been a mainstay in the effort to strengthen gun regulations, and much of their approach can be found in their report, America Under Fire, which makes a persuasive argument that gun violence and laws regulating gun ownership and access go hand-in-hand; i.e., more laws equal less injuries caused by guns. You can download the report right here.

Much of yesterday’s podcast was devoted to talking about the efficacy of different gun laws which exist in a minority of states, which also happen to be the states where less gun violence occurs.  In particular, the podcast mentioned universal background checks, regulating assault rifles and hi-cap mags, and preventing domestic violence abusers from getting their hands on guns. Chelsea and her colleagues made a point of saying that all three strategies enlist wide, public support, although you wouldn’t know that from the GOP-alt-right chorus that was braying last night.

I want to make it clear that I am four-square in favor of government regulation of guns. I don’t believe anyone should be walking around armed who isn’t either required to carry as part of a job, or can’t demonstrate skilled, appropriate and continuous proficiency. And that means real, live shooting evaluated by the public authority that issues the license for carrying a gun.

The problem which comes up again and again whenever the gun violence prevention (GVP) community talks about gun violence, is not how they define ‘violence’ caused by guns, which should include suicide because self-violence happens to be part of the definition of violence used by the World Health Organization; rather, how GVP defines a ‘gun.’  Because when it comes to the ten ‘indicators’ of gun violence cited by CAP to create the America Under Fire report, nine of those ten indicators contribute to the annual gun-death toll not because of the existence of guns per se, but the existence of handguns, which poses all sorts of different issues than the existence of guns overall.

Take gun trafficking for example.  Ever notice that when the cops bust a bunch of dopes for bringing guns from down South into New York that most of the guns are small, concealable pistols, Glocks and stuff like that?  Sure, there’s a rifle here and there, but what sells in the street are the little bangers – the shooter in Alexandria, the shooter at the Pulse, the shooter at Aurora, the shooter at Sandy Hook – they used assault rifles that were all legally owned.

What frustrated me about the CAP podcast was that neither Chelsea, Igor or Michele said one word about the discussion’s title, namely, the existence of too many guns.  And with all due respect to the work that has been done linking gun violence to lax gun laws, it’s the number of weapons floating around which is the numero uno reason why so many Americans get shot with guns. But even noted scholars like our friend David Hemenway gets it wrong when he says that our rate of gun violence compared to other ‘advanced’ countries is so much higher because we have so many more guns, because if he compared per capita ownership of handguns rather than all guns, the disparities between our level of gun violence and the gun violence suffered by other societies would be two or three times worse.

Sorry to repeat what I have said so many times, but we will continue to suffer an extraordinary level of gun violence until we get rid of the guns. The little ones. Those guns.

 

It’s Time We Stopped Letting The NRA Set The Rules For The Debate About Guns.

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I have been following the gun debate since 1963 when Senator Dodd introduced a bill that eventually became the law known as GCA68.  The reason I got interested in gun law was because my great-Uncle Ben was manufacturing a crummy, little 22-caliber revolver that broke after the 2nd or 3rd shot.  It was a classic Saturday Night Special and Dodd wanted to get rid of those guns to help maintain the market for real Connecticut gun makers like Winchester, Ruger and Colt.  So what I say now is based on following the argument about guns for more than fifty years.

2A                For at least twenty of those fifty years, perhaps thirty, the NRA and its pro-gun allies have been telling us that guns aren’t a problem as long as they don’t get into the wrong hands.  And if they do fall into the wrong hands, we can count on all the good guys with guns to set matters straight.  Mad Dog Lott, one of the chief propagandists for the NRA, said it last night like this: “Guns can do bad things, but they can also do good things.” He then went on to claim, without a shred of evidence, that he knew of “dozens” of mass shootings that were prevented by good guys with guns.

I don’t really care about whether John Lott can distinguish between what is true and what is false.  What concerns me is the idea that an event as horrific as yesterday’s shooting could be discussed or even thought about in terms of ‘good’ versus ‘bad.’  It has nothing to do with good or bad, right or wrong.  It has to do with a moral imperative: Thou Shalt Not Kill.  And despite the attempts by the NRA and sycophantic jack-offs like John Lott to reduce such awful events to a tit-for-tat analysis, we need to stop allowing the pro-gun community to set the terms of the debate.

A good friend who happens to be one our most important public health researchers on gun violence said to me last night, “You know Mike, the problem is that if we are going to claim the high moral ground on this issue, we need to make sure that everything we say can be indisputably supported by the facts.” With all due respect, that’s really besides the point.  When you stick a gun in someone’s face and pull the trigger, you’re committing an act of gun violence.  And it doesn’t matter if you pull the trigger because you’re trying to protect yourself or protect anyone else.  You’ve committed a violent act because you used a gun.  And the truthfulness of that last sentence doesn’t require any research at all.

My problem is that whenever there’s an act of gun violence someone from the pro-gun gang ends up on radio or television spinning the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ argument again and again.  The NRA is relentless in this respect, their self-appointed minions like Mad Dog Lott endlessly promote the armed citizen nonsense without regard for the facts, and sooner or later they gain the upper hand because the other side of the argument doesn’t yet match their tenacity or resolve.  If the White House is painted red in 2017, I guarantee we will have a national, concealed-carry law that will make the armed citizen as American as apple pie.

I think that groups fighting to reduce gun violence need to come together and develop some kind of ongoing media effort to proactively engage America in a serious debate about gun violence, rather than a debate based on the necessity of preserving 2nd-Amendment rights.  If Hillary wants to lead a discussion that “balances” the 2nd Amendment with “preventive measures,” that’s her business.  What I want is to turn on my television or radio and hear someone talk about the fact that more guns equals more gun violence.  It’s as simple as that and it needs to be said again and again.

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