Is Smart Gun Technology Coming Or Going? I’m Not So Sure Either Way.

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Now that half the world will soon be walking around with an iPhone that recognizes the owner’s thumbprint as the way to unlock the device, it would stand to reason that smart-gun technologies would soon be offered to consumers as well.  But what stands to reason in the mainstream consumer market rarely, if ever, penetrates the world of guns, so it came as no surprise to me that the first-ever symposium on smart-gun technology came and went without a single representative of the gun industry in sight.

I’m referring to a meeting this past week in Seattle, hosted by the Washington Technology Industry Association devoted to the issue of smart guns and featuring an appearance by Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey State Senator who authored the nation’s first smart-gun legislation requiring all new guns in New Jersey to be equipped with smart-gun technology within 30 months after the first smart gun was sold anywhere in the United States.  The countdown almost began last year when a gun shop in Maryland stocked a few models, but the owner yanked the guns off his shelf when the store was besieged by 2nd-Amendment terrorists who threatened to burn him down.

smart gun                Smart-gun technology got started in a big way during the Clinton Administration which awarded $600,000 in R&D monies to Smith & Wesson and FN in return for undertaking research into the development of smart guns.  These grants were the first step in a major investment in smart gun technology, with federal budget numbers as high as $10 million annually for research being bandied about.  The only little problem was that the initial awards were announced in 2000 and an unforeseen event, a.k.a. the election of George W. Bush put a quick end to all such plans.

So here we are in the waning days of another President who should be extremely friendly to the idea of smart guns, but he has no money to give out to anyone for anything related to guns, and it was clear from comments at the Seattle smart-gun conference that nobody else has any real money to fork over either for research or for moving such products into the consumer market which is where the real test of this technology would have to take place. The conference host, the Washington Technology Industry Association, has certainly seen its share of new, electronic innovations over the years.  After all, Seattle is a hop, skip and jump from Redmond, and I don’t have to tell you the name of a little hi-tech company that just happens to be located up there.

The folks who met in Seattle, while supportive of smart guns, were not unsparing in their concerns about possible technical and legal problems that such technology represents.  To begin, there is the simple issue of whether or not the technology actually works, and while there are several smart guns that allegedly have been tested under real-life conditions, even smart-gun proponents like King County Sheriff John Urquhart voiced concerns at the conference about whether he could trust this and other electronic gun accessories to operate in ways that would not impede the overall effectiveness of a police officer’s gun.

Much has been made in the liberal media about the NRA’s opposition to smart gun technology, but for once I have to say that taking the NRA to task over this issue may be a little bit overblown.  It’s true that some of the NRA bloggers and their allies in the ultra-right media have spoken out against these guns from time to time.  But this is nothing more than the usual attempts to feed the 2nd Amendment ‘absolutists’ their daily ration of red meat.

The problem with smart gun technology is that, unlike other new technologies, it’s coming from outside the industry rather than from within.  And the gun industry, the recent fascination with lasers notwithstanding, is a notoriously conservative, un-innovative industry from a technology point of view.  After all, probably the best-selling handgun today is the exact same gun that John Browning designed in 1907, a year before the first Model T.  Anyone seen a Model T lately?


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.

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Are Any Gun Control Measures Reasonable? I’m Not Sure The NRA Would Agree.

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This is going to be a difficult column to write but it needs to be written.  So I’m going to ask all my friends on the gun-sense side of the aisle (my friends on the pro-gun side seem to be dwindling – gee, I wonder why?) to read what I write very carefully and don’t jump to the conclusion that Mike the Gun Guy has finally lost his mind.  He hasn’t, he’s just trying to respond to a very difficult issue that has come up of late.  And what I am referring to is the recent Pew poll which finds that, for the first time since the poll began in 1993, “there is more support for gun rights than gun control.”  I am quoting Pew.

As can be imagined, the poll results created lots of chatter on both sides.  The NRA immediately weighed in, claiming the poll showed that, “Americans of nearly every description are embracing the Second Amendment at historic levels, even as its opponents pour historic amounts of money and effort into suppressing it.” The Campaign to Stop Gun Violence and other groups, went online with a petition asking Pew to change the wording of their poll question because the current question “creates a false perception of gun safety advocates, who are not trying to ‘control gun ownership’ but rather want reasonable regulations that keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people.”

gv                I have seen confidential marketing surveys conducted by more than one gun company which asks the same questions not just of telephone respondents, but focus groups, door-to-door surveys, the whole bit.  These studies are expensive, they are conducted with care, and the gun companies rely on this information (after all, they pay big bucks for it) more then they rely on public opinion polls from Pew, Gallup, or anyone else. And what these polls consistently show is that, by a margin of two-thirds over one-third, Americans support the idea of private gun ownership, but by the same margin support the idea that gun ownership should be subject to some kind of government control.  And this two-third, one-third breakdown appears in virtually every demographic, every geographic, every way in which the marketing companies slice and dice the information they receive.

So the argument gets down not to whether the government should control firearm ownership, but to what extent and to what degree these controls should exist.  And by the way, despite what all these 2nd-Amendment “absolutists” who are opposed to any government gun controls may say, no less a gun nut than Antonin Scalia gave the government explicit authority to “regulate” firearm commerce in the Heller decision of 2008.

I think it’s not such an easy task, indeed perhaps a very difficult task, to convince gun advocates that “reasonable regulations” to keep guns out of the wrong hands can be understood as something other than more “gun control” laws.  And what makes it very difficult is that the NRA and its allies have never positioned themselves as being against “reasonableness” of any sort; rather, they dodge this issue by claiming that even the most ‘reasonable’ gun regulation becomes a ‘slippery slope’ that leads to real gun control, i.e., confiscation of guns.  Whether it’s banning Saturday Night Specials, or hi-cap magazines or expanding background checks, they have used this argument to fight against every ‘reasonable’ gun-safety measure over the last twenty years.

I’m not so sure that the Pew poll is necessarily catching responses to the wrong question as much as it reflects the degree to which opposition to government regulation, any kind of regulation, is increasingly the watchword of a major chunk of the electorate, particularly the electorate that is painted a bright red. The problem for the gun-sense movement is not that reasonable gun regulations are a partisan issue in and of themselves, but they have become a part of a wider argument about the role of government in and of itself.


Did The Gun-Sense Folks Gain A New Friend In Rev. Schenck?

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I was dismayed, no, a better to say pissed off, when Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist preachers began injecting religious faith issues into political campaigns.  And it goes without saying that I have been shocked at the degree to which the gun lobby has cynically cozied up to politicians who chase the Evangelical vote on the one hand while promoting their so-called fervent, 2nd-Amendment beliefs on the other.

      Rev. Rob Schenck

Rev. Rob Schenck

That is why I find the comments made by Rev. Rob Schenck about gun violence so difficult to comprehend.  Because the truth is that over the past few years Schenck has been perhaps the most public evangelical voice speaking out on issues that align with virtually everything the NRA says. Not that the NRA takes public positions on abortion and public prayer, which have been the rallying-cries of Schenk’s  Faith and Action organization.  But the annual NRA meeting wouldn’t be complete without the Prayer Breakfast, and this year’s event will be led by none other than Jonathan Falwell who preaches every week from his father’s pulpit in the Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying there’s any direct or indirect connection between the Evangelical movement and the NRA.  And I’m certainly not questioning the motives of people who are both staunch supporters of the 2nd Amendment and agree with fundamentalist positions on abortion, creationism and prayer in public schools.  What I am saying is that the NRA has spent the last twenty years telling its members that liberal politics go hand-in-hand with efforts to trample on gun owners’ rights, which means, in effect, that a conservative, pro-life minister like Rob Schenck should be the gun owners’ best friend.

But all of a sudden, this friendship seems to have become unglued because the Rev. Schenck has made some comments about gun violence that, as I said earlier, I really can’t comprehend.  Here’s an example of what he said: “As pro-life activists, we do what we do because we care deeply about the well-being of women and children. The presence of a gun in the homes of women and children suffering the scourge of domestic violence makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed.” Schenck took his data from the unholy of all anti-gun unholies, aka Everytown, but Shannon and her folks got the data from public health research that used to be funded by the CDC.  So Schenck’s comment is not only a direct challenge to the NRA’s insistence that guns protect more than they kill, it’s a direct slap in the face of the gun lobby that continues to deny that even with 31,000 deaths each year, guns constitute a public health issue at all. Or have we already forgotten how Rand Paul pandered to the NRA by holding up Vivek Murthy’s nomination to run the CDC?

But if you think that Schenck’s statement about domestic violence takes the NRA dead on, you should read his commentary a little further when he talks about a Black youth losing his life to an “armed vigilante” who had the legal right to carry a gun.  Schenck is referring to the case in Florida where Michael Dunn, a CCW-holder, shot a Black teenager in an argument over the volume of rap music that was blaring from a car.  If the NRA has one sacred cow above all, it’s the idea that people with concealed-carry permits are the most law-abiding, reliable and responsible of all.

The reason I find Schenk’s comments on gun violence incomprehensible is that there’s no precedent for them at all.  There’s really no other issue that defines one’s political and social orientation as clearly as what to do about guns.  And if the pro-gun lobby is going to have some problems figuring out what to do with Schenck, I suspect the gun-sense folks will also need to figure out what he really means. Something tells me that he means exactly what he said.

Want To See The Gun Industry Flex Its Creative Muscles? Go To SHOT.

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I went to my first SHOT show in 1981, and I can tell you that the only thing about the show that hasn’t changed from then until now is the name, which stands for Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show, but has about as much to do with outdoor sports like hunting and old-fashioned shooting as a man in the moon.  I’m not saying that the old stalwarts like Browning or Leupold or Mossy Oak clothing aren’t there.  Outdoor sporting goods manufacturers are at SHOT in abundance, because it’s the only time all year that gun industry manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and customers get to mingle under one roof, check out new products, place orders and spend time doing what is always done at trade shows – schmoozing, eating, and after the show closes down, drinking.

nssf                But don’t for one minute imagine that the crowd at SHOT just can’t wait to run out of the Sands Convention Center and paint the town.  Actually, a majority of the attendees are Ma and Pa types from smaller towns, fairly conservative, older, hard-working White folks who form the backbone of the gun industry because that’s who still owns a majority of the guns.  And since the gun business may be the last consumer product category which still relies on small, independent shopkeepers for the great majority of retail sales, the show attendance tends to reflect this traditional demographic both in terms of attitudes and tastes.  It goes without saying, of course, that you can’t walk very far without seeing some kind of anti-Obama poster, and Sarah Palin drew a crowd when she appeared at the Outdoor Channel booth to plug yet another onscreen effort to make people forget that she’s really faded from the political scene.  Next year’s SHOT will no doubt attract all the Republicans who are hoping to succeed the gun industry’s most successful salesman, and talking about sales, the mood at the show was definitely upbeat.

Now I never met a salesman who didn’t believe that things were always going to be better tomorrow than they were yesterday or are today.  And the takeaway from this year’s show was that innovation and new products were back in the forefront because the industry needed to flex its “creative muscles” after spending the last several years filling all those backorders that piled up thanks to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his stance on guns.  The good news for the gun industry is that, practically speaking, there’s little that Obama can do to hurt gun owners now that both chambers of Congress are painted bright red.  But this didn’t stop Steve Sanetti, President of the NSSF which owns the SHOT show, from getting up at the big SHOT dinner to report that the “state” of the gun industry was “determined.”  And what was the industry determined to do?  According to Sanetti, the industry is going to expand its efforts to counter the “mis-information” about gun violence spread by the “anti-gun lobby, close-minded legislators and sensationalist-seeking media.”

And how did Sanetti demonstrate that the anti-gun folks were refusing to accept the value of guns?  By trotting out the same, old, incorrect statistics on how violent crimes have gone down while gun sales have gone up.  If you’re interested, take a look at the NSSF’s own website and you’ll see that since 2001, as gun sales have soared, gun homicides have not declined one bit, and have actually moved slightly back up.

I don’t really blame Sanetti for getting up in front of the faithful and promoting the gun industry in glowing, albeit fanciful terms.  He’s a salesman, gun sales have slumped dramatically, and his job is to promote the product in good times and in bad.  But one of the exhibitor booths I found most interesting at SHOT contained products made by a company out of Troy, Michigan named BulletSafe Vests.  Now what’s a bulletproof vest company doing hawking its products at a shooting, hunting and outdoors show?   If this is how the gun industry is flexing its innovative muscles, then shooting sure ain’t what it used to be.

We Don’t Need Better Laws On Gun Safety. We’ve Got The NRA.


            Shannon Watts wrote a column for Huffington Post promoting more effective laws to hold parents accountable when their children get their hands on guns. She points out that child access prevention (CAP) laws make a real difference in unintentional gun injuries in which the victims are kids, but that the NRA has chosen to oppose such laws because CAP might “infringe on gun owners’ rights to effectively protect their homes.”

eagle            What Shannon didn’t mention is that the NRA goes a lot further than just fighting CAP laws. They also promote themselves as America’s gun-safety organization through their Eddie Eagle program which they claim to have introduced to more than 26 million children in schools throughout all 50 states. The program materials consist of instructional brochures, DVDs, student workbooks and the like, all designed to “keep America’s young children safe.”

The gun industry and the NRA touts their commitment to gun safety because unintentional gun injuries have steadily declined over the past twenty years.  The NSSF cites data from the National Safety Council which shows that deaths of children from accidental shootings has dropped by more than 70% since 1993, with all unintentional gun mortality for both children and adults now standing at an all-time low. What better proof could there be about the effectiveness of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program or other safety programs conducted by the NSSF?  All the more reason why comprehensive CAP laws would just make it more difficult for gun owners to protect themselves, their families and their homes, right?

Duhhh, there’s only one little problem.  The NRA and the gun lobby in general can’t ever seem to understand that causation and causality are two very different things.  The fact that unintentional gun injuries have declined over the same period that the NRA claims to have introduced its Eddie Eagle gun safety program to millions of school kids doesn’t mean that one has anything to do with the other, even if they occurred at the same time.

The NRA has never validated its claims about the effectiveness of Eddie Eagle through an objective, third-party source.  And while the NRA Eddie Eagle website contains what at first glance appears to be an impressive list of individuals who comprise the program “task force,” if you examine the list closely you soon discover that while it includes teachers, school administrators, NRA staff and a few cops, there isn’t a single individual connected to the program in any way who has ever attempted to study the impact or value of the program at all.

Public health researchers have convincingly demonstrated that efforts to change the behavior of children by discussing issues in group settings yields little, if any positive results.  The most effective way to modify the behavior of children is on a one-to-one basis, and if the teaching is widened to a group setting, the target group should be very small.  The fact that the NRA has never conducted any study to test the before-and-after results of distributing their safety literature either in classrooms or in community groups makes it impossible to accept their self-congratulatory statements about teaching gun safety to kids.

I’m not saying the Eddie Eagle program doesn’t work.  I’m saying that to use a totally non-validated safety program as an excuse for opposing CAP laws is shabby at best, harmful and unsafe at worst. The real reason that unintentional gun injuries have declined over the past twenty years is because gun makers have phased in more safety engineering (e.g., floating firing pins) and states now require additional safety features such as loaded chamber indicators and minimum trigger-pull weights. But neither factor invalidates Shannon’s call for more comprehensive CAP laws.  If the NRA was really serious about representing all those responsible gun owners, they would welcome laws that require guns to be locked or locked away.




Here’s The Latest In Gun Fashion For Women Who Carry A Gun.

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I wasn’t surprised when the news about the unfortunate shooting of Veronica Rutledge by her two-year old son revealed that the kid had evidently pulled Mom’s gun out of a specially-designed gun tote bag that she had received as a Christmas gift, because those kinds of items have been around for a few years.  But I did a double-take earlier this week when I received an email from the NRA pushing the sale of various shooting accessories and one of the items was a “Flashbang” woman’s holster designed to be attached and worn between the two cups of a bra. To quote the ad: “Simply pull up your shirt with one hand and pull down on your pistol with the other – in a matter of seconds you’ve safely deployed your self-defense sidearm.”

The NRA has been pushing the women as shooters for the last few years with the consequent appearance of feminine-styled products like clothing, jewelry, pink gun grips and the like, but sticking a gun into a molded holster and then concealing the holster in the cleavage between a woman’s breasts really takes the cake.  And what I love most of all is the gung-ho image of raising the garment up with one hand and yanking out the gun with the other.  If this isn’t right out of some early Angelina Jolie action flick that she and Brad would now rather forget, I don’t know what’s what.

holsterw                The only problem with this marketing plan is that the movement of women into becoming serious shooters hasn’t really caught on.  Yea, yea, I know there are a few blogs out there for the chicks with guns and the NRA video channel features some girls who look like they almost made the final cut to do commentaries on Fox News or sideline interviews for the NFL.  But if all those women are flocking into gun shops to get all armed up, how come gun sales continue to slide?

Last year the NRA rewrote its training course known as “Personal Protection in the Home.”  In fact, the intro says that the course was especially developed by the “women of the NRA.”  The course, which I am certified to teach, explains “how to make your home less appealing to professional criminals, avoiding confrontation, and thoroughly covers the practical use of a firearm as a last resort to defend your home and family.”  It covers subjects like security systems, telephone and other communications, locks on windows and doors and, of course, some hands-on training if either you or the trainer happens to show up with a gun. There’s even a section on what to do and what not to do after you’ve shot the bad guy coming through the back door; i.e., don’t touch the body, keep your mouth shut when the cops arrive, make sure you have a good lawyer, all the usual stuff.  Interesting that there’s nothing in the course about what to do if the bad guy shoots you first.

The truth is that where women are concerned, most if not nearly all the “bad guys” who attack them happen to be their husbands, their ex-husbands or their boyfriends, none of whom are considered to be “professional criminals” by any stretch at all.  In fact, women are 15% of the homicide victims each year, most of them killed with a gun, and when a woman does pull out a piece and bangs away, it’s always a husband, a lover or some other type of intimate partner violence that provoked the use of a gun.

Last week Michigan’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder, vetoed a bill that would have lessened certain safeguards for the issuance of CCW permits where there was a history of domestic abuse.  In their usual fashion the NRA supported the bill because any removal of restrictions on gun ownership leads to more guns.  The NRA is delusional if it really believes that women will buy into any kind of self-protection that doesn’t start and end with the issue of IPV.  And women aren’t going to be persuaded otherwise because they can now use a holster to buckle themselves up.


Is There A Link Between Guns And Crime? It’s Not What The NRA Thinks It Is

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When I was a kid growing up in New York City we kept our eyes on a neighborhood gang whose older members, when it came to violence and lawlessness, put the feared Westies from Hell’s Kitchen to shame.  In fact, the Westies contracted out their hits to this bunch on my block, whose SOP was to haul the victim up to the roof of one of the neighborhood housing projects and that was that.  Five guys go up to the roof, four guys walk back down.

As tough and brutal as they were, the members of this crew never carried guns.  Why not?  Because whenever anything went down in the neighborhood, the cops would come around, line them up against the wall, administer the Miranda warning by kicking them in the ass or punching them in the face, and then pat them all down for guns.  If the cops found a gun, that guy was slammed into the back of the patrol car and wasn’t seen for a long time.  Don’t think for one second that aggressive, in-your-face street patrols used by Giuliani and Bloomberg to drive down gun crime in New York City is such a new idea.

gang boys chap 1                The NRA and the gun industry wants us to take a giant leap of faith by going along with their idea that the most effective way to curb gun violence is to cut down on crime. But the data on gun violence published by the FBI doesn’t support this, not at all.  Of course there are criminals out there who use guns to commit crimes.  Of course we need to do everything possible to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  But the connection of guns to gun violence is more complicated than just the simple idea that more guns in the “wrong hands” equals more crime.

According to the FBI, from 2000 to 2012 there were slightly more than 200,000 homicide victims of which slightly more than two-thirds were killed with guns. This is an average of 10,400 gun homicides each year, a remarkably-stable number over the past thirteen years. Of these gun killings, slightly more than 15% involved women as victims, or roughly 21,000 over the same span of years.  When women are homicide victims, most if not virtually all of these shootings grow out of some sort of IPV.  Let’s not forget, incidentally, that men are also shot to death by women an average of 700 times per year.  Taken together, domestic violence probably claimed more than 2,200 victims annually between 2000 and 2012, or one-fifth of all gun fatalities during those years.

The degree to which homicide grows out of personal disputes is shown by the fact that of the total murders committed in 2012, only slightly more than 20% took place during the commission of other crimes.  The rest happened because people who knew each other, and in most cases knew each other on a long-term, continuous basis, got into an argument about money, or who dissed who, or who was sleeping with someone else, or some other dumb thing.  And many times they were drunk or high on drugs, but no matter what, like Walter Mosley says, “sooner or later” the gun goes off.

Here’s the bottom line on gun violence and crime. Every year 20,000+ shoot themselves intentionally, which is suicide.  Another thousand, give or take a hundred, kill themselves accidentally with a gun. Then another 10,000 use a gun to kill someone else, but 8,000 of those shootings have nothing to do with other violent crimes.  If we define gun violence as using a gun to end a human life, the FBI is telling us that less than 10% of those fatalities would be eliminated if we got rid of all violent crime. The NRA can try to convince its membership that the reason for gun violence is that there’s too much crime, but the data from the FBI clearly indicates that the reason for gun violence is that there are too many guns.

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Want An Honest Discussion About Gun Violence? Don’t Look To Dr. Young.

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There’s a crackpot group of physicians out there who call themselves Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, and every once in a while some pro-gun media outlet gives them some space to promote the idea that guns do not constitute a health risk and, in fact, that guns keep us healthy and safe.  Lately their pronouncements have come from an upstate, New York psychiatrist, Robert Young, who was given some space on the gun blog The Truth About Guns to deliver a series of utterly false and misleading statements about the medical impact of gun violence.

Why were his statements false and misleading?  Because Young doesn’t believe there’s something called gun violence.  According to him, the term was invented by anti-gun advocates to make people believe that guns are somehow the cause of gun violence, when in fact guns are what keep us safe from violence.  Dr. Young goes notes that “most academic physicians follow the ossified, over 20-year-old anti-gun position of their leadership that ‘gun violence is a public health issue.’” He then goes on to score a recent Washington Post op-ed piece in which the contributor, another physician, ignored the problems of poverty, domestic violence and childhood exposure to bloodshed as the real reasons behind violence, none having anything to do with guns.

docs versus glocks                Gun violence wasn’t ‘invented’ by anti-gun advocates; it was listed as a sub-category of violence in the very first assessment of public health issues when the CDC created the first such list in 1980, a list which included such other controversial public health risks as smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption.  Now either Young knows this or he doesn’t.  If he knows it, then he’s a liar.  If he doesn’t, he’s a charlatan and a fool.  Either way, his attempt to create the false impression that patterns of violence in this country can be fully understood without reference to the availability of guns is nothing more than the same old NRA script that has been floating around for the past twenty years.

The idea that guns are a health risk didn’t come out of thin air.  It resulted from two decades of research that found a clear increase in homicides, suicides and gun morbidities in the populations that had access to guns.  This research also found that the United States did not have higher levels of violence than other advanced, post-industrial countries, but we did have a much higher rate of mortality, again because of access to guns.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that these studies provide the basis for demanding that we pack up all the guns in America and dump them out at sea.  There are certainly anti-gun zealots who would like this to happen, but that group doesn’t include me.  What I am saying is, like it or not, gun violence is an issue of public concern and I would hope the debate would turn not on half-cocked rantings of Dr. Young, but on data and verifiable facts.

The real problem, according to Dr. Young, is that physicians “don’t often address the tragic crime epidemic among undisciplined teens and young adults competing for gang and drug turf and money.”  The medical community works tirelessly and endlessly to address medical issues arising from the ravages of inner-city life, but the truth is that perhaps three-quarters of all fatal gun injuries result from social circumstances that may have little to do with crime.  This is true of virtually all suicides, nearly all unintentional shootings, most if not nearly all IPV fatalities and a goodly number of so-called ‘street’ shootings, which turn out to be arguments between relatives, friends, or just an occasional babysitter who plops the kid down a flight of stairs.

Shameless NRA sycophants like Robert Young won’t admit that most of the deaths associated with guns in this country occur because there are an awful lot of guns.  Again, I’m not advocating nor have I ever advocated more legal controls over guns.  But I do want the issue faced and discussed in honest terms.  It’s too bad we don’t get any honesty from the likes of Doctor Young.




Does Shooting A Gun Turn Someone Into A Gun Owner? I Don’t Think So.

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The Washington Post can usually be counted on to carry an article now and again that challenges the gun lobby on issues related to gun ownership, gun violence, or other contentious topics related to guns.  Recall that it was The Post which carried a multi-part, detailed series on gun dealers who sold most of the crime guns in northern Virginia, reportage which no doubt helped guide the Brady Organization to start up its “rotten apples” campaign against rogue dealers in Chicago and other locations.

rangeNow the Post has turned around and given a large, online editorial space to Michael Rosenwald, who went across the Potomac River to Manassas and evidently spent some time at the Elite Shooting Sports range, and then wrote an article describing the emergence of a new trend in the gun industry, something which he calls “guntry” ranges that allow patrons to rent guns and bang away either on a membership or per-try basis.  Most shooting ranges have a collection of guns that can be rented or used by visitors (the real revenue at a range is from ammunition sales) but what makes ranges like Elite different, according to Rosenwald, is these enterprises cater to a “younger, more affluent, style-focused, increasingly female and even environmentally conscious” customer base, quite unlike the gritty, hard-core, blue-collar gunnies and trigger-heads that usually hang around the local gun range.

Rosenwald mentions other guntry locations in South Beach, Florida, and a few spots around the country, all of which are catering, according to him, to a “new breed” of shooter.  And he paints a pretty accurate description of what he refers to as these “shooting retreats,” which, by the way, are usually part of a complex that includes a cigar lounge, a high-end restaurant, catering venues and other amenities that draw younger folks with a buck to spend.

That’s fine as far as it goes.  But the moment that Rosenwald stops writing about what he knows – business – and begins writing about what he doesn’t know – the gun business – mistakes and misstatements abound.  The truth is that there has yet to be any connection between the development of this business model, successful or not, and a penetration of gun sales into the younger, more affluent and more diverse population groups.  Try as they might, the gun lobby has been unable to persuade racial minorities, women or more affluent/educated folks of the value of owning guns, and Rosenwald’s comment that gun sales are now “leveling out” is remarkably disingenuous.  Does he really believe that a 40% decline in revenues of gun makers like Smith & Wesson and Ruger, along with major job layoffs, constitutes simply a leveling out?  What it means is that once Obama-fear disappeared, the gun industry has not been able to attract buyers beyond the traditional White, older, blue-collar demographic, even if the kids on occasion want to stop playing video shooting games and try the real thing.

Rosenwald quotes the NSSF that Americans spend $10 billion yearly on target shooting, but he also says that the industry as a whole tracked up $15 billion last year in sales.  Is he claiming that 2/3 of the revenue of the gun industry comes from people who just go out somewhere, set up a target and shoot their guns? That’s all fine and well except that hunters spend more than $38 billion annually on their hobby, and if you’re going to include in target shooting such expenditures as the cost of driving back and forth to the range, don’t you have to compare this number to the cost of driving back and forth to where someone went to hunt?

An article about the gun industry based on the unqualified statements of the NSSF may fill an op-ed piece for The Post, but it doesn’t help us understand the current debate about guns.  If it were the case that gun makers were finding new markets, then perhaps the whole discussion about gun safety would need to change.  Rosenwald may have found a new way in which Millennials spend their money, but shooting a gun and becoming a shooter are two very different things.

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