Trump Spells Danger For The GVP And That’s Not Up For Debate.

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Every morning I receive an email from Chris Cox, warning me about the Armageddon facing gun owners if Hillary is elected. He also asks for dough.  When I say ‘every morning’ I mean every morning, okay? Of course the truth is that Hillary has absolutely no intention of taking away all the guns because even if she wanted to, she can’t. There’s something out there called the 2nd Amendment and running a few diplomatic emails through a private server is one thing, violating the Constitution is something else.

trump2           Does it bother me that the increasingly shrill appeals for money by the NRA contain statements that simply aren’t true? Not really. After all, when you’re selling something that people don’t need, you do what you gotta do.  What does bother me is the degree to which NRA emails and messaging aren’t matched by the other side. And you would think that since the Gun Violence Prevention movement (or what we call ‘GVP’) finally has someone running for President who is talking loudly and continuously about the need to end gun violence, this would be enough of a reason to ramp things up and start responding to the NRA in kind. But I received no less than four emails today from national and state-level GVP groups and none of them mentioned the election at all.

I’m going to take a page from the NRA communications playbook and tell you what will happen if the Hill stays Republican and a certain New York City landlord is sitting in the Oval Office in 2017.  And this list isn’t based on some delusional fantasy that the NRA creates again and again to keep its members all riled up.  These things will happen and the only reason they haven’t happened yet is because there’s a guy named Obama still hanging around. Ready?


  • A national, 50-state concealed-carry license will be law of the land;
  • The ATF will no longer be able to prevent surplus military weapons from being imported from overseas;
  • The ban on CDC-funded gun research will be made permanent rather than having to be voted as a budget amendment every year;
  • Obama’s attempt to kick-start “smart gun” research will be dead before it arrives.


Leaving aside these specific issues for a moment, a Trump win in November foreshadows a much deeper and more profound problem for Team GVP, namely, the fact that he has openly embraced a culture of violence which will only strengthen the notion that we should all be walking around with guns. When Trump tells a rally that he’d like to punch a protestor in the face, when he says that his supporters would follow him even if he shot someone dead in the street, he’s not just pandering to the basest and most fearsome emotions we all sometimes feel; he’s telling America that violence is an approved way for individuals to interact.  And what’s the most efficient way to express violence? A gun.

Talking about using a gun, we now have a Presidential candidate who is willing to make gun violence a focal point of her campaign.  And yet for reasons that I don’t understand, my friends in GVP-land seem unwilling or unable to sit down and come up with an organized plan that will begin to focus everyone’s attention and energies on the task that lies ahead. And the task is very simply – Trump has to be stopped.  And I don’t think that such a discussion and such planning involving all the GVP constituencies has to wait until the Democratic primary campaign comes to an end.

Because the truth is that whether it’s Hillary or Bernie, the opposition and the threat isn’t going to change. So getting everyone together, sharing resources, reaching out to every last person who has ever expressed the slightest interest in any kind of GVP activity is something that should start today.  Not tomorrow – today.  And don’t think that you won’t hear this from me again.

A New Book On NRA Myth-Making That You Should Read.

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Dennis Henigan has been a lifelong leader in public policy and public interest research and advocacy, much of his work focusing on GVP.  In 2009 he published a book, Lethal Logic, which presaged much of the growing noise over gun regulations that developed in the wake of Sandy Hook.  In August, Beacon Press will publish an update of that work, “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People” and Other Myths About Guns and Gun Control, which I am happy to review here.

gun pic           And the reason I am happy to review it is because one of the tasks Henigan accomplishes is to create a nice roadmap of what he refers to as the ‘tortured mythology,’ namely, the pro-gun slogans created by the NRA which shape and permeate literally every noise made by Gun Nation about their guns.  And if anything, Henigan is too polite when he characterizes the NRA sloganeering as ending “thoughtful, rational discussion,” if only because since 1977 it has never been the intention of the NRA to engage in any discussion about guns at all.

Here’s the way Wayne-o puts it every time he gets a chance: “Either you’re for us or against us.”  He said it in his speech at this year’s annual meeting when he announced the NRA’s endorsement of Donald Trump, but he also said it ten days after the Columbine Massacre in 1999 when he stood up and claimed that the NRA was – ready for this? – in favor of making all schools completely gun-free zones. He then turned around right after the Sandy Hook massacre and argued for armed guards in every school because “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.”

Henigan does a very good and comprehensive job of comparing these slogans, as well as others, to the realities of gun violence as it has been studied again and again.  The notes include citations to a very representative listing of published research covering all the major issues of gun violence and Henigan stitches these sources together in a readable and engaging way.  Here’s the bottom line: if you find yourself in a discussion with someone who explains their approach to gun violence by parroting a talking-point from the NRA, you can probably find a valid and fact-based refutation within the pages of this book.

Which brings me to the troublesome part of the book, or perhaps I should be more specific and refer to it as the troublesome non-portion of the book. Because although Henigan refers to the fact that polls show a majority of Americans supporting many of the NRA myths, he doesn’t really explain how and why people are willing to invest their feelings and their wallets in supporting ideas that simply aren’t true. After all, it’s not as if folks who think that only a good guy can stop a bad guy haven’t heard the opposite point of view.  We have a President who has loudly and publicly stated that he doesn’t believe guns make us safe, and it wasn’t as if he was elected with less than 50% of the vote.

Last week a big brouhaha erupted because a bunch of diehard gunnies had some of their pro-gun statements deleted from Katie Couric’s great film.  But what was really deleted was an unending recitation of the self-same myths without even a hint of self-doubt.  If these myths were in their heads they were true and correct because they were in their heads. And while Henigan convincingly explains why these myths aren’t true, he doesn’t explain why Gun Nation accepts these myths as proven facts.

Which is not, by the way, a criticism of Henigan’s book.  If anything, the power of this book lies in the fact that it made me reflect and think about my work which largely consists of responding to what the NRA and Gun Nation want everyone to believe. And that’s the reason I like Henigan’s book and you’ll like it too.

Why Does Donald Trump Love Bikers? Because Some Bikers Love Guns.

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So Trump shows up at the Rolling Thunder biker rally yesterday, tells the assembled crowd (which wasn’t all that big) how much he prefers riding in a limo to riding a bike, makes the CBS Evening News, and off he goes.  But before leaving the stage, he tried to bolster his ‘tough guy’ image by stating that the reason he ‘loved’ the bikers was because they come to all his rallies to ‘protect’ him.

thunder           That’s right.  Trump is now surrounded by the Secret Service but he’d like everyone to think that he’s under a constant state of siege and needs protection from a bunch of older guys tooling around on their Hogs.  And I can see it now; he’ll send out a message sooner or later to all bikers to show up in Cleveland to help make sure that the protestors don’t swarm the barricades and disrupt his coronation.  And of course Trump will expect this two-wheeled security force to be armed, because the very first thing he said at Rolling Thunder, the very first promise he made to the audience was that he would ‘protect every little inch’ of the 2nd Amendment.  Funny thing, however, was that Trump’s promise to protect gun ‘rights’ didn’t get much applause.  He got a much bigger reaction from the crowd when he said that he was going to build a wall.

Trump is really enthralled with the idea that nobody has ever previously received an endorsement from the NRA in the middle of May.  The NRA routinely endorses the Republican candidate, but it usually happens a few weeks before the vote. This year it happened in May, so Trump assumes that whatever audience he’s addressing will respond positively to his message about guns.

But let me tell you something about bikers.  They might love to project their own kind of tough guy image, they might see themselves as Kings of the Road, they might want to ride out to Sturgis each year to eat bar-b-que and go shopping in the shadow of the Black Hills, but they’re not all that crazy about guns. And the reason for this ambivalence goes all the way back to an event that took place in California on December 6, 1969.

Four months after the great concert at Woodstock, another mega-rock concert took place at the Altamont Race Track in Northern California.  And while the Rolling Stones were performing their set, a band of Hells Angels were beating up people (including killing one of the victims) right in front of the stage.  This brutal act of gang savagery created a link between violence and motorcycles that continues to the present day, thanks to a not-so-infrequent outbreak of violence, in particular gun violence, at places where bikers show up.

Back in January the Colorado Motorcycle Expo was closed down because of multiple shootings which left at least one biker dead.  In Waco, TX on May, 16, 2015 a brawl erupted between bikers inside or maybe outside a restaurant which left 9 bikers dead.  A week later, three people were killed and seven were wounded at a biker rally at Myrtle Beach. And Donald Trump claims (who knows if anything he says is actually true?) that the bikers are coming to his rallies to protect him?  These bozos can’t even protect themselves from themselves.

But what they can do is project the image that Trump has now made the centerpiece of his entire Presidential campaign, and that’s an image of violence and the threat of using violence to promote his aims.  Think I’m making this up?  Here’s the video which has Trump telling people to “knock the crap” out of protestors, to “punch him in the face” and a few other choice comments along the same lines.

Trump starts every speech by bellowing that he ‘loves’ the 2nd Amendment. And if you love the 2nd Amendment you love guns. And we still haven’t figured out how to separate violence from guns.


What Do The Gun Violence Numbers Really Tell Us? That Gun Violence Is Much Worse Than We Think.


. Earlier this year our friends at the Violence Policy Center published a report which showed that gun deaths were now outpacing motor vehicle deaths in 14 states, and if the trend continued, gun deaths would soon exceed car deaths throughout the entire United States. I think the comparison of automobile deaths to gun deaths, a basic GVP argument for why we need to curb gun violence, understates the real level of gun violence to a tremendous degree.  And this is because it doesn‘t take into account what Dennis Henigan, in a new book to be published in August, calls “exposure to risk.” Because the truth is that a gun only becomes a risk when it gets into someone’s hands.  And many of the 300 million civilian-owned small arms in America are rarely, if ever picked up at all.

conference-program-pic          Let’s play with some numbers. The average American sits in an automobile roughly 100 minutes every day and will drive 800,000 miles over the course of a life (thanks for the info, JM.)  The “average” American doesn’t actually own a gun, and of those who do, many are used occasionally for hunting or even less occasionally for target and shooting sports.  Gun Nation can jump for joy over the fact that millions of Americans have concealed-carry permits, but I notice that neither the NRA nor the NSSF has ever done a survey to find out how many of those folks with CCW licenses are actually walking around with a gun. For all the talk about how armed citizens are our first line of defense against the ‘bad guys,’ the FBI could find exactly one instance where a civilian armed with a gun actually intervened in an ‘active’ (multiple victims) shooting between 2000 and 2013.

So let’s do the numbers again and put our benchmark for auto deaths and gun deaths at 30,000, even though it’s slightly more for both.  What this turns into when we calculate the rate of motor vehicle fatalities versus gun fatalities is 10 per 100,000 for the cars, 33 per 100,000 for the guns. Of course Gun Nation will immediately scream that the numbers are manipulated (their current favorite ad hominem about Katie Couric’s brilliant documentary) because it’s the ‘bad guys, the ‘street thugs,’ the ‘wackos’ who do all the killing with guns.

But there’s just one little problem with this point of view.  Like just about everything that the pro-gun noise machine says to bolster gun sales, it’s simply not true. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and most, if not nearly all gun homicides involve people who know each other and can’t settle a dispute in more non-violent ways, and this is certainly the case in virtually every instance where a gun is yanked out during a domestic dispute which between 2010 and 2014 killed nearly 23,000 women and teenage girls.

Every single gun that is used to hurt someone, anyone, started out as the property of a legal gun owner.  Maybe they didn’t pull the trigger, but nobody would have been able to pull the trigger if the gun hadn’t gotten into the wrong hands. And that was the fault of the person who initially bought the gun. So I think it’s time for GVP-land to stop being so solicitous of all those legal gun owners who tell you that the problem of gun violence has nothing to do with them.  It has everything to do with them because absent their desire to own guns, the issue of gun violence wouldn’t exist.

And don’t get me wrong.  I went out today and bought a gun and I’m sure that over the next few months I’ll buy a couple more.  But what I won’t do is delude myself into thinking that some 2nd-Amendment, BS ‘right’ is being threatened because Hillary wants me to undergo a background check before I take possession of that little Glock.

Hoping that everyone has a safe and happy holiday.


What Did The Now-Infamous Nine Seconds Of Silence In ‘Under The Gun’ Really Mean?

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Move over Dick Heller – Gun Nation has a new poster boy named Philip Van Cleave.  He happens to be President of an outfit called the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and tomorrow he’s appearing on the Glenn Beck show at 10 A.M. This is hardly Van Cleave’s first brush with the media.  In fact, he was interviewed at length by Lesley Stahl for a 2009 segment on 60 Minutes called ‘The Way of the Gun.’  And when he was asked whether everyone should go through a background check, he answered: “How about nobody go through a back ground check?  After all, the 2nd Amendment doesn’t mention background checks.”

couric          So here we have in a nutshell the current approach of Gun Nation to the existence of gun laws, namely, there shouldn’t be any gun laws. No background check, no mandated training, no restrictions on open carry, no nothing.  Which is why I find the current brouhaha about Katie Couric’s alleged attempt to demonize the good VCDL folks both amusing and deplorable; amusing because of the effort by Gun Nation to deflect away any concerns about gun violence at all; deplorable because the response to Couric’s alleged mishandling of the editing process in her film says something serious about how the GVP community responds to challenges from the other side.

Was I surprised that when an audio surfaced which indicated that the film’s VCDL segment had been edited, that this would immediately become grist for the right-wing mill?  Of course not, and by the way, the criticisms of the movie from the pro-gun noise machine had been circulating well in advance of the appearance of the now-infamous voice tape.  But what did bother me was the snarky and mean-spirited coverage of the issue by media outlets that should have known better, including the Washington Post and the New York Times.  The NRA gleefully put up a link to the New York Times’ story which called Couric out for her editorial “slant.” And they also made sure to mention the WaPo story which accused Couric of fraud.

Now stop and think about it: When was the last time those two august publications ran stories about the false, deceptive and utterly fraudulent arguments about gun violence presented by the NRA virtually every day?  Do you think that the VCDL focus group in Couric’s movie made up the idea that the 2nd Amendment gave them unlimited rights to their guns out of thin air?  No – they said it because that’s what the pro-gun noise machine has been telling them for the past twenty years.  And this nonsense is presented by media outlets like The New York Times not as stupid, not as completely wrong, not as dangerous, but as legitimate expression from the ‘other side.’

I have been listening to the gun debate since the 1960’s, and what I find most interesting is the degree to which one side has been very consistent and the other side continues to change its stance.  GVP-land has advocated expanded background checks, limits on magazine capacities and research into smart guns; arguments that haven’t really changed at all since 1994, if not since 1968.  The pro-gun assembly, on the other hand, has morphed from automatic CCW licensing, to no CCW licensing, to open carry, all of which are sanctified by their so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

The truth is that we haven’t had a debate about gun violence; what we have had is a conscious attempt by pro-gun advocates to advance their agenda by denying the existence of gun violence at all.  The nine seconds of silence that followed Katie’s question about how to keep guns out of the wrong hands was exactly the response that we get from Gun Nation every, single time the issue is raised.  And some of my friends in GVP-land seem to have forgotten that point in their rush to apologize for Katie’s terrible misdeed.

Know what the end result of this tempest in a teapot will be?  More people will watch Katie’s film.


Why Is Katie Couric Apologizing About Her Documentary? I Wouldn’t.

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I wasn’t going to watch Katie Couric’s documentary, Under The Gun, because at a certain point listening to people talk about how they are dealing or not dealing with the loss of a loved one from gun violence becomes an experience I would rather pass up.  But I finally forced myself to endure the heartfelt testimonies of such folks thanks to the big noise eruption from Gun Nation over what is claimed to be a falsification of the film’s contents due to the editing of a segment that covers a discussion with a group of gun ‘activists,’ from the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

couric           Let me say right from the beginning that a documentary filmmaker is not obliged to put the totality of their material on public view.  In fact, a film editor or producer can do whatever they want.  I was interviewed at length to see whether I might later get a segment in the film; the producers decided not to come back and put me on camera which was fine.  They had every right to decide what to do with my brilliant comments, including never mentioning our discussions at all.

But let’s remember that the right-wing noise machine probably still believes that if it hadn’t been for Katie asking Sarah Palin to name a newspaper that she ever read, the whole recent history of American politics might have taken a different path.  So the fact that she can now be accused of slanting her documentary to find favor with the anti-gun crowd is seen as a bit of payback, that’s for sure.

What exactly was the terrible crime committed by Katie and her director, Stephanie Soechtig, at roughly 21 minutes into the film?  The Virginia Citizens Defense League group had just been asked a series of questions about gun ownership, you know, the usual stuff like requiring training for a gun license [answer: it violates of the 2nd Amendment]; extending background checks [answer: that would create a national gun registry]; government wanting to take away all guns [answer: of course the government wants to ban all guns] and so forth. Then the question was asked: “Well, then how do you keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and criminals?”  This was followed by silence as the camera panned the group, all of whom appeared to be thinking about a proper response.

But it turned out that members of the group did respond, and the fact that these responses were edited out of the film was enough to make the Gun Nation noise machine scream ‘foul!’ and post the usual outraged comments on the usual pro-gun blogs.  Even The New York Times and CNN chimed in to force Couric and Soechtig to apologize for their ‘mistake.’

I listened to the entire audio of that session and frankly, what the august VCDL members didn’t get on film was nothing more than the usual mélange of gun-rights crap that has been floating around since the Feds first started regulating gun ownership back in 1968. Here are some of the profound and incisive comments:

  • Criminals don’t obey laws.
  • Law-abiding folks need to protect themselves.
  • If someone wants to murder someone else and can’t get a gun, they’ll use a different tool.

Let’s leave aside the fact that those statements have been shown to be false in more peer-based research studies than I can count. And if the group interview revealed anything at all, it is that most gun-owning activists can be trusted to trot out the gun industry’s marketing pitch every single time.

Which is why I don’t understand how come the filmmakers even felt the need to apologize for not completely presenting “every point of view.” You’re not getting a thoughtful or reasonable approach to gun violence when you sit down with a group like the VCDL. You’re getting what a group of otherwise rational adults have deluded themselves into believing are the reasons why they need to walk around with guns.

How Come You Never Hear The NRA Talking About These Gun-Free Zones?


Now that Gun Nation has managed to get a bunch of craven politicians to vote for unlimited CCW in just about every state, you knew that sooner or later the next issue to be pushed would be abolishing gun-free zones.  There is absolutely no credible evidence, of course, that gun-free zones attract people who want to commit mass murder or any violence with guns, but since when did Gun Nation base any of its arguments on credible evidence, or evidence of any kind?  Sorry, but an anecdote here and an anecdote there isn’t evidence, even when the almost-putative Republican nominee for President tells his NRA audience that he ‘knows for a fact’ that the Paris terrorist attacks were successful and inevitable because the civilians didn’t carry guns.

TR           I happen to support the concept of gun-free zones, but in my case I’m referring to what the term ‘gun-free’ originally meant.  And what it originally meant and still means for those of us willing to engage in a rational discussion about guns, is the idea that there are many places where guns cannot be used except at specified periods during the year. In other words, during the hunting seasons that have been established in every state and regulate when guns can and cannot be used to shoot birds or animals, from ducks, geese and turkeys to hogs, moose, bear and deer.  And in certain Western states, let’s not forget antelope, elk, the mighty cougar and Dall sheep.

America is a bird and game-hunter’s paradise for one reason and one reason alone; because virtually all of the places where you can hunt birds and animals of any kind are largely gun-free zones.  Oh, you can tote a rifle out of season and tramp up the Brooks Range with a revolver on your hip. But you can’t actually shoot any gun except during the brief, allowable periods for each type of animal and I guarantee that you won’t find yourself facing down one of those celebrated ‘street thugs’ at five thousand feet. You see, most game animals have a funny way of knowing that where they flourish best is where humans find it difficult to tread.  Which is why so much of the United States contains many more animals than people, the result of mandating most wilderness areas to be, for the most part, gun-free zones.

Wilderness was defined by the Federal Government in 1964 as an area which “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” I was in just such an area this past weekend when I hiked through a small part of the Hoosic Range that runs from northern Massachusetts through southern Vermont.  These mountains lie 100 miles equidistant from Boston and New York, which means they are within a three-hour drive of some fifteen million folks. But when you get less than a mile from where you park your car, you are in as untrammeled a region as you could ever hope to be.

Our 26TH President, Theodore Roosevelt, loved hunting, loved guns, and loved wilderness zones. But the first time he hunted the wilderness in 1883 he recognized the vulnerability of wilderness spaces in the face of human advance.  So he teamed up with America’s first naturalist, George Bird Grinnell, and created a national hunting organization, the Boone & Crockett club, which then and now is a leader in the protection of wilderness zones.

Want to get a feel for today’s wilderness?  Read Nick Kristof’s column on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Many years ago I walked a bit of the Southern portion outside of Palm Springs – twenty miles from a million people and I was alone.  It’s time to remind the pro-gun noisemakers that what protects these remarkable places is that they are gun-free zones.

Know What Happens When Gun Companies Cozy Up To The NRA? They Get A Big Bang For Small Bucks.

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I used to be an IT executive for a Fortune 100 company that was a leader in life insurance sales.  Every year I received a personal letter from the company CEO thanking me for my $5,000 donation to the insurance PAC that represented the life insurance industry on Capitol Hill.  Donation?  That’s a good one. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to donate the five big ones.  The money was deducted from my paycheck before I got the letter from the CEO.  It was understood that 5% of my net pay went to support the lobbyists in Washington, DC.

I find it almost amusing that anyone feels surprised or bothered by the fact that the gun industry donates heavily to the NRA.  I mean, what’s a girl supposed to do?  Sit home by herself on prom night while everyone else is out on the town?  Let’s get real, folks.  There would be no reason for gun companies to support the NRA if the industry wasn’t regulated by the feds and in the cross-hairs of some folks who would like to regulate it even more.

wayne            Know why gun sales always go up when regulation is in the air?  Because the gun industry knows full well that the end result of more regulation is less guns.  The GVP community can declare from today to next year that they believe in the 2nd Amendment, but the amendment most of them support happens to be the one that, until 2008, conferred gun ownership on members of military units, not folks who just wanted to keep a gun around the house.  And while I doubt very much that a SCOTUS with a liberal majority would overturn Heller, the fact is that just about every post-Heller effort to water down gun regulations even further has failed.  No matter what those crazy militia groups believe, the government isn’t getting out of the gun-control business any time soon, and even Glenn Beck, a guy who’s against gun regulations if I ever saw one, told the ‘open carry’ gang to cease and desist.

If Hillary gets elected and manages to push through a law extending background checks to private transfers, gun ownership will go down. If more states enact laws limiting magazine capacity or waiting periods for handgun purchases, gun ownership will go down.  If the California bill that requires background checks for ammo sales is passed and spreads to other states, gun ownership will go down.  In my state, Massachusetts, there was a brief spike in CCW applications after Sandy Hook but as soon as word got around that the state would not impose new restrictions on gun owners, the demand for licenses dropped off.

In 2014, for the first time in at least 20 years, the yearly dues revenue collected by the NRA went down, and I don’t mean by just a little bit.  The decline was in the neighborhood of 27%, and if this trend continues for another couple of years, Wayne-o can kiss his bottom line goodbye. So the fact that the gun industry chipped in with roughly $100 million in cash gifts and grants doesn’t really fill the gaping hole that now exists because of the drop in dues.

Back in 2013 the Violence Policy Center released a report on money given by the gun industry to the NRA. Glock donated somewhere between $250,000 and half a mil; Smith & Wesson ponied up somewhere between a million and four, Ruger did the same.  For the sake of argument let’s say these three outfits gave the NRA six million bucks. Know what their net income was that year?  Try $300 million.  And that was after they gave the dough to the NRA.

Talk about getting it on the cheap. Hell, I gave a larger percentage of my net income to the insurance lobbyists than Ruger, Smith and Glock give to the NRA. Anti-Hillary rhetoric to the contrary, the NRA better hope her address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come next year.

Why Did The NRA Endorse Trump? Because They Need Each Other – Particularly Now.


Two things about the Trump-NRA show merit further comment.  First – why did the NRA decide to endorse The Grump at such an early date?  They endorsed McCain in October, also waited until October to endorse Mitt in 2012.   And it wasn’t as if they were waiting to see whether the opposition (a.k.a. the ‘foreign-born’ Obama) was ever going to merit their support, right?  The other issue is more generic, namely, how come Trump has been pandering to the  NRA with his endless appeal for the right to carry a concealed (or open) gun?  Now you might think the answer to that question is obvious, but I got news for you – it wasn’t always that way, not at all.

The NRA was founded by a New Yorker, General George Wingate, who commanded a Civil War regiment of volunteers, none of whom seemed to know how to fire a gun. So Wingate started the NRA in 1871 and opened a shooting range at Creedmore, Long Island (fittingly, the current location of a state mental hospital) in 1872. In 1907 the NRA teamed with the Civilian Marksmanship Program that was chartered by the U.S. Government, and began holding national shooting matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. The CMP was also authorized to distribute surplus, military rifles to civilians who were members of local, NRA clubs.

trump          From the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 until the Heller decision some 220 years later, nobody, including the NRA, seemed terribly worried about the ‘right’ of Americans to walk around with a gun.  And even the President of the NRA stated during his testimony about the 1934 National Firearms Act that he did not believe “in the general promiscuous toting of guns.”  He further stated that CCW should be “sharply restricted.”  Following this line of reasoning, after the passage of the basic law regulating gun ownership, GCA68, a law generally supported by the NRA, the organization largely continued to steer clear of the issue of guns for self-defense, offering its membership a new magazine, The American Hunter, beginning in 1973.

The sea-change in the NRA’s stance is usually ascribed to the installment of new, more politically-combative leadership at the Cincinnati convention in 1977, when two activists, Neal Knox and Harlon Carter, took control and re-oriented the organization towards open and continuous political warfare against anyone who proposed gun regulations of any kind. And this new strategy placed the NRA squarely in the middle of a growing political current based on conservative social issues that started with Reagan and continues to the present day.

The alignment of the NRA with social conservatives also made a significant difference in the organization’s bottom line.  In 1986 the NRA took in $66 million; by 1998 it had doubled to $131 million.  In 2004 the Line 12 of the 990 was at $170 million and by 2013 the total revenues had shot up to $347 million, of which $183 million represented dues.  Know what happened in 2014?  F0r the first time since the 1980s, if not earlier, total revenue dropped 10% and dues declined by almost 25%.

I don’t know whether Hillary’s decision to go big-time for more gun regulations will reverse the 2014 numbers, but I suspect that the decision to give Trump an early nod is driven as much by bottom-line concerns as by anything else.  And since Trump is facing his own fundraising shortfall, you can bet that he’ll use the NRA endorsement to try and ramp up his own bottom line.

The NRA has never backed a Presidential candidate who has been as loud and as energetic in defense of gun ‘rights’ as Donald Trump.  They have also never endorsed a candidate who owns public-accessed properties that don’t allow guns.  That’s right – Trump’s hotels and golf clubs are gun-free zones.  But when you’re short of cash, you do what you have to do: hold your nose, ignore the stench and get out of town as fast as you can. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

What GVP Needs It May Finally Get: A Government-Funded Research Center Conducting Research On Guns.

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I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it many times again: when it comes to something new or different, it usually starts in California and moves East. Ronald Reagan?  Half and Half? Avocado and sprouts on a white meat turkey sandwich? And let’s not forget what Donald Trump would like to forget – taco shells con beans.

It’s worth thinking about this when it comes to considering a new gun bill just voted by the California State Senate, SB1235, which basically requires the same background check process required for gun purchases to be carried out for purchases of handgun ammunition.  The bill has been called the beginning of a ‘GunMegeddon’ by Breitbart and of course has got the NRA all up in arms (please no pun intended.)

         G. Wintemute, M.D.

G. Wintemute, M.D.

But what I didn’t see mentioned by the NRA legislative watchdogs, although some local Gun Nation groups are trying to rally the gun bunch against it, is another bill that came through the Senate Education Committee, SB1006, which establishes a gun violence research center somewhere within the University of California system. The center’s mission would be to conduct research, train researchers, implement ‘innovative’ violence prevention programs and receive both public monies and private funds. In other words, what we have here, for the very first time anywhere, is an attempt to establish the equivalent of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, but with all the study focusing on guns.

Now I’m not saying there is any connection, but there happens to be a researcher at UC-Davis named Garen Wintemute, and this new initiative by the California state government sounds awfully like the gun research program that he funds largely from his own, private stash.  In addition to being one of the country’s principal gun researchers, Wintemute is also an ER doctor, which means unfortunately that when it comes to gun violence, he gets to unite theory with practice, so to speak, because the ER is usually the first choice for anyone who needs medical attention after being wounded by a gun.

The gun research program at UC-Davis, like the gun violence work at Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center and the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins, limps along on a financial shoestring thanks to the defunding of CDC gun research in 1996.  This year a little federal research money trickled down through the Department of Justice and the usual effort to restore the CDC funding has picked up a little steam.  But don’t hold your breath folks, the NRA-compliant Republicans control Congressional purse strings, so that’s probably the end of that.

The biggest loser due to the lack of research dollars is not the absence of research per se.  Granted, there are huge gaps in what we know about the causes and results of gun violence, but the basic notion that a gun is more harmful than helpful has been driven home time and time again.  The much bigger problem, it seems to me, is that without funding, the field of gun violence research doesn’t attract scholarly attention, which means it doesn’t rank high on any institution’s list of research priorities, which means it doesn’t attract more young students and scholars looking to conduct serious research. When I was a graduate student, my own academic field – origins of early capitalism – had its own research society and held an annual conference that attracted several hundred scholars each year. Think there are more than 30 scholars engaged today in trying to figure out what to do about a problem that kills and wounds more than 100,000 people every year?  Think again.

I would love to see this gun violence research center get established, and if it comes to pass, I hope the center will hold an annual scholarly meeting to help develop and strengthen the field.  I guarantee that I’d show up for such an event and I promise to keep my mouth shut as well. Who knows?  Maybe I could learn something, too.

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