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Why Don’t We Regulate the Gun Industry?

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            Last week the House voted another assault weapons ban which will probably die in the Senate or at least will be sidetracked until after the mid-terms. But even if the bill doesn’t go forward, my friends in Gun-control Nation need to understand what such a bill really means and how it should be used as we continue to look for ways to reduce a threat to public health called gun violence which kills and injures more than 125,000 Americans every year.

            What I have never understood about my friends who advocate for more gun control is their reluctance to focus on the only issue which can really result in a meaningful decline in gun violence, namely, regulating the industry which produces the products which are used to commit deaths and injuries from guns.

            Every other country that regulates guns to reduce gun violence focuses first and foremost on regulating the guns themselves.  Canada just imposed a temporary ban on handgun imports until a new gun-control law is passed which will eliminate the ownership of handguns that are used in most Canadian gun assaults.

            Countries like France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K. also impose severe restrictions on owning certain types of handguns, while imposing few or any conditions on purchasing or owning long guns.

            How do we regulate the industry whose products are the only products whose access and availability creates gun violence? We regulate how the products move from the manufacturer to the retailer to the customer. We also try to regulate the behavior of the customer, the gun owner, by imposing a background check on whether they are law-abiding before they purchase a gun.

            So how is it that with regulations that only allow newly manufactured guns to move from manufacturers to dealers to consumers, all of whom have to be either licensed or prove themselves to be law-abiding, we wind up with 125,000 guns being used to commit fatal and non-fatal injuries every year? 

            WTFK. And if you need someone to tell you what that acronym means, ask any 12-year-old kid.

            Want to reduce the number of Americans who are killed or injured with guns every year?  It’s very simple. Regulate the gun industry the way we regulate every other consumer industry by regulating what types of products can and cannot be sold.

            I was a VP of IT at one of the largest insurance companies in the United States which routinely introduced new insurance products all the time. Every, single one of these products had to be examined and approved by a regulatory body in every state to make sure the product conformed to the relevant laws for what kinds of insurance could be sold in that state.

            Want to get a new food product onto the shelves of Stop and Shop or some other grocery chain? Either the state agency which tests and approves foods gives you the green light or you can stick your new product you know where or try to sell it to Venezuela or Belize.

            So, we have a very comprehensive regulatory system for making sure that just about everything a consumer can buy meets some very clear standards in terms of safety and design. Except when it comes to guns, which even if they were regulated like roller skates or motorcycle helmets are still as dangerous as all gitgo.

            Want to manufacture and sell a gun to American consumers?  All you need to do is get a manufacturer’s license from the ATF, which is nothing more than passing a background check. Then make sure that the gun is a certain length if it’s a rifle or a shotgun, otherwise it’s a handgun. Then make sure that when someone loads the gun and pulls the trigger, only one bullet comes out at a time.

            And that’s it. That’s how you will be regulated if you want to make a consumer product that has killed more than 375,000 Americans over the past ten years.

But gun makers producing assault rifles will be regulated by having to make sure their guns meet certain design standards if the new law somehow gets to the Senate floor and gets passed. Too bad that assault rifles account for a small fraction of the fatal and non-fatal gun injuries that occur every year.

            Either my friends in Gun-control Nation cut the bullshit about gun control and start holding meaningful discussions about how to regulate the products made by the gun industry that cause all those injuries or as Grandpa would say ‘gurnisht’ (read: nothing) will change.

            And this goes for my friends in public health research as well who spend all their time doing research on the effectiveness of this law and that law which regulate how people behave with guns but oh, we can’t regulate the gun makers because they have 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ to produce and sell whatever they want to produce and sell.

            Gaston Glock designed a gun to be used by the military and the United States is the only country which lets civilians own this type of gun. Gun makers shouldn’t have any such ‘rights’ at all.

Does Right-to-Carry Increase Crime?

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            If I have one problem with my friends in Gun-control Nation who do research on gun violence, it’s that they know next to nothing about guns. Virtually all of their research is based either on medical data from various branches of the CDC which yields a lot of information about who gets shot with guns, but very little about who does the shooting or why the shooting occurs.

            Alongside medical data, the other sources used by gun-control researchers are first-person surveys of gun owners which attempt to explain how gun owners change or don’t change their behavior in response to changes in gun laws.

            In that regard, I’m looking at a paper just published by NBER, which is a study of the effects of right-to-carry laws on crime and policing in various cities. The lead author, John Donohue, has been looking at the intersection of laws and behavior in the gun world for s number of years, and is considered an important scholar in this respect.

His scholarship in the area covered by this paper has become more important in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision – NYSRPA v. Bruen – which extended the 2008 Heller decision granting 2nd-Amendment protection to handguns in the home to similar Constitutional protection for carrying a concealed handgun outside of the home.

I’m going to leave alone the whole issue of whether regression analyses, particularly synthetic controls, can really explain causal relationships between such dynamically variable factors as robbery and homicide, except to say that using such methodologies demands a very clear understanding of the social contours and circumstances in which events like violent crimes actually occur. Unfortunately, when the violent crimes involve the use of a gun, Donohue and his colleagues demonstrate major gaps in what they know about guns which makes it impossible to accept the validity or relevance of this research for developing effective gun-control policies.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this paper is the assumption that laws covering the carrying of guns has anything to do with the way in which people who use guns for criminal purposes think about using guns. The fact that certain crimes increased coincident with the passage of RTC laws, doesn’t necessarily mean that the behavior of one trend has anything to do with the behavior of the other, unless you set out to prove this to be the case.

Since more violent crimes are committed without guns than with guns, you would think that researchers would want to know what factors go into a decision that someone makes to use a gun to commit a violent crime. In fact, there has not been one, single study which has ever asked criminals who commit gun violence to explain the process which led them to: acquire a gun, acquire ammunition for the gun, load the gun, carry the gun, pull out the gun, point the gun at a potential crime victim, and in the case of an assault or homicide, pull the trigger of the gun.

Whether this sequence occurs over a brief period of time or over many years, if someone does not engage in all seven steps, a gun violence event will not occur. Should we assume that the passage of an RTC law in any way influences the decision-making process that results in someone using a gun against someone else? Sorry, but I’m not impressed with the idea that a regression analysis can give us a definitive answer to that question.

And Donohue isn’t sure either. So, what he does is to assume that RTC leads to more gun violence because of secondary results of RTC laws, namely, that more guns are stolen from individuals who are now walking around with a gun.

For the issue of gun theft, Donohue relies on research published by the Harvard Injury Control group, which estimates that 250,000 guns are stolen every year, and that the rate of theft is higher among gun owners who report carrying a gun as compared to those who leave the gun at home: “We find that owning many guns, owning guns for protection, carrying guns, and storing guns un[1]safely are associated with having guns stolen.”

How did Hemenway’s research team determine which respondents to their survey were carrying guns? They asked the following question: “In the past 30 days, have you carried a loaded handgun on your person?” If a respondent answer with a ‘yes,’ Donohue then assumes in his study that this type of individual was probably more frequently found in jurisdictions where RTC was in effect.

To their credit, Hemenway’s team makes it very clear that their research has significant limitations, up to and including the fact that they have absolutely no idea when guns were stolen, what kinds of guns were stolen, and a number of other limiting factors which gave the team a publishing credit but certainly doesn’t inform us about how guns move from legal to illegal gun-owners at all.

Does Donohue even suggest that perhaps the work on which he relies for his estimates about gun thefts has as many self-admitted holes as the piece of Dorman’s Swiss cheese that I’m going to eat when I finish this piece? Not one bit.

If the team which sent the new Webb telescope into orbit knew as little about outer space as Donohue knows about guns, we would have wasted nearly 10 billion dollars putting the Webb package into orbit last year.

In this respect, unfortunately, scholars like Donohue continue to publish research that are clever exercises in statistics but tell us next to nothing about the individuals who use guns to commit crimes.

That being the case, how can you use this research to design or implement effective laws to prevent people from committing crimes with guns?

Want To Walk Around with a Gun? In Some States Maybe You Can, and Maybe You Still Can’t.

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            I have been inundated by fundraising requests from gun-control groups like Brady and Giffords ever since the SCOTUS issued its opinion in NYSRPA v, Bruen which basically shot down (pardon the pun) used by New York State and six other states for deciding who can, and who can’t walk around with a concealed gun.

Until this opinion was published in May, New York State was one of seven states which still required an applicant for a concealed-carry license (CCW) to show that he needed to be armed because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to defend himself, in other words, proving that he had a specific reason for needing to carry a gun.

In effect, the SCOTUS decided that the ‘right’ to own a gun didn’t just cover keeping a handgun in the home, which is what had been the issue when SCOTUS defined the 2nd Amendment in 2008. With the Bruen ruling, anyone who can pass muster to own a gun can also get permission to walk around with the gun outside his home.

Thanks to our friend Jennifer Mascia’s article in The Trace, we now know how this case will shift those ‘may issue’ states to ‘shall issue’ states, i.e., removing the ability of the cops to apply discretionary judgements to the issuance of CCW.

No wonder that Brady, Everytown and all the other groups in Gun-control Nation are up in arms (again, pardon the pun.) The only other legal barrier whose disappearance will result in untold mayhem are the laws which prevent gun owners from freely moving across state lines with their concealed guns, but not to worry – I’m sure the gun ‘rights’ gang is getting ready to attack that law as well.

I happen to live in one of those seven states, which used to be a ‘may issue’ state.  I live in Massachusetts and to the joy of the local gun nuts, on August 1st the State Legislature amended the CCW process, striking the word ‘may’ with the word ‘shall’ as it applies to decisions by the cops on who can and who still can’t walk around the Commonwealth with a gun. The new language also deletes the phrase ‘a reasonable exercise of discretion’ from the issuance instructions now followed by the police.

So now Massachusetts has joined the ranks of the ‘shall issue’ CCW states. Except there’s only one little problem for my friends in Massachusetts gun-nut land, which is that the new procedures do not (as in no, or zero or however else you want to define it) take discretionary authority for CCW issuance away from the cops at all.

The new CCW procedure still requires that an applicant submit to an in-person interview with the ‘licensing authority’ which is the police chief in whichever city or town the person seeking CCW permission happens to live. The new law gives the licensing authority the ability to withhold a CCW license if the applicant demonstrates – ready? – that he might be a danger to himself or someone else.

How does the new ‘shall issue’ procedure in Massachusetts define the word ‘danger?’ It doesn’t. That’s left up to the cops.

What the SCOTUS did not do in the Bruen ruling, and what even this bunch of alt-right SCOTUS justices would never do, is issue a ruling on any law that would challenge what we refer to as the ‘compelling interest’ of the community to decide that certain basic features of modern life are too important to be left to each and every town resident to decide himself.

One of those issues, for example, is the ability of everyone in the community to be able to read and write. So, we have public schools supported by taxes and if you don’t want your kid to sit in a classroom and have his head filled up with crazy ‘woke’ ideas, that’s fine. But you still have to pay taxes and you still have to find some other way to prepare your kid to pass those statewide proficiency exams.

Ditto with another compelling interest known as community safety. Which is why we pay the salary of the police which, by the way, didn’t happen throughout New York State until 1917. And guess who pays the costs for that compelling interest? The same taxpayers who pay for public schools.

Jennifer Mascia notes that following Bruen, hundreds of Massachusetts residents were going to have CCW restrictions lifted from their gun licenses. Except that what Jennifer couldn’t know is that virtually every one of those restricted licenses were issued to Boston residents for the simple reason that cops in large cities have never felt comfortable granting CCW to any city residents in Boston, New York, Chicago or anywhere else.

The real question, however, is whether or not states which move from ‘may issue’ to ‘shall issue’ CCW will see an increase in violent crime. But the issue isn’t whether or not there will be any increase in violence per se; the issue is whether or not a change in violent crime rates is connected to whether more or fewer state residents are walking around with legal guns.

Our friend John Lott has built an entire career out of the idea that when a jurisdiction issues more CCW licenses, violent crime rates go down, an argument which gets him plaudits from pro-gun groups and angry denunciations from the other side.

Meanwhile, neither side has yet to produce one, single piece of serious research which shows that the more guns equals less crime argument, or the more guns equals more crime argument to be true or even connected to one another at all.

But since when did the argument about the role of guns in American society need to rely on facts?  We don’t need no stinkin’ facts – we got guns.

It’s People Not Guns That Win Elections.

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            I’m waiting until tomorrow to write anything about the Tuesday primary results because a couple of the races have not yet been called. But I did want to sneak a story in about one race, which was the Senate GOP primary in Missouri, where the lawyer Mark McCloskey, received less than 3% of the primary vote.

            McCloskey and his wife were arrested and charged with reckless endangerment in June 2020 after standing in front of their home as a Black Lives Matter group marched by in the street, and waving their guns at the crowd, because according to them, their house was about to be attacked.

            Nobody else in the vicinity of their suburban home outside of St. Louis saw anything which even remotely resembled an assault against either their property or against the couple themselves. But appearances can be deceiving and who knows what mayhem might have occurred if McCloskey hadn’t come out with his AR-15 to uphold his 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

            What McCloskey got for his stand in support of the Constitution was an invitation to speak at the GOP convention and a digital pat on the back from the NRA.  They were interviewed by Dana Loesch, who used to be a big deal on NRA-TV, where they said they had a ‘right to bear arms,’ among other things.

            I have to give my friends at The Trace credit for digging up some very interesting news about McCloskey and his wife. It turns out that these two stalwart defenders of gun ‘rights’ have actually made a nice buck suing gun companies whose guns misfire and in one case resulted in the shooter’s death. In fact, the gun held by Patricia McCloskey in the picture just below looks suspiciously like one of the guns that was a defendant’s exhibit in a liability case.

            You’ll also notice by the way in the picture above, that both the McCloskey’s have their fingers on the triggers of their guns, which is an absolute no-no even among the gun-nut population which sent in money to help the McCloskey’s pay for their defense.

            So, these two schmucks are found guilty, are sentenced but then their sentences are commuted by the Governor and this act paves the way for McCloskey to run for Senate this year with a really original campaign sloganNever Back Down!

            On his website, McCloskey states that “a violent mob stormed onto his property and threatened his family,” although we’re still looking for that violent mob. For that matter, so is just about everyone else, given that McCloskey got less than 20,000 votes out of nearly 620,000 votes cast.

            Ever since Orange Shithead got up at a campaign rally in January 2016 and said that he could shoot someone dead in the street and he wouldn’t lose any votes, some of his most enthusiastic supporters have been trying to prove him correct.  The way they do it is to show up at public events brandishing their guns, like the Nazis who marched down the street in Charlottesville VA waving their AR-15’s and chanting anti-Semitic slogans on August 12, 2017. That’s when Trump said there were ‘good people’ on ‘both sides, a comment which basically guaranteed that he would only serve one term and never win another election again.

            The point is that anyone who tells you he needs to wave an AR-15 around in public for any reason at all is basically just full of shit. And if nothing else, yesterday’s GOP primary vote in Missouri tells me that even in a red state like the ‘show me’ state, which is also a big gun state, nobody’s buying that nonsense at all.  

How Come (Some) Americans Love Their Guns?

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            I happen to believe that the current debate about gun violence is the most uninformed and unaligned with reality of any debate on any public health issue of all time.

            We know what to do about global warming. We may not have the political will to do it, but we know why it’s happening, and we know what to do.

            We know what to do about hunger and famine. Again, there may be political exigencies that prevent us in every situation where famine threatens to do what needs to be done, but we know what we should do.

            We also know what to do about viruses like Covid-19 and other epidemics.

But gun violence isn’t an epidemic. To quote our good friend Kathy Christoffel, gun violence has become endemic rather than just epidemic because we don’t know what to do.

            And the reason we don’t know what to do about gun violence is because every time there’s a really bad shooting and the gun-violence debate erupts again, the two sides whose arguments create the debate demonstrate that they know anything at all about the only issue which really matters, and that issue happens to be the issue of guns.

            Last week we had a Congressional debate about gun violence before the House voted up the assault weapons ban. At one point the expert from the Giffords group, Ryan Busse, started arguing with a pro-gun GOP member from Florida, Scott Franklin.

            In a rare moment where they actually agreed on something, they told everyone that the current battle gun used by U.S. troops was not the type of assault rifle owned by American consumers, because the civilian gun only fires in semi-auto mode, whereas the Army gun fires in full-auto or 3-shot bursts.

            In fact, the gun which our troops use in the field, the M4A1, fires either in full-auto or semi-auto mode. So, if a trooper decides to set his rifle to fire semi-auto, does that mean he’s going into battle with a sporting gun?

            This is the kind of stupidity which passes again and again for informed narrative when it comes to talking about guns and gun violence. Want another one? Try this one.

            Every time that some researcher or research organization does a so-called survey about who owns guns, one of the first questions always asks the gun owner to explain why he bought his last gun. The choice is always the same: (1). I bought the gun to go hunting; (2). I bought the gun for self-defense. And every time this survey is published, the self-defense answer is twice as frequent as the answer about buying a gun for hunting or sport.

            Over the past 45 years, I have probably sold guns to some 7,000 or 8,000 residents of three states: South Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts. So maybe I know a little bit about why people buy guns, okay?

            If I asked any one of those thousands of customers why they were buying a gun, they would stare at me in disbelief. How could I ask such a ridiculous question? They had come into my shop to buy a gun because – ready? – they … wanted … to … buy… a … friggin’… gun!

            That was a hard one to figure out.

            Of course, as the guy was walking out of my shop and someone from Pew or Harvard asked him why he just plunked down $600 bucks to buy a new gun that he needed like he needed a hole in his head, he’d have to come up with some kind of bullshit reason, so he’d mumble something about his ‘2nd-Amendment rights,’ or he wanted to protect his family from all the rioting and looting that’s taking place in some other state, or some other nonsense he heard someone else say in some other gun shop.

            The point is this. The whole gun thing is nothing but impulse, that’s all it is. The guy who just bought a gun from me spent as much time thinking about why he needed that gun as he’ll spend tomorrow morning deciding which lottery ticket to buy when he stops for coffee on his way to work.

            For that matter, the kid who gets into an argument and drops a cap on the other kid because ‘he dissed me’ or some other crap, is also behaving on nothing more than impulse. Or to quote Lester Adelson, “a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

            Either my friends in Gun-control Nation – advocates, researchers, public officials – will start trying to figure out how to stop people with access to guns from behaving impulsively with their guns or they won’t.

            And notice I say, ‘access to guns.’ When it comes to gun violence, there’s no difference between people who can pass a background check and people who can’t.

            A gun is a gun is a gun.

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