Want To End Gun Violence? Stop It Before It Occurs.


I’m an East Coast guy, but the one time I drove through Oregon I made a point of stopping off at the Pendleton factory store because I can’t remember the last time I walked into a sporting goods store anywhere in the United States and didn’t see a rack of Pendleton shirts. And I have always been fascinated by Oregon because the country expanded from ‘sea to shining sea’ when settlers hitched up their wagons and rolled across the Oregon Trail.

suicide             So it came as something of a shock to read an op-ed in The Oregonian about the state’s terrible problem with gun violence because you would think that a state with such a vibrant pioneer tradition would have a pretty good record when it comes to the use of guns.  But in fact the record is bad and getting worse.

Back in 2001, the state recorded a total of 358 gun deaths, for a per-100,000 rate of 10.16. In 2015, the raw number was 486, an increase of 35%, and the death rate had climbed to 11.36.  Between 2011 and 2015 there were 1,862 motor vehicle deaths in Oregon; during the same five-year period gun deaths have totaled 2,308.  That’s not bad, that’s real bad.  Most of the Oregon gun deaths involve suicide, which accounted for 1,894 of the 2,308 deaths between 2011 and 2015. But gun homicides jumped from 68 in 2011 to 105(!) in 2015, so what’s going on?

It used to be a fundamental Gun-nut Nation axiom that the availability of guns had nothing to do with suicide at all. I even received emails from gun nuts who would pompously lecture me on the ‘right’ of persons suffering from severe mental distress to choose the way they wanted to die. But those loony emails have disappeared since the NSSF announced a partnership with the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide which, we hope, will bring gun-suicide rates down.  But they haven’t come down in Oregon; au contraire, they keep going up.

Which brings us back to the op-ed in The Oregonian by Dr. Leigh Dolin, an internist in Portland, who happens to have been President of the Oregon Medical Association and now sits on the OMA Board.  Dr. Dolin has been a tireless advocate of sensible gun laws and his editorial is an effort to raise awareness about two bills before the Oregon Legislature, one of which, Senate Bill 868, would create a lawful process for law enforcement or family members to take guns away from individuals whose access to a gun would probably result in a suicide attempt or a gun assault.

The proposed ‘extreme risk’ law requires that the gun-owner in question be served notice to surrender all guns.  He can request a court hearing to determine whether, in fact, his guns should be taken away.  Before such an order can be issued, law enforcement or family members have to produce evidence that the gun-owner is, in fact, a danger to himself and others, and the order can be ended if the gun-owner presents evidence that he is no longer a threat to himself or anyone else. A similar law was enacted in Connecticut in 1999, and probably saved dozens of lives.

Leave it to the NRA to oppose the new bill because the individual who might be an ‘extreme risk’ will lose his 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ The Oregonian says that Dr. Dolin’s statement is an ‘opinion’ but the only people who believe there’s no link between gun access and gun violence are the same bunch who swear the government’s hiding something at Area 51.

There’s nothing in the 2nd Amendment that says we can’t protect ourselves against gun violence before the violence occurs. And despite what a few people still believe and will tell you every time they get a chance, you just can’t commit gun violence without a gun. If you don’t believe me, make your hand look like a gun, hold it against your head and go – click.



How Savage Were Those Savages? Part 1 of 2.

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Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in 1885

Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in 1885 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took the United States only a quarter-century to populate and settle the vast wilderness that we acquired with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  Over the period from the opening of the Oregon Trail in 1840 until the joining of the intercontinental railroad in 1869, more than 500,000 people who had previously lived east of the Missouri River either settled between the Missouri and the Rockies or journeyed on to the West Coast. Twenty years after the railroad stretches from coast to coast, the US Census in 1890 declared that the frontier was “closed.”

One of the basic themes of this westward migration and settlement was the idea that as white Americans moved west, they turned the wilderness into civilization and, in the process, civilized all those ‘savages’ who otherwise would have continued living in an uncivilized state.  Much of the notion that we were civilized, they were not, grew out of the fact that the Indians weren’t Christians and hence, by definition, couldn’t be considered as equals to whites in any respect.  But the notion of Indians as savages wasn’t so much an extension of the racism that colored (pardon the pun) the white view of all non-white folks.  Rather, it reflected an absence among Indians of the basic societal relations on which our civilization, both then and now still rests.

What I am referring to is the whole notion of property.  It’s not clear exactly when Western civilization “invented” private property.  We see bits and pieces of private ownership in the earliest Western law codes, but when the Romans marched through Gaul, for example, they encountered many indigenous populations for whom all land was held in common and the notions of private ownership didn’t yet exist.  And even when early monarchs began giving out land grants to reward vassals for fighting on their behalf, the ownership of these properties were tied more to family lineage and occupancy than to any modern notion that allowed the land to be bought and sold.

It was only after the Norman conquest of England that a legal system began to emerge which, at its core, was based on defining and protecting property as something whose value was determined when it was bought and sold.  And it was this legal system, known as the common law, that was brought to the New World and established here by the colonists at Plymouth Bay.  And it was this same legal system that underlay the political system adopted first by the colonies, then by the states, and then by the territories that were formed as we moved west.

There was only one problem.  The Indians had no system of private property.  And because they didn’t have private property, they couldn’t develop a political system that in any way, shape or form, was similar to what existed in what was then called the united States.  In 1868 more than 30 Sioux chiefs, including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, signed a treaty at Fort Laramie which gave the Indians control in perpetuity for an immense territory which today would have covered most of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and a piece of Nebraska.  But what we didn’t understand was that the 30-odd chiefs who put their marks on the document were signing only for themselves.  There wasn’t a single brave in the camps of any of those chiefs who were bound to follow what the treaty said.  And many wouldn’t follow it.  And the treaty was a dead letter within 6 months.

We fought and won the Plains Indian Wars after 1868 because we believed the Indians were ‘savages’ and needed to be taught the white man’s ways.  What else could we do when faced with a population that wasn’t ready to behave?

Based on my book, Hunters in the Wilderness.  Volume II in the series, Guns in America, to be published in December.

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