Trump Goes To NRA And Gives ‘Em Squat.

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I just listened to the speech – again. If you don’t know what speech I’m talking about, then you haven’t been following the latest doings in Gun-nut Nation.  It’s the speech that Trump gave Friday at the NRA annual meeting, the first President to address the Gun-nut Nation faithful since Saint Ronald showed up in 1983.

trump5As speeches go, it was a fairly hum-drum and boring affair. I hate to say this, but when Trump exhorted his campaign audiences to ‘throw them the hell out,’ or ‘beat them up,’ or ‘put Hillary in jail,’ at least there was a certain amount of excitement and hoopla in the air. And he did on rare occasion show his old form, referring to Liz Warren as ‘Pocahontas’ and leading the audience in a brief ‘build the wall’ cheer. But I predicted last week that Trump would show up and just rattle on about how tough he was on crime, and that’s exactly what he did.

Trump spent the first 6 minutes cracking jokes about how nobody thought he could win; someone might tell his speechwriters that the election was six months ago and the line about how ‘everyone said I couldn’t get to 270 and they were right because I ended up at 306’ is getting a little stale. With great solemnity he then intoned that the ‘eight-year assault on the 2nd Amendment’ had come to an end, but then he veered back to a disjointed praising of the new Supreme Court justice and from the 12th minute to the 17th minute he told the audience everything else he was doing to protect us from illegal immigrants and crime.

At this point in the speech the audience was getting restive because the applause was beginning to fade, so for the next three minutes Trump babbled on and on about how he was going to build the wall. He then mentioned that a couple of Southern Governors were in the room along with Ted Cruz, and then at minute 23 he stopped short (I thought that maybe he was finally going to say something newsworthy) and said, again with great solemnity, “I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  The next day the mainstream media reported that Trump said he would support gun ‘rights.’ This was the NRA. What was he supposed to say? That he wouldn’t support gun ‘rights?’

He then wrapped up by mumbling something about Paul Revere, the battle at Concord and a reminder that he will make America great again because his administration will bring back the idea that the ‘people can govern themselves.’  That’s what he calls Twitter?

He mentioned several times that Wayne-o and Chris Cox were doing a great job, he made reference to the NRA’s storied President, Charlton Heston, but he didn’t even pull out Heston’s epic applause line about how nobody would ever take a gun away from his ‘cold, dead hands.’ The kid who wrote Trump’s speech probably wasn’t even born when Heston first shouted those words.

The audience heard the word  ‘freedom’ again and again but at no time did they hear anything about the national, concealed-carry bill which is the NRA’s most cherished dream. There was no mention of ending ‘gun-free’ zones, another issue high on the NRA wish-list, which Trump claimed he would abolish on his first day on the job. He didn’t even talk about his son’s pet project to market gun silencers as some kind of medical device. The truth is that Trump came to the NRA meeting, talked for 28 minutes and didn’t say anything at all.

For all his talk about how much Trump ‘loves’ gun owners, his NRA speech didn’t give them squat. And I’m not saying that chickens won’t come home to roost at some point this year,but getting a big tax cut for himself and his friends is a lot more important to Trump than whether Colion Noir can go prancing around with his guns.

There’s A Ballot Initiative Coming To California And The NRA Better Watch Out.

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Everybody knows that the United States was formed by settlers who moved from East to West. But whether it’s Ronald Reagan or Half-n-Half, what starts in California usually then moves back East.  Which is why when a citizen’s ballot initiative to limit magazine capacities and ammunition sales in California was first announced back in January, the NRA threw an especially big fit because they know that if this kind of measure can be passed in our most populous state, then gun-control legislation can pop up anywhere and no amount of Capitol Hill noisemaking can necessarily hold the line against such reforms.

ammo           The California initiative is particularly interesting because, for the first time, it is aimed (no pun intended) not just at the regulation of guns, but the regulation of ammunition as well. And for all the talk about gun violence on both sides, what is rarely mentioned is the fact that while gun ownership is more or less regulated in all 50 states, the control of ammunition is usually left entirely undone.  For example, despite a strongly-held belief among many GVP advocates to the contrary, most internet gun sales involve a background check before the buyer can actually take possession of the gun.  But in most states that same buyer can purchase an armory-full load of ammunition for that same weapon and there is no requirement that such purchases be tracked or reported at all.  The Aurora shooter, James Holmes, for example, amassed a stash of more than 6,000 rounds, much of it bought online.

To a certain degree the California initiative follows from ordinances that were passed in Los Angeles and Sacramento which require that ammunition purchasers identify themselves in face-to-face transactions with ammunition sellers, and that the latter keep records of everyone to whom they have made a sale.  The problem, of course, is that these laws are only useful to law enforcement engaged in an investigation after-the-fact; they really don’t do much to prevent ammunition from getting into the wrong hands before it’s used in an improper way.   The new ballot initiative, known as “The Safety For All Act,” would require a background check for all ammunition sales, making California the first state to impose the same requirement for ammunition purchases that exist for the purchase of guns.

Frankly, if I were the NRA, I’d be freaking out too.  And I would be particularly freaking out right now because the folks who are spearheading the effort to put this issue on the ballot have just announced that they have collected the necessary 365,880 signatures to put the item before statewide voters this Fall. Actually, they are going to submit over 600,000 signatures, because like all citizen initiative campaigns, signatures on a petition are one thing, valid signatures are something else.  But I get the clear sense that putting this issue before the voters come November is really a done deal.

You know, of course, that the NRA will pull out all the usual 2nd-Amendment stops to try and defeat this bill, but in a funny kind of way they are hoisted by their own petard.  Because the NRA doesn’t let a single day go by without reminding the world that they represent the most law-abiding citizens on God’s green earth; namely, the folks who under law (a law that was supported by the NRA) are allowed to own guns.  So if the government imposes the same legal requirements on ammo that it imposes on guns, why should any good-guy citizen (or non-citizen, for that matter) have a problem with this law?

This ballot initiative is also going to test one other, heartfelt NRA argument, namely their self-promoting nonsense that they are a true, grass-roots movement whereas the other side is an artificial creation of Mayor Mike and his big bucks. Let’s see how that one flies in the Golden State – it sure didn’t work when I-594 was passed in a state right up Interstate 5.

Do You Really Think The NRA Supports The 2nd Amendment To Keep Us Free? Think Again.

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One of the reasons often advanced to explain the success of the NRA in promoting pro-gun attitudes and laws is something known as the “intensity gap.”  According to this argument, the NRA wins because their supporters are more committed, more dedicated and more fiercely loyal to the organization and its goals, as opposed to the GVP movement whose supporters are only driven to express their support for more gun control after a mass shooting or other high-profile violence involving guns.

The latest iteration of this argument is the handiwork of Professor Gary Gutting, whose op-ed appeared today in The New York Times.  Gutting, who teaches philosophy at Notre Dame, claims that the GVP movement should borrow the energies and viewpoints of recent anti-racist efforts like Black Lives Matter who have successfully enlisted black and white support by pointing out the basically racist nature of police (and civilian) shootings of inner-city blacks.  He further argues that white antipathy towards racism would counteract the intensity that gun owners exhibit whenever they feel that the 2nd Amendment is being attacked, an intensity based on America’s fear of ‘tyranny’ which explains the strong support for 2-A rights.

Gutting may or may not be correct in asserting that Black Lives Matter has tapped into a concern held by white liberals about violence and racism directed at blacks, but his attempt to build a case for the NRA’s anti-tyranny argument through support of the 2nd Amendment is just dead wrong.  The NRA doesn’t promote itself as an anti-tyranny organization pari passu, it promotes the anti-government position only when the government is in the hands of what Fox News calls ‘the Left.’ Ever hear Dana Loesch, Sarah Palin, Wayne LaPierre or any other pro-gun noisemaker talk about the gun-control law that Governor Ronald Reagan signed that mandated, among other things, a fifteen-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns in the Golden State?

Know which members of Congress voted against GCA68?  Virtually the same southern federal office-holders who voted against GCA68 also voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  And they voted the same way for the same reason: both were instances in which Northern liberals passed laws to teach Southern whites how to behave.  If anyone believes that the current opposition to gun control is anything other than a reprise of the conservative-liberal battle over states’ rights as it originally played out during the struggle over civil rights, think again. The NRA can tell you that gun control today leads to gun confiscation tomorrow, but from 1939 (Miller v. United States) until 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) we had plenty of liberals running the federal government and passing gun-control laws. Meanwhile, not a single gun was ever confiscated from a law-abiding gun owner.  Not once.

2A             I’m also confused, frankly, by Gutting’s pronouncement that the GVP movement lacks the intensity that’s found among followers of the NRA.  That’s a rather shop warn view of things lately owing largely to a bunch of street-wise, energetic and savvy woman both in leadership and grass-roots positions who have levelled the advocacy playing field to a degree not previously seen.  If there’s an intensity gap about gun violence nowadays, I perceive it more as a gender gap within the GVP movement itself.  But as in so many other things, the men (like myself) tend to sit back, watch the sports on a widescreen, pop a few tops and let the women do the work.

What moved America on civil rights were pictures of blacks being hosed, beaten or worse when they sat at segregated lunch counters, enrolled in all-white schools or stood fast against Sheriff Connor at the Selma Bridge.  What has moved Americans to rally against gun violence is the carnage at San Bernardino, Umpqua and Sandy Hook. Racism and gun violence are cut from the same cloth. There’s no reason why we need to borrow the outrage against one to be outraged at the other.


It’s Time To Stop Debating About Gun Violence. Period.

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Happens every time.  All you need is one good shooting, Barack says a few words about how we need to do something to end gun violence, and we are treated to the nonsense about how there is no gun violence.  That they happen to use a gun to kill either themselves or someone else 31,000 times a year, oh well, it’s a small price to pay for the fact that all those armed citizens are walking around and protecting us from millions of crimes each year.

And what’s the response from people who sincerely want to see gun violence brought under control?  Please don’t misunderstand us – we’re not against the 2nd Amendment, we’re just for some sensible gun laws.  And I’d be the first one to sit down with the NRA or one of their sycophantic mouthpieces like John Lott to come up with some reasonable solutions to the problem.  But the other side isn’t interested in reasonable solutions because there’s no problem.  And if you want proof that gun violence in America isn’t a problem, all you have to do is compare our gun violence rate to rates in other countries, particularly gun violence that takes the form of mass shootings, and you’ll quickly understand that we are, in fact, a very non-violent country after all.

Best gun salesman ever!

Best gun salesman ever!

The CDC first listed gun violence as a public health issue in 1981, and it has made the yearly CDC list ever since.  Remember who was President in 1981?  A guy named Reagan who remains the most iconic figure for the Conservative movement, which also happens to be the pro-gun movement, notwithstanding the fact that Reagan signed a major piece of gun-control legislation while he was Governor of California, and also later came out explicitly against hi-cap magazines in the run-up to the assault rifle ban in 1994. But in those days you could be a Conservative and still be in favor of sensible gun controls.  That was then and this is now.

And now means that when the President says something, anything about guns, the media immediately goes out to solicit a response from the other side, meaning the self-appointed guardians of American exceptionalism as exemplified by the 2nd Amendment and the Confederate flag.  Not that a single, Republican presidential candidate is willing to say what the residents of South Carolina should do about the stars and bars, but they’re sure willing to tell everyone what we should do about guns, which is that we should do nothing at all. So what do we end up with?  Not an informed and intelligent debate about gun violence, but a spectacle that is so stupid and senseless that we really shouldn’t be having a debate at all.

Here’s how dumb it gets.  John Lott goes on a conservative radio show and immediately labels Barack’s comment about our ‘unique’ propensity for mass shootings to be “bizarre.”  And what’s his proof that the President got it all wrong?  He pulls the 2011 Norway shooting which killed 67 people out of his hat.  But there’s only one problem which neither he nor his talk-show host bothered to mention, namely, that the attack at a summer camp on Utoya Island was the only mass shooting that occurred in Norway between 2000 and 2014, while over the same period the U.S. experienced at least more than 130 mass shootings that claimed nearly 500 lives.

I think it’s time for my friends in the gun-sense movement, or the gun-safety movement, or whatever they are calling themselves these days to declare a moratorium on debates over whether we have a gun violence problem after all.  Because as long as we continue to be seduced by the notion that both sides deserve ‘equal time,’ what we are going to get is not an argument against reasonable gun controls, but an argument against any kind of gun controls.  And since that argument has nothing to do with facts, it’s an argument that you just can’t win.

Want To Bet Against Background Checks? You Might Lose.

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Score another win for the gun-sense team.  On Monday the Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, signed into law a bill that basically requires background checks for all gun transfers in the state. The measure is similar to the I-594 initiative that now requires universal background checks in neighboring Washington State.  So now, with a few exceptions, anyone living on the West Coast between Canada and Mexico must undergo the NICS background check process in order to buy, sell, or transfer a gun.

I wouldn’t necessarily take the short odds against background checks becoming law of the land, if only because although we usually think our country was settled east to west, in fact much of our culture has moved west to east. California was already settled by Spanish conquistadores and their descendants while Virginia, Massachusetts and the other colonies were still largely woods, and much of our modern culture first appeared on the West Coast in the form of movies and tv. I first heard of ‘health food’ when I went from New York to teach at Berkeley in 1976. And let’s not forget where Starbucks got started, ditto Ronald Reagan and the ‘modern conservative movement’ along with half-and-half.

nics                I have no issue with the notion that background checks keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  I also don’t believe the nonsense thrown around by so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘absolutists’ that background checks are a violation of their constitutional rights. But we shouldn’t just assume that because the FBI says that slightly more than 1 million NICS transactions have been denied since the system became operational in 1998 that this somehow translates into one million guns being kept away from the ‘wrong hands,’ which means kept away from people who will use those guns to commit violence and crimes.

We really don’t know why violent crime rates, particularly gun crime rates, have dropped by 50% over the last twenty years.  And because we don’t know why this has occurred, it’s not clear that any of the solutions, including background checks, will result in gun violence dropping any more. I’m not suggesting that we should stop strengthening gun regulations just because, to parrot the NRA, criminals don’t obey laws.  If we used criminal response to laws as a criteria for judging the effectiveness of our legal codes, we would never pass a single statute at all.  What I am suggesting is that if we continue to define gun violence as a preventable public health issue, which is how we have been defining it since 1981, we should set realistic goals for reductions in gun violence and use these goals to judge the effectiveness of the policies and strategies that are espoused.

In fact, the CDC has adopted what they believe to be realistic goals for reductions in gun violence over the next five years.  These goals call for a 10% reduction by 2020 in gun homicides, non-fatal shootings and children bringing guns into schools.  I think the time has come for activists who are working to end gun violence to sit down, en masse, and figure out whether the CDC numbers are realistic, or need to be adjusted, or need to be replaced by a different set of criteria and a different set of goals.  And the gun industry should be invited to participate in this discussion as well.

The gun industry used to count on the fact that the upsurge in concern about gun violence which followed every high-profile shooting would quickly run its course.  Frankly, I thought the groundswell provoked by Sandy Hook would be over by the time the first anniversary of the tragedy rolled around.  But recent events in Washington State and Oregon have proven me wrong. And when it comes to public health policies, things have a way of taking on a momentum and a life of their own. As I said early on, I wouldn’t take the short odds against more gun regulations down the line.



America Goes To War And Takes Its Guns

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Most of the design and engineering advances that created modern small arms came through the development of military weapons, both rifles like the Springfield 03 or handguns like John Browning’s Colt 1911. And whether it was the M-1 Garand that General Patton called the “greatest battle implement ever devised,” or the Winchester repeating carbine that the U.S. Cavalry carried against the Indians, it’s safe to say that guns played an important role in just about every war that America fought.

It should therefore come as no surprise that guns are once again playing an essential, if not a pivotal role in what is perhaps America’s longest-lasting war.  I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan, although both of those conflicts have dragged on far too long.  I’m talking instead about America’s “culture” war for which guns and gun ownership have come to define both the ebb and flow of the conflict as well as the basic attitudes of both sides.

Guns were first tied to the culture war when Charlton Heston became NRA President in  1998.  Heston and other members of his Hollywood generation began turning conservative when Ronald Reagan, won the Presidency in 1980. But while Reagan boosted conservative fortunes he was always ambivalent about the culture war; kept evangelicals at arm’s length, was never seen inside a church, and rarely, if ever, invoked the virtues and values of gun ownership or membership in the NRA.  In fact, along with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Reagan sent a letter to the House of Representatives in 1994 advocating an assault-rifle ban that was enacted later in the year.

Until the 2008 election of Obama, the culture war embraced issues like abortion and gay rights, both of which took precedence over guns.  And even though Bill Clinton blamed the 1994 Republican Congressional sweep and the 2000 defeat of Al Gore on the power of the NRA, the outcome of both elections couldn’t be tied specifically to anything having to do with guns.

The ascendency of guns in the cultural war didn’t reflect so much the growing power of the gun-owning lobby as it was the result of conservative shifts away from other issues for which they simply could not muster enough votes to win.  On abortion, for example, the nation appears evenly split but Rowe v. Wade is now forty years old and as women continue to move forward in the workplace and the professions, a woman’s right to choose seems fairly secure.  As for the gay issue, 19 states have now legalized same-sex marriage and last year the SCOTUS invalidated the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which opens the door for many more states to lift their own gay marriage bans.

sarah                So as the older, hot-button cultural issues gradually wither away (remember something called English as the official language?), gun ownership and gun “rights” move to center stage.  And guns are a perfect means to build support for conservative cultural warriors because their ownership, after all, is enshrined in the most holy of all cultural holies, the Bill of Rights.  Even the leader of the liberals, whether he means it or not, is forced to sing hosannas to the 2nd Amendment as his shock-troops prepare to do battle against the other side.

The problem with cultural conflicts is they cannot be resolved with reference to facts.  Because as Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky pointed out long before the culture war rose to the level of conflict that we see today, people make decisions about things like gun ownership not because they understand or even care about whether a gun can or cannot protect them from harm, but whether ownership of a gun either supports or conflicts with their world view.  If both sides in the gun debate don’t find a way to resolve their arguments by reconciling larger cultural issues, it will drag on the way the Chaco War dragged on between Paraguay and Bolivia over a border that neither country could even find.

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