It’s Always Fun To Play Around With A Gun.

              Since it has now become fashionable to show your support of Donald Trump by waving a gun in the air, or maybe to show up at one of those Communist/Socialist/Anarchist demonstrations and pull the trigger a few times, I wanted to draw your attention to a recent incident in San Diego where a gun nut really showed us how much fun you can have playing around with guns.

              I am referring to an event which took place several weeks ago, where a member of a private Facebook group, Loaded Guns Pointed At B[?]enis, actually pulled the trigger of his 45-caliber pistol and shot himself right through the balls. The next day he reported that he was ‘fine’ and actually reported for work.

              You should know, incidentally, that this group has 1,800 members, and apparently they play a version of Russian Roulette by loading a gun, pointing the gun at their crotch and then see how close they can actually get to pulling the trigger all the way through without the gun actually going off. I suspect that the person who comes closest to shooting himself but actually releases the trigger just before the hammer drops, is awarded with a MAGA hat.

              Although the spent round from the pistol luckily only grazed his nuts, it did go through his mattress and his box spring before lodging in the floor. No doubt he will now charge admission for anyone who wants to come into his bedroom and view the hole in the carpet underneath his bed.

              The guy who runs this Facebook page was, of course, quite supportive in talking about the event. In particular, he made it clear that the poor schmuck who ended up in the local hospital getting his balls sewn back on really didn’t need to be criticized for what he had done. After all, according to the group leader, “he’s learned his lesson without the entire world calling him an idiot.”

              Exactly what lesson do you think this guy learned? Oh, he learned not to point a loaded gun at his nuts. He needed to learn that lesson? Is the group leader serious? No, he’s not serious. He’s as dumb as the guy who shot himself, okay?

              I’m thinking about that two dummies, the man and wife, who stood in front of their St. Louis home and waved guns at a group of BLM/Communists/Socialists/Anarchists who went marching by. They got indicted for this remarkable demonstration of stupidity, but they also got their minute of fame as a featured act at last week’s RNC.

              Come to think of it, I’m surprised that the guy who shot his balls off hasn’t yet been invited to the White House to give the President and his staff a demonstration of one of the really funny and interesting things you can do with a gun. Maybe the crowd should also include some of those bikers who wandered around Sturgis without masks and now have contracted Covid-19.

              We won’t know until a week from today whether anyone who attended Trump’s airport rally in New Hampshire will come down with the Chinese flu. We also won’t know for another week who gets sick from coming to the airport at Latrobe. What Trump is doing, and it’s a very clever strategy, is creating and promoting a virtual reality which basically says that the worst is behind us and the best is yet to come.

              So why not have the guy from San Diego visit the White House and demonstrate how you can shoot your balls off and still go back to work the next day? After all, if everyone starts walking around with a gun to protect themselves and everyone else from those marauding thugs, sooner or later a few more guys will accidentally shoot themselves with their guns.

              To quote Walter Mosley: “If you walk around with a gun, it will go off sooner or later.”  What’s so bad about that?

Is Panic Buying Of Guns Causing More Gun Violence?

              Last week our friend Gail Lehmann shared with us the FBI’s latest report on background checks, which showed an extraordinary bump in handgun sales during June. Generally speaking, gun sales, particularly handgun sales, tend to go South during the Summer because nobody’s worried about protecting themselves at the beach.  June handgun checks in 2019 were just shy of 500,000, slightly more than handgun checks for June, 2018.

              The handgun check number for July, on the other hand, went into the stratosphere, with 1,371,811; June 2019 handgun checks were 497,915. The big ‘winners’ on a state-by-state basis were Florida (133,285) and Texas (121,926). These two states accounted for almost 20% of all handgun checks in June and together contain 15% of the country’s population.

              There does seem to be an increase in gun violence coincident with the Covid-9 crisis. In New York City, which used to be one of the safest urban zones, shootings in 2020 are up by 46 percent in the first six months of the year, homicides have increased by 21 percent. In Chicago, June-to-June shootings have increased by 75 percent. Louisville, KY has doubled its shooting numbers from 117 non-fatal gun assaults in 2019 versus 246 this year.

              The information about spiking gun sales was contained in an email sent out by one of the gun-control websites – Guns Down America – which of course asked recipients for a donation to help reduce gun violence. Here’s what they have to say about the influx of more guns into the civilian arsenal: “Panic buying of guns has now reached record levels and it only increases the chance of death and injury.”

              The only problem with this very compelling argument is that it may or may not be true. Everyone who believes that Americans own too many guns has probably read the fundamental research on this issue, a series of articles published by David Hemenway which finds that the U.S. rate of fatal violence is much higher than what occurs ion other advanced (OECD) countries because we have so many guns lying around. We are the only country where the per-capita number of privately-owned guns is higher than the number of residents, and gun access is the fundamental difference between the level of lethal violence here as opposed to everywhere else.

              I would be willing to agree with Hemenway except for the messy little fact that most of the guns sitting in the civilian arsenal have nothing to do with gun violence at all. I published a study on the types of guns picked up by law-enforcement agencies in over 100 separate jurisdictions, and nearly all of them were handguns, particularly the small and concealable ones. When I did a scan on the entire list of 9,000 guns using the names of the six largest manufacturers of hunting rifles and shotguns, not one showed up.

              The biggest problem we have trying to figure out gun violence is that we also have no idea how, when, or why guns that are legally purchased end up in the ‘wrong’ hands. And the bottom line is that most, if not nearly all of the people who have shot other people this year (or any other year) didn’t get to that point in their lives as decent, law-abiding folks and then one day simply explode. To the contrary, the research by Marvin Wolfgang and others clearly shows that nearly all of the people who commit violent assaults were already exhibiting violent behavior by the time they were twelve years old.

              My point is that I am not sure that an increase in gun sales necessarily leads to an increase in gun violence pari passu, particularly when the increase in violence occurs during the same months that schools are shut down. And let’s not forget that thanks to the overwhelmingly stupid non-response of the Trump Administration to the virus, school summer vacation this year started back in March.

              I’m not trying in any way to diminish concerns about the increase in gun violence or the increase in gun sales. I would just like the discussion about both issues to be rooted not in fear but in facts.

Check out our other blog: https://lovethedeepstate.com/.

Another Gun Nut Who Didn’t Need A Gun.

One of the most important tenets of gun-nuttism, if not the most important belief, is the idea that when faced with any threat to yourself, your loved ones (I love the phrase ‘loved ones’) or even your property, the first and most important rule is: Grab Your Gun. After all, the cops won’t get there in time no matter how quickly they respond. And anyway, the cops are just another branch of the Deep State; a.k.a. the government. And the whole point of keeping a gun handy is the last thing you ever want to rely on is the government, right?

So it turns out that last Friday a guy named Dan King drove past Willie Robertson’s house in Monroe, LA, stuck a pistol out of the window and popped off a few rounds. The bullets hit the house but nobody inside was hurt. The guy was later arrested and spent a few days in jail. He was charged with assault and a few other things, and cannot go anywhere near Robertson’s property for the next couple of years. By the way, the shooter was also drunk.

Who is Willie Robertson? He runs a company called Duck Commander, a multi-million dollar business chiefly known for producing the Duck Dynasty series on reality TV. Of course he’s also a ‘devout’ Christian and a gun nut. That’s always part of the script. And it goes without saying that he is, of course, a devoted right-wing jerk; that’s also part of the script.

I once watched one of the Duck Dynasty episodes and it was basically Willie and some other guys standing around mumbling something about a broken hitch for one of their boats and what was going to be served for dinner that night. The episode also featured some friendly mix-up between two of the Dynasty gals which played like the Bayou version of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Of course last week, the moment the shots rang out, the head of the clan, Phil Robertson, had to decide whether or not to defend life and limb with a gun. Does he own a trusty, assault rifle? So he says. But he very quickly decided not to swing into armed action because, as he said, “If I go up there and kill them all, I probably would wind up on the wrong side of this thing.”

Hey! Wait a minute! I thought that Louisiana had a Stand Your Ground Law. In fact, it happens to have an SYG law that is one of the strongest and most definitive SYG laws around. Not only does it allow you to ‘meet force with force’ if you believe you are facing a threat, but the statute doesn’t allow a judge to even determine whether you could have retreated before responding to the threat.

So here we have a dream-like scenario for the gun nuts, particularly those nuts who cherish the notion of armed, self-defense, and what does a self-professed gun nut and assault-rifle owner like Phil Robertson do when his home and family are under attack? He calls the cops. Who then quickly arrest the dope who was shooting off his gun.

I can guarantee you that if Phil Robertson or any other member of the family had returned live fire with live fire, by now they would be on their way to NRA headquarters to receive some kind of award. Because isn’t this exactly what we are all worried about in the midst of this Plague Year? Shouldn’t everyone be ready, willing and able to take out the ol’ weapon and bang away at the first hint of an attack?

If I were the head of Brady or some other gun-control group, I would send a ‘thank you’ down to Phil Robertson for behaving like a normal, rational and intelligent man. The current occupant of the White House should behave the same way. But don’t count on it.

Why Do We Have Gun Violence? My New Book Attempts An Answer.

I remember watching the TV news on February 1, 1968 when this film of a suspected Viet Cong agent being assassinated by a South Vietnamese Army colonel flashed across the screen. The shooting took place during the Tet Offensive and this one picture changed the entire course of the war.

Until that moment, there were still lots of folks who were against the war but hoped that maybe, just maybe we could find a way to wind things down but also protect the South Vietnamese. War was bad, but so was an immediate retreat. The picture above put an end to that argument once and for all.

This picture can be found on the final page of my latest book on guns which is available on Amazon as of today. The book is in print right now, the Kindle edition will appear shortly. It is Volume 10 in my Guns in America series, it is also the longest book by far, running some 66,000 words along with charts, graphs, maps nd copious footnotes – the whole bit. Incidentally, the previous 9 volumes can be purchased en toto in a Kindle edition for $49.95. I’m not trying to stack up my royalties; in fact, I just found out that Amazon has created this Kindle offer.

The reason I end the new book with the photo of the shooting in Saigon is because the whole point of this book is to discuss the way we have been talking about gun violence over the last seven or eight years. Concerns about gun violence were raised here and there from time to time going back to the assassination of JFK in 1963 and the passage of the big gun law in 1968. But it wasn’t until the massacre at Sandy Hook in December, 2012, that gun control became a continuous discussion, particularly within the many gun-control groups that sprang up after that date. The Newtown massacre also provoked the medical profession to get more involved in talking about guns and gun violence, ditto more research attention paid to this issue within the academic world, particularly public health.

The problem I have with this far-reaching concern about gun violence is that virtually all of the discussions within the gun-control community focus on the issue of violence without any concern or even awareness about the issue of guns. The gun-research community has published endless studies which explain who gets shot, where they get shot, how they got shot and why they get shot. But I can’t think of a single piece of research which tells me anything about the people who do the shooting. How can you create an ‘epidemiology’ of gun violence (the public health researcher’s favorite word) if you don’t know how and why the behavior which causes the injury actually spreads?

Which is what I try to do in this new book. Talk about how and why a certain number of individuals pick up a gun and use it to harm themselves or someone else. I trace this behavior – with data and personal testimonies – back to long before there was any professed concern about the violence caused by guns. And that’s why the book ends with the picture of one guy shooting another guy in South Vietnam, because when all is said and done, there’s really no difference between a shooting on a street in Saigon and a shooting on a street in Chicago’s West Side.

Like Walter Mosley says, ‘You walk around with a gun and it will go off, sooner or later.’

A New Plan For Ending Gun Violence.

              Some of our friends in the surgery and public health departments of the University of Massachusetts Medical School have just published an important editorial about gun violence asking whether we can do for gun violence what has recently been done for vaping and e-cigarettes. What they basically argue is that the 4-month ban on these products enacted in Massachusetts, a move that is apparently spreading to other states, creates a template for how we should be dealing with another threat to public health, namely, the threat posed by gun violence.

              The authors of this well-reasoned piece point out that as of October 8, 2019 vaping products were responsible for the deaths of at least 26 young persons, with more than 1,200 hospitalizations as well.  On the other hand, what thy refer to as the ‘epidemic’ of gun violence claimed nearly 40,000 lives in 2017, even though we have identified the agent which causes the problem (the gun) and we have developed “proven means” to reduce this particular health threat.

              The editorial calls for a “temporary ban on the future sale of guns and assault rifles in the United States while we more systematically study gun safety,”  a rather novel idea for dealing with gun violence which copies the temporary ban on vaping products going into effect in Massachusetts and possibly other states.

              With all due respect to the co-authors of this editorial (in the interests of full disclosure, as they say, I should state that one of the authors, Dr. Michael Hirsh, co-directs with me the Wood Foundation which sponsors multi-city gun buybacks every year) I would like very much to know exactly what means have been proven to reduce gun violence, because such means certainly haven’t been put into effect.  In 1999, the national gun-violence rate was 9.89. It bounced around until 2011 and has been steadily climbing ever since. It was at 11.69 in 2017, and if the open-source reports used by the Gun Violence Archive are at all reliable, the last several years have certainly not seen any decline in gun violence rates at all.

              But the purpose of this column is not to nit-pick this word or that word with the authors of what is really a strong and commendable editorial on moving forward with some kind of serious gun-violence reduction plan. Rather, I want to address a much more fundamental issue which arises from the idea that we find ourselves in the midst of an epidemic of gun violence, a perspective which is shared by virtually all the researchers and advocacy groups dealing with this problem today.

              When we use the word ‘epidemic,’ we usually refer to a medical problem which arises without warning, often for reasons that initially we do not understand, and requires a comprehensive effort to both cure the victims of the disease as well as to protect populations which have  not yet been infected by the threat. This was exactly how the public health community responded in 2014-2016 to Ebola, which ended up infecting 28,000 and killing roughly 11,000 people in West Africa but was contained almost wholly within that  geographic zone.

              The United States isn’t suffering from an epidemic of gun violence. We are suffering from a threat to health which is endemic to certain locations and certain populations within the United States. Not only does gun violence occur virtually every day in certain, clearly-identified locales involving clearly-identified populations, but this medical threat has been going on in these same locations for what is now a century or more.  All fine and well that public health has discovered the existence of this problem since Columbine and Sandy Hook. It’s hardly new news to residents of cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis and Detroit.

              Sorry Thomas Abt, you don’t end gun violence by going into the ghetto, planting trees and cutting the grass. You get rid of gun violence by getting rid of the guns that are used to commit gun violence.

              This still needs to be said?

The NRA Might Be Down, But They’re Not Out.

              There was a surprise for me in my mailbox yesterday, namely, the November issue of American Rifleman, which happens to be the premier publication of the NRA.  The reason I was surprised was that back in April, a detailed story by Mike Spies that was carried in The New Yorker and The Trace provoked an avalanche of criticism about America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ which made it appear that the pro-gun group was headed for a quick demise.

              Not only did the NRA find itself being attacked for shabby bookkeeping, sweetheart business dealings and all kinds of other nefarious deeds, but for the first time in more than 40 years, an attempt was made to jettison the leadership and bring in an entirely new management group. The effort collapsed when it turned out that the chief promoter of this coup d’etat, Oliver North, was himself profiting from an inside deal with the NRA‘s advertising agency which led to the NRA giving the boot both to North and to the advertising agency as well.

              Despite this reprieve, the news for the NRA kept getting worse and worse, with simultaneous investigations being carried out by the New York State Attorney General (the NRA is incorporated in New York as a not-for-profit corporation) along with an investigation by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) about the alleged connections between the NRA and Maria Butina, the so-called Russian ‘spy.’ The latter effort resulted Wyden’s report which didn’t show any unlawful NRA activity at all; the former investigation will shlep on until even the cows in all those upstate New York counties come home.

              What really got things going, however, was that more than 80 people were killed and injured in two mass shootings which occurred in just two days. The shooting in El Paso on August 3 took 22 lives and injured 24 more; the next day a shooting in Dayton resulted in another 10 killed and 27 injured. That’s quite a score.

              Whenever there is a mass shooting two things occur: 1). There is an immediate spike in media coverage and public concern about the event; 2). The gun-control narrative to define these shootings invariably finds some way or another to blame the NRA. Either the NRA is guilty of preventing laws that would curb the violence, or the NRA promotes armed, self-defense which is just another way to spread the idea that guns are good, gun-grabbers are bad.

              After all the sturm und drang about guns after those mass shootings, the whole issue of gun control has once again gone back to where it always sits; namely, nobody really cares about it at all. The keywords ‘gun violence’ spiked to four times the usual level of Google searches during the week of August 4 -10; it’s now back to just about the lowest level recorded this year. As for the Presidential candidates, they went through their usual talking-points about guns during their last debate, but the fact that gun control is no longer a toxic issue for Democrats is old news.

              On the other hand, getting back to my beloved American Rifleman, the issue contains the usual mélange of reviews of new guns and shooting products and a great article on the M1903-A1 Springfield that was our sniper rifle in World War II. But the issue also contains a lengthy op-ed by Wayne-o, which can be seen on the NRA website, a commentary about the ‘future of the NRA.”

              Compared to the NRA’s messaging over the last few years, Wayne-o’s commentary is actually pretty tame stuff. Gone is the bombast of video performers like Colion Noir, gone is the racially-tinged stupidities of Dana Loesch, gone is the attempt to make the NRA a leading voice for the alt-right. If anything, the tone and content of Wayne-o’s spiel reminds me of what I heard when I went to NRA shows in 1980 and 1981.

              This change in NRA communication strategy actually seems to be working quite well. From April through June the NRA website registered around 500,000 visits each month. The total for September was 1,750,000 – that’s right, more than three times as many visits as when things were going to Hell.

              To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the NRA‘s death may be greatly exaggerated.

Tom Gabor: Gun Violence Is A Violation Of Human Rights

With mass shootings this summer at a Walmart in El Paso, a California garlic festival, and in Dayton’s entertainment district, Americans can justifiably ask whether they are safe in any setting.  A related question is whether people have the right to be safe in their communities.  Do children have the right to attend school without fearing a mass shooting? 

            Debates over gun policy take place on two major fronts.  First, there are the scientific arguments as to whether gun ownership levels in an area, gun carrying, or the presence of guns in the home enhance or detract from public or personal safety.  Most of the science in this area indicates that raising levels of gun ownership is detrimental to public safety overall.[i]  Certainly, there are instances in which guns are used successfully in self-defense but these cases are outnumbered many times over by those in which guns are used to commit crime, to threaten or intimidate others (including domestic partners), or to commit suicide.  Consider an FBI investigation of active shooter incidents.  Despite the fact that there are 120 guns for every 100 Americans, just one of 160 of these incidents studied by the Bureau was stopped by an armed civilian.[ii]

            The second front on which the gun debate is waged relates to civil rights.  This debate has largely been one-sided with gun rights advocates and the gun lobby frequently thwarting the passage of gun laws on the basis that the laws in question violate their Second Amendment rights. 

            The Second Amendment was interpreted historically by the courts as the right to bear arms within the context of militia service.  For example, in United States v. Miller (1939), two defendants who had been prosecuted for failing to register and pay a tax for possessing and carrying a sawed-off shotgun across state lines argued that such requirements under the National Firearms Act violated their Second Amendment rights.  The US Supreme Court ultimately ruled that such a weapon had no role in an organized militia and was therefore not protected by the Second Amendment. 

            Following a decades-long campaign by the National Rifle Association to promote the view that the Second Amendment guaranteed a right to bear arms to individuals outside of militia service—a view characterized by former Chief Justice Warren Burger as the greatest fraud on the American public—the US Supreme Court did rule in the 2008 Heller decision that individuals had the right to own an operable gun in the home for protection.  However, writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia—a hunter and a conservative—made it clear that this right was not unlimited and that laws regulating the carrying of firearms, denying gun ownership to felons and the mentally ill, and prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons did not violate the Second Amendment. 

            The militia view of the Amendment does not recognize the “right to keep and bear arms” as an individual right at all and, hence, is not an impediment to laws that would restrict gun ownership outside of militia service.  The Heller decision, too, leaves a great deal of room to regulate guns. In fact, since Heller, an overwhelming majority of Second Amendment challenges to federal, state, and local gun laws have been rejected by the courts.[iii]   Still, the NRA’s campaign to sell the narrative that individuals have an absolute right to possess virtually any firearm has altered public opinion and has led to endless debates about how limited or expansive is the right to bear arms. 

            What gets lost in these debates about gun rights is the vast majority of Americans who are not gun owners or who are otherwise concerned about public safety.  What about their rights to feel safe?  What about the rights of children who are terrified to go to school?  What about the right to speak one’s mind or to enjoy a night out without intimidation by people carrying guns?  These are not academic questions as the US has the most armed population in the world.  The US is also an outlier, relative to other high-income countries, with regard to the permissiveness of its laws in relation to gun carrying and the ownership of military-style weapons.  In addition, with one hundred Americans dying from gunfire and one mass shooting each day, the US is exceptional with regard to its high level of gun mortality.   Communities of all sizes are affected and marginalized communities suffer disproportionately.

            While the rights-based debate rages on about the meaning and scope of the Second Amendment, the right of the public as a whole to be safe from gun violence has been ignored.  The absence of attention to the public’s right to safety is surprising given that the US has signed or ratified a number of human rights conventions that can be applied to gun violence.  Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”[iv]  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no person “shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life (Article 6).[v]  

            The US has also signed the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination; however, African Americans have exceptionally high levels of gun mortality relative to the rest of the population, are disproportionately the victims of police-involved shootings and of vigilante-type shootings enabled by the Stand Your Ground laws passed by half the states.  While the US has signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the country has also been slow to protect women in the US as they are far more likely to be murdered by gunfire than in other advanced countries.  An abuser’s access to guns increases the risk of death to women by five-fold, yet laws generally allow men with a history of violence to get around background checks by purchasing guns on the private market, permit abusive boyfriends to own guns, and fail to require the surrender of guns by those who threaten women.  The US has signed but not ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child.  Still, US children and teens are 32 times more likely to die of a gun homicide and 10 times more likely to die of a gun suicide or accident than their peers in the other high-income countries combined.[vi] 

            The human rights group Amnesty International argues in a 2018 report,  In the Line of Fire, that the US has breached its commitments under international human rights law.  AI writes:  “The USA has failed to implement a comprehensive, uniform and coordinated system of gun safety laws and regulations particularly in light of the large number of firearms in circulation, which perpetuates unrelenting and potentially avoidable violence, leaving individuals susceptible to injury and death from firearms.”[vii]  

            AI further notes that, as part of the right to life and other human rights, the responsibilities of nations to prevent gun violence requires: 1) restricting access to firearms, especially on the part of those at an elevated risk of misusing them; and 2) implementing violence reduction measures where firearm misuse persists.  The human rights group asserts that nations should establish robust regulatory systems, including licensing, registration, restriction of certain weapon types, safe storage, research, and policy development.  Nationally, the US has done little or nothing in relation to any of these policies and has seen Congress, at the behest of the NRA, suppress funding for research dating back to 1996.  Amnesty notes that countries not only have obligations to protect the life of individuals from state agents but from actual or foreseeable threats at the hands of private actors as well.  Violence is especially foreseeable in low income neighborhoods with persistently high levels of violence, poor public services, and policing that may not comply with international standards.    

            It is time to recognize public safety as a human right and for the US to adopt national policies, such as the licensing of gun owners, restrictions on gun carrying, and a ban on weapons of war.  Consistent with the notion that public safety is a human right, I have drafted A Declaration of the Right of Americans to Live Free from Gun Violence—please visit: http://thomasgaborbooks.com/a-declaration-of-rights/.  I’m hoping that different levels of government and groups concerned about gun policy will endorse the Declaration and issue proclamations asserting that safety from gun violence is a human right.       


[i] For a review of the vast body of research on these matters, see T. Gabor’s Confronting Gun Violence in America (2019) or David Hemenway’s Private Guns, Public Health (2006).

[ii] FBI, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013.

[iii] Giffords Law Center, Second Amendment Basics; https://lawcenter.giffords.org/gun-laws/the-second-amendment/second-amendment-basics/

[iv] Universal Declaration of Human Rights; https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[v] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ccpr.pdf

[vi] Children’s Defense Fund.  Protect Children not Guns.

[vii] Amnesty International, In the Line of Fire:  Human Rights and the US Gun Violence Crisis, p.5; https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/egv_exec_sum.pdf

What Should We Do About Gun Violence?

              Our friends at March For Our Lives have just issued an impressive document, A Peace Plan for a Safer America, which can be downloaded here. If the server traffic keeps you from pulling it off the cloud, you can also go to my website and download the report here. The document, or better yet the proclamation, begins like this: “The next President must act with a fierce urgency to call this crisis what it is: a national public health emergency.”

              The good news is that the Parkland kids and their allies aren’t operating under any illusion that the current Administration will get anything done. The only problem is that I’m also not sure that the ‘next’ President won’t be named Trump. Unless of course we are talking about 2024. But that’s a long way off, which means that in the interim at least another 185,000 or more Americans will massacre themselves or others with guns. So what should we be trying to do about it now?

              The Peace Plan lists what is called six ‘bold’ steps, none of which are particularly or different from what we have seen before. There’s Cory’s idea for a national gun licensing system, repeal PLCCA which is a standard gun-control demand, cut the gun-violence rate in half although Lizzie says she will figure out a way to reduce it by 80 percent, support community-based, anti-violence groups, and two new, rather clever ideas. The first is that the President should name a gun-violence czar who would coordinate all federal gun-control efforts as well as give out a much bigger chunk of research about guns; the second is to push for a domestic peace corps for gun violence that will be called the ‘Safety Corps.’  I like that idea; it’s actually different and new.

              What concerns me, and I trust what I now say will be taken in the same constructive manner in which I have read and evaluated this plan, is that the only mention of law enforcement is in a paragraph about the need to produce ‘better policing’ so as to cut down on gun violence committed by the cops. What about the fact that right now the odds of someone getting arrested for committing a non-fatal gun assault are roughly one out of five. Don’t the cops deserve some more resources considering the fact that probably somewhere around 75,000 people are gunned down every year and survive simply because the shooter didn’t shoot straight? 

              We seem to have a serious problem in this country when it comes to talking about gun violence because the discussion always ends up looking primarily at the victims (call them ‘survivors’ if you will) with scant attention being paid to the individuals who shoot the guns.  In fact, while gun suicides claim more than 20,000 casualties every year, the total number killed and wounded in felonious assaults is now probably around 90,000, although we really don’t know a good number because the CDC has decided that its estimates for non-fatal shootings can no longer be used. So much for the public health ‘approach’ to gun violence.

              The bottom line is that somewhere between 75% and 85% of all gun injuries happen to be crimes. And we can express all the concern we want about the root causes of criminal behavior, but when someone walks down the street and gets hit by a bullet that happens to be flying by, the injury isn’t going to be somehow less serious because that guy just spent the afternoon cleaning up a vacant lot. 

              Again, I want to make it clear that I share the frustrations and concerns of everyone in Gun-control Nation who would like to see us turn a corner and really do something meaningful and successful about the violence caused by guns. But as often as they make mistakes or give in to popular prejudices, when it comes to gun violence, the cops aren’t causing 125,000 gun injuries every year. And neither is it the fault of the crazies, not the guns, to quote Number 45.

              It’s the guns, stupid. The small, concealable handguns occasionally mixed in with an AR.

Now That The NRA Is Dead, Who’s Going To Be The Enemy?

              Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s that time of year, all I know is that there seems to be a definite lack of interest and activity within the ranks of the gun-control gang. Judging from the frequency of posts on various Facebook pages and the number of emails that I usually receive from Gun-control Nation every day, I don’t recall such a period of calm in the ranks of my gun-control friends at least from before Parkland, or maybe before Trump embraced the NRA at the start of his 2016 campaign.

              According to Google Search Trends, the highest number of searches for the words ‘gun control’ since July, 2018 was the week of November 4 – 11, 2018 which was the week of the mid-term elections when guns played a significant role in how some Congressional races turned out. Last week, this same search term received almost 90 percent fewer hits. The exact same trend shows up when we change the search to the ‘gun violence’ term. When we look at the trend over the past five years, again we don’t find any weekly period where the search numbers are as low as they are right now.

              What’s interesting about these numbers is that they don’t align at all with the actual gun violence trends. According to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), the number of total shooting incidents has risen steadily from 2014 until the mid-point of this year.  In fact, if we assume that by dividing the numbers for a previous total year in half would give us more or less a valid comparison to shootings so far in 2019, there would have been roughly 26,000 events by mid-2015; right now for 2019 we stand at more than 30,000 reports. Of course the GVA is in no position to estimate total gun violence accurately because open-source data rarely covers non-fatal shootings or fatal shootings where someone picks up a gun and points it at himself. Nevertheless, assuming that GVA tracks its data using the same sources every year, their numbers make it quite clear that the overall gun violence trend is up, not down.

              How do we explain this apparent disconnect between the continued increase in gun violence versus what appears to be a lessening of interest in the problem by the gun-control advocates who should be the folks who are most motivated and involved? And you can’t put this down to any lack of gun violence events themselves. After all, just six weeks ago a disgruntled city employee killed 13 people (including himself) and wounded 4 others in a rampage at the municipal building in Virginia Beach.

              Here’s my theory and although I could be wrong, I suspect I’m actually right. When most gun-control activists think about gun violence, the first thing that pops into their minds is not the number of people killed or wounded with gunfire but the existence and the activities of ‘America’s first civil rights organization,’ a.k.a. the NRA. Every one of the 2020 Presidential wannabees from the blue team has explicitly mentioned the NRA in one campaign speech or another; beating up on the boys from Fairfax is a constant theme in virtually every gun-control fundraising email I receive.

              Right now, the problem for Gun-control Nation is that the boys from Fairfax seem to be doing a pretty good job of bashing themselves. There have been numerous public defections from the NRA Board, resignations of key senior staff, and our friends at The Trace claim that the number of government investigations has hit ten.

              In my first gun book (Volume 10 will shortly appear) I make the point that if the NRA didn’t exist, the gun-control movement would have to invent them. For that matter, if Mike Bloomberg and Shannon Watts didn’t exist, the NRA would have to invent them, too. To all intents and purposes, right now the NRA doesn’t exist. Can my gun-control friends come up with a new bogey-man to take the place of the NRA?

Want To Understand Gun Violence? Try Using Your Gmail Account.

Our friends at the Gun Violence Archive have been tracking gun violence since 2014, and their data is often cited by news agencies, researchers and advocacy groups. The problem with what they publish, however, and it’s not their fault by any means, is that as an open source aggregator, GVA‘s data is more a reflection of how and why the media covers gun violence than as a comprehensive picture of what is going on. 

To begin with, and again this is a problem which the GVA admits to as well, suicides, even suicides committed with guns, rarely make news. Unintentional shootings are also events which never attract any public concern unless it’s when the four-year old grabs the gun and shoots the older sister in the head. Finally, intentional shootings where the victim survives are undercounted by as much as half, again a function of media coverage which open-source aggregators are unable to overcome.

I have created my own little GVA version by simply going into my Gmail account and setting alerts for the following terms: ‘shootings,’ ‘gun violence’ and ‘guns.’ Every day those three alerts generate thirty or more links to internet-based media stories, many of which also end up being sourced by the GVA.  Much in the same way as many people start their mornings off with a cup of coffee and a newspaper or other source for news, I begin my day with coffee and those Gmail alerts.

I would estimate that over the last five years (I started reading the Gmail alerts at some point in 2014) I have read or at least scanned 30,000 media sources related to the violence caused by guns. And if anyone reading this column decides to send me a snarky email about how ‘it’s not the guns that cause the violence, it’s the people using the guns,’ do me a favor and save your time and mine, okay? I made an executive decision last week to stop replying to any email that scores higher than five on what Al Franken calls the dumbness scale, and that message earns a ten.

The reason I read these alerts is because I have always felt uncomfortable whenever my gun-research friends in public health describe what they are doing as creating an ‘epidemiology’ of gun violence. The CDC defines epidemiology as the “study of distribution and determinants of health-related states among specified populations and the application of that study to the control of health problems.” But gun violence is a very special problem because with the exception of gun-suicide and accidental shooting, every other gun injury is caused by someone other than the person who gets hurt. So the fact that our data on gun injuries gives us detailed information about the person who got shot, doesn’t tell us very much about the individual who pulled the trigger and committed the crime. And make no mistake about it, more than 75% of all gun injuries happen to be crimes.

Thanks to  FBI-UCR data, we know where and how these crimes occur, and we also know whether the shooter and the victim had some degree of contact before the event. So we know the what, the who and the where of gun violence, but we don’t know the why. More than one and one-half million violent assaults take place every year but guns are involved in less than one hundred thousand of these events. How come more than 90 percent of the people who want to really hurt someone else do it without using a gun? The answer to that question is what epidemiological research should provide.

My public health researcher friends might consider spending a little less time gathering data and a little more time actually reading descriptions of how people get shot. After all, when it comes to something as complicated as violence, the devil has to be found in the details, right?