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Why Don’t We Just Get Rid Of The Guns That Are Used To Commit Gun Violence?

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              Yesterday’s column raises concerns about the failure of my friends in Gun-research Nation to discuss the issue of banning the guns which cause gun violence, i.e., assault rifles and what I call ‘killer pistols.’ In case you didn’t know it, both types of guns are designed only to kill or injure yourself or someone else. You can get a clear explanation of why such guns are too lethal for commercial sale and private ownership right here.

              Until and unless we bite the bullet (pardon the pun) and get rid of those guns, we will argue with the other side over various half-baked measures that won’t accomplish much at all. Sorry, but universal background checks won’t change matters much unless the data from those checks is tied into a national registration system. Sorry, CAP laws may keep kids from shooting themselves or a playmate, but such shootings account for less than 5% of all gun violence events.

              As for the development of so-called ‘safe’ guns which can only be fired if the user is validated through some kind of electronic gizmo attached to the gun, it will take some intrepid gun nut with a basic understanding of gun design about two hours to figure out how to put the ‘safe’ gun back to being unsafe. And then up goes the video on YouTube, okay?

              By remaining silent on banning guns that have no sporting use at all, we let the other side completely control this discussion, even if what they say has no relationship to the facts at all. For example, Gun-nut Nation says that government can’t ban a semi-automatic gun because the 2nd Amendment protects gun ‘rights.’

              The 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with ‘rights.’ It’s an amendment, not a ‘right.’ How do we define ‘rights?’ We pass laws, and what are right and wrong behaviors involving guns, has been defined in four federal guns laws, each and every law upheld by liberal and conservative judges and courts.

              If we are ever going to pass another meaningful law to reduce gun violence, the law has to address the reason we have gun violence. In other words, we must do what other countries do and restrict gun ownership to sporting and hunting guns. 

              But we don’t do that. And worse, the people we depend on to define effective gun reforms go out of their way to avoid discussing this issue at all. The result? A majority of Americans, which happens to include people who don’t own guns, are opposed to any gun ban at all.

              I have been running a survey about banning assault rifles and have collected 957 responses, of whom 70% (680) say they own an AR-15 or another type of assault rifle. A majority of the owners, say they shoot the guns rarely, if at all. Only one-third of the owners of assault rifles say they have the gun for self-defense, but only 2% of the entire respondent population say that an AR-15 is too dangerous to own! You can download the complete survey right here.

              How many of the 957 respondents say they oppose an AR ban?  Try 44, which is less than 5%, and when the ban is defined as not grandfathering in existing guns, support for a ban drops to 2%. 

              Most of the respondents to this survey are gun owners, even if one-third don’t own assault guns. But that’s exactly the point. Because as long as gun owners continue to believe that a gun, particularly an assault-style gun, is something which everyone should have lying around the house, then the idea that we will see meaningful gun reform is about as real as the idea that Donald Trump will get re-elected in 2024.

              I am yet to be convinced that the scholars and advocates who want to reduce gun violence are capable of sitting down and having a frank, open and honest discussion of what they need to say to gun owners about the risk of owning guns.

              I hope I’m wrong.

Mass Shootings – A New Study.

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              Back in 2015 a car pulled up in front of a barbershop in Tulsa, a guy got out of the car with an AK-47, walked into the shop and started blasting all over the place.  He was trying to kill a customer who was sitting waiting his turn, but instead a bullet went through the head of the barber and he was dead. Now hold that thought.

              Our friend Tom Gabor has just published a book, Carnage, Preventing Mass Shootings in America, which analyzes 1,029 mass shootings that took place in 2019 and 2020. The data for this study comes from the Gun Violence Archive, which is one of eight groups or organizations which track mass shootings in the United States. Gabor says that he used the GVA because they have a ‘professional staff’ and derive their information from more than 2,500 law enforcement and media venues every day.

              Unfortunately, most of the internet media operations which report gun violence events (or any other event, for that matter) cut and paste their texts from another source which has cut and pasted the same text from yet a third, or a fourth, or a fifth source. Frankly, Gabor could have gotten more or less the same data by just entering a few key words like ‘shooting’ and ‘guns’ into Google Alerts and receiving a daily Gmail feed.  How do you think I come up with a new story almost every day?

              Gabor identifies seven organizations plus one author, our friend Louis Klarevas, who try to keep track of mass shootings in an ongoing way. These folks all define a mass shooting as an event in which a minimum of two to four people are injured and/or killed. So, the question immediately occurs: how come the magic number for counting something as a mass shooting is set at two, three or four?  Why not set it at five? How about six? Nobody seems to know.

              It turns out, moreover, that when all is said and done, the ways which we usually define shooting events by the reason they occur, where they occur, the types of people involved, and the types of guns which are used in the assaults, is really little different for mass shootings as opposed to the humdrum, daily, one-on-one shootings that take place a couple of hundred times every day. And since, as Gabor notes, mass shootings result in roughly 2% of all the yearly gun-violence casualties, what’s the big deal?

              Let’s go back to what happened at the Gifted Hands Barber Shop in Tulsa on February 5th, 2015. The guy with the AK-47 was trying to kill the guy sitting in a chair waiting to get his hair cut.  He sprayed bullets all over the place and one of the rounds from the AK went through the barber’s head.

              I talked to one of the cops who investigated this shooting, an officer who had been doing homicide work in Tulsa for more than a dozen years.

I asked him, “Why did the guy with the AK-47 shoot up the whole place? Didn’t he just want to put one into the guy who was waiting his turn?”

Please read the officer’s response slowly and carefully: “That’s what they always do. They always want to shoot the gun as much as they can. They want to spray bullets all over the place.”

I define a mass shooting not by how many people get hit, but how many bullets come out of the barrel of the gun. If what the Tulsa cop told me is not unusual for how people use guns to shoot other people, then we have an explanation for the increase in mass shootings which says something much more serious and profound than all the usual bromides – poverty, drugs, inner-city hopelessness -put out there about gun violence today.  

Are we developing not just a culture of violence but a celebration of violence as well?

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Does Gun Violence Increase Because We Keep Buying Guns?

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              Once again, our friends at the ‘non-partisan’ gun magazine, The Trace, have promoted an argument about the relationship of gun ownership to gun violence which has no basis in fact. The argument has now been floating around for at least 20 years and is accepted as the non-plus-ultra explanation for gun violence in the United States. Unfortunately, the explanation doesn’t work,

              Why do we believe that our high level of fatal violence is because we have so many guns? Because our friend David Hemenway has been pushing this idea for years. And how does he explain the link between gun ownership and fatal violence? By doing a regression analysis using guns as the independent variable and then comparing the United States to other countries with similar demographics but much fewer personally owned guns.

              There happen to be two, actually three fundamental problems with David’s approach. First and most important is his definition of the word ‘gun.’ Because the fact that there are more than 300 million guns sitting around in basements, garages, underneath the living room couch and inside a toolbox out in the truck, doesn’t tell us how many of these guns are actually used in assaults.

              I looked at more than 9,000 ‘crime’ guns collected by police departments, and the types of guns which probably account for at least 75% of the civilian gun arsenal don’t show up on this list at all. Along with another 20 million or so gun owners, I own a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle. When was the last time a gun of this type was involved in a gun assault? As my grandfather would say: ‘shabbos noch schvee,’ (read: never.)

              The second problem with David’s approach is the assumption that there’s any connection between the number of guns owned by law-abiding citizens and the number of times that guns are used to commit crimes. And here is another issue I have with all the so-called gun experts who conduct public health researcher and or write for The Trace. Every time they talk about gun ‘violence’ they only refer to homicides and suicides, with the latter events being twice as great as the number of murders committed with guns.

              In fact, the only difference between fatal and non-fatal gun assaults is that in the latter category, the shooter didn’t shoot straight. Otherwise, everything that leads up to a confrontation that ends up as a fatal or non-fatal gun assault is exactly the same. More than 80% of all the gun injuries which occur in the United States every year are crimes. How come this issue is glossed over again and again?

              I’ll tell you why. Because if there were any degree of honest discussion about gun violence, (and this is the third problem with the more guns = more violence approach) it would have to be admitted that gun violence is a problem experienced in what we politely refer to as the ‘underserved’ population. And since this population is overwhelmingly minority – Hispanic and Black – to single out those two groups would be to inject the racial issue into the gun debate.

              After the last four years of being verbally abused by Trump, I don’t blame anyone for wanting to avoid discussions about social or political events which turn on the issue of race. On the other hand, why let facts get in the way of a good headline that will help gun-control organizations raise some more cash? And by the way, before yet another reader accuses me of being a shill for the NRA, I just renewed my monthly contribution to Moms Demand Action, okay?

              Last but not least, the whole issue of how guns move from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ hands is also a mess. According to the ATF, the average time between when a gun is purchased and when it is used in a crime (‘time-to-crime) is more than 9 years. So even though the number of handguns sold this year has doubled over the number of purchases in 2019, who says that this is the reason why gun violence has been going up? 

              There are all kinds of reasons why we are suffering from an increase in gun violence regardless of how many new guns have been purchased by law-abiding gun owners in the past year. God forbid our friends in gun journalism and public health research would stop trying to scare us with headlines and conduct some serious research.

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

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              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?

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              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.

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Another Gun Nut Who Didn’t Need A Gun.

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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.

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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.

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              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.

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              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

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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

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