Tag Archives: gun control

Why do you clutch your gun?

What are you afraid of?  You, who must be appeased because you are an embattled man, powerless to control the world spiraling around you, what do you fear?

Are you so fearful that you cannot countenance controlling lethal weapons, or  making it more difficult for those who are seriously mentally ill to procure them? You are the author of your own terror.  When everyone has a firearm, everyone will have a firearm — even those you fear the most — and then your fears will be justified?

Or, has your gun become a substitute for something else? Are you afraid of being unable to provide for you family?  Are your job skills dated? Your education truncated? Your time spent in job hunting extended?  Why do you clutch your gun? It’s not going to get you an education, more training, or more interviews.

Do you fear the loss of your “masculinity?”  What does that mean? Does it mean you can’t slap the bookkeeper Mary Ann on the fanny down at the garage?   Does it mean that you can’t brag about making babies if you don’t make child support payments?  Does it mean that people have stopped listening to you when you grouse about The Old Lady not having dinner ready for you when she gets off her second shift?  Why do you clutch your gun? It’s not going to make your relationships at work any easier. Or provide you with a sense of the responsibility associated with parenting. Or even add any economic security to your two income household.

Do you fear the diminishment of your sense of self worth?  Can we ask how you calculate that value?  Is how much you are worth a function of the size of your paycheck, or it is based on the joy you take from your workmanship, craftsmanship, or competency you bring to your employment?   Is how much you are worth a function of some  sense of entitlement because you are The Man?  Why do you clutch your gun? Would you caress it less often if you understood that self worth is elevated when you can share the rewards of your efforts at being a good worker, a good parent, a good friend, and good partner with someone you’ve helped to become a better worker, a better parent, a better friend, and a more loving partner?

Are you afraid of The Other?  Are ‘they’ going to invade your home? Would you be less afraid if you read the crime statistics in your area? If you remembered that only 1% of the murders in Nevada happened in the course of a burglary? [DB]  If you recalled that there is a ‘geography’ of criminal behavior  in which most criminals indulge in criminal behavior close to their own neighborhoods and generally don’t move into areas in which they aren’t familiar with the terrain, would that make you less anxious?

Would you be less insecure if you recalled that the most prevalent crime in Nevada is good old fashioned larceny?  As of 2012 there were 45,237 of those — compared to a grand total of 5,954 murders (118), rapes (923), and robberies (4,913) combined? [NVACR pdf]

Why do you clutch your gun if only in the most perfect set of circumstances it would offer you and yours protection?  IF you were perfectly awake, and the firearm was loaded and at the ready, and IF the burglar(s) followed your directions to the letter, and IF you were absolutely certain the projectile would strike its target without careening off into the unknown, and IF everything would work to your benefit as easily as scoring points in a video game…

Why do you clutch your gun as if it were the only option available to you?  You are less likely to be robbed while walking a dog — get a dog! Don’t have a dog? — borrow the neighbor’s mutt — the neighbors will appreciate it, and the dog will love it. You are less likely to be assaulted when walking with someone else — walk with a partner. You are less likely to be the victim of a crime if you are in a well lighted area — make sure the public works department knows when your street lights are out.  You are less likely to be a victim of a burglary if you have a security system — there are a plethora of options on the market.  Can’t afford the system — just plant a sign.  Don’t want the sign? Plant some cactus under your windows — they don’t take much water and who wants to climb over a cactus on the way to a TV set?  There are carload lots of other options, none of which are as dangerous in the home as that firearm.

Why do you clutch your gun, when there are so many other dangers to you and your family which your gun will not remotely solve?  For example, about 25% of school children report they’ve been bullied at school  [SchBStat] That’s far higher than the probability that your child will be attacked by a home invader!  The gun in the drawer by the bed won’t solve that problem, but a quiet chat with your middle schooler about how he or she is feeling at school will yield the information you’ll need to keep the scion safer on the playground.

While you’re fantasizing about protecting the family from imaginary invaders — have you considered that your child is at greater health risk from obesity?  Enough fast food and poor eating habits and the probability of your child having life threatening problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis increases proportionately. [CDC]  Unless your child will only address a vegetable at gun point, the firearm isn’t really useful.  However, if you want to keep your child alive and healthy in the long run, “Eat Your Vegetables” will go much further than “grab your gun.”

Want to protect your wife? Approximately 54% of the respondents in a study of workplace safety reported some form of harassment, and 79% of those victims were women. [Aware]  Would you feel more secure if you knew that your spouse was knowledgeable about the policies at the workplace or about whom to contact? Only about a third in the survey knew about the company policies, and only about half knew whom to contact.  Have you asked your wife if she’s aware of the policies and the procedures?   Would you support her if she filed a report?  That doesn’t require a firearm — just a supportive spouse.

If you aren’t afraid, and you just enjoy shooting rounds at the firing range, and you take care of your firearms — keeping them operative, clean, and safely stored — then by all means have them, care for them, and enjoy your hobby!  But please don’t delude yourself that they will make you any more of a worthy person than you are. People who measure themselves by their possessions — are simply possessed.

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Fears, Phobias, Guns, and Children

The report on the Sparks, NV school shooting was made available last week. [RGJ]  Unfortunately, there’s not much to be learned.  A child with serious mental health issues.  Parents unaware of his taste for violent video games.  A child teased at school, often misinterpreting generalized incidents as personal attacks.  School tried to offer assistance.  Parents insistent the child did not have easy access to firearms.  Child may have had suicidal ideation.

Since the report was released newspapers have posted stories about the accidental death of a four year old Indiana boy who found a loaded gun in his parent’s bedroom. The death was attributed to an “accident.”  [TPM]  A San Antonio, TX six year old is dead after being shot in the face with a gun found in the home. [TPM] April 22, 2014: A four year old girl was shot and killed in her Des Moines, IA home and police noted “unsafe gun handling” practices in the house. [KCCI]

April 29, 2014: A toddler was killed by a firearm found in a home in Wichita, KS, shot by a sibling. [KWCH]  March 5, 2014: A five year old boy found a gun in his Riverside, CA house, fired it and killed himself. [NBC4]

The numbers keep adding up. Numbers of parents who thought the firearms were ‘properly’ stored, the number of children who find them, and the number of tragedies which unfold across the country in the aftermath.   Even more depressing, the ‘numbers’ may be higher than official accounting.  “A New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities.” [NYT]

However, while children may be either intentionally or accidentally using firearms which they are not supposed to be able to access, the adults appear to be playing numbers games, to wit:

“The National Rifle Association cited the lower official numbers this year in a fact sheet opposing “safe storage” laws, saying children were more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning or environmental factors — an incorrect assertion if the actual number of accidental firearm deaths is significantly higher.” [NYT]

The numbers may very well be higher than the reporting used by the NRA, but that’s missing the mark.  The point is that less than half the states in this Union have safe storage laws.  Nevada’s statute on the subject approaches the issue, but falls short of requiring safe storage.

NRS 41.472 Imposition of liability for minor’s negligence or willful misconduct regarding firearm.
1. If a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for a minor under the age of 18 years:
(a) Knows that the minor has previously been adjudicated delinquent or has been convicted of a criminal offense;
(b) Knows that the minor has a propensity to commit violent acts; or
(c) Knows or has reason to know that the minor intends to use the firearm for unlawful purposes,
and permits the minor to use or possess a firearm, any negligence or willful misconduct of the minor in connection with such use or possession is imputed to the person who permits such use or possession for all purposes of civil damages, and, notwithstanding the provisions of subsection 2 of NRS 41.470, that person is jointly and severally liable with the minor for any and all damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.

In short, the parents have to KNOW the child is delinquent, KNOW the child has a propensity to violence, and KNOW the child intends to use a firearm to commit a criminal act BEFORE liability comes into play.   Nothing in the Nevada statute requires “safe storage” if there are children in the household.  [See: LCPGV]

The counter argument is that safely stored guns make households more likely to be ravaged by “violent home intruders.” [KBA]  Anecdotal evidence is often supplied to make this case, however the statistically based study conducted in 1997 for JAMA yields another result:

“Laws that make gun owners responsible for storing firearms in a manner that makes them inaccessible to children were in effect for at least 1 year in 12 states from 1990 through 1994. Among children younger than 15 years, unintentional shooting deaths were reduced by 23% (95% confidence interval, 6%-37%) during the years covered by these laws. This estimate was based on within-state comparisons adjusted for national trends in unintentional firearm-related mortality.”  [NCBI]

There’s an obvious hole in the “home invader” argument — there’s a higher probability that the firearm will cause harm to a resident of the household than to a purported home invader. [Medscape] [NCBI] [AJE]   The second hole in the argument is that actual home invasions are rare.

Contrary to the melodramas on television, violent crimes represent only 19.7% of the criminal acts reported in Nevada, this would include all murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults.   If we drill down to the murder category — 24% were the result of an argument, 17% were the result of domestic violence, while 2% were the result of a robbery and 1% the result of a burglary. [NV 2010 pdf]

Strangers accounted for 20.5% of the  2010 murders, while family members, friends, acquaintances, former partners, and dating relationships comprised the majority of the relationships.  (Note: Reporting variances leave some relationships in the “unknown” category. [NV 2010 pdf]  In short, the old saw holds true, a person is most likely to be a victim because of the actions of another person known to him or her than to some unknown robber or burglar.

The lethality point is quickly demonstrated in the 2010 statistics.  In 2010 handguns were the lethal weapon of choice 53.4% of the time, long guns 5.6%, knives 13.7%, feet/fists 11.2%, the wonderfully nebulous “blunt instrument” accounted for 6/2%. [NV 2010 pdf]

What do we know and have we known for some time now?

(1) Safe storage requirements can reduce unintentional shooting deaths by approximately 23% for children under the age of 15.

(2) There is a far higher statistical probability that a firearm will cause injury or death to a member of the household than it will be used to thwart the invasion of the home by criminals.

(3) It is less likely that a person will be murdered in Nevada by a stranger than by a member or former member of a household.  And, if murder is the result of an altercation the weapon most likely used will be a handgun.

(4) Since the Newtown tragedy,” Of the K-12 school shootings in which the shooter’s age was known, 70 percent (20 of 28 incidents) were perpetrated by minors. Among those shootings where it was possible to determine the source of the firearm, three-quarters of the shooters obtained their guns from home.” [WaPo] (emphasis added)

With every right comes responsibility.  Firearms and children are obviously not a good mixture.  Gun safety education is a good idea, and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. However, gun safety training is not effective with toddlers, toilet training is about all they can handle and even that requires constant attention.  It is not always a match for youthful inquisitiveness.  It is not going to prevent a young person with homicidal or suicidal ideation from seeing the weapon as a means to unfortunate ends.

If the adults in the home are obsessed with fears of home invasions (Black Helicopters, federal agents, Blue Helmets, Drug Gangs, etc.) and so phobic that they believe firearms must be kept constantly at the ready — then for all intents and purposes the home isn’t safe for children in the first place.   Nor does it do to disparage the Gadget Proposals — trigger locks, smart guns, etc. — yes, these can be over-ridden, but the fact that they can be over-ridden doesn’t necessarily support the argument that they can’t be effective.  And, in every instance in which they are effective we have one less tragedy to report.

If we really want our children and their schools to be safer, we don’t need an abundance of the weapons which make them unsafe in the first place, we need:

(a) More recent and more informed gun incident reporting statutes and practices.

(b) More attention paid to gun safety as a health issue, especially for children under the age of 18.

(c) More stringent gun storage statutes which protect children in homes where firearms are present.

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When Will It Be Enough?

The Washington Post printed this chart of gun deaths in developed nations in December 2012:

Gun Death Chart by countryUSA Today has an interactive chart for those wishing to review the violence we’ve perpetrated on one another in 2013.  Suffice it to say there are entirely too many entries in this database.

When will the numbers be too staggering?  The incidents too horrific?  The arguments of the rabid radicals too specious?

It’s taken 30+ years for the National Rifle Association to convince the public that the Second Amendment is to be interpreted by their lights only.   The neo-Confederates, and related “militia” members are even willing to carry the NRA argument to its obvious extension — any person should be able to acquire any weapon necessary to take on the Evil Government — missile launchers anyone?

It’s taken 30+ years for the NRA and associated gun manufacturers to disseminate their message that the only answer to gun violence is more people armed with more guns willing to do more violence.

It’s taken 30+ years for people to think of school security not in terms of open and easy exits in case of fire, but in terms of sealed exits and magnetometers to prevent gun violence in our schools.

A cowardly Congress had the opportunity to take the least restrictive measures imaginable in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting.  They passed.  Republicans in the Senate filibustered the bill, the House of Representatives didn’t even address the issue.

A Washington, D.C. punditry — the Beltway Babblers — pontificated that the President must have failed because the opposition Party in the Cocktail Party Circuit Court of Opinion refused to cooperate.  He should have “cooperated more?”  The Senate bill which died as a result of the filibuster didn’t even contain the assault weapons ban, didn’t have a limit on ammunition capacity, didn’t prevent straw purchases, didn’t require comprehensive background checks… How much more were the Democrats supposed to compromise?  Perhaps, “compromise” means giving the Republicans everything they want?

However, it’s easy to imagine that had the President not offered even the soft provisions of the Manchin Amendment, the Beltway Babblers would have noted the President had “caved” to pressure.  Nowhere in the prolixity did anyone consider that it is a strange standard indeed to hold a President responsible for the behavior of the opposition party.

We don’t need a proliferation of guns.  We have enough.  We have a situation in which fewer people are buying more weapons.  And, we have more than enough instances of babysitters leaving weapons unattended with tragic consequences, children playing with firearms with deadly effect, toddlers setting off firearms accidentally.

There are NO rights which do not come with responsibilities.  A responsible gun owner locks and stores guns properly.  A responsible gun owner doesn’t encourage gun violence.   A responsible gun owner supports closing the gun show loophole, and shutting down the straw purchases of guns which all too often fall conveniently into the hands of gangs and criminals.

I am frankly very tired of the antiquated arguments of gun enthusiasts.  I am even more exhausted by their circumlocution and specious contentions.  However, one has to admire their focus.  They are single issue voters of the first water.  Their enthusiasm is boundless.  And…they are rapidly turning me into a single issue voter as well, just on the other side of their issue.

I am not willing to accept a vision of America as a violent nation, a country willing to sacrifice its children on the altar of Gun Rights.   One youngster in a Denver hospital, in a coma, is one too many.

Enough is Enough.

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Four Steps to a Safer Society

Assault RifleDon’t talk to me about “mass shootings are just rare manifestations of mental illness,” unless you intend to offer suggestions concerning how we cope with those suffering from mental illness, emotional problems, or behavioral issues.   I have in mind some notions which seem like sound judgment,  not necessarily founded in any specialized knowledge of the subject.

#1. Adequately fund mental health care services at the state and national level.

Nevada, currently being sued by San Francisco for its dubious practice of “transporting” mentally ill individuals beyond its jurisdiction, [NBC]  has been warned — this from a mental health professional back in April 2013:

“Dr. Dale Carrison, the chief of staff and head of emergency medicine at University Medical Center, is more blunt.  “The mental health system has been broken since I got to Las Vegas 22 years ago,” Carrison said. “There aren’t a lot of options for people. Every time they cut the budget they cut the mental health budget first. We do a very poor job of evaluating them and treating them. At some point, you’ve got to say the state just doesn’t care.” [LVRJ]

Nevada wasn’t (isn’t) alone in its refusal to enact budgets which competently address the problems associated with mental illness and substance abuse.  NAMI issued its 2011 Report (pdf)  citing cuts in California’s mental health services totaled $587.4 million, New York cut its budget by $132 million, Illinois cut $113.7 million, and Arizona cut its mental health care budget by $108.4 million.  Nevada made the list of the largest cuts as a percentage of its total mental health care budget:  (1) Alaska by 35%, (2) South Carolina by 23%, (3) Arizona 23%, (4) Washington, D.C. 19%, (5) Nevada 17%, (6) Kansas 16%, (7) California 16%, (8) Illinois 15%, (9) Mississippi 15%, (10) Hawaii 12.1%.   We ought not take pride in being on this “Top Ten List.”

The situation at the national level isn’t much better.  Already at a parsimonious level, the sequestration of federal funds for non-defense discretionary categories further stretches already strained mental health research and service budgets.  Mental Health America, formerly known as the National Mental Health Association, issued this warning about further cuts to mental health care funding:

“These cuts will be disastrous to communities and individuals living with mental health and substance use conditions. States have already cut mental health budgets by a combined $4 billion over the past three years-the largest single combined reduction to mental health spending since de-institutionalization in the 1970s. Cuts enacted by sequestration are estimated to reduce non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding anywhere from 7.5 to 12 percent across-the-board. Given one in every four Americans lives with a mental health or substance use condition, and more than 67 percent of adults and 80 percent of children who need services do not receive treatment, maintaining discretionary federal funding for mental health and substance abuse services is pivotal to ensure citizens have access to behavioral health care.”  (emphasis added)

What efficacy do we expect from a system in which we have reduced the allocation of resources by the largest amount in the past 3 decades?  There are about 316,000,000 Americans, and if approximately 25% need mental health care or substance abuse assistance then that’s nearly 79 million people in need of help and care.  If at present 67% of adults and 80% of children who need help aren’t getting it now, what makes us think that sequestering funds for services and further limiting the funds available for mental, behavioral, and substance abuse assistance will make the situation any better?

#2.  Improve the record keeping and coordination between mental health entities and law enforcement services.   SB 221 enacted by the Nevada state legislature would have helped, but the NRA beholden Governor vetoed it.   It’s going to take personnel to get this done.  People are going to have to be hired to do data entry, to coordinate information sharing, and to maintain the integrity of the records.  Again, if we’re serious about resolving the problems associated with mentally ill persons securing deadly weapons then this is an expenditure which makes sense.

#3. Implement the provisions of the Affordable Care Act which deal with health insurance coverage of mental health care services.    If we are serious about providing adequate mental health care services to individuals who might hurt themselves or others, then it’s fulsomely obvious that 41 votes to repeal, delay, or defund the provisions of the Affordable Care are patently silly.

The Affordable Care Act requires health insurance corporations to issue policies which cover depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children at no extra cost.  Further, coverage for mental health and substance abuse is expanded and given the federal parity protections.  Going a step further, an insurance corporation may not decline coverage for pre-existing conditions, including mental illness.

#4. Enact common sense restrictions on the possession of firearms.   (a) Require background checks for all gun sales.  Legitimate, honest gun dealers already do this. The illegitimate, and dishonest ones need to be put out of business.  There is nothing “onerous” about a background check — it takes a matter of minutes, and if our record keeping systems are functional, then some people who should not possess firearms can be weeded out before they cause injury to themselves or others.  (b) Enact limits on the ammunition capacity.   If I haven’t shot “the burglar” after 15 rounds, the chances are I’m not going to.  The only thing I’m going to accomplish is to do more damage to my property than the erstwhile hypothetical burglar ever dreamed of doing.  (c) Crack down on gun trafficking.  There’s an unhealthy level of profit for people who traffic in stolen guns, and who transport guns both stolen and purchased in states with lax gun sale requirements.  New York City police recently arrested two gun smugglers from North and South Carolina who tried to offload 254 guns into the NYC market. [CNN] (d) Ban the sale of “assault weapons.”  Yes, a person can be killed by a bullet from a single shot .22 caliber gun; BUT weapons which are designed to, or can be easily modified for, rapid fire merely serve to increase the carnage.

A few common sense steps might reverse the trends in this chart from GunPolicy.Org.

Gun Death Chart 2*Alpers, Philip and Marcus Wilson. 2013. Guns in the United States: Facts, Figures and Firearm Law. Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney. GunPolicy.org, 27 August. Accessed 18 September 2013.

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Roundup

Cattle RoundupNevada’s mental health care “system” which seems to garner more really bad press than actually provide services to alleviate suffering, has now earned us a law suit from San Francisco for “patient dumping.” Nevada Progressive has a summary piece that updates the issue, and reviews the background.

Remember when Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) was all a-flutter about Democratic members of Congress using franking privileges to send mail to their constituents?  (2010) Who has spent the most sending mail? Now we discover, in the Nevada Viewwho is the King of Mail? Surprise, surprise… it’s Representative Joe Heck! Who’da thunk it.

Well, here’s a victory for the NRA — Blind and want to carry a firearm in public in Iowa — there’s a permit for that. “I’m not an expert in vision,” Delaware Sheriff John LeClere said. “At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something.” at Crooks and Liars.  What could possibly go wrong?   Interesting posts and pieces on the Colorado recall elections at the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post.   Perhaps a lesson to be drawn is: Numbers are nice, but passionate ‘numbers’ are better in off year elections.   Before drawing conclusions, please take a look at “What the Colorado Recall Doesn’t Prove,” MMFA.

The Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus notes that there is now less than 40 days  left in this pathetic Congressional session.  Guess what isn’t on the agenda?  Hint: Immigration policy reform.

Speaking of things not directly addressed, The Gavel reports a poll with the following results:

81 percent of men and 93 percent of women said public policy should address workplace challenges such as equal pay, paid sick leave, and paid maternity leave; 87 percent of women and 80 percent of men – including 83 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats – believe paid maternity leave should be required; 31 percent of women think they would be paid more if they were female;  and 20 percent of men agree they would be paid less if they were female.

However, we all know that the real business of the 113th Congress is obstructing the Affordable Care Act.  Now the GOP obstruction is taking the form of “If we can’t defund it…let’s delay it.” Talking Points Memo.   Right! … because the American people might just want things like coverage for mental health care services (see above), coverage for children under their parents’ plans, insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, insurance coverage for women’s health issues, insurance coverage for elderly people for preventative screenings, and the happy notion that at least 80% of insurance premiums collected from policy holders  should be spent on … wait for it… covered medical services.  Oh, and then there’s the marketplace things wherein people who don’t have insurance can select from a variety of private company plans on offer…

And, oops … it turns out that more companies are planning to hire more full time employees as Obamacare rolls out. Think Progress

There is some good news for families on the economic front — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is showing how a little external pressure can spur banks toward more self regulation.   More at the Demos Blog.

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A Matter of Motivation?

Sniper RifleWe can guess that the individual described in a Las Vegas Sun article wasn’t motivated by altruism: “The 63-year-old killed Tuesday in a shootout with Henderson Police had an arsenal of more than 150 firearms in his house, but detectives’ search of Edward J. Scheboth’s house yielded no clues for a motive, authorities said.”  [LVSun]

It also doesn’t seem unreasonable to state that I really don’t care how many firearms a person collects — just as I don’t care how many cans of soup a person has in their pantry — BUT when one of those firearms is taken outside the home and used to shoot at a police officer sitting in a patrol car, then I care, and care deeply.

I care when Michael Hill takes an AK-47 and 500 rounds into a Georgia school with the evident intent of replicating the horror in Newtown, Connecticut.  We should care that the incident was defused by an incredibly courageous school employee who “talked him down.” [ChiTrib]

I care when Governor Christie signs a bill into the statutes of the State of New Jersey (in a bit of groveling to the NRA) which allows the private ownership of 50 caliber sniper rifles, capable of projecting palm sized ammo into heavy armor a mile away.  No matter, evidently, that he had called for this legislation last year.  Suddenly, these weapons of war are “necessary” for private recreation.  [Nation] As if flying into the Newark Airport isn’t exciting enough already, we can now wonder if some “collector” might be moved to bring back the good old days during WWII when the .50 BMG was used in the M2 Browning machine gun for anti-aircraft purposes?  Conservative commentators are pleased to note that .50 caliber sniper rifles are “never used in crimes, ” [WashTimes]  Well, now one supposes they could be…  However, gone now from the New Jersey shores are any requirements that gun owners be licensed, or that there be a ban on private gun sale exchanges without a background check.

Perhaps we should care more that gun enthusiasts are fond of citing the levels of mental illness associated with gun violence incidents, while  some of those self-same defenders of freedom join the chorus of “Less Government, Lower Taxes” calling for the reduction in spending, even if that reduction slashes the budgets of state mental health programs.

Nor do we seem to be sufficiently concerned about the horrific fact that as of 8/22/13 the CDC reports 21,982 people in this country have been killed by guns. [Slate]

Presumably, this number does not yet include the victim of a teen thrill killing in Oklahoma, during which three teens sated their boredom by shooting a college student in the back. [WaPo]

At some point the national discussion needs to incorporate several elements we’ve been loath to address.  (1) What is the appropriate level of public spending for mental health care services?  Should we increase federal and state expenditures for mental health care services even if this requires an increase in taxation?  (2) What are appropriate firearms for individual ownership?  We restrict fully automatic weapons, but not weapons which can be easily modified to achieve the same result.  Do we really want “anti-aircraft” weapons in private hands?   (3) Might requiring a quick background check for gun show, Internet, and private sales assist law enforcement in keeping guns out of the hands of those who ought not to possess them? The seriously mentally ill, felons, fugitives, unsupervised (bored?) children…?

Until we are able to have an adult discussion about (4) gun trafficking, straw man purchases, and the transferring of stolen firearms, we’ll continue to see a flow of weapons from regions with few restrictions into areas with tighter controls.  The NYPD recently arrested two individuals who trafficked a combination of 254 stolen and legally purchased guns from the Carolinas. [CNN]  What would be the best solution to this law enforcement problem?

A nation which stolidly absorbs the deaths of 21,982 people, while parroting dueling talking points and focus group slogans about gun restrictions, might have its own motives questioned?

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Firearms and Nevada: Being Responsibly Irresponsible

GunsThe Reno Gazette Journal weighs in on the Conklin Matter, that would be the sale of a firearm to a mentally ill 19 year old by an on duty Reno, NV police officer.  Deftly positioning its editorial position so as not to offend the irascible gun enthusiasts, the Journal argues that the “real” problem with the incident was that the officer (1) should have known better, and (2) should have completed the sale on her own time.  The illustrative example of precisely why SB 221 should have been signed into law is summarily dismissed as being “one take” on the issue.  Yes, the officer should have given more than a few seconds thought to why someone would want to purchase a firearm at 4:00 AM, and yes she should not have been conducting personal business on company time.

However, the transaction should never have taken place at all.  We should have plugged the loophole in NRS 202.254, a law stating that a private seller MAY request a background check.   There’s a whopping difference between “may” and “shall,” and in this instance the transaction would have been illegal but for that one single word.

The transaction was patently illegal under the terms of NRS 202.362, wherein sales of firearms to felons, fugitives, undocumented persons, and the mentally ill.  However, there’s some tricky language in this portion of the statutes as well.

NRS 202.362 Sale or disposal of firearm or ammunition to certain persons prohibited; penalty; exceptions.1.Except as otherwise provided in subsection 3, a person within this State shall not sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to another person if he or she has actual knowledge that the other person:
(a) Is under indictment for, or has been convicted of, a felony in this or any other state, or in any political subdivision thereof, or of a felony in violation of the laws of the United States of America, unless the other person has received a pardon and the pardon does not restrict his or her right to bear arms; (b) Is a fugitive from justice; (c)Has been adjudicated as mentally ill or has been committed to any mental health facility; or (d) Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States.  (emphasis added)

The underlined portion of the law appears to indicate a Blissful Ignorance Defense.  If I do not KNOW a buyer is a felon, a fugitive, a person in this country illegally, or if the person is suffering from a severe mental illness, then the transaction is AOK from my end of the bargain.   Is the seller to be excused because the “Gee, I Didn’t Know Defense” applies?

Better still, since the veto of SB 221, the state of Nevada won’t require a seller to conduct even a cursory background check.  Thus, if I wish to transfer ownership of a firearm all I would have to do is not ask too many questions, and I would be absolved of all culpability?  And, NRS 202.254 only asks politely if I may want to request a background check.  Now, why would I want to do that if by not submitting the name of the potential buyer to any examination I can continue my Blissful Ignorance Defense?

Golly Gee Whiz…how was I to know my buyer was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List? On a list of individuals who are under guardianship because of serious mental health issues?  On a list of people who have restraining orders against them for domestic abuse and violence?  On a list of felons convicted of assaults, batteries, and murders?

What we have in this State is a situation in which sellers are protected from any and nearly all accountability for the firearms transactions they conduct.   What we need is a situation in which citizens are protected from the least judicious sellers, and the potential civic irresponsibility of their actions.

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Oh Heck, There He Goes Again: Updated

Joe HeckNevada Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is back pedaling faster than a unicycler in the circus — for the second time.  Back in November 2012 he pontificated about UN Ambassador Susan Rice, only to be brought back to terra firma by a CNN anchor.  Now, he’s hit the ground again. Former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords is a “prop.”

“Jon Ralston reports that Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) appeared to agree with right-wing talk show host Alan Stock when he said that Gabby Giffords, “who can’t even clap her hands,” is being used as “a prop” by gun control advocates.

Stock: “I found that to be nauseating and you know what else is nauseating too… putting Gabby Giffords up there…who can’t even clap her hands… as a figure.. of somebody being.. having shot her. I think it’s a shameful act putting her up there as a prop… I’m sorry. I really do.”

Heck: “Yeah, no I agree. I think again in the cloud of emotion surrounding Connecticut those who are anti-gun want to use that to limit their Second Amendment rights.”

There’s a problem with the back pedaling.

UPDATE: Just got a voicemail from Heck: “My statement was in reference to the idea of gun control grab coming out of Washington DC. Of course there is no way that I think that Gabby Giffords is a prop…Should I have come to her defense? You know, in a fast-moving interview, in retrospect, I should have said something but I didn’t. I was just looking to get past that and talk about gun control in general.” [Ralston Report]

Nothing Mr. Stock said immediately prior to Congressman Heck’s ill advised remark was directly related to the general proposition of gun violence mitigation legislation coming from the Capitol.  When Congressman Heck said, “I agree.” The only possible antecedent was the subject of the former Arizona Congresswoman.  The second part may be even more troublesome.

In a fast moving interview…”  really?  Is the world moving too quickly for Congressman Heck?  There are places wherein most people understand that words should be measured, and thoughts considered before the mouth starts running.  Less charitably, one really should, as the old saw goes, engage the brain before putting the mouth in gear.  It would seem that a radio interview would be one of those occasions.

When a Congressman has to walk back commentary twice in a five month period it might be advisable to either (1) reduce the number of interviews and other public appearances, or (2) give some serious thought — beyond talking points and bumper sticker responses — to issues of the day.   If for no other reason than the Tea Party Darling, Congressman Heck, has an unfortunate propensity to scramble the time honored ballistic advice:  Fire, Ready, Aim.

——-

Update: Representative Heck is getting more publicity for this faux pas, there’s this article from the Las Vegas Sun, and the Huffington Post chimes in as well.  He got another highlight from Think Progress, and MSNBC’s picked up the story.  The original reporting comes from The Ralston Report, as linked above.

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Random Thoughts and Recommendations

Assault RifleMy right wing gunner friends can recite the 2nd Amendment in their sleep, but have a great deal more difficulty remembering the provisions of Article I, Section 8 wherein we find the power of Congress: “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions.”   Thus much for the neo-Confederate fantasy in which John Doe seizes his assault rifle and sallies forth to fight for “our” freedom from a “tyrannical government” — that “well regulated militia” is supposed to suppress your insurrection, not join it.  Besides, about how long do we think even the most ardent Enthusiast is going to last when facing down the very well armed professionals of the U.S. military?   Somebody’s been watching too many movies.

Question Time

If the charge is true (and it really isn’t) that Democrats want to cut the Defense budget and thus leave our nation less well protected — then why aren’t the gun cultists arguing with equal vehemence for more DoD spending cuts thereby making that “tyrannical government” easier to defeat?

If the rationale for not enacting any more restrictions on the ownership of military style weapons is that we tried banning assault rifles and people were still getting killed, then perhaps they’d like to de-criminalize bank robbery because we’ve outlawed the practice of bank hold ups yet they still occur?

If other things (knives, hammers, cars, bath tubs, swimming pools) also kill people then why not outlaw those too?  This is about as silly as it gets.  Last time I heard, assault weapons were designed to kill People.  Other things might be used to kill, but that is not the expressed intent of the manufacturer.

If all guns are really just alike, they all have a firing mechanism, etc. so we really can’t legislate for one type, then there is NO difference between a black powder musket (one shot at a time, range about 200 yards depending on the wind) and an AR-15 (with bump fire modifications allowing the user to fire about 100 rounds in 7 seconds)?   Yes, a bicycle and an automobile both have wheels, an energy source, steering mechanisms, and seats — just don’t try to convince me that a half ton Chevy Suburban LSFWD with 320 horsepower and 335 lb/ft torque is analogous to a Trek Remedy 7 mountain bike.   Consider for a moment which one you’d like to get hit by on the road?

If allowing the government to amass lists of registered gun owners could lead to the confiscation of firearms, then does allowing the government to compile lists of all real estate property owners mean that the government might have the power to confiscate the property — and must be resisted at all costs? We do allow governments to confiscate property (by eminent domain) but we require reasonable payment — it wouldn’t do to have me ask for $1,000,000,000 for my incredibly modest real estate holdings should they be needed for a highway right of way.

If the government should compile a database of all individuals who have been treated for mental illnesses, then is this not an invasion of privacy similar to the “invasion” recommended by those who want to compile lists of emotionally unstable people?

If we shouldn’t do anything because nothing will solve the entire problem of gun violence in America — then does this mean that because we’ve not yet been able to treat and cure all forms of cancer we should quit the field and accept the inevitable?  Or, should we do what we can with what we have for the people about whom we care?

(1) Nationwide comprehensive background checks.

(2) A waiting period before the finalization of the sale.

(3) Improvement in our health care insurance and delivery systems for the treatment of mental illnesses.

(4) A ban on military style assault weapons.

(5) More parental education concerning the desensitizing effects of violent video games.

It’s a start.

 

 

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Scaring Ourselves To Death?

Concord MonumentThere is a land of Myths and Legends, the borders of which are coterminous with the United States of America, in which that which never was, and that which is highly unlikely, inform a carefully crafted set of notions about what should be.  Of course, we’re talking about guns again.

Money, Technology, and Mythology

Josh Marshall writes of the “guns and freedom unicorn,” in his piece for Talking Points Memo.   We are free, some believe, because we were armed against Tyranny.  We were, but perhaps not exactly in the manner imagined by those  who make the recitation of the 1836  Concord Hymn as a form of confession of faith.   Had all the “embattled farmers” had their own firearms the famous Revere Ride to warn of a British attempt to secure the colonial’s weapons cache at Concord would have been unnecessary.  This makes sense when we remember that  in 1792 the Department of the Army let contracts for rifled muskets to be purchased at $12.00 each. [Flanagan pdf]

The median household income of American colonials is estimated at $282.00, [Williamson, pdf] meaning that a $12.00 rifle, if it could be purchased at the government’s contract price,  would consume about 4% of the annual income for an average family.  To bring this point up to date, if we accept that the average contemporary American family has $63,685 in before tax annual income, and spends $3,838 on groceries for the home this expenditure would be approximately 6.02% of the family’s annual earnings. [BLS] If we think in a colonial farmer’s terms, the purchase of a “contract rifle” would have been a serious expense indeed.  Like as not, the top technology of the day, would not have been available to the “average Embattled Farmer.”

More commonly he might have owned a smooth bore, muzzle loading, musket with an effective range of less than 100 yards, and if it were a flintlock (later matchlock) it could be fired at a rate of about two shots per minute.  Three would indicate it was in the hands of a very skilled soldier.  When percussion caps were introduced the firing rate was increased to three shots per minute.   However, this bit of technology wasn’t available in the 1700s.   Another important point is that whether flintlock or percussion cap both required reloading in a standing position — thus the military emphasis on lining up the troops to fire at one another, and then launching a bayonet charge.  [HighRoad]

While it’s true that the Colonials did “secure their freedom” with guns — and with a hefty amount of assistance from the French Army and Navy — it’s equally unlikely that all the participants were wielding their own weapons (hence the weapons caches stashed around the colonies) and even more unlikely that the battles looked much like the tidy Hollywood rendition of frontier woodsmen firing quickly from behind the trees. As  unpleasant as it may be to consider, most battles of the era tended to devolve into hand to hand combat using the point of the bayonet or the butt of the musket (or anything else that came to hand.)  We could almost say that the colonials brought guns to what often degenerated into knife fights.

The Seasoning of our Discontents

And yet, even if we strip the fictional narratives of our “fight for freedom” clean of film-maker’s embellishments, the mythology remains in some quarters that we must constantly be prepared for continuing and continual threats to our liberties.  This is a very powerful theme for selling firearms.  However, who might be threatening our “liberties” such that owning a firearm is equatable to “being ready to defend the country?”

We do have citizens who appear to be preoccupied with the idea that they might provide some heroic service should some unspecified enemy decide to actualize the script of Red Dawn.   It is extremely hard to have a rational discussion with a person who sincerely believes that if something can be imagined by a screenwriter it must necessarily be within the realm of possibility.    What may be more disturbing, because it pops up in conversation with otherwise reasonable people, is the idea that our own government is the enemy.

Whether these people choose to believe it or not, we do have Inclusive political institutions.  Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue rather persuasively in Why Nations Fail that those nations which have inclusive social, political, and economic institutions tend to be “successful” while those which are extractive tend to become “failed states.”   We are definitely in the successful inclusive category.    Why would anyone categorize us otherwise?

Perhaps the nay-sayers have joined the Perpetual Pessimist Club, the motto of which is the Reagan quip: Government Is the Problem.   This statement cannot be maintained if the person making it feels that the government is related to his efforts and agency.  Only if the individual feels that he or she is excluded from governance does this perception make any sense.  Listen to extremely conservative persons and hear their complaints that THE government is “socialistic,” or “communistic,” or even the mutually exclusive  “Nazi – Communist – Socialist.”  These are obviously not the manifestation of perceptive political analysis.  They are an emotional complaint that the person is living in a state (in the widest sense of that term) to which he or she can’t or doesn’t relate.

Most of their arguments eventually hinge on a definition of Americanism which has more in common with World War I propaganda combined with the roots of the Great Red Scare of the 1920’s than it does with the realities of contemporary American life.  Anti-union sentiments echo the railings of corporate magnates of the early 20th century.  Anti-immigrant ranting has its origin in the Know Nothings of the mid 19th.  A nation in which trade unions and immigrants are recognizable components of a particular political party currently holding the White House and the Senate must therefore be “un-American.”   However, there’s yet another seasoning for our discontents.

We seem to be caught in a tautology of our own creation.  The flavor of the month (the year, the decade, the century?) is Fear.   There are two facets of this monstrosity.  The first is the fear of “others.” The second is an unfounded fear of “our situation.”

We have children in parts of our urban areas who aren’t getting outdoors enough because their parents are justifiably afraid of gun violence in their own neighborhoods.   Youngsters growing up in African American  neighborhoods infested with gangs, drugs, and violence are subject to a situation in which they are at risk of becoming part of the 60% of all gun injuries caused by assaults.  By contrast, white children and teens account for just 8% of all such injuries. [CDF pdf]  Would the youngsters be safer if they or their parents owned firearms?

The answer is no.  The NCBI report (pdf) has been available since 1998, and the peer reviewed study was perfectly clear:

“During the study interval (12 months in Memphis, 18 months in Seattle, and Galveston) 626 shootings occurred in or around a residence. This total included 54 unintentional shootings, 118 attempted or completed suicides, and 438 assaults/homicides. Thirteen shootings were legally justifiable or an act of self-defense, including three that involved law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty. For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”  (emphasis added)

“Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.”

Any person who thinks the gun in the closet, bedroom, or under the sofa cushion is making his or her situation safer isn’t paying attention to the facts of the matter.  So, why the increase in gun sales after each mass shooting tragedy in this country?  There are probably as many justifications as there are individuals who make the purchases.  For some the gun is a quick fix.  “Now I have firepower, and if I have firepower I am safe,” even though the statistics don’t match the reality.  For others the gun is an extension of self; “My gun is powerful therefore I am powerful, even though I may lack the temperament, the training, or the judgment to exercise the power responsibly.”  One can only hope that the reason is “I enjoy hunting and shooting sports, and I intend to indulge my hobbies in the safest way possible including the use of trigger locks, gun safes, and other responsible measures.”

“What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate”

The second fear is the often mentioned, “The problem of gun violence is so vast in this country we can’t do anything about it. ”  The statistics don’t bear that out either.  Gun ownership is actually declining in this country, as pointed out by Ezra Klein in his Washington Post article.   What would this blog be without charts?  Yes, there’s a chart for that, too:

Gun Ownership TrendThis is no mirage, you saw the trend lines correctly — gun ownership in this country is trending downward. It may spurt or spike, but the trend lines are generally down.  Granted that the U.S. is awash in guns, but it is not a trend that’s on the rise even if some surges can be seen during limited time periods.  So, are people in states with high rates of gun ownership safer?  There’s a map for that from Klein’s article:

Gun Map

The conclusion from the study associated with the map:

“Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive.”

They certainly are.   They also suggest that we are not bound by the unsubstantiated fears to which we may fall victim. We can take a more reasonable approach to our history and our contemporary issues, and we should address them in terms more closely aligned with our penchant for measuring and studying our surroundings than with our emotional reactions to “things not in evidence.

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