Tag Archives: gun legislation

Single Issue Voters on the Horizon

I’m old enough to have been around when Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded on September 5, 1980.  (Actually, I’m old enough to have been around for lots of things except The F/lood)  I’m also aware of an historical point which might be of interest to current gun reform advocates.   One of the issues faced by the organization as it sought to reduce the number of vehicular accidents caused by impaired drivers was how to differentiate between (1) legislation to control drinking and driving; and (2) measures to control alcohol consumption. [PSU.edu pdf]  To exactly no one’s surprise, attempts to address the second issue faced opposition from the alcohol and “hospitality” sectors. When MADD sought to promote legislation to reduce the BAC to .08 the industries fought back saying these measures would unfairly punish “social drinkers.”  Fast forward to the gun law reform issues.

Insert “law abiding gun owners” for “social drinkers” and we can see the problems faced by reformers taking on the NRA/gun manufacturers.  In actuality there are multiple facets of the gun issue which present hurdles for reformers. However, there is much room for hope.  For starters, the youngsters participating in Walk Outs, and who will presumably be the leaders in March For Our Lives, have already put a face on the problems.

Statistics are useful, but too often insufficient to move public sentiment — we know that on an average day in the United States of America 96 people will be killed by guns; that about 13,000 people per year will die by firearm; and, sadly each day an average of 7 children and teens will be killed by a gun. [ETres] Broadcasters have contributed by keeping the photographs of the deceased on air after mass shootings, but other victims of gunfire are relegated to the obituary pages, to be forgotten almost before the funeral services are completed.  More silence comes as part of the reaction to the fact that 62% of gun deaths in this country are suicides. [ETres]

Further progress may hinge upon how reformers cope with the “social drinker” analogy.  A social drinker is a social drinker until he gets behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound sedan and hits another human being causing injury or death.  A law abiding gun owner is a person who owns firearms, until he pulls out the gun and shoots another human being — or beings.

For all the possible factors leading to an increase in public awareness of impaired driving, and a reduction of impaired driving from a 1973 rate of 36.1% to a 25.9% rate in 1986, [PSU.edu pdf] it isn’t too difficult to infer a correlation to MADD publicity and awareness campaigns, leading in turn to the enaction of stronger statutes to curb drunk driving in the 1980s.  Similarly, continued publicity of gun violence should lead to consideration and eventual enaction of laws to reduce the lethality of gun incidents.  What is needed is organizational structure to capture and extend the energy demonstrated by young people who are quite evidently fed up with being educated behind “secure” walls and being shot at — either in their schools or on their streets. There are several organizations already in place to accomplish this.  [Everytown, the Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, Giffords.Org, Giffords Law Center, and an umbrella group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.] Unlike the original MADD efforts, the organizational structures are already in place.  This situation should present an advantage for gun law reform advocates.

One of the most impressive portions of the young people’s efforts is their focus on political action, specifically getting young people registered to vote.  For those not yet eligible to vote, students are encouraging other students to write and call their governmental representatives.  This activity is a proven way to get people involved and to keep them activated.  Student action in concert with the existing organizations’ efforts presents a strong start for reform efforts.

The strong start doesn’t mean there aren’t significant obstacles to effective reforms.  The first tactic of the NRA is nearly always a stall game.  While the clichéd line “It’s too early to talk about this…” has been swatted down by the Parkland, FL students, that doesn’t mean there won’t be suggestions to “study the problem via the good offices of a commission.”  Paralysis by analysis is a standard NRA tactic to avoid action.

The second tactic is diversion.  It really isn’t Guns, it’s mental illness, it’s violent video games, it’s some elusive factor which is the “root cause.”  The argument goes that if we don’t address the “root cause” then we will not really “solve the problem.”  The problem is simply that too many people have access to entirely too much firepower, and some of these people kill other people.

The third prominent tactic is the snail paced regulatory and subsequent litigation route. For example, instead of outlawing the sale of bump stocks the White House has opted to advise departmental creation of rules under the rubric current Federal legislation.  The development of rules is time consuming, and is often followed by even more time consuming litigation.  This shirt-tail cousin of paralysis by analysis is an effective way for politicians to posture in support of gun regulation without actually doing anything.

The kids have it right:  The only way to avoid paralysis by analysis, “root cause” distractions, and regulation/litigation is at the ballot box.  Candidates for public offices can ignore, dismiss, or diminish their appeals, but will do so at their electoral peril.

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Armed and Dangerous or Unarmed and Disingenuous?

Guns If only the advocates of gun proliferation were as well armed logically as they are with cop-killer ammunition and magazines with 30 rounds?  Some of the arguments have become tiresome, others tedious, and most specious or spurious.

There are altogether too many categories of gun violence incidents in this country to make any definitive pronouncement about the specific nature or that violence or to state with any assurance that one type of legislation will address the incidents in their totality.  And, the proliferation advocates have used this concept as a platform for renouncing all responsibility for controlling the violence.  “This” would not have prevented “that,” they say, countering that universal background checks would not have prevented Incident X.  Or safe storage laws will not prevent work place gun attacks. Or mental health checks would not have prevented a specific hate crime. And, so it goes.   What is disarming our discussion and make our civic discourse disingenuous is the lack of a larger framework.

Is gun violence a function of (1) social displacement or discomfort; (2) poorly developed social skills, including conflict resolution; and/or (3) a combination thereof?

What is it about the “gun culture” which makes the manufacturer oriented message of the NRA so attractive to some people?  Here’s one explanation:

“The gun rights platform is not just about guns. It’s also about a crisis of confidence in the American dream. And this is one reason gun control efforts ignite such intense backlashes: Restrictions are received as a personal affront to men who find in guns a sense of duty, relevance and even dignity.” [LATimes]

Let’s separate the crisis of confidence from the American dream portion for a moment.  It certainly makes sense that those who feel their economic security slipping away, or who feel a disquieting sense of futility about making their lives better, would feel an attachment to a powerful weapon that makes them feel more masculine, relevant, and empowered. However, this seems a highly personal matter.  For all those in the Rust Belt portions of the country who’ve watched manufacturing jobs disappear, and those who are subsequently trapped in the morass of low paying part time employment, who use the gun as an emotional crutch, there are others who don’t.  In fact, the statistics tell us that in 1977 54% of American households contained a gun, while in 2014 that percentage dropped to 32%. [WaPo] There are more guns being sold, but to those who seem to be stockpiling them. [CNN]

These statistics don’t refute the argument that guns make the insecure feel better, however they might indicate that those who do use the guns as social/emotional support are procuring more of them.

Too Close To Home?

However, gun ownership isn’t necessarily an index of the levels of gun violence.   It does inform studies of fatal incidents of domestic violence.  The Wintemute Study in 2003 found that “females living with a gun in the home were nearly 3 times more likely to victimized at home than in any other place.”  The Grassel Study (2003) also found that “women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.” [VPC]

That “protective effect” is asserted by handgun purchasers who have bought guns to feel more secure in their homes, neighborhoods, and communities.  But once again we are missing some crucial information?  While our attention is directed at stranger perpetrated violence in movie theaters and other public spaces, most mass shootings are domestic.

“We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost’s analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That’s startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent.” [HuffPo]

And the statistics go a step further toward explaining why the “protective effect” is illusory in domestic situations: “If a domestic abuser has a gun the victim is 8 times more likely to be killed.” [HuffPo/NCBI]  If a gun purchaser believes that the ownership of a firearm will make his family more secure, as do about 60% of Americans, then that 6 out of 10 hasn’t been paying attention to other numbers.

“For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.” [MJ]

What self-respecting person would want to protect his family by making the members more statistically likely to suffer homicide, suicide, or accidental death?  Total gun ownership doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who are supposed to be protected by the guns actually will be.  It may mean that there are a declining number of households in this country which are now at a statistically greater risk of fatal violence?

There’s good and bad news in terms of workplace violence as well. The good news is that from 2002 to 2009 the rate of nonfatal workplace violence declined by 35%, and that after a 62% decline in the rate from 1993 to 2002. The bad part is that between 2005 and 2009 while firearms were used in only 5% of the nonfatal workplace violence incidents, shootings accounted for 80% of workplace homicides. [BJS pdf] If nothing more, the numbers support the assertion that guns do, in fact, kill people. 

Who’s taking it personally?

Duty, relevance, and dignity may be the rationale for some gun owners, but their cohort may have other ideas?

“A June 2015 study found that “310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand.” There is a “co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics.”

Almost 9% of people who “self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior” also have a firearm at home, and 1.5% (or nearly 85 people out of 5,653 surveyed for this study) carry their guns in places other than their home. The authors found that, when studying violence and anger, it is more effective to look at the arrest history of individuals rather than seeing if they have a mental illness. Arrests could show “a history of impulsive or angry behavior (for example, criminal records of misdemeanor violence, DWIs and domestic violence restraining orders),” which “would likely serve as a more feasible and less discriminatory indicator of an individual’s gun violence risk.”  [CSGV]

We might also conclude that some of those who express a wish to be more dutiful in protecting their families – by firearms, more relevant, and more “dignified,” may also be some of the people who are more angry, impulsive, and potentially dangerous?

And then there’s the racism angle…

This is the uncomfortable topic in modern American life, but it is no less a function of gun sales, gun ownership, and gun culture – we ignore it at our peril:

“Those with racist views are more likely to oppose gun reform. In an October 2013 study, Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott and Michael Daly concluded that “Symbolic racism [is] related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in U.S. whites.” The study defined symbolic racism as “racial resentment…an explicit but subtle form and measure of racism.” While the reasons for owning guns and being opposed to gun violence prevention legislation vary and are complex, “it has been suggested that sociocultural factors such as fear of black violence may be associated with gun ownership, and with opposition to gun controls.”

Professors Benforado and Young also supported this statement in their respective works. In his 2010 study, Benforado writes, “Advances in implicit social cognition reveal that most people carry biases against racial minorities beyond their conscious awareness. These biases affect critical behavior, including the actions of individuals performing shooting tasks. In simulations, Americans are faster and more accurate when firing on armed blacks than when firing on armed whites, and faster and more accurate in electing to hold their fire when confronting unarmed whites than when confronting unarmed blacks.”

Similarly, in his 1985 study, Young writes, “The ownership of firearms for protection is influenced by the interaction of racial prejudice and perceptions of crime and crime fighters. Moreover, the impact of prejudice is sufficiently strong that the mere physical proximity of a relatively large black population is enough to increase gun ownership among highly prejudiced men, even in the absence of concerns about crime.”

Discomforting as this may be, the “average” gun owner in America is white, married or divorced, relatively high income, and over 55. [CSGV]  Those armed with sufficient information from scientific studies can conclude that gun regulation efforts will be opposed by mostly white males over 55 years of age who promote a gun culture agenda which actually makes this country (and its women and children) less safe than if guns were not proliferating.

The facts have been out since forever – and facts aren’t going to move the debate in radical segments such as those who believe that any restriction on guns is a violation of their Constitutional rights, that any regulation of gun purchases is an act of Fascism, that any diminution of gun ownership is an indication of a loss of personal freedom.  Combine prejudice, bias, insecurity, and anger and we get the most vocal of the anti-regulation voices.  Unfortunately, these voices are getting equal face time in the media for their essentially minority view of common sense gun regulation in a society that has yet to acknowledge that guns are NOT a device for conflict resolution.

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Guns Galore? Nevada Legislature to take up more gun law changes

guns pile Here they go again.  The Assembled Wisdom in Carson City will be considering more pro-NRA legislation in the upcoming session. [RGJ]  Judging from what we’ve seen thus far, the Republicans are mostly interested in expanding the privilege of concealed carry, enacting reciprocity statutes, and allowing guns on school campuses.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why any civilian with a valid reason to carry a firearm needs to conceal it. If the idea is to let a potential criminal know that he or she will be putting him or herself in danger if an assault is attempted, then why not strap on the old six-shooter and show the world?  Concealment not only hides the weapon from those who would do evil, it also hides it from police officers and other law enforcement officials.  In a land awash in firearms, the notion that anyone could be armed at any time must be part of the assessment of a situation made by law enforcement officers.  We decry the use of ‘heavy-handed’ tactics by such officers while at the same time creating the circumstances which lead to and often justify the use of force.

The rationale for the expansion of concealed carry seems to channel from the NRA’s position that the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with one.  Unfortunately, there’s no peer reviewed research to support this. Do more relaxed concealed carry rules prevent crimes? There’s no peer reviewed research to support this conclusion either.  [Donohue, Aneja, Zhang]

While some conservative and gun advocacy groups have made the claim that more concealed carry permits are related to reduced crime rates, some of the arguments fall because of an inadequate logical base.

“The main argument is that two things that happened simultaneously are related: A 22% drop in murder rates and a 103% spike in gun permits during 2007 and 2013. The report concludes that by “using this new state level permit data from 2007 on, our analysis suggests that each one percentage point increase in the percent of the adult population holding permits is roughly associated with a 1.4% drop in the murder rate.” [Mic]

We have some magical thinking going on here.  If this framework is adopted, then one could argue that a 103% increase in concealed carry permits also “suggests” that this is related to the increase in the DJIA from 13,264.82 in December 2007 to 16,576.66 in December 2013.   Sound silly? Because the DJIA and the crime rate aren’t in the same general category?  True, but when authors of any report use terms like “suggest” and “roughly associated” they are telling the reader they can’t justify a statistical relationship between the elements, much less make a causal connection.

When factors like improved policing methods and higher levels of incarceration are tossed into the mix the ‘suggested’ causal relationship between concealed carry permitting and the reduction of general crime rates becomes even more opaque.  One Alabama newspaper tried its hand at research and concluded:

“AL.com gathered the number of active pistol permits for 63 out of 67 counties. (Four didn’t respond despite repeated requests). But a statistical examination of Alabama’s county-by-county permit rates does not turn up any correlation with rates of serious crime. These offenses consist of homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.”

What might be left then are bits of anecdotal evidence, real and imagined. “I showed the car-jackers my gun and they ran off.”  Good. Not so good, “If I had had a gun I would not have been raped.”  That’s one possible outcome, another might have been “he grabbed the gun away and shot me.”   At present we don’t have any peer reviewed research that can adequately reconcile variations in the results of defensive gun use, primarily because we haven’t carefully defined what we mean by defensive gun use.  The 2013 report from the CDC suggested five high-priority areas for additional research, unfortunately without making much progress on a research definition of DGU.  [NAS]  The House of Representatives still has no intention of funding further gun use and violence related research. [IBT]  We are thus left with a situation in which, given the lack of scientific evidence, the emotional or ideological ‘evidence’ is cited with the same authority as those few scientific studies that are available.

For example, we know that an earlier study indicated that in general the rate of victim injuries were less where a gun was used for self defense. However, what we don’t know is if the firearm was concealed at the outset? Shown at the outset? Was the firearm used to threaten, intimidate, or actually shoot the criminal? Better data collection, and better analytical compilations, depend on better recording and reporting than is now available.

What the 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature could do before launching into ideological legislation is to fund scientific research on defensive gun use in the state of Nevada. In short – get the facts BEFORE the fun starts.

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