THE POWER OF THE GUN INDUSTRY

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The gun industry has a powerful influence on policy making in the US as well as in shaping judicial rulings on gun laws and the discussion of guns and gun violence.

Part of the gun industry’s power and influence comes from its size and its ability and willingness to spend on political campaigns and lobbying. It produces roughly 10 million guns per year, resulting in sales revenue of about $12 billion. With profits of approximately $1 billion annually, it has spent $120 million on lobbying over the last ten years. In the two-year 2020 election cycle, the advocacy groups associated with the gun industry spent over $18 million on election campaigns. While the National Rifle Association (NRA) was the source of $5 million of this spending, it has been declining in membership and financial clout. However, other gun advocacy groups have been picking up much of the slack. [1]

For example, the organization Gun Owners of America has been increasing its activity. It opposes the U.S. House passed Protect Our Kids Act as well as the emerging bipartisan Senate proposal to address gun violence. It has “concern” about expanded waiting periods on gun purchases and red flag laws that would allow courts to remove guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It opposes the proposal to ban untraceable “ghost” guns and is spreading misinformation about what it would do. [2]

Another piece of the gun industry’s power comes from its shaping of the discussion of guns and the Second Amendment. It has shifted the discussion from a well-regulated militia, e.g., the National Guard, to an individual right to ownership of any and all types of guns. It also shifted the discussion from the security of the state to personal self-defense. (See this previous post for more detail.) This shift in language, especially to an individual’s supposed right to own a gun (including a semi-automatic assault weapon), is pervasive in the media, widespread in the court system, and even echoed by Democrats and President Biden.

The 2008 Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision that created an individual right to possess a firearm, District of Columbia vs. Heller, overturned 217 years of interpretation of the Second Amendment and numerous court precedents allowing restrictions on an individual’s possession of a gun. It was described by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford) as “unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench,” which extended 35 years from 1975 – 2010.

Former Chief Justice Warren Burger (appointed by Republican President Richard Nixon) called the gun industry’s and the NRA’s promotion of this interpretation of the Second Amendment “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” These two statements by conservative, former Supreme Court Justices underscore the hypocrisy of the supposed originalism of the supporters of this interpretation, who ignore the first two phrases of the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Nonetheless, the media, the courts, essentially all Republicans, and even most Democrats speak of the individual right to bear arms as an unquestioned constitutional right. Questioning this interpretation of the Second Amendment or citing Justices Stevens’ and Burger’s statements about it are almost completely absent from the discourse. Based on this manufactured right, the Supreme Court seems all but certain to make a ruling this month that will find unconstitutional a New York law, in place since 1913, that requires someone carrying a concealed gun in public to have a permit.

It appears that the originalist judicial philosophy (supposedly underlying this interpretation of the Second Amendment as creating an individual right to bear arms) was invented as an intellectual smokescreen to justify this and other radical, reactionary judicial rulings. The originalists claim that the Constitution’s language, including on rights, freedom, and liberty, should always and forever be interpreted with the meaning they had in 1791 (when African Americans were slaves) or in 1868 when the 14th Amendment was passed (when women had no rights and almost all schools were segregated). [3] Such a claim seems ludicrous on its face and the Supreme Court rulings by its adherents are radical, reactionary, and inconsistent. The failure of the media and Democrats to point out these facts is hard to understand.

The gun industry also displays its power on the Internet and social media, which have certainly played a role in fomenting the American gun culture and even gun violence. Given that most TV networks, magazines, and newspapers banned gun ads years ago, digital advertising via Google and other Internet sites is essential to the gun industry’s marketing.

In 2004, based on Google’s corporate value “don’t be evil” and as a matter of ethics, Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin announced that gun ads would be banned. Nonetheless, Google’s ad systems have provided billions of views of gun makers’ ads since then. A study by the independent, non-profit, investigative journalism organization ProPublica found that between March 9 and June 6, 2022 (90 days), the fifteen largest gun sellers in the U.S. placed ads through Google that produced 120 million impressions (i.e., the displaying of an  ad to a viewer). [4] This is an average of roughly 1.3 million views of a gun ad per day.

Every time an ad is viewed, Google earns a small fee. Some of the gun ads have appeared on Google’s own sites, a clear breach of Google’s stated policy. However, the vast majority of them are placed via a long-standing and well-known loophole in Google’s policy. Although Google bans gun ads on its own ad network and on sites it owns, ads sold by partners but placed using Google’s systems are not restricted by Google.

Gun makers and sellers can use Google’s advertising system to place gun ads on websites that allow gun ads. This is where the vast majority of gun ads show up.

Although a website owner can theoretically ban certain types of ads, such as gun ads, Google’s ad systems’ enforcement of such a ban has loopholes. Most notably, if a person has visited a gun maker’s website, Google’s tools facilitate the tracking of that person as they browse other sites. When that person is at another website, one that may ban gun ads, this tracking and targeting tool can display a gun ad. This retargeting (as it’s called) of a person is a loophole Google purposefully built into its advertising system over a decade ago.

For example, although Publishers Clearing House does not accept gun ads, in a recent three-month period roughly 4.6 million views of ads for Savage Arms guns occurred on the Publishers Clearing House website. Gun ads have also been documented as showing up on websites such as The Denver Post, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the Britannica, U.S. News & World Report, Ultimate Classic Rock, Parent Influence (on an article about “How to handle teen drama), and on Baby Games (amid brightly colored kids’ games), as well as on recipe sites and quiz game sites.

Google makes money on each of the hundreds of millions of views each year of gun ads. Note that Google dominates the digital advertising world with 28.6% of total digital ad revenue in the U.S.; Facebook has 23.8% and Amazon 11.3%, giving the big three an overwhelming 63.7% of the market. Therefore, gun ads via Google’s advertising systems are important both to the gun industry and to Google’s revenue.

[1]      Siders, D., & Fuchs, H., 6/10/22, “The NRA isn’t the only group advocating for the Second Amendment,” Politico (https://www.politico.com/minutes/congress/06-10-2022/more-than-just-nra/)

[2]      Giorno, T., 6/14/22, “Gun Owners of America pushes back on bipartisan gun control legislation,” Open Secrets (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/06/gun-owners-of-america-pushes-back-on-bipartisan-gun-control-legislation)

[3]      Mogulescu, M., 6/6/22, “It’s time for Democrats to stop agreeing that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/06/06/its-time-democrats-stop-agreeing-second-amendment-protects-individuals-right-bear)

[4]      Silverman, C., &Talbot, R., 6/14/22, “Google says it bans gun ads. It actually makes money from them.” ProPublica (https://www.propublica.org/article/google-guns-ads-firearms-alphabet-advertising)

GUN VIOLENCE’S HIDDEN ACCOMPLICES

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

Nowhere else in the world does civilian gun violence take anywhere near the toll that it does in the US. Other countries have and are taking strong, effective steps to reduce gun violence. We, too, can substantially reduce gun violence but it will not be easy or quick. It will take sustained, hard, and at times uncomfortable advocacy to achieve the changes in policies, practices, and attitudes that are necessary to substantially reduce gun violence here.

While the media coverage of mass shootings almost always says the shooter or shooters acted alone, their indirect or hidden accomplices are many and we cannot continue to let them avoid responsibility. The radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court are accomplices because they have given individuals the right to own arms, including semi-automatic assault weapons with large magazines that have no purpose other than killing as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

Members of Congress who block a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are accomplices. State legislators and Governors who have acted similarly are accomplices. This also applies to the blocking of other gun violence prevention measures, such as comprehensive background checks, waiting periods on taking possession of a gun, increasing to 21 the age requirement for buying a gun, laws keeping guns out of the hands of people most likely to use them to harm themselves or others, red flag laws that allow guns to be taken away from people who have indicated a likelihood to use them to harm themselves or others, etc.

The top of the list of accomplices today includes Governor Abbott of Texas, who proudly signed seven bills weakening regulations that reduce gun violence. In addition, despite saying that mental health services are what’s needed to prevent to mass shootings, he has refused to accept the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility for low-income residents of TX (Medicaid pays for more mental health services than any other health insurer) and he used over $200 million from the state agency that provides mental health services to bus immigrants to Washington as a stunt to support Trump’s border policies. [1]

Also high on the accomplice list is Fox TV (it’s not news), which promotes grievance, hate, and sometimes violence to a largely white, male audience. The social media companies are on the list as well. They allowed the video of the May 14th mass shooting at the Buffalo food market to be seen by millions and to still be widely available two days after the shooting. Facebook took over ten hours to remove a link to the video. Twitch, where the shooter live-streamed the attack, is owned by Amazon. The ability to share video of a mass shooting with millions is what multiplies its impact and makes it real terrorism. [2]

Some of these accomplices are attacking those who are calling them out for their complicity, claiming we are using a tragedy for political purposes. They are hypocrites. First of all, they have used tragedies, fear, hate, and misinformation (let’s call it what it is – lies) for years to expand access to guns and foment their use. Second, while these accomplices appeal to our natural instinct to take the high-road in moments of crisis, they take the low-road time and time again – and appear to have no shame for doing so.

The time for being polite and civil in the face of gun massacres, which are terrorism, has long since passed. After fifty-five years of mass shootings in schools – going back to the University of Texas at Austin in 1966 – defenders of gun “rights” for individuals no longer deserve any presumption of good faith or restraint on our part given the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, including so many children. A polite and civil response has only led to an ever-mounting death toll. [3] (Please see my previous post for why claims of individual gun “rights” are the result of a manipulation of the meaning of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.)

It will require a strong and loud, and yes, confrontational, movement to produce meaningful action to reduce gun violence in this country. I urge you to speak out and act out however you are comfortable to contribute to this movement.

[1]      Jeffery, C., 5/26/22, “He did not act alone,” Mother Jones (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2022/05/uvalde-texas-massacre-accomplices/)

[2]      Harwell, D., & Oremus, W., 5/16/22, “Only 22 saw the Buffalo shooting live. Millions have seen it since.” The Washington Post

[3]      Hubbell, R., 5/28/22, “He did not act alone,” Today’s Edition Newsletter (https://roberthubbell.substack.com/p/he-did-not-act-alone?s=r)

GUN VIOLENCE, THE SECOND AMENDMENT, AND THE “ORIGINALISTS”

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The rash of recent gun violence has refocused attention on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court, who are supposedly “originalists,”  have interpreted this language as giving individuals the right to bear arms and an individual right to security through armed self-defense.

Somehow the “originalists” have forgotten (or choose to ignore) the first two phrases of the amendment’s language which link the right to bear arms to a well-regulated militia and the security of the state. Clearly, the original writers of the Second Amendment did NOT have in mind the right of each individual, on his or her own, to bear arms. And they had no possible conception that arms would include semi-automatic weapons that could fire multiple bullets per second; the arms they knew took many seconds to reload for a second shot. So much for originalism! (I’ll write more about the hypocrisy of the “originalists” on the Supreme Court in a future post.)

Actually, what the writers of the Second Amendment had in mind was security against slave revolts. The Second Amendment was pushed by Patrick Henry (Governor of Virginia) and George Mason (intellectual leader of the anti-Constitution anti-federalists). They were worried that the new Constitution would give the federal government the sole power to form militias, preventing states and local entities from doing so. They were also concerned that Northerners would dominate the new federal government. Given that parts of Virginia, for example, had more enslaved Blacks than Whites, Henry and Mason (and others) wanted to ensure that southern states had the power to form militias to protect white slave owners from slave revolts. [1] Therefore, if there’s any originalism in the right-wing justices’ support of an individual right to bear arms, it’s originalism that has strong racist overtones.

The ”originalists” supposedly don’t support any evolution of the meaning of the Constitution over time; according to them, it’s the original language and intent of the writers that should govern judicial decision making. Furthermore, a leading “originalist,” Justice Alito, just wrote in his draft decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, that for an unwritten right to be legitimate, it must be deeply rooted in the nation’s history and have been understood to exist when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Under either of these originalist principles, an individual right to bear arms, particularly the types of arms available today, would be impossible to assert in a truly originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Again, so much for honest originalism!

A constitutional right to individual gun ownership is a relatively new interpretation of the Second Amendment, invented by the gun industry in the 1970s and aided and abetted by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the Republican Party adopted support of individual gun ownership as a core belief and policy position. In the 1960s, Republicans were strong supporters of gun control, in part because they were strong supporters of law and order. Furthermore, during the 1960s, with the rise of the Black Power movement and pushback from the Black community against racism by police, Republicans were concerned about Blacks having guns. So, for example, in 1967, California passed the Mulford Act, the most sweeping gun control law in the country. It banned personal possession of a firearm without a permit and was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. At the federal level, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, which restricted the sale of firearms across state lines. Neither of these laws raised any constitutional concerns at the time.

Until 1959, every legal article about the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee an individual’s right to own a gun. In the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the gun and ammunition industry, and their front group the NRA, began to make the argument that the Second Amendment did establish an individual right to gun ownership. [2]

In 1972, the Republican Party’s policy platform supported gun laws restricting the sale of handguns. However, in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control.

In 1977, an at-the-time radical wing of the NRA took control of the organization and shifted its focus from marksmanship and responsible gun ownership by hunters to assertion of a right to individual ownership of guns for self-defense and to opposition to any restrictions on gun ownership. In 1980, the Republican Party platform opposed the federal registration of firearms for the first time and the NRA, for the first time, endorsed a presidential candidate: Republican Ronald Reagan. This led to the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, which repealed much of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and dramatically weakened federal gun control. Ironically, it was signed into law by President Reagan (who 19 years earlier had signed California’s strong gun control law).

Nonetheless, after three mass shootings in four years, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 included a ban on assault weapons and large capacity  ammunition magazines, as they had been used in the mass shootings and were key to making  the horrific carnage possible. However, this ban had a ten-year sunset provision. Therefore, the ban expired in 2004 and has not been renewed despite numerous attempts to do so.

These are key elements of the history of the Second Amendment and policies on gun ownership that have gotten us to where we are today. There have been over 230 mass shootings in the US already in 2022 – well over one per day. (A mass shooting is defined as one where four or more people are injured or killed, not including the shooter.) There were 20 in the week after the May 24th Uvalde, TX, school shooting. In the 230 mass shootings so far this year, 256 people have been killed and 1,010 injured. Historically, there were nearly 700 mass shootings in 2021, a significant increase from 611 in 2020 and 417 in 2019. [3]

I urge you to speak out and act out however you are comfortable to contribute to the movement to take strong action to reduce gun violence in this country. Nowhere else in the world does civilian gun violence take anywhere near the toll that it does in the US. Other countries have and are taking strong, effective steps to reduce gun violence. We can too. We have a long way to go; the sooner we start the better.

[1]      Mystal, E., 2022, “Allow me to retort: A Black guy’s guide to the Constitution,” NY, NY. The New Press.

[2]      Richardson, H. C., 5/24/22, “Letters from an American blog,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/may-24-2022?s=r)

[3]      Ledur, J., & Rabinowitz, K., 6/3/22, “There have been over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022,” The Washington Post

GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION POLICY CHANGES NOW!

In the wake of the tragic gun violence at a high school in Florida, surviving students have inspired the nation with their commitment to reduce gun violence in the US. They and many others are pushing states and the federal government to enact laws that will reduce gun violence. (See my previous post for ways to support this movement.)

Here are examples of policy changes that we should make at the state and federal levels to reduce gun violence. If you have any doubts about whether these policies would make a difference, please see the data on the results of the ban on semi-automatic weapons that Australia instituted after a mass shooting there in 1996 that are in this previous blog post. (Those statistics are from 2013 and I’m sure they would present an even more dramatic contrast today.)

  • Ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons. There was a federal ban on these weapons from 1994 to 2004, but Congress let it expire and has refused to re-enact it. Eight states have bans on semi-automatic weapons. At the very least, we should raise the age for purchasing a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21, which is the current requirement under federal law for the purchase of a handgun.
  • Ban the sale of high capacity magazines that often hold 30 bullets. Six or ten bullets are plenty for any reasonable civilian use. Again, at the very least, we should raise the age for purchasing a high capacity magazine from 18 to 21.
  • Institute a waiting period for the purchase of any gun. Florida, like many states, has a three-day waiting period (sometimes referred to as a cooling off period) for the purchase of a handgun but not for a semi-automatic weapon.
  • Institute a strong, effective background check requirement for ALL gun purchases.
  • Limit the number of guns and amount of ammunition an individual can buy in a given time period, such as a week or a month. At a minimum, require gun sellers to report to law enforcement any sales of multiple guns or large amounts of ammunition to a single buyer within a five-day (or longer) period. This is currently required for handguns but not for semi-automatic weapons or ammunition.
  • Enact Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws that allow family members to petition a judge for an order to confiscate an individual’s firearms when it is determined that the individual’s access to a gun poses an extreme risk to him or herself or others.
  • Enact reasonable requirements for obtaining a gun, such as a license and training. We require a license and training to drive a car; there’s no reason we shouldn’t for the owning of a gun. Furthermore, we could require gun owners to have insurance, as we do car owners, to protect themselves and others from injuries, deaths, or property damage that occur due to gun usage.
  • Require gun owners to report to law enforcement the loss or theft of a gun.
  • Any gun or ammunition seller who violates the law and allows an individual to obtain a gun or ammunition illegally should be treated as an accomplice under criminal and civil law to murder or any other crimes committed with the gun or ammunition.

Gun violence, and the deaths and injuries that result, is a public health epidemic in the US. Keeping guns from killing our children and others at the rate of 30,000 deaths a year is ultimately about the right to life. This is not about balancing gun rights with other rights; it’s about keeping our children, our teachers, and everyone else safe and alive.

Clearly, all these policy changes aren’t going to happen quickly or all at once. But we must start taking meaningful steps to reduce gun violence.

I urge you to call, email, and / or write your federal and state elected officials and demand reasonable gun laws that will prevent future gun massacres. We must insist that our elected officials pass sensible gun violence prevention laws or, if they won’t, we must elect other candidates at the state and national level who will. You can find your US Representative’s name and contact information at: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. You can find your US Senators’ names and contact information at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

I also encourage you to participate in on-line or local actions to express your support for the students from Parkland and the movement they have inspired, as well as for common-sense gun violence prevention laws. It’s past time to take serious steps to reduce gun deaths and violence, as well as hopefully, eventually, to eliminate the occurrence of gun massacres – as Australia successfully did in 1996.

GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION NOW!

In the wake of the latest gun violence tragedy, surviving students from the high school in Florida where the incident occurred have inspired the nation with their commitment to reduce gun violence in the US. Here are four things we can all do to work to achieve that goal:

  • Support the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and others who join their movement to change laws in states and federally on access to guns, particularly semi-automatic weapons and magazines with dozens of bullets.
  • Support organizations that are fighting to reduce gun violence.
  • Know how to refute the arguments of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others that are opposing efforts to reduce gun violence.
  • Know what meaningful policy changes should and need to be made to reduce gun violence.

If you’d like some inspiration to act, please watch this short video of the new anthem for gun control written and performed by Stoneman Douglas High School students in response to the shooting at their school: https://www.facebook.com/justicechoir/videos/1677544419005142/.

Ways to support these students and the movement they have inspired are evolving, but here are three actions you can participate in or support in other ways:

  • Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkout for 17 minutes at 10 am on Wednesday, March 14, to protest inaction on gun violence prevention. More information is at: https://www.actionnetwork.org/event_campaigns/enough-national-school-walkout
  • Students from Stoneman Douglas High School are calling for people to join them on Saturday, March 24, in Washington, DC, and cities across the country for the March for Our Lives to demand legislation to stop gun violence. More information is at: https://www.marchforourlives.com/
  • Public rallies will be held nationwide on Friday, April 20, as part of a National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools. More information is at: https://networkforpubliceducation.org/national-day-action/

There are a number of organizations that you can join or support with contributions or volunteer activities that are on the front lines in working to prevent gun violence. Here are three major ones:

The NRA and others who oppose meaningful steps to reduce gun violence have crafted their arguments and media strategy over many years. Here are some responses to their arguments:

  • No civilian needs to have or should be allowed to have a semi-automatic weapon or a magazine with more than 6 bullets. Semi-automatic weapons are military weapons that are designed to kill human beings and to kill as many as possible as quickly as possible. There is absolutely no need for anyone other than law enforcement and military personnel to have one.
  • Some people will kill other people. But guns mean those people will kill many more people. And semi-automatic weapons and magazines that hold dozens of bullets mean they can kill LOTS of people very quickly.
  • Mental illness is NOT the issue; guns are. Every country has individuals with mental illness, but no other country has anywhere near the level of gun violence that we have in the US because no other country allows the level of civilian gun ownership that the US does. The great majority of people who experience mental illness – and there are many who experience some mental illness at some point in their lives – are not violent. Moreover, a violent person without a gun can do very limited harm. (See the bullet above.) By the way, the Republicans in Congress and President Trump in the budget he presented just days ago significantly cut federal spending to address mental illness. Furthermore, by reducing access to health care by cutting Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, fewer people will have access to mental health services.
  • The Second Amendment to the US Constitution states: “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Beginning in the 1970s, the gun manufacturers, along with the NRA, undertook an extensive campaign to get activist judges to interpret the Second Amendment as giving civilian individuals the “right” to possess guns. The goal was to allow the gun industry to sell more guns and ammunition and, therefore, to make much bigger profits. Keep in mind that at the time the amendment was written, the arms referred to were muzzle loading weapons that took many seconds to reload, not weapons that fired multiple bullets per second. This individual “right” to have a gun represented a major change in interpretation of the Second Amendment, which for the first 200 years of this country’s existence was understood to apply only to arms for military purposes. Furthermore, until this re-interpretation, the power of state and local governments to regulate gun ownership had NOT been viewed as limited whatsoever by the Second Amendment. [1] The efforts to change the interpretation of the Second Amendment were so successful that by 1991 retired US Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger stated that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
  • Every serious piece of research on the presence of a gun in a home or elsewhere has found that the presence of a gun increases the chance of death or injury from gun usage. Having a gun does not make you safer, it makes it more likely that you, a family member, or someone else will be injured or killed by gun violence, accidental or intentional. (Some statistics on this are in my earlier blog post here.) (In response to this research, the gun industry and the NRA got a federal law passed that effectively bans federal agencies from doing or funding research on gun violence.)

I urge you to support the emerging movement to reduce gun violence through common-sense guns laws. Please participate in or provide financial or other support to one (or more) of the events and organizations listed above. In my next post, I’ll list some of the common-sense policies that should be enacted and would reduce gun violence.

[1]      Stevens, J.P., 4/11/14, “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment,” The Washington Post (The author, John Paul Stevens, was a judge on the US Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010.)

 

REDUCING GUN VIOLENCE

ABSTRACT: There’s good news and bad news after the recent obstruction by filibustering in the US Senate of a law to reduce gun violence. Information on the votes in the Senate and how to contact your Senators (and Representatives) is below.

Efforts to reduce gun violence are getting unprecedented attention. Four states have recently passed laws targeting gun violence. However, there is a continuing lack of good data and research on gun violence, largely because the gun industry and its supporters have aggressively worked to block government data collection and research, as well as to intimidate private researchers. This inhibits the solving and prevention of crimes, as well as the identification and prosecution of gun dealers who irresponsibly, if not illegally, sell guns, including guns that are used in crimes.

I urge you to contact your Senators and let them know how you feel about this issue, whether you agree with their vote or not. Good legislation, good data and research, and strong enforcement could significantly reduce the 18,000 suicides and 12,000 murders that happen with guns each year in this country. Communication to elected officials by voters – their constituents – is critical to taking advantage of this window of opportunity and achieving change that will reduce the tragedy of gun violence.

FULL POST:There’s good news and bad news after the recent obstruction by filibustering in the US Senate of a law to reduce gun violence. (See post of 4/20/13 for more details.) One piece of good news is that some Senators are saying they will continue the effort. Information on the votes in the Senate and how to contact your Senators (and Representatives) is below.

Other good news:

  • Efforts to reduce gun violence are getting unprecedented attention, including coverage in mainstream media
  • The issue is a much higher priority in voters’ minds than it was
  • Elected officials are being asked where they stand on the issue regularly
  • Elected officials who support steps to reduce gun violence are much more comfortable saying so in public
  • Four states have recently passed laws targeting gun violence: Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York. Others are considering doing so. You may want to check and see if there is such an effort in your state.

Nationally, the broad support for reducing gun violence is clear and its potential political impact has being discussed. For example, in 21 states both US Senators supported the gun background check provision that was defeated by filibuster. Those 21 states have 261 Electoral College votes, out of the 270 needed to elect a President. The 17 states where both Senators opposed the law only have 146 electoral votes. [1]

The National Academy of Sciences published a major report back in 2004, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” that found that there is a lack of good data and research on this topic. It recommended that the federal government support “a systematic program of data collection and research” (page 3). The report noted that “violence is positively associated with firearms ownership” (page 5) but that the data do not allow a conclusion about whether there is a cause and effect relationship. It stated that in comparisons among countries, “there is a substantial association between gun ownership and homicide” and that “the U.S. homicide rate is much higher than in all other developed countries.” (page 6) [2] Australia has achieved a dramatic reduction in gun violence over the last 6 years. (See post of 4/20/13 for more details.)

Despite this, there is a continuing lack of good data and research on gun violence, largely because the gun industry and its supporters, notably the National Rifle Association (NRA), have aggressively worked to block government data collection and research, as well as to intimidate private researchers. The US Centers for Disease Control and the US Department of Health and Human Services are effectively blocked from spending any money on gun violence research. In contrast, despite the fact that roughly the same number of people die each year in gun violence as in car accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spends roughly $125 million per year to study and improve highway safety. As with highway safety, gun safety is a public health issue and should be address as such.

The blocking of the collection and use of gun data inhibits the solving and prevention of crimes, as well as the formulation of effective policies to reduce gun violence. It also inhibits the identification and prosecution of gun dealers who irresponsibly, if not illegally, sell guns, including guns that are used in crimes. [3][4]

Getting back to the gun violence prevention efforts in the US Senate, the vote on the background check provision was 54 in favor (Yeas) and 46 opposed (Nays), but because of the filibuster, 60 votes in favor were needed to move the legislation forward. It was largely a party line vote, with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor, with the following exceptions: [5]

  • 4 Republicans in favor: Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), McCain (AZ), and Toomey (PA).
  • 4 Democrats opposed: Baucus (Montana), Begich (Alaska), Heitkamp (ND), and Pryor (Arkansas). (Reid [NV] voted “No”, but as a procedural move to allow him to call for reconsideration.)

I urge you to contact your Senators and let them know how you feel about this issue, whether you agree with their vote or not. If you support them they need to hear that, because there is pressure on them from both sides. If you’d like them to change their vote, they should hear that as well. You can find your US Senators’ names and contact information at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

It wouldn’t hurt to contact your US Representative while you’re at it, although there is no impending action in the House. You can find their names and contact information at: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Good legislation, good data and research, and strong enforcement could significantly reduce the 18,000 suicides and 12,000 murders that happen with guns each year in this country. The attention this issue is finally getting is an important step forward. Communication to elected officials by voters – their constituents – is critical to taking advantage of this window of opportunity and achieving change that will reduce the tragedy of gun violence.


[1]       Green, J., 5/1/13, “A matter of time? Congress failed to act, but the gun control tides are shifting,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Wellford, C.F., et al., 2004, “Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review,” Committee on Law and Justice, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences

[3]       Bender, M.C., 2/12/13, “Gun lobby blocks data collection by crimefighters,” Bloomberg

[4]       Thacker, P.D., 12/19/12, “Congress and the NRA suppressed research on gun violence,” Slate Magazine

SHAMEFUL FAILURE TO ADDRESS GUN VIOLENCE

ABSTRACT: A filibuster in the US Senate just blocked passage of a law to require background checks on most gun buyers, despite the fact that 90% of Americans support these background checks; even 74% of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support them!

This reflects the power of money in politics – the money of the gun and ammunition makers and sellers. Their well-funded front organization, the NRA, only has about 2 million members, but wields outsized influence.

The facts make this failure to address gun violence shameful. In the four months since the Newtown massacre of 20 young children and 6 adults, over 3,500 people have died from gun violence. Roughly 30,000 people die each year from gun violence in the US. This is ten times as many as died on September 11th, but we spend far more time and money to prevent violence by terrorists than we do to prevent gun violence.

Contrary to the NRA’s rhetoric, guns do NOT make you safer: 1) For every use of a gun in self-defense at home, there are 11 suicide attempts, 7 assaults or murders, and 4 gun accidents; 2) Gun death rates are over three times higher in states with high gun ownership; and 3) Despite the claim that more armed civilians would stop mass shootings, this hasn’t happened once in the last 30 years.

In 1996, Australia banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, required strict permitting and tracking of gun purchases, and purchased and destroyed about 700,000 firearms. The results are:

  • 59% decrease in firearm murders (without an increase in non-firearm murders)
  • 65% decrease in firearm suicides (without an increase in non-firearm suicides)
  • No gun massacres in the 16 years since enactment of the law compared with 13 massacres (in which 4 or more people died) in the 18 years before enactment
  • The murder rate has dropped to 1 per 1 million people. (The US rate is 33 times higher.)

The votes in the US Senate are profiles in cowardice. There is no reason for anyone other than law enforcement and the military to have automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazines that hold over 10 bullets. I urge you to call, email, and / or write your federal and state elected officials and demand reasonable gun laws that will prevent future gun massacres.

FULL POST: A filibuster in the US Senate just blocked passage of a law to require background checks on most gun buyers. Although there was a majority of 54 votes in favor, the Republicans, abetted by four Democrats, obstructed progress. This occurred despite the fact that 90% of Americans support these background checks; even 74% of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support them! The Senate also failed to pass a provision banning the sales of assault weapons; there were only 40 votes in favor, even though 45% of gun owners support a ban on these weapons. [1]

This reflects the power of money in politics – the money of the gun and ammunition makers and sellers. While their lobbyists operate behind the scenes, their well-funded front organization, the NRA, operates in public. Although it only has about 2 million members (out of 300 million people in the US), which is only 5% of gun owners, and 30% of gun owners have an unfavorable opinion of the NRA, it wields outsized influence. Together, the money, the private lobbying, and the public publicity have banned federal research and data sharing on gun violence and perpetrated myths about guns and gun violence.

The facts make this failure to address gun violence shameful. In the four months since the Newtown massacre of 20 young children and 6 adults, over 3,500 people have died from gun violence. Roughly, 30,000 people die each year of gun violence in the US, 12,000 murders and 18,000 suicides. This is ten times as many as died on September 11th, but we spend far more time and money to prevent violence by terrorists than we do to prevent gun violence. There is also far more focus, effort, and resources spent to keep illegal immigrants out of this country than there is to keep guns out of the hands of illegal gun purchasers.

Contrary to the NRA’s rhetoric, guns do NOT make you safer:

  1. For every use of a gun for self-defense at home, there are 11 suicide attempts, 7 assaults or murders, and 4 accidents with a gun. Six times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than were murdered by strangers. A women’s chance of being killed by her abuser is 7 times higher if he has access to a gun.
  2. Gun death rates are over three times higher in states with high gun ownership. The state with the highest gun ownership (Wyoming, over 60% of households) also has the highest rate of gun deaths (over 15 per 100,000 people). The state with the lowest gun ownership (Hawaii, less than 10% of households) also has the lowest rate of gun deaths (less than 5 per 100,000 people). The other states clearly demonstrate this relationship that more guns means more gun deaths.
  3. Despite the claim that more armed civilians would stop mass shootings, this hasn’t happened once in the last 30 years.
  4. Civilians in the US own roughly 310 million guns while law enforcement and the military have 4 million guns. Roughly a third of Americans own a gun, down from about half in 1973. The average gun owner has 8 guns. [2]

In terms of evidence to support the effectiveness of legislation to prevent gun violence, there is a very relevant example from Australia. In 1996, 35 people were killed in Australia by a gunman in a massacre reminiscent of those we have experienced recently here in the US. In response, Australia, under Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, required strict permitting and tracking of gun purchases, and purchased and destroyed about 700,000 firearms in a gun buyback program. [3]

The results are: [4][5]

  • 59% decrease in firearm murders (without an increase in non-firearm murders)
  • 65% decrease in firearm suicides (without an increase in non-firearm suicides)
  • No gun massacres in the 16 years since enactment of the law compared with 13 massacres (in which 4 or more people died) in the 18 years before enactment
  • The murder rate has dropped to 1 per 1 million people, a fortieth of what it was. (The US rate is 33 times higher.)

The votes in the US Senate are profiles in cowardice. Colorado, New York, and Connecticut have recently passed meaningful gun violence prevention laws. There is no reason for anyone other than law enforcement and the military to have automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazines that hold over 10 bullets. Sensible gun laws, as evidenced by the Australian experience, would make a difference. (See my post of 12/16/12 for more detail.)

I urge you to call, email, and / or write your federal and state elected officials and demand reasonable gun laws that will prevent future gun massacres. I also encourage you to participate in on-line or local actions to express your support for common sense gun violence prevention laws.

It’s past time to take serious steps to reduce gun deaths and violence, as well as hopefully, eventually, to eliminate the occurrence of gun massacres – as Australia did. We must insist that our elected officials pass sensible gun violence prevention laws.


[1]       Jan, T., & Viser, M., 4/18/13, “Wider checks on guns rejected,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Gilson, D., March/April 2013 issue, “Hits and myths: Ten pro-gun claims that don’t stand up to fact-checking,” Mother Jones

[3]       An equivalent buyback program in the US would need to purchase and destroy 40 million guns.

[4]       Matthews, D., 8/2/12, “Did gun control work in Australia?” The Washington Post

[5]       Editorial Board, 12/18/12, “Australian gun control holds lessons for U.S.,” USA Today

STOP THE GUN MASSACRES

ABSTRACT: Gun massacres must stop. We must enact sensible gun laws. Automatic weapons with magazines that hold over a dozen bullets turn tragic murder into horrifying massacre. Sensible gun laws would make a difference; they lead to much lower gun violence in other countries, and the federal assault weapon ban made a difference in the 10 years it was in effect.

The profits of gun and ammunition makers are at stake. The right to bear arms the framers of our Constitution had in mind was not unfettered access to weapons that fire a dozen bullets per second.

We must seize this moment to loudly and collectively demand that our elected leaders enact strong, sensible gun laws (detail below). To take action, start by going to the White House petitions site (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petitions). Find a petition calling for action on gun laws and sign it.

FULL POST: Gun massacres must stop. We must enact sensible gun laws. Yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But automatic weapons with magazines that hold over a dozen bullets turn tragic murder into horrifying massacre. There is no reason anyone other than law enforcement or military personnel should have automatic weapons with high capacity magazines. The federal bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines that were in place from 1994 to 2004 need to be reinstated.

Why is getting a driver’s license so much more rigorous than getting a gun, including an automatic? With over 4 times as many civilians murdered each year with guns (over 12,000) as died in the September 11 attacks, why do we do so much to prevent terrorism and so little to prevent gun violence? Why do we allow gun homicides in the US at almost 20 times the rate in similar countries with similar overall crime and violence rates? [1]

Sensible gun laws would make a difference; they lead to much lower gun violence in other countries and the federal assault weapon ban made a difference in the 10 years it was in effect. In the struggle for sensible gun laws, remember that the profits of gun and ammunition makers are at stake. They support loose gun laws and the National Rifle Association so they can maximize their profits.

The right to bear arms (as part of a well regulated militia) that is in the second amendment to the Constitution was written when guns were muzzle loaders and the time per bullet – to reload and fire again – was measured in minutes. Today we measure the number of bullets fired per second. The right to bear arms the framers of our Constitution had in mind was not unfettered access to weapons that fire a dozen bullets per second.

We must seize this moment to loudly and collectively demand that our elected leaders – our President and Members of Congress, our Governors and State Legislators – enact strong, sensible gun laws including 1) a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, 2) limits on the number of guns and amount of ammunition an individual can buy, 3) reasonable requirements for obtaining a gun license, and 4) strong background check requirements for all gun purchases. In addition, the penalties for violating gun laws should be tough; any gun or ammunition seller who violates the law and allows an individual to obtain guns or ammunition illegally should be treated as an accomplice to murder, under criminal and civil law.

To take action, start by going to the White House petitions site (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petitions). Find a petition calling for action on gun laws and sign it. (If you don’t already have an account you will need to go through the quick process of obtaining one.) There are multiple petitions on the firearms issue, which you can scroll down to find or select the “Filter by issue” button and select “Firearms”. I urge you to sign at least one and as many as you support if you have the time. This will send a strong signal of support for this issue. The two I’d suggest starting with are:

  • “Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress” (http://wh.gov/RN6U). It already has over 100,000 signers; please add your voice.
  • “Today IS the day: Sponsor strict gun control laws in the wake of the CT school massacre” (http://wh.gov/RRkn). It has over 19,000 signers and you can add your support.

Also, call, email, and / or write your federal and state elected officials and demand gun laws that will end the massacres now. Participate in local or on-line actions to express your support for sensible gun laws.

It’s past time to take serious steps to reduce and hopefully eventually eliminate the occurrence of gun massacres. We must insist that our elected officials pass sensible gun laws.


[1]       Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, retrieved 12/15/12, “Facts: Gun violence,” www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence