Will America Ever Make Real Progress on Gun Violence?

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A scene at a makeshift memorial after the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas earlier this month. Sadly, this is just another chapter in the continuing story of all-to-frequent gun violence in America. (Photo Credit: Courtney Sacco, Corpus Christi Caller-Times)

I can only imagine what the family and friends of those lost in the Sutherland Springs, TX church shooting are feeling, and while my emotions and opinions pale by comparison, after hearing of this recent event marked by unimaginable cruelty and loss of life, my immediate reaction was not of anger or fear or frustration or hopelessness or sadness, but of a vague resigned exhaustion over it all. Another week, another mass shooting. The same questions and suspicions. Who was the shooter? Were there warning signs about his intent to kill? Was he affiliated with ISIS or some other terrorist organization? What was his political orientation? Did he suffer from some personal trauma or mental illness? I’m sure you can think of more examples of the type of analysis that accompanies these sorts of tragedies, but that’s not my point. The point—one that I’m sure is not lost on scores of Americans on both sides of the aisle—is we’ve been here before. Aurora, Charleston, Columbine, Fort Hood, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook Elementary, Tucson, the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, VA—the list of sites of high-profile mass shootings goes on and on, and exceeds what I can or would want to remember. Moreover, when considering these flashpoint instances of extreme violence, the freshness and overlap is such that it exacerbates the extent of our hurting and our sorrow. Before we are even done grieving and saying our prayers for the victims and loved ones of one event, another one occurs and our focus shifts. With act after act of gun violence, a bad dream becomes a recurring nightmare accompanied by the fear we’ll never wake up.

In addition, highlighting the incidence of mass shootings in the United States, in part, obscures the totality of gun-related violence in the country today. As of November 11, the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit formed in 2013 to provide free public access to information about gun-related violence in the U.S., recorded 53,197 gun-related incidents in 2017 alone, 13,375 resulting in death and another 27,338 resulting in injury. This includes 310 mass shootings, 633 instances of children 0 to 11 killed or injured, and 2,825 instances of children 12 to 17 killed or injured; these events, it should be noted, may be concurrent, but the numbers are still upsetting. Even more disturbing is the notion these tallies do not even reflect the majority of gun-related deaths in America: suicides. Over 60% of fatalities involving guns in the United States are self-inflicted. To top it all off, it’s not as if the gun violence situation is getting better. According to the Center for Disease Control, firearm-related deaths in the U.S. rose in 2016, the second straight year of an overall increase in mortality rates after close to 15 years of being largely unchanged. Even if the spikes may be due in large part to violence in places like Chicago, where many of us essentially have come to expect firearm-related deaths and injuries, the specter of guns casts a long and dark shadow on America’s profile. According to a study published in February 2016 in The American Journal of Medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than in other developed countries, and 25 times more likely on average to be killed by guns than in the 22 other high-income nations referenced in the study. Even when suicide rates are comparable between the U.S. and a given high-income nation, Americans who take their lives are eight times more likely to do so with the help of a gun. These kinds of numbers would appear to be beyond the power of positive spin to put a shine to them.

It’s about this point in the gun law reform discussion that, in the face of verifiable quantitative data about just how profound the problem of gun violence is in America, the argument usually shifts to consideration of Second Amendment rights and discussions of mental health. Concerning the former, this provision of the Bill of Rights is interpreted as the “right to bear arms” for all people, and as many might contend, perhaps gun ownership shouldn’t be a right so much as a privilege. Certainly, the “right” to bear arms pales in comparison to the rights to, say, food and water, and furthermore, blindly pointing to the existence of the Second Amendment ignores the context in which it was created. That is, this right of gun ownership was intended for militias—not every Tom, Dick, and Harry—and I’m reasonably sure the Founding Fathers were not imagining semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, or the like when including this provision in the Bill of Rights. As for the latter, the concern for mental health in this context is a red herring. Gun advocates who point to mass shooters as “unstable” sorts are doing so primarily because it is a convenient out. To put this another way, if these people were so concerned about improving mental health and access to affordable, high-quality treatment in the United States, they wouldn’t wait until there’s a tragedy to talk about this matter—nor would they resort to stock answers like this when prompted to respond to acts of unspeakable violence.

Otherwise, critics of gun control cling to the notion that having one or more guns in this situation—you know, not possessed by the shooter but by someone who intercedes to stop him or her—would save lives, and/or separately allude to the perpetrator not being a “responsible” gun owner. This time, I’ll begin with the latter. Identifying someone as a responsible gun owner is a nebulous distinction. By this, I mean to say that there doesn’t appear to be a broad consensus as to what constitutes responsible gun ownership. Is it keeping a firearm in a locked box or safe? Is the weapon stored separately from the ammunition, or does one keep it loaded out of necessity to act fast in the event of an intruder? I may be merely telegraphing my own ignorance about gun ownership as a non-owner here, but standards of care or safe storage look to vary by locale or with the assumption of risk of the user. I personally don’t want a firearm in my house for my own protection, and I definitely would not want a gun in the house if I had one or more children under my roof. On the part of the former, there’s a term for this belief: “the good guy with a gun” assumption. Even with respect to the Sutherland Springs massacre, Donald Trump and his FOX News-watching brethren will point to instances like Stephen Willeford, neighbor and bystander, shooting the assailant in the leg and torso and chasing him in a car after the fact. Not only did this all still equate to a loss of life, however, but the evidence suggests these types of interventions are outliers more so than the norm. We all are not John McClane in Die Hard. Trying to play hero could get you or other innocent people killed.


While much ado is made about who uses firearms in cases of extreme violence, why they do so, where and when the shootings take place, and how they go about procuring these deadly weapons, in looking at the big picture and trying to answer the big question of “What can we do to reduce gun violence rates in America?” the obvious crux of the matter is that there are simply too many guns. Statistically speaking, there is about one gun for every person in the United States, far surpassing the next-closest nation. As apparent as the problem of access to guns is, any action that is retroactive in nature to address the pervasiveness of the gun violence crisis is liable to produce a conflict of epic proportions, one that would see clashes between the liberal left and conservatives and libertarians who hold individual and states’ rights sacrosanct. Myth-making or not, the NRA and other Second Amendment supporters seem to have succeeded in spreading the narrative that the “godless” left is “coming for your guns.” Cue Charlton Heston’s famous line about prying his gun from his “cold, dead hands,” and so on and so forth. That there wasn’t a more significant backlash in the wake of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by an armed “militia” led by Ammon Bundy speaks to our national fixation with guns, not to mention it highlights a profound difference in the way whites with firearms and people of color with firearms are approached. With story after story about blacks being shot by police during routine traffic stops or low-level arrests, it appears only too likely the occupation in Oregon would have transpired much differently—and with way more bloodshed—if these armed militants were black or brown.

If taking people’s guns is therefore not a viable answer, and if people aren’t willing to cede possession of their weapons, looking forward, how do we enact policy that allows us to make real progress on the subject of gun control and gun violence? Going back to the idea of gun ownership being a right versus a privilege, let me deal in the context of an analogy, as I so often like to do on this blog and—annoying my friends and family in the process—in my personal life. Automobiles, like guns, involve pieces of metal moving at relatively high rates of speed. Based on their size, weight, momentum, and other factors, cars et al. have the power to injure and kill. This applies to not only drivers, but pedestrians as well, a thought reinforced by an alarming number of recent acts of violence on innocent bystanders at political rallies and as part of terroristic attacks. Owing to how dangerous operation of a motor vehicle can be, ownership and use is more of a privilege than an absolute right. Beyond the potential limitation of cost, there are numerous proverbial hoops through which to jump if one is to legally be able to share the road. You must be of a certain age specified by the state in which you reside, you must pass both a written and road test, you must register and insure your vehicle, and you must regularly maintain it, not merely for issues of performance and long-term viability, but to pass inspection and satisfy federal standards designed to ensure safety and to limit the emission of substances regarded as damaging to the Earth’s environment. These provisions of law, mind you, did not happen overnight, but are a function of the efforts of automobile safety advocates and other interested parties. Buying, driving, and owning a car is, in short, a big deal.

In terms of overall utility, a gun is far less useful than an automobile. With respect to a car, this may be a necessity for the individual, especially if his or her job/profession involves driving and relying on public transportation is impractical. Guns, meanwhile, are designed to intimidate, injure, or kill. Sure, there’s the notion that a firearm can be carried and owned as a measure of self-defense, but even then, the optimal outcome is that shots aren’t fired. In this sense, guns primarily confer the benefit of a sense of protection for the holder—even when this may be illusory. (By the way, don’t even get me started about the use of guns in hunting. If we’re talking about it as pure sport, I have no regard for this “tradition.” Play a deer-hunter simulator, why don’t you?) So why are guns so much more readily available in the United States when they have a far less redeeming social value than something like a motor vehicle. By now, it should be evident that the gun lobby in the United States has more clout and more influence than most single-issue advocacy groups. Whether or not you approve of their stances on various topics under the gun control/gun law reform umbrella, the National Rifle Association, represented in its lobbying efforts by the Institute for Legislative Action, is effective in impacting policy and mobilizing its members and supporters. Like President Trump, the NRA appeals to anti-government types and stokes feelings of anger and fear that “their” way of life is at risk of being taken away by runaway liberalism. It also makes use of gun clubs, gun magazines, gun shops, and other methods of communication to amplify its voice. The NRA is as entrenched a group in American politics as they come, and this has made, to a large extent, resistance to change so resolute.

So, does this mean that the gun lobby is unassailable and that positive steps forward become too long and heavy to take? No, I don’t believe this is the case, and I think analogies like the car vs. gun binary can be instructive. In saying this, I am mindful of the reflexive defense employed by gun advocates that cars kill thousands of people a year and we don’t blame the cars for the violence they help create, so why vilify guns? For one, as we’ve talked about heretofore, a car’s worth to society easily exceeds that of a gun’s. Guns are not critical to the American economy like cars are, nor are they essential for most people’s survival. In this respect, the comparison to automobiles as brutal killing machines is an apples-to-oranges parallel. Moreover, assuming we are putting dissimilarities aside in line with the wishes of Second Amendment fanatics, let’s put our money where our mouth is and treat gun ownership like car ownership. Let’s require that prospective gun users pass both a written and physical proficiency exam before they can become licensed to carry and operate a firearm. Let’s mandate that these weapons, like cars, get registered by their owners, and furthermore, that these owners obtain proof of insurance in the event of an incident. In the interest of safety, and if we can do this for cars and other vehicles, why can’t we do it for guns? In the case of a car accident, your seat belt and/or the airbag might save your life. In the case of a shooting, unless you happen to be wearing a bulletproof vest, the odds of not dying are decidedly not in your favor.

The straightest path to progress on this issue is a legislative one, and whether we are talking reform at the federal or state level, it initially appears we are chasing our tails by offering a solution at odds with the wishes of the gun lobby. The pursuit of advancement on gun law reform, however, was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and commensurate with the notion of the long haul for gun control, changing the political process and elevating new leaders to become lawmakers will take time. Both of these efforts are worth the time and energy, though, as much as our sense of exasperation over the same tragedies repeating themselves ad nauseum—not to mention the sheer stupidity and embarrassment of the Trump administration—may be. Despite the bluster of the NRA and other Second Amendment apologists, most Americans want sensible measures enacted to limit the ability of individuals who would do harm to others to legally procure deadly weapons, even if, in specific cases, existing gun laws may not have been sufficient to prevent a tragedy such as Sutherland Springs. We’re all sick and tired of hearing about these kinds of shootings. Let’s not allow our fatigue to bring us to a state of complacency when authentic change is possible.

When the NRA Points, Three Fingers Point Back

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Dana Loesch talks shit about other people’s outrage, but she’s sure good at acting like she’s outraged herself. (Image Source: Screenshot/YouTube)

We are in the midst of a culture war. Well, at least as some on the right would have us believe. President Donald Trump, for one, has used this kind of rhetoric to great effect on the campaign trail and continues to try drive a Russia-sized wedge between his supporters and the mainstream media. Recently, conservative talk radio host, television personality, and author Dana Loesch delivered a diatribe along these lines that got a lot of attention—mostly for the wrong reasons, but still. Loesch’s depiction of the United of States of America today on behalf of the NRA is nothing short of “madness,” a word she herself uses in setting a near-apocalyptic tone. Here are her words, and if you haven’t seen the video (you can Google it if you want—I’m not linking to that shit), I swear I am not making them up:

They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance.”

All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.

And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.

I’m the National Rifle Association of America. And I’m freedom’s safest place.

Apparently, our country is on the brink of catastrophe, and the NRA is America’s last hope for salvation and freedom. You know, not to self-aggrandize or anything. Dana Loesch’s rant is an emotionally-laden one, so on some level, it seems unfair to really sift through her comments and pick them apart. Then again, this is propaganda which has the power to motivate and influence people’s decisions, particularly in a negative direction, so—what the hell—let’s tear this speech to shreds. My $4.63 (two cents, adjusted for inflation):

They use their media to assassinate real news.

As opposed to fake news? Which is the real news and fake news, in this equation? Just checking. If we’re going to be conjuring images of unrest and trying to raise doubts about the fairness and soundness of the mainstream media, we should know who our so-called friends and enemies are, right? Right? Not only is Loesch remarkably vague in this demonization of the other, but she’s using some awfully loaded language from the jump. “Assassination” usually applies to the murder of someone notable or revered. Loesch could have used “kill” or even “destroy,” but instead, she chose to invoke a context in which the President is under attack and in immediate danger. Never mind that Donald Trump has been a consistent aggressor with respect to the news media, even going so far as to re-Tweet a depiction of himself nailing the likes of CNN with a wrestling move. For someone in the crosshairs, Trump sure lashes out at the MSM a lot. It’s at least a two-way street, but our President would imagine it as nothing more than a witch hunt—even when the news media has largely pulled its punches, sacrificing a certain standard for the sake of clicks, ratings and views. In other words, both sides have been doing their part to diminish a free press.

They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.

OK, so the “Donald Trump is Hitler” angle was always apt to be overblown, but when the man is being cheered on by David Duke and white nationalists across the globe, it’s not a completely absurd comparison, especially not when someone like Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister, has accused Trump of “acting like another Hitler.” I’m actually less concerned about Dana Loesch’s allusion to Hitler here, and more disturbed by the attack on schools as a bastion of liberal indoctrination. If teaching children to respect women and people of other nations, races, and faiths is wrong, then so be it, because you’re sure as hell not getting that from our President.

They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse “the resistance.”

We’ve heard this line ample times before, especially from the right. Why do these celebrities have to wax political all the time? #StayInYourLane, am I right? Except for the idea that politics affects pretty much everything else, and these celebrities are not only entitled to their views, but arguably should be engaged when the direction of the country is involved. I don’t denigrate Scott Baio for expressing his conservative political views. Maybe I might denigrate him for lacking talent as an actor, but like I said, he can say and think what he wants. This is America. Speaking of views, what, pray tell, is wrong with a politician like Barack Obama commenting on “the resistance?” It’s literally been his job to be involved in politics, and he led the freaking country for eight years. If Trump is doing a shitty job, who better than his Barack-ness to render his opinion having done the same job?

All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.

Um, Ms. Loesch, it’s American tradition to march and protest, not to mention completely legal unless it veers into the realm of violence and destruction of property. Even then, you’re describing a minority of instances and bad actors, and while we’re on the subject of the police and of bullying and terrorization, what about the fear that people of color face when they are made to understand that being stopped for a broken taillight may end up in their effective murder at the hands of an officer of the law? What about someone like Philando Castile being shot several times despite trying to warn the officer who stopped him that he was legally carrying a weapon? That to me is madness. Not to mention racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia can and should be called out and decried. There’s this notion going around that political correctness is holding us back as a nation, but it’s burdensome only to those who don’t practice it and who don’t genuinely believe people should be loved and respected.

And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.

Let’s get this straight: I don’t hate the police. I respect the job they do, thank them for keeping us safe, and appreciate the danger many of them face every day. I would even concede that most who wear the badge are good cops, and I think most Americans, liberal, centrist, or conservative, would feel the same way. Nonetheless, when officers of the law do not do their jobs correctly, or otherwise act in bad faith, that outrage is arguably warranted, especially when police forces show little interest in trying to admonish police for their bad behavior or even actively try to suppress the evidence. Again, any protests should be respectful and non-violent, but this is not to say they are unfair, and furthermore, one might submit that if anyone should want bad cops exposed, it’s others within their ranks.

Enough about our women and men in blue, however. Loesch here talks about fighting a “violence of lies” with “the clenched fist of truth.” First of all, what the heck is a “violence of lies?” Based on the dictionary definition, she is either referring to the conscious act of trying to hurt, damage, or kill something, or a strength of emotion/destructive force. Either way, it’s an odd turn of phrase, akin to calling a group of cows a gaggle. Besides, she points to the left and cries foul, but the same can be and has been said about the right, and I may be biased, but the criticism is way more justified.

One last thing: the clenched fist is a symbol of the resistance you have taken great pains to demonize. You and your conservative ilk are in power now, so kindly, ahem, step off, or else I have a new hand gesture involving a particular finger and pejorative meaning waiting in the wings


The thing that always gets me about the National Rifle Association and appeals to “freedom” is that it always seems as if the organization and its supporters are depicting a situation by which the “godless” left is coming for their guns. Except I never actually hear anyone on the left say we should take away the right to bear arms. This last election cycle, Hillary Clinton distinguished herself from Bernie Sanders by appearing tougher on guns, even going as far as to support the families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting in a bid to bring suit against gun manufacturers. (I myself, perhaps unsurprisingly, sided with the latter, because I don’t see the value in such litigation except in instances where the manufacturer clearly was at fault in creating a product that malfunctions or knowingly sells to a criminal element, but this point may be debated.) Still, even Clinton has never advocated abolishing the Second Amendment outright. Sure, she and others (including myself) may call for a restriction on sales of military-grade weapons to civilians, but this seems pretty sensible. Of course, “sensible” may be a relative term when it comes to gun policy and gun reform in the United States, but do with this sentiment what you may.

While we’re speaking in “sensible” terms, let’s state something which is obvious, but nonetheless bears repeating. The purpose of guns is to harm, intimidate, and kill. Sure, it may be used for hunting, but that still fits the bill. #DeerLivesMatter. Otherwise, people may blow off steam and practice their target shooting, though if they really wanted, they could—I don’t know—go to the bar instead. The most legitimate reason why anyone not already required to carry a firearm per their job or role should own a firearm, as I see it, is for defense of his or her home. Beyond that, the justifications largely appear to fall flat. Guns result in pieces of metal moving at high rates of speed. In this respect, they are like cars, huge masses of metal which are designed to move at high rates of speed. Cars, like guns, have the potential to kill. For this reason, before being able to legally drive one, people must first be old enough, and must pass both a written and road test. Because they can cause destruction, including to one another (not to mention they can cost a shit-ton), there are any number of car insurance companies as well. Automobiles, in short, are a big deal and require the requisite know-how and safeguards to operate, but hey, they get you where you need to go.

So, let’s get this straight: cars, which are comparatively much more useful than guns, require much more documentation and proof of proficiency than guns, devices designed solely to frighten, maim, and/or end a living thing’s existence. Wait, what? Relatively speaking, it is frighteningly simple to get a gun legally in the United States of America. A June 2016 report by Doug Criss for CNN put this matter in jarring perspective when it considered how a gun is easier to get than any number of things in this country. As noted, it is easier to get a lethal weapon than a driver’s license. You don’t need to pass any knowledge or proficiency exams, nor do you even need, in most cases, a license or permit. Furthermore, whereas new drivers in a state like Maryland must go through a probationary period, there is no such requirement for firearms. Just go to the shop, get a gun and some ammo, load that sucker up, and get to shooting!

Criss provides other examples as well, and of considerably less danger, to boot. For a passport, you need to prove your identity as a citizen, file paperwork, submit a photo, and wait about six weeks for processing, whereas with guns, if buying from a private seller, you likely don’t even need a background check. You may be limited to the amount of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine you buy in a month because it can be used to make meth; no federal law places such a limit on the number of guns you can purchase. For a divorce, it may take several months to finalize; the most stringent gun buying laws in individual states would have you wait mere days before you can take home your shiny new lethal weapon. Even getting a puppy may require you to be 21 or older, provide personal references, and submit to a home visit when adopting from an agency. A gun is nowhere as cute and cuddly, and necessitates no home visits or personal references. And, as we’ve firmly established, it can kill you.


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Donald Trump, being an asshole. As usual. (Image Source: CNN/Screencapture)

The influence of the National Rifle Association as a subset of the larger discussion of the issue of money in politics should trouble Americans regardless of their political affiliation, though certainly, those on the left particularly concerned about this matter should be especially alarmed. Not only is the NRA obviously well-connected in terms of access to politicians and availability of funds to devote to lobbying efforts, but they are also well-organized in terms of communicating with their membership and putting them on a path to action. In a piece from last year for NBC penned in the wake of the Orlando shooting, Leigh Ann Caldwell explored how the NRA exerts influence beyond mere political contributions to individual candidates. The Association can give to the major political parties as well as committees within their ranks at both the state and national level. Its five-million-plus members can also donate of their own accord, not to mention the NRA has its own super PAC and 501(c)(4) organization for the purpose of political campaigns. To top it all off, and perhaps most significantly, the NRA communicates constantly with its membership, informing them about gun-related votes, advising them how to vote, and even spelling out how specific lawmakers voted on the issues so as to apply political pressure accordingly, with people at the ready to send E-mails, letters, and phone calls in line with this function. Oh, and they register people to vote, too. At a time when Republican efforts to curtail the vote for the Democrats’ traditional systems of support are as strong as ever, this detail is not insignificant.

So, how do we solve a problem like the NRA? The answer is both a simple one, i.e. funding resistance efforts, and a complicated one, in light of how entrenched its power is and how effectively it marshals resources when a vote is involved. Back in 2014,  Tim Dickinson wrote about how to beat the NRA in seven not-so-easy steps for Rolling Stone. Though perhaps a bit obvious, though decidedly necessary to mention given its history and investment in politics heretofore, the first step Dickinson outlined was committing to a generation-long battle against the gun lobby. With that, the next recommendation was to develop a local strategy of supporting gun control initiatives to amplify the position of the pro-reform White House. Of course, now man-baby Donald Trump is President, so the equation changes quite a bit, but the point of acting at the state and community level is yet highly relevant.

The other five steps vary in terms of how compelling they are, notably if you happen to be a progressive like myself, but they are worth deliberating. #3 involves politicizing disaster, because the NRA already does it and little has moved the proverbial needle outside of “making a political issue of the tiny coffins of dead children in the wake of a school shooting.” In advertising, they say sex sells, but maybe the anti-gun-violence activists among us need to fight fire with fire and play on the public’s emotions. Along these lines, #4 involves taking swift action to capitalize on tragedy. As Dickinson would have it, think less Barack Obama and more Andrew Cuomo. #5 is to bring Big Money to the table. This seems to be akin to dancing with the devil, but there is value in the idea that this money would be linked to a broad base of gun control activists with their own ability to donate and vote to the cause. #6 is to “think bigger than mayors, moms, and martyrs.” That is, create a movement that isn’t limited to concerned mothers and families of victims, and that has a simple message about ending gun violence and making communities safer. Finally, #7 involves preparing for setbacks and retaliation from the National Rifle Association. After all, if, in the wake of shooting after shooting, we are still lagging behind in terms of the use of background checks, waiting periods, and limiting sales of weaponry designed to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time, we need to understand that the NRA is primed to play both offense and defense. So far, it’s been a winning formula for the gun lobby.

Speaking of setbacks, Dana Loesch’s propaganda rant on behalf of the NRA was criticized not only by proponents of gun reform, but many gun owners as well as being a bit much. Still, if we would expect this to seriously hurt the National Rifle Association and its ability to recruit, we would be patently naïve, and we should be duly worried about how some of the organization’s supporters might interpret Loesch’s broad message. Loesch et al. frame this is as a “culture war,” but some might heed the call to action armed with more than just the clenched fist of truth, if you catch my drift. Lastly, in accordance with Tim Dickinson’s ideas, we must understand there is no, ahem, silver bullet when it comes to fighting the NRA’s influence. It will take money, it will take community involvement, and most of all, it will take time. When the NRA points, three fingers point back in terms of its contributions to limiting the freedom of Americans everywhere to enjoy safety without the fear of gun violence. If you think this is a self-defeating principle, however, feel free to talk to those onlookers at the Trump presidency still waiting on impeachment.

But Seriously, About Those Background Checks…

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There are a lot of reasons people have against expansion of background checks for gun sales, and by and large, they blow. (Photo Credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

You may have heard the Senate was scheduled to vote on four pieces of legislation regarding gun control. Well, it happened—and all of them failed to pass. Big shock, I know. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s  (D-CA) proposal to allow the Attorney General to deny firearms and explosives to suspected terrorists was defeated 53 – 47, falling short of the needed 60 votes to pass. Sen. John Corryn’s (R-TX) bill to permit authorities to delay a gun sale if a judge rules there is probable cause to deny the firearm outright failed by the same margin. A proposal from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to expand background checks for all gun purchases, even through gun shows and online, was split 56 – 44. And Sen. Charles Grassley’s (R-IA) bill to increase government funding to run background checks without requiring their expansion likewise failed to reach the magic number of 60, with Democrats reacting negatively (and understandably so) to an amendment which would allow people involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution for a “mental illness” to buy a gun once released.

 

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) put it pretty succinctly when he said, “Senate Republicans ought to be embarrassed, but they’re not, because the NRA is happy.” It’s no secret that, regarding Congress’s persistence in acting against the desires of a majority of Americans with respect to gun control, the National Rifle Association, a small but powerful (and persistent) group is the one pulling the strings in the Republican Party. With all of the above votes, splits occurred more or less along party lines. So, if you are dismayed by the results of the above exercises in futility, you know who you have to personally thank.

Why is the NRA so resistant to an expansion of background checks, in any form? I’ve heard a number of their talking points before on this matter, but just for kicks, I decided to sift through a more detailed explanation on why the National Rifle Association rejects all attempts to promote gun control. On the official website for the NRA-ILA, or the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, there is a page regarding background information on background checks in the U.S., the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and various arguments surrounding these topics. The following is my attempt to make sense of the NRA’s rhetoric herein. Feel free to read ahead—or skip down to the conclusion if you think you know where this is going.


According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), 77 percent of criminals in state prison for firearm crimes get firearms through theft, on the black market, from a drug dealer or “on the street,” or from family members and friends. Less than one percent get firearms from dealers or non-dealers at gun shows.

What this citation doesn’t show, however, is that only 2% of all firearm-related crimes in the U.S. are homicides. Flipping this relationship around, the results are pretty staggering. This same report found that 60% to 70% of all homicides from 1993 to 2011 were committed with a firearm. That’s a majority, and it doesn’t even begin to consider those gun-related deaths which are suicides. To speak of the sources of firearms in terms of all firearm-related crimes is disingenuous, as much as insisting that guns are irrelevant in homicide statistics would be obviously foolish.

According to the nation’s leading criminologist specializing in the study of murder, Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hospitalization. They would not be disqualified from purchasing their weapons legally. Certainly, people cannot be denied their Second Amendment rights just because they look strange or act in an odd manner. Besides, mass killers could always find an alternative way of securing the needed weaponry, even if they had to steal from family members or friends.”

This argument cites a column by Northeastern University professor of criminology James Alan Fox, who makes a number of valid points about gun control and mass shooters. The NRA’s reference curiously, though, leaves out the closing of the article. In spite of all of Fox’s arguments which would seem to go against gun control advocates’ contentions, he has this to say about potential legislative solutions:

Sensible gun laws, affordable mental-health care, and reasonable security measures are all worthwhile, and would enhance the well being of millions of Americans. They may do much to impact the level of violent crime that plagues our nation daily. We shouldn’t, however, expect such efforts to take a big bite out of crime in its most extreme form. Of course, a nibble or two from the prevalence of mass murder would be reason enough. And efforts to promote real change in our social policies would be a fitting legacy to the tragedy in Newtown.

In short, even James Alan Fox doesn’t believe in throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater when it comes to gun laws designed to make us safer. Even if these reforms may not stop mass murders, which are salient, newsworthy events, there nonetheless may be merit in passing new restrictions on gun sales.

None of the mass shootings that President Barack Obama named in a White House speech on gun control in January 2016, would have been prevented by requiring background checks on private sales of firearms.

I’d like to give you a comprehensive report which the NRA-ILA cites with this statement, but it doesn’t exist. Even though this claim may be true, the NRA is essentially citing itself. Just a point of caution. Moreover, these are but a few examples that don’t speak to the possible effect of background checks on mass shootings on the whole. This article by Alan Yuhas in The Guardian points to statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety—an organization with a clear bias, but still—that illustrate a negative correlation between states that require background checks for all gun sales and incidence of mass shootings. Meaning as background checks go up, mass shootings tend to go down.

And there are additional food-for-thought-type stats cited in the Yuhas article that don’t relate to mass shootings necessarily, but do invoke a link between domestic violence, guns and fatalities, and likewise suggest background checks might be helpful in restricting access to guns for would-be murderers. All this with a ban on gun research and publishing data that the NRA has, in large part, effected, so think of what else we might find with fewer restrictions on access to data.


Close-the-Gun-Show-Loophole
“There is no gun show loophole. Climate change is a conspiracy invented by the Chinese.” What other dumb conservative ideas can we add to the mix? (Photo retrieved from about.com)

 

But, wait, there’s more! In explaining why it opposes more background checks, the NRA has a number of reasons at the ready related to the notion “gun control supporters are not being honest.” Here’s a sampling of the best points—a dubious distinction, to be sure.

Background checks are not “the most important thing we can do.”

The NRA-ILA is referencing a quote by Michael Bloomberg about background checks being the “single most important thing we can do to reduce gun violence,” and then cites a number of articles which point to a reduction in crime, none of which list gun control among the reasons crime has declined. That’s all well and good, but first of all, how can we list gun control among those reasons, when the NRA itself has all but single-handedly blocked attempts at reform? Secondly, again, it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison that is being made. The NRA is talking about a reduction in all crime, not just gun violence or mass shootings.

Thirdly, in enumerating the reasons why crime rates have gone down, some of the underlying causes are fraught with their own issues. We’re putting more criminals behind bars, but this is leading to overcrowding in prisons and is hurting whole communities, predominantly those populated by minorities. Policing is more proactive, but it’s not above criticism (allegations of brutality, civil asset forfeiture, a growing militarization of forces—shall I go on?). And there are fewer opportunities for home invasions related to the recession—because people can’t afford to live in their houses anymore or are otherwise have been foreclosed on by their lender(s). Not exactly a rosy picture, is it?

There is no “gun show loophole.”

Hmm, that’s not what Wikipedia says.

“Loophole” is a phony term.

Hmm, that’s not what the dictionary says.

It’s not “40 percent.”

The NRA here is referring to a claim President Obama made regarding the notion 40% of firearms are sold without a background check, which has since been debunked, and quickly hereafter, a record low is referenced in the number of murders in the U.S. Yet again, this is a red herring from the NRA—whatever homicide rates are, there’s nothing to say background checks for all gun purchases can’t be implemented. These are two separate issues.

It’s not “92 percent” either.

OK, fine, how about 90%? Because that’s, like, what a bajillion polls will tell you about the notion that a vast majority of Americans want to see an expansion of background checks. The NRA-ILA points to one vote in Washington state in November 2014 in which only 59% of voters approved a private sales background check initiative as evidence. But that’s one vote in one state! And the initiative still was approved by a majority of voters!


Prior to an exhaustive recounting on the history of background checks on guns in America and the requisite Works Cited list, the NRA-ILA, on this same page, ticks off several gun regulations as proof that “federal gun control laws are already strong enough,” as if these restrictions, in them of themselves, are inherent proof of this logic, such that we don’t require additional considerations for “online” or “Internet” firearm sales. To stress, I am not target the audience for this litany of objections against the U.S. government and their supposed overreach. Nevertheless, a number of these provisions seem fairly sensible to me:

  • Federal law prohibits transferring a firearm to anyone known or believed to be prohibited from possessing firearms. Sounds good to me. If you shouldn’t have a gun, you shouldn’t have a gun.
  • Federal law prohibits a non-licensee from acquiring a handgun outside his state of residence and prohibits a non-licensee from acquiring a rifle or shotgun from a non-licensee outside his state of residence. Cool. On the subject of guns, I feel everyone who owns or sells one should be licensed.
  • Federal law prohibits anyone from transferring a handgun to a non-licensee who resides in another state (with rare exceptions), and prohibits a non-licensee from transferring any firearm to a non-licensee who resides in another state. This is essentially the same idea as the last specification, except involving transfer rather than acquisition of a firearm. Either way, you now know my stance regarding licenses for gun ownership and sales.
  • Federal law prohibits the acquisition of a firearm on behalf of a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms. Exactly. I don’t know how you’d prove that much if you’re the seller, but this seems logical.
  • Federal law also prohibits dealers from selling rifles or shotguns to persons under age 18. Yeah, I don’t know think I need to tell you this, but people over the age of 18 don’t always exercise great caution and judgment when using firearms. So, do I support guns for individuals under the age of 18? Hells to the no!

In fact, now that I get the sense that the major aversion to background checks is that they are supposedly ineffective at deterring gun violence and that they are inconvenient for prospective gun buyers, let me play devil’s advocate, from the perspective of the anti-gun control voter. If an expansion of background checks for all purchases/sales of guns won’t work in preventing gun-related homicides, nor will checking people seeking to buy firearms legally against databases such as that of a terrorism watch list, why not let us try anyway? I mean, are you worried about the potential cost? If so, are you that willing to put a price on measures that might save lives?

Or let’s look at these matters another way. If background checks are a symbol of the overreach of the federal government and of stripping away our personal freedoms, namely that of the Second Amendment, then why aren’t you as concerned about the hypothetical situation of the government invading the privacy of Muslims and others it regards as a threat? Isn’t that overreach and, in all likelihood, a violation of the Bill of Rights? Or is it OK if it happens to someone else, one of them? You can’t have your cake and eat it, too—no matter what Donald Trump says.

Maybe as a non-gun-owner I just don’t understand, but as a concerned citizen, I can’t see any justification for failing to expand the use of background checks for all firearms transactions. Not any good one, at least. We can cherry-pick the statistics that support our points. We can use the Second Amendment as a crutch. We can say “guns keep us safe” until we’re blue in the face. On all counts, though, I think these positions fail to hold up under further scrutiny. Background checks may not have prevented the Orlando shooting or any number of mass shootings in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean they’re not the right thing to do.