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“Guns Are Out Of Control”: Some Extremists Fire Guns And Other Extremists Promote Guns

Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20.

Canada has a much smaller population, of course, and the criteria researchers used for each country are slightly different, but that still says something important about public safety.

Could it be, as Donald Trump suggests, that the peril comes from admitting Muslims? On the contrary, Canadians are safe despite having been far more hospitable to Muslim refugees: Canada has admitted more than 27,000 Syrian refugees since November, some 10 times the number the United States has.

More broadly, Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.

Look, I grew up on a farm with guns. One morning when I was 10, we awoke at dawn to hear our chickens squawking frantically and saw a fox trotting away with one of our hens in its mouth. My dad grabbed his .308 rifle, opened the window and fired twice. The fox was unhurt but dropped its breakfast and fled. The hen picked herself up, shook her feathers indignantly and walked back to the barn. So in the right context, guns have their uses.

The problem is that we make no serious effort to keep firearms out of the hands of violent people. A few data points:

■ More Americans have died from guns, including suicides, since just 1970 than died in all the wars in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution.

■ The Civil War marks by far the most savage period of warfare in American history. But more Americans are now killed from guns annually, again including suicides, than were killed by guns on average each year during the Civil War (when many of the deaths were from disease, not guns).

■ In the United States, more preschoolers up through age 4 are shot dead each year than police officers are.

Canada has put in place measures that make it more difficult for a dangerous person to acquire a gun, with a focus not so much on banning weapons entirely (the AR-15 is available after undergoing safety training and a screening) as on limiting who can obtain one. In the United States, we lack even universal background checks, and new Harvard research to be published soon found that 40 percent of gun transfers didn’t even involve a background check.

We can’t prevent every gun death any more than we can prevent every car accident, and the challenge is particularly acute with homegrown terrorists like the one in Orlando. But experts estimate that a serious effort to reduce gun violence might reduce the toll by one-third, which would be more than 10,000 lives saved a year.

The Orlando killer would have been legally barred from buying lawn darts, because they were banned as unsafe. He would have been unable to drive a car that didn’t pass a safety inspection or that lacked insurance. He couldn’t have purchased a black water gun without an orange tip — because that would have been too dangerous.

But it’s not too dangerous to allow the sale of an assault rifle without even a background check?

If we’re trying to prevent carnage like that of Orlando, we need to be vigilant not only about infiltration by the Islamic State, and not only about American citizens poisoned into committing acts of terrorism. We also need to be vigilant about National Rifle Association-type extremism that allows guns to be sold without background checks.

It’s staggering that Congress doesn’t see a problem with allowing people on terror watch lists to buy guns: In each of the last three years, more than 200 people on the terror watch list have been allowed to purchase guns. We empower ISIS when we permit acolytes like the Orlando killer, investigated repeatedly as a terrorist threat, to buy a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 handgun on consecutive days.

A great majority of Muslims are peaceful, and it’s unfair to blame Islam for terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando. But it is important to hold accountable Gulf states like Saudi Arabia that are wellsprings of religious zealotry, intolerance and fanaticism. We should also hold accountable our own political figures who exploit tragic events to sow bigotry. And, yes, that means Donald Trump.

When Trump scapegoats Muslims, that also damages our own security by bolstering the us-versus-them narrative of ISIS. The lesson of history is that extremists on one side invariably empower extremists on the other.

So by all means, Muslims around the world should stand up to their fanatics sowing hatred and intolerance — and we Americans should stand up to our own extremist doing just the same.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 16, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Who Owns Most Of The Guns? ‘The Base!”: Overlapping Circles Of A Hard Core Of Dangerous Folks

It’s a research finding that is startling but not really surprising (per a report from NBC’s Maggie Fox):

A new study aimed at figuring out who owns gun in the United States and why suggests that about a third of Americans have at least one.

Most are white males over the age of 55, and a “gun culture” is closely linked with ownership, the team at Columbia University reports.

The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, is one of several trying to pin down the number of gun owners in the United States. No agency keeps statistics on gun ownership and many pro-gun activists advocate keeping gun ownership private because of fears about potential future laws that might take guns away.

Yeah, well, if you really buy into the idea that good people like us need to stockpile weapons in case we need to overthrow a tyrannical socialist regime supported by those people, then I guess you want to present a moving target, eh? But I digress. The study also even less surprisingly shows a geographical gulf in gun ownership:

[Gun ownership percentages ranged] from 5.2 percent in Delaware to 61.7 percent in Alaska,” they wrote in their report. “Gun ownership was 2.25 times greater among those reporting social gun culture than those who did not,” they added.

In the Northeast, gun ownership rates ranged from 5.8 percent in Rhode Island to 28.8 percent in Vermont.

In the Midwest, rates ranged from 19.6 percent in Ohio to 47.9 percent in North Dakota. In the South and mid-Atlantic, rates ranged from 5.2 percent in Delaware to 57.9 percent in Arkansas. And in the West, California had the lowest rate of gun ownership at 20 percent, while nearly 62 percent of Alaskans said they had a gun.

Now this rural habit of disproportionate gun ownership is often related to the opportunity for and interest in hunting, and of a “gun culture” (to use the Columbia report’s terminology) in which social life revolves around gun-related activities. Both these factors are undoubtedly important. But there is something more basic than that: isolation. The first time in my life I really thought about owning a gun was one night when I was awakened at 2:00 AM in my central Virginia home at the end of a two-mile dirt road by approaching–and then extinguished–headlights. At that moment, I wasn’t real confident in the safety offered by a baseball bat, a Bichon Frise, and police officers who were at least 30 minutes away.

On the other hand, even then I didn’t really want an assault rifle, and I would have probably regretted firing hundreds of rounds at that parked car which in the end probably contained teenagers messing around or smoking pot.

Putting aside for a moment geography or the objective advisability of owning some sort of gun for self-protection, there is something fundamentally disquieting about the fact that the Americans most likely to own guns are also the Americans most likely to embrace a political rationale for gun ownership and most likely to believe they’re getting outvoted by people who don’t share their values. Somewhere in these overlapping circles is a hard core of dangerous folks who are being told constantly by Republican politicians that they are losing or have already lost their most fundamental rights. And this is why political extremism is a bad thing even if its devotees lose most elections.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 30, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Ownership, Public Safety | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Die Is Cast”: The NYPD Is Running An Unethical Experiment On New Yorkers; Let’s See What Happens

Scientific knowledge sometimes isn’t worth the ethical cost. For example, when it was first suspected that smoking causes lung cancer, a strong way to test the theory would have been to take a bunch of babies, expose half to lots of cigarette smoke for decades, and see what happened. That would have resulted in valuable evidence but obviously would have come at too high an ethical cost.

The New York Police Department is apparently not moved by these sorts of considerations. Enraged by the murder of two police officers, which has been ludicrously blamed on Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city’s finest have been conducting a work slowdown in protest. (The official line is that there is no coordinated slowdown, but the numbers don’t lie.)

It’s unclear what the motivation is behind the slowdown. There are three possibilities. First, the NYPD hopes that reduced policing will spark a crime spree, leading the public to turn on de Blasio. Second, the force is cutting back on ticketing to hit the city government in the wallet. Or third, it is a visceral lashing out at a city that isn’t providing the unquestioning, worshipful deference the cops apparently think they deserve at all times.

None of these are mutually exclusive, of course. I’d put some weight on all three, with the bulk of it on the last one. In any case, it’s a seriously unethical experiment on the citizens of New York. How much policing does the city really need? We’re about to get an answer, whether we like it or not.

The New York Times has compiled some interesting data on the reduction in policing activity. Just about every category of law enforcement is down from this time last year. Subway policing has basically stopped altogether. Arrests and citations for minor offenses (parking tickets and the like) have fallen by 90 percent or more. Arrests for violent crime are down by a small amount and appear to be returning to normal. But only detective bureau arrests have returned to their previous level, after a sharp reduction last week.

It’s probably fair to say that after a week of genuinely risking public safety, the NYPD is beginning to think better of its rash behavior and is scaling back the slowdown on violent crime.

Still, crime of any kind barely budged, either last week or this week. This suggests that the NYPD is not the only thing standing between New York and a blighted dystopian hellscape.

It casts more serious doubt on the “Broken Windows” theory, beloved of police departments and city governments in New York and across the nation. This idea holds that the way to reduce serious crime is to crack down on minor offenses. For two weeks running, minor offenses have gone essentially unpunished. The result? Bupkis.

This is not dispositive proof, of course. There are dozens of potential confounding factors, and the situation is changing daily. In particular, two weeks may just be too short a time for crime to take root. But when it comes to policing, experiments of any kind are rare. Undoubtedly, experts will be sifting the resulting data in the ensuing months, and whatever conclusions they draw should get wide attention.

Finally, there’s the issue of government funding. New York City took in $890 million from fines and tickets in fiscal year 2014, out of an overall budget of $70 billion. That’s a fairly small fraction of the total, especially compared with the brutally oppressive little municipalities surrounding St. Louis that run mostly on fines. However, it’s still true that unnecessary fines are perhaps the worst of all possible sources of government revenue, since they tend to disproportionately come from heavily policed poor and minority communities. If these tickets aren’t actually necessary for public safety, or are just a way to extract money from those least able to defend themselves, then New York ought to be finding that money elsewhere.

No ethicist could have signed off on this experiment. But the die is cast. We might as well glean what lessons we can.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, January 8, 2015

January 12, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Public Safety | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enough”: The NYPD’s Dangerous, Disgraceful Game

Over two weeks of foot-stomping is enough, don’t you think?

On second thought, maybe that was already far too much.

Of course, I’m talking about the overwrought indignation roiling the New York Police Department since the horrific murder of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by a deranged psychopath on Dec. 20.

But first, a concession.

It’s been a tough several months for the police. Their work is often dangerous — sometimes intensely so, requiring heroic acts of valor that go far beyond what the rest of us will ever be called to do in our jobs. They deserve our respect and gratitude for risking their lives and well-being to ensure public safety. Police officers usually receive a decent wage and pension, but they aren’t rich. A significant part of their compensation comes from the honor, deference, and respect they are shown by elected officials and the public at large. It feels good to wear a uniform and carry a weapon, especially when unarmed civilians respond with admiration to both.

That’s the main reason why things have been so tense in the months since the unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. For the first time in decades, the police have come in for widespread, sometimes harsh public criticism. That criticism got harsher after the non-indictment of Wilson — and it got exponentially worse after a grand jury in Staten Island failed to indict the cop who strangled the unarmed Eric Garner to death in a separate incident.

After weeks of loud and angry protests, with large numbers of law-abiding citizens (including some politicians, and myself) raising tough questions about whether cops are shown too much deference in our culture and legal system, tension were running high. Which is why the cold-blooded murder of officers Ramos and Liu was especially shocking. When news of the shooting first broke, it was perfectly understandable for cops to wonder in their grief and fear if it had now become open season on the police.

What is not understandable — or justifiable — is for officers days later to show outright and repeated disrespect to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio by turning their backs on him at public events. Or for them to engage in a dramatic two-weeks-and-running work slowdown that has led to a 50 percent drop in arrests, and a 90 percent decline in parking and traffic tickets, from the same period a year ago.

Such actions are unjustifiable for several reasons.

First, because Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who gunned down Ramos and Liu after shooting his girlfriend and before killing himself, was a lunatic. His crime was not an act of politics; it was an act of madness, however he may have rationalized it to himself in the midst of his homicidal-suicidal rage. In case there is any doubt of this, we have the additional fact that no one in the protest movement views Brinsley as a hero advancing its aims. Far from it. The expressions of anguish, outrage, and disgust at the shooting have been nearly universal and entirely sincere.

That much is obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.

Which means that the cops who are acting out in counter-protest are either behaving like children throwing an irrational temper tantrum or cynically using a tragedy to forestall public criticism and browbeat protesters into silence.

Either way, their actions are disgraceful.

They’re also dangerous.

Liberal democratic government depends on several norms and institutions, including rights to free speech, worship, and assembly, free and fair elections, private property rights, an independent judiciary — and civilian control of the military. Make no mistake about it: the NYPD — with roughly 35,000 uniformed officers, as well as a well-funded and well-armed counterterrorism bureau — is a modestly sized military force deployed on the streets of the city.

It is absolutely essential, in New York City but also in communities around the country, that citizens and public officials make it at all times unambiguously clear that the police work for us. In repeatedly turning their backs on the man elected mayor by the citizens of New York, in refusing to abide by the police commissioner’s requests to cease their protests, in engaging in a work slowdown that could lead to a breakdown in the public order they are sworn to uphold — with all of these acts, the NYPD has demonstrated that it does not understand that the residents of New York City, and not the members of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association or its demagogic leader Patrick Lynch, are the ones in charge.

When police officers engage in acts of insubordination against civilian leadership, they should expect to be punished. Just like insubordinate soldiers.

The principle of civilian control of the military and police depends on it.

It also depends on cops who kill unarmed citizens being tried in a court of law. And on cops respecting the right of citizens to protest anything they wish, including the failure of the judicial system to hold police officers accountable for their use of deadly force in ambiguous situations.

All of this should be a no-brainer. That it apparently isn’t for many police officers and their apologists in the media is a troubling sign of decay in our civic institutions.

The mourning is over. Respect has been paid to the victims of a senseless act of violence. Now it’s time for the NYPD to go back to acting responsibly — and for the rest of us to continue expressing our justified outrage at the recklessness of bad cops and the prosecutors and jurors who enable them.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, January 7, 2015

January 10, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Public Safety | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Blinded By Tribalism, Threatening Public Safety”: The NYPD’s Insubordination—And Why The Right Should Oppose It

In New York City, “NYPD traffic tickets and summonses for minor offenses have dropped off by a staggering 94 percent following the execution of two cops,” the New York Post reports, attributing the “virtual work stoppage” to rank-and-file police officers who “feel betrayed by the mayor and fear for their safety.”

The statistics cited suggest significant solidarity among cops. Overall arrests rates fell 66 percent “for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show. Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame. Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent—from 4,831 to 300. Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241.”

As a ploy in contract negotiations, this tactic may prove effective, but it puts the NYPD in an unenviable position with respect to explaining what happens next. If this significant work slowdown has basically no effect on the safety of New York City, the NYPD’s prior policing will appear to have been needlessly aggressive, and the case for deploying more cops on the street in the future will be undermined. Scott Shackford zeroes in on this line from the Post article: “… cops were turning a blind eye to some minor crimes and making arrests only ‘when they have to’ since the execution-style shootings of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.”

He riffs:

Well, we can only hope the NYPD unions and de Blasio settle their differences soon so that the police can go back to arresting people for reasons other than “when they have to.” The NYPD’s failure to arrest and cite people will also end up costing the city huge amounts of money that it won’t be able to seize from its citizens, which is likely the real point. That’s the “punishment” for the de Blasio administration for not supporting them. One has to wonder if they even understand, or care, that their “work stoppage” is giving police state critics exactly what they want—less harsh enforcement of the city’s laws.

That’s how some policing reformers see it. Others, like me, don’t object to strictly enforcing laws against, say, public urination, traffic violations, or illegal parking, but would love it if the NYPD stopped frisking innocents without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, needlessly escalating encounters with civilians, and (especially) killing unarmed people, goals that are perfectly compatible with data-driven policing that targets actual disorder. Keep squeegee men at bay—and leave innocent black and Hispanic men alone.

What if the “broken windows” theory is correct and the work slowdown causes an increase in disorder and thus more serious crime? The NYPD will have put the safety and perhaps even the lives of New Yorkers in jeopardy to punish a politician for purportedly disrespecting them. Such a course might succeed in decreasing de Blasio’s popularity. But the public is unlikely to think that willfully putting New Yorkers in jeopardy to settle a political score is a forgivable tactic. It is certainly at odds with the notion that NYPD officers represent “New York’s finest,” heroes who willingly sacrifice themselves to protect and serve.

Due to de Blasio’s progressive politics and the political right’s reflexive “law and order” alliance with police, many conservatives are siding with the NYPD in its standoff with de Blasio. AlterNet reports that it has emails “revealing plans to organize a series of anti-de Blasio protests around the city” that are “billed as a non-partisan movement in support of ‘the men and women of the NYPD'” but actually orchestrated “by a cast of NYPD union bosses and local Republican activists allied with Rudy Giuliani.” The first rally is planned for January 13.

The right should greet it with the skepticism they’d typically summon for a rally on behalf of government workers as they seek higher pay, new work rules, and more generous benefits. What’s unfolding in New York City is, at its core, a public-employee union using overheated rhetoric and emotional appeals to rile public employees into insubordination. The implied threat to the city’s elected leadership and electorate is clear: Cede leverage to the police in the course of negotiating labor agreements or risk an armed, organized army rebelling against civilian control. Such tactics would infuriate the right if deployed by any bureaucracy save law enforcement opposing a left-of-center mayor.

It ought to infuriate them now. Instead, too many are permitting themselves to be baited into viewing discord in New York City through the distorting lens of the culture war, so much so that Al Sharpton’s name keeps coming up as if he’s at the center of all this. Poppycock. Credit savvy police union misdirection. They’re turning conservatives into their useful idiots. If the NYPD succeeds in bullying de Blasio into submission, the most likely consequence will be a labor contract that cedes too much to union negotiators, whether unsustainable pensions of the sort that plague local finances all over the U.S., work rules that prevent police commanders from running the department efficiently, or arbitration rules that prevent the worst cops from being fired. Meanwhile, Al Sharpton will be fine no matter what happens. Will the law-and-order right remain blinded by tribalism or grasp the real stakes before it’s too late? Look to National Review and City Journal before laying odds.

 

By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, December 31, 2014

January 1, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Public Safety | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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