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“We’re Ignoring The Real Gun Problem”: Exactly Which Forms Of Gun Violence Do Republicans Support?

Today President Obama spoke briefly to the press about yesterday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, and he began by noting: “So many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing we can do about it.” But what’s the “it” we’re talking about here? Is it just our spectacular and never-ending run of mass shootings?

Because if it is, we’re on the lesser of our gun problems. I’ll explain why in a moment, but here’s a bit more of what Obama had to say:

“It’s going to be important for all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do to make sure that when individuals decide that they want to do somebody harm, we’re making it a little harder for them to do it, because right now it’s just too easy. And we’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder — not impossible, but harder — for individuals to get access to weapons.”

His mention of “legislatures” is an implicit acknowledgement that any movement that happens on gun laws will happen at the state and local level, because congressional Republicans are emphatically against any legislation that would even inconvenience, let alone restrict, anyone’s ability to buy as many guns of as many types as they want. But what are those “basic steps” we can take, and would they actually work? And which kinds of gun violence would they stop?

It’s not surprising that we focus on mass shootings, because they’re sudden and dramatic — the very fact that they’re unusual compared to ordinary shootings is why they’re newsworthy. That’s despite the fact that we have them so often that the victim count has to get pretty high before the national news pays attention. But as this blog has noted before, they’re actually the smaller part of our gun violence problem.

Using the now-common definition of a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are injured or killed, there were 351 mass shootings in the United States this year before San Bernardino, or more than one per day. In those shootings, a total of 447 people died and 1,292 people were injured.

Now let’s use a year for which we have complete data on gun violence, 2013. That year, there were 363 mass shootings resulting in 502 deaths. But overall, 33,636 Americans died from gun violence that year. The number of gun homicides was 11,208. That means that victims of mass shootings made up 1.5 percent of all gun victims and 4.5 percent of gun homicide victims.

Democrats advocating for gun restrictions take the opportunity when there’s a mass shooting dominating the news to say: “This is why we need these restrictions.” Which is understandable as far as it goes, but it still keeps attention on the smaller part of the problem.

Republicans and conservatives, on the other hand, see mass shootings as regrettable but say that any government action to restrict access to guns either won’t stop such shootings, or would represent an unacceptable trade-off in terms of surrendering liberty. Some will instead say, “we need to reform the mental health system. ” But nine out of ten GOP congressmen probably couldn’t tell you a single thing they’d do to reform it, let alone how whatever they support would actually reduce the yearly death toll. There are a couple of related bills in Congress that Republicans support to make some reforms to the mental health system, but they could actually wind up making it easier for some people with a history of mental illness to get firearms.

And of course Republicans don’t address this simple fact: the overwhelming majority of gun homicides in America are not committed by people who have been declared mentally ill. They happen when abusive men kill their spouses or partners, when an argument between neighbors gets out of hand, when an angry ex-employee shoots his boss, when cycles of revenge spiral onward.

But if we only try to talk about guns when there are mass shootings, it allows Republicans to say, “It’s not about the guns — this guy was just crazy!” (Never mind that there are people with mental illness everywhere in the world; only here is it so easy for them to arm themselves to the teeth.)

If Republicans (and I’d put special focus on the presidential candidates, since they’re the ones who can get the most attention) are going to argue that the answer to gun violence is mental health reforms, they ought to be forced to get specific. Exactly which forms do they support? How exactly will each of those forms reduce gun violence? Will any of their ideas do anything to help the 95 percent of gun homicide victims who don’t die in mass shootings?

We’re now getting reports that Syed Farook, one of the shooters in San Bernardino, may have been in touch with an international terrorism suspect, and so this shooting may have been politically motivated (even though he chose to target his co-workers). Had that not been the case, Republicans would have said that all that matters is that Farook was crazy — how could anyone who killed 14 people not be? Now they’ll say that all that matters is that he was a terrorist. But if that turns out to be true, it would bring the number of Americans killed at home in jihadist attacks since 9/11 to 45. That’s about the number of Americans murdered with guns in an average day and half.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 3, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Congressional Republicans, Domestic Violence, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Divided You Win”: The ‘Second Amendment Folks’ Get To Have Their Way On Every Single Occasion, For All Eternity

I don’t watch the “Sunday shows,” but did find this opening comment from Donald Trump on This Week to represent not just his illogic but that of most Republicans:

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he’s a great divider and, you know, you have a big issue between the Second Amendment folks and the non-Second Amendment folks. And he is a non-Second Amendment person.

So apparently, this means the “Second Amendment folks” get to have their way on every single occasion, for all eternity. The whole world could be plunged into fiery chaos, and you’d still find this small group of Americans buying up every gun in sight, and implicitly threatening the rest of us that they’ll use their firepower on us if we dare suggest that ten or twenty or thirty military assault weapons are enough for them. “Gun rights” have become a secular religion with its own oaths and litanies and most of all anathemas, and when politically aligned with the corporate Cult of the Golden Calf, one despairs of curbing its power.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 5, 2015

October 5, 2015 Posted by | 2nd Amendment, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence, U. S. Constitution | , , , | 4 Comments

“Guns And The Two Americas”: If You Want To Lessen Your Chances Of Getting Shot, Stay Out Of The South

The waves of mass shootings continue to roll over the United States like surf on the ship of state’s prow. Every few weeks now we get hit with a jolt of cold water. We shake and shudder, and then brace ourselves for the next one.

So we beat on — a nation whose people are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of most other developed countries. The only thing extraordinary about mass shootings in America is how ordinary the killing grounds are — elementary schools, high schools, colleges, military recruitment centers, theaters, parks, churches.

Is no place safe? Actually, several places are. You want protection in a country that allows a deranged man to get an assault weapon to hunt down innocent people in a public space? Go to the airport — that bubble of gun-free security. Or go to a major-league baseball game, or a stadium in the National Football League.

Our big league venues may be engaging only in security theater, as critics assert, but their owners don’t think so. They now mandate metal detectors to snag weapons, and most of them even ban off-duty cops from bringing guns to the games.

Nationwide, if you want to lessen your chances of getting shot, stay out of the South. The South is the most violent region in the United States, and also the place with the highest rate of gun ownership. More guns, easily obtained by the mentally ill, religious fanatics and anti-government extremists, mean more gun deaths.

Better to go to a city or state with gun restrictions, at least if you’re playing the odds. Most of the states with tighter gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

That’s one America, the slightly safer one. It includes government gun-screened zones like airports, courthouses and many high schools. But more significantly, it also covers property used by our most popular obsession, pro football — the free market at work.

The other America is an open-fire zone, backed by politicians who think it should be even more crowded with average people parading around with lethal weapons. Just after the tragedy in a Louisiana theater a week ago — a shooting by a hate-filled man who was able to legally obtain a gun despite a history of mental illness — Rick Perry called gun-free zones a bad idea.

In his view, echoing that of the fanatics who own the Republican Party by intimidation, everyone should be armed, everywhere. Once a shooting starts, the bad guy with the gun will be killed by the good guy with the gun, somehow able to get a draw on the shooter in a darkened theater, or behind a pew in church.

This scenario almost never happens. The logic is nonsense, the odds of a perfectly timed counter-killer getting the drop on the evil killer unlikely. And even when such a situation does happen, as in the Tucson shooting of 2011, the armed citizen who jumps into the melee can pose a mortal threat to others. In Tucson, an innocent person came within seconds of getting shot by an armed bystander who wasn’t sure whom to shoot.

Most gun-free zones, like the theater in Lafayette, La., are not gun-free at all. They have no metal detectors or screening — that would cost too much, the theater owners claim. Gun-free is a suggestion, and therefore a misnomer. Eventually, the more prosperous theaters in better communities will pay for metal detectors, further setting apart the two Americas in our age of mass shootings.

The Mall of America — more than 500 stores in four miles of retail space, drawing 40 million annual visitors to a climate-controlled part of Minnesota — is trying to be a gun-free zone. “Guns are banned on these premises” is the mall’s official policy.

If the mall took up Rick Perry’s suggestion, shoppers could roam among the chain stores packing heat, ready for a shootout. The owners of that vast operation, similar to those who stage concerts and pro sports, think otherwise. The mall has a security force of more than a hundred people. Yeah — I hear the joke about the feckless mall cops. But the Mall of America trusts them more than well-armed shoppers to protect people, as they should.

Surprising though it may seem, gun ownership is declining over all in the United States. We are still awash with weapons — nearly a third of all American households have an adult with a gun. But that’s down from nearly half of all households in 1973.

What we’re moving toward, then, are regions that are safer than others, and public spaces that are safer than others, led by private enterprise, shunning the gun crazies who want everyone armed. The new reality comes with the inconvenience and hassle of screening and pat-downs similar to the routines at airports — enforced gun-free zones, not mere suggestions.

As a way to make everyday life seem less frightening, the new reality is absurd. But that’s the cost, apparently, of an extreme interpretation of a constitutional amendment designed to fend off British tyranny, a freedom that has become a tyranny in itself.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, July 31, 2015

August 1, 2015 Posted by | Gun Ownership, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bobby Jindal Enabled Louisiana’s Gun Violence Problem”: Worked To Weaken The State’s Already Lax Gun Control

Governor Bobby Jindal suspended his sputtering presidential campaign on Friday, a day after 59-year-old gunman John Houser killed two people and wounded nine others in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. “We’re going to do whatever we can to support our community here,” he said on Fox News. “This is a time for us to come together.”

He should do a lot more than that. Louisiana has some of the weakest gun laws and worst gun violence in the nation.

The state doesn’t require background checks on private sales, even for assault weapons; doesn’t require gun owners to register their firearms; and doesn’t have a limit on the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As for gun violence, the state has the second-highest gun death rate in the nation, according to an analysis of the latest National Vital Statistics report. Louisiana’s lax oversight also enables firearms trafficking to other states, in which it ranks fifteenth in the nation, and 28 percent of guns wind up in criminals’ hands within two years of sale—almost six points above the national average.

Jindal has worked to weaken the state’s already lax gun control by signing a wave of bills in 2013 and 2014. He broadened the “Stand Your Ground” law to protect shooters who hurt, but don’t kill, someone they feel is threatening. He allowed concealed weapons in places that serve alcohol. He banned public access to the personal information of concealed handgun permit owners. He approved guns in churches. And he allowed Louisianans to apply for lifetime concealed-carry permits.

So don’t expect from Jindal the type of comments that Barack Obama delivered after last month’s massacre in a Charleston, in which the president said, “Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Jindal called Obama’s remarks “completely shameful”—words that more appropriately describe the governor’s own gun policies.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 24, 2015

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Bobby Jindal, Gun Control, Gun Deaths | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Ounce Of Courage”: We Need To Talk About Guns, Whether The NRA Likes It Or Not

The medical community has been no match for the National Rifle Association for decades. By the time Congress leaves town for the holidays, we’ll know if senators have shown an ounce of courage or if the NRA has bagged one more trophy. Either way, we won’t get the high-stakes discussion we need about guns.

At issue is the fate of Dr. Vivek Murthy, nominated over a year ago to be surgeon general but consigned to limbo due to his completely unremarkable view that gun violence is a public health problem. Murthy’s pre-nomination Twitter feed attests to his passion for the tighter gun laws that he, like most doctors, believes would cut down on deaths and injuries. But if Murthy lands the job, don’t expect him to talk about any of that. He told a Senate committee in February that he wouldn’t use the post as a bully pulpit for new gun laws.

So much for the surgeon general’s role as “the nation’s leading spokesman on matters of public health.” And so much for standing up to the NRA.

The group blasted out of the box charging that Murthy supported “radical gun control measures” and would use the office of surgeon general to advance “his pre-existing campaign against gun ownership.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist and 2016 presidential prospect, said Murthy would attack the constitutional right to own firearms “under the guise of a public health and safety campaign” and said he would try to block his confirmation.

The 2014 campaign, with its band of skittish red-state Senate Democrats vulnerable to NRA attacks, put Murthy’s future on hold. His pivotal moment — vote? no vote? failed vote? — has finally arrived, and it happens to coincide with the Dec. 14 anniversary of the murder of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The juxtaposition is illuminating.

One rap against Murthy is that, in Paul’s words, he would encourage doctors to “use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home.” To which I say, if only. If only the health professionals who examined and treated Adam Lanza had asked him and his mother those questions and managed to get that home arsenal out of reach before he went on his Sandy Hook rampage two years ago.

Paul also said he was concerned that Murthy considers guns “a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence.” But in a lengthy study of Adam Lanza’s “psychological deterioration” released last month, Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate said repeatedly that guns are the critical factor in mass shootings.

“The conclusion that access to guns drives shooting episodes far more than the presence of mental illness is inescapable. Those countries that have tight gun controls in general experience less overall gun violence and have fewer episodes per capita of mass shootings,” the authors wrote. They said mental illness “plays only a small role” in mass murder while guns, “especially assault weapons with high-capacity magazines,” play a “ubiquitous role.” Widespread access to such weapons and ammunition “is an urgent public health concern,” they wrote.

Medical professionals agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics website lists eight priorities in its federal advocacy section, and No. 1 is “Keeping children safe: Gun violence prevention.” Banning assault weapons is the top item on its state advocacy page. The American Medical Association favors an assault weapons ban and closing loopholes that allow gun buyers to avoid background checks.

Gun safety activists marked the second anniversary of Sandy Hook by releasing a study that found at least 95 school shootings in 33 states have occurred since that tragedy. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) called Congress “complicit in these murders if we continue to sit back and do nothing to reverse this trend.”

There was never a more complicit moment than in April 2013, four months after Sandy Hook, when the Senate tried to pass a bipartisan bill to require background checks online and at gun shows. Supporters needed 60 votes to break a filibuster, and only mustered 54.

Under Senate rules for nominations, Murthy needs only 51 votes. If he prevails, he told senators he’ll focus primarily on obesity, “the defining challenge of our time.” In other words, he’d be another Michelle Obama, who chose obesity as a worthy but relatively non-controversial First Lady cause. He wouldn’t be another C. Everett Koop, the Reagan-era surgeon general who crusaded against tobacco and mailed sexually explicit AIDS information to every household in America.

Restraint could get Murthy confirmed. To make real progress against gun violence, he’d need to channel Koop.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, December 11, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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