“Don’t like X? Don’t get one.”

I’m anti-abortion, and this meme really annoys me:

don't like abortion

This meme is addressed to pro-lifers, but it only makes sense if it completely ignores the fundamental pro-life argument: abortion kills non-aggressive, innocent humans. To a pro-lifer this meme is roughly equivalent to “Don’t like murder? Don’t commit one.” Yeah great. Solid point.

Now, an abortion rights advocate might respond that abortion isn’t murder for a variety of reasons, and then we can have that debate. That debate is worth having because it’s actually addressing what the target audience–pro-lifers, in this case–are saying. The above meme completely ignores what pro-lifers are saying. What good is a point that ignores the central premise of the group you’re addressing?

And that’s why, even though I’m a gun rights advocate, this meme annoys me too:

don't like guns

This meme is addressed to gun control advocates, but it only makes sense if it completely ignores the fundamental gun control argument: permissive access to guns results in the deaths of non-aggressive, innocent humans. I imagine to a gun control advocate this meme is roughly equivalent to “Don’t like mass shootings? Don’t commit one.” Insightful, thanks.

I know gun rights advocates, including myself, argue that access to guns can and has saved lives. And I think that’s a debate worth having because it’s addressing what the target audience–gun control advocates, in this case–are saying. But the above meme completely ignores what they’re saying, in the exact same way the abortion meme did.

I understand memes by their very nature can’t be in-depth, nuanced arguments. But they could at least be remotely relevant to the audience they’re supposed to be addressing. That’s not too high of a hurdle, right?

Citizen stops potential mass shooter, Snopes quibbles.

Gotta say I’m pretty pissed at Snopes about this one.

Jody Ray Thompson shoots into a crowd, injuring three. Then a citizen with a conceal carry permit shoots Thompson. Now one side says the  citizen “stopped a mass shooting.”

When people quote the outrageous number of mass shootings that have happened in a short time frame, they’re usually using the Shootingtracker.com (FBI-derived) definition of “mass shooting”: “FOUR or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.”

So Thompson shot three people and was stopped. He didn’t reach the level of a mass shooting (four people), but he was as close as you can get when he was stopped. So it seems pretty reasonable to say the citizen who shot him “stopped a mass shooting.”

But Snopes isn’t so sure, because now, for some reason, they’re defining “mass shooting” as: “one or more gunmen deliberately setting out to indiscriminately kill multiple randomly-selected victims.” [Emphasis added.] Snopes goes on to claim it’s unclear Thompson intended to kill anyone. So is it really a “mass shooting”?

Snopes even has a previous article discussing the different definitions of “mass shooting,” and, spoiler, none of the definitions they review discuss motive.  Yet in this Thompson article they assert that motive is “typically” part of the definition. Just not typical enough to have been mentioned in their article about mass shooting definitions.

It was annoying enough that I could only find this story on Fox and Washington Times (traditionally conservative outlets) and no other major outlets. Even more annoying that Snopes would grasp at straws so hard to avoid simply marking the story as “true.” Snopes in a nutshell:

Well technically I guess a legal gun owner stopped another dude from shooting more people but the shooter wasn’t a psychopath per se, so this is iffy.

What a bunch of crap.

Left: Playoffz night club where the shooting occurred. Right: Jody Ray Thompson, the shooter.
Left: Playoffz night club where the shooting occurred.
Right: Jody Ray Thompson, the shooter.

You don’t get to cherry pick Constitutional rights.

Speaking as a gun-owner and gun rights advocate, I actually appreciate this meme:

Michael Che gun forefathers quote

This meme gets to what is, I think, the heart of the issue here: if you don’t like the level of access Americans have to guns, you should advocate for changing the Constitution.

Because the fact is that gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right. And maybe you don’t think it ought to be, and that’s okay. But then the solution is to amend the Constitution, not to ignore it or try to circumvent it. I don’t want to get rid of or even modify the 2nd amendment, but I am more comfortable with people trying to do that than I am with encouraging the government to deprive its citizens of constitutionally protected rights without due process. However you feel about private gun ownership, that is a terrible precedent.

And that’s why memes like these annoy me:

healthcare vs gun

Whatever you think of the healthcare debate, owning a gun is a right. It’s not as if gun rights advocates just made this up–it’s specifically delineated in the document our society normally treats as the most authoritative law of the land.

Imagine such a dismissive attitude applied to other constitutional rights:

There’s something seriously wrong with a country that thinks a college education is a privilege but that freedom of the press is a right.

There’s something seriously wrong with a country that thinks a living wage is a privilege but a trial by jury is a right.

There’s something seriously wrong with a country that thinks owning a home is a privilege but voting is a right.

Does that sound a little messed up to you?

And look, I get it. A lot of people don’t think owning a gun should be on par with freedom of the press or the right to vote. I disagree, but if that’s what you think, okay. Argue we should change the Constitution. But it just doesn’t make sense to treat this debate as if the Constitution is irrelevant.

Some people argue our forefathers would’ve never intended the 2nd amendment to be applied the way it is today.

musket balls

(And the response…)

musket vs quill

But whatever you think our forefathers originally meant, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of citizens to individually own guns.

I don’t pretend to know the answer to gun violence. It’s clear guns have been used for a lot of violence, but I think gun control advocates downplay the number of Americans who have protected themselves with guns.

putting on a pound and a half
In my newsfeed, posted by a fellow gun-owner.

I also think gun rights advocates often do a pretty poor job addressing the very legitimate heartbreak and fear people have about mass shootings and other gun violence.

heart what happened
A friend of mine posted this shortly after Pulse. It’s fitting.

Defending the right to bear arms in the wake of something as horrible as Pulse doesn’t appeal to me at all. It’s like a more intense version of defending free speech in the wake of some hateful Westrboro Baptist Church picket, or defending our rights to due process knowing that means a lot of rapists never see a day in prison. I’m not indifferent to these outcomes. But I’m also not willing to agree the Constitution applies only as long as we’re not heartbroken or enraged. It applies all the time.

Does Gun Control Work?

With the recent shooting in Orlando, gun control is once again a hot topic. We’ve discussed gun control here at Difficult Run a number of times. As a non-gun owner, I’ve never taken too much interest in the debate. There have been some major literature reviews (including two by the National Academy of Sciences, one by the CDC, and one by the Department of Justice) on the effects of gun control over the years, all of which found no conclusive evidence that gun control laws reduce gun violence. Yet, other studies have found that regulation can indeed help curb gun violence. And then there are larger trends to consider. As noted by NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof in a previous post, “The number of guns in America has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.” In fact, according to the FBI and Bureau of Justice statistics, homicide rates are the lowest they’ve been since 1958.

From Max Roser at Our World In Data

But as The Economist notes,

Pro-gun groups point out that rates of gun ownership tend to be highest in rural, sparsely populated states, where crime rates are low. By the same token, over the past two decades, as the number of guns in America has risen sharply, crime rates have fallen. Yet even as the number of guns in America has grown, the share of households with a gun has dropped steadily. Research published in 2000 by Mark Duggan of the University of Chicago concluded that the homicide rate had been falling in tandem with the proportion of households where guns were kept. What’s more, the homicide rate was falling with a lag, suggesting that reduced gun ownership was causing the decline, and was not simply a side-effect of a falling crime rate.

Other studies have reached similar conclusions. An analysis published in 2014, for example, using detailed county-level data assembled by the National Research Council, a government-funded body, suggested that laws that allow people to carry weapons are associated with a substantial rise in the incidence of assaults with a firearm. It also found evidence that such laws might also lead to increases in other crimes, like rape and robbery. A recent survey of 130 studies concluded that strict gun-control laws do indeed reduce deaths caused by firearms.

This last survey mentioned is a brand new international study. As reported by Vox,

A recently released study, published in the February issue of Epidemiologic Reviews, seeks to resolve this problem. It systematically reviewed the evidence from around the world on gun laws and gun violence, looking to see if the best studies come to similar conclusions. It is the first such study to look at the international research in this way.

The authors are careful to note that their findings do not conclusively prove that gun restrictions reduce gun deaths. However, they did find a compelling trend whereby new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership tended to be followed by a decline in gun deaths.

…Santaella-Tenorio’s study (co-authored with Columbia professors Magdalena Cerdá and Sandro Galea, as well as the University of North Carolina’s Andrés Villaveces) examined roughly 130 studies that had been conducted in 10 different countries. Each of those 130 studies had looked at some specific change in gun laws and its effect on homicide and/or suicide rates. Most of those 130 studies looked at law changes in the developed world, such as the US, Australia, and Austria. A few looked at gun laws in developing countries, specifically Brazil and South Africa.

The major findings:

  • “First, and most importantly, that gun violence declined after countries pass a raft of gun laws at the same time: “The simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths,” the study finds.”
  • “[B]ackground checks and rules on storage, reduced specific kinds of gun deaths. “Laws restricting the purchase of (e.g., background checks) and access to (e.g., safer storage) firearms,” they write, “are also associated with lower rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm unintentional deaths in children, respectively.””
  • “Generally speaking, there’s strong consensus that restricting access to guns tends to reduce gun deaths [in the United States].”

According to Vox, “Santaella-Tenorio was insistent that he and his colleagues have not “proven” that gun laws reduce violence. The data, he says, is simply too complicated, and the analyses too primitive, to come to such a hard conclusion.”

Disentangling firearm deaths from categories like total homicide is a tricky matter and more research to do just that is needed. There are some real concerns when it comes to enacting certain kinds of regulations on firearms, including the targeting of minorities (much like the War on Drugs). And then, of course, there are the legal matters. But not all gun control is created equalTo quote Kristof again, “In short, let’s get smarter. Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works. If the left can drop the sanctimony, and the right can drop the obstructionism, if instead of wrestling with each other we can grapple with the evidence, we can save thousands of lives a year.”

Gun Safety vs. Gun Control

Nicholas Kristof has an excellent piece in The New York Times on what he calls “inconvenient facts” surrounding gun violence and gun laws. These include:

  • “The number of guns in America has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.”
  • “A 113-page study found no clear indication that [the assault rifle ban] reduced shooting deaths for the 10 years it was in effect.”
  • Overblown fears regarding open-carry and conceal-carry laws.
  • “One poll found that 74 percent even of N.R.A. members favor universal background checks to acquire a gun.”
  • “New York passed a law three years ago banning gun magazines holding more than seven bullets — without realizing that for most guns there is no such thing as a magazine for seven bullets or less.”
  • “Some public health approaches to reducing gun violence have nothing to do with guns. Researchers find that a nonprofit called Cure Violence, which works with gangs, curbs gun deaths. An initiative called Fast Track supports high-risk children and reduces delinquency and adult crime.”

Kristof concludes, “In short, let’s get smarter. Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works. If the left can drop the sanctimony, and the right can drop the obstructionism, if instead of wrestling with each other we can grapple with the evidence, we can save thousands of lives a year.”

Give it a read. And then give Nathaniel’s piece on the subject another read.


Mass Shootings and Missing White Woman Syndrome

Girls' rifle team at Central High, Washington, DC. November 1922. (Wikimedia Commons)
Girls’ rifle team at Central High, Washington, DC. November 1922. (Wikimedia Commons)

I haven’t posted anything about gun control in the middle of this most recent medley of outrage. This is primarily because I haven’t seen anything that looks remotely like a rational debate in which I could participate. It’s also because I’ve written on this topic at great length already, and there is not a whole lot new to add.

It’s not that I’m opposed to considering new policies to solve the problems of widespread gun ownership. Nope, the problem is that I find most of the folks who are calling for greater gun control are suggesting the wrong solutions to the wrong problems.

The degree of irresponsibility this time around has been particularly shocking. The most prominent example of this is the way that the media has adopted a completely baseless definition of “mass shooting” to sensationalize the issue. You’ve probably heard that there have been “more mass shootings than days this year” or something similar. All those articles are using data assembled by the Mass Shooting Tracker website. Their definition is, shall we say, non-standard: it includes any shooting in which at least four people are injured. The FBI definition is more stringent: a shooting in which there are at least 4 fatalities. The database maintained by Mark Follman and Mother Jones is even more narrow: it excludes attacks related to gang violence or domestic violence. Follman explains this logic in a piece for the New York Times:

While all the victims are important, conflating those many other crimes with indiscriminate slaughter in public venues obscures our understanding of this complicated and growing problem. Everyone is desperate to know why these attacks happen and how we might stop them—and we can’t know, unless we collect and focus on useful data that filter out the noise.

German Lopez of Vox (which uses the Mass Shooting Tracker data) thinks Follman is being silly for caring so much about specific definitions: “this entire debate is ridiculous. A shooting is a shooting.” But of course, if that were true, Lopez would have to deal with the fact that gun deaths in America are in a steep decline. According to the Pew Research Center, “Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew.” I’m not saying the current level is acceptable, I’m just saying that  there is no possible way for a person to simultaneously believe “a shooting is a shooting” and also believe that we’re in some kind of unprecedented crisis. Follman has a point: mass shootings (narrowly defined) are on the rise. Lopez—and anyone else jumping on the Mass Shooting Tracker bandwagon—has nothing but hand-waving and posturing.

752 - Gun Homicide Decline

So, if gun violence is actually at historical lows and on the decline, why are gun control advocates convinced that we’re facing some kind of massive epidemic? After all, the New York Times ran a front-page editorial for the first time in almost 100 years to support gun-control. What explains such an extreme reaction?

One theory: missing white woman syndrome:

Missing white woman syndrome is a phrase used by social scientists and media commentators to describe the extensive media coverage, especially in television, of missing person cases involving young, white, upper-middle-class women or girls. The phenomenon is defined as the media’s undue focus on upper-middle-class white women who disappear, with the disproportionate degree of coverage they receive being compared to cases of missing women of other ethnicities and social classes, or with missing males of all social classes and ethnicities.

Although missing white woman syndrome is primarily about kidnapping cases, “it is sometimes used to describe the disparity in news coverage of other violent crimes.”

So, to be perfectly plain about it, mass shootings are sensational because the victims are often white, often middle or upper-class, suburban and–relative to homicide rates in general–female. Crime might be down overall, but who cares? If college students and suburban white kids can be killed, then we have a crisis.

It’s not just the perception of the problem that is skewed by race and class, but also the proposed solutions. You see, there are policies that have been tried and found to be effective in combating urban violence. But no one seems to know or care about such initiatives, leading The New Republic to run an article to explain “why no one in Washington—not even President Obama—will embrace a program that could actually reduce gun violence.” Lois Beckett points out that “America’s high rate of gun murders isn’t caused by events like Sandy Hook or the shootings this fall at a community college in Oregon. It’s fueled by a relentless drumbeat of deaths of black men.” He then went on to talk about a program called Ceasefire. It isn’t new and it isn’t sexy, but “in Boston, the city that developed Ceasefire, the average monthly number of youth homicides dropped by 63 percent in the two years after it was launched.” The US Department of Justice has officially labeled it “effective.”

If “a shooting is a shooting”, and if the highest rates of crime are in inner cities, and if the disproportionate rate of murder victims are black Americans, and if we have a proven program to reduce those crimes… why isn’t anyone talking about them?

751 - Gun Homicide by Ethnicity

Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. attorney quoted in Beckett’s article, has a pretty simple hypothesis:

I think that people in those communities are perceived as not sufficiently important because they don’t vote, they don’t have economic power. I think there’s some racism involved. I don’t think we care about African-American lives as much as we care about white lives.

So the problem is misdiagnosed, and the most promising solutions are ignored. But it gets worse than that. The reality is that the proposed “common sense” gun regulations will have basically no impact on mass shootings whatsoever. For example, Marco Rubio recently stated that “None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them.” The Washington Post fact-checked his claim and ended up giving out “a rare Geppetto Checkmark.”

The idea of “common sense” gun regulation coming to the rescue is a politically convenient fiction. It is designed to appeal to moderate voters, but it’s just an empty slogan. The only kinds of gun laws that would have any kind of impact would have to involve a massive reduction in the number of firearms currently in circulation with a forced buyback and stric enforcement. But those laws are guaranteed to be enforced in unequal ways, a point that Ross Douthat made on Sunday:

I suspect liberals imagine, at some level, that a Prohibition-style campaign against guns would mostly involve busting up gun shows and disarming Robert Dear-like trailer-park loners. But in practice it would probably look more like Michael Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, with a counterterrorism component that ended up heavily targeting Muslim Americans. In areas where gun ownership is high but crime rates low, like Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, authorities would mostly turn a blind eye to illegal guns, while poor and minority communities bore the brunt of raids and fines and jail terms.

If that sounds at all farfetched you simply need to ask yourself this question: has the War on Drugs had a disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities? Then what makes you think a War on Guns would be any different?

Nor is this hypothetical. The history of gun control is a primarily racist history in which gun control was used as a pretext to disarm African Americans to make them easier targets. The Atlantic covered this thoroughly in an article called The Secret History of Guns, noting that “no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement.”

And let me just end with a note about how spectacularly bad some of the proposed new “common sense” regulations are. In his address to the nation, President Obama doubled down on the idea of using the terrorist watch list to screen gun purchases. This sounds entirely reasonable for about a second or two. After that, however, you might remember that—before it was brought up in this context—the terrorist watch list showed up in the news only in story after story of how horrifically mismanaged and unfair it was. This is the same terrorist watchlist that contained 72 Department of Homeland Security employees, a finding that led the DHS director to resign. Even ThinkProgress thinks it’s a terrible idea. Aviva Shen quoted Marco Rubio in The Problem With Banning Guns From People On The Terrorist Watch List:

The majority of the people on the no-fly list are oftentimes people that just basically have the same name as somebody else, who doesn’t belong on the no-fly list. Former Senator Ted Kennedy once said he was on a no-fly list. There are journalists on the no-fly list.

It’s not just a matter of plain bureaucratic incompetence, however. Ken White pointed out the philosophical problems with the idea for Popehat:

Last night the President of the United States — the President of the United States — suggested that people should be deprived of Second Amendment rights if the government, using secret criteria, in a secret process using secret facts, puts them onto a list that is almost entirely free of due process or judicial review. Because we’re afraid, because they could be dangerous was his only justification; he didn’t engage the due process issue at all.

Do I even need to point out that this list is also guaranteed to skew along ethnic and religious lines? The exact same folks who are horrified by Donald Trump’s bigotry don’t seem to realize that a proposal like adding the terrorist watchlist to the background check is basically a backdoor method of accomplishing the same kind of religiously-based stripping of civil liberties from American citizens.

This is what passes for “common sense” regulation? Clearly some people are using the phrase “common sense” in novel and fascinating ways.

To recap: gun violence is ignored when it effects primarily young black men, but when it happens in suburban schools or movie theaters it is a crisis that demands swift and thorough response. Anti-violence programs with a proven record of lowering gun crime where it is worst—in inner cities—and thereby saving the lives of young black men are also ignored. Instead, we hear about “common sense” gun regulations that sound reassuring but would help no one and end up (you guessed it) further compounding the systematic inequalities in our society that target the poor and minorities.

The left is very, very good at sniffing out the faintest whiff of white privilege from the right, but—when it comes to handling the gun issue—it’s time to say: physician, heal thyself.

Missing Fathers and Mass Killers

788 - Lonely Son

Damon Linker has a good piece about the violence of mass shootings: Men and mass murder: What gender tells us about America’s epidemic of gun violence. Most perpetrators of violence in all societies (this is one of those social universals) are men, and mass shooters are no exception: “Murder is an overwhelmingly male act, with the offender proving to be a man 90 percent of the time the person’s gender is known. When it comes to mass shootings, the gender disparity is even greater, with something like 98 percent of them perpetrated by men.”

So, first there’s a connection between men and mass shootings. Then Linker goes one step farther and links a particular male response to perceived grievance:

Men and women both experience righteous indignation, of course. But there may be something specific about masculinity — perhaps its deep ties to irrational pride — that leads some men to experience a perceived injustice (and especially a string of them) as an excruciating personal humiliation that cries out not just for redress but for revenge. In this way, wounded pride provokes some men to lash out in a violent fury at their fellow human beings as a way of striking back at the intolerable injustice of the world.

And then he stops. Which is a shame. He should have kept going.

Because there’s another trait that mass shooters have in common: fatherlessness. Peter Hasson covered this for The Federalist: Guess Which Mass Murderers Came From A Fatherless Home. He cites a Brad Wilcox National Review article from 2013 (Sons of Divorce, School Shooters) in which Wilcox says:

From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s ‘list of U.S. school attacks’ involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.

Let me pull in just one more article and then make some final observations. This one is from Sue Shellenbarger in the WSJ: Roughhousing Lessons From Dad. Shellenbarger starts out with an incredibly important observation:

There is no question among researchers that fathers who spend time with their children instill self-control and social skills in their offspring.

If you could name just two traits to lessen the likelihood that a young man ever considers school shootings as the solutions to his life’s problems, these would be the two traits. Social skills to avoid a lot of the alienation and failure that engenders the grievances in the first place, and to help these young men find constructive ways to deal with those grievances that do arise. And self-control to ensure that any grievances which cannot be ameliorated do not become a basis for action.

Everyone wants to find the one solution that’s going to solve school shootings. There isn’t one solution. No complex social problem has a simple, easy solution. In particular, gun control debates basically do nothing but make people angry and waste our time. That’s not to say that we should not change our gun laws. There are actually very good arguments–philosophical and practical–for changing gun laws. School shootings, however, are not among those arguments. The basic reason for this is straightforward: most school shootings are premeditated. This means the killer has lots of time to acquire a gun. Most do so legally, passing background checks (which can’t screen for crimes you haven’t committed yet) and following all applicable laws. Those that do not, have the time and the means to acquire them illegally. So the only gun control laws that would do anything are gun control laws that would significantly decrease the availability of guns in the long term. Considering that there are more firearms than human beings in this country, nothing short of a massive, nation-wide confiscation program is going to put a dent in the practical availability of firearms, and therefore nothing that falls short of that is going to have a meaningful impact on the specific type of crime we’re talking about here.Such a sweeping change is not on the table.

Now, I understand a lot of folks will want to push back and insist that there are common sense changes we can make that will help at least a little bit. There really aren’t. Not when it comes to school shootings. When it comes to other gun-related problems–from suicide to gang violence–there is certainly a lot to talk about. I’m not trying to shut down the debate by claiming that laws don’t matter. Obviously, in general, they do. But in the specific case of school shootings–due to the nature of the attacks and the attackers–most incremental changes will have no effect. Add a waiting period? These guys are planning their attacks months or years in advance anyway. Close the gunshow loophole? Most of the shooters acquired their guns by going through the background check process. They didn’t need the loophole. Ban assault weapons? Almost all attacks use handguns anyway, including the deadliest. Reduce the magazine capacity? There is no practical difference in lethality–when attacking unarmed civilians–between a standard 15-round magazine and a low-capacity 10-round magazine. The deadliest school shooter used a mixture of 19 pre-loaded 10- and 15-round magazines. If they’d all been 10-round magazines, he would have maybe carried a few more and maybe reloaded a little more often. (It takes less than a second or two.)

So if you want to debate gun policy: that’s fine. There is lots to talk about. But insisting that incremental policies will have an effect in this particular case is just wishful thinking. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality.

But that doesn’t mean we are helpless to do anything. It just means that laws are not the solution to all social problems. I don’t think that that should really be a revelation, but in some sense it is. We love politics because it’s a spectator sport. It has a score. It has winners and losers. It has teams, and traditions, and tribes, and flags, and symbols, and so naturally it occupies a huge amount of our attention. Too much, I think.

The older I get, the more I think that it’s the quiet, informal, decentralized aspects of our society that are the most important. The traditions, the habits, the expectations, and the attitudes of a people matter a lot more than their laws. And there is room for us to make changes there. The only problem is that, because they happen at the individual level, they are not connected to an exciting sports spectacle. And, in addition, there is really no guarantee that our efforts will have any impact. But I think it’s the only thing that can really help maintain the aspects of our society we cherish and restore or fix the aspects that are broken.

I already posted about the danger of glorifying the mass killers. That’s not a legal change. That’s not a policy change. That’s a social change. It’s enough people–one at a time–deciding to turn off 24-hour cable news coverage, steer clear of clickbait and rumors and conspiracy theories, and opt out of lurid headlines full of details about the killers: their names, their pictures, their backgrounds, their manifestos, all of it.

Even bigger than that is the crisis of fatherlessness in our society. Kids need parents. They need mom. They need dad. We as a society have to figure out how to stem the tide of kids growing up without the irreplaceable guidance and influence of their fathers. We’re paying an incredibly high price for a lax attitudes about sex and parental responsibility that have time and time again placed the interests of adults above the interests of children. As time goes on, that price tag is only going to get higher. School shootings are just one particular symptom.


Open Carry Overkill

857 - Open Carry Overkill
These are not the guys I want as the face of gun rights activism.

I’ve been following Michael Yon for quite some time, since he was an independent journalist embedded with US armed forces in Iraq and then Afghanistan. He’s a bit of a loose cannon, and I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes, but this post makes some good points: Be a Palm Tree: Tobacco, Rebel Flag, 2nd Amendment.

The basic thesis is that back in the day smokers never took the complaints of non-smokers seriously. They arrogantly assumed that their rights as smokers trumped the rights of other folks to, for example, not be enveloped in a smog of carcinogens when stepping into an elevator. As a result of their rigid position, when the public sentiment turned against smokers and smoking it turned hard and they lost basically everything. He extends the same idea to the defenders of the confederate battle flag, arguing that if they’d been satisfied to fly the flag on their private property and wear it on hats and belt buckles, their probably would have been little uproar, but their insistence on flying the flag over (or very near) state buildings set up the backlash we’re seeing today.

And then Yon gets to what I thought was most interesting: open carry.

Yon's Caption: Billy feeds Susan, while I stand guard with rifle and pistol.
Yon’s Caption: Billy feeds Susan, while I stand guard with rifle and pistol.

Open carry refers to carrying a firearm openly (i.e. not concealed) and in many states (like Virginia, where I live) it is legal in most places and does not require a permit. The open carry movement is a loose coalition of gun rights organizations who, under the mantra of “use it or lose it,” engage in open carry to prevent the right from fading into obsolescence. Yon, as a person who grew up around guns, is strongly supportive of the 2nd Amendment and is supportive of open carry in general, but he has a problem with open carry extremists:

Those of us who have seen people shot both intentionally and negligently – I have seen plenty – do not like to be in the presence of goofballs with guns in their hands. Even trained US combat troops regularly shoot and kill fellow troops through negligence. British forces also do this… Hundreds of troops have been killed and wounded since 2001 by gunshot ‘accidents,’ which the military calls negligent discharges… US military commanders do not allow most troops to carry loaded weapons on any but the most dangerous bases: we typically take more casualties on bases from negligent discharges than from insider attacks. And this is from trained troops.

So, when Yon reads about a open carry advocate carrying a shotgun into a Walmart and then loading and racking a shotgun. That’s not a made-up example, and the local police chief (the incident took place in Gulfport, MS) was not amused:

“If I were in a situation where I’m in the store shopping with my family and I see an individual loading a 12 gauge, and racking it, I’m not coming to the conclusion this is good,” said Papania. “While the actions of these two men are sanctioned by state laws, what they did negatively impacted our community.”

Yon also goes further, and cites basic common decency. Although folks (like Yon) who grow up around guns do not bat an eye at responsible open carry, there are lots of Americans who did not have that background and are scared at the sight of a firearm. Common courtesy says that you shouldn’t go out of your way to further intimidate, harass, or scare folks like that. Let them be.

All of this leads Yon to conclude that “Fanatics are being allowed to hijack 2nd Amendment issues.” I agree with Yon on that, and also on his final words from the post:

Many of us want to keep the 2nd Amendment strong. We must pay attention to our political environment, and to history. We must be the Palm Tree, and understand that no right is absolute, and that our rights never trump the rights of others.

In Which Guns Save Lives

902 - Garland TX

I haven’t written about guns and gun control in a long time. In part, this is a sad indictment of American politics: we talk about gun control pretty much exclusively in the wake of some horrific massacre (here or abroad) and, other than that, pretty much not at all. It’s not just gun policy that is addressed in this haphazard, sensationalist way, of course. It’s basically everything in American politics–short of a few issues that have movements behind them to give them perennial visibility–that basically ping-pong between utter obscurity and nauseating sensationalism.

But two events from earlier this month brought the issue to mind, and I at least wanted to note them. The first is the massacre that did not take place in Texas on May 3, 2015. ISIS later claimed credit for this attack, making it the first ISIS-backed terrorist attack on US soil. I’m not really sure why they claimed credit, however, because the attack was shortlived and no one died except the would-be mass murderers. A contest was being held, attended by a sparse crowd of about 75, to see who could come up with the best cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammad, and two men drove up, got out of their car, and opened fire with semi-automatic rifles at a security guard in an attempt to gain entrance. Instead, the security guard drew his handgun and shot  both attackers to death. No one else was killed, although another unarmed security guard was lightly wounded by the attackers.

Breitbart drew a straight line between the failed attack in Texas and the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of this year, noting that “When armed terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo headquarters over Muhammad cartoons on January 7, unarmed police officers were forced to flee for their lives.” I’m not really thrilled at the glee with which some conservatives embraced this story. It’s hard to reconcile fear of a militarized police force with sneering condescension at our European neighbors for having unarmed police. Still, the story does underscore one sad reality: the only short-run response to a violent attack is with more, better violence.

The second example is even more interesting. As Business Insider reports, “An Uber driver with a concealed handgun prevented a mass shooting in Chicago.” The city of Chicago is, of course, known for both its horrific gun violence and also its draconian anti-gun laws. These laws made it the focus of the SCOTUS case McDonald v. Chicago which held that the 2nd Amendment (like other Constitutional rights) applies at the state level.

Gun control advocates openly scoffed at the idea that a concealed carry permit holder would ever be able to stop a crime in progress, suggesting that the only thing that would happen would be more fatalities. And yet the Uber driver in Chicago fired 6 shots, hit the target multiple times, and nobody else was injured. The list of mass shootings stopped by a civilian just got a little longer.

In some ways it’s fitting that Charlie Hebdo come up in this conversation. Like a lot of people, I preferred to say “We are Ahmed” rather than “We are Charlie” in the days following the attack. I support the right of free speech, but some of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo made me support that right with a grimace rather than a smile. The same goes for guns. There is nothing happy or beautiful in the act of killing, even when the motives are noble and the violence is necessary. The fundamental right to self-defense is one I support in both theory and in practice, but it’s never been something I can be unreservedly excited about.

Civilian with Gun Stops Domestic Assault

998 - 2015 01 03 Civilian DGU

That’s a still from cell phone video of a Aaron Kreag (with the pistol on the right) stopping Macmichael Nwaiwu (in the red car) from beating a woman who wasn’t named in the story. Kreag told reporters “This large gentleman just pounding on this lady, closed fist you know multiple times and heavy heavy elbows to the face and neck.” So Kreag, who had been out on a date with his wife, pulled out his concealed carry, pointed it at Nwaiwu, and ordered him to stop assaulting the woman in the car with him.

The story is an interesting counterpoint to concerns that civilians with concealed carry permits would turn the United States into the Wild West. As it turns out, the kinds of folks who go through the process of getting a concealed carry permit are not the kind of folks who tend to be trigger-happy, for the most part. It’s just also an interesting case-study in real-life, civilian gun usage. The tensest part of the video, in my mind, is when the cops show up. When you’re the one holding a drawn handgun and the cops roll up, expect to have one pointed at you in return, which is exactly what happened to Kreag. He put down his gun, surrendered, and got cuffed while the cops sorted out what was going on with bystanders.

Within a few minutes, however, he was released and Nwaiwu was in handcuffs. Still, I imagine those initial seconds when the cops drew on Kreag had to be nerve-wracking. It’s what Kreag was expecting, however, and it’s what all concealed carry holders expect to go through if they ever do need to draw their weapon (let alone fire) in the defensive of themselves or others.