Friday, December 21, 2012

If violent movies and games are the cause for gun deaths, why are there so few in other advanced countries?

By Marc Jampole

In his press conference on the Sandy Hook elementary school slaughter of the innocents today, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) executive vice president, gave new meaning to the term American exceptionalism, the theory that there is something inherently different about the United States from other nations.
LaPierre blamed violent video games, movies and other entertainments for the large number of guns death in the United States.
But Canadians have ready access to the same violent amusements. The French have access to them. The English, Japanese, Koreans, Spanish have access to them. In fact you can find a plethora of violent games and movies in every westernized industrial country of the world.
But only in the United States is there a high level of gun deaths. In fact, 80% of all deaths from guns in the 23 populous, high-income countries of the world occur in the United States. We have both the highest number of gun deaths and the highest rate of gun deaths.
That certainly makes us exceptional—but are we exceptionally susceptible to suggestion? Exceptionally given to playing out fantasies? Exceptionally stupid?  Do an exceptionally large number of our citizens have violent tendencies?
No, no, no and no.
What we are is exceptionally inundated with guns and exceptionally lacking in laws to control their registration and use.
LaPierre, whose job is to be the chief salesperson for gun manufacturers, proposes an interesting and very expensive way to prevent future Sandy Hook massacres: have government pay to place an armed police officer in every single school in the country. I assume he means private schools as well as public schools.
The solution is absurd for several reasons. Let’s start with cost: right now public education is underfunded. We’re talking about cutting all kinds of government programs that help the poor, children and senior citizens. Our roads and bridges are in disrepair. Mass transit is being cut in many cities. We have to shore up our shorelines to protect our citizens from another Sandy or Katrina. How do LaPierre and the NRA expect us to pay for all that extra security? I guess he doesn’t care since his industry is going to benefit from its plan to militarize schools because it will likely require the purchase of more firearms and more ammunition.
And what do we do about malls? Movie theatres? Churches? Universities? Health clubs? Hospitals? Public buildings? Over the past few years, there have been mass murders at all of these locations. Many of them already have police officers or armed security on detail. Evidently there weren’t enough in place.
Then there are the killers who operate on the run, like the Washington D.C. sniper or the western Pennsylvania nutcase who went out hunting ethnic and racial minorities. Do we place a policeman at every intersection and every quarter mile of freeway?
If we were to take the NRA’s proposal seriously, we would become a police state in which there would be a security force on every block and in every building. And even then we wouldn’t be safe from the proliferation of guns and weak gun control laws.
There are two characteristics that mass murderers have in common. First of all, they are all crazy. There is no way to guarantee we can keep guns out of the hands of all the nuts, although every other industrialized nation seems to do a pretty good job at it. But stiffer gun ownership requirements, a longer wait before one is able to purchase a gun, requirements that gun owners get licenses like drivers of automobiles, a more extensive FBI database of criminals and the mentally ill—all of these gun control initiatives would make it much harder for the nuts to get their hands on firearms.
The other characteristic shared by many of the mass murderers is their use of semi-automatic assault weapons. It makes sense to ban these weapons.  Of course that would take sales away from LaPierre’s clients, the gun manufacturers. And we can’t have that, can we?
Lobbyists for industries never want to regulate their industries, and they often give reasons that defy logic and stretch the truth. But in this press conference, the NRA has hit a historically slimy and self-serving low.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

None of the four arguments against gun control make any sense when you analyze them

By Marc Jampole

Through the years, I have read and heard four basic arguments by those who oppose gun control. Those who favor making it easier for people to buy and carry guns repeat these arguments with an almost religious fever, as if the incontrovertible logic of their statements trumps all other facts and reasoning. But careful examination shows that each of these arguments is illogical or non-factual or both.

Let’s examine the four arguments against control one at a time.

#1 The Second Amendment forbids gun control.
The second amendment states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  The key words are “well-regulated” and “infringed”:
  • Well-regulated: The amendment clearly says that the reason to allow people to keep and bear arms is to have a well-regulated militia, and regulated means rules, laws and control. You are allowed to have arms so you can be part of the militia and the militia can be regulated. Thus you and your weapons (arms) can be regulated. 
  • Infringed: Infringed is a mighty broad word, and many constitutional lawyers could drive a truck through the leeway it gives to regulate.
The interpretation of all of the Constitution through the years by both the right and the left demonstrates that our society understands that the document is not rigid, but pliable to the point that you can twist it into anything. While the Second Amendment unfortunately seems to clearly state that people do have the right to own guns, the amendment per se and as part of a document that has been stretched in every direction has nothing in it that prevents as much gun control as is necessary to keep order and safety, which is, of course, the primary job of a well-regulated militia.

I asked my cousin, Marshall Dayan, a renowned death penalty attorney who often deals with constitutional issues, for his view of the Second Amendment and here is what he wrote: I would take issue (though Alito and the SCOTUS would not) that the Amendment clearly states the right to individual handgun ownership. It refers to the right of THE people, not the right of PEOPLE, so I read that to be a communal right, not an individual right. Hence, if AS A PEOPLE, we chose to keep arms in an armory for the purpose of maintaining a well-regulated militia, I don't think the federal government could preclude that under the 2nd Amendment by its terms. But I don't think a reference to the right of THE PEOPLE is the same as the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. But my interpretation is, at least for now, mooted by U.S. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.”  FYI, Jeffrey Tobin makesthe same argument as Marshall in The NewYorker.

Of course, a simplistic and somewhat snider approach is to say that the amendment refers to firearms and not ammunition, and ammunition can therefore be regulated or even prohibited.

#2 Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Glib, but inaccurate: People with guns kill people. As we saw in the Newtown tragedy, someone with a semi-automatic assault rifle can take out a lot of people in a matter of minutes. If the Newtown shooter had only knives, he would not have been able to kill more than a few people in that time, and maybe would not have been bold enough to attempt his mass murder.  I heard someone on National Public Radio this week quote former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said that it’s bullets that kill people, which is another clever argument for allowing the sales of guns but not of the ammunition that make the guns lethal.

The evidence for a causal relationship between gun ownership and gun violence is stunning. All other industrialized nations have much stricter gun control laws and far fewer people who own guns. The result is that they have much lower rates of deaths by guns. In fact, among the 23 populous, high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occur in the United States.

#3 Bad guys will get guns no matter what; or “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
But if guns were more restricted, it would be harder for the outlaws to obtain their firearms, which would discourage many potential bad guys. There can be no doubt that the Newtown shooter would not have been able to buy a gun by himself; that he was allowed to practice shooting without going through a qualification process that included a certification of mental health is truly appalling. 
Keep in mind, too, that restrictions on private sales of guns would give law enforcement agencies another arrow in their quiver in fighting violent crime.

Finally, as gun control organizations such as the Brady Center substantiate, many more people are killed by guns because of accidents, domestic disputes and mass murder by deranged nut-jobs than by criminals in the course of robberies, mob hits or other crimes. An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present.

#4 If more people carried guns, the criminals would be afraid to use theirs
With this argument, gun advocates enter a Wild West fantasy in which we always know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. In a shooting situation, that just isn’t so.

These fantasists don’t really think through their scenarios at all.  Imagine, for example, an attempted bank robbery or convenience store stick-up: The police arrive to find a shooting gallery. How do they know who the robbers are and who are merely defending themselves?

Or think of the mass murder of 12 people in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado earlier this year: You’re in the theatre and all of sudden the air is filled with smoke and gun shots. So you pull out your gun and start shooting back in the direction you think it’s coming from. Someone on the other side of the theatre sees you fire your weapon and thinks you’re the shooter and starts aiming at you. Meanwhile, the hundreds of other people in the theatre now have gunfire coming at them from three, maybe even more, directions. When you think it through, it’s clear that many more dead would have been the likely scenario if a vigilante had pulled a weapon out and started firing at the Aurora mass murderer.

Police are trained to know when to fire their guns and when not to. The average citizen does not receive this training.

At this point in American history, the argument is not about prohibiting hunters or range shooters from practicing their sport. It’s about protecting the public from the proliferation of weapons in society. As I pointed out about twoyears ago and others are saying now, no one objects to rigorous testing for driver’s licensing, complicated rules of the road and the requirement that people who drive cars must have insurance. Why should legitimate hunters and range shooters object to regulation of their sport?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Now’s the time for a rapid fire assault on gun manufacturers and elected officials

By Marc Jampole

Now is the time to put the pressure on elected officials, gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association (NRA) to strengthen gun control laws.  What I’m talking about is a rapid fire assault of letters, emails and tweets. Let’s prove that sometimes the pen can be mightier than the sword and the gun.
I’m asking all my readers to pen emails and letters to the President, both your U.S. Senators, your Congressional representative and the representatives and senators to your state legislatures telling them you are in favor of greater gun control. You can find their names and mailing addresses at the websites for your state.
Here are some specific changes in the gun laws that you can advocate to elected officials:
  • End the sale of all semi-automatic weapons and ban the sale of ammunition for semiautomatic weapons.
  • Establish a longer waiting period before people are allowed to buy guns.
  • Ban all sales of guns and ammunition that do not require a background check, such as sales between “friends.”
  • Allow licensed gun dealers to sell guns only at their place of business, the way it used to be before the law was changed in 1986.
  • Ban all sales of guns over the Internet.
I also think we should let the gun manufacturers know how angry we are that they continue to encourage and lobby for recklessly loose gun control laws. We should demand that these companies start supporting gun control.

Some may ask: why would the gun makers want to do something that could impede the steady flow of new gun sales? The answer lies in the history of regulation in the United States. Once government and the public start to clamor to regulate any industry, the tendency has always been for the industries in question to propose their own, usually milder, regulation. Additionally, the industries about to undergo regulation always have a seat at the government policy table. We can see that this week in reports about regulation of mortgage lending. The banks would prefer no regulation, but if there has to be regulation, they want—and are getting—a hand at shaping the new rules. Let’s make sure gun makers fear regulation enough to want to participate in the process of developing new regulation.

Here are the names of the leaders of the three leading American makers of guns. One letter from every concerned citizen should be enough to convince these amoralists that they should come to the negotiating table:
  • James Debney, President & Chief Executive Officer, Smith & Wesson, 2100 Roosevelt Avenue, Springfield MA 01104
  • Gerald R. Dinkel, President, Colt Defense LLC, P.O. Box 1868, Hartford CT 06144
  • Steven Feinberg, Cerebus Capital Management LP, 875 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022: owner of Bushmaster Firearms International LLC
I am also proposing a full-out assault on the NRA and its many affiliates. If you go to Twitter and search for “NRA” you will find about six Twitter accounts. I am tweeting a gun control message every day to all of these accounts, and I advocate that others do the same. Let’s tweet them into submission!

If the public doesn’t keep the pressure on, as soon as the Newtown massacre of the innocents falls out of the media spotlight gun makers and legislatures will retreat to their cozy clubby bloodless little world. Only a concerted effort by many will make sure that doesn’t happen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Instead of trying to stop voters from voting, states should stop semi-automatics

By Marc Jampole

To think that the killing of 32 college students at Virginia Tech in 2007 once marked for many the epitome of the unspeakably horrific. Now we see even worse—the mass murder of 20 children aged 5-10 and seven of their teachers, followed by the killer’s suicide.

What could be worse than the killing of these innocents to the psyche of any nation? Like parents everywhere, I remembered when my son was that age and I must say he was delightful, as were all his friends and classmates and the kids of my cousins. It’s the golden age of childhood, at least for most parents.  So most of the country felt the loss in a visceral way that made the mass media coverage seem all that much more tedious and pedestrian.

The little we know about the killer convinces me that lots of people knew this kid was a loonie, including his mother who nevertheless kept a .223 caliber rifle in the house. Without getting into the essence of the second amendment, which I believe has been stretched apart by gun rights advocates, what person ever has the need for a semi-automatic weapon, either for hunting or for protection?  The semi-automatic is the weapon of choice of mass murders. Let’s just outlaw it.

I don’t see how anyone’s rights suffer infringement if we prohibit gun ownership in households in which someone is having or is under treatment for emotional and mental problems. The argument that someone who wants a gun will find a way to get one is completely rhetorical once you look at the alarmingly high statistics for gun deaths by friendly fire or of other household members.

Outlawing semi-automatics and tightening restrictions are two moves that might stop a lot of mass murderers from committing their henious acts, or at least slow down their planning and/or execution.

Unfortunately much of America doesn’t seem to agree with me. As Charles Blow reports in his weekly column in the Saturday New York Times, 53%of Americans don’t support a law making it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic weapons.  Of course that survey was taken before the Newtown tragedy.

State legislatures everywhere have passed laws that make it harder to vote in most cases overruling the wishes of the people who elected them. In the case of voter suppression laws, the states were addressing voter fraud, a non-existent problem. You would think that despite the opposition of the electorate, state legislatures would now vote to ban assault rifles and strengthen restrictions on firearm ownership. Don’t hold your breath

It seems as if the Unites States has been betting against the dice for years and now it’s catching up to us. Sandy and Katrina demonstrated that we have been wrong not to listen to the engineers and build levees, barriers and sand dunes to protect population from the effects of global warming. And now we see once again what happens when we let guns proliferate and remove restrictions on their possession and use; we see it in the faces of the grieving parents and in the imagined faces of our own children—dead by gunfire, never again to smile at you openly or hug you in the warm unaffected way of the eight-year old.