The Gun Problem Is Guns

Dharma help us, but Marianne Williamson wrote an op ed about the gun violence crisis. I actually agree with some of it. This includes the part in the second paragraph where she says he must break the influence of money in politics; can’t argue with that.

Sometimes she gets too wound up in saying something clever rather than sensible. “It is not just our gun policy but our politics that fails to free us of this insanity.” Um, sweetums, “gun policy” and “politics” are kind of inextricably bound together. Then she says,

America does not just have a gun crisis; it has a cultural crisis. America will not stop experiencing the effects of gun violence until we’re ready to face the many ways that our culture is riddled with violence.

Yes?

Our environmental policies are violent toward the Earth. Our criminal justice system is violent toward people of color. Our economic system is violent toward the poor. Our entertainment media is violent toward women. Our video games are violent in their effect on the minds of children. Our military is violent in ways and places where it doesn’t have to be. Our media is violent in its knee-jerk shaming and blaming for the sake of a better click rate. Our hearts are violent as we abandon each other constantly, breeding desperation and insanity. And our government is indirectly and directly violent in the countless ways it uses its power to help those who do not need help and to withhold support from those who do.

Right. But there is one critical word that doesn’t appear anywhere in Williamson’s op ed. That word is greed. Our environmental policies cater to greed rather than protection. Greed is the real creator of poverty, IMO. I also would argue the military policies and most of the other stuff Williamson complains about are rooted in greed. If there is violence, it is greed fueling the violence. Toss in some ignorance, especially bigotry, and fear with that and you’ve accounted for it all. Violence is just a by-product. And government isn’t mitigating the effects of greed because of corruption.

Williamson’s Big Idea is to create a Department of Peace to battle the culture of conflict, which amounts to more wasted money, IMO. The eternally flakey Dennis Kucinich has been pushing a Department of Peace for a long time; these two should get together. But that’s the problem with the New Agey types; they are big on how everybody should be more about love and kindness, but they have no idea why they aren’t or how to bring about change. Williamson’s general method is to snarl at people about how they should be nicer. See also this passage from a New York Times article about Williamson

She finished her speech in New Hampshire to great applause and asked for questions, but nobody wanted to know how “a politics of love,” as she called it, would handle, say, President Vladimir Putin’s annexing Crimea, or how it would prevent a mass shooting, which were things she had thought about deeply and had specific and elaborate plans for. They didn’t want to know about her Department of Children and Youth or her Department of Peace. No, they wanted self-help. A woman raised her hand and said she didn’t know what to do about her trauma and her rage these days — how she couldn’t find forgiveness for the people who voted for Trump, even though those people weren’t exactly asking for it. “It’s like I’ve been infected,” the woman said. “How do I manage that?”

Williamson told her she has no time for people traumatized by the election.

Well, then, I have no more time for Williamson, and with any luck she soon will fade back into the pop culture woodwork. So let’s go on.

What’s killing the United States and the planet is greed and corruption. Gun violence is just a by-product; it’s greed and corruption that keeps turning up the flames of gun-rights zealotry, making us by far the most heavily armed citizenry on the planet. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s populations and an estimated 41 percent of the world’s civilian-owned firearms.

And that’s why we have a gun violence problem. I suspect any other group of people as heavily armed as we are would be shooting each other a lot, too. The presence of guns makes shooting a lot more likely. And there is a plausible argument to be made that the presence of guns stokes violent behavior, a phenomenon known in social psychology as the “weapons effect.”

As long as our knee-jerk reaction to gun violence is to buy more guns, our gun violence problem is just going to get worse. The problem of guns is guns.

Scientific American:

In a 2015 study using data from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.

In the minds of gun activists, strangers are eternally plotting to break into their homes and kill them, so they need a gun. I looked; the enormous majority of home break-ins are burglaries that take place when the residents are not at home. According to this, about 86 to 100 people a year in the U.S. are murdered by burglers who broke into their home, possibly, but the way the crime data is reported makes it all kind of murky. But let’s say 100 Americans a year are murdered by strangers invading their homes.

(Also, FYI, according to FBI crime statistics, where the relationship between the victim and perpetrator is known, only about 10 percent of homicide victims are killed by complete strangers. Apparently it’s the people you know you’ve got to watch.)

Compare/contrast to the nearly 2,900 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) who are shot and killed in the U.S every year, many of whom died by the gun their parents bought “for protection.” Nearly 15,600 are shot and injured. But you can’t tell the gun fanatics that having a gun in their home is a danger to their family. They need to “for protection.” They will not look at the data. They will not listen to reason. They have to have that gun.

Where is that fear coming from? At least some of it is being manufactured by gun lobbyists and the NRA, I’m sure. Our children have to die so that some people can make more money.

Yes, it’s madness, but the first path out of the madness is to reduce the prevalence of guns. I don’t see any way around that. As long as Americans are acquiring more and more guns, they are going to be more and more violent.

How to reduce the number of guns in circulation is another question, and I am sure there will be no magic bullet. And, ultimately, the greed has to be called out and punished, and we need a functioning government to do that. Well, good luck to us.

Real Courage

Josh Marshall:

As I’ve said, I live across the street from where the Chelsea bombing occurred. But I wasn’t there when it happened. I came home with my family Sunday evening. Since subways were still not stopping at the station’s closest to the bomb area we walked ten blocks. Returning to our neighborhood and approaching the guarded perimeter I felt a deep-seated pride in the community I live in, pride as a New Yorker. Immediately outside the sealed off perimeter people were going about their business as if nothing had happened. There was no climate of fear, no sense of a community on lock down. People were walking the streets, going to restaurants and bars.

New Yorkers are the best. Compare/contrast that to the weenies in the Gun Nation video, or this guy who can’t go to a Wal-Mart without an AR-15. Weenies, the lot of them.

This Isn’t Freedom

My home state only gets in the New York Times when it does something stupid.

Missouri’s Republican-controlled Legislature voted Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and enact a wholesale retreat from gun safety in the state.

The law will let citizens carry concealed weapons in public without a state gun permit, criminal background check or firearms training. It strips local law enforcement of its current authority to deny firearms to those guilty of domestic violence and to other high-risk individuals. And it establishes a dangerous “stand your ground” standard that will allow gun owners to shoot and claim self-defense based on their own sense of feeling threatened. …

… Republican legislative leaders, who cut short debate on the override vote on the last day of the session, were ebullient in overriding a variety of the governor’s vetoes beyond the gun measure, including one that will force voters to show a government photo ID.

That’s right; they also overrode a veto of a voter ID law. That one is problematic, however —

Even though the veto was overridden, the bill won’t become law unless voters decide in November to amend the state’s constitution to allow a photo ID requirement. That’s because the Missouri Supreme Court deemed voter ID unconstitutional in 2006, ruling that the law amounted to a “heavy and substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

If voters reject the constitutional amendment this fall, voter ID remains unconstitutional and the enacting legislation voted on Wednesday is moot.

We’ll see. Anyway, regarding the “Shoot-Me State’s” new Derp Gun Law, most of it won’t go into effect until January 1. This gives residents with any sense more than three months to clear out.

The Guardian has a half hour documentary video up called Gun Nation, “A revealing and unsettling journey to the heart of America’s deadly love affair with the gun.” It’s a genteel British guy interviewing gun owners about why they insist on keeping guns. Several of them mention “freedom,” but these people are not free. Nobody that obsessed with the Awful Dangerous Things That Could Get Me is free.

Texas Open Carry and the Dallas Shooting

Right after last week’s massacre in Dallas I wrote on Facebook,

Today the New York Times explains why the Texas open carry law not only didn’t prevent the massacre; it made law enforcement’s job more complicated.

The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, described to CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday the amount of confusion the armed protesters initially caused.

He said the event had attracted “20 or 30 people” who “showed up with AR-15 rifles slung across their shoulder.”

“They were wearing gas masks,” Mr. Brown said. “They were wearing bulletproof vests and camo fatigues, for effect, for whatever reason.”

When the shooting started, “they began to run,” he said. And because they ran in the middle of the shooting, he said, the police on the scene viewed them as suspects. “Someone is shooting at you from a perched position, and people are running with AR-15s and camo gear and gas masks and bulletproof vests, they are suspects, until we eliminate that.”

There were also some presumably armed men staging a counter-protest to BLM at the scene. I assume they ran also. It’s a wonder it didn’t turn into a regular battle, though.

Gun nuts gun rights activists have long argued that all mass shootings take place in “gun-free zones,” even though that isn’t actually true.

In a 2014 report, Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control group, said that from 2009 to July 2014, 18 multiple-victim U.S. shootings–meaning any incident where at least four people were killed with a gun–occurred in places where civilian handguns were allowed.

Of 33 incidents in public spaces, the report said, 18 took place wholly or in part where concealed guns could be lawfully carried. Conversely, no more than 15 incidents “took place entirely in public spaces that were so-called ‘gun-free zones,'” the report said.

The gun culties gun rights activists also like to deny that the presence of armed law enforcement officers count. For example, they will tell you that military bases are “gun free zones” because civilians and non-security personnel are unarmed. But the MPs are armed.

But I don’t think even Wayne LaPierre is demented enough to try to argue the Dallas shooting happened because it was a gun-free zone.

Why an Assault Weapons Ban Is Not Going to Help

Hardly a day goes by that I’m not asked to sign a petition to ban assault weapons. Here is why I don’t sign them.

Folks, the term “assault weapon” doesn’t mean what you think it means. In fact, it’s so vague it really doesn’t mean much of anything and is not recognized by many firearm experts as a legitimate term. And in researching this article, I find that firearm experts don’t even agree exactly what it means. It’s so vague all manner of semi-automatic weapons used by mass shooters and criminals do not qualify as “assault weapons.”

The federal assault weapons ban in effect from 1994 to 2004 had a negligible effect on gun violence overall; perpetrators simply switched to other kinds of semi-automatic weapons not considered “assault weapons.” The assault weapons ban was a cosmetic law that made people feel good about having done something about gun violence when in fact they hadn’t done much of anything. Let’s not go down that road again.

Before we go any further, let’s define some terms.

Automatic, full auto, select fire: These are firearms that keep firing with a single pull of the trigger, until you release the trigger or the ammunition runs out. Machine guns are full auto.

Assault rifles. “Assault rifle” and “assault weapon” are not synonymous terms. An assault rifle is a military-grade weapon with full auto capacity. Assault weapons are discussed below.

Note that under U.S. law going back many years it is extremely difficult for civilians to purchase and own full-auto weapons, including assault rifles. Congress began passing laws that regulated and restricted these weapons back in 1934, and those laws have been updated several times since then. They have worked very well.

Note also that confusing “assault weapon” and “assault rifle” is pretty common. I’ve done it in the past, I’m sure. WaPo did it recently with a headline saying “Assault rifles are becoming mass shooters’ weapon of choice,” But the weapons being discussed in the article are semi-auto, and the writer of the article doesn’t make that clear and obviously didn’t know the subject matter well enough to be writing about it. Full auto firearms, which assault rifles are by definition, already are off the table, folks. Mass shooters nearly always use semi-auto firearms, although other weapons (discussed below) do turn up.

Semi-automatic: With a semi-automatic weapon you have to pull the trigger to fire a round.  However, they automatically re-load as soon as they’re fired, so you can keep firing as fast as you can move your finger until the magazine empties.  Most firearms purchased and owned in the U.S. are semi-auto.

Assault weapons: As I said, this is a really vague term that gets defined all kinds of ways. Most of the firearms we non-shooters think of as assault weapons are those that are made to look like those cool, sexy full-auto assault rifles that are illegal for civilians to own. But in state and federal code “assault weapons” are semi-auto, not full-auto. And there are all kinds of state and federal regulations that define weapons differently, so a weapon that might be considered an “assault weapon” in one state might not be in another one.

Very basically, most definitions of assault weapon say it is a semi-automatic rifle, pistol or shotgun with a detachable magazine. But depending on the state, such a weapon might or might not be an assault weapon depending on whether it also has a pistol grip or a telescoping stock or even a grenade launcher mount.

See California’s flowchart explaining which weapons are legal in California and which are not to get a sense of how complicated this all is.

There are all kinds of rifles and other firearms that, at a glance, look more “traditional” –like the rifle you imagine your grandpa used to hunt deer — but are still semi-automatic, and there are semi-automatic “hunting rifles” that can do everything an “assault weapon” can do.

Magazine: The one defining feature of an “assault weapon” that is nearly universally agreed upon is a detachable magazine.  A magazine is an enclosed container that holds ammunition and loads it into position for firing. (This is different from a clip, which holds bullets in a sequence. A clip might be fed into a magazine, but they aren’t the same thing.)

Magazines come in many sizes and shapes and capacities. Many of us who favor gun control have argued for years that magazine capacity should be limited to some number of less than 10, for example. Gun enthusiasts insist limiting capacity would only slow a shooter down by seconds, so there’s no point doing it.  This sounds to me like a good argument for banning semi-autos with detachable magazines entirely.

[Updated] Other Firearms: A variety of firearms are not classified as either full-auto or semi-auto.  Examples are pump-action shotguns, lever- or bolt-action rifles, and revolvers. See also the Field & Stream guide to rifles and the Guns & Ammo guide to handguns.

These firearms do show up in mass shootings sometimes. James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora movie theater shooter, had a pump-action shotgun with him. He fired six rounds from the shotgun, then went on to fire 65 rounds from a semi-auto rifle, a Smith & Wesson M&P15.

Let’s go back to “assault weapons.” I would like to retire the term. I would like to just focus on semi-automatic weapons, period.

I propose one of two things. We either put extreme restrictions on all semi-auto firearms that would strictly and severely limit magazine capacity, extend re-load time, and make them less easily portable, or we ban civilian ownership of semi-auto firearms entirely. Or, I’d suggest that a federal license would be required to own a semi-auto, and getting such a license would require demonstrating a particular need that a not-automatic weapon couldn’t fill. It would also require extensive background checks, psych evaluations, and training.

But don’t ask me to support another “assault weapons” ban. There’s no point.

Stuff to Read (or Watch)

The New York Times has a nice investigative piece on what happens when private equity firms take over functions like fire fighting and ambulance services.

A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

Lots of buzz in social media about the Texas mother who shot and killed her two daughters and then was killed by police.

According to Christy Sheats Facebook page, she was a gun owner and vocal advocate for the second amendment.

“It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away,” Sheats wrote in March on her Facebook page, “but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.”

In other posts, she showered her daughters with praise.

“Happy Daughter’s Day to my amazing, sweet, kind, beautiful, intelligent girls,” she wrote in September 2015. “I love and treasure you both more than you could ever possibly know.”

Police who responded to reports of gunfire found the daughters lying in the street in front of their home, and the armed mother wouldn’t put down her gun, so they shot her. Authorities are already blaming “mental illness.”

British politicians who had promised everyone a pony if the UK could leave the EU are backtracking.

Before Thursday’s referendum on the country’s membership in the 28-nation bloc, campaigners for British withdrawal, known as Brexit, tossed out promises of a better future while dismissing concerns raised by a host of scholars and experts as “Project Fear.”

But that was before they won.

With financial markets in turmoil, a big drop in the pound and the prospect of further chaos, some supporters of Brexit are backpedaling on bold pronouncements they made just a few days earlier. “A lot of things were said in advance of this referendum that we might want to think about again,” Liam Fox, a former cabinet minister, told the BBC, including when and how Article 50 — the formal process for leaving the European Union — should be invoked.

See also John Oliver.

No More Thoughts and Prayers

Update: “Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) ended a blockade of the Senate floor after nearly 15 hours Thursday, announcing Republican leaders had agreed to hold votes on Democrat-backed measures to expand background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from acquiring guns.” (WaPo)

***

Some House Democrats walked out on the House’s “moment of silence” for the victims of Orlando, and as soon as the moment had passed some remaining Democrats shouted their frustration at speaker Paul “granny starver” Ryan.

House Democrats staged protests Monday evening in response to a moment of silence on the floor to remember the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the deadliest in American history.

After Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) led the House in the moment of silence in honor of the 49 people who died in the massacre on Sunday, the chamber erupted into shouting as Democrats expressed frustration over the lack of votes to restrict guns after repeated mass shootings.

“Where’s the bill?” Democrats chanted.

Today, Senate Dems are holding an old-fashioned filibuster on gun control.

Led by the senators who represent Newtown, Connecticut — where a gunman fatally shot 26 people, including 20 children, in 2012 — Democrats took control of the Senate floor Wednesday and vowed to keep talking until lawmakers start doing something about gun violence.

“Newtown is still putting itself back together, probably will be for a long time,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who launched the filibuster-style takeover, declaring it was time for the Senate to do something about gun violence beyond the usual ineffective debates.

He said lawmakers could not go about business as usual after a mass killing at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday claimed 49 victims.

“This is a different moment today than it was at the end of last week,” Murphy said. “There is a newfound imperative for this body to find a way to come together and take action, to try to do our part to stem this epidemic of gun violence and in particular this epidemic of mass shootings.”

This filibuster is still going on as I write this.  There’s a live feed at Wired.  It’s several hours of not-silence. A number of Democrats have participated; I don’t have a list of them yet.

So credit where credit is due. I hope this is just a beginning.

Personal/Political/Whatever

It turns out that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was a regular toxic stew of Personal Issues. He wasn’t so much a jihadist as someone who poured his excessive rage into a fantasy of jihad. The Washington Post reports that in the past he had falsely claimed connections to many Islamic terrorist groups, including Hezbollah. He seems not to have understood that Sunni and Shiite militants don’t hang out on the same corner.

The real bombshell is that it turns out Mateen was gay himself, according to people who had known him a long time. He’d even been a regular at the nightclub he attacked. And he had a father who is a Taliban supporter.  Talk about raging internal conflict, huh?

He did spend a lot of time on jihadist websites, according to some sources, which no doubt added more bite to the hot pepper gumbo of loathing sluicing around in his id. Other than that, he had about as much connection to ISIS as to the Brownie Scouts.  It seems debatable to me whether the shooting itself was an act of “terrorism” as much as one more mass shooting by a poorly socialized male.

So just about everybody’s initial reactions to the shooting were wrong. Donald Trump’s reaction was, of course, colossally and pathologically wrong.  After congratulating himself for his subtle and penetrating insight that Muslims Are Bad, he again called on banning Muslim immigrants — how that would have stopped American-born Mateen is not clear — and he blamed American Muslims for not doing enough to stop Mateen.

Yes, let’s inflame more young men with Issues into hating America. Just what we need.

He also accused President Obama of secreting working with ISIS. The American Psychiatric Association may need to publish an ancillary issue of the DSM just to deal with All the Stuff That’s Wrong With Trump.

I must give credit to Hillary Clinton for saying what needed to be said — we stand with LBGT people, we must not demonize Islam, we need better gun control. Sanders reiterated his support for a ban on semiautomatic weapons. I understand the libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, doesn’t want us to “politicize” the issue, which once again shows us that libertarianism is massively pointless. It’s our “politicization” of guns as protected by the political 2nd Amendment that’s put us in this fix.

I also want to note that the word “terrorism” has lost any meaning. It appears Mateen was motivated primarily by his massive Personal Issues; jihadist rhetoric was a supporting factor only, and there were no operational ties whatsoever to ISIS or any other terrorist organization. Yet all sorts of knee-jerk analysis labeled the Orlando shooting as “Islamic terrorism.” Meanwhile, Dylann Roof, who appears to have been an average soft-headed kid who was radicalized by white supremacist websites and literature into killing nine people in Charleston, is not a “terrorist.” Why not? Well, of course, we know why, but that reason is just a reflection of our own biases, isn’t it?

The truth is, putting the Orlando shooting into a “terrorist” or “not terrorist” box doesn’t do anything to help us understand it. Nor does it help to label Mateen “mentally ill” because his wife claimed he was bipolar; that appears to have been her own unprofessional diagnosis. Nor does it help to blame passages in the Quran or religion generally. Let us instead acknowledge that human beings are infinitely complicated, and that our lives and personalities are a mix of internal and external factors so tangled it can’t be said where one ends and another begins.

All I know is,

1. Hating people because of who they are never helps anybody.

2. We’re way past needing gun control. Are we ready to amend the 2nd Amendment yet? I know I am.

A Bang and a Whimper

So the Bundy boys and some of their followers are in FBI custody. LaVoy Finicum, the “live free or die” warrior known for taking in foster children to work on his unprofitable ranch so he could collect government checks has been killed. So far no details have been released describing Finicum’s death, but already the Web is buzzing with the rumor that Finicum was shot trying to surrender.

Before Finicum’s death was even confirmed, supporters rushed to portray him on social media as a martyr who, according to unverified accounts, had his hands up and was unarmed when he was shot. Law enforcement sources told CNN that Finicum and Ryan Bundy were the only two leaders who did not surrender during the confrontation.

One of the crew at Gateway Pundit, official home of the Dumbest Man on the Web®, reported that “The man was on the ground hands up, unarmed and cooperating. A real need to be shot three times.”

Those details hasn’t been reported anywhere, so how he could have known that is a mystery. And I didn’t think Finicum was ever unarmed. I imagined he had a gun and holster strapped around his PJs when he brushed his teeth at night. But perhaps Black Lives Matter has a surplus “Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ T-shirt this guy could buy .

USA Today reports that five or six of Bundy’s followers remain at the wildlife sanctuary they’d been occupying.

This Weekend’s Shootings

Lots of gun deaths in the U.S. of A.  this weekend, including some bona fide mass shootings that have the gun absolutists blaming Obama and oppressive gun restrictions.

On Saturday morning a gunman killed three people, apparently at random, in residential Colorado Springs. The gunman was shot and killed by police, who as of Sunday evening still weren’t releasing details about who he was.

Note that Colorado Springs is hardly a “gun-free zone.” Colorado gun laws are pretty much anything goes; the only restriction I could find is that a permit is required to carry a concealed handgun. (There are no restrictions on openly carrying anything, it seems.) But the state can’t deny a permit to anyone who doesn’t have a criminal record, and the gun enthusiast sites all say that it’s very easy to get a concealed carry permit in Colorado.

Comment at a right-wing blog: “If just one of the witnesses would have been a concealed carrier the dead count would have been less.” We don’t know that they weren’t. And it’s safe to assume lots of people in that residential area had guns in their homes.

One person was shot and another wounded at Winston-Salem State University this morning. The gunman got away. North Carolina also has permissive gun laws, and guns are not prohibited from public schools, which Winston-Salem State is. No “gun-free” zone involved.

Lots of other shootings this weekend, most apparently either accidents (some Halloween revelers in Maryland and Delaware celebrated by shooting at cars) or random “drive-by” type shootings.  If you’re just standing around on a street minding your own business, and somebody decides to shoot you for the hell of it, I’m not sure what good a concealed firearm might do you. You might consider a really thick helmet and body armor, though.

Welcome to America.