Sunday, January 27, 2013

Top Ten Myths about Guns

Myth #1: Automatic weapons are already illegal in the US. 
"Federal law does not prohibit the ownership of any weapon, said Ginger Colbrun, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman in Washington. In order to buy or own certain firearms, including automatic weapons, machine guns and bazookas, people do have to apply for permission from the federal government. But as long as the application for a restricted firearm is approved, and there is no state law barring ownership of that type of gun, it's legal." (From the Associated Press)
Myth #2:  The shooter in Newtown did not use a Bushmaster assault weapon; he left it in the trunk of his car.
"Lt. J. Paul Vance, the face of an ongoing Connecticut State Police investigation into the worst grade-school shooting in U.S. history, Thursday debunked media and Internet reports that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza killed his victims with handguns and not the Bushmaster XM-15 E2S rifle that is now the focus of a proposed federal assault-weapons ban. All 26 of Lanza's victims were shot with the .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle, said Vance, who bristled at claims to the contrary during an interview with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers."
"It's all these conspiracy theorists that are trying to muck up the waters," said Vance, the longtime state police spokesman. (From The Greenwich Times)
Myth #3:  We don't need more gun laws.  We just need enforcement of the ones we already have.
"The hypocrisy of the N.R.A.’s argument that the problem is weak enforcement is exposed by its efforts over the years to undercut what enforcement there is. It has tried mightily to ensure that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lacks the leadership, resources and legal authority to do its job properly. Restrictions enacted at the gun lobby’s behest make it exceedingly hard to identify dealers who falsify sales records, for example, and bar the bureau from putting gun-sale records into a central database for speedy tracing of weapons used in crimes.'
"... the N.R.A. campaigned (for) the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, a misnamed law that has made it difficult to investigate and prosecute gun trafficking to this day. For example, it protects unscrupulous gun dealers by prohibiting A.T.F. agents from making more than one unannounced inspection a year. It also makes it hard to revoke their licenses.
Keeping guns out of the wrong hands has never been a gun lobby priority. Its priority has been weak enforcement of weak laws." (New York Times)
Myth #4: There's no such thing as a "military style" assault weapon. The weapons targeted in the proposed assault weapons ban are no different than hunting rifles.  
If these weapons are not military style, why are they advertised as combat rifles?

Myth #5: The gun industry is being unfairly targeted.  What about cars, knives and hammers?  
Cars, most knives and hammers have a function that goes beyond killing.  Guns can be used for target practice and hunting, but some guns are designed specifically for killing (humans). The gun industry is unique in having virtually NO regulations on manufacturing or safety.  Cars are heavily regulated.  (See If Guns Were Treated Like Cars)  Unlike the gun industry, those manufacturing and selling hammers, knives and everything else you can buy are subject to strict regulations as well as being subject to lawsuits from citizens for unsafe products.  The gun industry has been immune from lawsuits since 2005.
 Myth #6: There are already 200 million guns in the US. It's too late for gun control laws.
Unfortunately, we have no reliable count either of the numbers of guns nor the numbers of gun owners. But several have proposed regulations on ammunition, including registration of purchases, limiting magazine sizes and using serial numbers for tracking.  (See Reuters) There have also been some highly successful buy-back programs in several high crime cities.
  Myth #7: The NRA represents gun owners.
The NRA self-reports about four million members, or a little over 1% of the population (4% of the estimated gun owners). Membership benefits include an NRA cap and a newsletter.  They do not include a voice in the NRA's political activities.  Membership dues constitute less than half of the revenue received by the NRA; the bulk provided by gun manufacturers. Positions taken by the board are not necessarily supported by members.  As an example, 74% of members support criminal background checks for gun owners, a position opposed by the NRA.  The NRA's board is almost entirely made up of industry representatives, who sponsor legislation that protects the industry, not gun owners.  It would be rather like the beef industry claiming to represent the rights of meat eaters, then pushing for deregulation that puts meat eaters at risk of a defective product.  The NRA is a corporate lobbying group masquerading as a membership organization. (Huffington Post)
Myth #8: Gun owners must be registered and submit to background checks.
True of only 60% of gun purchasers, those who buy from licensed dealers.  The other 40% purchase weapons online, at gun shows and from individual sellers who are not required to follow the Brady Law.  At, I found UZIs and AK-47s among the offerings available for purchase in my community -- without any registration requirements.
Myth #9: Having a gun in your home makes you safer.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a study in 1993 showing that a gun owner was more than four times more likely to be shot than to use his gun in self-defense. An enraged NRA responded by pushing through Congress a law barring the CDC from further research on gun violence.
"In 1998, for every time a woman used a handgun to kill in self-defense, 101 women were murdered with a handgun. Despite the promises of gun-industry advertising, a woman is far more likely to be the victim of a handgun homicide than to use a handgun in a justifiable homicide. In 1998, handguns were used to murder 1,209 women. That same year, 12 women used handguns to kill in self-defense.  When a woman did use a handgun to kill in self-defense, it was usually against someone she knew, not against a stranger. Of the 12 handgun self-defense killings by women reported to the FBI in 1998, eight involved attackers known to the woman, while only four involved strangers."
But good luck following up on these studies. As reported in the New York Times, the CDC goes so far as to “ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the NRA as a courtesy.” (From Salon and The Violence Policy Center)
Myth #10: The problem is mental illness.  People with mental illnesses should not be allowed to buy guns.
The National Institute for Mental Health estimates that during our lifetimes, 46.4% (almost half) of us will suffer from at least one form of mental illness.  The vast majority will be undiagnosed. Banning everyone labelled mentally ill, regardless of diagnosis and even though very few represent any sort of threat, is a diversion.  Perhaps instead we should look to the psychiatric manual -- the DSM-IV -- and identify those mental illnesses whose symptoms include a fascination with weapons.  Then how exactly would the NRA suggest we proceed with those evidencing this symptom? (NIMH)

Friday, January 18, 2013

If Guns Were Treated Like Cars

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One of the current responses from gun enthusiasts to any attempts (however minimal) to regulate firearms is that cars kill more people than guns and do we want to ban cars too?

There are some simple responses to that suggestion.  First is that few if any are actually proposing a ban on guns.  Second is a comparison of the utility and purpose of the two kinds of machines.  Third is that we are rapidly approaching the time when gun deaths -- which are on the rise -- could well exceed car deaths -- which are declining.  In ten states, including my home state of Oregon, there are already more gun deaths per year than automobile deaths. (Source)

But let me take the side of those who propose we treat guns and cars the same.  If we did so, we could see the following new regulations:

  1. You would have to be sixteen to use a firearm, and then only after passing both a written and a shooting exam. 
  2. Your license to operate a firearm would have to be renewed every few years and could include a vision test, a use test as well as other assurances of competence.
  3. Your firearm itself would have to be licensed every few years, including verification that you still have it or documentation that it was sold and to whom, including their address. You would pay a license fee for each firearm you own.
  4. You would have to maintain a liability policy for each of your firearms, rates for which would vary depending on your age, personal shooting record and the number and value of firearms you possess.  A theft policy would be optional.
  5. The firearms industry would be heavily regulated, with extensive safety, environmental and maintenance responsibilities. New safety technologies would be required shortly after discovery and testing.
  6. If a firearm caused injury or death and the fault could be traced to the weapon, the maker and the dealer could both be sued by the injured party.  (Surprisingly, they are currently exempt from tort liability.)
  7. A state level department would exist with the manpower to oversee the firearms culture.
  8. It would be a felony to operate your firearm while under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  9. The fuel for your firearm (i.e. ammunition) would be taxed heavily to support the infrastructure required to oversee firearms in your state.
What am I missing here?

I suppose we have a choice.  There are the modest proposals from President Obama or the above ones paralleling automobile responsibilities.  You choose.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Violence? Follow the Money

The President has announced some modest measures to reduce gun violence.  States like New York, Colorado and Maryland are not waiting, enacting state laws against military-type assault weapons, large magazines and requiring registration for all gun sales.  In California, weapons buy-back programs are taking thousands of guns off the streets.

Meanwhile, the NRA targets the President's daughters and claims to represent the rights of gun owners.  But do they?  Most of the NRA's funding comes not from membership dues but from the gun industry directly.  They are an industry advocacy group masquerading as a gun owners' group.  The majority of the NRA's governing board are representatives of gun manufacturers and importers.  And what has the NRA done for the industry lately?

The firearms industry is exempt from tort liability for its actions and products.  Every other business in the US is liable for the safety of its products and can be sued.  Except for the most dangerous of all industries.
The ATF, the agency created to oversee firearms, has been crippled by repeated legislation written by the NRA such as not allowing it to require dealers maintain gun inventories, prohibiting more than one inspection per year of dealers, and a special law requiring that the ATF head be approved by Congress (a position that has been vacant for seven years).  It also cannot track gun sales or maintain data on gun owners or dealers. (See Jon Stewart's piece on this here.)

Rank and file NRA members have no say in the political actions of the organization.  Only the board -- which represents the gun industry -- can decide which legislation to push, how to spend campaign contributions or what the positions of the NRA will be.

Which leaves me.  What am I going to do about gun violence?  I'll take my fight where the money is.  From today forward, I will be notifying every local department store, sporting goods store or drug store selling guns that I will no longer shop in their establishment.  It will be tough.  I have always bought prescriptions from the Rogue River Pharmacy (which sells guns) and most of my groceries and household goods from Fred Meyer (which also does).  I've never been a Walmart shopper but I will be returning my 40-year old membership card to Bi-Mart.

Yesterday, I went in search of a face mask for keeping the chill off while cycling on these winter mornings..  I did not go to Big Five, Sports Authority or Blackbird.  All of them are agents of the gun industry.  Instead, I found a lovely place called Northwest Outdoor Store in Medford.  My first question upon entering the store:  Do you sell guns?  I made it clear that mattered to me.  I am done shopping anywhere that does business with and therefore supports the firearms industry.

Here is my letter to Fred Meyer:

Dear Fred Meyer Management:

I have been a loyal customer of yours since moving to Oregon almost 40 years ago. Since I buy most of my groceries at Fred Meyer as well as most household goods, some clothing, toys and electronics, I would estimate that I have spent about $500 per month in your store and over $200,000 since I began shopping there.  I have appreciated the selection, the cleanliness and the quality of your produce and fresh fish especially.

I will miss doing business with you.  The stranglehold the firearms industry has on our country can no longer be tolerated.  Too often, that industry through its lobbying arm, the NRA, has obstructed any common sense ability to regulate gun violence.  Neither the manufacturers nor you as a gun dealer are even subject to the tort liability every other industry must consider in developing ever-safer products.

Until your store ceases its relationship with the gun industry by cancelling gun sales, I cannot shop there in good conscience.  I am sharing my concerns with others and hope you will take the responsible action and immediately cancel your relationship with the gun industry.
Feel free to copy the letter, adapt it to your own situation and post it to any retailer you also will no longer support.  Follow the money.

The NRA and their industry directors would have you believe I hate gun owners.  I not only do not hate them, I am one.  With just 20% of the gun owners holding 65% of the guns in this country, it's not the  80% that includes me and most of my neighbors I'm concerned about.  It's the hoarders, those with a perverse fascination with weaponry.  As a former special education director, I was familiar with the DSM-IV, the psychiatric reference for mental illnesses.  Fascination with weapons features in several disorders.  If the NRA wants to blame the mentally ill for all the gun violence, they will need to include many of their best customers in that category. 

Not one more dollar from my household will support that industry.