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How to get a politician’s attention on gun control

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James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: When the National Rifle Association endorsed Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) for a ninth term last fall, the group noted that he’s consistently maintained an “A” rating and has been “solidly pro-gun.” Literature sent to members emphasized Turner’s opposition to expanding background checks and banning assault weapons, as well as his past vote to immunize gun manufacturers from liability and to force all states, regardless of their own laws, to recognize concealed carry permits issued anywhere else.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Turner’s daughter and a family friend had just entered the Tumbleweed Connection bar in Dayton when a gunman opened fire across the street.Nine people were killed, and 27 were injured. The congressman’s daughter ran home, as he prayed for her and the community.

On Tuesday afternoon, Turner announced that he’s had a change of heart on gun control. He said he would vote for an assault weapons ban, limits on the size of gun magazines and for a federal “red flag” law that would make it easier to “quickly identify people who are dangerous” so their firearms can be taken away.

“The carnage these military style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable,” Turner said in a statement. “I understand not every shooting can be prevented or stopped from these measures, but I do believe these steps are essential. … This tragedy must become a catalyst for a broader national conversation about what we can do to stop these mass shootings.”

Why didn’t Turner think it was a “catalyst” for change when other people’s children had to run for their lives in cities that weren’t in his congressional district? It’s been 20 years since Columbine, with increasingly frequent and deadly mass shootings in places like Orlando, Las Vegas, Blacksburg, Va., Newtown, Conn., and Charleston, S.C.

A spokeswoman said Turner was not available for an interview and declined to answer follow-up questions from Colby Itkowitz, including whether the congressman regrets his votes in February against two bills that would strengthen background checks.

— Turner is not alone: He joins a sizable group of conservatives who were outspoken opponents of gun control until the issue hit close to home. Only then did they stand up to the powerful gun lobby. Consider these three examples:

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) received the NRA’s support and contributions when he got elected to Congress in 2016. A little over a year after he took office, one of the congressman’s personal friends was among the 17 people massacred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where he had formerly lived. Aaron Feis was the assistant football coach, and he died while heroically ushering students to safety. Mast has said he decided during Feis’s funeral to call for a ban on “assault or tactical” firearms and for requiring background checks on all gun purchases, including online and private sales.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) also had an A-rating from the NRA. As a candidate for that office in 2016, he campaigned against background checks on private gun sales, talked about the safe full of guns he kept in his home and touted his votes against new gun laws in the state legislature. Then, two days after the Parkland shooting, police in Fair Haven, Vt., arrested a teenager for allegedly plotting to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School.

Authorities had been tipped off about a threatening Facebook message. When police searched his car, they found a shotgun, 17 rounds of ammunition and four books about school shootings. They also found a diary entitled, “The Journal of an Active Shooter,” according to court documents. In an interview, the young man allegedly told police that he wanted to “exceed the body count from the Virginia Tech shooting,” which had left 32 dead, “and that he had chosen his ammunition accordingly.”

“As I processed this information, I was shocked,” Scott explained in April 2018. “Just 24 hours before — even in the aftermath of Parkland — I thought, as the safest state in the nation, Vermont was immune to this type of violence. … Sitting there, I realized, only by the grace of God did we avert a horrific outcome.”

That caused the lifelong gun owner to “do some soul searching” and, just two months later, sign into law a trio of bills that banned the possession and sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds for a long gun and 15 for a handgun. To ensure background checks on private gun sales, Scott also required that nearly all guns be bought and sold through a licensed firearm dealer, and he increased the minimum age to purchase weapons.

“I was wrong. And that’s not always easy to admit,” he said at the signing ceremony, as opponents of gun control chanted “Traitor!” and “BS!” while carrying signs that blared “Not My Governor” outside the State House.

The most famous example is Ronald Reagan. On the 10th anniversary of being shot, the former president wrote an op-ed endorsing the Brady Bill. The legislation was named for his White House press secretary, James Brady, who was wounded in the assassination attempt. Reagan pushed back on the NRA’s arguments against background checks. “This level of violence must be stopped,” the former president wrote in the New York Times. Nancy Reagan, who had been deeply traumatized by seeing her husband in the hospital and remained good friends with Brady’s wife Sarah, played a starring rolein her husband’s evolution.

Then, in 1994, Reagan teamed up with his old rival Gerald Ford — who had been lucky to avoid getting shot during two assassination attempts during his presidency — to endorse the assault weapons ban. “While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,” Reagan and Ford, along with Jimmy Carter, wrote in an op-ed for the Boston Globe. The bill passed the House by two votes, and multiple lawmakers cited personal lobbying from Reagan to explain why they had changed their earlier positions.

— It’s understandable that personal experience shapes people’s worldviews as much as anything else. But it can be problematic. When a crack epidemic was killing young black men in urban centers in the 1980s, white lawmakers from rural areas championed tough-on-crime policies that put junkies and dealers alike behind bars for long sentences. When the opioid epidemic came to their communities and started killing their neighbors and the children of their friends, many of these same politicians demanded a more compassionate approach that focused on treatment, not incarceration. That’s not a coincidence.

— There are exceptions, of course. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has remained a stalwart opponent of new gun laws since getting shot during a congressional baseball team practice.

— Reality check: The assault weapons ban and limits on magazine size that Turner endorsed yesterday appear dead on arrival so long as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is majority leader. Red flag laws are more likely to get through, but even that’s not assured to get 60 votes — unless there’s a sustained push from the president.

Supporters of universal background checks for gun purchases face a daunting reality in their demand for a snap Senate roll call: They don’t have the votes; not even close,” Paul Kane reports from the Capitol. “Just two Republican senators — Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — are on record in support of expanding background-check laws, specifically through a bill Toomey drafted with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). That bill, written after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, contained several concessions designed to win support from Senate Republicans, such as allowing interstate sales of handguns among gun dealers. Now, quite a few Senate Democrats view the Manchin-Toomey bill as insufficient to deal with the mass violence that has grown worse since that failed 2013 effort. They are demanding a vote on the House version of the legislation, approved in February, which drops those concessions to conservatives.”

— There are additional examples of prominent conservatives who do not hold public office embracing gun control after experiencing mass shootings. Caleb Keeter, the lead guitarist of the Josh Abbott Band, performed at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas a few hours before a gunman killed 58 people and wounded 546 more in 2017. “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was,” Keeter wrote afterward. “We actually have members of our crew with [concealed handgun licenses] and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless.”

The Texas-based musician continued: “Writing my parents and the love of my life a goodbye last night and a living will because I felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night was enough for me to realize that this is completely and totally out of hand. … We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”

— Breaking overnight: Documents indicate that the NRA planned to purchase a luxury mansion in the Dallas area last year for the use of chief executive Wayne LaPierre. Carol D. Leonnig and Beth Reinhard scoop: “The discussions about the roughly $6 million purchase, which was not completed, are now under scrutiny by New York investigators. The transaction was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a wire of tens of thousands of dollars from the NRA in 2018. … The New York attorney general’s office is now examining the plan for an NRA-financed mansion as part of its ongoing investigation into the gun lobby’s tax-exempt status. … One property that was considered, according to a person familiar with the plans, was a 10,000-square-foot French country estate with lakefront and golf course views. The four-bedroom, nine-bath home in a gated golf course community northwest of Dallas resembles a French chateau, with a stately boxwood-lined drive, a formal courtyard, vaulted ceilings and an antique marble fireplace. …

The discussions … in 2018 came as the NRA was in deepening financial trouble: The nonprofit was on track to run a deficit for a third year in a row, had cut back dramatically on its core mission of gun safety and legislative work and frozen its employee pension plan. … The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and its longtime ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight. … Ackerman McQueen said LaPierre had sought the ad firm’s assistance with the real estate transaction, a proposal it said alarmed company officials. … For their part, NRA officials said that the real estate purchase was suggested in early 2018 by Ackerman McQueen as an investment that would be managed by the ad firm’s top executives — and that it was ultimately rejected by top NRA leaders. …

Leaked documents show that the NRA paid $542,000 for private jet trips for LaPierre, including a trip to the Bahamas with his wife after the Sandy Hook shooting and an array of Italian designer suits as well as the rent for a summer intern’s apartment. The expenses were first paid by Ackerman McQueen, which then billed the NRA as part of its multimillion-dollar annual contract. … LaPierre received a salary of $1.37 million for his role as executive vice president in 2017, plus an additional $67,289 in compensation, according to the NRA’s latest tax filing.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 11:38 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Guns

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? The number of guns per capita.

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Max Fisher and Josh Keller report in the NY Times:

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people — a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.

Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

If mental health made the difference, then data would show that Americans have more mental health problems than do people in other countries with fewer mass shootings. But the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.

A 2015 study estimated that only 4 percent of American gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues. And Mr. Lankford, in an email, said countries with high suicide rates tended to have low rates of mass shootings — the opposite of what you would expect if mental health problems correlated with mass shootings.

Whether a population plays more or fewer video games also appears to have no impact. Americans are no more likely to play video games than people in any other developed country.

Racial diversity or other factors associated with social cohesion also show little correlation with gun deaths. Among European countries, there is little association between immigration or other diversity metrics and the rates of gun murders or mass shootings.

America’s gun homicide rate was 33 per million people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. In Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively, which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership.

Americans sometimes see this as an expression of deeper problems with crime, a notion ingrained, in part, by a series of films portraying urban gang violence in the early 1990s. But the United States is not actually more prone to crime than other developed countries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and Gordon Hawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.

Rather, they found, in data that has since been repeatedly confirmed, that American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.

They concluded that the discrepancy, like so many other anomalies of American violence, came down to guns.

More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

This suggests that the guns themselves cause the violence. . .

Continue reading. Charts at the link. And there’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2019 at 7:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Law, Science

‘Shoot them!’: Trump laughs off a supporter’s demand for violence against migrants

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Antonia Noori Farzan reports in the Washington Post:

A roar rose from the crowd of thousands of Trump supporters in Panama City Beach on Wednesday night, as President Trump noted yet again that Border Patrol agents can’t use weapons to deter migrants. “How do you stop these people?” he asked.

“Shoot them!” someone yelled from the crowd, according to reporters on the scene and attendees.

The audience cheered. Supporters seated behind Trump and clad in white baseball caps bearing the letters “USA” laughed and applauded.

“That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement,” Trump replied, smiling and shaking his head. “Only in the Panhandle.”

Though Trump didn’t explicitly endorse the suggestion to shoot migrants, his joking response raised concerns that he was tacitly encouraging extrajudicial killings and brutality against asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. The president has long been accused of endorsing acts of violence through his incendiary rhetoric and allusions to the potential for violence at his rallies, a charge that members of his administration deny.

Reached for comment by The Washington Post on Trump’s reaction at the Florida rally, Matt Wolking, deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, pointed to a response he had given to many critics on Twitter. The president, he noted in his tweet, had specifically said that Border Patrol wouldn’t use firearms to stop migrants from entering the country.

The incendiary remark from the crowd came as Trump, standing before about 7,000 people who had gathered at an outdoor amphitheater in the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast town, railed against what he described as an “invasion” of migrants attempting to enter the United States. Often, he claimed, “two or three” border agents will contend with the arrival of “hundreds and hundreds of people.”

“And don’t forget, we don’t let them and we can’t let them use weapons,” Trump said of the border agents. “We can’t. Other countries do. We can’t. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people?”

The fans seated directly behind Trump wore serious, perturbed frowns, which were quickly replaced by broad grins after the shouted suggestion that the solution involved firearms. Uproarious laughter rippled across the room as audience members whistled and offered a round of applause

To critics, Trump’s failure to outright condemn the idea of shooting migrants amounted to a “tacit endorsement” of the sentiment. Many pointed out that such rhetoric was especially concerning in light of the fact that an armed militia group, the United Constitutional Patriots, had been searching the borderlands for undocumented migrants and detaining them against their will.

Last month, after the group’s leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, the FBI said that the 69-year-old claimed militia members were training to assassinate former president Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and prominent Democratic donor George Soros.

One member of that militia had also questioned why the group wasn’t killing migrants, according to a police report first obtained by left-leaning news outlet The Young Turks.

“Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?” Armando Delgado Gonzalez allegedly asked another member during a patrol in April. “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”

Gonzalez denied making those comments in an interview with BuzzFeed News, though a third member of the group confirmed that the exchange had taken place and told BuzzFeed that the militia had filed a police report because the remarks were a “red flag.” . . .

Continue reading.

And this report includes the video.

This is beyond “disturbing.” This is frightening, especially in the immediate aftermath of the El Paso mass shooting with 20 killed from an anti-immigrant zealot (and now 9 killed in an Ohio mass shooting).

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2019 at 6:59 am

The late Justice John Paul Stevens: “The Supreme Court’s Worst Decision of My Tenure”

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His article appeared in the May issue of the Atlantic, and it was adapted from The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years, by John Paul Stevens. The article begins:

District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized an individual right to possess a firearm under the Constitution, is unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench.

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: “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.” When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, “In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

Colonial history contains many examples of firearm regulations in urban areas that imposed obstacles to their use for protection of the home. Boston, Philadelphia, and New York—the three largest cities in America at that time—all imposed restrictions on the firing of guns in the city limits. Boston enacted a law in 1746 prohibiting the “discharge” of any gun or pistol that was later revived in 1778; Philadelphia prohibited firing a gun or setting off fireworks without a governor’s special license; and New York banned the firing of guns for three days surrounding New Year’s Day. Those and other cities also regulated the storage of gunpowder. Boston’s gunpowder law imposed a 10-pound fine on any person who took any loaded firearm into any dwelling house or barn within the town. Most, if not all, of those regulations would violate the Second Amendment as it was construed in the 5–4 decision that Justice Antonin Scalia announced in Helleron June 26, 2008.

Until Heller, the invalidity of Second Amendment–based objections to firearms regulations had been uncontroversial. The first two federal laws directly restricting the civilian use and possession of firearms—the 1927 act prohibiting mail delivery of handguns and the 1934 act prohibiting the possession of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns—were enacted over minor Second Amendment objections that were dismissed by the vast majority of legislators participating in the debates. After reviewing many of the same sources that are discussed at greater length by Scalia in his majority opinion in Heller, the Miller Court unanimously concluded that the Second Amendment did not apply to the possession of a firearm that did not have “some relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” And in 1980, in a footnote to an opinion upholding a conviction for receipt of a firearm, the Court effectively affirmed Miller, writing: “[T]he Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.’”

So well settled was the issue that, speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 1991, the retired Chief Justice Warren Burger described the National Rifle Association’s lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment in these terms: “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Even if the lobbyists who oppose gun-control regulation actually do endorse the dubious proposition that the Second Amendment was intended to limit the federal power to regulate the civilian use of handguns—that Burger incorrectly accused them of “fraud”—I find it incredible that policy makers in a democratic society have failed to impose more effective regulations on the ownership and use of firearms than they have.

And even if there were some merit to the legal arguments advanced in the Hellercase, all could foresee the negative consequences of the decision, which should have provided my colleagues with the justification needed to apply stare decisis to Miller. At a minimum, it should have given them greater pause before announcing such a radical change in the law that would greatly tie the hands of state and national lawmakers endeavoring to find solutions to the gun problem in America. Their twin failure—first, the misreading of the intended meaning of the Second Amendment, and second, the failure to respect settled precedent—represents the worst self-inflicted wound in the Court’s history.

It also represents my greatest disappointment as a member of the Court. After the oral argument and despite the narrow vote at our conference about the case, I continued to think it possible to persuade either Justice Anthony Kennedy or Justice Clarence Thomas to change his vote. During the drafting process, I had frequent conversations with Kennedy, as well as occasional discussions with Thomas, about historical issues, because I thought each of them had an open mind about the case. In those discussions—particularly those with Kennedy—I now realize that I failed to emphasize sufficiently the human aspects of the issue as providing unanswerable support for the stare decisis argument for affirmance. After all, Kennedy had been one of the three decisive votes that had saved Roe v. Wade from being overruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Before the argument, I had decided that stare decisis provided a correct and sufficient basis for upholding the challenged gun regulation, but I nonetheless asked my especially competent law clerk, Kate Shaw, to make a thorough study of the merits of the argument that an independent review of the historical materials would lead to the same result. I wanted that specific study to help me decide which argument to feature in my dissent, which I planned to complete and circulate before Scalia completed his opinion for the majority. Shaw convinced me that Miller had been correctly decided; accordingly, I decided to feature both arguments in my dissent, which we were able to circulate on April 28, 2008, five weeks before Scalia circulated the majority opinion on June 2, 2008. In the cover memorandum for my probable dissent, I wrote:

The enclosed memorandum explains the basis for my firm belief that the Second Amendment does not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of the federal government to regulate the non-military use or possession of firearms. I have decided to take the unusual step of circulating the initial draft of a probable dissent before [Scalia] circulates his majority because I fear the members of the majority have not yet adequately considered the unusual importance of their decision.

While I think a fair reading of history provides overwhelming support for Warren Burger’s view of the merits, even if we assume that the present majority is correct, I submit that they have not given adequate consideration to the certain impact of their proposed decision on this Court’s role in preserving the rule of law. We have profound differences over our role in areas of the law such as the Eighth Amendment and substantive due process, but I believe we all agree that there are areas of policy-making in which judges have a special obligation to let the democratic process run the show …

What has happened that could possibly justify such a massive change in the law? The text of the amendment has not changed. The history leading up to the adoption of the amendment has not changed … There has been a change in the views of some law professors, but I assume there are also some professors out there who think Congress does not have the authority to authorize a national bank, or to regulate small firms engaged in the production of goods for sale in other states, or to enact a graduated income tax. In my judgment, none of the arguments advanced by respondents or their numerous amici justify judicial entry into a quintessential area of policy-making in which there is no special need or justification for judicial supervision.

This is not a case in which either side of the policy debate can be characterized as an “insular minority” in need of special protection from the judiciary. On the contrary, there is a special risk that the action of the judiciary will be perceived as the product of policy arguments advanced by an unusually powerful political force. Because there is still time to avoid a serious and totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound, I urge each of the members of the majority to give careful consideration to the impact of this decision on the future of this institution when weighing the strength of the arguments I have set forth in what I hope will not be a dissent.

In the end, of course, beating Scalia to the punch did not change the result, but I do think it forced him to significantly revise his opinion to respond to the points I raised in my dissent. And although I failed to persuade Kennedy to change his vote, I think our talks may have contributed to his insisting on some important changes before signing on to the Court’s opinion.

That’s cold comfort. I have written in other contexts that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Law, Politics

In the light of Virginia Beach, an interesting passage in a long read on gun ownership

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Gregory Gibson has a long piece in the NY Times that I think is definitely worth reading. Gibson is the father of one of the students shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School and author of Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth in His Son’s Murder. He has thought at length about guns and gun ownership, and the piece is about his decision to buy a gun and really learn about shooting—and he has a concealed-carry permit.

Read the whole thing, by all means. I quote one passage that struck me. It’s about a remark by Dave Grossman, who is former military who has studied combat and how men react. Long ago, S.L.A. Marshall wrote a book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in which he discusses how difficult it is to get soldiers in battle to fire to kill the enemy. As he points, civilization has conditioned people so that most finding killing another person repugnant. That includes soldiers, who will fire over the heads of the enemy forces, or fire blindly, and avoid attempting deliberately to taking a life.

He recounted how during the Korean War, a person, possibly dead, was seen floating down the river from the enemy position. One or two soldiers fired at it, just in case the enemy still was alive. Then someone shouted, “It’s a log!” whereupon all the soldiers trained live fire on it. They apparently liked shooting, just not at people.

So Marshall suggested that the Army must change its training methods. Rather than focusing on marksmanship, the Army must deliberately train soldiers to fire directly at the enemy as a reflex, without thought. Pop-up targets on obstacle courses became popular, so that the stimulus (the image of an enemy person) immediately activated a reflex (shoot him).

Grossman continued Marshall’s studies, and Grossman wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman also observed the reluctance to kill, and he pointed out that men were more likely to aim fire to kill the enemy in a crew-operated weapon, where each man is observed by his crewmate (heavy machine gun, for example, or a sniper/spotter team). And I believe it was Grossman who talked about simulations to continue to exercise the kill reflex so that it could be engaged without thought.

Both books are worth reading. Here’s the passage from Gibson’s article:

Eventually, inevitably, I encountered the writings of Dave Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, pioneer researcher and scholar in the field of Killology (his designation, not mine, and a perfect example of his sometimes-tin ear). He is the author of “On Killing” and “On Combat” and is perhaps best known for an idea he discusses in those books that divides everyone into three distinct groups.

“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep,” he has written. “If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath — a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”

It seemed corny and unscientific to me. But if, as an actual sheepdog might, you see the world in black and white, its humorless piety, self-righteous rectitude and complete absence of subtlety would seem appealing.

In fairness, Colonel Grossman has done groundbreaking work delving into the psychology and physiology of killing. One of the starting points of his study is the observation that although we have little difficulty bombing whole nations into the Stone Age, we are hard-wired against killing one another face to face. Was that the source of my yips? I was, after all, training to shoot people at close range.

There was another aspect, laid out in exquisite detail by Colonel Grossman, to this business of up-close-and-personal killing. When one is under the extreme stress of having to do so, the forebrain stops giving orders and yields to the hypothalamus, the stress control center. Bladder and colon involuntarily empty, and the autonomic nervous system kicks in. The adrenal glands release potentially damaging levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones. Blood pressure and respiration spike. Time seems to slow; nausea, auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and even temporary physical paralysis may ensue. Jerry never told us about any of that!

Post-Grossman I have a very different scenario of what takes place in my fantasy library in 1992. Professional trainers are largely in agreement that there’s really no predicting how a person will react in a combat situation. No matter how diligently Betsy DeVos and I might have prepared, we’d be in the midst of a giant mess.

That was it for me. I airlifted myself out of there.

HAPPILY, I DIDN’T DIE OF PERITONITIS in a hospital in southern Chile. I wound up in a house of worship in northern New England. In the preface to “On Combat,” Colonel Grossman wrote that he spends nearly 300 days a year traveling the country evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set. According to the Sheepdog Seminar website, he was coming soon to a church near Bangor, Me. I decided to go up there and hear what they had to say about the idea of people with guns keeping people safe from people with guns. One foot in front of the other. . .

Colonel Grossman joined us on the second day of the seminar. He was fit and wiry, constantly in motion, delivering his pitch, very much the military man, punctuating his utterances with “Do you understand?” — as much a command as a question. He had a growly way of speaking and a rhythmic vocal tic, a sort of grunt or “umph” that reminded me of a sheepdog’s affirmative “Ruff!” It pleased me to imagine that after decades of researching, formulating and evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set, Dave Grossman had become one.

He gave a brief pitch for his many books that pertained to the matter at hand. “Why Mommy Carries a Gun” is one title that stuck in my mind. Then he told us what he had learned from training soldiers, from desensitizing them to their natural aversion to killing up close. The terrible news he brought us on this day was that our national video game addiction was creating a generation of killers.

Guns had always been present in our society, he said, but there had been no multiple homicides by a juvenile in schools until the 1970s. Guns didn’t change; we changed. He talked the pioneering work of Dr. James McGee, a co-author of the groundbreaking “Classroom Avenger” study on school shooters. According to Dr. McGee, the one thing these young killers had in common was that they were loners, and, in Colonel Grossman’s telling, immersed themselves in “sicko movies and video games.” He described video games as a form of “pathological play” that rewarded the player for causing death. Colonel Grossman’s take on the research got more dire: Violent visual imagery actually changed the brains of players. Video games were digital crack. The media were taking no responsibility for the content they put out there. The mental health of an entire generation was a stake.

It was a chilling performance. I thought of my 7-year-old grandson, hunched over his tablet, keeping the world safe from zombies.

It struck me, in reading this, that the hours and hours children and young adolescents spend in playing first-person shooter games such as “Grand Theft Auto” is, in effect, training them to shoot by reflex, to kill automatically and without thought. It seems similar to the way the military was able to remove from new recruits their reluctance to kill. And it seems to have worked.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2019 at 4:13 pm

F.B.I. Was Told That Militia in New Mexico Planned to Kill Obama and Clinton

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The US seems to be in a state that in a person is called a “nervous breakdown.” Simon Romero reports in the NY Times:

The imprisoned leader of a right-wing militia that detained migrant families in New Mexico first came under the scrutiny of federal authorities in 2017, after the F.B.I. received reports that his group was “training” to assassinate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros, according to documents unsealed Monday in federal court.

The militia leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, appeared in Federal District Court on Monday after his arrest over the weekend on a charge of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

The arrest followed a series of videos posted by Mr. Hopkins’s group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, showing men in camouflage circling and detaining hundreds of migrants in the desert near Sunland Park, N.M., and then handing the migrants over to Border Patrol.

The heavily armed militia’s actions have ignited debate over whether its members broke kidnapping laws and effectively acted as a paramilitary force supporting the Border Patrol. Militia members argue that they were assisting the authorities to patrol remote areas of the border and carrying out “verbal citizen’s arrests.”

In an affidavit, David S. Gabriel, an F.B.I. special agent, said the bureau was made aware of the activities of Mr. Hopkins after receiving reports in October 2017 of “alleged militia extremist activity” in northwestern New Mexico.

Mr. Gabriel said that the following month, two F.B.I. agents went to a trailer park in Flora Vista, N.M., where Mr. Hopkins was living at the time. With Mr. Hopkins’s consent, the agents entered the home and saw about 10 firearms in plain view, in what Mr. Hopkins referred to as his office.

Mr. Hopkins, who has also used the name Johnny Horton Jr., told the agents that the guns belonged to Fay Sanders Murphy, whom he described to agents as his common-law wife, according to the affidavit. The agents collected at least nine firearms from the home as evidence, including a 12-gauge shotgun and various handguns.

The court affidavit gave few details about the report the F.B.I. received stating that the United Constitutional Patriots “were training to assassinate George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama because of these individuals’ support of Antifa.” The term Antifa refers to left-wing activists who have clashed with right-wing groups in cities across the country.

Mr. Hopkins’s lawyer, Kelly O’Connell, disputed the reports about assassination plans. “My client told me that is not true,” Mr. O’Connell said.

He also questioned the timing of the arrest. “My question is, why now?” Mr. O’Connell said, noting that the weapons were found in his home in 2017. He suggested that pressure from prominent Democrats in New Mexico may have prompted the F.B.I. to take action.

Mr. Hopkins has faced weapons-related charges before, according to court documents. He was convicted of two felonies in Oregon in 2006: criminal impersonation of a peace officer and felony possession of a firearm. And he pleaded guilty in 1996 in Michigan to possession of a loaded firearm, and was sentenced to 16 months to two years in prison.

Mr. O’Connell said Mr. Hopkins planned to plead not guilty to the latest charge.

After the 2017 search of Mr. Hopkins’s residence in New Mexico, F.B.I. agents contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and determined that none of the firearms collected from the home was manufactured in New Mexico, opening the door to possible additional charges of transporting the weapons in interstate commerce, a federal offense.

Mr. O’Connell, who was the host of a conservative radio talk show program in New Mexico until 2017, declined to say who was paying Mr. Hopkins’s legal fees. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 4:06 pm

Ugly: Secrecy, Self-Dealing, and Greed at the N.R.A.

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Mike Spies writes in the New Yorker:

This winter, members of the National Rifle Association—elk hunters in Montana, skeet shooters in upstate New York, concealed-carry enthusiasts in Jacksonville—might have noticed a desperate tone in the organization’s fund-raising efforts. In a letter from early March, Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s top executive, warned that liberal regulators were threatening to destroy the organization. “We’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the N.R.A. but in the entire history of our country,” he wrote. “The Second Amendment cannot survive without the N.R.A., and the N.R.A. cannot survive without your help right now.”

LaPierre is right that the N.R.A. is troubled; in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars. It is not unusual for nonprofits to ask prospective donors to help forestall disaster. What is unusual is the extent to which such warnings have become the central activity of the N.R.A. Even as the association has reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, it has substantially increased its spending on messaging. The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.

On NRATV, the organization’s programming network, the popular host Grant Stinchfield might appear in a “Socialist Tears” T-shirt, taking a sledgehammer to a television set cycling through liberal news shows. The platform’s Twitter account circulates videos of the spokesperson Dana Loesch, a former Breitbart News editor who has said that mainstream journalists are “the rat bastards of the earth” and deserve to be “curb-stomped.” Over menacing images of masked rioters, she asserts that the only way to stop the left is to “fight its violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” A lawyer and activist called Colion Noir, whose real name is Collins Idehen, Jr., also has a large following. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Noir appeared in a video chiding “all the kids from Parkland getting ready to use your First Amendment to attack everyone else’s Second Amendment.”

Loesch and Noir have become the primary public faces of the N.R.A.; at events, enormous banners feature their images alongside those of LaPierre and Chris Cox, the organization’s top lobbyist. But Loesch and Noir are not technically employed by the N.R.A. Instead, they are paid by Ackerman McQueen, a public-relations firm based in Oklahoma. In at least one year, Loesch earned close to a million dollars, according to a source who has seen her contract.

For more than three decades, Ackerman has shaped the N.R.A.’s public identity, helping to build it from a niche activist organization into a ubiquitous presence in American popular culture. Ackerman produces the N.R.A. magazine America’s 1st Freedom and has devised its most successful ad campaigns, including one called “I’m the N.R.A.,” for which it recruited gun owners, including the actor Tom Selleck and the basketball star Karl Malone, to pose with their weapons. More recently, Ackerman produced a series called “Freedom’s Safest Place,” in which conservative icons inveigh against liberals and terrorists. In a segment from 2016, the country-music star Charlie Daniels warns the “ayatollahs of Iran” that they may be acquainted with “our fresh-faced flower-child President,” but they “haven’t met the heartland—or the people who will defend this nation with their bloody, calloused bare hands.”

The N.R.A. and Ackerman have become so intertwined that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Top officials and staff move freely between the two organizations; Oliver North, the former Iran-Contra operative, who now serves as the N.R.A.’s president, is paid roughly a million dollars a year through Ackerman, according to two N.R.A. sources. But this relationship, which in many ways has built the contemporary N.R.A., seems also to be largely responsible for the N.R.A.’s dire financial state. According to interviews and to documents that I obtained—federal tax forms, charity records, contracts, corporate filings, and internal communications—a small group of N.R.A. executives, contractors, and venders has extracted hundreds of millions of dollars from the nonprofit’s budget, through gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements. Memos created by a senior N.R.A. employee describe a workplace distinguished by secrecy, self-dealing, and greed, whose leaders have encouraged disastrous business ventures and questionable partnerships, and have marginalized those who object. “Management has subordinated its judgment to the vendors,” the documents allege. “Trust in the top has eroded.”

In response to a description of my reporting, Bill Brewer, a lawyer who represents the N.R.A., said that the organization “has serious concerns about the accuracy of this reporting and The New Yorker’s sources. Of course, we cannot comment on privileged communications or personnel matters.”

Marc Owens, who served for ten years as the head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, recently reviewed these records. “The litany of red flags is just extraordinary,” he said. “The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain venders and people in control.” Owens added, “Those facts, if confirmed, could lead to the revocation of the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status”—without which the organization could likely not survive.

In its early days, the N.R.A. was more interested in shooting than in politics. It was founded by two former Union Army officers, who returned from the Civil War dismayed at having been outshot by their Confederate counterparts and hoping to inspire a culture of marksmanship in the North. For more than a century, the N.R.A.’s primary concerns were hunting, firearms education, and gun safety. Then, in 1977, a decade after the Federal Gun Control Act restricted firearms sales, activist board members seized control of the group and transformed it into an advocacy organization for gun owners’ rights. Officials knew that this new mission would require a more sophisticated approach to public relations. An N.R.A. executive suggested hiring Ackerman McQueen, which was run by a personal friend.

Later that year, Wayne LaPierre began working for the N.R.A., as a lobbyist. LaPierre, a former Democratic legislative aide with little experience handling guns, was not obviously suited to a role as a firebrand. People who have spent time around him describe him as “mild,” “reserved,” “awkward,” and even “meek.” Still, he rose through the organization, and he built a close relationship with Ackerman. In a deposition concerning a federal-election case, the firm’s then C.E.O., Angus McQueen, said, “I speak to Wayne almost every day. There are exceptions, because I take vacations and he takes vacations. Although he has no reluctance to interrupt mine.”

In 1991, LaPierre became executive vice-president, the N.R.A.’s top position. He is, by many accounts, reticent about public appearances. According to a story that circulates among staffers, he was once dispatched to appear on a Sunday news show after a school shooting. When a producer entered the greenroom to bring him on set, LaPierre, fretting over talking points, was hiding behind a curtain, with only his wingtips visible. Nonetheless, he appears in videos and makes speeches, often choreographed by Ackerman, that present him as a ferocious critic of the political left. At the N.R.A.’s annual meetings, he disparages “élites” who “long to turn America into some European-style socialist state.” Last year, he told the crowd, “We’re standing at the edge of fear, staring into the abyss of the demise of our country and its freedom we care about most.” He added, “This coming election is a guarantee of our worst nightmares if we don’t win.” A former N.R.A. staffer told me, “The agency created the Wayne cult of personality.”

Established in the early seventies, Ackerman McQueen is a family business. It has about two hundred and twenty-five employees, and offices in Oklahoma City, Dallas, Alexandria, and Colorado Springs. In the past, the company has worked with other national clients, such as the Six Flags amusement parks, but now its roster seems to consist mainly of the N.R.A. and a modest set of regional accounts, including some Oklahoma-based casinos and the Chickasaw Nation. “Most of the agency’s efforts go toward servicing the N.R.A.,” a former senior employee at Ackerman told me. Tax filings for 2017, the most recent year for which records are available, show that the N.R.A. paid Ackerman McQueen and its affiliates more than forty million dollars that year. (Bill Powers, Ackerman’s executive vice-president for public relations, broadly disputed the facts of this article, saying, “It’s like an old Soviet disinformation campaign—you take a little bit of truth and wrap it around a bunch of that things aren’t true.” He declined to point to specific inaccuracies.)

Ackerman McQueen provides the N.R.A. with public-relations work, marketing, branding, corporate communications, event planning, Web design, social-media engagement, and digital-content production. It wields great influence over the N.R.A.’s initiatives and is involved with nearly all of the group’s divisions, with the exception of its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, where, according to former employees, Ackerman’s messaging sometimes undermines the group’s efforts. In 2012, after a gunman murdered twenty children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, LaPierre argued that the best way to prevent such atrocities was to install armed police officers in schools. When President Barack Obama criticized this reasoning, Ackerman responded with an ad noting that Obama’s children received Secret Service protection. An ominous voice-over asked, “Are the President’s kids more important than yours?” At the time, N.R.A. lobbyists were negotiating with federal lawmakers over potential regulations. The organization maintained friendly relations with several Democratic legislators, including Mary Landrieu, a senator from Louisiana. According to a former staffer, the ad caused Landrieu and others to “freak out,” nearly ending those relationships. “Ackerman never cleared that ad with us,” the former staffer recalled. “We had no oversight over Ackerman McQueen.” (Landrieu could not be reached for comment.)

Many N.R.A. employees have long suspected Ackerman of inflating the cost of the services it provides, but its relationships with executives remain strong. For instance, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2019 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Business, Guns

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