broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘firearms’

Why the next shooting massacre is (sadly) inevitable

In behavior, children, cities, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, news, parenting, politics, urban life, US on December 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm
Cover of "Blown Away: American Women and ...

Cover of Blown Away: American Women and Guns

Here are some facts about gun use in the United States.

I hope they are helpful as you try to make sense of the latest massacre, in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman yesterday killed 2o children and eight adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I spent two years — 2002 to 2004 — studying how Americans think and feel and behave, how they lobby and legislate — about gun use in this country.

The result is my 2004  book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books). I’m now considered an expert on the subject.

The book was acquired by every Ivy League school and their law schools, by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and I was invited to address senior Canadian government officials in Ottawa. It includes women who enjoy gun use and those whose lives have been traumatized by it, whether they were shot, or lost loved ones to suicide and homicide.

Fifty percent of American gun deaths are suicide.

Neither an academic nor gun-owner, I took a three-day course in handgun use and shot a wide variety of guns, from a .22 rifle to a .357 magnum, in the course of my research. I spoke to 104 men, women and teens about their use of — and hatred of — guns. I interviewed politicians and lobbyists and hunters and Olympic shooters and cops.

Here are some of the reasons that “gun control” is an issue that often seems unmanageable:

– The health care system in the United States, which unlike many other nations, has no single-payer structure, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to spot, track and dis-arm someone who is mentally ill and/or sociopathic with access to a firearm before they commit mass murder. Unlike STDs, for example, there is no requirement to publicly report their existence as a matter of public health.

– Americans believe, more than anything, in their individual rights and their right to privacy. Asking a patient about their ownership or use of firearms can be seen as deeply invasive.

– Americans’ dominant ethos is self-reliance and freedom from government restriction. Any effort to limit access to guns and ammunition runs counter to this deeply held belief.

– American physicians and health-care professionals have no way to report their fears, (should they even be aware of such a threat, which is highly unlikely), to law enforcement. They fear being sued. They are reluctant to ask their patients if there is a firearm in the home and, if so, where and how it is stored and and if it (they) is kept loaded.

– It has been said that 25 percent of Americans will suffer from mental illness during their lifetime. On any given day, then, there is a percentage of the population for whom ready access to a weapon and ammunition is deeply unwise. Co-relate this statistic with the number of Americans whose home contains a gun.

Forty-seven percent of Americans own a gun. This is the highest rate of gun ownership since 1993. (source: Gallup poll.) There is no way to know when or how these two factors intersect.

– Politicians who call for, let alone fight hard for, “gun control” may well risk their re-election. Not so for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose term soon expires, and who is leading this charge. But New York City has had the nation’s toughest gun laws for more than a century, since the enactment of the Sullivan Law and popular sentiment here is behind him.

The same cannot be said for many other regions, such as those that allow concealed carry — like Missouri, Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Utah. (CC, for those outside the U.S., means the legal right to carry a loaded gun on your person or in your vehicle.)

– Legislators must work “across the aisle”, with men and women of opposing political views who represent areas with widely divergent views on gun ownership. These views can vary widely even within a state; downstate New York is much less sympathetic to the issue than upstate, where hunting is popular.

– Opposition to the powerful and well-funded National Rifle Association remains weak and splintered. In 2003, the NRA had a budget of $20 million — 10 times larger than that of the Brady Campaign.

– Law-abiding gun-owners feel beleaguered by cries for “gun control.” They have chosen to own and use firearms responsibly and feel that any restriction on their legitimate, legal use of them is unfair. Politicians are very aware of this.

– In many areas of the United States, hunting is a lucrative and popular sport.

– The federal government profits from gun sales, by collecting an excise tax. In 1998, that came to $126,620,000 from long guns and ammunition and an additional $35,528,000 from the sale of handguns.

– Even those politicians deeply and personally sympathetic to the terrible violence inflicted by killers such as these face their own limitations when enacting legislation. Carolyn McCarthy, a former ER nurse whose husband was shot and killed and whose son was shot on a Long Island, NY commuter train, is now a Congresswoman, in office 14 years. When I spoke to her for my book, she told me that her challenge is working effectively with other legislators, whose own constituents may have views diametrically opposed to those of her own.

The challenge of regulating gun use in the United States is daunting.

Guns + Mental Illness + Public Apathy = Violence

In behavior, cities, Crime, culture, Health, news, politics, US on April 4, 2012 at 12:17 am
Venn diagram ABC RGB

Venn diagram ABC RGB (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day in the U.S. — another mass shooting on a college campus, this time (you can’t make it up) at a Oikos, a Christian university in Oakland, California. It happened Monday in Oakland, a city right next to San Francisco, whose airport I flew back to New York from this morning.

This time, seven were killed and three injured when a former student, One Goh, opened fire.

As usual, the cliches spill forth: “senseless tragedy”, “just like a movie”, “I thought I was going to die.”

etc.

I don’t write this so cynically out of any disrespect for the dead, injured or their families.

But it’s going to happen again, and again and again and again.

It’s never if, but when.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of American homes contain at least one firearm, some with a virtual arsenal. It’s also estimated that 25 percent of the population, during their lifetime, will suffer a mental illness.

If you know Venn diagrams, you quickly realize this is a lethal combination, one I described in my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. In it, I include the stories of women whose sons and husbands and fathers committed suicide or homicide using a firearm.

There are many reasons that such mass murders simply never budge the needle in American public policy, from an economy still in tatters for millions — placing gun control at the bottom of a very long to-do list — to a nation deeply divided, sometimes even within the same state, on the need for an armed populace with the right to carry or to shoot to kill, even if someone is trying to steal your vehicle.

The case of Trayvon Martin is currently testing the limits of the public appetite for private self-defense — a young man shot dead while walking through a gated Florida community. His shooter was Hispanic, the victim — unarmed — black.

I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1988. I understand why gun violence is so much a part of this society.

I don’t understand, viscerally, why it’s still considered acceptable.

Amy Bishop, Harvard Phd, U. Of Alabama Professor — Shooter. Really, So Unlikely?

In Crime, women on February 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm
List of Christian thinkers in science

Image via Wikipedia

If there’s anything to remember about who owns guns in the U.S., it’s often the people who would most surprise you: the beauty queen, the  schoolteacher, the nurse, the little old lady down the street.

As the weirdly twisted tale of Amy Bishop continues to unfold, part of the narrative some clearly find perplexing is her age, gender, professional status and education. Women like her don’t kill, don’t own or carry handguns.

Do they?

Reports today’s New York Times:

On Friday, this city of rocket scientists and brainy inventors was stunned when a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D. was arrested in the shooting deaths of three of her colleagues after she was denied tenure.

//

But that was only the first surprise in the tale of the neuroscientist, Amy Bishop, who was regarded as fiercely intelligent and had seemed to have a promising career in biotechnology. Every day since has produced a new revelation from Dr. Bishop’s past, each more bizarre than the last.

On Saturday, the police in Braintree, Mass., said that she had fatally shot her brother in 1986 and questioned whether the decision to dismiss the case as an accident had been the right one.

On Sunday, a law enforcement official in Boston said she and her husband, James Anderson, had been questioned in a 1993 case in which a pipe bomb was sent to a colleague of Dr. Bishop’s at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The bomb did not go off, no one was ever charged in the case, and no proof ever emerged connecting the couple to the bomb plot.

You can feel the crimson robes shuddering — a Harvard woman? Another Harvard-educated woman, lawyer Sandra Froman, served as the National Rifle Association’s president — an unpaid position — for two terms, the maximum allowed.

It’s often assumed that anyone with the smarts and skills to crack the Ivy League has no interest in the workings of a rifle, pistol or shotgun. Not true. Guns, often linked only and exclusively with murder and mayhem, are found in 30 percent of American homes. Thousands are fired every day in the U.S. by recreational shooters, hunters, target shooters, even kids and teens in 4-H programs, without incident or malice.

Yet the fantasy persists that only Bubbas want to use or own one. An Ivy-educated woman, a professor, a mother of four, shoots and kills? It’s rare. It’s scary. It’s especially confusing if you still believe that smart, highly educated professional women don’t handle firearms, some of them with skill.

As more details emerge about Bishop and her past, I’ll be curious to hear when, how and where a handgun started to look like her best and only option.

Gun Owners Include Moderates — This Is News?

In politics on December 21, 2009 at 9:59 am
Heston at a rally for the National Rifle Assoc...

No, they're not all like this Image via Wikipedia

Today’s New York Times, which consistently maintains an embattled institutional posture on private gun ownership, today includes a highly unusual editorial astonished at the fact — well-known to anyone who knows the gun world — that people who own firearms aren’t all mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers.

People who own guns are as heterogenous as people who own cars or frying pans or hair dryers. Some are deeply passionate about the Second Amendment and its putative sanctity, the sort, like ex-NRA president Charlton Heston once famously said, would only see their firearms pried from their cold, dead hands.

Others, many others, are as deeply horrified by gun violence, even while they own firearms, as anyone who’s never even touched a Glock. I learned this firsthand after spending a few years focused on Americans and their guns, for my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004). I spoke to 104 men, women and teens from 29 states, ages 13 to 70.

I’ve never owned a gun nor felt the desire to do so, but, after those many long thoughtful conversations — with everyone from legislators like Carolyn McCarthy to Olympic shooters to victims of gun violence — I understand why it’s appealing to the many Americans who feel that way — 30 percent of American homes contain a gun.

Writes the Times:

Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.

Mr. Luntz queried 832 gun owners, including 401 card-carrying N.R.A. members, in a survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the alliance of hundreds of executives seeking stronger gun laws. In flat rebuttal of N.R.A. propaganda, the findings showed that 69 percent of N.R.A. members supported closing the notorious gun-show loophole that invites laissez-faire arms dealing outside registration requirements.

Even more members, 82 percent, favored banning gun purchases to suspects on terrorist watch lists who are now free to arm. And 69 percent disagreed with Congressionally imposed rules against sharing federal gun-trace information with state and local police agencies.

These findings strike at some of the N.R.A.’s most sacred shibboleths. The survey questionnaire, devoid of boilerplate alarums about threatened gun rights, found some plain reason at work. It is clear that most members still oppose policies like a national gun registry. But 86 percent of gun owners also agreed that more could be done to “stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” And 78 percent of N.R.A. members said they should be required to report stolen guns to the police — to combat another source of underground arms dealing.

Not everyone who owns a firearm, contrary to the Times’ position, is a “gun nut.” But moderates remain, sadly and problematically, invisible, which is why the editorial is worth doing and reading. There are few issues more politically divisive. But both sides’ leaders told me privately — off the record — they feel there’s much to discuss and many concerns they share. Budging from their stances publicly, though, would alienate their constituencies. Many gun-owners feel passionately they are losing their rights and fear future legislation, while those who represent the concerns of those affected by gun violence, whether survivors of a loved one’s suicide or death in a crime, know their membership looks to them with equal fervor to do the right thing.

Legislators are caught in the middle. One of the challenges of anyone opposing the NRA is the complexity of nuance. There are many anti-violence groups, each of which have slightly different views and stances. As a result, their voices are often lost in the shouting match whenever legislators try to enact new, powerful laws.

Moderation wins no votes, doesn’t make for tidy bumper stickers, rarely prompts people to whip out their checkbooks and write four or five-figure donations to the organization of their choice — whether the National Rifle Association or the Brady Campaign.

Subtlety doesn’t sell.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,617 other followers