12 fatal mass shootings in 5 months

handguns
I researched and penned this section on a new op-ed from The Globalist on the NRA’s death grip over American policymaking:

There are, in fact, so many mass shootings now — the government has reported a big increase — that only a few, truly elaborate sprees make the national news anymore. The UCSB shooting is actually the 11th fatal mass shooting in 2014, but perhaps only the second to get wall-to-wall coverage.

With the exception of the UCSB shooting and the Fort Hood shooting, barely a dent was made by the killing sprees that left at least four dead in each of the 2014 mass shooting events in these U.S. cities and towns: Spanish Fork, UT; Cypress, TX; Defiance, OH; Alturas, CA; Indianapolis, IN; Glade Spring, VA; Oak Lawn, IL; Jonesboro, AR and Tampa, FL.

The common denominator in all of them is less “did we miss the signs?” on this particular, isolated individual — often a domestic attack — and more about the rampant access to guns and a powerful “movement” that fetishizes killing instruments.

Beyond that are the more than forty dead children under 14 killed so far in 2014 by “accidental” gun deaths, at a pace that researcher David Waldman found matches the 2013 child casualty pace like clockwork. Unlike an accidental automobile death, few accidental gun death cases result in any prosecution.

 

Update 6/8: The day after this original post there was another domestic incident mass shooting, in Mission Viejo CA, resulting in 4 deaths. The total for January through May ended up as 12 events.

You can hear more on this topic in AFD Ep. 61.

Guns, symbols, sectionalism, and political communication

Paul M. Barrett last week in Bloomberg Businessweek discussed the state of the (once again) failed “gun debate” following Newtown. He zeroes in on what might be termed the ‘narrative gap’ in the country’s divided political communication over this issue, which has prevented gun control policy advocates from achieving much in recent years.

This particular line from Barrett jumped out at me, in light of the research presented in my own book on divided interpretations of rhetorical symbols surrounding the American Dream:

For better or worse, gun ownership has come to symbolize a range of deeply felt ideas about culture and government authority.

This is definitely going to become a recurring theme, I sense. It’s partly a communication issue and partly a sectionalism issue, in the vein of the country’s original cultural-historical sections identified by authors such as Colin Woodard in “A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America”. (Full disclosure: Though I own a copy of that book, I have not yet had a chance to read it. I have, however, read some of his interviews and extended essays drawn from the book, which I highly recommend.)

Essentially, some regions of the country don’t have much need for guns in a practical sense anymore — and historically never held the views about government that make some regions use guns as “emblems of liberty and traditional values,” as Barrett puts it.

To many people in the former places, which always tended to support strong central government, opposition to gun control — or more properly the concept of gun rights at all — is genuinely baffling because the two are basically viewed as unrelated.

To many people in the latter regions, which have always opposed or questioned strong central government (witness early nullification challenges in Kentucky, or South Carolina), support for gun control is genuinely viewed as tyrannical. Even if one doesn’t literally believe that gun owners would successfully repel a totalitarian government, many see gun control policies as a metaphor of other perceived overreaches. And the gun is a symbolic resistance against that.

So the real question is going to be how to bridge that chasm dating back centuries. A total failure to communicate means no policy change but increasing bitterness on all sides.

We’re going to have to figure out an alternative route that allows us to speak the same language on this issue rather than just staring blankly or angrily at each other. As Barrett says, it’s not going to work to just keep repeating facts and figures over and over while condemning the “liberty” arguments as paranoid and unrealistic. I’ll admit I’m guilty of that approach, but I can also see it’s not working.

handguns

Boston gun control billboard updated

Many folks from the greater Boston area are quite familiar with the huge anti-gun-violence billboard that’s been up in Boston for nearly two decades, outside Fenway Park along the Mass Pike. It’s reportedly the largest billboard in America.

Every so often, the Stop Handgun Violence group responsible for it, changes the specific message, though its focus is usually related to gun deaths of children. They have just updated it with a counter showing the number of gun deaths in the United States since the Sandy Hook massacre a year ago. You can read their press release here.

Credit: Anne Mostue of WGBH Boston.

Credit: Anne Mostue of WGBH Boston.

Meanwhile, even today there was another school shooting, just miles from Columbine High School. In a separate incident, a young mother was shot when she tried to take a handgun away from a 23 month old baby, who was playing it with it. Over five hundred children are killed every year in America due to gun accidents in the home and other gunshot incidents.

The Boston Globe published a front page story on Thursday, entitled:
Newtown far from a catalyst for gun control: In a year since school shootings, many states loosen their laws

President Obama […] made it his personal mission: “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

Much of the politics, in the end, turned against him. Today, it is easier, not harder, to carry a gun in many parts of the nation than it was before the Newtown massacre last Dec. 14.

More than 1,500 bills were filed in state legislatures amid a chorus of grieving voices from shattered families. And while several reliably blue states enacted major reforms, far more states, more than two dozen, passed laws that weakened gun control. Many expanded the number of places where concealed weapons are permitted.

The federal effort, championed by Obama, failed in April in the face of Senate opposition to expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and limits on ammunition magazines. In Colorado, two state senators were recalled by voters for supporting tougher gun restrictions in the wake of horrific killings at a movie theater in Aurora. A third state senator resigned rather than face a recall.

Yes, more states rolled back controls than those who expanded them.

Recall in Rhode Island

Just next door to both Massachusetts and Connecticut, the little town of Exeter Rhode Island has exploded in vitriol as gun advocates campaign to recall four town council members who dared to try to move concealed-carry permitting from the overwhelmed and under-resourced town clerk’s office to the state attorney general’s office, which used to handle it anyway as recently as 2011.

Under Rhode Island law, it’s much easier to get a local permit than a state permit, so many gun owners get theirs through the local authorities who are less free to refuse permits. What’s the distinction?

State law mandates that local authorities “shall” grant the permit to a qualified applicant — but the attorney general “may” issue a permit, giving that office more discretion.

In general, Rhode Island towns and cities do local licensing through their police force, but the town of Exeter is too small to have its own police force. So a few years ago, a town council member who also happens to own a gun store, insisted the town clerk had to start issuing the licenses instead, even though they were not adequately prepared to handle the task.

Shortly thereafter, the other council members decided that they should actually probably hand it off to the state attorney general’s office, which could do more thorough checks on applicants but who also had more authority to deny permits. The (now-former) town councilman who owns a gun store has led a nasty recall election campaign against the four members (out of five) who pragmatically and for safety reasons thought the matter should be referred to professionals (though it would require a state legislative act to codify the exemption and thus hasn’t even taken effect yet).

This is literally the smallest possible measure of gun control possible — restoring the situation to how it was two years ago with a one word distinction in the level of permit availability — and yet the gun advocates are trying to run everyone out of office. (In a particularly bizarre twist, the recall process there stipulates that offices recalled are filled by the losing candidate in the previous election.)

The campaign has been extremely vicious and filled with lots of big cash from the wider gun rights movement, as well as allegations that during the petition phase the pro-gun side told senior citizens the council members were secretly trying to raise their property taxes.

Voters there will head to the polls tomorrow.

The Right to Resist

revolution-of-1830Another excellent article by Ta-Nehisi Coates (aren’t his always?):
Mandela and the Question of Violence

Funny how Americans reserve the right to resist tyranny through violence — it’s one of the core premises of hardline Second Amendment fans — but they also want to reserve the right to declare when it is acceptable for others to do the same. By arming some groups and opposing the arming of others. By calling some “freedom fighters” and some “terrorists” who must renounce violence. And so on.

Who made us the arbiters anyway?

I’m not going to say I’m not sometimes guilty of some of the same double standards, but I’m also a lot more open than most to considering the legitimacy (or at least understandability) of armed resistances, even if I think it’s inadvisable in many cases.

Related Reading – The Globalist: Slavery and Guns: America’s “Peculiar Institutions” | How U.S. “gun rights” today are an extension of a right created to preserve slavery.

Securing loose arms

Besides regular domestic gun control and gun safety, there’s also been a growing concern since the fallout from arming the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s as to what happens to those weapons (and bigger, military-grade hardware) once they go overseas into war zones. So how to solve that? Lots of solutions are being floated, and The Economist has an extended rundown on them:

Technological tweaks may be able to make possible weapons that stop working after a certain period of time, or can only be used by specific people or in particular places. Proponents of such technologies believe they have the potential to succeed where political and legislative attempts at arms control have failed…

I suspect — and this is sort of alluded to in the article linked above — that the major flaw in these concepts is that the secondary market, particularly in developing nations, doesn’t acquire the weapons until maybe 15 years after they were sold to the primary buyers.

I’m not an expert by any means, but just from reading news descriptions of the equipment seen in various ongoing conflicts, I think they end up having a use lifespan of 20-30 years (depending on the type of weapons). So most of the technologies being developed now could probably be hacked or eliminated in refurbishment by the time the secondary market was using them.

It would be like selling safes with fifteen-years-behind-state-of-the-art security to third world banks and then being surprised that ten years after they were first cracked in the first world, people were able to crack them all over the third world and make off with lots of money.

I guess then the question becomes whether this high-tech approach is better than doing nothing. Letting top of the line U.S. weapons systems and light arms fall into the wrong hands is something to be avoided, but this may not actually be solvable. And other, older weapons that can’t be traced (or even new issues of old models by less scrupulous manufacturers in some countries) are likely to be fueling wars for many years still to come. The people selling the tech are pitching this as a panacea that will succeed where legal measures have failed. I don’t buy that.

AFD 63 – Humanitarian Aid, Keystone, Guns

Latest Episode:
“AFD 63 – Humanitarian Aid, Keystone, Guns”
Posted: Wed, 13 November 2013

Guest expert Abby Stoddard from Humanitarian Outcomes joins Bill to discuss a new report on violence against humanitarian aid workers. Then Bill looks at problems on the Keystone pipelines. Finally, why can’t we even have a debate on guns?

Additional links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-24764316

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/11/10/2921121/dallas-gun-advocates-protest-restaurant-gun-control-advocates/

AFD 61 – Non-Functioning Democracy

Latest Episode:
“AFD 61 – Non-Functioning Democracy”
Posted: Tues, 29 October 2013

What is a democracy? Bill and Sasha talk Texas voting laws, then Bill critiques the DC fiscal paralysis and comments on guns in America.

Additional links:

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/10/16/2788321/budget-crises-jobs/

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/10/17/2789931/threat-women-texas/

http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/d/download_file_39242.pdf

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/ag-holder-number-of-mass-shootings-in-u-s-have-tripled

http://www.theglobalist.com/social-cost-u-s-guns/

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/10/25/2835741/virginia-tech-cuccinelli-mcauliffe-guns/