February 17, 2013

The violence beat

Sam Smith: Don’t miss Dan Baum’s Wall Street Journal piece on dealing with the gun issue. A gun toting liberal, Baum tries to explain to other liberals how they’re handling this issue wrong, based in part on 15,000 miles travelling with gun owners. As he put it, “It's hard to think of a better organizing tool for the right than the left's tribal antipathy to guns.” His book, “"Gun Guys: A Road Trip," will be published by Knopf in March.


The last national liberal Democratic leader to make some sense on this subject was Howard Dean, which isn’t surprising since he was the last liberal Democratic leader who knew how to reach out to all Americans and not just stay in the liberal cocoon. Here’s what he said ten years ago:

If I thought gun control would save lives in Vermont, I would support it. If you say "gun control" in Vermont or Tennessee, people think you want to take away their hunting rifle. If you say "gun control" New York or L.A., people are happy to see Uzi's or illegal handguns taken off the streets. I think Vermont ought to be able to have a different set of laws than California. Let's keep and enforce the federal gun laws we have, close the gun show loophole using Insta-check, and then let the states decide for themselves what if any gun control laws they want. We need to get guns off the national radar screen if Democrats are ever going to win again in the South and the West.

Dean, who did a remarkable job of broadening the Democratic base as head of the DNC, was then exiled by the Obamites. Rahm Emmanuel even banned him from the announcement ceremony when Obama named Tim Kane to replace him.
The gun issue has shown how hard it has become for liberals to be nice to other Americans. The price they are paying for it is significant but they don’t seem to care. One liberal’s comment on a gun article in the American Prospect pretty wells sums up the problem: “Democrats can't win lower class (i.e. non college grad) males. That's it. Write them off. They're the god, guns, guts guys--and they're garbage.”

It’s lucky that FDR, LBJ, and Harry Truman didn’t think like that.
Although almost everyone seems to like universal background checks, they not only are not all that effective due to sales outside the system, and there are also provisions that shouldn’t be there and which demonstrate the problem with writing laws about who can have a gun. Among those banned are someone who:
  • Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions [Wikipedia]
The problem with these provisions is that they bar gun ownership from those who may have done nothing to imply a tendency towards violence, criminal or otherwise. Banning a pot user or a sailor discharged for being excessively AWOL from owning a gun is hardly reasonable.

Further, it seems the federal government isn’t even all that interested in enforcing such checks. For example, in 2012, more than 72,000 persons were denied the purchase of a gun. Only 44 of these people were prosecuted for lying on their application form. 

Asked about this, Joe Biden said, “Regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, we simply don't have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately."

And the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reports that the number of federal prosecutions for weapons violations in FY 2012 was almost exactly the same as it was a decade earlier. 


Anyone who has studied prohibition of drugs, prostitution or alcohol understands that enforcement is never as simple as it seems. There’s always something unexpected cropping up, witness this item:
Wired - In response to the upsurge in gun violence, politicians are proposing restrictions on the number of bullets that handgun and rifle magazines can hold. And just as they do, new printing technology blows holes right through that debate. The 3-D printing gunsmiths at Defense Distributed are about to release blueprints for an upgraded magazine that won’t degrade even after you fire hundreds of rounds.

Meet the “Cuomo.” It’s a new printed magazine for your AR-15 rifle, soon to be available for download, and it holds 30 bullets. Upgrading an earlier design that didn’t hold up particularly well after extended use, it’s an unsubtle rejoinder to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who recently signed a magazine-restriction law limiting mags to seven rounds. Defense Distributed is basically saying that if you’re not going to be allowed to buy larger magazines in the near future, you can print them yourself — if, that is, 3-D printed weapons don’t fall into legislators’ own crosshairs.

In recent tests at a gun range near Austin, Texas, Defense Distributed fired a total of 342 rounds using the magazine with no issues, according to the group’s founder, Cody Wilson. The group fired 227 of those rounds using full automatic fire, while swapping out the barrels on the rifle to keep them cool.
Then there’s the problem of ineffective solutions that produce more problems, as reported in this story:
NY Times - Legislation to revise existing mental health laws is under consideration in at least a half-dozen states, including Colorado, Oregon and Ohio. A New York bill requiring mental health practitioners to warn the authorities about potentially dangerous patients was signed into law on Jan. 15. In Washington, President Obama has ordered “a national dialogue” on mental health, and a variety of bills addressing mental health issues are percolating on Capitol Hill.

But critics say that this focus unfairly singles out people with serious mental illness, who studies indicate are involved in only about 4 percent of violent crimes and are 11 or more times as likely than the general population to be the victims of violent crime.
And many proposals - they include strengthening mental health services, lowering the threshold for involuntary commitment and increasing requirements for reporting worrisome patients to the authorities — are rushed in execution and unlikely to repair a broken mental health system, some experts say.
Behind a lot of this is what might be called the tyranny of the specific. You have one mass slaying in Connecticut or a cop gone mad in California and suddenly government becomes obsessed with a single aspect of these incidents. Little attention given to the fact that they were highly unusual and highly resistant to elimination by cures as simple as a few new laws. 

We have also become obsessed with prohibition as the cure for all our problems, which why the number of federal crimes continues to soar. Alternative solutions in dealing with crime get little attention even when they are shown to work such as this Brooklyn intervention program:

Center for Court Innovation According to new research from the Center for Court Innovation, the average monthly shooting rates in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the anti-violence project Save Our Streets operates, decreased by six percent from early 2010 through 2011. In surrounding areas shooting rates increased by 18 to 28 percent. When compared with the upward trend in the surrounding precincts, the research suggests that gun violence in Crown Heights was 20 percent lower than what it would have been without Save Our Streets.
To prevent gun crime, “violence interrupters”—individuals with a direct knowledge of the streets who have gotten their lives back on track—work to break the cycle of violence and retaliation by interrupting volatile situations before people get hurt.
This is also why few people in Washington heard last June about Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson as was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame When he was not in the ring Johnson was out on the street as a recreation department “roving leader” where he has worked with hundreds of kids over the past eight years.

As social worker Susie Cambria described it, “The District has been home to the Roving Leaders since 1954 when they were created to engage those we now refer to as “disconnected youth”, those young people who are least likely to be connected with services and supports. The most effective Roving Leaders are legendary and revered for their ability to change lives. They do this by connecting young people to mentoring, employment and training referrals, school and home visits, and one-on-one meetings.

Key to all this is stop thinking about it just in terms of guns. Yes, guns are a problem and some of the corrective ideas are good. But they have to be considered rationally, many applied state by state and not nationally, shouldn’t increase the already excessive anger in our country, and be given no more attention than programs that approach violence from other directions.

Why, for example, do we spend so much time on guns, and so little on supporting programs that teach mediation, dispute resolution and nonviolence in our schools? Why do our kids have to pass tests about our wars, but learn so little about peace?

We live in a society that condones violence in our public policy and are excessively entertained by it in our private lives. Even when it works, gun control only addresses a small part of this.


Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah about all aspects of gun ownership, this article is indicative of the mainstream media in general - there is not a single word about what motivates the shooters, and that, it seems to me, is just as important as discussions about the restriction of gun sales, if not more so.

The possibility (or rather, certainty) that tv and movie violence is a major factor in influencing certain types to go on shooting rampages is never mentioned in media discussions of ways to prevent gun violence. Isn't that strange?

Why are these media training films for potential shooters - violent tv and movies - being protected from criticism?

How do violent tv and movies serve society?
Why are violent tv and movies allowed to exist?

Dan Lynch said...

Thanks for saying that, Sam

Anonymous said...

The greatest purveyor of violence - my own government.
-- Martin Luther King

Anonymous said...

The last national liberal Democratic leader to make some sense on this subject was Howard Dean, which isn’t surprising since he was the last liberal Democratic leader who knew how to reach out to all Americans and not just stay in the liberal cocoon.

Sam, are you starting to go politically senile? Dean is and was a Republican in a Dem suit - a DLC opportunist from the marrow out. Look at his record in Vermont, fachrissake. Don't you remember him shucking and jiving in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, trying to figure out what stance to take for the biggest gain to him? He should have cringed every time he saw the playback - but I bet he didn't.