Tag Archives: gun control

When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them

In the wake of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton (ahem–not Toledo), President Trump robotically read the sort of statement Presidents are supposed to issue in such situations.

When questioned, Trump denied that his rhetoric had anything to do with the increase white nationalist violence, despite the fact that his language was echoed in the “manifesto” posted by the El Paso killer. According to media reports, Trump’s reelection campaign has run 2,199 Facebook ads referring to immigration along the US-Mexico border as an “invasion,” the same word used in the manifesto.

The massacres have re-ignited efforts to pass sensible gun regulations, regulations that are critically needed. They have also highlighted the connection between gun violence and the white supremacy this administration encourages.

The Guardian recently reviewed a book describing that link.

Why does the United States refuse to pass new gun control laws? It’s the question that people around the world keep asking.

According to Dr Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University, white supremacy is the key to understanding America’s gun debate. In his new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, Metzl argues that the intensity and polarization of the US gun debate makes much more sense when understood in the context of whiteness and white privilege.

According to Metzl, white Americans are attempting to defend their status in the racial hierarchy by opposing gun control, healthcare expansion or public school funding. Of course, to sane people, that makes no sense; those are positions that end up injuring white guys as much or more than they hurt people of color.

The majority of America’s gun death victims are white men, and most of them die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In all, gun suicide claims the lives of 25,000 Americans each year.

In an interview, Metzl explained the link.

So many aspects of American gun culture are really entwined with whiteness and white privilege.

Carrying a gun in public has been coded as a white privilege. Advertisers have literally used words like “restoring your manly privilege” as a way of selling assault weapons to white men. In colonial America, landowners could carry guns, and they bestowed that right on to poor whites in order to quell uprisings from “Negroes” and Indians. John Brown’s raid was about weapons. Scholars have written about how the Ku Klux Klan was aimed at disarming African Americans. When African Americans started to carry guns in public – think about Malcolm X during the civil rights era – all of a sudden, the second amendment didn’t apply in many white Americans’ minds. When Huey Newton and the Black Panthers tried to arm themselves, everyone suddenly said, “We need gun control.”

When states like Missouri changed their laws to allow open carry of firearms, there were parades of white Americans who would carry big long guns through congested areas of downtown St Louis, who would go into places like Walmart and burrito restaurants carrying their guns, and they were coded as patriots. At the same time, there were all the stories about African American gun owners who would go to Walmart and get tackled and shot.

Who gets to carry a gun in public? Who is coded as a patriot? Who is coded as a threat, or a terrorist or a gangster? What it means to carry a gun or own a gun or buy a gun – those questions are not neutral. We have 200 years of history, or more, defining that in very racial terms.

Metzl noted that the period after a mass shooting is often very telling; if a white man was the shooter, the narrative focuses on the “disordered” individual. When the shooter is black or brown, the disorder is cultural and the narrative is about terrorism or gangs.

Or invasions and “caravans.”

Trump and his voters have told us who they are in no uncertain terms. The 2020 election will tell us how numerous those voters are–and how many of the rest of us are sufficiently concerned to vote.

Really, NRA?

A friend recently sent me a questionnaire he’d received from the NRA, along with a fundraising appeal warning that the November elections will “threaten your gun rights,” and explaining that the organization needs your money in order to protect its “pro-freedom” agenda. (I wonder when they’ll explain why that “pro-freedom agenda” required that they collaborate with Russian operatives…but I digress.)

The letter also disses all those polls showing widespread public support for background checks and other modest gun-control measures. (“Fake news!”)

If there is one thing academic researchers and legitimate political pollsters know, it is that the way you frame survey questions is critical: if you are trying to obtain an accurate reading of the public pulse, questions cannot be suggestive or loaded.

Of course, if political candidates and advocacy organizations were interested in accurate results, they’d hire a reputable pollster. The “surveys” and “polls” we all receive from various candidates and organizations are transparent efforts to separate us from our money; they are intended to push our buttons, not inquire about our opinions.

And the NRA has mastered the art of button-pushing. A few examples:

“Do you agree with the politicians and Hollywood elites who say the NRA is a terrorist organization?”

“Do you support a sweeping ban on semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns?”

“Should law-abiding Americans be forced to undergo a background check?”

“Should the federal government limit your ability to defend yourself and your family by banning magazines with more than 10 rounds?”

“Should the federal government be able to register and track all firearms in the U.S. and retain personal information about those who lawfully possess them?”

“Would you ever knowingly vote for a candidate for Congress who supports new anti-gun restrictions as part of his or her agenda?”

There’s more, of course, but these “poll questions” should give you a flavor of the rest.

Before you laugh at the transparency of these formulations or dismiss the obviousness of the propaganda, it may be worth thinking about the political psychology behind the choice of words employed in what was an expensive mailing. Remember, these “polls” go to NRA members (including the friend who shared this), not to the general public–and although reputable surveys suggest that the majority of those members are far more reasonable than the organization’s leadership, they are still likely to be favorably disposed to the NRA’s mission.

They aren’t likely to be favorably disposed to “Hollywood elites.” They are very likely to resent being called a terrorist organization.

The framing of the support/no support questions is patently dishonest, but very effective. Do you favor a “sweeping” ban? Do you want the government “forcing” “law-abiding” citizens to do anything? Surely you are already worried that the surveillance state is keeping tabs on everyone, and you don’t want them “retaining your personal information.”

I’m sure you are leery of Congressional candidates who make gun control part of an (obviously nefarious) “agenda.”

The big problem with special interest organizations like the NRA isn’t that they represent majority opinion. They don’t–not even close. They are effective because their issues are so salient to the minority of people who do agree with them. (This is also true of anti-choice  and other single-issue voters.)

Because they care deeply about their particular issue, (and generally, not about many–or any–others) they vote. Reliably. And as a result, they exercise far more influence than their numbers would otherwise entitle them to. That’s one reason why the recent arrest of a Russian operative who used the NRA as her conduit to the Trump Administration and  Republicans in Congress was so alarming.

My single issue in November is the defeat of Trump enablers. It’s pretty salient to me….

 

 

 

If It’s Mental Illness…

I always hesitate before blogging about guns, knowing that posting any opinion other than “yes, you have a constitutional right to pack heat whenever or wherever you want, and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve beaten your wife” will generate howls of opprobrium and hysterical accusations that I want to disarm everyone.

But still.

The Orange Menace in the Oval Office is on record–well, on twitter–saying that America doesn’t have a gun problem, that what we do have is a mental health problem.

There are, of course, multiple available rebuttals to that statement. We might point out that other countries with similar percentages of mentally-ill citizens but fewer guns have dramatically fewer incidents of gun violence. We might point out that allowing civilians to own lethal assault weapons developed for warfare is evidence of a different sort of mental illness. We might point out that the Second Amendment doesn’t require a failure to differentiate between a hunting rifle and an AK-15.

Even if we ignore those arguments, we’re left with a question that our Tweeter-in-Chief conveniently ignored: if mass shootings are attributable to failures of our efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, why did he eliminate Obama’s restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental illness? (We do know the answer to that: Trump’s obsessive hatred of Obama and his fixation on erasing any and all measures attributable to his predecessor.)

As NBC reported in February,

President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.

President Barack Obama recommended the now-nullified regulation in a 2013 memo following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six others dead. The measure sought to block some people with severe mental health problems from buying guns.

The GOP-led House and Senate obediently passed the bill nullifying the Obama-era measure, and officials of the NRA “applauded” the action.

Of course they did.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, called out Republicans over the move.

“Republicans always say we don’t need new gun laws, we just need to enforce the laws already on the books. But the bill signed into law today undermines enforcement of existing laws that Congress passed to make sure the background check system had complete information,” he said in an emailed statement.

So, welcome to the U.S. of A… On this Thanksgiving Day, feel free to express your gratitude for a country where any raving lunatic can legally buy a gun, and the twittering lunatic in the White House can launch nuclear weapons.

American exceptionalism, baby!

 

 

 

 

What a Sane Country Would Do

Orlando was the worst, but it was only a matter of degree.

You all know the statistics:

  • More than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in this country
  • More than 30 people are shot and murdered each day
  • 1/2  of them are between the ages of 18 and 35

And our lawmakers do absolutely nothing to prevent these deaths. Quite the contrary–they facilitate them.

Rational laws that would save lives don’t have to violate anyone’s sacred Second Amendment rights. (I do wish some of those Second Amendment purists were half as vigilant about other provisions of the Bill of Rights…). We simply have to stop electing people too timid and/or self-serving to stand up to the NRA–lawmakers willing to enact rational measures that overwhelming majorities of Americans–and majorities of its own members– support.

Just for starters:

The day after the San Bernardino massacre, Senate Republicans defeated a measure that would have prevented terrorists from buying guns.

The GOP-controlled Senate refusal to pass new gun control measures came weeks after the Washington Post reported that suspected terrorists had successfully purchased more than 2,000 guns from American dealers between 2004 and 2014, even though law enforcement is notified whenever someone on the FBI’s watchlist attempts to purchase a firearm.

You might think that allowing people we deem too dangerous to be allowed on a plane should be prevented from buying lethal arms, but according to the NRA, that would violate their rights.

And learning anything about the nature and extent of gun violence would also evidently imperil the Second Amendment. President Obama lifted the ban on such research, but Congress has adamantly refused to fund it. It’s anyone’s guess what the NRA is afraid such research would uncover…

The invention of a gun that can only be fired by its owner would seem to be a no-brainer–a boon to all those “good guys with guns” the NRA keeps talking about. If stealing that good guy’s gun becomes futile because only he can use it, that would certainly seem to be a good thing. But the introduction of guns with that feature was met with death threats (click through if you don’t believe me), intimidating retailers who might otherwise sell them, and a fear that laws might be passed requiring all guns sold to have the feature. That, of course, would reduce gun sales…

NO “good guy” needs an assault weapon. (I love the argument that citizens need these armaments in order to defy an overreaching government. Anyone who thinks the possession of an assault rifle would allow him to prevail over government drones, tanks and other sophisticated arms in the event our government suddenly went on the offensive is simply insane.)

None of these measures would interfere with legitimate ownership and use of a gun. All of them would make us safer.

The NRA doesn’t care. Their constituency is the gun manufacturers.

The question is: why do we continue to elect lawmakers in thrall to an organization that isn’t even responsive to its own membership?

The Real Lesson from Oregon

Recently, the Guardian ran an article about Oregon’s successful effort to tighten its gun laws. It was interesting to learn about the state’s strategies and players–but the real lesson wasn’t about controlling access to guns.

It was about enabling democracy and facilitating–rather than suppressing–the vote.

In 2014 during Oregon’s midterm elections, the NRA poured cash into the coffers of pro-gun candidates, and a coalition of opponents poured money into the campaigns of anti-gun candidates. According to Everytown, which is backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, it alone funneled $600,000 into the state. The NRA made phone calls, sent mail, urged its members to contact their legislators. In the meantime Everytown bought ads on television and online.

That’s when the effort in Oregon reached its third step. “If you ask people about ‘gun control’, they might say they don’t like it. But if you ask people about specifics, like assault rifles or background checks, they’re overwhelmingly for it. People want change,” Okamoto said. “So we put the vote in their hands.”

It’s simple to vote in Oregon, which holds all elections by mail. When residents apply for drivers’ licenses they are automatically registered to vote, and about three weeks before an election they receive a ballot in the mail. They fill it out at home and send it back. “It’s so easy,” Okamoto said.

For years, pundits and politicians alike have bemoaned the reality that the NRA can–and does–prevent legislators from responding to the huge majorities of Americans (including a majority of NRA members) who favor stricter controls over gun purchases. But they’ve never connected the dots.

If we want policies that reflect public sentiment, we have to allow the public to express that sentiment at the ballot box.

In a constitutional democracy, there are certainly things we don’t vote on. We are not a pure democracy, and “majoritarianism” is–and should be–tempered by the protections of the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law.

But in those areas where legislation should reflect the public will, we should be facilitating the expression of that public will–not suppressing it.

Oregon’s vote by mail system and other measures making voting easier rather than more difficult deserves to be emulated elsewhere.