Tag Archives: gun control

The Winners Write The History

I get Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letter. Richardson is a history professor, and one of the voices trying to restore accuracy to the largely incomplete lessons we’ve been taught about how and why we find ourselves where we are.

A couple of days ago, her letter made me think of the old adage about history being written by the victors–something that is evidently as true of policy arguments as it is of warfare.

Richardson was reacting to the mass shootings in Boulder and  Atlanta, and she proceeded to lay out a history of gun control in the United States, much of which I had not known.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

So how did the “original intent” of the Amendment get twisted into a personal right to own weapons? Evidently, thanks to a similar twisting of the NRA.

The NRA was established in the late 1800s “to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting.”

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA… In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

Times have certainly changed.

The early NRA distinguished between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns, and criminals and mentally ill people who should not. In 1931, it backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It endorsed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and other gun control legislation.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

Richardson tells us that the NRA “embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism,” a movement opposing business regulations and social welfare programs. Movement Conservatives also embraced the myth of the heroic American cowboy, a White man standing up to the “socialism” of the federal government while dominating Black and Native American people.

In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan– for the first time.

After Reagan was shot, the  NRA spent millions of dollars fighting the Brady Bill; after it passed, the organization financed lawsuits in nine states to strike it down.

Richardson also points out that until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded it wasn’t intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun. In the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA began arguing that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

The organization got its money’s worth. In 2008, the Supreme Court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members— recently supported background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it.

The good news is that the NRA is currently imploding. Perhaps the loss of its ability to spend mountains of money will allow Congress to pass responsible gun control legislation–and if it’s no longer the policy “winner,” we may get a more accurate history.

 

 

 

 

Guns And Protests

The pandemic, the economy and the Black Lives Matter Protests have dominated news coverage the past few months, joined by politics as the Presidential campaigns begin in earnest–but although long-simmering public policy debates have received less attention, that doesn’t mean those issues have gone away.

Which brings me to one of America’s longest, nastiest and most intractable standoffs: guns.

In January, Bartholomew County, Indiana’s gun rights activists asked that county’s commissioners to declare Bartholomew County a Second Amendment “sanctuary.” According to The Republic, the local newspaper, 

The group, called the Bartholomew County Indiana 2A United Sanctuary, has sent a draft of a proposed ordinance to the Bartholomew County commissioners, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, said Chris Imel of Ladoga in Montgomery County. Imel is the group’s organizer and a former Bartholomew County deputy coroner, serving in 2017.

As of mid-afternoon Tuesday, the private social media group had 4,471 members on Facebook. Imel said he created the Facebook page a week ago.

The group believes the “sanctuary” is necessary to prevent the enforcement of certain gun control measures that–in their opinions– violate the Second Amendment.

The measures that they assert “violate the 2d Amendment” include emergency protection orders, enforcement of gun background checks, and Red Flag laws. (Indiana’s Red Flag law allows authorities to disarm people who pose a danger to themselves or others; such laws typically include due process provisions allowing gun owners to retrieve their weapons through the courts if they can demonstrate they are mentally competent.)

The Bartholomew County Indiana 2A United Sanctuary group claims the proposed ordinance would allow local officials to “refuse to cooperate with state and federal firearm laws” perceived to violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including any future proposed restrictions on clip capacity, silencers, bump stocks, bayonet mounts, among other items, according to the proposed ordinance.

In other words, the desired “Sanctuary” would direct law enforcement in the county to ignore pretty much any state law limiting firearms in any way. (It did make an exception for federal law.)

The Bartholomew gun group  is not, unfortunately, just an isolated group of rural Hoosiers who don’t understand how laws work. They have lots of company.

As of Jan. 7, more than 418 counties, cities and towns in 21 states have passed Second Amendment sanctuary ordinances, including locations in Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington and Virginia, according to Gun Owners of America, a gun-rights group.

On Friday night, Jennings County officials signed a resolution stating the county is now a Second Amendment sanctuary. There is no indication that the resolution signed in Jennings County was approved by any county or city councils or boards before it was signed by the sheriff and others, including Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour.

If the sweep of this “Wild West” movement isn’t unsettling enough, the Brookings Institution recently issued a report titled “How Covid-19 is Changing the Gun Debate.

Starting in mid-April, anti-COVID-19 lockdown protestors stormed and shut down everything from statehouses to Subway restaurants with assault weapons and pipe wrenches. These protests are being framed around gun rights and free speech issues. Protests are allegedly about fully re-opening the economy following state-sanctioned shutdowns. Protestors appear to perceive that quarantine measures to keep them safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19 are violations of their civil liberties. In turn, they act out their frustrations through expressions of their 1st and 2nd Amendment rights. Anti-lockdown protests have now occurred in 31 states across the country and gun sales surged to nearly 2 million in March.

Not only have gun sales surged, but according to the report, they’ve surged in liberal states–despite the fact that the armed lockdown protestors are clearly Trump supporters. The researchers were unable to tell whether this data represents purchases by liberals (arming to protect themselves in the upcoming civil war?) or by conservatives living in liberal states (adding to their burgeoning armories?)

America is currently experiencing the simultaneous effects of the worst aspects of our cultural history: deeply-ingrained racism, an inadequate social safety net, a radical individualism that disdains even the slightest appeal to the common good, and the celebration of anti-intellectualism.

The racist and anti-intellectual elements gave us Trump–and his heavily-armed base.

 

 

 

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!