Gun owners face much higher murder and suicide risks

Back in the early 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control provided funding for studies on gun violence, which displeased the NRA. “[Our research] underwent peer review and was thought to be very solid and worthwhile research,” said Dr. Fred Rivara, who was part of the team that researched gun violence. “Unfortunately, it raised the attention of the National Rifle Association, who then worked with pro-gun members of Congress to essentially stop funding firearm research.”“The most common reason that people have a gun is because they have it for home protection,” Rivara said. “Unfortunately, the data indicates that having a gun is associated with both a threefold increase in the risk of homicide, but even more importantly, an increased risk of suicide. We know that, for example, if there’s a gun in the home, the risk of suicide among adolescents and young adults increases tenfold.”

Rivara, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Washington at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and his colleagues released this information in a series of articles that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. The NRA quickly went after the research, as well as Rivara and colleagues.

Rivara said 10 pro-gun senators worked to get the ear of Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. “[Specter] approached the Centers for Disease and Control and discussed the idea that this research was biased,” said Rivara.

Congress “ended up cutting the CDC budget by the exact amount of money that was used to fund the gun research. They had first threatened to cut all of the funding for injury research at the CDC. They didn’t do that, but they ended up cutting it by the exact amount that was spent on gun research. More importantly, however, was that they put a clause for the appropriations of the CDC that essentially blocked all gun research for the next two decades.”

Dr. Arthur Kellerman, who also worked on the 1993 study, stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out” if any gun research could be done.

The NRA also wrote to the National Institutes of Health to request that the Office of Scientific Integrity review the research published by Rivara, Kellerman and their colleagues. “Fortunately, the NIH did not find any basis for [bias] and the CDC backed us up. But it was really chilling in terms of our ability to conduct research on this very important problem.”

– edited from Public Radio International, April 13, 2015
PeaceMeal, May/June 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

New normal of mass shootings

Since the 2012 Newtown massacre, Mother Jones magazine has compiled detailed data on more than 30 years of public mass shootings, finding that these incidents have been on the rise.

A new analysis of Mother Jones’ data by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that, between 1982 and late 2011, mass shootings occurred at an average of every 200 days. Since then, we’ve entered a new phase in which incidents have occurred at an average of every 64 days. Perhaps President Obama was right when he noted last summer that mass shootings seem to be “becoming the norm.”

For more info, see:

Mass shootings Harvard timeline.gif (16548 bytes)

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Toy guns, once a staple of childhood, lose popularity as attitudes change

Two cops rush to the scene. “This sounds like a gun battle — over there!” one calls to his partner. They see the suspects: two little boys, wielding rifles. The police officers do not shoot. Rather, they examine the boys’ weapons and break into big smiles: “Hey, is it real?” one officer asks. “Looks like real,” his partner marvels. “And it sounds like real,” the first officer confirms.

“Right — every shot!” says the announcer, because this is on television. It’s an ad from 1967 for the Sound-O-Power M-16 military rifle, a big hit for Marx Toys at Christmas that year, $5.99 — batteries not included.

A Marx Sound-O-Power will run you about $225 now, if you can find one on the collectors’ market. Marx, once a titan of the American toy industry, is long dead.

Today, no U.S. toy company would dare advertise its guns as “just like real,” but from the 1940s to the 1980s, toymakers competed to market the most realistic looking, sounding and feeling weapons.

Today, toy guns are fading fast. At a Toys R Us in Fairfax County, Virginia, your intrepid reporter conducts a recon mission. Ah, here we go: “Covert Ops,” a line of military tech toys — binoculars, walkie-talkies, night-vision goggles — and not one weapon. And here’s G.I. Joe himself: plastic soldiers, armed with swords — swords! — but nothing that shoots.

Only in the very back of the store, in a section devoted to what the toy industry euphemistically calls “blasters,” do we find a selection of “Made in China” molded-plastic devices that shoot little foam darts that zip through the air with all the zest of overcooked ziti. (In all their iridescent green glory, blasters, led by Hasbro’s Nerf line, are a $500-million market.)

Things have changed in the toy gun world. They’ve changed because, ever since the Vietnam War and the carnage and fires that swept through American cities and triggered white flight to the suburbs, attitudes about parenting and children and play have shifted markedly. In parts of America now, especially in the hyper-educated urban and suburban Zip codes, the idea of buying the kid a toy gun for Christmas is about as attractive as buying him a syringe and a heroin starter kit.

And they’ve changed because toy guns bring both pleasure and the ultimate pain, as Americans learned yet again in November, when Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice because the boy was carrying a BB gun that looked like a real firearm.

Guns have been made for children for more than 150 years, as toys and as training tools for boys who would follow their fathers into hunting. The original Daisy air rifle, first built in 1888, was marketed door-to-door to farm families, says Joe Murfin, vice president of marketing for Daisy Outdoor Products in Rogers, Ark. Starting in the 1970s, “toy guns lost their popularity, and so did Westerns,” he says. Parental and political pressure pushed BB guns out of the toy store and into the back of sporting-goods outlets.

Realism was the goal with early toy guns and, in that regard, nothing has changed. Kids, and some shopkeepers, like to remove the orange tips that federal law has required on the barrel end of toy guns — but not on BB guns — since 1989 “because, honestly, the mystique is in the realism,” says Gary Cross, a historian at Penn State who has written a book on toys. Some manufacturers fought the orange-tip requirement, designed as a signal to police that a gun is just a toy, “because it delegitimized the appeal of their product,” he says.

But the orange tip has a poor track record. A federally funded experiment in 1989 confronted police officers from the Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince William county departments with actors holding toy guns with the orange plug. Ninety-six percent of officers fired at the toy guns. The orange tip “completely failed to enable the test subjects to identify the weapon as a toy,” the study concluded.

New York City has banned black, blue and silver toy guns since 1955. In recent years, towns and cities in several states have passed outright bans, or offered to buy toys back from the citizenry. New York’s attorney general sent cease-and-desist letters in December to Amazon, Wal-Mart, Sears and other retailers who sell toy guns lacking an orange stripe along the gun’s barrel, which New York law requires. (California will adopt that standard in 2016.)

Toy and BB gun makers certainly have to be careful about their language. BB gun boxes carry multiple warnings, from “This Is Not A Toy” to “Warning: Do not brandish or display this airsoft gun in public. It may confuse people and may be a crime. Police and others may think it is a firearm. Do not change the coloration and markings to make it look more like a firearm.”

Toy and BB gun sales are “a red-state phenomenon now,” says Cross, who sees a simultaneous decline in hunting culture and in “these old concepts of masculinity.”

Jim Schleyer, 75, one of the nation’s foremost collectors of toy guns, has 10 grandchildren, some of whom play with his toy guns, but mostly they’re more drawn to video games. (At Toys R Us stores where toy guns can be hard to find, row upon row of first-person shooter video games are offered: “Call of Duty,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Killzone.”) “I worry about the influence of those games,” Schleyer says. “We never saw killing when we were growing up. Roy Rogers never killed anyone, and the good guys always won.”

There is no consensus among social scientists about what toy guns do to or for kids. There are two basic schools of thought: Toy guns are bad, and toy guns are actually not so bad, and may even be beneficial. “Children need to understand the difference between real and fantasy violence,” writes American studies professor Jay Mechling in the American Journal of Play, and they can absorb that distinction “only if they have experiences with fantasy violence.”

For decades, Benjamin Spock, whose classic “Baby and Child Care” was a bible of child-raising for generations of American parents, instructed mothers not to worry if Junior engaged in “pistol play.” But in 1968, he revised his book after concluding that casual TV violence begets increased cruelty in both children and adults. “Parents should firmly stop children’s war play or any other kind of play that degenerates into deliberate cruelty or meanness,” he wrote.

– edited from an article by Marc Fisher in The Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2014
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

An Uzi, a 9-year-old and American stupidity

Leonard Pitts Jr.jpg (2742 bytes)Leonard Pitts Jr.

Sometimes you read a sentence and you think to yourself: only here, only us. Here’s one such sentence:

“A 9-year-old girl from New Jersey accidentally shot and killed her instructor with an Uzi submachine gun while he stood to her left side, trying to guide her.”

That’s from a New York Times account of the death of 39-year-old Charles Vacca, who worked for the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Arizona. He died Monday when his preteen student lost control of the Uzi. Apparently, the gun was in “repeat fire” mode, the recoil lifted the muzzle, the little girl couldn’t master it and Vacca was struck in the head.

The child and her family, who have not been identified, were vacationing in August in nearby Las Vegas and had signed up for a package deal offered by the gun range. It included a tour of Hoover Dam, a hamburger lunch, an optional helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon and the chance to fire a range of powerful weapons, including sniper rifles, grenade launchers and machine guns. Everything was going fine until, as the Times put it, the “adventure went horribly wrong.”

For the record, some of us would argue that “horribly wrong” began, not when the child lost control of the gun, but when “adults” first placed this powerful piece of military hardware into her small hands. That act raises questions that are as blunt and indecorous as they are necessary and unavoidable:

What kind of shooting range allows a prepubescent girl to fire an Uzi? What kind of instructor does not guard against recoil when a child is handling such a powerful weapon? What kind of parents think it’s a good idea to put a submachine gun in their 9-year-old’s hands? And what kind of idiot country does not prohibit such things by law?

It is the last question that should most concern us. There’s not much you can do about individual lack of judgment. Some people will always be idiots. Some companies will always be idiots. But a country and its laws should be an expression of a people’s collective wisdom. So for a country to be idiotic says something sweeping about national character.

And where gun laws are concerned, the United States of America is — individual dissenting voices duly noted and exempted from the following descriptive — dumber than a bag of bullets. This, after all, is the country where you can take a gun into a bar. Where you can erect a shooting range in your own backyard. Where a blind person can get a gun permit. You think it’s insane that Arizona allows a 9-year-old to shoot at a firing range? ABC News reports that one in Texas allows them to do so at age 6. Six!

God bless America.

We legislate against Sharia law in places where there are no Muslims, much less an inclination toward Sharia. We pass laws to curtail election fraud despite the fact that election fraud, as a practical matter, does not exist. Yet we endure a yearly toll of gun carnage that makes civilized people in civilized places shake their heads in wonder and our only action is inaction.

We should mourn for this little girl who will have to live the rest of her life with the memory of what she inadvertently did. But let us also mourn for a country where what she did now barely qualifies as news.

We speak often and with pride of America’s exceptionalism — by which we mean our rights, our freedoms, our values. And they are, make no mistake, among the finest in the world.

But there are days when the bullets fly and the blood flows and no one can give you a good reason why this had to happen, and it occurs to you that we are also exceptional in the sheer, stubborn stupidity of which we are all too often capable. August brought another such day. A man was killed by a 9-year-old wielding a submachine gun.

Only here, only us.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald and winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

NRA’s quest to expand gun rights takes it to court

Emboldened by a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that upstanding Americans have the fundamental right to keep guns in their homes, the NRA has involved itself in hundreds of legal cases, many in California. That case “unleashed a torrent of litigation,” said University of California, Los Angeles Law School professor Adam Winkler, a Second Amendment expert. Much of the litigation is either started or supported by the NRA, which offers financial assistance and legal help to people embroiled in lawsuits and legal trouble because they own guns.

Winkler said the latest legal battle over the Second Amendment centers on expanding the right to carry guns outside the home, which is why the NRA is representing Edward Peruta and several other gun owners who are challenging restrictions blocking permission to carry concealed firearms in public.

Peruta filed a lawsuit in 2009 after the San Diego County sheriff rejected his application for a concealed-weapons permit because Peruta failed to show he had a “good cause” to carry a gun outside his home. Peruta owns a motocross track in Connecticut, but he and his wife spend many months each year in San Diego living in their recreational vehicle.

Peruta said he wanted permission to carry a gun for protection, but the sheriff and California law said he needed a better reason, such as that his occupation exposes him to robbery.

After a federal judge refused to toss out the lawsuit in 2010, the NRA took over the case for Peruta. In February, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling, struck down California's “good cause” requirement, ruling that self-defense was a good enough reason to issue a concealed-weapons permit. The California attorney general and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence are seeking to overturn that decision after San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said he would abide by the court decision.

“As a result of the decision, residents and visitors will be subjected to the increased risk posed by the carrying of loaded, hidden handguns on the streets of San Diego County by persons with no good cause to do so,” a lawyer for the Brady organization wrote in a court filing seeking permission to formally oppose Peruta and the NRA in an appeal.

The 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — where a gunman used an assault rifle to kill 20 children and six adult female staff members — led some cities and states to enact laws banning high-capacity magazines, and the NRA countered with lawsuits. So far, federal judges across the country have unanimously rejected the NRA’s legal challenges to these bans. Federal judges recently have upheld bans enacted by San Francisco and Sunnyvale.

“California has always been sort of one of the front-line states,” said Chuck Michel, a Long Beach lawyer who represents the NRA in many of its California-based cases. Michel said the NRA and other Second Amendment advocates have filed “a whole slew of lawsuits” using the 2008 high court ruling to challenge gun-control laws enacted after Sandy Hook.

The NRA employs about two dozen in-house lawyers and hires many more outside lawyers — including former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement — to do battle in courtrooms across the country. The organization has been involved in hundreds of cases and spends tens of millions of dollars out of its $300 million annual budget on legal issues.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear two NRA-backed cases. One sought to overturn a federal law barring licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to anyone under 21; the other was a Texas law barring people under 21 from carrying concealed weapons.

– edited from The Associated Press, April 5, 2014
PeaceMeal, May/June 2014

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

View from abroad
American gun use is out of control

Henry Porter

Henry_Porter.jpg (12113 bytes)Starbucks has asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company’s concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company’s chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte.

There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet!

That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks — the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s Navy Yard — and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis — a quasi-civil war, if you like — that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families — the maiming and killing of children — just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.

The annual toll from firearms in the U.S. is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40 percent lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the U.N. and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it’s worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the U.S. since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 handgun. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.

That 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all wars involving the U.S. is a staggering fact, particularly when you place it in the context of the safety-conscious “secondary smoke” obsessions that characterize so much of American life.

Everywhere you look in America, people are trying to make life safer. On roads, for example, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years to enforce speed limits, crack down on drink/drug driving, and build safety features into highways as well as vehicles. The result is a steadily improving record. By 2015, forecasters predict that, for first time, road deaths will be fewer than those caused by firearms — 32,036 to 32,929.

Plainly, there’s no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe. Recently, a Democrat senator from Arkansas named Mark Pryor ran a TV ad against the gun-control campaign funded by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg –—one of the few politicians to stand up to the NRA lobby, explaining why he was against enhanced background checks on gun owners, yet was committed to “finding real solutions to violence.”

About their own safety, Americans often have an unusual ability to hold two utterly opposed ideas in their heads simultaneously. That can only explain the past decade in which the fear of terror has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in wars, surveillance and intelligence programs and homeland security. Ten years after 9/11, homeland security spending doubled to $69 billion. The total bill since the attacks is more than $649 billion.

One more figure. There have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11 and about 364,000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms. If any European nation had such a record and persisted in addressing only the first figure, while ignoring the second, you can bet your last dollar that the State Department would be warning against travel to that country, and no American would set foot in it without body armor.

But no nation sees itself as objectively as outsiders do. Half the United States is sane and rational while the other half simply doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, and is derived from English common law and our 1689 Bill of Rights. We dispensed with these rights long ago, but American gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery. Astonishingly, when owning a gun is not about ludicrous macho fantasy, it is mostly seen as a matter of personal safety, like the airbag in the new Ford pickup or avoiding secondary smoke, despite conclusive evidence that people become less safe as gun ownership rises.

I happened to be in New York for the 9/11 anniversary. It occurs to me now that the city that suffered most dreadfully in the attacks and has the greatest reason for jumpiness is also among the places where you find the most sense on the gun issue in America. New Yorkers understand that fear breeds peril and, regardless of tragedies such as Sandy Hook and the DC Naval Yard, the NRA, the gun manufacturers, conservative-inclined politicians and parts of the media will continue to advocate a right, which, at base, is as archaic as a witch trial.

Talking to American friends, I always sense a kind of despair that the gun lobby is too powerful to challenge and that nothing will ever change. The same resignation was evident in President Obama’s rather lifeless reaction to the recent Washington shooting. There is absolutely nothing he can do, which underscores the fact that America is in a jam and that international pressure may be one way of reducing the slaughter over the next generation. This has reached the point where it has ceased to be a domestic issue. The world cannot stand idly by.

Henry Porter is a writer and journalist specializing in liberty and civil rights. His op-ed, lightly edited here, was published in The Observer (U.K.) on September 21, 2013, and reprinted in PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Australia’s gun controls a political template for the U.S.
Australia has seen fewer homicides and suicides since gun controls were enacted.

CANBERRA, Australia — Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard wore a bulletproof vest under his suit when he addressed an angry crowd of gun owners in 1996, telling them he was going to ban automatic and semiautomatic weapons for the safety of all Australians. Howard alienated a large part of his conservative, rural base and was almost thrown from office. At other rallies, effigies of his deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer, were hanged by opponents of gun control.

The battle for gun control in Australia, after the country’s worst massacre in which 35 people were shot dead, was risky both personally and politically. But the gun reforms made Australia a safer place, with fewer homicides and suicides, and both Howard and Fischer are now urging President Barack Obama to take his gun control campaign to the people, just as they did, to gain a consensus. Obama wants to ban military assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Conn., in December. But his plans appear to be losing momentum.

“I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Howard wrote in The New York Times earlier this year. “Penalizing decent, law-abiding citizens because of the criminal behavior of others seemed unfair ... I understood their misgivings. Yet I felt there was no alternative,” wrote Howard, adding he hoped his example would contribute to the U.S. gun debate.

Fischer, a Vietnam War veteran, farmer and gun owner, said the politics of gun control in Australia were brutal. “It was a battle royal, and John Howard laid down a template that was worth defending and taking to the public square, taking to the people, and shifting the tectonic plates in the process. ... It was the right thing to do,” Fischer said, “but people had to be persuaded of it. And this is why our friends in the United States ... should now consider seriously taking it in a big way to the public square.”

In Australia, gun owners were compensated when they handed in previously legal weapons. Almost 700,000 guns were destroyed, halving the number of homes with a gun. That would be equivalent to taking 40 million guns out of action in the United States.

But the reforms angered many constituents of Fischer's rural-based National Party, who vented their anger two years later at the ballot box. The pro-gun One Nation party won almost 1 million votes, and the government narrowly avoided defeat.

Australia had 13 gun massacres in the 18 years before the 1996 gun reforms, but has not suffered any mass shootings since. Studies found a marked drop in gun-related homicides, down 59 percent, and a dramatic 65 percent drop in the rate of gun-related suicides, in the 10 years after the weapons crackdown.

– edited from Reuters, April 3, 2013
PeaceMeal, July/August 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The NRA-industrial complex

In 1967, the National Rifle Association declared that it was “not affiliated with any manufacturer of arms or ammunition.” At the time, the organization was a hunting and sports shooting group. Over the years since, the NRA has transformed itself into an aggressive political operation that, as reflected in a 1993 ad to recruit members, used a photograph of goose- stepping Nazis and warned of a coming “police state.”

The NRA has also developed close associations with the arms industry:

• 1982 - Sturm Ruger, Smith & Wesson and other gun companies helped fund a $5-million NRA drive to defeat California’s “handgun freeze” proposition.

• 2000 - Taurus firearms offered a free NRA membership to all customers who bought their guns, bringing in more than 40,000 members over the next 12 years.

• 2004 - The NRA helped block renewal of the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons.

• 2005 - The NRA launched its Ring of Freedom campaign to enlist corporate partners. By 2011, about 50 gun companies signed up, raising as much as $38 million. Italian-American firearms manufacturer Beretta USA and ammo maker MidwayUSA kicked in more than $1 million each.

• 2007 - The NRA thanked Austrian firearms manufacturer Glock for signing up 10,000 of its customers as new members.

• 2008 - Beretta pledged $1 million to the NRA over the next five years.

• 2011 - Ruger promised the NRA $1 for every weapon it sold in a year. It ended up donating $1.2 million.

• 2012 - MidwayUSA donated $1 million to the NRA; Smith & Wesson donated more than $1 million.

This year, the CEO of the Freedom Group, maker of the AR-15 assault rifle, was nominated to run for the NRA board of directors.

The NRA continues to declare that it “is not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers,” but it certainly does a lot of fraternizing.

– edited from Mother Jones, May/June 2013
PeaceMeal, July/August 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The Second Amendment and gun rights

jim_s_04_b&w.jpg (3760 bytes)Jim Stoffels

A recent letter in the Tri-City Herald (January 11) asserted that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution preceded the other eight amendments in the Bill of Rights because it is “so important.” That is not the case. The 10 Amendments in the Bill of Rights are sequenced according to the Article of the Constitution they amend.

Amendment I adds rights not specified in the Constitution itself — freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.

Amendments II and III amend Article I of the Constitution, dealing with the legislative branch of our government. Section 8 spells out the powers of Congress, which include establish-ment of a Militia and raising and supporting Armies.

Amendments IV, V, VI, VII and VIII relate to legal rights of citizens under civil and criminal law. They amend Article III dealing with the powers of the Judiciary.

Amendment IX states that citizen’s rights specified in the Constitution do not deny other unspecified rights, and Amendment X reserves “to the States respectively, or to the people” rights that are not delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the States.

To his credit, the author of the referenced letter quoted the entire Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

The National Rifle Association and other gun owners’ groups, on the other hand, consistently quote only the second half of the Amendment. They would have us believe that the first half is meaningless, that the Second Amendment has the same meaning with or without it.

I don’t believe the framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights inserted meaningless verbiage into what they wrote.

With regard to the Militia, it is instructive to examine the powers of Congress specified in Article I, Section 8: “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Article I, Section 8 specifies further: “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”

Today’s Militia is considered to be the National Guard.

These provisions of the Constitution are not legalese that require a Supreme Court justice to interpret. They make clear that those who have a right to bear arms are members of the Militia organized to defend the country within its borders, not every individual citizen. The estimated 310 million guns in private hands in the United States — one for every man, woman and child — are not under the authority and discipline of a well regulated Militia.

Nevertheless, in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled (District of Columbia v. Heller) that the Second Amendment does guarantee an individual right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia. The narrow 5-4 split decision reflected the reality that each Supreme Court justice comes with his or her own political philosophy. The five majority justices in the decision were nominated by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush — all of whom were supported by the N.R.A.

In 1995 George H.W. Bush resigned his life membership in the National Rifle Association over statements made by N.R.A. executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, slandering federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents as “scarier” than jackbooted Nazis of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The horrendous tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, is serving as an impetus to move the United States away from such fanaticism.

Jim Stoffels of Richland is a retired physicist and chairman of World Citizens for Peace.

– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2013

U.S. gun industry is thriving during Obama’s term

The firearms industry has proven so successful in recent years that Tennessee lawyer Brian Manookian decided to give up practicing law and make guns his livelihood. It’s a decision that’s put Manookian on track to earn four times what he made as a corporate health care attorney, a job that earned him six figures right out of law school, he said.

And he’s far from alone. An analysis by The Associated Press of data tracking the health of the gun industry shows that President Barack Obama has presided over a heyday for guns. Sales are on the rise, so much that some manufacturers cannot make guns fast enough. The number of federally licensed, retail gun dealers is increasing for the first time in nearly 20 years. The U.S. gun lobby is bursting with cash and political clout. Washington has expressed little interest in passing new gun laws, despite renewed calls to do so after recent deadly shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin.

Four years ago the gun lobby predicted Obama would be the “most anti-gun president in American history.” Yet it is hard to find a single aspect of the gun world that isn’t thriving. “The driver is President Obama. He is the best thing that ever happened to the firearm industry,” said Jim Barrett, an industry analyst at C.L. King & Associates Inc. in New York.

Obama has made no pledges to push for new gun control legislation and does not have the support in Congress or among voters even if he did. During the second presidential debate, he did suggest renewing a U.S. ban on assault weapons and coming up with an overall strategy to reduce violence. But both Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the real need was for the government to enforce gun laws already on the books.

Meanwhile, sales are brisk. For the first time in the company’s history, Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. stopped taking orders for a couple of months this year. Ruger, one of the nation’s largest gun manufacturers, has since resumed taking orders, though gun sellers say demand is still outpacing production.

Dan Wesson Arms, Inc., a small gun manufacturer that sells to a niche market, stopped taking orders this spring because the company had sold out the entire year’s production, spokesman Jason Morton said. The company has stopped taking orders before, but never so early on the entire line, he said.

Ruger and Smith & Wesson represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. gun manufacturing industry and lead the market in production of pistols and revolvers, according to government statistics. The two companies have been running production lines around the clock, hiring workers and operating at maximum capacity.

Ruger’s sales have increased 86 percent since Obama took office, and Smith & Wesson’s sales have gone up nearly 44 percent, compared with 18 percent for overall national retail sales. The NRA itself has done well, too. The lobbying organization has had more cash on hand during the Obama years than it had since 2004, finishing 2010 with more than $24 million, according to the most recent figures available.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Obama, who initially campaigned to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired under Bush, has done what he said was “disappointingly little” on gun control.

Fears of a Democratic president taking office and issuing stricter gun control laws led to an initial spike in gun sales in 2008, giving dealers some of the highest profit margins they’d ever seen. But even after it became clear Obama was not going to make gun control a priority as president, the industry has continued to do well. Fear of crime may be driving some sales. The number of violent crimes rose by 18 percent in the U.S. in 2011, according to Justice Department figures released in October. It was the first year-to-year increase for violent crime since 1993, marking the end of a long string of declines.

Voters have made clear that gun control isn’t a priority. A recent AP-National Constitution Center poll found that 49 percent of adults felt laws limiting gun ownership infringe on the public’s right to bear arms, while 43 percent said such laws do not infringe on those rights. After the recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, 52 members of Congress sponsored a bill to track bulk sales of ammunition, but the legislation went nowhere.

– edited from The Associated Press, October 19, 2012
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2012

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

450 Mayors petition Obama to adopt broad gun reform

A new report from a national coalition of mayors urges President Obama to adopt dozens of reforms to help curb gun violence, including steps to crack down on problems at gun shows and the creation of a federal interstate firearms trafficking unit. The “Blueprint for Federal Action on Illegal Guns,” presents 40 recommendations that “would dramatically improve law enforcement’s ability to keep guns out of the hands of criminals — and, in doing so, save innocent lives.”

The strategies outlined by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan group of about 450 mayors nationwide, focus on the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. According to the report, hard work by ATF field agents has “been undermined by congressional restrictions, inadequate resources, and a lack of leadership from federal officials in Washington.”

The proposed changes could be accomplished within existing laws through agency reforms, regulatory moves and better funding, the 51-page report said, and suggests a handful of strategies that would tighten ATF oversight of thousands of gun shows held annually. The study noted that a 2007 inspector general’s probe concluded the “ATF does not have a formal gun show enforcement program.” ATF agents should have greater discretion to conduct criminal investi-gations at gun shows identified as sources of firearms later seized in crimes, the report states, noting that “criminal activity endemic to some gun shows goes unchecked.”

The report also calls for a better approach to crime gun tracing, the process that tracks a seized weapon back to its first retail sale. The ATF lacks the structure or resources to “fully realize its power,” the report says, and information is not regularly shared with field offices and state and local law enforcement.

Because serial numbers are sometimes obliterated on crime guns, the study also wants ATF to require that manufacturers stamp new guns with a second, hidden serial number. Another recommendation calls for the FBI to notify local and state law enforcement every time a person attempts to buy a gun, but does not pass the background check. And federal prosecutors should more aggressively prosecute people who fail the background check, the study says. In 2005, the FBI referred 67,713 cases to the ATF, but federal prosecutors pursued only 135 of those cases.

Proposed changes urge that the ATF be given additional manpower. The agency has about 2,500 agents spread among 22 field divisions and lacks resources to effectively police gun trafficking across state and national borders. The ATF also needs $53 million to hire more field inspectors to ensure compliance by gun dealers. At the current pace, dealers are inspected once every 11 years instead of the agency’s goal of once every three years, according to the report.

“Implementing these recommendations would achieve a goal that all participants in the gun debate support: enforcing laws already on the books,” says an accompanying letter signed by the coalition's co-chairmen, Mayors Thomas M. Menino (D) of Boston and Michael R. Bloomberg (I) of New York.

– edited from The Washington Post, 3 October 2009
PeaceMeal, March/April 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, articles in this publication are distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Many leave firearms loaded

About 1.7 million U.S. children live in homes that have loaded and unlocked guns, according to what is described as the first comprehensive survey of gun storage in homes across the country. The study, published Sept. 6 in the journal Pediatrics, found that 2.5 percent of children live in homes with loaded and unsecured firearms. Estimates from the early 1990s had put the percentage at 10 percent.

The new results suggest a decline, but that doesn't mean there's cause for celebration, said Catherine Okoro, a study author. "That's still too many children to be put at risk," said Okoro, an epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The study is based on a 2002 telephone survey of about 241,000 adults and is the first to provide data on gun storage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, its authors said.

Nationally, 33 percent of adults said they kept firearms in or around their home. The highest percentage was in Wyoming, where 63 percent said they had firearms. The lowest percentage was reported in the District of Columbia, where 5 percent reported having guns at home. The district has long-standing bans on handguns and semiautomatic weapons.

A little more than 4 percent of the respondents nationally said they keep guns loaded and unlocked, and 2.5 percent reported having loaded, unlocked firearms in homes where children lived. Alabama had the highest proportion of homes in which children lived and guns were kept loaded and unlocked.

– The Associated Press, Sept. 7, 2005
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2005

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)