Posted tagged ‘Guns’

Now Is Not The Right Time. It Is The Only Time

October 9, 2015

Two campus shootings in a single day.


First up, Northern Arizona University, where a gun in the hands of an 18 year old student dispatched bullets into the bodies of four human beings.  One is dead.

G. T. Fowler, the chief of campus police, said that Steven Jones, a freshman, had opened fire after two groups of male students were involved in a confrontation. The police were able to take Mr. Jones into custody after he stopped firing the weapon and “everything calmed down for a few minutes,” Chief Fowler said.

This was, as Charles Pierce pointed out earlier today, not some deranged son of satan spinning out of our collective id.  Rather…

This is an ordinary Thursday night campus brawl that escalated to homicide only because one of the participants had a gun which, I guarantee you, he did not have to work hard to obtain. Maybe we should look into why these things happen.

Travel now to Texas Southern University where…

A gunman killed one person and wounded another on the campus of Texas Southern University in Houston on Friday, the second shooting at the university this week.

This one is not likely to remain a mystery either, as “The Houston Police Department said a possible suspect in Friday’s shooting was in custody.”

Note, please the lagniappe in the Times write up on the TSU murder, that “second shooting” line:

On Tuesday night, a person was shot and seriously wounded while walking across the Texas Southern campus. There was no indication whether that shooting was linked to the one there on Friday.

Guns do not create the impulse to violence. They merely ensure that the consequences of just about anything can be fatal.

Most of all, guns destroy freedom.  They erode the freedom of assembly.  They make it scary to walk across a college campus at night.  They make you wonder if saying that, say, the GOP field is a bunch of ammosexual nuts might line you up on the wrong side of a nine held by some cultist in the church of the holy firearm who takes a hard line on blasphemy.

Guns fix their owner in a state of permanent fear — how else to describe the claim of a threat so constant that going strapped is the only rational response? — and impose that fear on all the rest of us.  Guns slaughter their own, as 20,000 + gun suicides attest.

An armed society is not a civil society.  It is one that rewards not our aspirations, but our night terrors.

But we all know this.

Guns. Need. To. Be. Caged.  It’s as political — or rather it needs to be — as Social Security, for our side as well as the NRA’s.  No politician from here forward gets my support unless they are gun control absolutists.

I don’t pretend anything I want will happen anytime soon.  But I do believe that at some point the massacre of the innocents will shock enough consciences to make change possible.

Rant over.

Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Massacre of the Innocents, 1556-7

Guess The Complexion Of The Shooter

January 18, 2015

Here’s all you need to know:

A Sentinel, Okla., man on Thursday shot the town’s police chief four times and was then released from custody after questioning.

All lives matter and I’m glad no one was killed in this bit of 2nd Amendment insanity — but if after Martin and Brown and Rice and Crawford you still somehow wondered if white privilege were a thing, just give it up.


More detail:

Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross was shot in the chest three times and once in the arm Thursday morning after breaking down the front door and entering a house at 205 S 4, Sentinel Mayor Sam Dlugonski said.

The chief was wearing a bulletproof vest that was loaned to him by a sheriff’s deputy minutes before the raid on the home. He survived the shooting, and authorities said the vest saved his life.

Dlugonski and a neighbor on S 4 both said the man detained in the shooting was Dallas Horton, who lives at 205 S 4. Investigating authorities did not release the man’s name.

Agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said the man who shot the chief was released after hours of questioning when they determined they didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him.

“Facts surrounding the case lead agents to believe the man was unaware it was officers who made entry,” OSBI wrote in a news release.

Well, yes.  But then there’s this:

Chief Ross said Washita County 911 received two calls from a man who identified himself as Dallas Horton, and claimed to have a bomb inside the head start school….

Chief Ross told News 9 he called for county back up before entering Horton’s home.

Up to this point, Horton claimed he never knew any officers were in his home.

“Don’t know what he heard or didn’t hear screaming from five officers of the law announcing our presence, requesting to see hands,” said Chief Ross.

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and state (a) it’s amazing, just flat out gobsmacking, that anyone could shot a cop four times and not face a gazillion bullets coming the other way; and (b) that I simply cannot imagine the circumstances in which a non-white cop-shooter who did survive the initial event would be back on the street the same day.

That conclusion could just reflect my biases.  It certainly involves an inference beyond the facts known to me as I write this.  Still, American history and our recent past seem to tell a pretty consistent story to me:  African Americans, and especially black men, face the threat of violence under the cover of law to a degree that a middle class white guy like me cannot begin to fathom.  So I’m prepared to make the leap that the color of the shooter here made a difference in his treatment by law enforcement.  I certainly could be wrong:  any individual case can be an outlier in any direction.  But if I had to bet…

Again, I want to repeat something really important:  it’s a great thing that neither the police chief nor the suspect are dead.  That’s what we would want to see come out of moments of crisis in law enforcement.

I’m just noting here that I want that outcome for all those confronting the sudden presence of armed cops:  toy wielding shoppers, kids on a playground, young men walking, anyone.   Such happy endings shouldn’t be reserved only for a gun nut who can be distinguished from those less fortunate individuals by — among other things I’m sure — the fact that he happens to be white.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Graveyard in the Tyrol, 1914-1915.


Annals of Responsible Gun Ownership, Part (n)

February 24, 2014

To paraphrase how my co-religionists limn the Reconstructionist movement*….

…There is no god, and Darwin is his prophet:

A Michigan man fatally shot himself in the head while he was teaching his girlfriend gun safety, according to The Detroit Free Press.


Police said that the man, whose name was not released, had been trying to show his girlfriend gun safety with three pistols. He put the first two guns to his head and pulled the trigger. When the man pulled the trigger on the third pistol the gun went off.

In the least surprising contextual note in the history of stupidity,

The man’s girlfriend said he had been drinking throughout the day while he was showing her the guns. (Via TPM)

I don’t want to make light of the core of the story: someone’s son, lover, sibling — perhaps — and friend is dead before his time and for even less reason than usual.  My sympathy to all those burdened by this loss.

The only point I’ll draw from this stranger’s death is that guns are designed to deliver deadly force and they do.  Most folks have been known to such back one too many cold ones at least occasionally.  And that is one of the reasons why even the most responsible gun owners are so until they’re not…

…at which point, someone dies.

*The actual line goes, “There is no God and Mordecai Kaplan is his prophet,” but you kinda had to be there.

Image: Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Suicide, c. 1836.


Well, this is awful

January 8, 2014

A North Carolina teenager suffers from schizophrenia. His family calls the cops for help during an episode.  The first officers on the scene taser and restrain the boy, Keith Vidal, 18 years old. Another car rolls up, and, according to the boy’s parents, Mark Wilsey and Mary Vidal, the new officer on the scene decides to handle the situation his way:

“We don’t have time for this,” Wilsey recalled one of the officers saying before he fired in between the two officers who were holding the teen down.


You can guess what comes next:

The Boiling Spring Laes Police Chief has cleared his officers of any wrong doing at the scene. Chief Brad Shirley says an internal review shows his officers did not break any laws.

That may not be the last word. The local prosecutor is investigating:

DA Jon David offered few new details other than that the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) had been called in to investigate. He said that it would take time to determine if a crime had been committed…

…but the parents have their doubts:

the family said that they were not invited to attend….Outside the press conference, the family held signs, demanding justice for Keith Vidal.

It is early days, of course, and the lawyer for the cop suspended after the incident says his client will be seen to be innocent, which is the presumption until a jury says otherwise.  All the usual disclaimers apply.

But on the facts established so far (like this one: “The first unit on scene reported a confrontation in the hallway, but told Brunswick County Dispatchers several times that everything was OK.”), this looks very bad indeed.

And even if there are mitigating circumstances that come to light, still, this is what happens when guns are the first tool you reach for instead of the last.

That’s the deep problem with American gun (nut) culture.  There are just too many guns out there, available to anyone “responsible” or not.  The reality, of course, is that there are lots of situations where guns are inappropriate and lots of people for whom guns are just a really bad idea.

Some of those people are cops.

The last full measure of the misery of this story?  The same couple whose kid  was just gunned down in front of them just lost their daughter to a car wreck.  I can’t imagine…

I hugged my son extra hard when I got home last night, I can tell you.

Image:  Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Triumph of Death, c. 1562.



April 9, 2013

That’s the minimum number of years lost to guns in the United States of America in the 99 days of this blood-soaked year.  Click the link for an amazing data visualization that captures the loss of lives and  years to homicides (and some suicides) thus far in 2013


The scandal, of course, is that the last three months or so is no more crimson than any similar slice of time in recent memory.  Here’s the 2010 version of the same data visualization, representing homicides only (and not quite all of them, if the CDC is to be believed).  The tally that year:  9,595 people, robbed of 413,838 years.

Ass long as the rump of gerrymandered Confederate and exurban white voters can be turned to provide the .01% sufficient political power to keep on robbing us blind, there is seemingly no end in sight.  Guns trump vaginas, non-pale folks, even moochers as the eternal touchstone of aggrieved right politics.  And until that chain that binds power to the untouchable civic virtues of 30-round clips, we’ll continue to live in a country where some 30,000 people each year will fall too soon to the wrong end of a gun.  That most of them will be gun owners themselves; hell that most of them will take their own lives [PDF — see p. 19] makes no difference to the debate.

One hundred and twenty thousand, four hundred and sixty one years that will never pass.  2,739 of our fellow citizens gone.  Obama is still trying.  Reid is still trying.  Maybe they’ll be able to rescue a life or two.  But not if the leaders of the  Party of Death have their way.

It’s gorgeous outside my window as I type this; sunny, 70 degrees and something, convertible top down weather.  Why does it feel so damn grim in these United States?

PS:  Optional soundtrack for this post.

Eduoard Maney, The Suicide1877-1881.

GOPsters Fighting The War On Science Have Blood On Their Hands

December 21, 2012

First, consider this, from Nate Silver:

An American child grows up in a married household in the suburbs. What are the chances that his family keeps a gun in their home?

…the odds vary significantly based on the political identity of the child’s parents. If they identify as Democratic voters, the chances are only about one in four, or 25 percent, that they have a gun in their home. But the chances are more than twice that, almost 60 percent, if they are Republicans.Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic, whether she lives in the South or a number of other demographic characteristics.

Now take note of this piece by Alex Seitz-Wald, published in Salon back in July.  (h/t Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing)

Over the past two decades, the NRA has not only been able to stop gun control laws, but even debate on the subject. The Centers for Disease Control funds research into the causes of death in the United States, including firearms — or at least it used to. In 1996, after various studies funded by the agency found that guns can be dangerous, the gun lobby mobilized to punish the agency. First, Republicans tried to eliminate entirely the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the bureau responsible for the research. When that failed, Rep. Jay Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas, successfully pushed through an amendment that stripped $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget (the amount it had spent on gun research in the previous year) and outlawed research on gun control with a provision that reads: “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

David Satcher, the then-director of the CDC, wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post in November of 1995 warning that the NRA’s “shotgun assault” on the CDC was dangerous both for public health and for our democracy:

“What ought to be of wider concern, is the second argument advanced by the NRA — that firearms research funded by the CDC is so biased against gun ownership that all such funding ought to cease. Here is a prescription for inaction on a major cause of death and disability. Here is a charge that not only casts doubt on the ability of scientists to conduct research involving controversial issues but also raises basic questions about the ability, fundamental to any democracy, to have honest, searching public discussions of such issues.”

Exactly so.

But hey, maybe the ban didn’t matter.  After all, it’s not “advocating” gun control to do simple epidemiology.  Right?

Dickey’s clause, which remains in effect today, has had a chilling effect on all scientific research into gun safety, as gun rights advocates view “advocacy” as any research that notices that guns are dangerous. Stephen Teret, who co-directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told Salon: “They sent a message and the message was heard loud and clear. People [at the CDC], then and now, know that if they start going down that road, their budget is going to be vulnerable. And the way public agencies work, they know how this works and they’re not going to stick their necks out.”

In January, the New York Times reported that the CDC goes so far as to “ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the NRA as a courtesy.”

The anti-science commitment by the GOP is not a mistake.  It’s not a clash of world-views.  It’s not that faith sincerely experienced renders the conclusions of science irrelevant.  Rather, the GOP, at least at the level where power can be wielded, is all about the ability to assert authority regardless of knowledge that contradicts belief.


We know how this song goes.  Anti-science is an old strand in human experience.  The determination to block independent assessments of reality you see here is the same thing the Church asserted when it confronted Galileo.    When  Galileo said, as he did in his famous letter to the Medici Grand Duchess Christina,  “I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages, but from sense-experiences and necessary demonstrations…” Galileo, in all piety was making the claim that interpreters of the Bible must accomodate whatever it is that science demonstrates to be true about the world.  At the same time, he knew that the church, or elements within it could not risk acknowledging to the idea of autonomous expertise.*  Hence, Galileo told Christina, his antagonists

…make a shield of their hypocritical zeal for religion. They go about invoking the Bible, which they would have minister to their deceitful purposes. Contrary to the sense of the Bible and the intention of the holy Fathers, if I am not mistaken, they would extend such authorities until even in purely physical matters—where faith is not involved—they would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense

As it was, so it is.

The Republican Party, taken over by extremists over a decades-long campaign (see the history laid out in the Mark Ames piece Anne Laurie linked to yesterday), has a broad resume when it comes to fighting science to avoid the necessity of confronting the basic facts of real life.  And it is this, to me, that makes the GOP not just wrong about almost everything, but unacceptably dangerous, a political force to be destroyed.

To return to the latest confrontation between the reality of gun violence, and the determination of the GOP not to know what it is inconvenient to understand:  legally enforced ignorance of the implications of the effectively unregulated presence of powerful weaponry throughout the country contributes to events like the Newtown massacre.

To anticipate an objection:  just as you can never tie a specific cigarette to a particular cancer, I cannot say that had we spent more effort really trying to analyze what happens when guns and the accessories that make them yet more deadly are so easily available we would have been able to stop that particular tragedy.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t discover epidemiological truths:  we know that smoking leads directly to an excess burden of cancer deaths among smokers.  You work out the rest…

The only hopeful thing I see is that the latest horrific events have forced more and more people to notice that the gun lobby and the worst wings of the worst political party I’ve ever seen in a half-century of living in America are one and the same.  Right now it’s important to press the case as hard as we can:  gun nuts aren’t defending freedom and long-established constitutional principles.  They’re preserving the profits of gun makers and serving the political ends of the party of the oligarchs.  We have a moment of advvantage in the fight against such forces.  If you take Silver’s argument seriously, the same demographics that propelled Obama to his second term put the gun lobby at risk.

But in the meantime, the suppression of knowledge about the actual human cost of gun ownership — to gun owners as well as the rest of us — is costing lives.  Those Republicans who block the pursuit of knowledge about what our weapons are doing to our country are complicit in the loss of lives by gun violence in the context of our artificially maintained ignorance.

*Which Galileo also knew many of them did not possess, writing, “Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of philosophy, these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply, with little judgment, to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.”

Image: Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, detail of Popes from the lower central panel, completed 1432.

Guns Are The Enemy Of Liberty

December 17, 2012

I’m going to be posting a number of shorter (for me) posts on this over the next day or so; I take on board the injunction that general expressions of sorrow and disgust have their place — but are no substitute for specifics.

I’ll have some thoughts about actual measures to be advanced (more invitations to the community to continue to think together).  But here I’d like to start off making an obvious point:

An armed society may be a polite one.  But it’s not one that is free. It is not one in which a civic life in any meaningful sense of the term can take place.

Guns kill liberty.


That’s what philosopher Firman Debrander argued in this morning’s New York Times, and he is in my ever-humble opinion spot on.  It’s worth the time to read the whole thing, but here’s the core of his case:

…guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.

Exactly so.

Obviously so.

“Smile when you say that, mister,” is great fun from the back row of the movie theater; much less so at arms length, bellied up to the bar.

Gun nuts, the NRA’s official core and all their acolytes and enablers are the enemies of American freedom, of the liberty you and I and everyone should take as our right.  That would be the liberty to walk where we choose, wearing what we want (an “I Reserve The Right To Arm Bears” t-shirt included), to assemble peaceably in protest or at the doors of our kids’ schools every weekday morning.  As Debrander discusses, the openly armed asshole at one of the town meetings during the summer of Obamacare, did not shoot anyone — but no one challenged him; his views echoed in the silence; actual debate was suffocated because no one wanted to piss off a guy who could kill you.  If you can’t have such civil debate, if you can’t even comfortably, free of fear, assemble for politics, or shopping, or a night at the movies, or in kindergarten, you don’t have a democracy in any real sense of the term.  And in that context, tyranny wins.  Debrander again:

After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be….

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force. Arendt and Foucault reveal that power does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly — and everything conducive to that.

One last thought:  What does such philosophical high mindedness (Foucalt, forsooth!)  have to do with actual change in the way America understands and regulated guns?

Obviously, words don’t stop bullets.  We do need a new, powerful legal framework in which the nitty-gritty of guns and American life are reshaped.  There’s all the stuff we have and will talk about, from regulating the registration of firearms and the licensing of their owners, to restrictions on types of weapons, to insurance and its role in internalizing the social costs of civilian gun ownership and so on.  Others here have already started those lines of thought, and I promise I’ll do so as well.

But one of the biggest challenges we face is that over the last two decades or so, the NRA and its gun nut allies have captured much of the language of liberty as it applies to guns.  Framing regulation of guns as an infringement of gun rights has seen a drop in support for gun regulation from close to 80% to below 45% in Gallup’s polling of the question.  The ability to assert the “guns everywhere” position as a test of freedom has given the NRA and its running dogs* a huge rhetorical advantage.  We need to take it back.  Arguments like the one Debrander makes can help us do so.  We can amplify that one voice with our own…as in this small way, I hope to do here.

*you can take the China hand out of the business, but you can’t take the China out of the hand.

Image: Édouard Manet, Mister Pertuiset, The Lion Hunter, 1881


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