Sunday, July 14, 2013

Gun Control: NRA uses half-truths and huge expenditures to defeat reasonable policies

.The Second Amendment serves no function in America today. The Amendment sprang from the time when state governments feared that a central government would end slavery. The states therefore insisted that the federal government should rely on state militias instead of a standing army.

The state militias were unreliable. At the battle of Camden, the militias turned and ran from British regulars, leaving the American regulars in a death trap. Nevertheless, because the framers feared a strong federal government, they envisioned the state militias as the main fighting force of the new federal republic. Accordingly, they included an amendment to the Constitution that institutionalized militias as being necessary for the security of a free state.

Militias as a necessity to the security of the United States never worked in practice. Militias failed on their own to put down the whiskey rebellion (1796) and performed badly again in the War of 1812. The Second Amendment was thenceforward a failed experiment. No successful insurrection has ever been led by militias. In 1903, state militias were replaced by the National Guard and placed under the direct command of the president. When Governor George Wallace called out the National Guard to prevent integration of the University of Alabama, President Kennedy federalized the National Guard and ordered its commanding officer to facilitate the integration. Bereft of his military force, Wallace had no choice but to stand aside.

With the militias disbanded and a standing army to provide for the security of the U.S., the Second Amendment should have become a dead letter—a law that was still on the books but in practice ignored. Instead, the Amendment has been taken up by the arms manufacturing industry, which have sanctified it to aid them in selling small arms to the American people.


Recently, there appeared in the Washington Post an attempt by Ezra Klein to define a baseline for calm discussion of gun control. Klein's intentions were modest. He simply presented 6 facts about guns and violence that led to a reasonable (to him) conclusion that gun ownership laws should be tightened to lessen the chance of mass killings.

The pro-gun forces attacked Klein in a manner that showed they were not interested in a reasonable discussion. The NRA and its supporters either intentionally spread propaganda or have been captured by the propagandists and are incapable of listening to rational arguments. Their strategy is standard FUD—spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Once the pro-gun forces have achieved their end, the voters are paralyzed, afraid to act, uncertain about the facts, and doubting the correct actions to take. The pro-gun forces are aided by huge amounts of money from the arms manufacturers and expert guidance from the lobbyists like the NRA.

Klein's post elicited hundreds of responses, mostly from opponents of gun control. This sort of response, orchestrated by the pro-gun lobby, has the effect of drowning out pro-gun-control comments and making it seem as though no one agrees with Klein so he is either very wrong or crazy. Neither description is correct. The volume of responses proves that the gun lobby has plenty of money to spend hiring people to write comments opposing reasonable, pro-gun-control articles.

Klein's story also elicited responses pro-gun bloggers. Some of these people are paid by ant-gun-control lobbyists, but they all sound like sincere people who just happen to think people should be allowed to fire automatic weapons in kindergarten classrooms. One such response came from Howard Nemerov of PJMedia. Nemerov is more coherent than most pro-murder writers, for which I compliment him. I would compliment him more if the had some original—or at least helpful ideas—in his post.

Klein began his post by pointing out that opponents of gun control legislation always warn against politicizing a tragic event such as the Aurora shootings. He believes that such events prove that our laws protecting innocent people from mass shooters are inadequate. When the public has its attention focused on the problem, Klein would like to use their common experience to start serious discussion on the issue of gun control.

Nemerov attacks Klein for making a pitch for more gun control. There is nothing wrong about taking another look at our gun control laws whenever an obvious failure—such as a mass shooting—of our gun control laws leaves innocent people dead. The fact that a mass shooting occurred is convincing evidence that our present laws have failed.

There are two kinds of people here. Some people, like Klein and myself, would like to do something about the problem; others, like Nemerov, would use any excuse to ignore the problem. Nemerov's position instills FUD, the strategy of the NRA. He suggests we should be afraid of taking any action. This fear instills doubt, and nothing ever happens to change the failed laws. But we owe it to the victims to examine the mistakes we made that led to their deaths.

Nemerov casts the argument as being about the right to self-defense. This argument is intended to distract the readers from the real issue, trying to prevent mass shootings. Only the pro-gun propagandists bring up the right to defend oneself. Klein never mentioned that right, nor suggested it should be taken away. But Nemerov wants to inflame the pro-gun-control audience and he knows exactly which words to use to achieve his end.

No individual has a right to possess deadly weapons, despite what the Supreme Court may say. If deadly weapons are harder to get, they will be used less. If weapons of mass killing are impossible to obtain, there will be an end of mass killings. Those statements are simply common sense. The only discussion we need to have is how to make guns harder to get and how to ban guns that can be used for mass killing. The discussion should be about how to save lives, not about how to keep gun-owners happy.

Nemerov insults Klein at the outset, calling him just another anti-rights elitist. Name calling is not an argument. It wouldn't matter if Klein were Satan himself. Nemerov must answer the argument, not the messenger.

Nemerov next takes on Klein's 6 points about gun control.

Point 1: America is a violent country

Klein says America is a violent country. He points out that the murder rate in the U.S. is higher than any other developed country. Nemerov points out that America is tied with Argentina for 50th most violent country in the world. Klein has the better argument here. He choses to compare America with other rich nations, our peers, not with nations where the majority of the population live in hopeless squalor. Naturally those countries will be more violent. But America is more violent than other wealthy nations. Rather than pretending that we aren't all that violent, we should be looking for a way to become less so.

I don't understand why Nemerov wants to contradict Klein on this point. The NRA is always trying to convince everyone this is a violent country. They say that's why we need guns to protect ourself. So Nemerov is just contradicting Klein on principle, the way Republicans argue against anything Obama proposes.

Nemerov also challenges the UN figures on homicide rates. Once again he is leading the readers away from the point of the discussion. Whether or not we pass stronger gun control laws has nothing to do with the methodology behind UN homicide statistics. If we concede that Syria, which is embroiled in a civil war, is more violent than the US, that only changes our rank from 50th most violent in the world to 51st. 50th or 51st is way too high for a country that calls itself a world leader.

The most violent governments, Nemerov says, are totalitarian governments that disarm their subjects. He seems to be arguing that the U.S. is a totalitarian government that disarms its citizens. That is not even close to being true, but Nemerov is agitating pro-gun advocates who believe that the U. S. is already totalitarian and has already disarmed its citizens, or intends to do so soon.

The U.S. is not nearly as democratic as it should be, but the solution is more democracy, not more guns. Again, Nemerov distracts the reader from the issue at hand, which is how to avoid mass shootings, by discussing a completely irrelevant topic, totalitarian dictatorships. We all abhor totalitarian dictatorships but no one is suggesting to set up one to stop mass shootings.

Nemerov is suggesting that even a modest change in gun-control laws will inevitably lead to dictatorship. He accepts the supreme court argument that the Second Amendment protects us from our government. But this argument cannot be true. There are many governments in the world with stricter gun controls than we have, and many of them are also democracies. So governments demonstrably do not turn into dictatorships when they impose strict gun-control laws.

Point 2: The South is the most violent region in the United States

Klein makes the point that the South is the most violent section of the US. Nemerov agrees, but tries to argue that immigrant murderers are the cause of high southern murder rates. He offers no statistical evidence for this position, only anecdotal evidence such as the news item that one Haitian killed 3 people in Miami. Studies are divided on whether crime rates are higher for illegal immigrants, but that doesn't matter to Nemerov. He is only concerned about stirring up the conservative base.

Nemerov has discussed the right to own a gun, totalitarian dictatorship, illegal immigrants, foreign countries who think they're better than us, and liberal elitists—the full house of right wing complaints. He has yet to give a single valid reason why we should not try to protect our children from shootings, or what he himself would recommend to solve the problem.

Point 3: Gun ownership in America is declining overall

At this point in the article, Nemerov starts attacking those who disagree with him directly. Klein uses polling from the National Opinion Research Center(NORC) and Gallup. Nemerov attacks NORC for taking grant money from the Joyce Foundation. Let's get a little perspective here. In 2005, the Joyce Foundation gave $3 million for its gun violence studies. In 2012, the NRA spent $25 million on campaign ads alone. NORC is one of the oldest and most respected opinion research organizations in the world. The results of NORC's research are reported in peer reviewed journals.

NRA supports increased gun sales. It frequently refers to studies that are not available to the public, as Nemerov does in this article. It publishes its opinions in blogs like this one, where no peer review ever takes place.

NORC and Gallup have been reporting gun ownership statistics since 1959. They both report a falling percentage of homes with guns. These results do not contradict the fact that there are more guns in America today than ever before. They only mean that a smaller percentage of homes have a gun.

Nemerov attacks the Joyce Foundation for giving money to the Violence Prevention Center, which he says without any evidence is known to manipulate data. But VPC has nothing whatever to do with NORC and Gallup. Once again, Nemerov is confusing the issue by bringing in irrelevant information.

Nemerov notes that the Gallup polls show in increase in gun ownership from 1996 to 2012, but this does not contradict the overall decline since 1959. NORC reports that 34% of households had guns in 2012, while only 22% of the people actually owned a gun. Pew Research reported 33% in its 2013 study.

To counter this data that supports Klein's thesis, even the Pew study, that did not exist when Klein was writing, Nemerov says the NRA reports that 100 million Americans owned guns in 2013. He gives this figure without any statistical source. He then says that gun ownership grew from 31% to 43% of the adult population. As a footnote, he gives the U.S. Census, but no indication of how he arrived at this figure, which contradicts all three studies. The Census does not keep track of gun ownership. If 22% of Americans own guns, then 69 million people own guns.

Nemerov has only succeeded in proving Klein's point, but he perseveres. There is lots of anecdotal evidence of gun ownership growth, particularly among women. 146,000 women in Florida have concealed carry permits, he says. He doesn't say that represents about 1.5% of the women in Florida. Nemerov enjoys playing this game of percentages. Next he says that the number of women with concealed carry permits increased by 65% in Texas. That sounds like a big number, but Nemerov does not tell us 65% of what. This negligence reveals Nemerov's goal: to impress his readers without actually giving them knowledge.

Point 4: More guns tend to mean more homicide.

Nemerov then attacks the Joyce Foundation again. He says the Harvard School of Public Health, financed by the Joyce Foundation, published research concluding that more guns equal more murder, but Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data show the opposite. Nemerov either didn't read the study or didn't care to explain it. The Harvard study controlled for urbanization. In other words, knowing that urban areas always have higher murder rates, the academic study leaves them out.

Nemerov doesn't seem to understand that you must compare like with like. You must compare the U.S. statistics with other developed countries, not with African dictatorships. You must compare the homicide rates of rural areas in states with strong and weak gun-control laws. If you do that, you will find that more guns mean more homicide.

Nemerov curiously shows confidence in data from the CDC. Elsewhere, he claims that the NRA persuaded the Congress that the CDC was biased and convinced them to remove all funding that could be used to study gun control. The CDC does not persuade anyone except by donating money to their election campaigns, like the $30 million it has donated to Congressional candidates since 1980. This action resulted in fewer studies being run and less being known about the results of gun control laws on homicide rates. The CDC could have studied what kinds of laws were best and on which programs money could best be spent. Because the NRA donated millions of dollars to defund to CDC, we don't have this information.

The NRA prefers it that way. They prefer to confuse the issue by citing imaginary studies and inciting the base with worthless anecdotal evidence.

Point 5: States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Nemerov complains that Klein used statistics for suicide as well as homicide. He doesn't consider suicide violence, he says, because suicide isn't a crime. This is splitting a hair too far. Klein's point remains true, that the availability of guns leads to more suicides as well as homicides.

Nemerov turns once more to his percentage trick. He says that 100 million guns were added to the civilian inventory between 1991 and 2009, but the firearms suicide rate declined 17%. He doesn't explain where he got the 100 million figure for guns (see above, point 3), and he imagines that we haven't caught on that a 17% decline in suicide rate doesn't mean there were fewer suicides since the population increased during that period by 53 million people, a growth rate of about 20%. This rough calculation would indicate there were more suicides in 2009 than in 1991.

In fact, the suicide rate has increased by 30% from 1999 to 2010, to the point where more people die from suicide than die from automobile accidents. This new surge was detected after Klein wrote his article, but the new data only reinforces the correctness of his original observation.

Point 6: Gun control is not politically popular

Nemerov says this is because “pro-rights writers have been producing top-notch research and getting the word out.” His own article hardly supports his hypothesis. He has introduced no new research and has baselessly dismissed the work of scholars whose research fails to support his point of view. He has used statistical misinformation to confuse gun-control and has taken advantage of the absence of data which the NRA itself has caused by using its political clout to suppress research.

Nemerov fears most that more in-depth research could show that gun-control methods actually work. Klein is only suggesting that we give those methods a chance to work. The NRA's success through bribery and deceit represents a breakdown of democracy.

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