Ending Gun Violence: An Activist’s Guide

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After the horrifying shootings in Orlando last weekend, many Americans are again ready to try and do something about gun violence.  Here are four principles we should all embrace in this important fight.

Principle 1: Don’t Engage With Gun Enthusiasts

I’ve tried to have thoughtful debates about gun violence with gun enthusiasts in the past (I’ve even written some talking points), and I’ve watched as my friends have tried to have those same conversations in the days since the Orlando shooting.  Here’s what I’ve realized:

It’s useless.

It’s useless for the same reason that you shouldn’t try and convince adults that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.  If they still believe guns aren’t the problem, they will simply never stop believing it. You just have to shrug, tell them you’re sorry their brain is broken, and move on.  The good news is that you don’t need to convince them.  The polling is very clear; the majority of Americans support sensible gun laws.  Gun enthusiasts are in the minority and we should be able to easily pass the laws we want and finally become the “gun grabbers” they’ve been calling us all these years.  It makes you wonder why we haven’t done that, which brings us to principle number 2….

Principle 2: Know Who the Enemy Is

Why haven’t we passed those laws despite having an 85% to 15% advantage in polling on some gun control issues?  It’s obviously what the public wants so… why hasn’t it happened?  Everyone knows that answer to that question.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations on the planet, making sure that we can’t pass the laws we need (or even do the research we need).  They are immensely powerful, spending approximately 32 million dollars in 2014 on both elections and lobbying for/against specific bills.  The fact is that we will never pass meaningful gun legislation until the NRA loses its power, which brings us to principle number 3….

Principle 3: Do Not Donate Money to, Vote For, or Do Business with NRA Members/Supporters 

The first two parts of this seem obvious, but they aren’t.  The NRA donates a lot of money to many candidates, including a bunch of Democrats (in 2014, 11 Democrats in the House of Representatives took money from the NRA), so avoiding their reach is difficult.  In the end, though, we just can’t support anyone the NRA supports, even when we agree with them about other issues.  Make sure those Democrats know that taking money or an endorsement from the NRA means they won’t get money or a vote from you.

This principle isn’t just about politicians, though.  We shouldn’t do any business of any kind with NRA members.  Thinking of hiring someone to renovate your bathroom?  The first question you should ask the contractor is, “Are you an NRA member?”  If the answer is yes, find someone else and make sure he or she knows why.  Is the owner of your favorite restaurant an NRA member? If so, stop eating there and tell him or her why (if they want to argue with you about your decision, see principle 1).  If you think I’m being too harsh, consider this: Most of the NRA’s money comes from membership dues and individual donations from people like the contractor and restaurant owner I just described.  The first way to break the NRA is to make sure that being a member of the NRA or donating to the NRA comes with a cost.  The second way to break the NRA is to strengthen the good organizations that fight against them, which brings us to principle number 4….

Principle 4: Find an Advocacy Organization, and Join it

There are lots of options here, probably more than I’ve listed.  The links below take you to the “About” pages of their websites so you can learn more about each of them.

And don’t just join them and then delete the email they send you each week. Get involved when you can, donate money when you can, and attend rallies when you can. Let’s work to make these groups as formidable as their opposition.

 

 

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “I Just Feel Safer With a Gun”

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There are various versions of this one (e.g., “I need to be able to protect my family,” “It’s dangerous to be a single woman without a gun”) but they all boil down to this:

Having a gun makes you safer.

Ultimately, though, it’s the easiest claim to take down because, quite simply, having a gun doesn’t make you any safer.  In fact, in most ways, having a gun makes you less safe.

And here’s how we know.

As it turns out, there’s a big difference between feeling safe and being safe.  For instance, most people feel safer in a car than in a plane but, as I’m sure you all know, you’re way more likely to get hurt riding around in a car than flying in plane.

The same thing is true with owning and carrying around a gun.  You may feel safer, but you are actually way more likely to get hurt or killed with it than without it (and so is anyone who spends time with you).

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Having a gun makes you (and those, particularly children, around you) more likely to die as the result of a gun-related accident.  States with more guns see more accidental gun deaths.  This is particularly true when it comes to the safety of children, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents.”
  2. You’re also more likely to kill yourself intentionally if you have a gun.  This 2014 study meta-analysis (which means it’s a study that looks at many already published studies) found that access to guns was a substantial risk-factor for suicide.  Their conclusion was that “access to firearms is associated with risk for completed suicide.”
  3. In the very unlikely circumstance (less than 1%) that you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of an attack and need to defend yourself, a gun offers no safety advantage.  According to a 2014 study, your chances of being injured in that attack are approximately 11% whether you have a gun or not.  That same study points to running away, hiding, or calling the police as the options least likely to result in injury.

This is the point when most gun-enthusiasts point to the need for gun training and safety measures.

Fine, lets talk about training and safety measures.

First, there’s almost no research on the topic, probably because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully prevented the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from doing research related to guns.

The data we have provides some evidence to suggest that safety training will lead to a decrease in accidents, but that is it.  No evidence to support the idea training leads to a decrease in suicide (we wouldn’t expect it to) or an increased likelihood of defending oneself with a gun.

The really tragic part of this story, though, is the research we have says we could cut down on accidental gun death by simply implementing mandatory training requirements across the nationA few states, less than ten, have those requirements already.  Not surprisingly, though, the NRA is opposed to such mandates.

By Ryan C. Martin

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “But what about Chicago”

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Last time, I wrote about Switzerland, and how they really don’t have lax gun laws and shouldn’t be used as a pro-gun argument.  Today, in “Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments,” I’ll take on the opposite of that:

But what about [insert name of city, state, or country]. They have strict gun laws and some of the highest gun violence rates in the world.

Again, there are a lot of versions of this one, but lately gun enthusiasts seem to move directly to Chicago with things like this.

Chicago-Gun-Control

OK, so let’s get into why this and other arguments like it are nonsense.

First of all, yes, there are a lot of murders in Chicago, and many of them involve guns.

Second of all, yes, Chicago has stricter gun laws than much of the United States (though, they’ve been weakened as of late).

So, at face-value, such arguments are sorta, kinda true (or at least rooted in something that is sorta, kinda true).  Lots of murders despite strict gun-control.

But… Chicago does NOT have the highest murder rate in the country.  In fact, it’s not even in the top ten.  What the argument above skips is that the number of murders in an area is not the “murder rate” for that area (at least that’s not how experts calculate it).

The murder rate, or homicide rate, is the number of people murdered per 100,000 people in that region.

When you look at Chicago’s actual gun-homicide rate, things get much more clear.  In 2014, Chicago ranked 19th in the country with regard to gun-homicides,  In fact, the gun-homicide rate (15.1 murders per 100,000 people) was less than half of every city in the top five (St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Newark).

But wait, there’s more.

This only includes those cities with populations of 200,000 or more… so just 80 U.S. cities.  What happens when we look at the gun-homicide rate in those areas with smaller populations?  Well, it looks like this (red is high, blue is low, white means there isn’t enough data; if you want to look closer, click on the map and it will take you to an interactive version).

Gun homicide rate. nationalWhen we do that, Chicago’s gun-homicide rate is approximately the same as most of the south and southwest.  This isn’t just fun with statistics either.  Of course areas with more people are going to have more murders (just like they have more car accidents, more suicides, more cases of chicken pox, etc.).  That’s why we need to control for the size of the city.

Here’s the other thing you need to know about Chicago’s gun-homicide rate: The guns that are used to kill people in Chicago are usually bought legally somewhere else.

At the time I write this, there are no guns stores in Chicago (they were banned until just recently).  Chicago doesn’t have a wall around it, though, and every gun used in a homicide, suicide, etc. is bought outside of Chicago and brought there from some other city or state.  According to a recent report, 60% of guns used to commit a crime in Chicago were bought legally in states with more lax gun laws.  Indiana, for example, contributed 19% of the guns that were involved in crime (and while we’re at it, note that Indiana has seven counties with gun-homicide rates as high or higher than Chicago’s).  Mississippi, a full 600 miles from Chicago, contributed 6.7% of those guns (again, note per the map above that almost every county in Mississippi has a gun-homicide rate as high or higher than Chicago’s).

In other words, Chicago’s gun-homicide rate is, in part, the result of other states’ lax gun laws.

But this isn’t just about Chicago.  The point of the meme is to suggest that when you have gun control, only bad guys have guns and the murder rate goes up.

That’s not even sorta, kinda true.

Gun Ownership vs. Gun Deaths by StateThis chart shows a clear relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths.  And since I mentioned them earlier, I highlighted both Indiana and Mississippi so you can see where they are relative to Illinois.  Both have more guns and, expectedly, more gun deaths.

By Ryan C. Martin

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

Guns on Campus: A Terrible Idea (and what we can do about it)

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Here in Wisconsin, two legislators have proposed a bill that would “allow students and faculty to carry concealed guns inside public university and college buildings.”

To clarify, though, there’s already a law that allows that.  Wisconsin has a “carrying concealed weapon law” that has been on the books for almost three years.  However, that law allows business or property owners to limit or prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on its premises.  Most, maybe all, public universities in Wisconsin have prohibited weapons on their campus.

In other words, this law doesn’t actually allow people to carry concealed guns so much as it bans public universities from being able to do what everyone else gets to do, prohibit weapons on their property.

Almost everyone reading this knows this is a terrible idea so I’m going to skip that for now and focus on what we should do about it (see my talking points below for some ammunition- pun intended).

  1. Write the two legislators, Jesse Kremer and Devin LeMahieu, and tell them this is a terrible idea.
  2. Write your own legislators (you can find them here) to tell them this is a terrible idea.
  3. Write these three legislators, Chris Taylor, Terese Berceau, and Melissa Sargent, to thank them for countering with a bill banning weapons on Wisconsin campuses.
  4. Write letters to the editor, explaining the multitude of reasons why this is a bad idea.
  5. If you work on a college campus in Wisconsin, encourage your various governance bodies to pass resolutions opposing this terrible idea.

Ok, so here are some talking points:

  1. Guns do not make people safer in self-defense situations.  This is not an opinion.  It’s a fact (and here’s the recent study that proves it).
  2. The more guns in an area, the higher the rate of gun violence. Again, not an opinion (and here is the data that proves it).
  3. Gun access increases the suicide rate.  This point is often lost in the gun debate Access-to-guns-and-risk-of-suicide-chartbut it’s really important.  Access to guns is a significant predictor of suicide (and if they say, those people who kill themselves with a gun will just kill themselves some other way if they don’t have a gun, point to the chart on the right and say, “No, they won’t, and this is not an opinion, it’s a fact”).
  4. College campuses are supposed to be safe environments where people challenge themselves and each other.  We share controversial ideas, and engage in the stressful, emotional process that is learning.  For all the ways that learning is wonderful and colleges are extraordinarily special places, there’s also the fact that sometimes what goes on here hurts.  Sometimes people fail.  Sometimes we offend each other.  Sometimes we get angry at each other.  And we need to be able to feel those things without the threat of danger.  Adding a gun to that mix of emotions and stress is a terrible mistake.

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “But what about Switzerland”

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Gun enthusiasts are unified around a lot of things (like their odd hatred of people who confuse clip and magazine).  One of those things is making terrible arguments for how guns don’t play a role in societal gun violence.  With that in mind, I’m starting a new feature where I debunk these pro-gun arguments and myths… one at a time.

Today, I take on a recent favorite of the pro-gun community.  It looks like this:

But what about [insert name of city, state, or country]. They have lax gun laws and some of the lowest gun violence rates in the world.

Screenshot 2015-09-11 at 11.28.09 AM

There are a couple of iterations of this argument.  Lately, the focus has been on Switzerland and looks a little something like the picture on the left.

It sure sounds convincing.  Can’t we all agree that arming young cyclists will make us safer?

How to respond?  Well, if you are responding specifically to the Switzerland version of this, just show them this Salon article that discusses how “Switzerland’s high rate of gun ownership is tied to the fact that it does not have a standing army so virtually every male citizen is conscripted into the militia where they receive comprehensive weapons training… and keep their government issued weapons (without ammunition) at home.”

Nine times out of ten, the argument is dishonest from the start.  The city, state, or country doesn’t really have such lax laws or doesn’t really have such a low gun violence Gun Deaths By Staterate.  However, on the off chance they are correct about the law/gun violence rate and they just happened to have found an anomaly, you can show them this chart that illustrates how states with more guns have more gun deaths.

If they say, “well I wasn’t talking about states. I was talking about countries,”  you can just show them this statement from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center that finds that ” across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.”

And that will, of course, be the end of the discussion because EVERYONE listens to research and has a healthy respect for logic.

By Ryan C. Martin

PS. I tried to find some gun safety literature showing that you shouldn’t ride a bike with a loaded gun.  Regrettably, all I found was this YouTube video on the best gun for cycling. It seems we have a long way to go….

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.