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New Gun Survey Should Have Lessons For Both Sides

Mike Weisser   |   July 26, 2016    9:33 AM ET

Read More: guns, gun violence, polling, nra

My job, as I see it, is to deliver the news about guns to the Gun Violence Prevention community. I'd be happy to deliver the news to Gun-mob Nation as well, but they don't seem very interested in what I have to say. Or I should say that if Gun-mob Nation is interested, it's just to tell me that whatever I have to say isn't what they want to hear. But occasionally I also have to tell my GVP friends some news that they would rather not hear. But that's my job.

And one bit of gun news that might not set well with people who are trying to figure out what to do about this curse called gun violence (and it is a curse) is contained in an AP poll that was published this past week. The poll was conducted by GfK, and what I like about this outfit is they not only announce the results of their polls, they also give you the detailed responses on which the poll results are based. Well, you know what they say -- the Devil is in the details, and this poll contains some devilish little details that most of the stories about the poll overlooked.

And the reason these details were overlooked was because the big headline about this survey of 1,000+ Americans was that a strong majority said they were in favor of stronger gun-control laws. In fact, nearly two-thirds said that gun laws should be made stricter, with only 11 percent saying that the laws should be loosened, and about one-quarter saying that the laws should be left as they are.

When you drill down to the specifics, the poll continues to register solid majorities in favor of tightening current laws: 73 percent were in favor of universal background checks, 53 percent agree that high-capacity magazines should be banned, 57 percent say that AR rifles should also be banned and 65 percent favor criminal penalties for adults who violate Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws.

Obviously the poll results are skewed in the usual way; i.e., Democrats are stronger when it came to stricter laws, Republicans less so. Women are less pro-gun than men; urbanites and suburbanites favor more controls, rural folks want less. Not only have these profiles been consistent among all polls that survey gun attitudes, but this poll validated other studies insofar as gun ownership continues to remain at about one-third. The NRA can talk all it wants about how declining gun ownership is a 'myth,' but I'll give the Fairfax gang credit for being steadfastly consistent in their refusal to face the facts.

As I said earlier, however, this poll also contains some facts that the GVP community needs to face. By a narrow margin (53-44) respondents to this poll favored a national concealed-carry law which would allow armed citizens to move from one state to another with the same reciprocal legal status which now exists for the license that every state issues to drive a car. But at least all fifty states require a road test before you can drive. How many states impose a real competency test as part of the CCW process? None. Not one.

More worrisome is the response to Question 11: "Do you think that owning a gun does more to protect a person from being a victim of a crime or more to put their safety at risk?" By a margin of 2 to 1, respondents said that owning a gun would protect them from crime. Which means that even many non-gun owners believe Gun-mob Nation's biggest lie, namely, that a gun is more of a benefit than a risk.

I would strongly urge my GVP friends to consider the implications of this last response. Because if nothing else, as long as a majority of Americans believe that a gun is a legitimate way to respond to crime, then Gun-mob Nation will find it much less difficult to prevent any change in gun laws. Which is exactly their plan.

Mark Kelly   |   July 25, 2016    3:17 PM ET

Read More: gun violence, guns, suicide

On a morning in April of 2014, a Northern Virginia political activist and photographer named Drew Kleinbrink was facing a time of deep emotional crisis. He responded to that crisis by purchasing a gun. Within hours he had taken his own life with that gun, leaving behind a wife and daughter with a hole in their lives.

For many Americans, thoughts of gun violence typically turn towards horrific headlines ― the public acts of destruction that happen in our churches, in our schools, and in our nightclubs. And why wouldn’t they?

But the sad reality is that the majority of our nation’s shootings happen behind closed doors in homes across our country.

Every year over 20,000 Americans die from suicide with a firearm. The United States has one of the highest gun suicide rates of any developed nation.

One reason why we have such a high gun suicide rate is that we have loopholes in our laws that make it too easy for people in crisis to get their hands on a firearm. Through research, we know that commonsense laws can help reduce gun suicides and save lives.

In states that require a background check on all private handgun sales, there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides. A basic background check has the power to deter suicide and prevent thousands of firearm deaths every year.

We must also do more to empower law enforcement, family and friends to help their loved ones during their times of need.

In most states, law enforcement are unable to remove firearms from people who exhibit dangerous or threatening behavior unless they are prohibited from owning a gun. This gap in our nation’s gun laws makes it difficult for families and law enforcement to keep guns away from people who are threatening violence against themselves or others. 

In states that require a background check on all private handgun sales, there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides.

Why should the people who are the first to see the signs of a person in crisis be rendered powerless to do anything about it?

It’s time for our leaders to come together and listen to our nation’s leading law enforcement experts to address our nation’s gun suicide epidemic.

We also think that in order to address our nation’s gun suicide crisis, it’s important for us to fully understand it.

Since 1996, at the behest of the gun lobby, the federal government has failed to fund any research into gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our nation’s leading public health institution. Congress must renew federal research funding into the causes and costs of gun violence, and strategies to reduce it.

These ideas are not radical ― they are commonsense solutions. Solutions that help deter suicide from firearms.  

Solutions that close the loopholes in our laws that make it difficult for families and law enforcement to keep guns away from people in crisis.

Solutions that allow the federal government to research and fully understand the scope of our nation’s gun suicide problem.

Solutions that will not only make our communities safer ― but will also save lives.

The few private researchers who study gun suicides have found that guns are the most lethal means of suicide, resulting in a death rate of over 85 percent.

They have also found that the decision to end one’s own life is often spontaneous and can be deterred by making it more difficult to access a firearm during a crisis.

That’s just what we know now. Imagine the changes we could see in 20 years, if we pass responsible policies that are proven to reduce gun suicides and provide funding for America’s best researchers to address this epidemic.

Imagine how many lives we might save.

Captain Mark Kelly is a Navy combat veteran, a retired NASA astronaut and the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Representative Don Beyer served two terms as Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, and served as President Obama’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2009 to 2013. He represents Northern Virginia in Congress.

How The NRA Blocks Common-sense Gun Laws In Cities Like Cleveland

John Feinblatt   |   July 21, 2016    7:10 PM ET

A week and a half after Dallas, days after Baton Rouge, the mayor of Cleveland is powerless to stop armed protesters from intimidating convention goers and menacing the police.

Why? The National Rifle Association prefers it that way.

This week we're seeing the NRA's vision for America on full display. For the gun lobby, the ideal is guns for anyone, anytime, anywhere -- even on crowded city streets. To that dangerous end, it continues to push a state-level policy that ties the hands of mayors and police chiefs and blocks cities from protecting their own citizens.

So, as much as Cleveland might like to set more reasonable limits on where people can openly carry guns, the city is handcuffed. In 2006, the gun lobby's allies in the Ohio general assembly overrode a Republican governor's veto and made "preemption" the law.

Today, bending to the gun lobby, more than 40 states with preemption laws bar cities from setting their own public safety policies.

Some preemption laws contain provisions that sway officials from even attempting to address gun violence. For example, in Florida, local officials who adopt any gun rules or regulations can face fines up to $5,000. They can also be removed from office.

The effect is chilling. It's also illogical. It's why Florida cities can prohibit knives but not guns at their parades, and why Cleveland can prohibit glass bottles but not guns outside the convention.

Other preemption laws give out-of-state gun lobby groups the standing to sue local officials in court -- and collect attorneys' fees and damages at taxpayer expense. That was the case in Pennsylvania, before the State Supreme Court struck down a punitive preemption law on procedural grounds. Now NRA lobbyists are trying to revive it in the legislature this year.

That's how the gun lobby operates. They set up shop in state capitols. They push laws that rob cities of the right to control their own affairs, and that punish mayors for doing their jobs. Then, they make taxpayers foot the bill for the lawsuits that inevitably follow.

The disconnect between the gun lobby's interests and those of mayors and police -- particularly after Dallas and Baton Rouge -- is jarring.

Every day, police put their lives on the line to uphold the Constitution, defend our laws, and protect us. They epitomize service and sacrifice. Yet, as Dallas Police Chief David Brown eloquently and rightly pointed out last week, policymakers are failing our cops and communities.

Reflecting on his state's lax gun laws -- after the protesters who were openly, lawfully carrying rifles had created confusion for police as they chased the gunman attacking them -- Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "I just want to come back to common sense."

The mayor is not alone. Look at the polls, and close to 90 percent of the public supports bucking the NRA and fixing our gun laws.

After the mass shooting in Orlando, the overwhelming majority of Americans said they backed the ideas the Senate voted on and the House discussed last month. One proposal would require a background check for every gun sale. The other would give law enforcement the ability to block a suspected terrorist from buying a gun, while at the same time protecting his or her due-process rights.

Congress remains gridlocked, but at the state level, common sense is increasingly defining our gun politics and policymaking. Since Newtown, six states have closed a loophole in federal law by requiring background checks on all gun sales -- making it 18 states in total with such laws. Nevada and Maine can make it 20 this year, if voters approve Election Day ballot initiatives.

The more that lawmakers and voters reject gun lobby extremism, the closer we come to striking an all-important balance.

We can protect our gun rights while making sensible, effective policy. And every time we buck the NRA -- especially when we stand up for mayors and their cities -- we can help protect the police duty-sworn to protect us.

John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety

A Matter of Life and Data

Carter Hewgley   |   July 21, 2016    5:41 PM ET

I don't pretend to speak for the unconscionable number killed at the wrong end of a firearm. From Baton Rouge to Chicago, Dallas, Ferguson, Orlando, St. Paul and San Bernardino - every life snuffed out at the barrel of our collective inaction is one too many.

We can do better. We can save lives, and it starts with data.

In the U.S., over 33,000 people were killed by firearms in 2013. In fact, firearms are now more likely to cause premature death than HIV, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and Syphilis combined. In 2013, firearms caused more deaths than alcohol - which is regulated - and Parkinson's - which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends over $150 million researching annually.


But the U.S. Congress does not make it easy to study firearm deaths the way we study almost all other causes of death. They prevent the Executive Branch from collecting comprehensive national data on the firearm transactions that may have led to those deaths. In contrast, when the exceedingly infrequent air or space accident occurs, the National Transportation Safety Board studies exactly what went wrong. They sift through mountains of evidence finding ways to improve crash survivability. Why are firearm deaths treated so differently?

Consider This
If past is prologue, 67% of American deaths will result from infections and diseases each year, and another 23% from cancer. In the face of our own mortality, Americans put tremendous energy into minimizing the impact of those infections, diseases, and cancer on our lives. To that end, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and NIH spend almost $40 billion annually protecting Americans from these leading causes of death.

But 44% of deaths occur before age 75, and 13% of them are caused by accidents, suicides, and homicides - three things which are decidedly not "inevitable" and are significantly impacted by the use of firearms. A quick scroll of NIH funding per condition reveals 265 areas of research - everything from Anorexia to West Nile Virus. There's even funding for injury research . . . except injury due to firearms (because Congress effectively prevents major research on firearm deaths through the Dickey Amendment).

What is the Dickey Amendment?

Jay Dickey is a former Congressman from Arkansas who amended a 1996 appropriations bill with language that removed $2.6 million from the CDC's budget, the amount they spent on firearms-related research the previous year.  In December 2011, Congress added language equivalent to the Dickey amendment to appropriations for the NIH, stating "none of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control."

These amendments had a chilling effect on both the CDC and NIH. Research that could easily be conflated with gun control, like studying the survivability of mass shootings based on the type of weaponry used, puts government agencies at political and budgetary risk. Instead, researchers must approach firearm deaths tangentially, through grants that focus on violence prevention among sub-populations. This approach is antithetical to how the US studies causes of death in virtually every category, a point with which Dickey now agrees. In a 2012 opinion piece for the Washington Post, Dickey reversed his position and stated:

"Scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners. The same evidence-based approach that is saving millions of lives from motor-vehicle crashes, as well as from smoking, cancer and HIV/AIDS, can help reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from gun violence."

But the Dickey Amendment is not the only hurdle. Another research barrier is the lingering impact of the appropriately-named Firearm Owners Protection Act. Passed in 1986, the act enshrined a prohibition against a comprehensive federal database of firearm transactions into U.S. law - and has significantly limited the government's ability to study the exchange of lethal weaponry among the citizenry. In contrast, the federal government used to do anonymous reporting of HIV until we realized it was preventing us from stopping the transmission of the virus. Tracking all of the firearms that cause premature death is no less important.

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

Mrs. Parker wasn't wrong when she told Ralphie he'd shoot his eye out if he got the Red Ryder BB Gun he wanted in A Christmas Story. Because the truth is, most firearm deaths are not bad guys killing good guys, or even good guys defending their homes and families. The overwhelming majority are just guys . . . killing themselves.


Suicides account for 64% of all gun-related deaths, especially among older populations of males. Making firearms easy-to-acquire makes death easy-to-achieve for someone contemplating suicide. Accidental discharges of firearms are taking the lives of American children, like Ralphie, under age 15. Homicides are robbing our communities of a younger generation. In fact, 65% of gun-related homicides kill people younger than 35, mostly males. But these are not young men being killed by homeowners defending their family and property.

According to ten years of data from states voluntarily participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System, justifiable self defense and law enforcement accounts for less than 10% of violent gun deaths. The majority occur between intimate partners, during drug-related exchanges or as part of a series of sequential crimes. Figuring out how to reduce the prevalence of firearms in these circumstances seems like an evidence-based intervention on par with preventing traffic fatalities, disease transmission, or cancer.

But firearms don't kill people. People kill people, right?

Wrong. People injured with firearms do not die from the sheer hatred or fear of the assailant. The same way HIV attaches and fuses with a host cell, a bullet destroys tissues and cells, disrupting heart function, lung function, brain function, and blood flow.

In 2013, roughly the same number of Americans died from firearms (33k) as motor vehicle accidents (35k) - a comparable situation which involves a lethal object (a motor vehicle) and a person (driver). Both bear responsibility. Both must be studied so effective mitigation can occur. In fact, cities around the globe have embraced Vision Zero, a multinational effort to eliminate traffic fatalities through a combination of structural and behavioral modifications. Where is the vision zero for firearm deaths?


What would data do?
Cities are increasingly using data to predict outcomes and solve problems. Armed with adequate data, cities can predict which restaurants are likely to generate a food borne illness, which children are likely to be poisoned with lead, which police officers are likely to have an adverse incident with residents, which intersections are likely to cause traffic fatalities, and which populations are likely to transmit HIV. These life-saving efforts are only possible when you admit there's a problem and get serious about using data to understand it.

Firearm deaths are no less predictable. It is possible to predict the risk potential for a lethal firearm discharge by analyzing: a person's criminal record, history of domestic violence, mental health diagnoses, relationships with known terrorist groups, the purchase of certain types of firearms, educational attainment, etc. - these are just a few of the variables that could be researched to understand who among us is most at risk of using a lethal weapon against themselves or others.

So take action. If you agree that firearm deaths should be researched, studied, and mitigated, then contact your elected representatives and ask them to remove all language from the U.S. Code (and any governing appropriation) that hinders the CDC and NIH from appropriately resourcing the direct study of firearm-related deaths. Ask them to eliminate the prohibition on a comprehensive registry of firearm transactions. Donate to an organization working hard to prevent firearm deaths, and stop donating to organizations who shroud firearm deaths in perpetual mystery - protecting gun owners and manufacturers at the expense of gun victims and their families.

On a Personal Level
As we tread cautiously through uncertain times, we should do as Steven Pinker suggests, and give our "more peaceable motives the upper hand." We must stop weaponizing hatred and fear. In my 35 years, the only path I've found to disarm hate and fear is the one lined with facts and objective truth.

As someone who believes, as Jay Dickey now does, that firearm deaths should benefit from the same level of scientific research as any other cause of death - I am ready to see more courage, objectivity, and research on this issue.

The 2nd Amendment affords Americans the right to bear arms, but it does not trump our 1st Amendment right to peaceably assemble in safe spaces. It does not afford gun-enthusiasts the right to ignore or distort the facts about firearm deaths. It does not afford gun manufacturers the unbridled right to peddle lethal weapons to the citizenry.

I'm okay living in a world where bad things happen despite our best efforts, but we aren't even close to our best efforts on preventing firearm deaths. Nowhere near it.

Here's What We Can Do With All The Guns in America

Zac Thompson   |   July 21, 2016    5:37 PM ET

You can buy a semi-automatic rifle in America in 38 minutes. It's no secret that guns in America are a problem despite what the NRA tells you. With the recent influx of mass shootings it may seem like they're a plague with no solution. The American Senate can't get to a solution even with a huge sit in. So many of us are left to wonder just what the hell we do with all the guns in America.

YouTuber Special Head may have found the solution in a New York City artist and musician, Ken Butler. His "Hybrid Visions" reimagine guns and ephemera as fully playable musical instruments. If America followed Australia's lead we wouldn't have to have a single piece of scrap metal, instead we could do something brilliant.

In all seriousness, the issues surrounding gun control can't be ignored in the attempt to win an election, or left to a senate that is more concerned with funding than they are safety. In a world where it's getting increasingly difficult to argue in favor of gun ownership, one can only hope that change is inevitable.

If we're lucky we might get stricter gun laws, and if we're even luckier we'll make instruments from the scrapped weapons.

To see the full documentary on Ken Butler subscribe to Special Head's YouTube channel.

Igor Bobic   |   July 21, 2016   12:08 PM ET

CLEVELAND ― Guns are everywhere at the Republican National Convention

You can hardly walk more than 20 feet in downtown Cleveland without encountering some kind of firearm. Law enforcement, fearing mass violence and rioting, has turned the city into a secure area resembling Baghdad’s “Green Zone.” Large barricades line city blocks for nearly 2 square miles. Heavily armed police units, brought in from as far as California, patrol the streets in groups as large as two dozen, a show of force meant to intimidate would-be troublemakers. Open carry advocates proudly display their firearms in holsters or on straps across their backs. Signs in windows and doors of hotels, restaurants and bars prohibit patrons from carrying guns inside. 

Yet the conversation about gun violence in and around Quicken Loans Arena, the site of the GOP convention, has been largely nonexistent ― even on the first night, when the event’s theme was “Make America Safe Again.” 

The silence on gun violence is especially striking in light of recent shootings across the country, including those involving police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The most visible recognition of such events came in the form of spontaneous applause honoring patrolling police officers.

That’s not to say guns didn’t come up at all. The GOP actually strengthened its opposition to gun control this week. Delegates added language to their party platform opposing restrictions on magazine capacity and AR-15 rifles, the most popular type of rifle among gun owners and the weapon of choice in several mass shootings ― including those in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; San Bernardino, California; and at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. A gunman used a similar type of rifle, an SIG Sauer, to kill 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last month.

While crafting the platform, one delegate absurdly blamed marijuana for mass shootings. Language was added to the document to recognize that “every human life matters” ― a rebuttal to the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns against violence toward black people.

Another delegate, who advises GOP nominee Donald Trump, said in an interview on a radio show that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

Guns are prohibited inside the arena. Still, police have worried that Ohio’s open carry law, which allows people to carry unconcealed firearms in public without a permit or safety training, could lead to violence between protesters and gun-carrying activists in the designated “protest zone.” (Visitors are allowed to take guns into that space, but are prohibited from bringing in various other items like slingshots, sledgehammers, rockets and even tennis balls.)

But Jesse Gonzales, a 26-year-old from Lakewood, Ohio, felt at ease. Standing in a public square a few blocks from the arena, he proudly had an American-made AK-47 strapped to his back to increase awareness about guns.

“The only thing that people ever see about firearms is what they see on the television, and that’s not an accurate depiction of what gun owners are or what they do,” he said. 

Forty-five states, including Ohio, allow some form of open carry. 

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said gun control advocates were focused on lobbying retailers in open carry states to prohibit guns on their premises. Twelve major retailers, including Target, Starbucks, Chipotle and Trader Joe’s, have done so already.

“There’s absolutely no way to tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy,” Watts told The Huffington Post, describing the added difficulties of policing in open carry states.

Broader efforts to toughen gun laws once again failed to gain traction in Congress this year, despite Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) filibustering on the subject for 15 hours and dozens of Democrats staging a sit-in protest on the floor of the House of Representatives. Bills aimed at preventing terrorists from buying guns and closing background-check loopholes also stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

In the convention halls this week, over a dozen delegates who spoke to HuffPost voiced their opposition to Congress taking action on guns. They cited their Second Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, adding that state governments ought to handle the matter. 

“I think the place to do that is locally, rather than try to do something that fits everywhere,” said Paul Deyoung of Michigan. “Because we know that every geographical area is going to be different.” 

Some delegates seemed more amenable to the federal government taking action on expanding background checks ― which are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” said Ben Proto of New Mexico. “I have no problem with anyone who wants to buy a gun having a background check. I think if you are a felon, if you’re someone who has a mental illness, that you shouldn’t own a firearm. Now, I also understand, that by definition, criminals break laws and that’s what they do, and they can probably still get them, but I don’t have a problem with background checks.”

John Taylor from Mississippi echoed the sentiment, saying background checks could be valuable in certain circumstances but that there shouldn’t be other limitations on who can purchase guns.

“I think they should do more background checks, but other than that, it’s a Second Amendment right,” he said. “Crazy people should not have a gun.”

Others warned that toughening background checks could unintentionally hurt members of particular groups, such as people with certain mental disorders. 

“I’m against that because it’s really a slippery slope. At what place do you draw the line?” asked Becky Mitts from Oregon. “My father came back from Vietnam with PTSD. Is he allowed to have a gun or not? There’s a fine line there, so I’m kind of against that. But we need to be aware of these people who have a problem.”

David Ludwig from Arizona said he would “have to think through the civil rights connotations” of such regulation.

“Anybody who has the slightest of ― a bipolar disorder ― is not a threat to themselves or others, and shouldn’t be on some kind of database,” he said.

Randy Duke, a retired judge and delegate from North Carolina, may have best summed up where many party faithfuls stand on the effort to stem gun violence.

“The best curb on violence is for everybody to carry a gun,” he said, while standing outside Quicken Loans Arena ― a heavily guarded area where guns were strictly prohibited.

Amanda Terkel contributed reporting.

After Dallas and Baton Rouge, Will GOP Finally End its Lethal Embrace of Insurrectionism?

  |   July 20, 2016    7:55 AM ET

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Lethal Force Training Industry Is Another Product Of The NRA's Fear-peddling

Mike Weisser   |   July 18, 2016    1:35 PM ET

So it turns out that the cop who shot and killed Philando Castle during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb not only received 23 hours of training on active shooters, use of force and de-escalation methods, but also recently completed a private course called 'Bulletproof Warrior,' run by a for-profit outfit called Calibre Press. So if nothing else, we can say that Officer Yanez, now in the middle of the shooting controversy following an on-scene video that went viral, has spent some time learning what to do with his gun.

Unfortunately, the average cop probably doesn't receive sufficient training in how to determine whether an incident in which he or she is involved may require the use of lethal force. And police often encounter individuals whose behavior doesn't necessarily indicate that the officer is placing himself in harm's way until it's too late. So in every single case where a cop might need to use lethal force, there's always an element of personal judgement and on-the-job experience that comes into play.

Which is why I found the news of Officer Yanez's attendance at a 'Bulletproof Warrior' seminar both interesting and disturbing; interesting because there has been a growth in companies that promote all kinds of lethal-force training, officially sanctioned or not, and disturbing because this type of training goes hand-in-hand with the extent to which Americans are fed a daily diet about the alleged increase in lawlessness and violence against which they need to be more vigilant and more prepared ("prepared" meaning walk around with a gun).

The idea that the world is a dangerous, threatening place didn't first crop up after the Twin Towers were attacked. In fact, it was the theme song of one of Gun-nut Nation's most venerable icons, a World War II veteran and former Marine named Jeff Cooper, who opened a commercial shooting range where he taught close-combat and self-defense methods called the Gunsite Academy in 1976. Cooper also wrote prodigiously for gun publications and published a whole pile of books, including his most famous tome, Principles of Personal Defense, which became something of a mini-best seller in Gun-nut Land, and is still quoted today, even if the folks who quote the book don't realize that what they are saying is what Cooper said decades ago.

Cooper's success was a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, because it was in the late 1970s that the NRA adopted a much more combative stance, began promoting concealed-carry as an expression of 2nd-Amendment rights, and wrapped the whole argument around the notion that without an armed citizenry, violent crime would spiral out of control. To further the idea that a personally-carried weapon was the only true defense against a world filled with predators and thugs, Cooper developed a color code ranging from "condition white" to "condition red," the former being a state in which an individual is totally unprepared for an attack, the latter being the point at which a lethal response is in the process of being made.

This may sound like nothing more than fantasies now scripted into video games, but there appear to be lots of folks walking around who are willing to engage in lethal-force combat games at Thunder Ranch, or join a clever web marketing promotion like United States Concealed Carry Association, or take a course in lethal defense from companies like Calibre Press. And what all three have in common is the idea that we are always on the verge of being victims of violent crime, and that the only valid response is to protect ourselves and others with a gun.

Let's forget that violent crime continues to decline. Let's forget that the number of times that guns are used to prevent crimes is too small to be found. Let's remember how we felt when we were given our first toy gun. And let's remember how we feel now that the toys are real.

Politicizing Everything

Terry Newell   |   July 16, 2016    5:32 PM ET

When five police officers were gunned down in Dallas last week, a stricken city and its leaders responded with compassion and reached out in acts of humanity and healing. Many outside Dallas, however, responded by attacking the "Black Lives Matter" movement, calling for stricter gun laws, or defending "right to carry" laws. While many mourned, many others decided to use the tragedy for political purposes. Free speech supports this, but the nation is not always helped by it.

In America, a lot gets politicized. Turning information or an event into an argument for a political and/or partisan position happens quickly and spreads virally, often with little regard for objectivity or the impact on the social fabric of society. In areas as diverse as religion, science, social justice, and the economy, we seem to be losing the ability to think apolitically, to reason through issues without the subtle or overt guidance of political doctrine.

Monthly unemployment statistics, to use one example, are seized upon as a sign that the president has failed at economic recovery or that he has led a robust resurgence of jobs, depending on what political points one wants to make. A reasonably dispassionate conversation about how to grow the economy takes a back seat to political posturing.

While scientific research, to use another example, points to a warming climate, the ability to discuss what this means and how to respond is subverted by political positions on whether human activity is a chief cause. Science is demeaned in the process, as if there are no such things as scientific objectivity and honest scientists.

Rather than undertaking research to determine the extent and causes of gun violence, as well as the possible effects of various actions to ensure gun safety, politics has prohibited the use of federal funds for such research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A rational approach to ensure we honor both the Second Amendment and the Constitution's promise of domestic tranquility seems out of reach.

Religion, as well, often turns pulpits into political platforms. Many religious leaders now align themselves with political parties. Using sermons as endorsements for political positions and candidates, they turn the church into a political interest group. The spiritual support of their congregants, which ought to be apolitical, is diminished. For many people of faith, this threatens the legitimacy of the church. The founders of our nation rightly believed that religion would be stronger if it avoided entanglement with politics, a mixture that weakens both.

Politicization distorts the careful reasoning which sound decisions demand. It treats our opinions as "facts," eliminating the barrier between objective truth and subjective preferences. The result is that even verifiable facts are treated as just so many opinions, and in the world of contesting opinions the bases of our proposals become our biases.

Politicization degrades perception by filtering reality through a political lens. As the essayist Anais Nin put it, "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." Politics channels thought into "acceptable" and "unacceptable" ideas. Instead of diverse and imaginative debate, we get "either-or" thinking, a dangerous reduction of the options sound policy needs. Systemic solutions and compromise are crowded out by "win-lose" political orthodoxy. Politicization hardens positions and fosters animosity, obscuring the common values on which we do agree. "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter," for example, are compatible ideas. There is nothing in the former that denies the latter, but you wouldn't know this when politics grabs hold of these words.

Politicization is as old as the republic. It is, as James Madison said, "sown in the nature of man." Yet, as he did, we are right to worry if it goes too far and to seek to contain it. It is thus useful to ask if declining trust in government, in the leaders of many professions, and in each other, are causes of politicization or consequences -- and how we can rebuild that trust. It is helpful to ponder how we may correct the tendency of social media to pay less attention to factual accuracy and more to the need for speed and like thinking. It is important to wonder if we have lost faith in the ability to find truth and, to the extent we have, how we can restore it. It is necessary to ask how we might strengthen trust in institutions whose legitimacy can be a counterweight to politicization, including the church, science, business, law, and the media.

Politicization hardens the societal arteries through which a robust, open, and communal life must flow. Politics has its place, but when it warps our thinking and the other institutions on which we depend, it runs the risk of preventing the healthy society which is its sole purpose.

Reentry Blues

Lawrence Diller, M.D.   |   July 15, 2016    1:24 PM ET


We've been back in Piedmont, California, now for ten days. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. Piedmont is a small enclave of 11,000 people entirely surrounded by the much better known somewhat infamous city of Oakland. Piedmont has always been a protected community with its own police, fire and most currently cogent, school system - which is why Denise, my wife, and I moved here twenty years ago from San Francisco with our two sons, Martin and Louie, who were seven and five at the time.

Piedmont is ridiculously perfect, just a five minute drive from the more diverse, challenging chaos of Oakland and Berkeley. For the first five days upon our return here the weather was equally sublime. Every day, sunny with balmy temperatures in the high 70s/low 80s (26 centigrade), was a notable contrast to the highs and lows of Melbourne, Perth, Singapore and Shanghai. We loved it.

Piedmont had always been wealthy Republican Party redoubt amongst the Communist pinkos of the Republic of Berkeley and the Black Panther militants of Oakland. But in the years we have lived here Democrats came to outnumber Republican voting booths on Election Day. Piedmont remains wealthy but is now far more liberal than in the past.

Nevertheless, traditions remain and one of the biggest was/is Piedmont's Fourth of July Parade (now more than fifty years old). It's one of the few times (Halloween is another one) when people from all over the East Bay come to watch the locals and some invited participants parade down about fifteen streets through the center of town. All the flag buntings are out. Piedmonters begin putting their lawn chairs out more than a week before the event (you don't get to live in Piedmont - unless born here - without being a type A kind of person). Tomorrow Highland Avenue will be about four to five people deep with spectators cheering paraders parading.

Denise and I won't be there. We did our Fourth of July parades many times when the boys were younger. We used to go to our friends' front yard party that bordered along the parade route. But the friends no longer offer the party - most of the kids of our contemporaries' ages are in their late twenties. Many of the parents have also moved on.

Denise and I will walk around Lake Merritt - a very urban Oakland setting the morning of the Fourth. We expect to see America in all it's diversity out on the Lake that Day. The atmosphere will be festive, hopefully peaceful. We'll drive into San Francisco in the afternoon for an outdoor barbecue on Russian Hill with a view of North Beach, Telegraph Hill and the Bay Bridge - very urbane city San Francisco. We won't bother to stay for the fireworks because invariably the fog roles in by about 8 PM before it gets dark and makes fireworks viewing from anywhere but the Marina a rather futile experience.

Nevertheless, the holiday will be celebrated here. I cannot help but contrast this weekend with the last July 4th we "celebrated" in Melbourne last year. Denise and I had just arrived two days before. The cold rain and the early darkness (by 5:30 pm) literally struck us. We vainly searched online for some American ex-pat observance of our Independence Day. We found only an event in the north edge of Fitzroy that struck us at this very early stage of our knowledge of Melbourne suburbs as just too far away. I recall we went to bed early that night - no fireworks. We were so tired from our apartment hunting excursions in cold, wet Melbourne that day.

Meanwhile, a week has passed since I started this blog. It's a reflection of the lack of time I've had since I've returned to the mainland. I've been absorbed with the demands of this next transition of resetting up my medical office and finding a place to live in the East Bay or San Francisco. Denise and I decided we didn't want to immediately return to our tranquil suburban home in Piedmont after living in the more vibrant Melbourne neighborhood of South Yarra.

But in that week I am clearer about some of the differences between Melbourne and San Francisco/Oakland, ergo Oz and America. Everybody is moving faster in America (well maybe not the aforementioned Hawaiians). Driving speed limits are ignored in a big way. Last year I received a speeding ticket (infringement) for traveling six kilometers or three and half miles over the limit on Punt Road in Melbourne. Now when I'm heading to San Francisco to Oakland over the Bay Bridge I routinely see drivers hurtling past me fifteen to twenty miles over the limit. In Aussieland everyone drives at or just over the limit everywhere (well maybe not in the deep outback). As a result I cannot recall seeing the evidence of even one roadside accident in the twelve months I spent in Melbourne and its environs.

There's also perceptible increase in the speed and tension of routine interactions with people compared to Oz. I'm speaking of the exchanges between retail or restaurant workers and me - maybe less so with friends. I noticed that all the workers at CVS, a large national drug store chain, now greet me with a formulaic "hello". I suppose it's meant to be friendly but actually feels quite false. One deadened, "Have a nice day," response from the drug store cashier confirmed this lack of sincerity - which I completely understand when you're being paid only $10US an hour.

As mentioned, I walked around Lake Merritt with Denise on July 4th. On one hand I appreciated the true mingling of whites and blacks as many of the informal groupings I saw contained members of both ethnic groups. However, the two organized events I passed: an enter-with-pay hip-hop lawn party on the Lake had only a sprinkling of whites while the audience for a Fourth of July concert by the Oakland City Band (a volunteer wind/brass orchestra) at the Lake band shell was exclusively white. It could just be musical preferences...

What made me really depressed though about my return to America was the news I was reading daily in the local San Francisco Chronicle or national New York Times. The homeless situation in San Francisco has reached crisis proportions with certain streets filled with people living in tents, open drug use and bizarre behavior often prevalent. Actually, having witnessed the favela equivalent in Los Angeles's Skid Row area last year just before I left for Australia, San Francisco's situation isn't as bad (or at least as large). Still Denise in her peregrinations about town searching for apartments reports that the homelessness problem was now much worse here than when we left a year ago.

Then yesterday, the New York Times' front page headlines blared "Snipers Kill Five Police Officers At Protest of Police Shootings.". A Times columnist asks the same day "Are We Unraveling?" as a nation. Police shooting black men earlier in the week results in an unbalanced black man seeking revenge on the police. Guns, guns, guns in America! And it just doesn't seem like we can do anything about it. How crazy a country are we when our House of Representative Democrats stage a sit-in in order to dramatize their protest against our dysfunctional government's rigidity?

But it isn't just our guns alone that created this latest violent obscenity. Three hundred and fifty years of slavery and one hundred fifty of discrimination of Africans and African-Americans are America's birth legacies and tragic heritage. But returning to the U.S. after a year living in a much saner country I'm feeling twisted and sad.

Meanwhile over in Oz, you mates have had your share of problems. The undecided outcome of the federal election was finally resolved yesterday when Bill Shorten conceded and Malcolm Turnbull announced victory in cobbling together a majority government. Note this important Aussie story merited only seven very short paragraphs on the international page of the New York Times ( Indeed there was no coverage at all in the Times between July 3rd and the 10th. I had to rely on my electronic edition of The Age to stay abreast of the party predictions and machinations .

But I'm sorry, mates. As screwed up as politics are Down Under, Aussies deep down know you blokes are bloody lucky dealing with Labour and Liberal pettiness compared to the mess we Yanks have permitted to develop in The States. I'm already reminiscing with longing for the "problems" of a more functional Australian society. I will take away from my year living in Melbourne, though, the certainty that a society can operate more fairly and equitably. I hope that knowledge helps me cope and hope that things can get better in America.

I'm feeling blue (not red, white and blue).

David Moye   |   July 14, 2016    1:18 PM ET

A Colorado sheriff’s deputy who was under attack by robbers likely owes his life to a one-in-a-billion shot he fired at one of the suspects.

Incredibly, the bullet went down the barrel of the suspect’s gun and rendered the weapon temporarily inoperable, according to the Denver Channel.

On Wednesday, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy Jose Marquez was officially cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting, which happened in January during his off-duty hours.

Marquez stepped outside his girlfriend’s apartment in Arapahoe County that day to get something from his car. As he walked back, two young men with face masks told him to “give it up,” and at least one of them pulled out a pistol, according to the Aurora Sentinel.

Marquez, a 10-year veteran of the department, was shot in the chest and abdomen multiple times before one of the suspects ran away. But he managed to open fire and shoot the other suspect, Jhalil Meshesha, in the leg.

Another bullet from Marquez’s .45-caliber handgun went straight into the barrel of Meshesha’s pistol.

“It ... actually hit Meshesha’s .40-caliber handgun and traveled down the barrel, colliding with a cartridge that was in the chamber of the gun,” according to a letter written by Arapahoe County Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman to Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader and Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz.

Matt Ingui, the investigating detective, described the shot as a “one in a billion thing,” according to

Prosecutors said Marquez acted appropriately when, believing his life to be in danger, he shot his gun. He will not be charged in the shooting, according to the Denver Channel.

The bullets that hit Marquez damaged his intestines, colon and liver and caused fractured ribs. Although he is currently not on duty, sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer told the Denver Post that the department is “still hopeful for a full recovery.”

John Feffer   |   July 14, 2016   11:16 AM ET

Every era has its representative figure. The Neolithic era had the Farmer. The avatar of the Middle Ages was the Monk, bent over an illuminated manuscript. For the period before and after 1492, the Explorer captured the global imagination. During the Industrial Revolution, the Worker embodied the age of manufacturing.

And now we have the Gunman.

The Gunman is everywhere. He is a soldier. He is a policeman. He might be a right-wing extremist or a caliphate-inspired jihadi. He might be a survivalist atop a well-stocked bunker or a settler in occupied territory. He might be a maniac with no motivation other than mayhem. Or he might just be the middle-class dad next door who wants to protect his family. But he’s usually a guy. Reports of a surge in U.S. women owning guns are largely anecdotal: Gunmen still outnumber gunwomen three to one.

Shortly after the Orlando shootings, I was driving to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant with my wife’s high school friend when I made a passing comment about the need to ban assault rifles. To my surprise, this otherwise liberal fellow begged to differ. Then he pointed out that he had three guns in the back of his MINI Cooper. Everyone is coming out of the closet these days, so why not gunmen?

Guys with guns dominate the headlines. Young armed men are dispensing death in public places in service of any number of philosophies (racism, homophobia, the Islamic State, misanthropy). Meanwhile, the American police force has been conducting a veritable waragainst African-American men: 248 black men died last year at the hands of the police, 36 of them unarmed. Also last year, 42 police officers died by gunfire, a 14 percent decline over the previous year. This year, however, the numbers are rising. Including last week’s shooting in Dallas, 26 police have been shot and killed in 2016. Overall, there were 372 mass shootings in the United States in 2015, and an astonishing 13,286 people died by gunshot.

In this war on the American streets, it can be difficult to know who is on what side. In Dallas last week, when Micah Johnson killed five cops, he wasn’t the only civilian with a gun in the vicinity. According to the Dallas mayor, more than 20 men in camouflage gear with rifles started to scatter when Johnson opened fire. Texas, after all, is an open-carry state.

Instead of implementing gun control measures in the wake of Dallas and Orlando and all the other recent outbreaks of firearm violence, Congress has deadlocked on the mildest of reforms. Gun sales, meanwhile, are up.

The number of households possessing guns has actually declined to around one in three, but not the overall number of guns in circulation. The average gun owner now possesses eight guns, twice as many as 20 years ago. The United States ranks number one in the world in per capita gun ownership: an astounding 112 guns per 100 residents. The next closest is Serbia at 75 (engulfed by war in the 1990s), followed by Yemen at 54 (engulfed by war today).

Guns have become the new smartphone: an indispensable accessory for the modern age. I fear that one day a pop-up window will appear in my browser advertising the new iFirearm (iGun is already taken).

Apple’s latest creation will come loaded with apps, like one that tells you all the establishments that welcome customers who are packing heat. Siri will inform you from a little speaker in the handle about the nearest location of an active shooting — and you can decide whether to run in the opposite direction or head toward the bloodshed waving your firearm.

I can even envision a deadly new reality series based on that app: Who Wants to be a Hero? (Of course, despite the exhortations of Donald Trump, the NRA, and others to add rather than subtract guns from a mass shooting, the police recommend that if you have a firearm and you’re at the scene of a shooting, you should keep it holstered — or else the police will take youfor the gunman.)

I used to think that the United States was backwards when it came to gun control, that we still lived by an archaic frontier ethos of Lawman versus Outlaw. Some day we would grow up, put away our childish things, and join the civilized world of the Europeans and Japanese.

But perhaps they are the anachronisms. Perhaps it will soon become as futile to resist the spread of guns as it was to ignore Facebook and Twitter. Even Europe is not immune from the trend. The Gunman has turned up in Norway (Anders Breivik) and England (Thomas Mair). Gunmen have terrorized France and Belgium. So far in 2016, according to Vice, mass shootings have taken place in Serbia, Cyprus, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Germany, and multiple times in Russia.

Of course it’s worse elsewhere. Some countries have completely succumbed to the lawlessness of the frontier — Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia — where everyone “guns up” in order to survive. Africa and Latin America are home to numerous “murder capitals” such as Caracas, San Salvador, and Cape Town. Just like at the OK Corral, the Lawman battles the Outlaw in these violent lands.

Having intervened militarily in the crescent of crisis stretching from Central Asia to North Africa, the United States has fancied itself the Lawman upholding the principles of international law. But in reality, Washington has more frequently acted as the Outlaw, squeezing the trigger in extrajudicial executions (through drone strikes), causing the collateral damage of civilian deaths, and invading countries on dubious pretexts.

During previous wars — in Korea, in Vietnam — the Gunman at home and the Gunman abroad were involved in two separate enterprises. Today, however, the two worlds are beginning to collide.

The War at Home

Micah Johnson, a product of the JROTC program, enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2009. His engineer brigade deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. He received an honorable discharge as a result of a deal involving a sexual harassment charge. He apparently didn’t see any combat in Afghanistan, but he continued to conduct his own military training stateside, becoming an expert marksman.

Angered by the recent spate of police killings of African Americans, he set up in a location overlooking a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas and killed five police officers.

Two of the five officers had also served overseas in the military, while a third had worked for a private military contractor. This is not exactly a coincidence. Police forces in the United States are the logical employment for ex-soldiers. It’s hard to find precise statistics, since police departments don’t release this information. But The Dallas Morning News reported in 2015that hundreds of Dallas police officers are military veterans and 119 are active reserve members (out of approximately 3,600 officers), which tracks with the 15-20 percent of each academy class who are former soldiers.

Over the last few years, large numbers of combat troops have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq and are looking to return to civilian life. The federal government decided to address high unemployment among veterans and the staffing needs of police forces by directing resourcesto the preferential hiring of former military in law enforcement.

The convergence of the war abroad and the war at home is not simply one of overlapping personnel. Police departments increasingly resemble the U.S. military. SWAT teams look like invading forces. Surplus military equipment, like grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers, has transformed police officers into battlefield warriors. Even robot-controlled bombs, like the one that killed Micah Johnson, threaten to turn the terrain of American cities into something more closely resembling Baghdad.

It’s not the military veterans, however, who are necessarily behind the more gung-ho attitude among police. Writes one officer:

I worked with a lot of guys who were combat veterans from the Vietnam era, and they certainly didn’t have anything to prove to anybody. They were probably less likely to get involved in violent confrontations than the types of cops I see nowadays, most of whom do not have a military background, and some who are acting out, at least to some degree, video game fantasies about being a bad ass.

If you throw together a large number of combat-hardened veterans with cocky video-game-trained recruits, add a new array of firepower, and round it out with training programs designed by former military contractors, it’s no surprise that our police forces have begun to operate as if they’re in a war zone. SWAT teams conduct raids like they’re breaking down doors in Afghanistan — tens of thousands of them every year. The police approach young black men as if they are potential terrorists with concealed weapons and intent to kill.

From a statistical standpoint, it’s a mystery why police departments believe that bulking up is necessary. Violent crime in America has not simply declined, but declined dramatically (by half between 1991 and 2013). Of course, the federal government has made it practically freefor municipalities to get all this war gear, which they would need, if at all, only in worst-case scenarios.

But the real reason for this arms race is fear.

The Fear

The war abroad and the war at home are both fueled by the same fear of encroaching chaos. In an invaluable New Yorker article by Evan Osnos, here’s how David Grossman, the author of On Combat, describes his post-apocalyptic vision:

He predicted that terrorists will detonate a nuclear weapon on a boat off the coast of the United States, and that they will send people infected with diseases — “suicide bio bombers” — across the border from Mexico. Then he said, “I’ll tell you what’s next, folks: school-bus and day-care massacres.” Eventually, he wound his way to the solution: concealed carry. “There is a time, in the first five to ten minutes in every one of these events, when one or two well-trained people with a concealed weapon can rise from the entire pack.” Americans, Grossman told us, must accommodate to a future of “armed people everywhere.”

Armed people everywhere: Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies. The NRA is selling guns to people worried about “armed people everywhere” and thereby creates its own worst nightmare (or perhaps its own largest potential membership).

But note how closely Grossman links terrorists attacking the U.S. homeland with the worst fear of American families: They will go after our children. Grossman knows that parents will do practically anything to defend their children, who have nothing but stuffed animals and schoolbooks to defend against men with assault rifles. But parents can’t be there all the time.

With that in mind, gun manufacturers have been marketing firearms to youth in an effort to arm the next generation. Well, it took a while for smart phones to reach the pre-teen set. If assault weapons indeed form an indispensible part of making America great again, then why wait for kids to vote or drink before they start training to take out potential enemies?

These fears of attack have always contained an undercurrent of racism, a suspicion that those with brown or black skin (from the Middle East, from over the border, from the ghetto) want “what’s ours.” The initial spike in gun sales in the United States for something other than hunting dates back to 1992 and the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, according to former gun salesman and economic historian Mike Weisser:

“It was the first time that you could see a live riot on video while it was going on,” Weisser said. “They had a helicopter floating around when a white guy pulled up to the intersection. These black guys pull him out of the truck and are beating the shit out of him right below that helicopter.” The new market for self-defense guns was born, Weisser said, and it was infused with racial anxiety.

The marriage of racism and guns has necessarily generated its own armed response. During the civil rights movement, as a number of recent books have documented, anti-racism activists often resorted to carrying and using firearms to protect themselves and fight back against a determined and armed adversary.

Akinyele Omowale Umoja took the title of his book We Will Shoot Back from Charles Evers, who replaced his murdered brother Medgar as the state field secretary of the NAACP: “We made up our minds…that if a white man shoots at a Negro in Mississippi, we will shoot back.” Charles Cobb traces a much longer tradition of bearing arms in This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible: “Armed self-defense (or, to use a term preferred by some, ‘armed resistance’) as part of black struggle began not in the 1960s with angry ‘militant’ and ‘radical’ young Afro-Americans, but in the earliest years of the United States as one of African people’s responses to oppression.”

As long as the police continue to kill young black men, the People’s New Black Panther Party’smessage — “We want every black man and woman throughout the country to legally arm themselves,” according to the Dallas chapter head — will resonate with anyone familiar with this historical tradition. Without radical reform, the police will lose the trust of the community. Loss of faith in governance over all will surely follow.

Gun Versus Computer

The avatars of earlier eras — the Farmer, the Monk, the Explorer, the Worker — represented the cutting edge of society. They heralded a powerful social transformation. They each sparked a revolution.

The comparable figure for our era should be the software engineer. Computers have indeed transformed the way we live.

But the gun, a much older technology, threatens to turn back the clock. The NRA and criminal cartels and the Islamic State are all pushing for their own revolution that will put guns in the hands of everyone. If they succeed, governance will end, and states will fail. In a war of all against all, the Gunman will take law into his own hands.

And we human beings, who started out as hunters and gatherers so many millennia ago, will end up in this benighted age as hunters and hunted.

Crossposted with Foreign Policy In Focus

Dallas Police Shooting Is Not Start Of Civil War

Alan Singer   |   July 14, 2016    6:02 AM ET

School may be out for the summer, but events continue and teachers are constantly thinking of how to address them when they return to classes in the fall. Racism and racial tension in the United States, their causes and consequences, are not going away. Each police shooting of an unarmed, non-threatening, or mentally ill Black man highlights racial injustice and the victimization of Black people in this country. Teachers have to figure out how to address this, especially as rightwing media and political candidates, seek to place the problem on Black Lives Matter protesters, not police forces or systemic racism.

On July 8, 2016, the day after five Dallas police offers were shot to death by a lone disturbed army veteran the all-caps headline in the New York Post declared "Civil War." The shooter, Micah Johnson, was Black and a social media follower of some extreme Black rights groups. Johnson told the police who captured and killed him that he wanted revenge on White police officers for the murder of Back men. For Post editors, this lone gunman was evidence of an impending Black-White civil war in the United States.

But the Post was not alone in its incendiary claims. Rush Limbaugh used the attack on the Dallas police to brand the entire Black Lives Matter movement a "terrorist group" fighting a nationwide "war on cops." Limbaugh also speculated that Micah Johnson probably voted Democrat and accused the Democratic Party of "seeking to advance their agenda with every one of these unfortunate incidents." The "unfortunate incidents" being the national epidemic of highly publicized killings of Black men by police.

Limbaugh's guest, Heather MacDonald, charged that the Dallas shootings, rather than being the actions of one individual, were actually part of something she calls the "Ferguson effect." MacDonald blames Black Lives Matter protests against police violence for a rise in crime. MacDonald also accused President Obama's sympathy with Black victims of police shootings of leading to the Dallas attack. According to MacDonald, "President Obama lied to the nation last night and he embraced the Black Lives Matter myth that there is a racist war by white officers against black civilians in this country, and we see the results."

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in an apparent effort to resurrect his defunct political career, joined in the rightwing harangue. In a television interview he accused the Black Lives Matter movement of being "inherently racist" and an unspecified but clearly implied Black "they" of "singing rap songs about killing police officers."

Rightwing "news analysis" was partly fueled by sloppy mainstream reporting and the original police announcement that four snipers positioned rooftops attacked Dallas police officers in a coordinated military-style assault. At a press conference on Thursday night, Dallas Police Chief David Brown announced "We believe that these suspects were . . . working together with rifles, triangulating at elevated positions in different points in the downtown area" and "planned to injure and kill as many law enforcement officers as they could."

Mainstream media contributed to "civil war" fears by focusing on Johnson's virtual reality rather than the actual reality of his life. Too much attention is giving to his Facebook "likes" and not enough to how a troubled man with a history of threatening behavior while in the army was able to legally purchase military-style weapons. Johnson had at least two weapons with him when he attacked Dallas police, a rifle and a handgun. According to a law enforcement official, the rifle was an SKS semi-automatic. Other officials confirmed that Johnson legally bought multiple firearms in the past.

Johnson was able to get his guns because Texas has some of the most permissive gun laws in the United States -- laws that need to be changed. Federally licensed weapons distributors selling guns in Texas are required to conduct background checks, but private sellers are not. There is also no waiting period on purchases. We do not know at this time whether Johnson passed a Texas background check. In addition, in Texas, and unfortunately in most of the United States, legal gun owners can openly carry shotguns and rifles in public. Texas also permits the open carry of handguns. Opponents of gun control argue that the best way to prevent mass killings is to allow more people to carry guns. Apparently their theory did not work in this case.

You would think police officers, concerned with their own safety, would support rigorous gun control laws. But police organizations often lean too far to the right to take a stand protecting their members. In 2013 the Major County Sheriffs Association came out against efforts by President Obama to pressure Congress to pass a ban on assault-style weapons and restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines. A 2013 survey of 15,000 law enforcement officers reported that over 90% opposed a ban on assault rifles. More recently, the largest law enforcement union in California opposed gun regulations proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.

The New York Times reports that part of the problem the Dallas police had responding to the attack by Micah Johnson is that at the Black Lives Matter rally "Twenty to 30 of the marchers showed up with AR-15s and other types of military-style rifles and wore them openly, with the straps slung across their shoulders and backs." After all, this insanity is Texas and open-carry is legal and according to the Times, it is "commonplace."

Despite what the Post, Limbaugh, and MacDonald say, there is no Black war on police in the United States. Between 1990 and 2010, an average of 164 on-duty police officers where killed annually. This number dropped to 114 police deaths in 2013, 133 in 2014, 129 in 2015, and 58 in the first six months of 2016. While any police deaths while on duty are unacceptable, these numbers clearly show there is no ongoing war against police in the United States.

However, there may well be a war by police against young Black men, a war that led to the Black Lives Matters movement and a war now being overshadowed by events in Dallas. According to a report in the British newspaper The Guardian, in 2015, "young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers." A Guardian study found "1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers" in 2015 alone. Despite being only 2% of the total population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 accounted for more than 15% of all deaths caused by police use of deadly force. Overall about 25% of the African Americans in all age groups that were killed by police were unarmed. Almost 250 police involved deaths in 2015 were Black people who were known to be mentally ill. Another 29 were military veterans who might have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most of the video of police-on-Black violence was taken surreptitiously. The murder of Philando Castile in Minnesota was filmed by his girlfriend who sitting in the car next to him while a police officer shot him four times. Eric Garner's death by police in New York City and Walter Scott's murder by a police officer in South Carolina were filmed by bystanders. Houston Police claimed Alva Braziel pointed a gun at them before they opened fire, but surveillance footage from a nearby gas station shows his hands were in the air when the squad car arrived.

A number of steps are needed to stop police violence against Blacks, including, but not restricted to better training. Police must be required to wear and effectively use video camcorders. If they are not on, not working, or fail to adequately record police actions, the assumption must be police malfeasance until proven otherwise. Police departments should better reflect the communities they are supposed to serve, but they must also actively remove officers with histories of violence against civilians, racist affiliations or patterns of behavior, and officers who are afraid of the people and communities where they are supposed to work. Police officers who cover for other officers should automatically be suspended and subject to dismissal. If someone can't do the job, which means treating all people decently and as innocent until proven guilty, they shouldn't be a cop.

Three excellent commentaries on the police murder of Black men in Louisiana and Minnesota and the killing of Dallas police officers appeared in the New York Times. I strongly recommend them.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow described his fears for his children and for the "country I love." He worries what we are witnessing now "is not a level of stress and strain that a civil society can long endure."

Sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson accuses White America of willful ignorance about conditions faced by Black people in a racist society. For Dyson, "Whiteness is blindness." He wrote: "We, black America, are a nation of nearly 40 million souls inside a nation of more than 320 million people. And I fear now that it is clearer than ever that you, white America, will always struggle to understand us."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer described his experience as a Black man in uniform who supported protests against police violence. He called for "common-sense gun reform" and denounced the do nothing Republican controlled Congress. He also endorsed community policing and movement away from the militarization of police to build ties between police officers and the communities that they patrol

Common Core reading standards demand that students critically examine text, identify the point of view and purpose of an author, and use evidence to support analysis. A good place to start classes in the fall is deconstructing rightwing propaganda that blames Blacks, Muslims, and immigrants for the problems facing the United States, promotes the idea that there is a Black civil war against police, and minimizes or ignores the extent of racism and police violence in the United States.

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I asked teachers that I work with to respond to the issue raised in this post. Some of their replies are included here. Not surprisingly, some of them are very angry about the events taking place.

Michael Pezone, a Queens, New York high school teacher who works with a large minority student population recommends articles from Chalkbeat where teachers, parents, students, and school administrators discuss having conversations about racism and violence. This fall he plans to involve students in research and dialogues on the whether the NYPD is racist. He wrote: "In addition to involving students in higher-order discussion and writing, I hope to help students perform as journalists, activists, and social scientists. I am toying with the idea of having students design, administer, tabulate, and analyze school wide surveys that elicit information from our largely Black and Latino student body about their experiences with and perceptions of the police. Survey results and analysis would be published in our school magazine, along with student essays that contain supporting evidence, including data from the survey. Because our school is linked to the NYPD, students would write and send letters to Police Commissioner Bratton, inviting him or a representative to visit the school to participate in a round table discussion with students. I also would like to involve as much technology as possible, so student might be required to create videos about the topic that they can stream online and show to the class. I have done this type of project several times. In addition to promoting in depth analysis of an important social studies issue, it addresses ELA skills (essay and letter writing) and math skills (computation, percentages, etc.). Student can complete some or all of the required tasks working in differentiated groups that include at least one good math student, a good writer, and someone with an outgoing personality to take the lead when administering the survey. Most importantly, I hope to create a classroom community wherein all different opinions surrounding this volatile issue may be expressed respectfully and comfortably.

Adeola Tella-Williams formerly taught in Brooklyn, New York and now is a teacher in a suburban school district where the student population is 100% Black and Latino. As she makes clear here, she is also a mother: "I refuse to teach my son that he is not valued. My mother never told me that I was different from "White" people. I was allowed to be human. I always knew who I was and that some people were different, but not in a shameful way. Conversations around the dinner table and in the living room were never really about race. I understood that Slavery happened, colonization happened, that is what I was taught, that it happened. I was brought up to believe that being a Nigerian (Yoruba) was the highest honor and I still believe this. I will bring my son and daughter up to believe the same. But instilling in my children that they are special and honored to be of Nigerian and West Indian background does not negate any other group of people, its just what it is. I am mad as hell about the police shootings. I understand that the world is literally changing because capitalism is under fire, because the lies of the elite are being exposed and because the little guy is beginning to rise up and question the establishment. This is not the first time race has been used to cover up the real issues that plague the United States and the world. We have to be smart enough to beat these people at their own evil game. Boycott! Boycott! Boycott! When the money dries up and we begin to show economic solidarity, then and only then will we as people be respected, and when I say people, I mean all people. To me this is not just an African peoples' issue. Look at what is happening with the EU, NATO, Iraq, China, Greece, France, etc. People are taking to the streets everywhere and the police riot gear looks very much the same anywhere you go. Let's not be fooled. This is an economic issue and we all need to work together to stop the madness."

April Francis is a middle school teacher, but like Adeola, wrote primarily as a parent. April wrote: "This is too overwhelming to discuss for me. It brings me a lot of anxiety and fear. So I really can't express in words how I feel -- being a mother of a black son is a different reality, different set of rules, different level of anxiety than being a mother of a white son in America. I just try to brace myself and prepare him for the worst when he goes out and I hope for the best. But -- to truly understand one must be in the same circumstance. It's like trying to explain to someone who has never been a parent, what parenthood feels like. You can't truly know until you have had a child of your own. In the same way you can't truly know what being a mother of a black son in America feels like until you have a black son in America."

Scott Savaiano teaches social studies in New York City. He wrote; After getting over the shock, horror and disgust I felt over last week's events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and finally Dallas, my very next reaction was to think "here we go, the right wing is going to start in again on their constant obsession with the phrase 'Black lives matter.'" They did not disappoint. They did not fail to exploit the senseless actions of the Dallas shooter, who clearly had nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter protests that were proceeding peacefully, to attempt yet again to distort the message of the protestors and the movement as a whole. That message being, as the name says, that BLACK LIVES MATTER. The words of Rudy Giuliani, the Sunday after Dallas, are a perfect example of this obsession, as he drones on about how yellow lives matter, blue lives matter, White lives matter, etc. Giuliani's racist tirade reminded of an experience I had almost a year earlier. As a student teacher my very first assignment was a struggling school in a dense and very poor neighborhood in New York City. As a White guy with a graduate degree, I didn't know what to expect before I got there. All of my students were Black and Latino, and they were all young men with an awesome role model in their teacher (a returnee to his own neighborhood to teach), who had molded them into outstanding gentlemen and inspirations for their peers. I spent one day observing, and the second day I was slated to teach my very first high school lesson ever. The students had just gotten back from visiting a local university to hear Dr. Bernice King speak, and several of them started talking to me about how Dr. King had said she wished the movement had been labeled Black Lives Matter Too. The students didn't know how they felt about that. They were also wanted to talk to me about whether the term "all lives matter" was appropriate, or actually racist.

The next day, for my first lesson, which was on voting rights and the Supreme Court's shameful gutting of the Voting Rights Act, I started with a discussion with the students about the meaning of the term racist code. After explaining what it was, we talked about some examples, such as the term "states' rights," which of course has a storied history in terms of disenfranchisement, and generally seems to inevitably be invoked as code for doing something discriminatory or racist. Then we talked about the various "lives matter" iterations, and the class eventually agreed unanimously that straying from the "Black lives matter" language is indeed an example of racist code. After all, it is hard to argue against the idea that all lives matter, but it diverts attention from the reality that Black lives are not valued as highly by American society, and that Black men in particular are much more likely to be shot by the police. So I think when we teach our students about these horrifically tragic events, we have to first and foremost not engage in using racist code by pretending that there is a universal principle that all lives matter, when the clear reality in our society today is all lives do not matter equally.

Saying Black lives matter does not demean other lives; it is not intended to belittle or even "wage war" on the police. It is rather a cry for help from the people who are living in that reality and those who care about them. It is an appeal to the rest of society to become conscious of their experiences -- segregated as we are in 2016 America -- and it is an act of protest. Interestingly, I think it is working because it is changing the conversation in a way that is raising awareness amongst people who maybe weren't trying to fight our racist system, but who do sympathize once they hear of the plight of those suffering from it, at least those who are needlessly gunned down by it.

I think it is working because it gives us teachers a new way to approach talking about this brutality, at least if we stand our ground and keep to the original slogan, the original message, that Black lives matter. I think it is working given the harshness of the right wing reaction to it. If it was not so much like living in the movie Groundhog Day, I could almost find it amusing how truly obsessed they are with just how well the simple phrase "Black Lives Matter" conveys the message, and they cannot stop trying to counteract it by contorting into something else.

I heard an author speaking on NPR today about this, who cogently argued that it is in no way demeaning other lives to say Black Lives Matter. It is not, he reasoned, like we need to be going to HIV-related issue events in order to start screaming "Cancer Matters!" Rather, both issues can share the field, but both need to have their unique messages. This is what we need to support our students in understanding as they grapple with gun violence and police brutality: that the simple words of this historic protest movement are words we must all remain true to, because they are real, and because they are true.

Justin Williams has been an English teacher for sixteen years and a school supervisor for two. He earned a bachelor's degree in English Education while playing American football on a full scholarship at one of the most prestigious programs and universities in the country. He wrote that football is a "violent sport, often compared to fighting in a war by its players. This line-blurring has always and will always be inappropriate, since no one wearing shoulder pads on a football field has ever been mowed down by an opponent carrying an AR-15 rifle. One thing all players learn at the highest levels of high school and college, as well as professionally, is that whether on the practice field or during game day, respect must be earned daily by playing the game the right way. Every play is a test of wills, you versus the player in front of you trying to stop you from succeeding at your job. If you win more struggled than you lose, your team has a chance of winning. The color of your skin doesn't matter, only your ability to perform. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a dream with which Americans are generally quite familiar --- black people and white people living together in harmony. This happens every day on sports teams throughout our country. It happens much less throughout broader society. After 230 years existing under the Constitution, our United States are still not as united as many of us were taught in elementary school. Why? Intense physical and psychological segregation. We separate ourselves by skin color, ancestry, native language, schools attended, religion, and anything else upon which we can think. We give lip service to pledging allegiance to each other, but too many of us simply do not live what they say. One nation, "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Really? Americans would do well to pay closer attention to any good team in their local high school. Pay close attention to the lessons you should be learning when you watch some of our young people competing for their school colors, their communities. Note how they work together, more concerned about the team than themselves. Observe the love and respect they have for each other. Note the joy, the passion, the excellence, the hard work. As a nation, right now, we could learn a lot from our children. We should work to ensure the opportunity to play sports is guaranteed to them all, if they wish to. We should instill in them values we like to call American. But if we spend more time allowing ourselves to be the latest generation almost totally separated from each other in our neighborhoods, schools, and places of worship, King's dream will remain a haunting nightmare for those of us interested in getting to the Promised Land. There's work to be done. The game of life is over before we know it. Let's get busy. Please.

Marc Gopin   |   July 13, 2016    9:40 PM ET

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