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A Hard Look at Guns in America (VIDEO)

GVH Live   |   September 15, 2015    2:00 AM ET

By, Siraj Hashmi

The United States leads the world in private gun ownership and the rate of firearm deaths per year with 29.7 per one million Americans this year.

Since the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, there have been over 31 notable mass shootings that left multiple people dead, including the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Fort Hood in 2009, Sandy Hook in 2012 and the Mother Emanuel Church in 2015.

Time and again, when these shootings happen, lawmakers in Washington look to pass "common sense gun legislation" with the hopes of reducing gun violence.

Is it time to seriously consider passing "common sense gun legislation" or should we spend more time on addressing mental health or ending the drug war?

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Momentum Towards Rationality at the National Gun Violence Prevention Coalition Meeting

Mike Weisser   |   September 14, 2015    3:06 PM ET

Yesterday I found myself in the company of 150 people from all over the United States who came to Washington, DC because they want to do something about gun violence. What they don't want to do is entertain the stupid idea that more guns will protect us from violence and crime. That crap used to be promoted only by connivers like John Lott who used this insultingly unfounded nonsense to build a following on the red-meat lecture tour. But now it's been taken up by lackluster, red-striped presidential wannabes who will stoop no matter how low to try and spear a few votes. The group that convened in DC was decidedly of a different sort.

An eclectic assemblage representing national and state-level advocacy groups, political and policy experts from within the Beltway and without, researchers, activists from all over the place, in every respect a serious-minded and, more important, an energetic group. I have been following the gun debate going back to the 1960s; in other words, before there was a real debate. And I don't remember a time when so many different types of people from so many different backgrounds were as committed to serious and continuous efforts to reduce or eliminate the violence caused by guns. And just in case any NRA sycophant or 2nd-Amendment devotee wants to argue the case, let me make one thing completely and perfectly clear: it's the gun stupid, it's the gun.

So I sat, watched and listened to speakers at the National Gun Violence Prevention Coalition Annual Meeting and I came away with the following thoughts. First, the level of gun violence, both mass shootings and individual events, can no longer be justified or excused just because the 2nd Amendment protects individual gun rights. Since August, for example, there's been a guy or maybe guys who have been shooting at motorists riding through Phoenix on Interstate 10. To date there have been at least eleven confirmed shootings, and the only good news is that's it not that easy to hit someone in a moving car.

Now if you can explain to me how a lawfully-armed citizen walking around with his or her gun should be considered as a bulwark against this kind of crime, I'll meet you tomorrow at the Morton's Steakhouse of your choice and pick up the tab. According to the Gun Violence Archive, by year's end the death toll from shootings may exceed last year's number by 20 percent. The day in, day out reports of what appears to be an endless spiral of gun violence has clearly aroused more than its usual share of concern, and this concern was clearly evident at the DC conference this past week.

The NRA's response to this situation is to have Chris Cox find an instance where an individual, in this case Vester Flanagan, used a legally-purchased gun to commit mayhem, the "proof" that more laws won't do anything to stop violence caused by guns. This argument is so dumb I'm surprised that even a twit like Cox would try to foist it on the members of the NRA. To follow his logic, the next time that there's a pile-up on the Interstate we'll understand why speed limits don't help to save lives.

I spent a few minutes at the conference speaking quietly and emotionally to the parents of a young man who was among the 12 audience members killed in Aurora by James Holmes. They told me they needed to help prevent more tragedies like the tragedy that resulted in the loss of their son. I told them I don't think it's possible to understand what happened in Aurora in rational terms, but what they are doing will have a rational and objective end. And the end will be that gun violence will disappear because ways will be found to respond to their courage and their strength. There is, after all, a moral imperative called Thou Shalt Not Kill.

Why Aren't We Doing Anything About Gun Suicides?

Nathan Salminen   |   September 11, 2015    4:46 PM ET

Both sides in the gun debate have it wrong. One camp views guns primarily as a means of self-defense and the other camp understands guns as primarily being an instrument of murder. In reality, at least in terms of their use against humans, guns are primarily a means to commit suicide. Self-defense only makes up 1 percent of intentional, fatal shootings. Murders constitute 29 percent and suicides represent 70 percent of intentional gun killings in the United States. 21,175 people died by committing suicide with a firearm in the United States in 2013. Yet a discussion of suicide is almost entirely absent from the gun policy debate. Obvious policy fixes that could save a large number of lives are simply ignored because of this lack of public attention.

The relationship between guns and suicide rates is well-established. 84 percent of scientists studying related areas believe that having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide. Understanding the connection requires some background information regarding suicide. Many people who attempt suicide rethink their decision and apply pressure to the wound, vomit up the pills or call for help. Many others simply survive the attempt and then decide that they want to live. Two-thirds of people who attempt suicide choose drugs as the means. Of those, only 2 percent die from the attempt. Attempting suicide by cutting oneself is the second most common choice of means and is only fatal 1 percent of the time. On the other hand, 85 percent of all suicide attempts using a firearm are fatal. Suicide attempts using a firearm make up less than 6 percent of all suicide attempts, but 55 percent of all suicide fatalities. With a gun, there is no time for rethinking. There is no chance that loved ones will find the person in time. A momentary impulse can be all it takes to make a very final decision.

Restricting access to the deadliest means of committing suicide has consistently been found to be effective in the United States and around the world. The simplest way to tackle gun suicides would be to implement policies to reduce gun ownership rates. States with lower gun ownership levels have dramatically fewer suicides. Also, studies consistently find that policies implementing waiting periods, more extensive background checks and licensing requirements that require a delay before purchasing a gun significantly reduce the incidence of suicide. However, these types of policies are extremely politically controversial and unlikely to be enacted in the near term, at least in the states with the highest levels of gun ownership and suicide. However, some more targeted approaches to reducing gun suicide may be politically viable.

A more targeted approach requires identifying individuals who are at risk of committing suicide. Once those at risk have been identified, their right to possess or buy firearms can be temporarily suspended and any guns they own can be secured until they are no longer at risk. Unfortunately, current law is inadequate for this purpose. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits people who have been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or "committed to any mental institution" from buying or possessing firearms. But adjudication and commitment are very high bars. While between one sixth and one third of people who commit suicide have some history of receiving mental health treatment, far fewer have been subjected to the type of formal proceeding required in order to add them to the NICS background check database. Furthermore, given that for many people, the desire to commit suicide is temporary, permanently denying them the right to bear arms seems excessive, and the idea of dragging a person's most intimate feelings through court just when they are at their most emotionally vulnerable is clearly problematic.

In order to be effective, the process of identifying individuals at risk of committing suicide would need to be both easier to apply and less drastic. The Constitution, of course, only permits the government to take away a person's constitutional rights after conducting due process. However, the amount of process required scales in proportion to the scope of the right being taken away. So, a temporary revocation of a person's right to bear arms would require a less invasive, public and slow form of due process than revoking that right permanently. Ideally, policy could be crafted to enable friends, families and mental health professionals to initiate a small, fast and confidential proceeding to determine whether the individual is at risk of committing suicide.

A targeted approach may not be as effective as restrictions that apply to the entire population, but it has the advantage of being politically feasible. Public support for policies that prevent people who are struggling with mental health issues from purchasing firearms is overwhelming and bi-partisan. Also, traditionally, when controversial issues involving suicide have been in the spotlight, such as in the case of doctor-assisted suicide, the right has been passionately against suicide while the left has been more open to the concept of a "right to die." A policy directed at reducing gun suicides may shake up the typical camps and open up the possibility of alliances stretching across the aisle.

The number of gun deaths in the United States is out of control relative to the rest of the developed world. If we can't make headway on the problem of gun murders, and it seems that at present we cannot, then we need to shift focus to battles that are winnable. And ultimately, tackling the problem of gun suicides could save many more lives than strategies focused on reducing gun murders.

Concealed Carry on Colleges Campuses: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Nancy K. Kaufman   |   September 5, 2015   11:20 AM ET

As college students head off to classes, the topic of sexual violence is back in the limelight and efforts to deal with it will once again be front and center. Those of us who matured in an earlier era are appalled to learn that such violence is a significant problem on our nations' campuses - both because it happens at all in what we assume is a protected place and because the treatment of victims has been atrocious in so many cases.

But the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies have been trumpeting the solution: the right to carry concealed weapons on campus. In addition to a federal concealed carry bill, NRA-backed bills have been introduced in at least 15 states that would force public colleges and universities to allow individuals to carry concealed, loaded guns on campus. The legislation passed in one state -- Texas -- but doesn't go into effect until next year.

Opposition on campus is strong - nearly 80 percent of students in a 2013 survey said they would not feel safe if concealed weapons were allowed on campus, and more than nine of ten faculty members agreed. That is small comfort to public colleges and universities, who may be forced by state legislatures to allow concealed weapons and, incidentally, spend millions more on campus security as a result.

The truth is that young men and women arrive on campus with a legitimate expectation that their social life will not be toxic - that their classmates have been selected for their ability to do college work and that their membership in the campus community assumes a base line commitment to morality and ethics. Sexual assault is all the more devastating because it happens in an insular community that is supposed to be a safe place - an ivory tower, or at the very least a community of basically like-minded individuals intent on earning a degree that prepares them for life after graduation.

So when victims find that the perpetrators of violence against them are indeed members of the campus community like them - people they know from class or dormitory life, from social gatherings and extracurricular activities - it is all the more traumatizing. Perpetrators are also people their friends know, people their teachers know. That familiarity is unsettling and even frightening when victims find themselves attending class and campus events or even living in dormitories with their attackers. And the guilt or innocence of those accused of sexual assault is usually determined in a quasi-judicial campus proceeding that lacks due process and can leave victims feeling the trauma of their assault has been replayed, only with a false veneer of grown-up justice.

As we now know, colleges and universities sweep these cases under the rug so as not to affect their federal funding or future college admissions. In far too many instances, sexual assault survivors are left without justice, avenues for further legal redress, and opportunities to escape their attackers as the latter often continue to walk freely on campus. Survivors lose hope and find few options other than leaving school. At every turn sexual assault survivors continue to be victimized.

Adding guns to this mix is truly an appalling idea. The weapon of choice in campus sexual assault is often alcohol - 79 percent of reported campus assaults involved alcohol. Sometimes alcohol masks a drug secretly added to a drink to render the victim unconscious or nearly so. Sometimes alcohol, known to loosen inhibition, emboldens assailants. In other cases force or coercion develops in a social setting, where the woman or man finds a friendly encounter turning into forced sex without consent - rape. In fact 90 percent of college sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and one-third are perpetrated by intimate partners.

So the likelihood that someone will be able to, or want to, pull out a gun to threaten their attacker on Saturday night who sits next to then in English lit on Monday is remote. The chances that a man, for example, truly intending harm will be able to get a gun away from a woman are high. The entire scenario is rife with fantastical assumptions, even if one assumes gun-carriers are trained in the use of their weapons and are willing to kill to avoid rape. In the meantime, the availability of guns on campus, especially mixed with alcohol, will likely lead to more suicides and even homicides.

Ending sexual assault on campus is a multi-faceted task. It begins with engendering an atmosphere of respect for women in particular, a cultural shift that calls on men and women to become part of the solution, to intervene against assault and to disrupt situations that lead to assault. It means rejecting attempts to arm campus personnel and allow concealed carry on campuses. It requires a system of justice that is transparent and fair to both victim and alleged perpetrator, on campus or off. And it requires preservation of the sense of a community that rejects violence.

Bishop Tutu's Dream

Marian Wright Edelman   |   September 4, 2015   11:53 AM ET

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”

– Cry of the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk

This ancient plea strikes a deep chord in me and among many today. After the horror of the racist terrorist murders in Charleston, South Carolina many of us have been crying out with questions about all the strife and violence permeating our nation. How long until America confronts its historic love affair with guns and violence and undergoes a healing process of first truth and then reconciliation about our profound crippling birth defects of slavery, Native American genocide, and exclusion of all women and non-propertied men from America’s dream and electoral process? Only when we face the truths of our past which continue to flare up in our present can we work toward true reconciliation and wholeness as a people and begin to close the huge gap between our dream of equality and our reality of massive racial and economic inequality. How long and what will it take to make America America? 

In South Africa, many people credit that nation’s formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a key component in the country’s transition from the brutality of apartheid to the ongoing struggle to build a fuller and freer democracy. The Commission was a court-like body set up to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty for the violence and human rights abuses of the past—giving South Africans from all sides a formal way to acknowledge their shared history of violence, racism and injustice. At its interfaith commissioning service in February 1996, South African President Nelson Mandela said: “Ordinary South Africans are determined that the past be known, the better to ensure that it is not repeated. They seek this, not out of vengeance, but so that we can move into the future together. The choice of our nation is not whether the past should be revealed, but rather to ensure that it comes to be known in a way which promotes reconciliation and peace.” 

Our nation has not gone through a similar truth process. Our “racial” wars—including slavery, genocide, lynchings and repeated unjust deaths of Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement officials and self-appointed vigilantes or racist terrorists—have been manifestations of racial beliefs among us in various incarnations. Today, a Cradle to Prison Pipeline feeds our mass incarceration system. Our resegregated and still hugely unequal schools for children of color, especially if they are poor, are repeating pre-Brown v. Board of Education era practices. Our massive child and family poverty—which unjustly affects children and people of color—and indefensible massive wealth and income inequality continue two Americas of haves and have nots. And guns, guns, guns everywhere lethalize hate, terrorize inner-city children daily in dangerous neighborhoods, and darken the future of millions of children in search of America’s elusive dream. There are no safe havens from the carnage of guns which kill or injure a child or teen every 35 minutes. The recently publicized police killings of unarmed Black boys and men have opened a new chapter in exposing many old and still deeply engrained systemic problems of racism and classism in America. And the murders of nine Black churchgoers in a Charleston, South Carolina prayer meeting by a 21-year-old White man remind us that the most aberrant and violent kind of racial hatred is still alive in our gun saturated society—passing on the old poisons to new generations. While the removal of the Confederate flag and statues of Confederate war heroes symbolizing slavery and racial apartheid is a step forward, it does not confront the deeper historical national blight of slavery and the structural and cultural inequalities and racial seeds from our shared past that still permeate the tainted soil of our nation today. 

It’s time for real truth and then reconciliation in America from the bottom up and top down. And it must begin with teaching truthfully American history. And while we can’t just imitate South Africa’s or Germany’s or Rwanda’s or other countries’ processes we can learn from them in designing a process that fits America’s history and context if we are to redeem our future for our children’s sake. There are thoughtful beginnings with Brown University’s examination of the slave trade’s role in its history and Trinity Church Boston’s and Trinity Church Providence’s examination of their historic engagement with slavery. Perhaps other colleges, universities, churches, denominations and other prominent institutions which benefited from slavery and the slave trade should consider following their examples to set history straight. All of us would benefit from reading Ebony and Ivy by Craig Steven Wilder and supporting efforts by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama led by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, to put up markers indicating where slave markets existed and documenting lynchings in our not very distant past. 

When the prophet Habakkuk asked “how long,” the answer he received was: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” America’s great 20th century prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., answered the same question in his time: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men?’…I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow’….How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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South African Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu, appointed by President Mandela to chair South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is a prophetic voice in our world today. An outspoken defender of human rights and campaigner for justice for the oppressed, he is revered for his commitment to fighting poverty, racism and all forms of discrimination against any human beings, and dedication to reshaping our conversations about peace, equality and forgiveness. He sent a video message to faith and youth leaders attending the 21st annual Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry in July at CDF-Haley Farm and shared what he believes is God’s dream for all human children:

 “And God says, I have a dream. I have a dream that all of my children will discover that they belong in one family—my family, the human family—a family in which there are no outsiders; all are held in the embrace of the one whose love will never let us go; the one who says that each one of us is of incredible worth, that each one of us is precious to God because each of us has their name written on the palms of God’s hands. And God says, there are no outsiders—black, white, red, yellow, short, tall, young, old, rich, poor, gay, lesbian, straight—everyone. All belong. And God says, I have only you to help me realize my dream. Help me.”

I hope America can realize God’s dream for all humankind. I believe we can realize God’s and Dr. King’s and Bishop Tutu’s dream if each of us holds ourselves accountable and refuses to give up challenging our personal and collective prejudices and special privileges. I hope all of us will do whatever is necessary to pass on to our children and grandchildren a better and more just country and world than we inherited. But to do so, we must wake up, open our eyes and ears, avoid convenient ignorance, seek the truth, speak up, stand up, and never give up fighting for justice for all. How long? Not long, if a critical remnant among us is determined to do whatever is necessary to make sure that love trumps hate and that the truth of our history is taught and discussed and enabled to help make us free.  

Sebastian Murdock   |   September 3, 2015   12:58 PM ET

OVERGAARD, Ariz. (AP) -- A 23-year-old Phoenix man is in critical condition after shooting himself in the head while trying to show that a handgun could not be fired while he had the safety mechanism engaged.

The Navajo County Sheriff's Office said Christen Reece fired his handgun Wednesday while shooting with six other people outside Overgaard in eastern Arizona.

Friends took Reece to the local fire department, where he was treated before being airlifted to a Scottsdale hospital for surgery.

Mass Shootings and 'Crazy People'

Robert David Jaffee   |   September 2, 2015    1:52 PM ET

Who knew that "crazy people" were such a problem!

The late neurologist Oliver Sacks, who passed away on Sunday, enriched all of our lives by showing in exquisite prose that people with severe neurological and psychiatric disorders not only have deficits; many of us have beautiful gifts.

With his extraordinary compassion and insight, Sacks understood that his patients were individuals and that each had his or her own idiosyncratic trajectory. Some of his patients were able to transmute what seemed like a curse into a blessing.

And yet if you listen to the recent televised discussions on mass shootings, you would think that those of us with serious mental-health diagnoses are responsible for most of the tragic shootings that occur in this country.

I have been listening and not listening for days to the talking heads in the wake of the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two young and promising broadcasters, based in Roanoke, Virginia. As we all know, they were gunned down by Vester Flanagan, a disgruntled former colleague at WDBJ.

As I wrote in my last piece, "Trump l'oeil, Virginia Tragedy Edition," Donald Trump, Republican presidential contender and wannabe mental-health pundit, said, in reference to the mass shootings in our country, and with his customary elegance and cluelessness, "It's not a gun problem; it's a mental problem."

Jeb Bush, another Republican presidential candidate, said recently that no new gun laws should be passed.

The NRA has weighed in, indicating that we should try to eliminate the "emotion" from the debate.

All of these responses by the right-wing establishment have been predictable and do not help us solve the problem that we have roughly 300 million guns in this country, nearly one per person, a shocking total for a developed nation.

More to the point, almost anyone can obtain these guns, not only at gun shows or gun stores, but also over the Internet.

Andy Parker, father of the late Alison Parker, has also weighed in on the debate. He has been interviewed regularly on CNN and by press around the world since the tragic death of his daughter.

This morning, September 2, he told Carol Costello on CNN that people in Europe don't really "get it" when he talks to them. As Andy Parker said, "We don't have the market cornered on people with mental illness, but we do have the market cornered on people with mental illness" who have easy access to guns.

During his interview with Costello, Andy Parker also referred to people with mental illness as "crazy people."

I have compassion for Parker. His daughter's life was cut short by an evil man. As was the life of Adam Ward.

Where I disagree with Parker is when he blames all of these shootings on people with mental illness.

Vester Flanagan was many things, but he was not mentally ill.

Flanagan was a poor journalist, who was reprimanded for his shoddy performance as a broadcaster. He was a former model, who liked to preen. He blamed his problems at work and elsewhere on the jealousies of others and on the fact that he was black and gay, rather than look deeply inside himself at his own contribution to his problems.

But more than anything else, Flanagan had a rage problem. He meticulously planned his "social media murder." And after he had committed it, he showed zero remorse. He went so far as to urge people to go to Facebook so that they could see the murders he had just carried out.

Flanagan obviously craved attention; he wanted to be a celebrity, to gain his Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame.

As I have written for years now, a person who plans violent crimes for which he shows no remorse is not mentally ill; he is an evil person.

And, yes, evil exists.

As I have pointed out in numerous columns, evil has been with us since the beginning of time or the Fall of Man, depending on one's beliefs.

And evil will be with us until the end of time too.

The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by evil people, angry people, violent people, not people with mental illness.

What Andy Parker has to understand is that those with severe mental illness, but no substance abuse problems, commit only three percent to four percent of violent crime in this country.

Moreover, as Lindsay Holmes of HuffPost reminded everyone today in a piece on myths regarding mental illness, people who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime.

And when people with a severe mental illness are in treatment, we are no more of a threat to anyone than people who do not have a diagnosis.

So, call us "crazy," if you must.

I have come to accept that word. As Mickey Rourke, channeling Charles Bukowski, said in Bar Fly: "Some people never go crazy; what truly boring lives they must lead."

We will always have crazy people like me, like the late Oliver Sacks' patients, people who have suffered unbearable trauma not only to our brains but also to our souls.

It is people like me, like Sacks' patients, like the late Robin Williams and Brian Wilson, as I wrote in my last piece, who often benefit the planet with our unique perspectives and imagination.

Yes, some people with mental illness commit violent crimes. But violent crimes and mass shootings are primarily committed by people with a rage problem -- disgruntled, angry, evil people, like Vester Flanagan.

And they will always be with us.

That we cannot change. It is the dark side of humanity.

But we can change our gun laws if our politicians have the courage to write and pass the legislation.

Call me "crazy," but won't those politicians, even if they are voted out of office, still get generous health benefits, pensions and jobs as lobbyists or, yes, TV pundits?

Maybe, we need not only fewer guns; we also need fewer gutless politicians.

And maybe we need more "crazy people" urging those politicians to do the right thing and pass gun-control measures.

Robyn Baitcher   |   September 1, 2015   12:28 PM ET

When Andy Raymond, co-owner of Engage Armament in Rockville, Maryland, announced that his store would sell the Armatix iP1 smart gun, he had no idea that he, his business and even his bulldog Brutus would end up in danger.

Smart guns like the iP1 can only be fired by an authorized user -- not by a five-year-old looking to play cops and robbers, not by a thief hoping to sell it on the street, and not by an anti-government patriot hoping to water the tree of liberty with his blood and brain matter.

Raymond, a self-proclaimed "huge Second Amendment guy," thought the gun might appeal to some of his younger customers who were into consumer electronics, the Los Angeles Times’ Melissa Healy reported.

Instead, gun enthusiasts threatened to ruin his business, burn down his store and shoot his dog.

Raymond’s story is an example of how promoting scientific advances that could reduce gun violence puts politicians, researchers and even gun dealers and manufacturers at odds with the gun lobby.

Efforts to make guns safer have a long history, but opposition to them is a relatively modern phenomenon. When Smith & Wesson introduced a "child-proof" gun in 1880, the public responded enthusiastically, buying more than half a million between 1886 and 1940. But when Smith & Wesson promised to give its new guns high-tech safety features in 2000, the company faced boycotts and dropped the initiative.  

Colt, the gun manufacturer that popularized the revolver, fared worse. In 1998, the company’s CEO, Ron Stewart, sparked outrage for implying that he supported a federal gun permit system, as well as required training for gun owners. So, when the company decided to develop its own smart gun prototype, it used a bit of subterfuge. Instead of developing the prototype under Colt manufacturing, it created a separate company, "iColt" -- not the most imaginative ruse.

Gun enthusiasts got wise and called for a boycott, and the gun never made it to market. Colt filed for bankruptcy this past June. Some analysts, including Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, argued that the company's support for smart guns played a major role in its demise.

Early smart guns actually did not perform well. Sandia National Laboratories, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, conducted studies in both 1996 and 2001 that determined that law enforcement could not depend on smart guns to fire when necessary. And if Engage Armament had sold the iP1 smart gun, its retail price would have been $1,800, in a market where you can buy a gun for a fraction of that price.

All of this leads one to wonder why a boycott would even be necessary. If smart gun technology is unreliable or undesirable, why not let it fail on its own?

Gun lobbyists argue that the existence of a functional smart gun anywhere might lead to a mandate for smart guns everywhere. New Jersey, for example, passed a law in 2002 that established that once a smart gun was available for sale anywhere in the United States, all new hand guns in New Jersey three years thereafter must be smart guns.

The gun lobby has worked tirelessly to ensure that the market for guns is freer than most others, and state laws have played a key role in expanding those freedoms. Americans can buy guns, used or new, from licensed dealers and individuals, and from big box retailers or mom-and-pop shops. Only two states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, mandate regular inspections of gun dealers, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has no authority when it comes to firearms. A growing number of states now allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public places. In 1977, about one-fifth of states treated concealed carry favorably. Today, four-fifths of states do.

Recent assessments of smart gun technology have been promising. In 2013, the Justice Department found at least three models to be ready for commercial use. To the gun lobby, this is a problem -- not because it will trigger a government crackdown and a mandate against gun ownership, but because it might spark consumer demand or cooperation between the government, gun manufacturers and retailers.

After promoting the iP1 for less than 24 hours, Raymond removed it from his store's offerings and recorded a video (he’s since taken it down) that was simultaneously angry and apologetic. He speaks like a man who has suddenly awoken in another country and been deemed a traitor.

“If someone wants to buy a smart gun, that is fine, that is their right” he said. “When the law legislates it, that is a sin, that’s god-awful.”

Ultimately, though, Raymond told the Times he would rather be shot by a smart gun than try to sell another one. 

Shawn Hamilton is a New Jersey-based writer and filmmaker. He is currently producing a documentary called "Game Theory," which takes a critical look at college sports. He blogs at Dueling and tweets @duelinginterest. He has also contributed to, The Baffler, and The Society for U.S. Intellectual History.

Despite More Shootings, Americans Are Less Supportive of Tougher Gun Control

Kathleen Weldon   |   August 31, 2015    6:42 PM ET

Last week the country was shocked by the on-air shooting of a reporter and cameraman -- shocked, but perhaps not surprised. Gun violence has become an all-too-common part of the news, and after each incident, a debate erupts over gun control. Public opinion data over more than 50 years reveals a country ever less willing to restrict gun ownership, even as mass shootings and other high-profile shooting incidents continue to make news. From the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research archives:

Tragedy in the news. Again.

Gun-related homicide deaths have been decreasing in number since the 1990s. But the number of active shooter events and mass shootings have increased in recent years.

Such terrible events make headlines. Pollsters have asked the public about their attention to news stories about these tragedies since 1998. While many stories of national-reported shootings are followed very or fairly closely by half or less of the public, some such incidents gain the attention of eight in ten or more.


Decreasing support for stricter gun laws

These incidents are occurring at a time of notable change in public opinion on gun control. In polls since 1989, decreasing proportions of Americans have said they favor stricter gun laws. Although high-profile incidents can increase support briefly, the cumulative effect of the increasing number of mass shootings does not appear to be higher support for restrictions on guns.


The same trend can be seen in public attitudes about the importance of controlling gun ownership versus the right to own guns. The country is about evenly divided on this issue at the moment, while only fifteen years ago, a majority believed controlling gun ownership was more important. Gun owners are more likely to say protecting the right to own guns is more important. In a 2013 Pew poll, 72 percent said so, versus 30 percent of those living in a household with no gun. It is worth noting, therefore, that this decline has occurred despite a simultaneous decline in gun ownership rates.


The data on public opinion about handguns in particular goes back to the 1950s and reveal the magnitude of changing American attitudes about guns. More than twice as many Americans in 1959 said that handguns should be banned than said so in 2014. While there have been occasional rises in the proportion of people saying that there should be a ban, such as immediately following the shootings of John Lennon, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II and following Columbine, the overall trajectory has continued away from banning handguns. The country is now nearly equally split on this issue. Banning assault rifles is similarly divisive: in a 2012 Gallup poll, 44 percent were for and 51 percent against a law that would do so.


Americans do want some limits on possessing guns. In a 2014 Pew poll, 49 percent said that it was more important to protect the right to own guns than to control gun ownership; but among those who said so, 76 percent said there should be some restrictions on gun ownership. Background checks are supported by most Americans; in a 2015 CBS poll, 88 percent favored background checks for all gun buyers. A 2015 Pew poll found 70 percent of the country supported a federal database of gun sales.

How do high-profile shooting incidents affect attitudes about gun control?

A slight majority in polls since 2013 have said that stricter gun laws would do at least a little to help prevent gun violence specifically. However, polls in the wake of national tragedies like the slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT found the country uncertain as to the effectiveness of gun control laws in averting such crimes. After the shootings in Tucson and Sandy Hook, majorities believed that stricter gun laws would have had no effect in preventing the violence that occurred.


In fact, Americans have become less convinced that anything at all can be done to prevent this sort of gun violence. A slim majority after the Columbine shootings thought that government and society could take action that would be effective in preventing shootings like that one from happening again. But after mass shooting incidents in recent years, up to two-thirds of the country have said that such shootings will happen again regardless of what action is taken. In a 2014 AP/GfK Knowledge Networks poll, just 8% of the country were extremely or very confident that the U.S. government can effectively minimize the threat Americans face from mass shootings, while 25 percent were moderately confident and 63% were not too or not at all confident.

Multiple poll questions show that Americans have become increasingly skeptical that gun laws can do much to stem the tide of violence. In 1989, the public was divided on whether stricter guns law would reduce the amount of violence in the country. In polls in the 2013 and 2015, a majority said they would not. On this measure, the attitudes of the country overall have come in line with attitudes of gun owners in 1989.


On a personal level, most Americans have also become convinced that a gun in the home brings more safety than risks. The perception that guns increase personal safety may have the effect of making mass shooting incidents seem more of an argument against than for gun control. In a 2015 Pew poll, 54 percent of the public said that gun ownership in this country does more to protect people from becoming victims of crime; 40 percent said it does more to put people at risk.

Troubled individuals or a troubled society?

After Columbine and other school shootings in 1999 and 2001, the public was asked if these events were indications that something was seriously wrong in the country or isolated incidents that do not indicate anything about the country in general. A strong majority of Americans saw something seriously wrong. After more recent incidents, the country has been asked whether a shooting reflects broader problems or is just the isolated acts of troubled individuals. In some cases the public has been divided (Newtown and Virginia Tech); in others, firm majorities say these are isolated acts (Tucson and Aurora).

Those who hope that changing gun laws can help to prevent shootings incidents like last week's on-air homicide or the murder of nine people in the church in Charleston in June have to overcome significant barriers in American attitudes. Those who argue that gun laws are ineffective, that these events are isolated incidents, and that guns bring more safety than danger appear to be winning the public debate.

The Bob & Chez Show Podcast: The Virginia Shooting and Alex Jones' Unhinged Reaction to Hillary Clinton

Bob Cesca   |   August 31, 2015    2:50 PM ET

Today's topics include: The Shooting in Virginia; Bob Takes on Gun-Worshiping Facebook Troll; Alex Jones Reacts to Virginia By Attacking Hillary Clinton; Chez Has Had Enough of Everything; The Second Amendment is the NRA's Skeleton Key; Dan Bidondi in Trouble with the Law; and much more.

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The Bob & Chez Show is a funny, fast-paced political podcast that doesn't take itself too seriously. The twice-weekly podcast is hosted by Bob Cesca (, The Huffington Post, The Daily Banter, The Stephanie Miller Show), and CNN/MSNBC producer turned writer Chez Pazienza. Follow the show at with special thanks to Seth Okin.

Are Guns America's Biggest Problem?

Jonathan Byrd   |   August 30, 2015    9:59 PM ET

I grew up with guns. Country guns. Shotguns. .45s and .38s and beer cans on fence posts. That was back before public gun violence became a daily routine. If somebody got shot, it was a drug deal or domestic violence. There were guns all around me, practically under my pillow, and nobody got hurt. No one I know ever threatened another person with a gun. The few violent men I knew fought with their fists. Pulling a gun to settle a score wouldn't be worth the shame. Guns were for targets and critters. It seems like some kind of mythical world now.

From my experience traveling in northern Europe consistently the past few years, I offer a theory that is beginning to take shape in my mind. I'm in the UK now; their gun laws are famously rigid. The Olympic pistol team had to leave the country to practice. Intentional homicide rate is maybe a third to a quarter of the U.S., but I don't think the stringent gun laws are entirely responsible.

More interesting to this essay are other countries I've been to regularly: The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. Canada is notably similar in that there are a lot of guns, but not much gun violence compared to the U.S. Almost every grown man in Switzerland has an assault rifle issued by the military. They have gun festivals with shooting competitions for the kids.

All these countries also take care of their citizens. You can go to school, see a doctor, or take a year off work and have a baby without worrying about losing your home or other financial catastrophes. Taxes are high, of course. Gotta pay for that stuff. Canada is closer on the scale to the U.S.: lower taxes and less social spending than most of northern Europe, but more than the U.S.

In the U.S. you are mostly on your own. If you have a strong family and/or community, you're set. If you don't you're screwed. Half of foster kids become homeless when they turn 18. Three million U.S. citizens are homeless. That's one percent of us, sleeping on the ground, going to jail to get a decent night's sleep and breakfast. College? You know how that goes. I have friends in their forties who are finally paying off their student loans. Need mental health care? That's not covered. The ACA is not a national health care plan. It's a way to force everyone to pay for the same miserable shit that was available before. Very few people are better off with it. I'm one of them and I can still see it's a bad deal for the country. If you lose your job in the U.S., it can be life-threatening. How would you react to a life-threatening situation?

When millions of people live close to the bone in a country that doesn't seem to care about them, and the most effective weapons in the world are widely available, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to paint the resulting picture. It's not much harder to own a gun in Germany than it is to own one here. We have laws that prohibit convicted felons, the mentally ill, and non-citizens from owning guns. There are loopholes, but that's also true elsewhere. For instance, self-defense is not an acceptable reason to own a gun in the Netherlands, but being a member of a shooting club is. If you want a gun for self defense, you join a shooting club. Duh.

The availability of guns seems to be a problem in our country, but not a problem in others. As always, extreme viewpoints are suspect- "Guns are the problem" is just as extreme as "I should be able to openly carry an assault rifle into a department store." We do have laws. Colorado, one of the most gun-lovin', property-rights-conservative states in the union, passed a great piece of legislation after the school shooting in Columbine, legislation that was successful largely because part of its focus was to protect the rights of gun owners.

I appreciate everyone's passion on the issue. Sharing links from far-left and far-right sources is not likely to generate a productive discussion. Real people don't think that way. Real conversations don't happen in platitudes and memes.

Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms. Elected officials have a directive to ensure public safety. Humans have a responsibility to take care of each other. We're not all keeping our end of the bargain. I think socialism and the second amendment ought to meet and work things out. Education, health care, and a living wage might make guns fun again.

I'm not a political guy, but it seems important to talk about this national crisis -- a spiritual crisis, really. Does this sound foolish to anyone? Does it feel like a new way of looking at it? Did anybody else have a time in their lives when guns were kind of innocent and fun?


Please no yelling, name-calling, or other horseshit on my blog. Imagine we're all gathered around after a funeral. Because we kind of are. Just share and let share. Thanks. Your fan,


Safety and Security: Not Just for College Students

Patricia McGuire   |   August 30, 2015   12:08 PM ET

Members of Congress and other legislators around the country have worked up a considerable frenzy enacting laws and regulations governing campus safety and sexual assault. Colleges and universities are coping with an increasingly bewildering and burdensome morass of often-conflicting legal rules aimed at guaranteeing absolute safety for students on the nation's collegiate campuses.

Where is the same legislative fervor when it comes to making sure that students are safe when they leave campus? Gun violence is an appalling reality in this nation; the death toll mounts each day. I can spend millions trying to make my campus secure only to have tragedy stalking just beyond the campus boundaries. Trinity Washington University, where I am president, takes student safety and freedom from sexual or other violence very seriously -- both on AND off-campus. We do what we can on campus; we rely on a well-functioning government to protect us in the rest of the city. When government fails, we are all at risk.

To raise even a small quibble about any aspect of the current campaign to make college campuses completely free of sexual assault and other crimes is to invite immediate condemnation and the accusation that disagreement with specifics of the rules means we must be harboring rapists. So, let me be clear: colleges and universities have a huge moral (as well as legal) responsibility to ensure the welfare, health and safety of every person on campus. Any college president that tolerates a climate for sexual assault or other offenses against safety and human dignity should face serious consequences. I understand that a reasonable amount of legislation is important to satisfy the legislative responsibility to protect citizens from harm; ALL citizens deserve just as much legislative fervor.

But colleges and universities are soft targets for legislators; it doesn't take much moral courage for a Senator to beat up on a university that allows a predatory quarterback or arrogant frat boys to get away with horrible offenses against women. Shame on the university presidents who have looked the other way, incurring hellfire and brimstone on all of higher education.

But where is the spine of Congress when it comes to an even greater risk for our students, faculty and staff, families and neighbors -- the risk of being random victims of gun violence out in the city? Justice cannot stop at the campus gate. To spend so much time and effort (and money!) on law and regulation for campus safety while ignoring the blood flowing down the streets of America due to gun violence is a shameful abrogation of legislative responsibility. Protecting college students while ignoring the dangers that all citizens face every day is a mockery of equal justice.

Campus security is my greatest concern and a constant worry. On the day after the unfathomable murders of the television crew in Roanoke, some colleagues came to me demanding to know how Trinity will increase security in light of the latest horror. Of course we are reviewing our security protocols and procedures for threat assessment, alerting the campus to good safety procedures, reinforcing messages about alerts and escorts and IDs and repeating the basic rule "see something say something." Short of installing metal detectors at each entrance and making going to college as pleasant as boarding an airplane, there is a limit to how much protection any college or university can provide.

Yet, the same legislators that would impose nearly fail-safe security requirements on colleges are doing nothing about the guns that, over the last 50 years, have killed more Americans than all of the wars in which the United States has ever fought. Yes, that's right. Guns have killed more Americans than all of the wars combined.

Still, Congress sits on its hands, terrified of losing the financial support of the gun lobby that bankrolls campaigns and delivers victories to politicians who dropped their moral compasses in the swamp of self-interest. The Second Amendment, even badly read, is not greater than the "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that sparked a revolution and led to the founding of this nation. The threat that guns pose to the most fundamental American values of life and freedom is clear. Legislators who claim that guns are a "right" seem to have skipped a lot of classes on what constitutes true justice in this nation. Too many politicians hypocritically claim to be "pro-life" while ardently embracing the gun lobby.

And let's stop indulging the "oh, but consider knives" excuse. Yes, murders occur with the most astounding array of devices. That's not the point. Guns are the symbols of the violence that plagues American life in the 21st Century, and Congressional tolerance of --- and often abject homage to --- the most warped dimensions of the gun culture encourages the persistence of violence in all forms throughout our supposedly civilized society.

On the same day that colleagues came to me demanding what we will do to make security even tighter in response to Roanoke, a neighbor wrote to me asking that Trinity remove the old iron fence that defines a portion of our campus perimeter in northeast Washington, D.C. He said that the fence suggests that Trinity is fostering a climate of exclusivity, making Trinity a "gated academic environment," an "island" remote from the city. My students who are mostly D.C. residents might find that amusing. Brushing off my explanation about how the fence is part of our security program, he went so far as to suggest that the $1.5 million we spend on security (quite a lot on a $32 million budget) is harmful to our students because it fosters a false sense of safety when the streets just beyond our fence are dangerous. He cited local crime statistics in case I did not know just how dangerous -- this in a city where the 105 homicides at the end of August are as many as all of last year.

Trinity's fence will stay in place, but my neighbor is right about one thing: all the money and time and expertise and vigilance we devote to campus safety is for naught if the prevalence of gun violence throughout society continues to snuff out thousands of lives each year and to wound and warp countless others.

Even as we must accept the rules that govern safety and security on our campuses, college and university presidents must demand more of Congress and state legislators. Justice does not stop at the campus gate. Keeping college students safe is important, but safety and security are important for all people. Just as I accept my responsibility for my students, the government's greatest responsibility is to ensure the safety and welfare of ALL citizens. It's high time for members of Congress to get some moral spine, stand up to the gun lobby, and enact the long-sought legislation that will help this country find its way back to at least a modest level of peace of mind and public safety.

Gun-Crazed Nation

Rick Horowitz   |   August 29, 2015    8:32 AM ET

"We're Number 1!" (We must be so proud...)

More Evidence That Gun Sales Aren't Doing So Well

John A. Tures   |   August 28, 2015    4:06 PM ET

Colt files for bankruptcy. Smith & Wesson's sales and stock still slump. So do Strum, Ruger's numbers. And now Wal-Mart pulls AR-15s because of low demand. Couple that with poll numbers showing falling gun ownership, and you can see Americans have a very different view of gun ownership.

You'll find no shortage of articles, liberal and conservative, that claim gun sales are still booming, even after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. They rarely, if ever, cite gun sales statistics. They note membership in a gun group like the NRA. Or they'll list background check data.

But as Josh Horwitz points out, there are many reasons for background checks, many of which can be unrelated to gun sales. Not every background check can constitute the sale of a gun.


Evidence from the General Social Survey (GSS) shows that the number of Americans who report owning a gun dropped from nearly 50 percent in 1974 to 22 percent today. That's conducted by the University of Chicago, hardly a liberal bastion.

Both times I've written on this subject, I've received plenty of emails on the subject. Most focus on how poorly Colt has been run. That may be the case, but even a poorly run company should be doing well if gun sales are in the stratosphere, as so many have claimed. It also doesn't explain why the other leading gun manufacturers are doing so well.

I've also had people question whether people would tell a pollster, a total stranger, the truth. That's an interesting question, despite the improvement in polling techniques, and better sampling. We know that respondents are more accurate with their views on politics involving issues of race. Compare the "Bradley Effect" of 1982 with good poll predictions of Obama's performance in 2008 and 2012.

Besides, I've had plenty of people commenting, bragging about how many guns they own, even though, I'm a total stranger to them (and yes, some friends are quite willing to detail their gun collection, proud of it)

Others insisted that the gun sales were driven by Barack Obama's election, and a fear that he would take all guns away. Well, not only has he refrained from even proposing such a measure, but he's almost out of office, running out of precious time to engage in that socialist coup d'etat that several critics assured us would happen.

But there is a reason why gun ownership is down, and assault weapons sales aren't so strong. They make poor hunting weapons, are impractical in many self-defense scenarios, and seem more ideal for those who wish to perpetuate violence (like killing a family, co-workers, or on rare occasions, some total strangers, as Melissa Jeltsen points out) than stop it.

And there's poor leadership at the top. When gun ownership was higher, groups like the NRA were once about being gun clubs, promoting gun safety and responsible gun ownership. Maybe you get that on local level among friends, but nationally, it's a lobby with some pretty extreme stands that don't often reflect the views of gun owners themselves. Even Colt is run better than this. And until groups like the NRA return to their old principles, there will be more bad news for the gun industry.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at