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Going Back to Indiana: With Two Cheers for Its Gun-Toting Gals!

Peter Schwartz   |   March 31, 2015    1:28 PM ET

The National Rifle Association, firearms manufacturers and gun rights bloggers frequently state (and assume) that in the 21st century, a new generation of female, minority and millennial gun-owners purchases, carries and uses firearms. This claim aligns the firearms industry and gun rights zealots with new demographic realities in the United States, which of course no longer favor the traditional rural, white, male base of the gun-owning population. Affirmations of demographic breadth also justify the - somewhat breathtaking - wave of concealed-carry and open-carry laws approved by state legislatures in recent years, explains the exponential growth curve for gun purchases in the last decade, and augurs well for the comitatus vision of collective self-protection favored by gun rights and Second Amendment freedom fundamentalists of the Tea Party variety.

If only this beautiful vision were true.

Social research survey data from mainstream polling organizations (such as Gallup, Pew and NORC at the University of Chicago) tells us, over and over again, that women represent approximately 10 percent of the nation's gun-owning population. Indiana which by virtue of its history, geography, politics and demographics is almost perfectly representative of the gun culture and gun economy of the United States, may offer an opportunity to reassess this demographic truism, and with it the credibility of the NRA assertion that gun owners are not simply an atavistic remnant of a fading age of Caucasian male celerity, in which the gun, like many an appendage from our earliest species origins, survives only as a useless, slightly maligned encumbrance. Because guns in the United States are collocative with a host of other right-wing cultural tropes that have found their way into our political idiom (white supremacy, states rights, limited government, homophobia, biblical fundamentalism, military zeal, homespun rural values and toxic nostalgia, among others), the implications of any authoritative challenge to (what on the face of it are indeed) absurd, politically motivated claims of firearms fluorescence greatly matter for the future of political discourse, political opportunity and public policy in the United States.

As my Women and Guns essay emphasizes, much of this debate would not be necessary were the NRA and its fellow travelers open to transparent, consistent firearms data collection and reporting practices standard in pretty much every other public policy arena. But they are not open to these practices. And in lieu of real data, firearms freedom fanatics pump out an exhaustive (and exhausting) array of unsubstantiated assertions about the breadth, enthusiasm and virtue of their cohort. For instance, prior to the NRA annual convention in Indianapolis in 2014, the organization floated estimates that 25 percent of the attendees (or approximately 18,000) would be women. Ten years ago, female attendance at the NRA convention rarely exceeded 5-10 percent of the total, which might at that time have therefore amounted to about 4,000 or 5,000 women (although notably, even in 2004 the NRA touted (without substantiation) its growing cadre of female members). The final tally following the 2014 meeting was 19 percent. If one assumes attendance numbers include children (and the NRA is trying to be very family-friendly), and that closer to half of the children are females, we can deduce that the percentage breakdown for adults is probably closer to 85 percent male and 15 percent female (or about 11,000 adult women, rather than 18,000).

To be charitable, this data does indicate a significant uptick in the participation rates of women at the nation's largest and most politically supernatural firearms festival, so one might say this gives the NRA and the gun rights folks cause for cheer!

In January 2013, the Indiana State Police  began publishing quarterly reports that detail the number of active concealed carry gun licenses held by Indiana residents, by county and by gender. As compared to the FBI background check information, which calls out specific transactions reported by firearms dealers (although not specific quantities of guns purchased), the Indiana State Police permit data identifies individuals approved to carry concealed weapons, independently of transaction or firearm ownership numbers. As a result, the Indiana State Police data gives us a more precise demographic perspective on intrastate gun ownership patterns.

The same Indianapolis Star article referencing  the 25 percent female attendee projection for the NRA convention in Indianapolis used Indiana State Police data to spotlight "explosive" growth in the number of women in Indiana with concealed carry permits, an increase of 43 percent in only 5 quarters, from Q4 2012 through Q1 2014. At the end of Q4 2014, the state had issued approximately 22 percent of its gun permits to women. Further cause for cheer! Perhaps the modern woman does indeed incorporate a Smith & Wesson into her ensemble.

But here's the thing, and I'm afraid this means there will not be three cheers for Indiana gun owners. Without getting into the weeds on these Indiana State Police calculations, the most accurate data, comparing the last 6 months of 2013 and 2014, shows a dramatic decrease in compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and raw numbers for gun permits issued to Indiana women. In the last 2 quarters of 2013, the state issued 15,407 concealed carry permits to women, for a CAGR of 32.95 percent.  In the last 2 quarters of 2014, the state issued only 5,372 concealed carry permits to women, for a CAGR of 8.65 percent. The downward trend probably indicates that a relatively small pool of female candidates exists for concealed carry permission, and that this lake is pretty quickly drying up.

Here are some other findings.

Concealed Carry Permits Issued in Indiana, by County

  • Rural Indiana. County-level analysis of the data shows that gun permit registration levels per 100,000 inhabitants are highest in the smallest, least densely populated, slowest-growing, oldest, least crime-ridden and most Caucasian counties of the state (generally in the southwest corner of the state, where the traditional gun-owning cohort resides - see map).

  • Suburban Indiana. Gun permit registration levels are also high in two of the more affluent suburban counties ringing Indianapolis in the center part of the state - Hancock County and Morgan County.

  • Urban Indiana. Gun permit registration are lowest per 100,000 inhabitants in the largest, more densely populated, fastest-growing, youngest, most crime-heavy and most racially and ethnically diverse counties of the state (generally in the northern half of the state).

  • Indianapolis. Marion County, which is essentially Indianapolis, and among Indiana's 92 counties easily the most densely populated (with 15 percent of the state's population), has roughly half the concentration of concealed carry permits as its suburban neighbors in Hancock County and Morgan County. Some will argue that black-on-black crime and illegally obtained guns go hand in hand. But if one assumes (falsely, presumably) that whites obtained all legal concealed carry permits issued in Marion Count, the concentrations per 100,000 inhabitants would still be significantly lower than for the surrounding suburban counties.

  • The Female Gun-Ownership Base. Within the counties that register the highest rates of concealed-carry permits, women obtained permits in the last 2 quarters of 2014 at nearly 3 times the frequency of their counterparts in counties with the lowest concentration of permits. By contrast, the men in high-rate counties obtained permits at only a bit more than 1.5 times the frequency of men in low-rate counties. Women in high-rate counties represented 45 percent of permits obtained in this period, while women in low-rate counties represented only 32 percent of permits obtained.

None of this data is good news for the firearms and freedom crowd. Demographic conditions simply do not exist for the explosive growth of gun ownership by women in Indiana. To the contrary, and despite the best efforts of the right-to-carry movement, these demographic constraints on female gun ownership overwhelm the catalysts to such growth. And if the conditions for this growth do not exist in Indiana, they likely do not exist elsewhere in the nation.

As the Hancock and Morgan county numbers indicate, suburban gun ownership provides the only hope for the NRA and the gun rights movement. We are therefore left with only two cheers for Indiana and it's gun-toting women. And with this conclusion, much of the substance for NRA and gun evangelist assertions about the relevance of gun ownership and gun rights for emerging generations of Americans who are not white, male and rural drains away. As with the Republican Party, in general, the only option for Second Amendment true believers, is to bet everything on the base, at the risk of losing relevance with everyone else.

The Gun Industry's Nod to 'Safety' Is Just Another Sales Pitch

Mike Weisser   |   March 30, 2015   11:09 AM ET

Ever since Sandy Hook, the gun industry has decided that safety is its middle name. And chief among the proponents of this new strategy is the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has taken upon itself the mission of pushing gun safety messages to kids who aren't yet old enough to own or purchase guns, but it's never too early to start cultivating the next generation of consumers. You'll pardon me for sounding just a tad sarcastic in this commentary, but this new-found concern about safety issues is interesting, given the fact that gun design hasn't really changed in the last 125 years. In other words, guns are as lethal and dangerous now as when the invention of smokeless-powder cartridges in the 1880s allowed gun makers to design small arms that could fire multiple rounds without having to be reloaded after every shot.

But what's interesting about the new attention to safety being paid by the gun industry is that the notion that guns might be potentially dangerous no matter how they are used is a concept that is remarkably absent from the NSSF's safety campaign, even though the campaign's name, Project Childsafe, does beg the question of what exactly are we trying to keep the children safe from?

To the credit of the gun manufacturers, you may have to read the fine print, but they don't beat around the bush when it comes to telling a gun owner the truth about the product he just bought. For example, the instructional manual issued by Smith & Wesson for its old warhorse, the Model 10, K-frame revolver, states that "this firearm is classified as a dangerous weapon." The manual that accompanies Ruger's Mini-14 rifle is even more explicit, stating in big, bold red letters -- FIREARMS ARE DANGEROUS WEAPONS -- a warning that has not deterred me from owning three of them.

The risk posed by a gun, however, seems to be lost on the folks who produce safety videos for the NSSF. The most recent is a bouncy, joyful message from a veteran, competitive shooter, hunter and mom named Julie Golob, whose family shares a love of the heritage, outdoors and the shooting sports; in other words, all the right credentials to be considered an expert on how to communicate with children on any subject, let alone safety and guns. The video goes on to showcase a few cutesy testimonials from what is now the standard racial and gender inclusive group of kids, who relate how their parents did or didn't talk to them about guns. At which point Julie reappears and chants the usual refrain borrowed from the NRA's phony safety program, Eddie Eagle, about not touching the gun -- leaving the area -- telling an adult, which is then followed by a new lyric for the older kids involving telling them never to touch a gun unless being supervised by an adult, never point a gun at anyone and always assume that every gun is loaded.

Oh, by the way, Julie doesn't forget to mention that guns should be locked or locked away. As she puts it, parents have to set a "talk the talk and walk the walk" example. The video runs 5 minutes, 37 seconds, and the entire comment about safe storage, which is the only way to keep guns away from kids no matter how many times you tell them not to touch a firearm, consumes a total of 8 seconds. In other words, the only valid statement about gun safety in this entire message takes up 2 percent of the message.

As I said at the beginning of this commentary, you'll have to excuse me for sounding a bit sarcastic. But when the organization which represents the gun industry in every legislative and public discussion about gun safety can produce a public service announcement that is, to put it bluntly, an exercise in cheap hucksterism, then when it comes to safety the gun industry is inviting itself not to be taken very seriously.

New York City Gun Shop Video May Not Be Real, But It Has the Gun Lobby Worried

Mike Weisser   |   March 23, 2015    8:59 AM ET

Until recently, I was somewhat dismayed at the degree to which the digital side of the gun debate was so completely owned by the pro-gun crowd. Not that they don't deserve their fair share of the online environment, and not that they haven't worked tirelessly to bring this about. But I'm interested in is a fair and honest fight between the two sides, and it won't happen until both sides show up.

I was never particularly impressed by the content of the NRA video channel; the messaging tends to be didactic, wordy, sometimes outright stupid and basically boring as hell. But video characters like Billy Johnson, Colion Noir, Chris Cheng and Natalie Foster have carved out followings for themselves on the NRA website, along with YouTube, which means that a basic, pro-gun argument is viewed by hundreds, if not thousands of people every day. And while we usually think of arguments for more gun safety as belonging to the folks who try to promote more regulation of guns, the fact is that some of the best videos that show people how to use guns in a safe way are produced by the gun industry itself.

The last several weeks, however, have seen this state of affairs beginning to change. Last week the Brady Campaign released a video on gun laws and gun violence, which they posted on a site that's a spoof on the TripAdvisor website, which set a new standard for gun videos produced by either side. I talked about this video in HuffPost and said that it was not only clever and theatrically well done, but also directly challenged a basic NRA argument that we will all be safer if everyone has a gun. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the evidence on the risks versus the benefits of an armed citizenry can be used to definitively sway the argument either way. What I am saying is that this video at least presents the argument about gun risk in persuasive and artistic terms.

The gun-sense folks have now released another video which is generating web-based commotion because of its content, artistry and tone, but this time the commotion is coming more from the other side in ways which indicate that the video's argument is really hitting home. I am referring to a video released by States United to Prevent Gun Violence which shows a New York City gun shop that only sells guns which were used in gun violence, including the Bushmaster AR taken off the body of Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook and the pistol that the two-year old son of Veronica Rutledge used to kill his mom.

The guns are fakes, the store doesn't really exist and I'm not sure that the 'customers' who walked in and then exhibited varying degrees of shock and concern after being told the history of those guns were real customers at all. But no matter, the video is powerful, artistic and drives the message, pace the NRA, that owning a gun is a risk.

The video has been attacked by the usual pro-gun suspects like Breitbart and Daily Caller, but the most interesting response to the video from the pro-gun side was a demand made to the New York State Attorney General by the state's NRA-affiliate Pistol and Rifle Association to investigate the video's sponsor for violations of the state gun-control statute which, of course, this same association did everything it could to try and prevent from becoming law. If Eric Schneiderman has nothing better to do than chase after States United because they stuck a bunch of unlocked toy guns on a wall, then Andy should fire him immediately and appoint a new AG. Andy has better things to do.

The reaction to this video by the gun guys in New York tells me that the digital playing field on gun violence is beginning to level out. Now if the gun-sense folks could only find a stellar personality a la Clint Eastwood, to drive their video messages home...

Carol Kuruvilla   |   March 21, 2015    5:15 PM ET

On a bright October day in 2006, Terri Roberts’ son walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, lined 10 young girls against the blackboard and began to shoot.

Nearly a decade after that tragedy, Roberts is still unsure of what drove her son Charles to kill five young girls that day and later turn the gun on himself. But just as surprising for Roberts is the extraordinary bond that has grown between her family and the Amish community.

They visit each other’s houses, have tea and try their best to heal.

“They’ve become the friends we never thought we’d have,” Roberts told The Huffington Post over the phone. “It’s an incredible testimony of God’s grace to take something that is so tragic and somehow grow from it and through it.”

It was this spirit of forgiveness and renewal that drew Roberts to State College Presbyterian Church on Friday. She joined Penn State University students and local religious organizations to watch as two guns, donated by the local police force, were flattened and repurposed as garden tools.

The lead blacksmith, Mike Martin, is a youth minister who comes from a line of peace-loving Anabaptists. His organization, Raw Tools, is inspired by the Bible verse Isaiah 2:4 to literally beat “swords into plowshares.”

raw tools

The Colorado native lives just a few miles away from the site of the Aurora theater shooting. He began repurposing guns after the attack on a school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, where 27 people lost their lives to gun violence.

CNN documented 83 incidents of gun violence that happened over the course of just one day in 2014, finding that shootings left 35 people dead. On a wider scale, more than 32,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2011, CNN reported, citing the most recent data available.

Martin said that after hearing stories about officers using excessive force, it was particularly meaningful for him that the shotgun and rifle were donated by police.

“It just reinforces to me that no one really wants to use force,” Martin told HuffPost. “When it happens, maybe it’s more of a human instinct that has been trained in many of us. And it takes some kind of retraining to have nonviolent actions instead ... We don’t want to react with force, but it’s one of the only reactions we know.”

Martin said that the metal from the guns can create at least 12 garden mattocks.

raw tools

Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way faith community, hopes the event will inspire people to “bring life out of death, turn weapons into tools, and rejoice in the promise of resurrection.”

“No more violence toward police. No more violence from police. No more violence -- period,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that a 2012 shooting was in Newtown, Massachusetts. It was in Newtown, Connecticut.

Samantha Lachman   |   March 20, 2015   11:42 AM ET

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) vetoed a bill Friday that would have eliminated the permit requirement for concealed carry, citing the concerns of law enforcement officers.

The bill was passed out of the Republican-controlled state legislature, and would have ended a state law requiring anyone over the age of 21 to have a permit and undergo safety training to legally carry a gun that's not visible. Gun rights supporters say the requirements are costly, time-restrictive and infringe on Second Amendment rights.

"Throughout my career, I have strongly supported the Second Amendment, as demonstrated by my repeated endorsements and high grades from the National Rifle Association," Tomblin wrote in a statement. "However, I must also be responsive to the apprehension of law enforcement officers from across the state, who have concerns about the bill as it relates to the safety of their fellow officers. It also would eliminate the required gun safety training courses for those applying for a concealed carry permit. In light of these concerns and in the interest of public safety for all West Virginians, I have vetoed Senate Bill 347."

Guns can still be carried openly without a permit in West Virginia. Just a handful of states -- Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Vermont and rural parts of Wyoming -- do not require a permit to carry a concealed gun. The West Virginia Sheriffs' Association had come out against the bill, saying it would allow dangerous people to carry concealed weapons and would take away permit money that funds local law enforcement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R) denied that there were safety concerns associated with the bill, according to WBOY.

"There has been an overwhelming outcry from across the state about this bill," he said. "We already have an open carry law in West Virginia, I'm not surprised. I believe this is an educational process and will work itself out."

Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups, celebrated Tomblin's veto in a statement Friday, saying that "common sense" won in West Virginia. A state poll Everytown conducted earlier this month found that 83 percent of West Virginia's likely voters favored a permit requirement for concealed carry.

"After years of operating in state legislatures unchecked, the NRA's agenda of putting gun lobby interests above the safety of our communities is now being defeated in state after state, and today, here in West Virginia," said Dee Price, a volunteer with the West Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "It's just common sense that if a person wants to carry a loaded, hidden handgun in public, they need to demonstrate they have a clean recent violent criminal record and have been trained to handle and carry a gun safely."

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post. Tomblin was endorsed by the NRA during his 2011 special election gubernatorial campaign.

This Is Where Likely 2016 Voters Draw The Line On Gun Rights

Samantha Lachman   |   March 18, 2015   11:55 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- A vast majority of likely 2016 voters oppose legislation that would allow gun owners to carry their concealed weapons without a permit, according to a new national poll released Wednesday.

The poll, shared first with The Huffington Post and conducted on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups, was done to assess public attitudes toward carrying concealed weapons. The issue is a timely one, as three state legislatures -- in West Virginia, Kansas and Montana -- are considering rolling back some of their permit requirements.

Everytown found that 88 percent of likely 2016 voters oppose concealed carry without a permit, and 57 percent of voters said they would be less likely to support a candidate who voted to allow concealed carry without a permit.

The poll did find that a majority of voters support allowing concealed carry in public, with the strongest support among Republicans, conservatives and rural voters. While the issue of concealed carry did produce some cleavages -- 62 percent of white voters support it, while majorities of African-American and Latino voters do not -- what wasn't controversial was the concept that one must obtain a permit to carry. Even 80 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of gun owners opposed concealed carry without a permit.

Everytown Chief Strategy Officer Brina Milikowsky told HuffPost that the group's polling results made it "overwhelmingly clear" that Americans "strongly oppose" concealed carry without any training, which often is a part of the permit process.

"The NRA is pushing bills in states across the country that would dismantle the permitting process that serves as a public safety measure to keep guns out of dangerous hands -- and it's imperative that political leaders in Kansas, Montana and West Virginia -- states where bills are moving forward -- listen to their constituents and not the gun lobby," she said in a statement.

Milikowsky added that the poll's results demonstrate "that the dynamics on gun politics are changing and that Americans will hold their leaders accountable for voting the right way to keep our families and communities safe from gun violence."

State-based polling conducted by Everytown has echoed the national results. In West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) must decide whether to sign legislation sent to his desk allowing anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. A poll Everytown did there found that 83 percent of likely voters in West Virginia, and 81 percent of gun owners, favor a permit requirement.

In Kansas, where a bill ending the state permit requirement has already been passed by the state Senate and is being considered by the House, Everytown found that 78 percent of Kansans support a concealed carry permit requirement. If the state House passes the legislation, which it seems likely to do, the bill would head to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's desk.

And in Montana, 83 percent support a permit requirement. A bill passed by the Montana state House would dismantle the state's current concealed carry permitting system, which requires those living in cities to have a permit (those in rural areas are not required to have one). Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed similar legislation in the past.

Permit-less concealed carry, which gun rights supporters refer to as "constitutional carry," is legal in Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming. Gun rights supporters say people who meet the requirements to own a gun shouldn't have to obtain permission from their state government to carry it concealed. A 2012 Christian Science Monitor poll found that 91 percent of Americans believe a license should be required to carry a concealed gun.

The National Rifle Association declined to comment on the Everytown poll ahead of its release.

The poll, conducted by Strategies 360, surveyed 1,508 likely 2016 voters nationwide for a week in late February, and has a margin of error of 2.5 percent.

Samantha Lachman   |   March 17, 2015    3:54 PM ET

The Texas state Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to legislation that would allow licensed handgun owners to visibly bear their firearms, in a move that would repeal a 140-year-old open carry ban.

The Republican-controlled chamber approved the bill along party lines, and a final vote on the measure is expected Tuesday. The measure is likely to become law, since the state House of Representatives is also controlled by Republicans and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has said he would sign such legislation if it reached his desk. Currently, Texas is one of just six states -- along with California, Florida, New York, Illinois and South Carolina -- to prohibit the open carry of handguns.

If the bill succeeds, the more than 800,000 Texans who have a concealed handgun license would be able to exhibit their guns in a shoulder or waist holster. The bill allows business owners to ban weapons from their premises and does not allow open carry on college campuses.

Gun rights advocates say open carry laws are an important component of self-defense and that the law would align Texas with most of the rest of the nation. Opponents of the measure, on the other hand, say openly carrying guns intimidates people in public places.

The developments in the Texas Senate come as multiple other GOP-controlled state legislative chambers across the country are pushing to expand gun rights.

In West Virginia, where Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) will have to decide whether to sign recently passed legislation that would allow anyone anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed gun without obtaining a permit or taking any safety courses.

A poll conducted by one Republican and one Democratic polling firm on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control group, found that a significant majority of West Virginians oppose repealing the permit requirement for concealed carry, including majorities of Republicans and of gun owners.

Similar legislation has advanced in a number of other state legislatures in the past week. In Arkansas, a bill that would allow licensed public college and university staff to carry a concealed weapon on campus passed the state House of Representatives. The Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill that would let those with concealed carry permits take their weapons into public buildings. The Iowa House advanced a package of bills that would allow children under the age of 14 to have handguns with adult supervision, allow anyone with a permit to carry a weapon on school grounds and eliminate public access to the names of those who hold carry permits. And in Colorado, the GOP-controlled state Senate repealed a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines on Monday, although the legislation is unlikely to succeed in the Democratic-controlled state House.

Republicans have also supported legislation in at least 14 states to allow guns on college campuses, with gun rights advocates arguing that potential sexual assailants would be deterred by the presence of guns.

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America, which is part of Everytown For Gun Safety, said that the push to allow open carry in Texas and eliminate the requirement in West Virginia together reflected a desire "to put more guns in more places."

"Make no mistake: Whether it's guns on campus, lowering or eliminating permitting requirements for concealed carry, or pushing for open carry of handguns, it's just an attempt by the gun lobby, and the lawmakers who carry out their wishes, to put more guns in more places, no questions asked," Watts told The Huffington Post. "For decades, the gun lobby has pushed in state legislatures for laws that profit gun manufacturers, but now Moms Demand Action is pushing back in all 50 states, so that these attempts no longer go unchecked."

So Why Are More Americans Turning Away From Guns?

John A. Tures   |   March 13, 2015   12:51 PM ET

We've all seen dozens of articles touting a spike in gun sales and a surge in membership in gun groups like the National Rifle Association. But the number of gun owners and gun households in the United States is dropping. Could the tactics of gun groups and certain individuals be to blame?

Back in 1974, the number of gun owners was nearly 50 percent in America. It's not surprising, given America's crime levels and social unrest. But back then, the NRA was also a group that stood for gun safety and responsible gun ownership.

Nowadays, that number households with a gun has dipped under one-third of Americans, according to the Associated Press. Only 22 percent of individuals claim to own a firearm (down from 31 percent in the mid-1980s), according to the General Social Survey, conducted by the right-leaning University of Chicago. And that's even with all of the events folks claim are driving gun sales, like Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession of 2008 and social unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Thanks to gun groups, it's even easier to get a firearm today, which means more people should be packing heat.

So why are more Americans saying no to gun ownership?

Sure, some get a weapon for personal protection, but with huge drops in the crime rate from the 1990s through today, it's a little easier to feel secure. The same factors that drove Robert Putnam to find a decline in bowling leagues may also spur a drop in hunting groups, as the assault on anything that smacks of "community" is in full swing.

But being a gun owner means something different from those heady days of 1974. The public face of the gun owner is the person going into a Chipotle restaurant, brandishing an AK-47 to "protect" the patrons. It's someone bringing a gun to an opponent's political rally, to intimidate the other side, or into a lawmaker's office with veiled threats.

It's that lone neighborhood watch person with a violent history who disregards the police dispatcher to take the law into his own hands. It's the mom with a cache of weapons whose son loves acting out dark fantasies while playing violent video games. It's the family whose kid accidentally discharges the weapon in a WalMart, with tragic results.

And lots of people are saying "that's not me."

The conservative site Newsmax reported that a poll in late February found only 32 percent of Texans liked these open carry laws, "while the remainder, 68 percent, would either prefer no legal handguns in public or to keep the current laws allowing licensed carry of concealed handguns." Only 10 percent supported people toting unlicensed firearms in public. In a state often regarded as the most pro-gun in the USA, those results are pretty jarring.

Oh don't get me wrong. I'm sure gun sales might still be up, as a few folks assemble their own private arsenal in case of disaster. But the trends don't look too good for those who want to build a sizable coalition of voters for future legislative battles over guns. Maybe the old tactics of the NRA emphasizing responsible gun ownership and professionalism were better than the "in your face" style today.

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

Sebastian Murdock   |   March 13, 2015   12:25 PM ET

Somewhere in the United States, a bald eagle is shedding a single tear, overcome by the blessed beauty of this great nation.

It's because of American patriots like Dustin Ellermann that we remain the greatest country in the world. Wrapping uncooked bacon around the barrel of a gun, then firing that gun until the bacon cracks and sizzles is the kind of innovation that you just can't find anywhere else in the world.

This is what freedom is all about: Guns, bacon, and inevitable diabetes. We're getting emotional just thinking about it.

H/T Reddit

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Pro-Gun Senator Opposes NRA-Backed Bill On Concealed Guns

Jennifer Bendery   |   March 12, 2015    6:28 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is a self-described "law-abiding gun owner, hunter, card-carrying life member of the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment advocate."

But on Thursday, he said he "strongly" opposes an NRA-backed bill in West Virginia that would nix permit and training requirements for people carrying concealed guns.

"I have always supported a West Virginian's right to bear arms," Manchin said in a statement. "Senate Bill 347 would allow a person to carry a concealed gun without a permit or requirement of safety training and that is irresponsible and dangerous to the people of West Virginia."

The bill passed the state House earlier Thursday, and the state Senate on Wednesday. Still, Manchin said it was a bad idea.

"There is not one West Virginian whose Second Amendment rights will be infringed without this bill," Manchin said. "In West Virginia, we believe in gun sense, which is common sense, and it only makes common sense for concealed carry applicants to receive proper training. I commend the brave legislators who voted no and represented their constituents who know that this is irresponsible.

An NRA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Manchin clashed with the NRA in 2013, when he took the lead on federal legislation to strengthen background checks on gun sales in the wake of the December 2012 shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The NRA opposed the measure and included the vote on its scorecard ranking lawmakers on support for gun rights. Manchin has said the NRA's move was the main reason his bill failed.

He kept his NRA lifetime membership anyway.

The NRA Wins Again on Armor-piercing Bullets, But Common Sense Was Already Lost

Mike Weisser   |   March 11, 2015    8:54 AM ET

A week before the ATF was going to stop receiving public comments about its proposal to ban so-called 'armor-piercing' ammo the agency shut down the whole process, announced they were going back to the drawing board and, at some later date not specified, would revisit the whole issue again. The ATF received more than 80,000 emails and if you think some of them came from the International Bible Holiness Movement or another of the frontline anti-gun violence groups, think again.

And if you don't believe the NRA isn't celebrating, you're wrong on that one, too. They immediately posted victory statements from Wayne and Chris, sent news releases out to ever-welcoming Fox which featured their next President, Rand Paul, speaking out against the ATF, and of course went out of their way to label the ATF decision as a "defeat" of their arch-enemy and all-time best gun salesman, a.k.a. Barack.

Any time the gunnies can push back the U.S. Government on a gun issue, they'll celebrate their victory as yet another step towards enshrining the 2nd Amendment as the unquestioned law of the land. By the same token, the gun-sense folks will bemoan yet another defeat at the hands of a seemingly all-powerful NRA and try to figure out how to keep this embarrassing loss from happening again.

I happen to think that both sides are barking up the wrong tree. Whether they know it or not, the ATF's decision to shelve its new armor-piercing guideline is actually a victory for all of us who want laws to be reasonable, responsible and fashioned to reflect both reality plus a dose of good old common sense. The Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act which created the whole issue of armor-piercing ammunition in the first place was a careless and thoughtless example of legislative stupidity that should never have been proposed, never passed and never signed into law. If the ATF's determination to step back from enforcing this statute turns it into a dead letter, nobody who's committed to government as a force to secure the common good should be at all upset.

The bill was originally introduced by Congressmen Jack Brooks of Texas and Mario Biaggi of New York. There were actually two separate pieces of legislation, the Brooks bill being somewhat less restrictive than Biaggi's measure, but they would ultimately be combined into one law that would eventually get through Congress and go to President Bush's desk in 1986. The bill had support from most of the national police associations and while the NRA cautioned against passage, the gun-rights group kept most of its powder dry for another day.

The law was passed by voice vote in both chambers so that none of our elected representatives had to go on record for supporting or opposing the measure, a cute compromise which also made it easy for the NRA to pretend it opposed the law even though some of the organization's most staunch supporters, such as Brooks, could appear to be pro-gun while actually voting for the bill. If you think that a non-recorded vote creates a little stench, you'll really have to hold your nose if you read the testimony about the issue that was given before the House Judiciary Committee in May, 1985.

It turns out that nobody knew how to define 'armor-piercing' ammunition and no serious testing was conducted to determine which types of ammunition should be covered by the law. Unable to define the what, why and how of ammunition that might penetrate a vest, the Committee relied on testimony from ex-cops like Mario Biaggi who wanted to outlaw all kinds of ammunition shot from handguns because people didn't normally use rifles to attack the police.

The serious testing and research that Congress should have demanded was never carried out and now all we have is a law that creates a good stink. The NRA should hardly be claiming a big victory nor should the other side be wallowing in defeat. We all lost on this one back in 1986.

The Guy With the Guns Is Afraid?

Daniel Gross   |   March 7, 2015    1:08 PM ET

The guy with the guns is afraid?

National Rifle Association President James W. Porter II devotes a recent column in the NRA's flagship publication to calling out me and every supporter of the Brady Campaign for leading a national conversation on the extraordinary danger to children of unsafe access to guns in the home.

The NRA president falsely claims that Brady leaders and supporters "are flat-out saying that they want to take your guns and your neighbor's guns." And he hits the panic button over our focus on parents' responsibility to realize the real dangers of guns in the home and to take appropriate steps to keep our kids and families safe.

It is ironic that the guy with the guns is spreading fear over a conversation about child safety. But we won't be shouted down by the corporate gun lobby. We'll do whatever it takes to protect our kids.

Unsafe access to guns in the home is a leading cause of deaths among U.S. children and teens, according to The Truth About Kids & Guns: 2015, a new report from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The basis for this strong statement lies in statistics available to the public from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most recent data, from 2013, shows that firearm-related injuries are the second most common cause of death for children and teens ages 1-19. Only motor vehicles were responsible for more deaths among this age group. In 2013, suicide by firearm increased among American adolescents for the third consecutive year. In 2013, suicide by firearm reached a 12-year peak, claiming 876 lives among adolescents ages 10 to 19 - the highest level since 2001.

Research shows that most of these youth suicides (82 percent) occur with a gun belonging to a family member, usually a parent. The same trend holds true with unintentional shootings and even school shootings. In most school shooting cases (67 percent), the gun comes from the home of the shooter or a friend or relative.

Every day, seven children and teens are killed by guns and another 44 are shot and survive. Our hearts break each time we learn of a new loss, such as:

  • the 5-year old Missouri boy who found his grandfather's gun and unintentionally shot and killed his nine-month-old brother;
  • the 2-year-old in Florida who found his father's gun, played with it, and shot himself fatally in the chest;
  • the Washington State high school student who took a relative's gun and shot five friends, killing four and seriously injuring another before killing himself; and
  • the 16-year old high school soccer player in Kansas who shot and killed herself at home.
These deaths are preventable. If school shootings, unintentional shootings and suicides are to be stopped, the effort begins at home. It starts with parents, who need to recognize the risks of guns in the home and make safer choices about gun access and storage. Millions of Americans bring a gun into the home in the false belief that it will make their families safer. But every day, as news reports and the latest data show, tragedies result. We can have an impact by educating parents about the real risks of having a gun in the home, which include homicide, suicide, and unintentional shootings.

The NRA wants to squelch the simple message of responsible parenting to protect our children. We'll do everything we can to keep our kids safe. We will be heard.

Join our conversation. Talk to friends and family. Ask if there is a gun where your child visits or plays. Ask how it is stored. And if one of your loved ones is depressed and having suicidal thoughts, then remove items from your home - like guns or medication - that could be used in a suicide attempt. If you don't want to get rid of a gun to prevent a potential suicide, then consider storing it in a secure location off-site.

The Second Amendment lets Americans own guns. The First Amendment lets us talk about how dangerous they are. Don't let the NRA shout down the national conversation about the extraordinary danger to children and families of guns in the home.

Join us and improve the safety of America's children. You just might save a life.

Safe Gun Storage Saves Lives

John Rosenthal   |   March 4, 2015   10:30 AM ET

This week in Harris County, Texas three young children were shot with unsecured guns found by children. Two of these children are dead due to accidental self-inflicted wounds. One of the children, aged 6, remains hospitalized after being shot by a younger brother. Each of these three families has been forever changed by a few moments in time. The local sheriff appears to be forever changed by these tragedies as well. He called a press conference after the third shooting to advocate for safe gun storage, he is quoted as saying "I beg of you, help us to keep from having to respond to tragedy that can be prevented."

Unfortunately, what is happening in Harris County is happening all over the country, albeit at a less rapid pace. According to the Children's Defense Fund, in 2012, the year of the most recent data, guns killed more children under five years old than law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty (81 deaths versus 46 deaths). Even when a child does not get injured, child access to a firearm still puts adults at risk. For example, last December a toddler was able to access his mother's loaded gun while they were shopping at an Idaho Walmart. The boy fired one shot that ultimately killed his mother.

By some estimates there are over 310 million guns in the United States, many of which are stored negligently. In addition, over 30 percent of Americans report that they have a gun in their home.

In light of this, some states are taking action to prevent these tragedies. For example in my home state of Massachusetts, there are laws requiring guns be stored locked and unloaded unless under the gun owners direct control, to prevent unauthorized access. These laws encourage gun owners to act responsibly before a tragedy while providing law enforcement with a mechanism to respond to negligent gun storage- even before a child gains access. Massachusetts is not alone, twenty-eight states currently have some sort of child access prevention law on the books and eleven states are currently considering similar bills.

While these laws are an important first step, the Harris County Sheriff is ultimately correct, these tragedies can be prevented and responsible gun ownership is the key. A simple $5 trigger lock can save a life. Keep your gun locked and unloaded unless it's in your direct control, the cost is just too high to do otherwise.

Why 'Armor-Piercing' Bullets Are Flying Off the Shelves

Mike Weisser   |   March 2, 2015    9:57 AM ET

You know that something's up in the gun business when Rush Limbaugh starts talking about gun control. And what he was talking about this past week was the decision by the ATF to create a new standard for exempting certain kinds of so-called 'armor-piercing' bullets from the ban that Congress placed on such ammo in 1986. The law was designed to prevent civilians from buying or carrying ammo whose bullets could penetrate body armor worn by police, but manufacturing exemptions were routinely granted if the ATF determined that the ammo was going to be used for 'sporting purposes,' which usually meant that it would be used in rifles, as opposed to handguns whose use usually served no hunting or sporting purposes at all.

The announcement by the ATF was picked up by Rush not because he cares a wit about guns, but because he could then go into a riff about how the 'regime' was once again using executive actions to promote liberal policies which Congress would never pass. By the time I turned Rush off and booted up my computer, the web was crawling with denunciations of the latest threat to 2nd Amendment rights, with the NRA calling the plan a "disaster" and the blogs following suit. Because what the ATF is proposing is a ban on the manufacture of the 5.56x45 round, which just happens to be a cartridge designed for the AR-15. Get rid of the ammo, get rid of the gun, right?

The ATF might have left this whole issue alone were it not for the decision by gun makers to begin manufacturing handguns chambered for 5.56x45. And this decision was based on the fact that AR-15 rifles, which had been a major part of the upswing in gun sales after the election of the Kenyan in 2008, can be turned into handguns by simply substituting a barrel of shorter length. And since the determination of what constitutes a 'sporting' cartridge is based on whether it is designed primarily for rifle as opposed to handgun use, now that civilians can start walking around with AR-15 handguns, the exemptions for sporting use of the ammunition no longer hold.

What the ATF is now proposing are exemptions for this ammunition based on a much narrower definition of the kinds of guns for which such ammo would be used. Basically, ammo manufacturers will be able to make and sell this cartridge only if it is loaded in a rimfire round (which is much less dangerous) or used in a single-shot handgun which, by definition, is rarely found in the hands of the bad guys committing all those crimes with guns. Which doesn't mean that AR-15 shooters won't have anything to load into their guns, ipso facto they might as well throw the guns away. What it does mean, however, is that the gun industry will finally have to fess up to the fact that AR-15 rifles, marketing campaigns notwithstanding, aren't really sporting guns at all.

The AR-15 sold in the United States can actually take two rounds: the 5.56x45 NATO cartridge with a 62-grain bullet, and the .223 Remington cartridge, normally loaded with a 55-grain shell. The 5.56 is also loaded with a 55-grain bullet, but the difference is that the heavier 5.56x45 penetrates more deeply, is significantly more lethal, but tends at long distances to be a bit less accurate than the 223. The 5.56x45 was adopted by the military because of its lethality, and it's a stretch to think of it as a 'sporting' round.

The gun industry is challenging the ATF ruling not because it will mean the end of 'black' guns, but because they want to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to promote AR-15s as the newest style of sporting guns for hunting or just plain fun. On the other hand, they also want to promote these weapons as the latest and greatest 'tools' for personal defense. Either way, I guarantee you that the net result of Limbaugh's rant will be a disappearance of all AR-15 ammo within the next couple of days.