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I Wish I Didn't Recognize This Place

Walker Griffy   |   October 14, 2015    6:23 PM ET

In 2013, Santa Monica College, where I teach, was the site of a mass shooting that left three members of our college community dead. The shooter, who was also killed, left behind a duffel bag full of ammunition and a handgun aside from the AR-15 rifle used to carry out the attack. Memorials on campus have become an everyday piece of the campus landscape since.

On Thursday, October 1st, a self-identified "spiritual conservative" who posted on "Beta-Male" message boards about killing people did, in fact, kill people. He warned like-minded individuals that he was going to do it on a college campus in the Pacific Northwest, and many of them encouraged him, thanking him for the heads up. He killed 9 people and injured 7 others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR. He had three pistols and a rifle.

Also on Thursday, October 1st, arsonists attempted (I assume this was their goal) to burn down a Planned Parenthood branch in Thousand Oaks, CA near my city of Los Angeles. Luckily, they were not very good at arson, and the consequences were minor. The intent, however, was not. They poured gasoline inside the building and set it on fire.

On August 20th, two men in Boston beat a homeless Hispanic man with a pipe and urinated on him while proclaiming their admiration for Donald Trump. They told this man, who was homeless and helpless, that all illegals should be deported. Trump meekly condemned the attack, but then quickly conceded that his supporters "are passionate."

A couple weeks ago, George Zimmerman retweeted a photo of Trayvon Martin's corpse. Zimmerman's Twitter profile picture is a confederate flag. His profile is merely a Latin phrase that translates to "if you want peace, prepare for war." He has been cited and arrested for acts and threats of violence targeting his intimate partners. This is a man who has become a paragon for gun ownership and action in the name of self-defense.

As I was editing this piece to be posted, we experienced two more school shootings: one in Texas, one in Arizona. I don't have much more to say, I don't want to laugh, but I no longer know what to do. When there isn't even time to edit a short essay before two more shootings pop up, we're beyond the pale.

Rhetoric has consequences.

Invoking the Second Amendment stirs passion in a certain voting populace -- they have long been conditioned that being pro-guns is patriotic, that freedom means the right to bear arms. There is truth to that. But who is responsible for the addendum that any attempt to make sure one is not a lunatic with violent objectives is infringing on that freedom? Who benefits from that? Statistics clearly show that the general population does not.

Invoking the primal "us vs. them" reflex creates a common enemy and gives an easy excuse for why someone is down on their luck -- "if it wasn't for those pesky outsiders, I'd be doing better." Inconveniently for Trump, another loud man with political aspirations used the same approach in 1933 with a fair amount of success.

This reactionary status quo is toxic and pervasive, and we should not be mistaken about what that stance is really about -- people citing patriotism, religious principles, traditional values have no interest in any of the above. This is a cultural war. This is a power struggle between those who do not want to lose the power they have (and have had for a long time) and those who only want to be powerful enough to carve out a place for themselves. History has taught us that those in power don't like to have questions asked of them; they're much more comfortable providing qualifiers -- "one bad can't fix crazy..." -- than accepting responsibility. One does not need to be on the bullhorn calling for violence to incite it.

Paranoia consistently lends more than a helping hand to ignoring the plague of true violence, sexism and racism. Women who make claims and accusations of rape are often first met with skepticism and concern about ulterior motives. Knee-jerk reactions to calls for increased awareness about on-campus cultures of sexual violence cite concern for a society obsessed with political correctness and in-vogue activism. The Black Lives Matter movement has been countered with All Lives Matter, as though the two sentiments are mutually exclusive. There is a culture of aversion in facing real issues of personal safety while embracing the sanctity of our "individual freedom". What is more critical to the quest for individual freedom than individual safety?

We can point the finger at those who have a stage for this rhetoric, those who somehow legitimize it as the rhetoric of principles. And we should. But we must also demand better from ourselves, for ourselves. Demand that those who see feminism as an attack on men give reasons for feeling that way. Demand that those who refuse to acknowledge that we have a gun problem give reasons for why waiting periods and background checks are so fascistic. Demand that those who insist that the culture of sexual violence is not a problem give reasons for why the statistics aren't good enough for them. Because I'm sick of looking at yet another story of death and violence in my newsfeed and recognizing it as typically American, as just another day in the greatest country on Earth.

Rhetoric has consequences. It goes beyond clapping hands in a room or likes on social media. For the people who believe they are merely applauding a voice in a dialogue that has sought to exclude them (often mistakenly), there are others out there who believe they have been charged with a righteous vigilante mission. It is time that we hold those who plead ignorance to this phenomenon accountable. It is time for us to demand better from everyone around us. It is time to actually help those who need help. It is time to elevate the conversation. Enough is enough.

Badger Guns Verdict Shows That, Like Gay Marriage, Guns Will Be a Losing Issue for GOP

Mike Weisser   |   October 14, 2015    6:15 PM ET

Remember the NRA's favorite slogan? The one that goes, "Gun don't kill people, people kill people?" Well a jury in Milwaukee decided that it was the gun, in this case a gun sold to one jerk who actually bought it for another jerk who then pulled it out and shot two Milwaukee cops back in 2009. Luckily the cops lived, even though they sustained serious injuries; the shooter's sitting in a cage for the next 80 years or so. As for the guy who bought the gun, he got two years for participating in a "straw sale."

Coincidentally, the very same day of the verdict, the Democratic presidential candidates spent nine minutes of their first debate sparring about gun control, and I noticed that Shlump Trump didn't mention this segment of the debate at all in the snarky comments he kept sending out to his infantile fan club. The nation's Number One Clown may "love" the 2nd Amendment, but the Milwaukee verdict tells a much different tale when it comes to how the average American thinks about guns.

I wasn't in the courtroom so what I know about the trial is second-hand, but the charge against the gun shop, Badger Guns, was that the store was "negligent" in selling the gun to someone who was buying it for someone else, and this negligence then led to the shooting of the cops. Prosecutors charged that the shop employee should have known that he was engaging in a "straw" sale because the buyer kept making mistakes as he filled out the 4473, even at first stating that he was not the "actual" buyer of the gun, and that no attempt was made to verify the straw buyer's real address.

The defense claimed, on the other hand, that the gun shop was "set up" because the straw buyer and the real buyer had conspired to deceive the store regarding the true identity of the person who would ultimately receive the gun. In effect, the store was duped; hence, no negligence on its part in the later shooting of the cops. This gun shop, incidentally, has been on the radar screen for a long time, having been the source of more than 500 crime guns in one year alone.

The bottom line in the Milwaukee case is that the average American jury is no longer enamored of the NRA and no more forgiving when it comes to violence caused by guns. There have just been too many shootings and too much pro-gun belligerence from the NRA and other gun-nut groups like the bunch in Texas who go marching around in public showing off their guns. Alex Yablon summed it up nicely in today's article in The Trace: "The NRA has a group of reliable single-issue voters who can be counted on to show up to the ballot box. The thing is, they're always there." And it's not as if the next mass shooting will motivate more people to join the NRA.

Gun rights voters have become this year's favorite morality play for the Republicans who can't win national elections unless they find a niche, social issue to motivate their base. They used to have gay marriage but that's disappeared. They can still gin up anger over illegal immigration but new immigrants now represent too many votes. And as for abortion, Republicans have been sitting in the White House for 23 of the 42 years since Roe v. Wade in 1973 and a woman's right to choose is still law of the land.

When it comes to social issues, the Republicans talk big and act small. And I think this is exactly what will happen going forward in the debate over guns. Because once Democratic politicians realize that the NRA can't stop background checks at the state level or lawsuits against guys who sell guns, you'll see gun control inexorably moving forward in state after state. Remember that 37 states already declared gay marriage lawful before the SCOTUS agreed.

The Sacred Matter of Guns in American History

Gary Laderman   |   October 14, 2015   12:38 PM ET

Guns. Guns, guns, guns, guns and more guns. Americans and their guns. Americans love their guns. Guns are everywhere. All kinds of guns. Some Americans stockpile, others have one handgun in the lockbox in the closet; some are connoisseurs and others could care less about technological innovation and aesthetic beauty.

Still, one fact is indisputable: Americans kill with their guns in non-combat military environments at a rate that far exceeds most if not all other so-called civilized societies. In fact, you could now say that the lines between war environments and peace environments no longer hold in American society--now Americans don't know any other circumstances but living with combat-ready citizens and combat level carnage, which can happen anytime, anywhere--workplaces and churches, hospitals and classrooms. No where is safe.

I think it's safe to say that many Americans worship their guns, though they themselves might not see it quite in that way.

It's alluded to many times when the topic of gun violence is at the top of the news cycle: there's something religious about guns. For Garry Wills, writing after the Sandy Hook massacre of children and adults, guns are an "object of reverence." Our Moloch, a god who requires the sacrifice of children, in his religious mapping of this phenomenon, and a sign we are living in a "deeply degraded culture."

Perhaps more akin to a fetish, in the old-school meaning of the term, the gun has magical powers for Americans who are looking for the same thing the so-called "primitive" societies craved: safety from enemies, protection from danger, strength and access to power--survival basically, and a constant living in fear.

The question is not about "mental health." Nor is it about how to control and regulate the sale of firearms. What matters most here and now to better grasp the power and meaning of owning guns in American life is American history, which is a sad but familiar tale of gun worship and gun carnage. From the get go, guns make America and Americans make guns sacred.

Hunting and sport, I think, are secondary in the religious equation; protection and fear, on the other hand, are elementary. The historical roots are obvious from the Revolutionary War and that pesky second amendment, but what seals the deal takes place in the nineteenth century and is generally and conveniently labeled: "manifest destiny." More specifically, Americans had to conquer the frontier in order to stand up and spread the sacred, world-redeeming, ordained by God, special mission of this nation.

While diseases wiped out native populations through the century, dishonest and disgraceful treaties took land away as western territories were cleared for American interests, and the horrors and perversions of slavery were driving the dreams of expansion across the continent, guns were a constant presence.

Not only a constant as a material object on the frontier, in households, with the military, carried by the police, handled by criminals, sold by dealers and so on; but also a symbol, with symbolic power in popular imaginations and cultures, carried by frontiersmen and cowboys, lawmen and sidekicks who avenge wrongdoing, justify terrible violence, and ensure moral order.

The gun solves the problem of living on the frontier in the minds of many Americans--it is an instrument of God's will, national duty, communal safety, and personal salvation, all wrapped up in one seemingly inanimate object.

We are no longer living in the nineteenth century, but the frontier experience and the "wild west" sensibilities from that distant time still live on today, in our time, and in current debates about gun control.

It would be nice if we could find a simple fix to gun violence: only give guns to people who are mentally stable; or make all the guns disappear; or just give guns to everybody with the hope that that makes everyone safer. But it is obviously not that simple.

In this case, given the religious values at stake in the debates and the sacred status of the gun for so many, it may be that the more we understand the deeper historical and cultural currents underlying the problems of gun violence in America, the more difficult it is to believe that the problem can ever be solved.

Whitney Meers   |   October 12, 2015    5:14 PM ET

Here's one store where it pays not to be an atheist. 

In the aftermath of the recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, a gun store owner in Kingston, Tennessee, is offering a 5 percent discount to anyone who purchases a new firearm -- with the apparent caveat that the buyer states his or her religion.

The discount at Frontier Firearms applies to people who state their religion -- or any religion -- at the time of purchase. A recent Facebook ad promoting the deal gave the impression that it would only be available to people who say "I'm a Christian." But the store owner, Brant Williams, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that the discount isn't specific to any one faith.

"If someone walks into the store and says, 'I'm not a Christian, but I saw your ad,' we'll give them the discount anyway," Williams said, adding that his business has never discriminated against anyone representing any religion.

Williams had sounded a bit less inclusive last week, when he told Knoxville's WVLT that "if Christians are going to be targeted, we need to protect ourselves."

The Frontier Firearms promotion is a response to reports that Christopher Harper-Mercer, the gunman in the UCC slayings, had asked at least some of his victims about their religion before shooting them. According to some accounts, Harper-Mercer appeared to be targeting Christians specifically, but other witnesses say he was shooting people no matter how they answered the question.

Despite the conflicting reports, Williams firmly believes the Oregon shooting was religiously motivated, as does Eric Parish, Frontier Firearms' vice president.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, or Republican, an Independent, the Green Party, I don’t care what party you’re with. But to say that that shooting right there had nothing to do with religion is ludicrous,” Parish told The Daily Beast in an article published Tuesday. “What if someone had done the same thing and they only shot them if they were Muslim? Would the President react differently?”

Harper-Mercer killed nine people and injured nine others before taking his own life, according to reports.

An ad posted Oct. 5 on Frontier Firearms' Facebook page reads "Save 5% off any new handgun by saying, 'I'm a Christian.'" It also features an image of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R), who recently urged Christians to consider getting handgun permits in the wake of the UCC shooting. 

The ad has attracted backlash, but Williams said the criticism is misguided. He told HuffPost that his original intention was to create an opportunity for people to reap rewards for declaring their Christian faith, in contrast to what supposedly happened in Oregon.

"If [the shooter] asked me next, what would I say? Would I say, 'I'm a Christian?' I hope I would, but I don't know," Williams said. "I am a Christian, but would I have the courage to say that?"

Since the promotion began, Frontier Firearms has seen an increase in sales, but Williams said it's not clear whether that's a result of the discount or a reaction to President Barack Obama's latest remarks on the need for gun control. Such statements occasionally result in sales upticks, Williams said. In any case, he is satisfied with the outcome.

"The blessing I've experienced is that people come into the store and say 'I'm a Christian' and we talk about our faith," he told HuffPost, adding that he would welcome having such conversations with people of any religion.

As a result of the promotion's success, the sale will continue indefinitely.

Whatever can be said about Williams' approach, it's not the most truculent behavior from a weapons seller this year. Last month, Andrew Hallinan, a firearms dealer in Florida who had previously declared his store a "Muslim-free zone," began offering $25 off purchases to people who used the coupon code "Muslim." Hallinan -- who also sells Confederate flag paintings by George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, in 2012 -- is facing a lawsuit for discriminatory business practices.

Guns and Change: Wake up GOP! Let America Evolve!

John Tsilimparis   |   October 12, 2015    4:00 PM ET

Here's the deal. Or perhaps an alternative interpretation as to why we Americans are so divided about so many social issues, the pro-gun or anti-gun subject being no exception. Perchance, very simply put, one of the reasons is a naïve yet reckless fear of change. Yes, reckless -- as in irresponsibly hindering basic human progress. However, in a world where everything HAS to change and WILL change, it is clearly causing us serious problems and disturbingly, it is costing us human lives as well. Too many of them. This naiveté impairs our ability to adapt and hence evolve both psychologically and socially as a species and consequently, the laws we implement in our society. Therefore, the continued resistance to change (this includes the climate change argument and many other important social dilemmas) in the face of so much evidence is astounding.

Adaptation or Extinction

We all know the infamous declaration ascribed to scientist Charles Darwin that says, "It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change." If that is true, then we as a society are doomed unless we ALL learn to grasp the concept of acceptance, change and ultimately adapt to the true needs of the people. It's an essential cognitive modification of our thinking here. If we keep ignoring the fact that our epic aversion to change dominates issues like the gun-law reform conversation, according to Mr. Darwin our days as a civilized society are numbered. Change or die! (he said it, not me).

In light of yet more mass murder shootings in the recent past, which has again brought the gun-law reform issue to the table, we are back to the same resistance to do anything about it. The death toll in mass murder shootings in the U.S. since Columbine in 1999 is shocking. Personally, I believed that after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in late 2013, when 20 little children were murdered along with 6 adults by a mentally ill gun-man, we would see some type of reconsideration of this issue. Yet, no movement from lawmakers was made. Instead we got the typical groundswell of sympathy. But we don't need thoughts and prayers anymore, we need new legislation now. The clock is ticking until the next one occurs.

The GOP and many conservatives are really stuck on this and cannot see the forest for the trees. They are terrified to pull the camera back from the same old movie they have been watching for decades and adopt a wide-angle look at the panorama of the situation -the number of deaths, the mind-numbing statistics, the broken hearts and shattered lives. Accordingly, I assert that it's not only about people being afraid of losing their right to own a gun, but it's about fearing an imagined, calamitous revolution of change that spooks the heck out of many people.

In addition, let's not forget that we as a nation have done this before. This kind of large-scale societal change is no different than altering the landscape of our culture less than 100 years ago when we allowed women the right to vote. It is also no different than opening up our minds and changing our laws about civil rights in the 1960's. And most recently, and with equal and characteristically dragged out opposition, creating space in our traditional thinking by legalizing gay marriage. We adjusted then, so we can adjust again now. Consequently, in the same manner we now look back in disbelief at those closed minded times in our history, I want to believe that someday soon (like, NOW!) after we have cultivated some kind of gun law reform, we will look back in the near future and say things like, "Wow, we used to allow anyone to purchase a lethal weapon?" Or, "It was that easy to buy a firearm in those days? That's crazy!"

Another example of this averseness to human evolution is the tired and decaying rhetoric about outdated family values and the preservation of traditional marriage. We still continue to hear this archaic dialogue from conservatives, notwithstanding the reality. The reality being that for better or worse, the complexion of the American family has drastically transformed over the last few decades (it's embarrassing to have to point this out in the year 2015). As we all know, the American family has evolved into single-parent families, same-sex families, transgender families, bi-racial, blended, etc. Again, whether we like it or not, for better or worse, THAT is life! It is incumbent upon us to adjust.

However, many conservatives, including politicians -especially fundamentally religious ones -deny this reality and keep living in a world of fantasy. Republican politicians like Ted Cruze, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee to name a few. Yikes! These guys act like they've been living under a rock for the last 20 years despite their prestigious law degrees and years of experience in public service. They are so out of touch with the true needs of our society that they appear delusional. And most alarmingly, this perpetuation of the delusion (believing in things that are not there) oppresses people and stunts the normal progression of our culture. Yet they remain obstinate (Note: It's not stupidity, it's fear of change).

Remember, everything and I mean everything is in constant, unavoidable flux. Even the earth, the planet we call home, is a living breathing entity that is evolving and shifting as we speak. Nothing can stay the same including humans. So we have to consider our life circumstances and everything we are afraid to embrace the same way. We need to stop trying to control the inevitabilities of life's ever mutable aspects. When we DO try to control the inexorable advancements in our society, it's the equivalent of trying to suppress colossal tectonic plate movements beneath the ground we stand on. So, we naturally must evolve too. Anxiety and excessive worry is not caused by fear of the future, it's caused by trying to control the future.

So, call me crazy but possibly the pro-gun or anti-gun problem is not just a political issue anymore. Perhaps, we should modify the conversation and call it a basic survival of the species issue. Why not? Nothing else is working. We are flat and immovable on this issue. If we don't grow and adapt to the changing times of our country and in this case, if we don't change our laws about firearm accessibility, we could conceivably degenerate as a society and break off into such polarity and disunity that it could start to feel like a modern civil war. The United States of America would turn into the irreconcilable and Divided States of America all over again. Adaptation or extinction? Let's choose wisely, shall we?

As a psychotherapist, every patient that comes through my door wants to feel better. Why else would they come to see me? But for the last 21 years of being in practice, I have noticed that the only way a patient will get better is by altering their behavior around many of the issues they want to feel better about. That means making a firm and conscious commitment, despite trepidations and self-doubt, to at first implement small and measurable changes in their lives. Without this eventual shift, the treatment moves at a snail's pace and often proves ineffective. So, regardless of what they are grappling with, it is always apparent that one of the reasons they are so unhappy is they have stopped evolving. They have stopped opening their minds up to new things and ideas, they have lost their desire to learn, they have ceased taking risks, and they have distanced themselves from loving others and from being loved in return.

Well, it's the same with our nation's problems. We are a sick and divided nation because many of us fear this same change. Hence we try to control it by preserving traditional thinking. But just because it's traditional doesn't make it right or healthy.

Lastly, maybe the nonpolitical method is indeed the best new approach to restart the "guns in America" discourse. Whether it's acknowledging our epic fear of change as I just discussed, or looking at this as a public health issue instead. Quite possibly our lawmakers can make gun safety as effective as other public safety crusades have been in the past. In a recent U.S. News and World Report article, Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director for the American Public Health Association says, "There are ways for us in a nonpolitical manner to make people safer with their firearms in a society. We did it for car accidents. We made cars safer, we made people safer driving their cars and we made the environment safer."

Georges and Charles might be on to something!

Carol Kuruvilla   |   October 12, 2015    3:58 PM ET

ROME (RNS) Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, named by Pope Francis to that high-profile post a year ago, has issued a powerful call for tougher gun control laws in a move that may push the volatile issue further up the Catholic hierarchy’s agenda than it has been before.

The original intent of the Constitution’s right to bear arms has been “perverted” by a gun industry that is seeking profits at any cost, Cupich wrote in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. The founding fathers could not have anticipated the widespread availability of “military-grade assault weapons that have turned our streets into battlefields.”

“It is no longer enough for those of us involved in civic leadership and pastoral care to comfort the bereaved and bewildered families of victims of gun violence,” he wrote in the column, which was published Friday (Oct. 9).

“We must band together to call for gun-control legislation,” he concluded.  “We must act in ways that promote the dignity and value of human life. And we must do it now.”

In the column, Cupich cited a memorable line from Pope Francis’ speech to Congress during his U.S. visit last month, when the pontiff denounced the profits of the arms trade as “money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” It is money made off weapons, he said, “sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society.”

The pope’s critique drew a standing ovation from many in the House and Senate, though they apparently saw the blast as directed principally at the international arms trade. Cupich disagreed.

“They really can’t stand and applaud one understanding of that line and ignore the domestic implications,” Cupich said in an interview in Rome, where he is one of 270 bishops from around the world meeting for an intense three-week debate about the church’s approach to family life in the modern world.

In his op-ed, Cupich cited not only Francis’ remarks, but also the Umpqua Community College massacre in Oregon that took place within a week of the pope’s visit. He also brought up the seemingly nonstop pace of shootings in Chicago itself, a city that has become synonymous with gun violence. In a recent shooting he cited, a toddler was wounded and her mother and grandmother were killed.

Yet while those tragedies were part of the equation, Cupich said he had been thinking about the issue since he was installed as Francis’ personal pick for the influential archdiocese last November.

Cupich said he wanted to take time to assess the local situation, to talk with pastors and civic leaders and law enforcement officials so that when he did speak out he would “at least provoke further action … rather than just saying something that would get a headline.”

The archbishop not only called out gun sellers and “the damage done” by their quest for profits, but he also took direct aim at the Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantee of a “right to bear arms,” a right that has become increasingly sacrosanct for many Americans and the powerful gun lobby.

“Let’s be honest,” Cupich wrote. “The Second Amendment was passed in an era when organized police forces were few and citizen militias were useful in maintaining the peace. Its original authors could not have anticipated a time when the weapons we have a right to bear now include military-grade assault weapons that have turned our streets into battlefields.

“The Second Amendment’s original intent has been perverted by those who, as Pope Francis recently commented, have profited mightily. Surely there is a middle ground between the original intent of the amendment and the carnage we see today.” 

With his column, Cupich — whose is seen as mirroring Francis’ pastoral approach to ministry — becomes the most prominent U.S. Catholic churchman to call for greater gun control, and in the most forceful and direct terms.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which comprises the nation’s nearly 450 bishops, has not made fighting gun violence a priority, and officials representing the hierarchy have generally used more measured language on the issue.

In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting massacre, for example, the USCCB called for “reasonable restrictions” that would not infringe on Second Amendment rights.

In an interview on Sunday, Cupich said he hoped his fellow bishops would now consider giving gun control — and the environment, also a priority for Francis — much greater emphasis when they meet next month in Baltimore to revamp their guide for Catholic voters ahead of next year’s election.

Currently, both gun violence and the environment are tacked on at the end of the bishops’ voter guide, called “Faithful Citizenship,” while those issues are clearly at the top of the pontiff’s agenda.

Today, however, gun control “is a point that needs to be raised” by the American hierarchy, Cupich told Religion News Service, “with the impetus not just what I said, but what the pope said.”

 Also On HuffPost:


Sorry Ben Carson, the Best Gun Safety Strategy Is Not Owning a Gun, Period

Ian Reifowitz   |   October 12, 2015    3:07 PM ET


Ben Carson really needs to stop talking about what people should and shouldn't do when confronted by an armed criminal. First, he criticized the victims and bystanders at Oregon's Umpqua Community College--and by implication, those at other mass shootings--for not doing what he'd have done in that situation: "Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me." Carson said he'd have attacked the gunman and encouraged everyone else around him to do the same.

To his credit, when Carson was in just that kind of situation, that's exactly what he did. Except: No, he didn't. What he actually did sounds like the dictionary definition of what it means to cooperate with an armed criminal. Here's Carson in his own words: "I have had a gun held on me ... Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, 'I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'"

Carson's fantasy scenario is the one that reflects the way many Americans approach the issue of guns. The fantasists have come to believe that if they had a gun, they'd be able to ensure their own safety and the safety of those around them. What they refuse to see is that if you want to make yourself safer, the evidence shows that buying a gun is the last thing you should do.

One way of looking at these issues is through the prism of laws. The data strongly suggests that gun control works. A recent study from the National Journal found that the states with the lowest rate of gun deaths in 2013 (i.e., homicides, suicides, accidental gun deaths, and firearm deaths from shootings where intent could not be determined) were states with the tightest gun laws. Those include laws that mandate a permit to buy a handgun, laws that extend to private sales the requirement for a background check (thus closing the "gun show loophole"), and laws that make it difficult to acquire a concealed carry permit.

For example, the six states with the lowest gun death rates from lowest to highest are Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Those states have rates ranging from 2.5 to 5.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The six states with the highest gun death rates, starting with the highest are Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Wyoming. Those states have rates ranging from 16.7 to 19.8 gun deaths per 100,000. We are not talking about small differences here.

The numbers also confound the (incorrect) stereotype that urban areas are more dangerous to live in than non-urban ones, as the six states with the lowest rates were all significantly more urbanized than the average state. Meanwhile, the six states with the highest rates were among the least urbanized, according to census data. One other point: The District of Columbia--a 100 percent urban "state" that conservatives love to cite (again, incorrectly) as evidence that gun control doesn't work, actually has a lower gun death rate than 38 out of 50 states.

Finally, a Johns Hopkins study examined the effects of the 2007 repeal of a Missouri law that required a background check in order to lawfully purchase any gun, including private sales. Even after it "controlled for changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime," the study found that between 2008 and 2012 the law's repeal was responsible for a 14 percent increase in Missouri's murder rate when spread across the state's counties. The state also saw a 25 percent increase in the gun murder rate.

During this period, non-firearm related murders in Missouri did not increase, murders did not significantly go up in any of Missouri's neighboring states, and the national murder rate dropped 5 percent. Combine these data points with the fact that 90 percent of Americans continue to support universal background checks, and the fact that we cannot pass a law mandating them becomes even more infuriating.

Beyond the effectiveness of laws is the question of the effectiveness of gun ownership itself, at least for those who think buying a gun will make them safer. Again, the answer is clear: Having access to a gun makes a person less safe. A meta-analysis of existing studies done at the University of California-San Francisco found that a person who has "access to a firearm" is three times as likely to commit suicide (not attempt, but actually take his or her life), and twice as likely to be murdered when compared to someone without access to a gun. When broken down by gender, men with access to guns are four times more likely to kill themselves than those without, and women with access are three times more likely to be murdered. For just about everyone, if you want to make yourself safer: Don't buy a gun.

These facts may not be common knowledge, but either way, the question remains why so many of us are unable to let go of the kind of fantasy that tumbled out of Ben Carson's mouth. That fantasy appeals to a strain in American culture that venerates the rugged individual, the person who masters their environment. There is a certain hyper-masculine approach to life that purports that one really can achieve control over one's surroundings.

This isn't about the National Rifle Association, and other lobbying groups who exercise disproportionate power in our political system. They merely represent the interests of the gun and ammunition industry that funds them. This is about the power of the cultural and psychological myth of individual control. This myth helps, at least in part, to explain why individuals ignore or deny the very real risks of gun ownership while exaggerating the virtually infinitesimal likelihood that they will ever: a) be in a situation where brandishing a weapon would be both necessary and helpful, and b) actually be able to use one to stop a person aiming to do them harm, as opposed to either shooting an innocent and/or themselves, or having the gun taken from them and possibly used against them.

Two families learned about the risks of owning guns the hard way in just the past few days. In Tennessee, an 8-year-old girl is dead after an 11-year-old boy killed her with his father's shotgun. She wouldn't let him see her puppy. In Ohio, a 12-year-old is dead because his 11-year-old brother shot him accidentally. There were three loaded firearms left on a picnic table while the so-called adults were talking. In reality, it's much more likely that gun owners will shoot themselves, or that another person will end up shot, than that the owner will use it to thwart a criminal. Yet the myth persists.

Some Americans seem unable to accept that there are threats so unlikely to occur that attempting to pre-empt them is more likely to result in harm than the threat itself. Pushing this idea a bit further, it reminds me of the "One Percent Doctrine," a phrase drawn from a remark made by Dick Cheney to describe the Bush administration's approach to terrorism. The phrase is also the title of the book by Ron Suskind on that topic. As Cheney put it:

If there's a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.

To a good degree, this thinking parallels how many Americans unconsciously think of gun ownership. If there's a chance--a small chance, the likelihood of which such people inflate by large multiples--that they might come face to face with an armed criminal, they treat it as a certainty. Only by doing so does buying a gun for self-protection make sense.

The common thread is the type of person whose temperament demands action, now (now!), who shoots first and asks questions later. They buy a gun--or invade a country unprovoked--because they cannot accept the idea of doing what seems like nothing in the face of a potential threat, no matter how small. The need to act connects to the myth that by acting they are exercising control. The hardest thing for such people would be to accept that they cannot control every situation, they cannot make themselves 100 percent safe. Such a level of safety does not exist. Such people cannot accept what they see as a "passive" response, even though the data when it comes to guns shows that such a response, i.e., not buying a gun, will make them safer than buying one.

How many of you remember the ending to the movie WarGames? After running scenario after scenario of a nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR, the computer finally learns a lesson that applies to those who think buying a gun will make them safer.

Having learned that some actions inevitably do more harm than good, the computer ultimately concludes: "The only winning move is not to play."

Damon Beres   |   October 12, 2015   12:17 PM ET

America is already over gun control, just days after a nightmarish shooting left 10 people dead on an Oregon community college campus.

Google Trends data showed on Monday that despite a sharp spike in searches for "gun control" following the mass shooting, interest has essentially petered out. 

Queries for "gun control" on Google, the world's most popular search engine, soared on Oct. 2, one day after the Oregon shooting.

Google gives a relative estimate about search popularity on a scale of 0-100. According to data for the month of October, searches for "gun control" reached their peak of 100 on Oct. 2. Then, the trend started to fade. There was a slight uptick to 52 this past Friday, when there were two more shootings on college campuses, but interest has fallen.

Put a different way, there was about half as much interest in "gun control" when the second and third school shootings of the month happened, compared to that first massacre. 

It's a predictable pattern at this point. Last year, a shooter went on a murdering spree in California on May 23. Search interest in "gun control" peaked, and then it fell.

On Jan. 10, 2013, a student opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun in a high school science classroom. Interest in "gun control" soared on Google. Then it dissipated.

As for the prevailing American attitude on guns this year overall: Searches for "gun shop" have been far more popular than searches for "gun control."

The usual caveats apply here: We can't really draw conclusions about overall public attitudes based on Google searches. But we can understand what people are looking for more information on -- and we can see when people begin to lose interest.

It's possible that all of the outrage over gun violence this month translated into a surge of Google searches for "gun control" that immediately resulted in direct advocacy of and donations to anti-gun groups. Or that the search term became less popular because people simply didn't need the information anymore.

More likely, "gun control" is just the flavor of the week, as we've seen so many times before.

Christine Conetta   |   October 12, 2015    9:39 AM ET

SYDNEY, Australia – Most Australians would remember where they were when they first heard something bad was going on at Port Arthur.

I was walking through the common room at my university residential college and there was a group glued to the old picture­ tube television in the corner -- strange for daylight hours.

Scraps of information were seeping out from the wind­swept historical site on the southern shore of Tasmania, not far from the bottom of the world and already stalked by the ghosts of its brutal penal colony past.

No one was Tweeting. Social media barely existed. Mobile phones were a luxury and spots as remote as Port Arthur had no coverage anyway.

A gunman was on the loose. Five, ten, 15 people shot. Preposterous numbers that just kept growing.

Local police scrambled down the narrow road in, unaware what horror they approached. In the end the toll from ‘the Port Arthur Massacre,’ as it’s etched into Australian vernacular, was 35 dead and 23 injured.

April 28, 1996. Twenty years next year.

It’s sometimes cheap to say an event changed a nation -- but Port Arthur changed Australia.

A whole generation of young Australians is now coming of age having never borne witness to a mass shooting in their own country.

They don’t remember Port Arthur because they weren’t born when a 28­-year-­old with a low IQ stalked through a tourist attraction picking off innocent men, women and children with high-powered weaponry for reasons none of us will ever fathom.

Young adults who have graduated high ­school, can vote, drive and legally drink alcohol (in Australia the drinking age is 18) have never walked on to campus fearing the weirdo from their economics tutorial might turn out to be a gun nut with a death wish.

That’s freedom.


Eighteen- and 19-­year-­old Australians have a luxury they don’t even recognize. Huffington Post Australia spent time on the campus of Sydney University asking about the threat of gun crime.

The responses (see above video) speak for themselves.

Tim Jackson, 21, summed it up: “It hasn’t happened in Australia now for nearly 20 years so to me I don’t think there’s a particular risk of it happening to any of us.”


As the full­-scale horror of what had unfolded at Port Arthur dawned on shocked Australians a refrain Americans would be well­ familiar with rang out -- ‘never again’.

The gunman -- to this day holed up in a Tasmanian prison serving 35 life sentences ­ had used two semi­-automatic rifles, which he claimed to have bought from a dealer with no license.

John Howard had only very recently been elected Prime Minister, leading a coalition government with the conservative rural National Party. Ask him now what he considers the greatest achievement of his 11-­year administration, he invariably answers ‘gun control.’

With the passing of nearly two decades it might start to appear radically overhauling Australia’s gun laws was easy.

It wasn’t.

The legal administration of guns in Australia was a state, not federal, issue. The new prime minister had to corral the premiers of six diverse states into banning the military-­style weapons not considered crucial to the agricultural sector.

The debate reached its climax when Howard appeared at a rally in rural Victoria wearing what appeared to be body armor under his jacket.

john howard vest

In a nation where the PM’s ‘motorcade’ is a single trailing sedan, the image shocked many and offended others -- not least the participants at the rally who felt unfairly maligned.

Howard has said since it was the wrong decision to wear it, telling an interviewer last year, “I never actually felt frightened... it sent the wrong signal.”

But grasping the momentum of ‘never again,’ The National Firearms Agreement banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and pump-­action shotguns, and brought in rigid licensing arrangements. An amnesty was declared and the federal government spent $AUD 500 million ­­-- paid for by a special levy -- ­­on buying back weapons suddenly ruled illegal for their market value.

Nearly 1 million guns were purchased by the government and destroyed.

All firearms in Australia must be registered to a licensed owner and stored under strict conditions, separate to ammunition. Obtaining a gun license is onerous, and requires background checks that can take months.

john howard gun

The Queensland premier Rob Borbidge paid with his career. The conservative then-leader of Australia’s most conservative state put his political neck on the line for gun safety and lost government at the next election.

In 2013, he told John Oliver: “I was prepared to face the political consequences and we delivered gun control. We paid a high political price but we did the right thing.

“There are Australians alive today because we took that action. How much is a life worth?”

No laws are perfect. The Australian Crime Commission estimates there are probably 250,000 illegal long­-arms in Australia, and 10,000 illegal handguns.

The pump­-action shotgun used in the 2014 Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney was believed to be one of them.

You can never really say ‘never.’ But you can envy those 18- and 19-­year-­olds roaming university campuses across Australia never having had to contemplate they might be next.

Video produced by Amber Ferguson and Christine Conetta in the U.S. and Tom Compagnoni and Josh Butler in Australia.

Why Does a Minority Always Win in the Shoot Out Over Gun Control?

David Ropeik   |   October 12, 2015    8:11 AM ET

Our thoughts and prayers aren't enough, we are told. Our sorrow and anger are not enough. We express them after every mass shooting, but nothing changes.

Why aren't these repeated outpourings of emotion and public opinion overwhelmingly in favor of reasonable gun safety laws, enough to get things to change? In a word: fear. The people who fight so fiercely for unfettered gun rights are more afraid than the people who want reasonable gun control.

Yes, fear. Ask yourself one question. How worried -- seriously, personally worried -- are you that you will be shot to death? As sad as you may be about the tragic mass murders in Oregon last week and all the other mass murders-by-gun that have made headlines over recent years, and as angry as you may be that American democracy has been hijacked by extremists who took over the leadership of the NRA in a coup in the '70s to use the gun issue to pursue an absolutist libertarian agenda, how really scared are you, personally, that you will be killed by somebody else with a gun? Probably not all that much.

Statistically this makes sense. In 2013, the chance of being murdered by a gun for the average American was 0.0000035. And, of course, gun murders occur more frequently in certain areas and under certain conditions, making the risk for the "average" American even lower than that.

Psychologically, this lack of worry makes sense, too. We all go about our daily business under the comfortable deceit of what is known as Optimism Bias. Unless a threat is staring us right in the face, we blithely tell ourselves -- subconsciously, of course -- "It won't happen to me." So we may feel sad at the tragedy of these murders. And we may be angry. But we are not personally worried that we are in serious danger. We're not scared enough to get active enough to really press for change.

On the other hand, the few fierce radicals of the gun rights movement are scared, deeply scared. Of what? They say they feel threatened by criminals, terrorists, illegal immigrants, and most of all by 'big government'. They say they need guns to protect themselves from all those threats.

But what these extreme libertarians actually fear runs much deeper than that. These are people who want to live in a society that allows the individual maximum freedom of choice. Yet the government tells them what to do in all sorts of ways, and the more moderate democratic majority overrules their values on issues like abortion or gay marriage, and they feel powerless, viscerally upset that their freedoms are being denied. As the head of the NRA, Wayne "No Compromise" LaPierre has said of the gun rights issue, "Reduced to its core, it is about fundamental individual freedom, human worth and self-destiny (my emphases).

In essence the extremists fighting for unfettered gun rights feel like the world is taking away their power to control their lives. Such powerlessness is profoundly threatening. Research on the psychology of risk perception has found that lack of control -- powerlessness -- is deeply threatening to anyone's sense of safety. Whether it's sitting in the passenger seat of a car and being nervous because you don't have the wheel in your hand, or suffering as a democratic society tells you what to do and imposes values that conflict with yours, when you don't have control over what's happening to you... it's really scary.

This psychology explains why the NRA wins. Gun rights extremists feel seriously personally threatened. They care more.

Depressing as that sounds, there is hope, and it comes, surprisingly, from the very Supreme Court decision that gave the gun rights movement its most important victory. In his majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."
Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. ... the sorts of weapons protected were those "in common use at the time." We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of "dangerous and unusual weapons.

Scalia even seems to invite gun control legislation to work out the details of what the Second Amendment does and doesn't allow, noting that the ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller was just a first step that left a lot to be determined by the democratic process:

... since this case represents this Court's first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment , one should not expect it to clarify the entire field.


We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the (government) a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns.

That is a lot of language, from an arch-conservative paragon, that says all sorts of controls on gun ownership are well within the 2nd Amendment, and that the No Compromise gun rights extremists don't have a legal leg to stand on as they fight any and all reasonable gun safety laws.

But they do have a political leg to stand on, a powerful political leg standing on the deep fears of a small group of people who feel that their freedom to live the way they want ...who feel that their control over their own lives and futures... is threatened. Until the majority of Americans who want reasonable gun safety laws feel that level of passion, the shootings will continue, the bodies will pile up, the professed public sadness/shock/frustration will come and go... and not much will change.

The Constitution Does Not Give 'Crazies' or Republicans the Right to Bear Arms

Alan Singer   |   October 12, 2015    7:13 AM ET

Ben Carson is one of the leading candidates for the Republican Party nomination for President. He does not believe that a Muslim can be President of the United States. He thinks the Holocaust would have been avoided if German Jews carried guns, but does not realize that most of the Jews murdered by the Nazis lived in Poland and Russia. He believes there is an inalienable Constitutional right to own a gun. In a Facebook interview Carson declared "I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away." Apparently he is not that familiar with the United States Constitution, but why should bigotry and ignorance disqualify him or any other Republicans from office. Jeb Bush brushed off the recent mass murder at a community college in Oregon as "stuff happens."

But the United States Constitution does not give "crazies" or Republicans the unrestricted right to own and use guns. The Common Core standards promote close reading of text. Let's take a close look at what the Constitution says.

According to the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

At least according to the text, the original intent of the authors of the Constitution was to "insure domestic Tranquility," "provide for the common defence", "promote the general Welfare," and "secure the Blessings of Liberty." The question is whether unrestricted or minimally restricted gun ownership insures domestic tranquility, provides for national defense, promotes general welfare, or secures the blessing of liberty? Mass murders are definitely not tranquil, the mass murderers are the people we need to be defended from, their having guns does not promote anyone's welfare, and allowing them to have guns certainly did not secure the blessing of liberty to those who were murdered.

But does the government have the authority to restrict gun ownership?

Article 1 Section 8, often referred to as the elastic clause, authorizes Congress "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof." Apparently the government does have the authority to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper" to ensure the mandate spelled out in the preamble which includes regulating gun ownership. This clause makes it possible for the government to regulate the Internet, credit card transactions, air travel, and cable companies, technologies that did not exist when the Constitution was written.

Defenders of the unrestricted right to bear arms like the National Rifle Association cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution as the bases for their right to own automatic guns and high-powered rifles.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Gun advocates think they have a strong case here, but they are missing three important things.

1. The point about the militia. Militias are supposed to be "well regulated." Let's return to Article 1 Section 8. Among the enumerated powers of Congress, it is authorized to "To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions" and "To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress." Apparently Congress gets to decide who gets what weapons, not individuals.

2. "The right of the people to keep and bear Arms" does not specifically permit every individual to own automatic guns and high-powered rifles. There is no reason Congress cannot restrict the type of arms an individual is permitted to own. Congress already does that. United States law requires a license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to refine or import nuclear material and arms importation laws limit importing a nuclear weapon. There is no legal way to acquire a nuclear weapon and their should be no legal way for a civilian outside a militia to acquire automatic guns and high-powered rifles. If they cannot control weapons, they certain can restrict bullets. I have no problem if gun nuts run around using their rifles as clubs, just as long as they can't be fired.

3. To me, what is most important is this concept of the "people," whose rights "shall not be infringed." The "people" refers to a collective right to bear arms in the national defense, not an individual right to shoot people. When the Constitution discusses individuals, it refers to "persons." Individual persons do not have the unrestricted constitutional right to own deadly weapons.

Where is Common Core and the close reading of text when it is useful?

The United States Constitution needs to be seen as a guideline for decision-making, not a restrictive 18th century template that prevents all government action forevermore. Rights are often in conflict and they are not absolute. Terrorist threats are not protected speech. They are illegal. It is also illegal for civilians to bring firearms, ammunition, or clips and magazines on an airplane, whatever the 2nd amendment says or means.

My unrestricted right to do anything I want can interfere with the rights of other individuals or society as a whole to live in tranquility. That is why the Constitution mandates action to promote the general welfare and permits restricting the right of "crazies" and Republicans to bear arms.

Ben Carson Proposes Ending Police Violence Against Black Men by Giving All Black Men Guns

Michael Gene Sullivan   |   October 12, 2015    6:07 AM ET

"The only way to stop a bad cop with a gun is with a good Black man with a gun," says GOP presidential hopeful to stunned audience.

After enduring blistering attacks regarding his statement that The Holocaust could have been avoided if Germany's Jewish population had been armed, Republican presidential candidate and wealthy neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson yesterday took his First Amendment position a step further by addressing one of the most pressing issues in today's America.

"Too many innocent, unarmed Black men are being killed every day by brutal, criminal police officers who see Blackness as a crime punishable by death," Carson said to a stunned senior luncheon at the George Wallace Memorial Cafeteria in Jorkie, Alabama. "How can anyone who believes in the Second Amendment deny these men the chance to defend themselves? Since when do Americans stand by and let uniformed murders walk our streets, preying in whomever they wish?" asked Carson. "Our Founding Fathers did not give us the Right to Bear Arms so that we may settle family disputes with bloodshed - they put this right in the Constitution so that we may help our nation defend itself from external threats, and that we may defend ourselves from the violence of brutal authoritarianism!" Carson roared, to the bewilderment of his melanin-deprived audience, but to the delight of Wilson Jenkins, 87, an indentured servant whose family had been bequeathed to the center in 1869. "I thought this Carson was just another crazy, wanna-be-white fool who had taken too many of his own drugs," said Jenkins as he tugged at his ankle chain, "but finally the brother is starting to make some sense."

"We talk about self-defense," continued Dr. Carson, "but we're not talking about the self-defense of those who most need defending. We try to frighten the soccer mom into buy a Glock, or the small town home owner into getting a shotgun. Why? Statistics show that they are more likely to be killed by a friend or a spouse, and often with the very gun they bought for protection. No, if we want to get guns in the hands of those most threatened by the awful violence of relentless, murderous oppression - as the Founders intended - then we must make sure every Black man has a gun at all times, and that he is trained to use it not to settle arguments or commit petty crimes, but to defend himself, his family, and his Liberty! Only then will these most tyrannized of citizens have a fighting chance against the insane violence perpetrated against them by our racist police state."

Reaction, understandably, was mixed to Carson's statement. When reached for comment about this logical conclusion of the National Rifle Association's "defense against tyranny" position NRA president Wayne LaPierre curled up into a small ball under his desk and repeated "No comment" until he lost consciousness. Gun Rights advocate and U.S. Senator John McCain insisted to reporters that he would've loved to answer questions but had unfortunately locked himself in his car and couldn't get out, being "unable to figure out these newfangled doors." Meanwhile police departments around the country expressed trepidation about Carson's proposition. "I don't think that's the best solution to this particular problem," said Chief Glen Watson, of the Chesterville, Michigan police department. "Maybe we could just train our officers better, ya know? Train them to not see every Black man as a problem that can only be solved with a bullet. Heck, it's worth a try." Chief Becky Meyers, of Unctuous, New Jersey feels the real problem would be with the loss of fearful obedience to authority. "If we can't rely on the threat of arbitrary violence how are we supposed to get respect in our communities?" the Chief wondered. "I just don't get it."

When answering questions on FOX and Friends this morning Carson further elaborated on the need for "Revolutionary Self-Defense" against the abuses of what he called "the racist, imperialist police state."

"Blacks were not the first to feel the full, terrible force of American imperialism, and the lack of weapons to resist it," the candidate said as he adjusted his beret. "Our red brothers and sisters, armed with spear and axe, were no match for colonists who robbed and raped them. My African ancestors, dragged from their home continent did not have the benefit of guns to fight off their enslavers, or had enough - due to restrictive gun laws regarding slaves - to rise up and overthrow those who brutalized them once they were here. But today - whether Black, or Latino, Asian, or working-class Whites who have also been oppressed as Capitalists set color against color while profiting from our class disunity - if we apply the Second Amendment we can, if not right past wrongs, at least defend ourselves against current crimes, and resist this unbearable oppression." When host Brian Kilmeade attempted to continue the interview with an innocent joke about Carson's black leather jacket, the doctor interrupted with "What are you laughing at, White Man? You think I don't know where you live?" Carson then glared at Kilmeade with four hundred years of righteous anger, until the narrow-necked host defensively relieved himself on the studio couch. With a heavily-intoned "Death to the Pigs" Dr. Carson stalked out, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck quickly introduced a video segment on zucchini pancakes.

Igor Bobic   |   October 11, 2015    2:59 PM ET

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson defended his controversial comments that the Holocaust could have been prevented if only the Jewish people in Europe had been armed.

"It's not hyperbole at all," Carson said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” "Whether it’s on our doorstep or whether it’s 50 years away, it's still a concern and it’s something that we must guard against. That’s one of the real purposes of having a constitution. I think the founders were really quite insightful into looking at possibilities and understanding what has happened in other places and trying to put together something that would prevent that from happening here."

The famed neurosurgeon said that Hitler's successes in Europe would have been "greatly diminished" if Jews had more guns.   

"I'm telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first," he added.

Carson, who is surging in national polls and currently stands in second place behind real estate mogul Donald Trump, again blamed the media for making his comments "into hyperbole and [trying] to make it into controversy."

"But the fact of the matter is when you talk to average American citizens, they know exactly what I'm talking about," he said.

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors and responds to anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, said these sorts of comments are "historically inaccurate and offensive."

Adam Goldberg   |   October 11, 2015    1:53 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) — Amid the bloodbaths of 21st-century America, you might think that there would be a lot of research into the causes of gun violence, and which policies work best against it.

You would be wrong.

Gun interests, wary of any possible limits on weaponry, have successfully lobbied for limitations on government research and funding, and private sources have not filled the breach. So funding for basic gun violence research and data collection remains minuscule — the annual sum total for all gun violence research projects appears to be well under $5 million. A grant for a single study in areas like autism, cancer or HIV can be more than twice that much.

There are public health students who want to better understand rising gun-related suicide rates, recent explosions in firearm murders in many U.S. cities, and mass murders like the one this month at an Oregon community college, where a lone gunman killed nine people.

But many young researchers are staying away from the field. Some believe there's little hope Congress will do anything substantive to reduce gun violence, regardless of what scientists find. And the work is stressful — many who study gun violence report receiving angry emails and death threats from believers in unrestricted gun ownership.

Most importantly, there's simply not enough money.

Gregory Tung is a sharp young scientist who trained at Johns Hopkins University with some of the nation's leading gun violence researchers. He's fascinated by gun violence, and the mountain of unanswered questions about why it may be surging and how to prevent it.

But he's not becoming a gun violence researcher himself.

"From a self-preservation standpoint, I think about, is there enough funding to support this kind of work? And there's just not," said Tung, who is now an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health in Denver whose emphasis is issues like youth violence and child abuse.


How did this happen?

U.S. health researchers began to take a hard look at gun violence about 30 years ago, when firearm homicide rates were climbing to what were described as epidemic proportions. During 1986 and 1987, more than 66,000 Americans died from gunshot wounds — a greater toll than what U.S. forces suffered during the entire Vietnam War.

Gun homicides had always been treated as a criminal justice issue, and gun suicides as a mental health issue. But starting in the late 1970s, researchers increasingly saw it as fair game for public health. Scientist had tamed polio, yellow fever and other infectious diseases that had once ranked among the nation's leading causes of death. They also were making strides against heart disease and cancer, thanks to treatment advances and anti-smoking campaigns. They even were having success against another leading killer, automobile accidents. So it was natural to turn next to gun-related homicide and suicide — consistently ranked among the nation's 15 leading causes of death.

Currently, gun-inflicted injuries rank among the top five killers of people ages 1 to 64. In an average year, they account for far more deaths than traditional public health targets like influenza and food poisoning.

"The line is: 'If it's not a public health issue, why are so many people dying?'" said Philip Cook, a Duke University economist who in the 1970s began studying the impact of guns on society.

The Centers for Disease Control, the federal government's lead agency for the detection and prevention of health threats, took an early leading role in fostering more research into violence.

In 1992, CDC received the congressional go-ahead for establishing a National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, where gun violence was an important emphasis. Private philanthropies like the Joyce Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation also began putting money into research aimed at understanding and preventing gun violence.

The number of researchers committed to gun violence rose from a dozen or so in the late 1980s to more 25 or 30 by the mid-1990. And interest was growing not only among public health researchers, but also among scholars in fields like anthropology, criminology, education and sociology, said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the CDC injury center's director back then.

CDC-funded research — some of it published in the nation's most prestigious medical journals — implicitly questioned the wisdom of having a gun. Studies found that having a gun in the home tripled the risk that someone there would be murdered, and dramatically increased the chance of a suicide occurring as well.

Beginning in the 1980s, the National Rifle Association tried to discredit such studies, accusing the CDC and the researchers the agency funded of incompetence and falsifying data.

In 1995, the NRA and sympathetic lawmakers pushed for the elimination of the CDC injury center, claiming it had embarked on a political agenda against gun ownership. That bid failed. But the next year, Congress took the $2.6 million CDC had budgeted for firearm injury research and earmarked it for traumatic brain injury. Congressional Republicans also included language directing that no CDC injury research funding could go to research that might be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.

Exactly what that language meant wasn't clear. But CDC officials, aware of how vulnerable their injury research center was becoming, ultimately adopted a conservative interpretation. "They fired a big shot across our bow" that was seen as saying "any hint that you are crossing the line we will take as an invitation to come and take away the rest of your funding," Rosenberg recalled.

NRA officials in Washington did not respond to repeated AP requests for comment for this story.

The CDC ceased to be the main engine driving gun violence research, and the agency's next director dismissed Rosenberg. The agency also began giving a heads-up phone call to the NRA any time a report was coming out that discussed guns — a practice that lasted about a decade until about 2010, CDC officials say. But there haven't been many, mostly reports on injuries or deaths in which gun numbers are packed among the statistics for car crashes, drownings and poisonings.

Quietly, there is some gun-specific research still going on at CDC. In June, the journal Preventive Medicine published a paper from CDC researchers that went into depth on recent gun injury statistics. It noted deaths from gunfire have been holding steady at about 32,000 a year, with nearly half of them occurring in the South. But while the rates for gun murders and unintentional shooting deaths have been falling, firearm suicides — which account for 60 percent of gun deaths — have been rising. And nonfatal shooting injuries have reached their highest level since 1995.

Another CDC effort: At the invitation of Delaware officials, CDC scientists have been researching a gun violence prevention project in homicide-plagued Wilmington. One scientist presented preliminary results last fall at a CDC seminar in Atlanta. But CDC has yet to release the research publicly. The work remains under internal review; the CDC has not yet approved it to be submitted to a scientific journal.

CDC officials say gun violence research is important. "We're ready, if we can get the (Congressional) support to do it," said Jim Mercy, director of violence prevention at the CDC injury center.

But Linda Degutis, who was head of the CDC's national injury center from 2010 until early last year, said she left because she wanted to work on increasing funding for injury and violence research — including projects that might involve looking at firearms. A focus on gun violence research is "not something I ever saw as an option" at CDC, Degutis said.


With the CDC largely out of the picture, gun violence researchers turned to other sources. But there wasn't much. The field withered, with limited funding and not much new blood. In the last decade, funding for gun violence grew so tight that Dr. Garen Wintemute, a long-time national leader in gun violence based at the University of California at Davis, spent more than $1 million of his own money to keep different gun violence research projects going.

Much of the research that has been done has had to be relatively simple — based on small surveys or on what limited federal or state data has been collected on guns and on gun-related injuries and deaths. Wintemute said some of it has over-reached. He noted one study that suggested the more firearms laws a state has, the lower the rate of gun deaths. But there wasn't enough information or analysis to say whether certain law made more difference than others, or to account for other factors, he said.

As state and federal officials debate gun laws or violence prevention programs, it's often not clear how well they'll work. To answer such questions, researchers ideally would like to know the exact number, type, and distribution of guns, as well as who owns them and where people got them. They'd like to know how and where they're stored, and to track what happens after people take different types of gun safety courses.

That's all key data for determining actual risk and what measures best reduce gun injuries and deaths.

But no agency tracks U.S. gun ownership. No one really knows how many guns there are in the United States.

There isn't even a comprehensive data base on victims. In 2004, the CDC started building a national violent death data base that marries information from death certificates with data from sources like medical examiner and crime lab reports. The idea is to give a more complete understanding of each shooting death and the firearms involved. But due to insufficient federal funding, only 32 states are currently in the system.

Researchers have hoped for a turning point; some development that might cause more people to advocate for gun violence prevention research. There were such turning points regarding cigarette smoking and automobile safety in the 1960s, thanks to galvanizing reports from — respectively — the U.S. Surgeon General and consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

But there has been no such galvanizing book or scientific report to hit the gun violence debate. Because there's been limited data and research on the topic, public health experts have wondered if there can be such a turning point where guns are concerned.

Then came the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

One Friday morning in December 2012, an armed 20-year-old man entered the school and used a semiautomatic rifle to slay 20 first graders and six adult school staff members before killing himself. It was the deadliest mass slaying at a school in U.S. history.

"If you were some kind of futurist operating a number of years ago, and you said; 'You know what would be the tipping point for changing gun policy? Someone walking into a school and shooting 20 little kids,' I would have agreed," said Stephen Teret of Johns Hopkins, who is something of a godfather to the field of U.S.gun violence research.

Advocacy organizations focused on stopping gun violence saw a boom in donors and volunteers. And after the urging for more gun violence research from more than 100 scientists, the White House issued 23 executive orders in reaction to Newtown, including one directing the CDC to research the causes and prevention of gun violence. The actions included a call for Congress to provide $10 million to the CDC for gun violence research. The CDC's Degutis asked the prestigious Institute of Medicine to convene a special committee of experts to develop the research agenda.

But Congress did not budget money to the CDC for gun violence research. It didn't strip away the legislative language that had chilled CDC activity on guns, either. The research agenda was not formally adopted by anybody.

Some new funding has emerged, including from advocacy organizations. Everytown for Gun Safety, funded by philanthropist/former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which this year made grants of more than $500,000 to independent scientists.

But such money has a potential downside. Critics — including the gun lobby — might raise questions about how objective research is when it's funded by an advocacy organization, acknowledged Ted Alcorn, Everytown's research director. "To delegitimize researchers," he added.

Perhaps the greatest ray of hope comes from the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's lead medical research agency. In September 2013, NIH announced three new funding opportunities for violence research, including for projects that focus specifically on firearms. The NIH has a budget more than four times greater than the CDC, and some in the gun violence research field are excited. "It's a sea change that the NIH would do this," said Charles Branas, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Injury Science Center.

But so far the NIH announcement has not exactly led to a flood of new funding. Since the violence research announcements, the agency received 136 applications for that funding. The NIH has made nine awards, including only two — together totaling about $600,000 paid out this year — that specifically focus on guns.

Researchers say they've found some encouragement on the state and local level. In August, Seattle's city council approved a tax in gun and ammunition sales in the city to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annual for gun violence prevention research and programs. The tax is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, but the NRA and other gun rights groups have sued to stop it, saying Washington state law pre-empts municipalities from enacting such ordinances.

It's tough sledding, said Dr. Frederick Rivara, a University of Washington researcher who co-authored several influential gun violence studies through the years. Among all the topics a public health researcher can go into, "I think this is probably the most challenging one," he said.


One month after the Newtown shootings, John Hopkins held a summit on reducing gun violence in America. It got wide notice — Bloomberg was a speaker — and it was webcast and part of it was broadcast on C-SPAN. Daniel Webster, the gun center's director, was about to stand up to give concluding remarks when he glanced at his Blackberry and read a threatening, anonymous email .

"It was very specific about what he intended to do to me. I got up to the podium and I was literally shaking," Webster recalled. There was a voicemail, too.

More than a decade ago, Webster's mentor, Stephen Teret, was so alarmed by a menacing letter he received from a man in the Indianapolis area that he contacted university security. They contacted law enforcement officials in Indiana who told the man not to contact Teret again. Years later, Teret was speaking at a conference at an Indianapolis hotel. Teret had advised conference organizers about the earlier threat, and they had arranged heavy security. In the middle of Teret's talk, the letter writer stood up and started screaming at him from the audience. Security quickly rushed Teret off the stage.

Death threats are relatively rare, but angry phone calls are not. The University of Pennsylvania's Branas told a story about being at a baseball game with a younger researcher shortly after a high-profile gun violence study was released. Someone angered by the paper got Branas' cell phone number and called him during the game.

"Wow," the younger man said. "That's pretty crazy." He's since gone on to study other topics, in part to avoid that kind of vitriol, Branas said.

Other young researchers are put off by the frustration of working in a field where their findings would likely be politicized, and have little impact.

"You can provide some people with evidence until you're blue in the face, present them with the best and fanciest models you can come up with, and they're not going to care," said Cassandra Crifasi, a 32-year-old gun violence policy researcher at Johns Hopkins who owns firearms herself.

Meanwhile, the longtime leaders in gun violence research aren't getting any younger; many are in their 60s and 70s. Younger researchers who are intrigued by gun violence — but worried about ensuring a flow of funding — have to spend much of their time pursuing other topics.

Some, worried that the field may soon shrink through attrition, are working hard to recruit successors.

Dr. Michael Levas, a 35-year-old researcher in Milwaukee, has been working on a grant-funded project to evaluate where a Welsh violence surveillance and intervention system would work in the United States. He's drawn to the field of gun violence, and fascinated by its potential. But he won't commit to it.

"If the climate was right and the funding was there, it would make sense to focus on gun violence prevention. I probably would be tempted to pursue that," he said.

"But right now, it would be a dead end."