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Why The NRA Is Staying Silent On Target's Gun Ban

Mike Weisser   |   July 3, 2014    8:16 PM ET

Last week the mega-chain Target joined Chipotle and Starbucks in making their stores places where customers have a good chance of getting gunned down. At least this is what the NRA believes will happen now that the company's CEO announced that Target shoppers should leave their guns at home. Everyone remembers the NRA's reaction after Sandy Hook -- namely, that schools that were gun-free zones invited kooks like Adam Lanza to walk in and start blasting away. But the notion that public space is safer if people don't walk around with guns seems to be spreading and it's interesting that the NRA's response so far to Target's new policy has been no response at all.

The gun industry is not only encountering some push-back to its notion of guns as being the best way for citizens to protect themselves against crime; they can't even get their facts straight about whether there's any connection between gun ownership and criminal activity at all. The NSSF (the trade association for America's firearms industry) just posted a video which announces that "gun crimes have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years," except the graphic that accompanies this statement shows that the entire decline took place between 1993 and 2000, which was before Obama went into the White House and gun sales soared.

Despite what John Lott says, there's no proof that higher levels of gun violence occur in gun-free zones. And the evidence that protecting yourself with a gun may actually be less safe than using other protective methods to thwart a criminal attack -- yelling, punching, running away -- comes from, of all people, a scholar named Gary Kleck who first "discovered" that arming ourselves made us better able to stop crime. Kleck published a study in 1995 which, based on answers collected from interviews with 213 respondents, claimed that people used guns to prevent more than 2 million crimes from being committed each year. But in 1994 he submitted a report to the Department of Justice in which he found that defensive methods other than guns actually resulted in fewer injuries from criminal attacks. He didn't mention these findings when he began touting the benefits of armed resistance the following year.

And neither did the NRA. Ever since the mid-1990s the gun lobby has been tirelessly beating the drums for expanding concealed carry, as well as for diminishing the list of locations where guns cannot be found. Their latest victory was Georgia, where a new law took effect July 1 which expands the right to carry a gun in locations that serve alcohol, houses of worship and government facilities, as long as the owners of the affected properties don't object.

The campaign to promote carrying guns in public places took a big step backwards, however, with the decision by Target to ask gun-toting shoppers to stay out of their stores. The announcement was worded in a way that did not absolutely ban concealed-carry in states which, unlike Georgia, don't give property-owners the right to restrict the presence of guns. But when Target said that guns are at odds with the "family-friendly" atmosphere they try to maintain, they weren't just sending a message to gun owners, they were sending a clear message to the gun lobby as well.

Despite twenty years of unending appeals to fears of crime and the utility of owning guns, the NRA and its allies have failed to convince a majority of Americans that walking into a public place with a gun in your pocket is the smart thing to do. What they have done is to provoke a grass-roots backlash organized and funded by a guy with lots of bucks whose efforts to get Americans behind the notion of less guns equals more safety may just begin to pay off.

Breaking the Code of Silence

Marian Wright Edelman   |   July 3, 2014   10:32 AM ET

“I found my voice long before I became a writer in community organizing. That’s where I found my voice, where I was able to take all that pain and transform it into something useful in the world, and I never looked back.” Michael Patrick MacDonald is a storyteller. Michael recently encouraged the crowd of young leaders at the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools’® National Training to understand the power of storytelling to create change.

His first book, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, became a national bestseller and won an American Book Award, and All Souls and its follow-up Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion have captivated readers with their accounts of his childhood in South Boston’s Old Colony housing project and the poverty, crime, and addiction that devastated his Irish Catholic neighborhood and killed four of his siblings.

He said All Souls begins with a description of an event he organized in his own community: “I organized an All Souls Day vigil to get the neighborhood to start to come out and to tell the truth about all the deaths in the neighborhood, from murders, overdoses, all of the things that we didn’t talk about, all of the things that we pretended didn’t exist. South Boston held the highest concentration of White poverty in America, and I grew up in the housing projects there in a family of 11 kids. Of the 11 kids, we lost four, plus a sister who was crippled in a fight over pills and was pushed off a roof in the projects. But the others all died from poverty and violence as well. My mother was shot as well, and all the years you would go through that stuff, and all of our neighbors were going through that stuff, we were strangled by this code of silence where you were never able to talk about it. You weren’t allowed to talk about this stuff because our neighborhood was controlled by organized crime, but also because the neighborhood was in a state of denial, choosing to believe what the media says—that this stuff doesn’t happen here, this stuff happens ‘over there,’ to ‘those people.’ That’s Black and Latino people, in particular. [South Boston] is very well known for the race riots of the 1970s, when the neighborhood broke into racist riots over desegregation in the city of Boston, but had an awful lot in common with those neighborhoods that we were trying to keep out—an awful lot in common in terms of class.”

Michael knew the code of silence in his neighborhood very well because it was the way he was brought up. In his own family he was “the quiet one” of the 11 children, and as each of his four brothers died he initially felt “kind of stunned speechless.” But when he started working “over there” in some of Boston’s other neighborhoods he realized he wasn’t the only one holding a story inside—and learned how much more power people had when they started letting their stories out and sharing them with each other. “I decided to write a memoir after years of doing community organizing, especially with a lot of mothers of murdered children, from around the city of Boston—from Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, the Black and Latino neighborhoods, as well as eventually South Boston and Charlestown, the poorer White neighborhoods . . . and I would organize these press conferences or rallies, and I’d push them to the microphone to get them to tell their stories. I saw what happened to them when they told their stories in whatever amount that they wanted to and were capable of telling—how it changed them, and it was also changing the world.”

Michael could see the impact these mothers were having on their communities, especially by speaking out against gun violence. He could also see that sharing their stories was helping reduce their own risks of suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and need for revenge against the people who had taken their family members’ lives, and breaking their silences was even changing them in other ways: “They had a really powerful strength, and they completely changed from ‘high-risk’ people to really powerful people . . . I saw what it did for them . . . and then they started to push me out to the front to the microphone, and I would give little bits of my story, and tell of my siblings that were killed, and eventually wanted to tell more and more because I started to feel what it does for you.” By the vigil he described at the beginning of his book he was both organizer and participant, one of the last people to step to the altar to light a candle and recite the names of each of his own lost brothers—“I stopped and took a deep breath. Then I spoke up. Davy, Frankie, Kevin, and Patrick, and for all souls.”

Michael ultimately learned a lesson that he compared to reading Howard Zinn’s beloved classic A People’s History of the United States: “When I even just saw the title of that book and started to think about what ‘people’s history’ means, that means that all of us have to tell our stories, and that’s ultimately a people’s history—and the more we can encourage that in young people, the more we will have a more complete story.” Readers everywhere have been grateful for the ways Michael Patrick MacDonald has helped complete South Boston’s story, and he says as he continues to travel and talk about his own writing he’s learned the idea young people connect with most is how powerful it can be to share their own stories and the “possibility of transforming trauma into voice.” It’s a critical lesson for all young people and for all of us—and especially for those who’ve experienced some of the same kinds of family and community poverty, violence, and addiction, for whom breaking silences and realizing they are not alone can be life-changing.

Why School Shootings Won't Be Stopped

Paul Heroux   |   July 2, 2014    8:09 PM ET

We are going about this all wrong. The folks on the left say with fewer or no guns we will have fewer or no more gun crimes. The folks on the right say with more guns we will have more safety from people who would abuse guns.

Despite thinking that they are keeping kids safe, both sides of this issue are arguing from what is in their own interest.

The right way to approach this issue is different than what we are doing. First, we need to realize that high profile events are high profile because they are unlikely. And trying to stop an unlikely event is very difficult if not impossible. Predicting a school shooting is a bit like predicting where lighting is going to strike the ground. There are some generic indicators but nothing that can act as an actual alarm bell. Guessing is what most politicians and pundits are doing right now when it comes to school safety.

What Drives Our Gun Crime Rates?
There are about 10,000 homicides with a firearm each year in the United States. Many of these are done by members of gangs. Their choice of weapon is a handgun. If should follow that if we want to reduce gun crime rates in America we would try to reduce the gun violence by the people doing it where they are doing it. Keep in mind that not all criminal shootings are the same; as such there is no one size fits all solution. But there are things that can and should be done. The OJJDP stated:

Long-term solutions to address the problem of gun violence must include a comprehensive approach to reducing the number of youth involved in gangs.

That said, gang related gun violence is not the only source of gun violence. I have previously written about how not all gun crimes are the same, but in general, here are several categories of the improper use of guns.

  • Individual Shootings

  • Mass Shootings

  • Justifiable Homicides / Self Defense

  • Accidental Shootings

  • Suicide with a Gun

Our Misplaced Focus
We are focused on so-called assault rifles. We are focused on mental illness. We are focused on background checks for guns. None of these has all that much to do with our gun crime rates in America.

  • Assault weapons are essentially rifles that look like they could be military use, but that is to the untrained eye. There are no 'machine guns' or automatic firearms commercially sold in the United States today. Handguns are the gun of choice when abusing guns.
  • Mental illness is not common in people who are driving our gun crime rates. people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than someone who commits violence. And the research shows that people with mental illness are generally no more violent than the general population. With a few high profile shootings done at the hands of individuals with a history of mental illness in one form or another, we have suddenly shifted our national attention to mental illness at the culprit for gun violence in America. This is absurd.
  • Background checks are not something that gang members subject themselves to. Law abiding citizens do. As such, getting more and more strict and increasing the layers of paperwork needed to get an FID or a LTC does little to nothing to reduce gun crimes.
What Doesn't Work?

The pool of what doesn't work is endless.

First of all, there is no correlation between the states' levels of gun violence and the Brady Campaign's ranking on states' gun law strictness - I have personally done the correlation. However, in the spirit of fairness, just because there is no correlation, it does not necessarily mean there is no causation. The point here is that the left often uses this claim in error. Second, the idea that more guns leads to less crime is all correlation. While the left makes the claim that a correlation exists when one does not, the right makes a claim that is nothing more than just correlation. Neither side has any sense of what actually works. They push talking points based on a political agenda, not good science. The research on gun bans shows they don't work.

People who claim that if we just arm schools and this will reduce school shootings need to prove that this. There is no evidence. By evidence I mean that we had a experimental group and a control group and we saw a decrease in school shootings in the experimental group. This data doesn't exist. In fact, we know that school shootings have still happened where there an armed guard was on the campus.

People who claim that fewer guns will mean less crime need to consider that there is a very robust literature on defensive gun uses (DGU). Admittedly, much of the research in this area was very poorly done. But it doesn't detract from the fact that there are legitimate DGU examples that can be referenced. In this same vein where we have more guns we also have more accidental gun discharges. Proponents who cherry-pick examples aren't using science or common sense.

So the bottom line is that we are talking about half a dozen of one, six of the other. Both the left and the right on this issue are missing the point. Both are pushing political agendas. Neither is pushing good science.

What Works?
What works is a science. Neither side of the gun debate really uses science and research is a responsible manner. This hinders real progress.

If we are going to implement strategies to reduce school shootings, we have to keep in mind that we are not really going to reduce gun homicide rates in America. Just as in medicine, there is no one wonder drug that will reduce illness. So too is the case with criminal justice programs.

Considering that gang contribute to a significant amount gun violence, we should be pursuing interventions such as the Kansas City Gun Experiment or Operation Ceasefire, which have been proven effective as evaluated through rigorous scientific measurement.

If we want to try to reduce crime in schools we need to focus on the type of crime: antisocial behavior or aggression, truancy, drug use, or petty crimes. A list here adapted from David P. Farrington and Lawrence W. Sherman details some effective interventions.

Setting focused interventions

  • specific school and discipline management interventions

  • specific interventions to establish norms or expectations for behavior

  • specific Classroom or instructional management

  • Reorganizing of grades or classes

Person focused interventions

  • Self-control or social competency instruction using cognitive-behavioral or behavioral instructional methods

  • Cognitive behavioral, behavioral modeling or behavioral modification interventions

  • Counseling, social work and other therapeutic interventions

  • Mentoring, tutoring, and work study

Remember to keep in mind that what works reducing drug use, might not work for other types of crime. What works in reducing truancy might not work for reducing antisocial or aggressive behavior. Juvenile criminal justice prevention programs are a science. They should not be applied 'willy nilly'.

Unfortunately, in my career I have personally seen excitement in city and state agencies I have worked in and with when the prospect of getting funding for a program trump prudent implementation and measurement. Performance measures are not built into the administration of the program. No real discussion of the limitations of what the program is going to and not going to accomplish is had.

There is another critical element that we are missing in this debate and that is that we are a very violent society. We enjoy watching violence on TV and in movies, playing it in video games and listening to it in music. We pay money to have access to simulated violence in these mediums. Bullying may well be a part of the problem of the increase in mass school shootings, but bullying has always been with us. What is new is the availability of learning through media and social media about the reactions of others who were bullied. It is reasonable to surmise that the recent increase in school shootings is the result of copy-cat crimes.

My point of this article is that we need to consult the research on what works in a more objective and less self-interested manner, whether you are on the left, the right, a city or state administrator or a politician.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts. He previously worked for a prison and a jail, and with 5-12 year old children for seven years. Paul has a Master's in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master's in Public Administration from Harvard. Paul can be reached at paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com or 508-639-9511.

Should Kids Be Taught About Guns in School?

Keosha Varela   |   July 1, 2014    7:20 PM ET

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Historian and former Guns & Ammo columnist Dick Metcalf during the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival

At the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, historian and former Guns & Ammo columnist Dick Metcalf sat down for a fiery discussion on guns with National Journal Editorial Director Ron Brownstein. Metcalf made headlines late last year when his long-time career at Guns & Ammo came to an end after a piece he wrote about the line between firearm regulation and the 2nd Amendment.

Today's wide-ranging discussion included points about the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a lobbying group in Washington, whether the Supreme Court will move any further on the 2nd Amendment, and the extreme divide between those for and against the use and ownership of guns. But throughout the conversation, one of Metcalf's main points was the need for gun training to be required for those who own guns. Using the analogy of drivers being allowed to own and operate a car only after receiving the required training and proof of it, Metcalf stressed the importance of doing the same for guns.

"We've had numerable conversations. I cannot tell you how many senior executives and firearms companies, who -- over a beer -- when no one's watching, would say, 'You realize, of course, that at least a third of our customers shouldn't be let within five miles of a gun.'"

He closed the conversation with this: "Hell, let's do that in the schools. We have driver's training in the schools, let's have firearms familiarization in the public schools."

Listen to the full 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival conversation on guns.

The New Mississippi? Black Sheriff, White Millennial Gun Store Owner and Former GOP County Chair Becomes Obama Fan

David Dent   |   June 30, 2014    6:51 PM ET

2014-06-28-SheriffJacobSheriff2.jpg His last name is actually Sheriff. Yet, while growing up in Yazoo, Mississippi, Jacob Sheriff never thought he would one day wear the name as a prefix and actually become Sheriff Jacob Sheriff.

Then there is his good buddy growing up, Roy Wilson. Wilson became the Fire Chief of the city of Yazoo -- the county seat. The idea of a black sheriff or fire chief in Yazoo in the Sixties and Seventies was as foreign as imagining someone named Barack Obama as POTUS one day. Though unlike Obama, Sheriff is not a first. He's the second black sheriff of Yazoo, narrowly defeating his white Republican opponent two years ago.

In 1975, Sheriff, Wilson, and two other good friends were restless 18-year-olds. They had graduated from Yazoo High School and were students at Mary Holmes Junior College, 113 miles away from Yazoo. Sheriff and Wilson missed the sweethearts they left behind at home. So the boys decided to drop out of college and go home to the girls of their dreams. They would get married, start families and find jobs. "I told Wilson, 'Man, I'm going back home to get married.' He said, 'Me too.'"

Though the plans didn't quite work out as they expected. "Well, long story short, he got married and I didn't. He said, 'Man, I thought you was going to get married.' I said, 'Man, you go ahead and do your thing, I got something else I want to do.' We have a little issue about that. Wilson now says, 'Man, you tricked me into getting married.' I say, 'I didn't trick you, man. Mine just didn't work out.'"

So before the "trick" and back to Mary Holmes Junior College, Sheriff, Wilson and two other friends boarded a Greyhound on a Saturday night, both professing marriage plans. There was a layover in Houston, Mississippi (coincidentally in Chickasaw, another Bush-Obama county). How would a group of 18-year-old buddies spend a layover? In the bus station? No way! They decided to stroll the streets of Houston.

"We are young and enthused, wanting to get out and sightsee. That's what we did in our own neighborhood. As we were walking, a law enforcement officer, a white officer, he pulls up behind us and he asks, 'What are ya'll doing? What are you doing in this neighborhood?' And I said, 'We just walking.' He kept going on and on, 'Did you do this? Were you at this place? Didn't I see you doing this? Yes you were?' I'm like, 'What are you talking about?' So I'm like, 'Man, is he accusing us of robbing something or burglarizing something?' And we all looked at each other. Long story short, he told us the best thing for you to do is to get out of this community. We went back to the bus station. I said, if I ever become a police officer, I don't want to have that mentality that he had. I want to treat people the way I would want to be treated."

***

Does Sheriff live in a new Mississippi -- one that is closer to the dreams of those Freedom Riders featured in the Stanley Nelson documentary that tells the story of the brave young people who gave up comforts to fight for social justice in Mississippi? We examined that question and others in the state's Bush-Obama counties, which include Yazoo. Of course, the state was all over the news last week with the Republican runoff election between Senator Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel, a challenger from the Tea Party movement. Cochran defeated McDaniel with the help of black voters, also carrying the state's five Bush-Obama Counties. (see results and demographics of counties) Yet don't call it a victory if you are in earshot of the Tea Party members still refusing to concede defeat. Many who have conceded are considering giving up on the GOP, entertaining ideas floated by Sarah Palin and others. They suggest the Tea Party should lead a conservative exodus out of the GOP for a new third party. The drama continues with the apparent suicide of the McDaniel aide. Now, McDaniel blames the Republican Party for the suicide. What next?

2014-06-28-ChickasawJounalZachHuffman.jpg
Zack Huffman was shaking his head as he watched the Republican Party drama of the week. In high school, he was "a radical no, make that passionate" conservative. At 19, he was so devoted to the GOP that he was elected chair of the party in Chickasaw, his home county, while living as a student at Ole Miss. That was the same county where Sheriff and his friends encountered the mean cops. Huffman grew up in Houston, Mississippi. As the state's youngest GOP county chair, he was a Republican star, campaigning across the state for Mitt Romney in 2012. Now he says he wishes he had voted for Barack Obama. Blame the university -- Ole Miss -- for transforming Huffman's view of the world. "It would be in the latter part of my college career and I attribute developing the thought that this is not what I can stand by anymore.

"I applied for the Marshall and Truman scholarships and my professor did a good job of saying 'Is this really what you believe?' In fact, I was being interviewed for the Truman scholarship and ... a committee nitpicked every belief I had and asked me to justify it ... and a lot of these things, the certain platforms and policies of the Republican Party I realized I couldn't justify this."

"I think gay marriage being number one. It just baffles me the kind of hate that is present in some of these candidate statements, or politicians' statements. In this article I wrote, you know pursuit of happiness, to put such a -- so we have gay marriage. Some of the things I do agree on with the Republican party is fiscal restraint. But defund education! That's stupid. And leading into the McDaniel thing, he says the U.S. Department of Education or the Mississippi Department of Education should be done away with, that makes no sense."

Huffman remains enthusiastic about politics. In fact, he has switched parties and is running as a Democrat for the state legislature with a proud comparison to Hillary Clinton. "It's almost like the situation is comparable to Hillary Clinton, you know, the Goldwater girl and then, you know, boom."

***
2014-06-28-gun_PNG1360.jpg

Seth Howe, 26, another Mississippi Millennial, purchased Bob's Gun and Pawn in Chickasaw County a few months ago. Like Huffman, Howe is a graduate of Ole Miss, where he was surprised to discover Mississippi's reputation on race. "Until I went to college, I had no idea that the rest of the world thought Mississippi was the most racist place on earth. Really had no idea. I mean, I work in a town that's predominantly black, it doesn't bother me," says Huffman, a member of the National Guard. "Half my friends in the army are black. ... I try not to be around people who have those kind of racist ideals. It is still here though, and to say it's not would be a lie. But it's on both sides. ... There's a lot of white racism as much as there's black racism against white people. ... Oh, I see, I've got two or three old black men who hate other black people. Then I got a bunch of young black guys who come in here -- they use words like 'cracker' and other stuff like that. Of course, nobody cares because we don't really -- I guess white people really just don't care about being called 'cracker' or 'jellybean' or anything else."

Howe went against the county in the last two elections, voting for McCain and Romney, largely because of their strong support of the Second Amendment. Unlike Huffman, he does not regret any vote against Obama -- though his views of the president are less harsh than many others in his party. "It's not fair to say he's done a terrible job, I don't agree with the health care laws that have been passed. But as far as anything else, I feel as if its a terrible position for anybody to be in -- I don't know why anyone would want to do it. ... I think people give him a harder time than maybe he probably deserves, but I don't agree with his policies per se. Especially not gun control policies. I think that if you take guns away from the people that just gives the government more power and I'm much more for small government than large government."

Howe voted for Cochran, but now wonders if he should have gone with McDaniel. While he aligns ideologically with the Tea Party, he rejects the notion raised by Palin and others, that the Tea Party wing of the GOP start a new party. "I think Palin is an excellent politician as far as politicians go and I like a lot of what she stands for, but I'm thinking a three-party system with anybody that's conservative is going to get trounced. Your representation is gonna go to crap. Three-party systems only favor the ones who don't split."

***

Sheriff Sheriff was not among the black voters who cast ballots in the Republican runoff because he had already voted in the Democratic Primary. "In my honest opinion, I would have voted for Thad Cochran. ... Chris McDaniel had one issue that I really didn't approve, when he was talking about closing the Head Start centers and stuff like that."

Sheriff disagrees with Howe's view that race is no longer a big issue in the state. He says too many in the state are still too consumed with racial differences and being separate and not considering the bigger economic picture. When he visits other cities across the country and sees gentrification and economic development in formerly depressed areas, he wonders why it can't happen in Yazoo. "If I had to have a title to make a movie, it would be: 'Hard Times in Mississippi'. Racism is established everywhere, ... what we need is ... somebody with an economic mindset that can bring some industries in here. ... If not, we're going to all suffer."

At War With Ourselves

Greg Carey   |   June 30, 2014   10:44 AM ET


Frustrated with the gun violence epidemic, Shane Claiborne transforms modern weapons into tools of life.

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15, NRSV)

Paul's examination of the conflicted self stands as one of the classic statements in Western culture. Borrowing from Jesus, we often say something similar: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38; Matthew 26:41). From our frustrations with diets and New Year's resolutions to the deepest insights of Buddhist spirituality and modern psychology, we grieve the clash between what we wish we'd do and what we actually find ourselves doing. Why do we find it so difficult to live up to our highest aspirations?

The train has long left the station, but just the same, biblical scholars try to intervene. We complain that the passage has been taken out of context. The Revised Common Lectionary rips verses 15-25a out from a larger argument. Paul isn't performing a deep analysis of the human psyche. Rather, he's making a point about God and God's law, the Torah. Paul has just rejected the idea that God's law causes sin: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin" (7:14).

In other passages Paul comes off as a lot less frustrated. As far as the law is concerned, he says, I was "blameless" (Philippians 3:6). He asks other believers to imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1) since he provides a worthy example (Philippians 3:17). He denies that he says one thing and then does another (2 Corinthians 2:17-22). Admittedly I've taken these examples out of context. Nevertheless, apart from Romans 7, Paul does not appear to lack confidence concerning his own behavior.

But the train has left the station. Regardless of what Paul may or may not have meant to say, this passage has long led us to examine our own divided motives and disappointing behaviors. Pondering those trapped in the super-violent cocaine trade of the late 1980s, the Living Colour song "New Jack Theme" begins with a voice saying, "And when they would do good, evil is present." This slight variation on Romans 7:21 invites us to expand our vision. It's not only individuals who find themselves trapped. Groups and societies do as well.

And so it goes with gun violence and gun control in the United States. In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, Americans regarded gun control as more important than the right to own guns by a 49-42 margin. Just five months later (May 2013), things had evened out: 50 percent of Pew Research Center participants emphasized gun control over gun rights, but 48 percent saw things the opposite way. Most Americans believed gun control would reduce both mass shootings and accidental deaths, but most also believed gun control would make it more difficult for ordinary citizens to defend themselves from attack and vulnerable to a too powerful government. As of June 2014, public opinion remains about the same.

We just can't decide. We can't decide whether we're fed up with one mass shooting after another or whether it's not that big a deal, because gun violence incidents have been dropping sharply for about twenty years. (Despite the evidence, most Americans still believe gun violence is on the increase.) We can't decide whether we're disgusted that the United States has the highest incidence of gun violence among the world's developed nations - nearly three times the rate of second place Switzerland - or whether we're willing to sacrifice a measure of safety for a measure of freedom.

Most Americans believe gun laws should be stricter than they currently are, with a vast majority favoring background checks for gun buyers. But while those who favor such legislation outnumber those who don't, gun rights advocates appear to hold more passion for their position. At the same time, people continue to die. Philadelphia averages four homicides a week, Chicago over one a day and we do not act.

So we find ourselves divided, dissatisfied with the way things are but unwilling to change the way we structure our lives. It feels as if some maleficent power holds sway over us, preventing us from moving forward. "It is no long I who do it, but sin that dwells within me" (7:20).

"Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Paul asks. His response is to exclaim, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

If you're like me, you get a bit suspicious when someone proposes a spiritual response to a political problem. Hopefully you're less cynical. But when it comes to an issue like gun violence, perhaps a spiritual response offers our only true hope. The political forces are so aligned, that it seems they will never cooperate with one another. But even more importantly, the question of guns and violence separates us from one another at a deep, even visceral level. On social media, I observe that my friends cannot sustain rational conversation about this issue - and these are smart, well-intentioned people.

What would it mean if communities of faith turned our divided consciences over to Jesus Christ? We have divided opinions, but we live a common reality. We all grieve death and destruction. Most of us value our neighbors' ability to own guns they can use for hunting and other forms of recreation. We all aspire to live in safe, loving communities.

I propose that we take this on at a local level, inviting people from all political persuasions not to argue but to pray. We can all pray for peace and security. We can all grieve our common losses. We can all ask for God's protection of our freedoms and our lives. When our minds are divided, the path of freedom lies in giving up control and turning to the spirit.

Study Questions

1. Has your church or denomination taken a public stance on gun control or gun violence? You can often find public statements, resolutions, and the like on denominational web sites.

2. Read Romans 7:7-25. Some interpreters believe Paul is talking about his current experience, others claim he is talking about his experience prior to his conversion, and still others say he is describing the general human condition apart from God's help. In your opinion, who is the "I" in this passage?

3. Read Romans 7:19: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." Some interpreters reject this assessment of the human condition as too pessimistic. What do you think? Is it insightful, interesting, unhelpful?

For Further Reading

Atwood, James E. America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2012.

Cosgrove, Charles H. "Paul and American Individualism." Pp. 68-103 in Cross-Cultural Paul: Journeys to Others, Journeys to Ourselves. Ed. Charles H. Cosgrove, Herold Weiss, and K. K. (Khiok-Khng) Yeo. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Letter to Members of Congress. January 15, 2013.

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  |   June 30, 2014    3:19 AM ET

BLOOMSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A vendor accidentally shot a woman in the leg while demonstrating a gun and holster at a central Pennsylvania gun show, police said.

The Columbia County district attorney's office will determine whether the vendor, Geoffrey Hawk, will face criminal charges stemming from the shooting Saturday at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds, Officer Brad Sharrow said.

What The Left Doesn't Understand About The Gun Ownership Debate

Mike Weisser   |   June 29, 2014   10:30 PM ET

I started to read Michael Waldman's book, The Second Amendment: A Biography, with a certain amount of trepidation, because if nothing else, here's someone who hits the ground running when it comes to anything having to do with public policy. And whether it's voting rights, or election financing reform, or same-sex marriage or just about any other domestic policy that liberals want to own, Waldman has been in the thick of the argument ever since he took over the Brennan Center in 2005.

Why trepidation? Because although Waldman may have actually shot a rifle at least one time, let's just say that he's not much of a gun guy and his friends and policy associates don't spend Friday afternoons popping some tops down at Franzey's Bar & Grill.

Now don't get me wrong. You don't have to be a gun guy to say something smart about guns. But Waldman's resume reads like the exact opposite of someone who would give gun owners a break, and let's not forget that he runs a public policy institute named after a Supreme Court justice who probably would have been just as happy if the Second Amendment didn't exist. So I figured the book to be just another one of those "it's time to defang the NRA" deals, with the usual elixir of anti-gun proposals like more background checks, another assault weapons ban and, for good measure, let's get rid of all the damn things anyway.

I was wrong. Leaving aside the early chapters on the how's and why's the Second Amendment even got into the Constitution, the book's real strength is Waldman's ability to tie the narrative of recent gun jurisprudence to the general rightward drift of American politics and American law. I have been waiting for someone to explain how judges like Scalia defend the notion of Second Amendment "originalism" in order to promote a conservative, current-day agenda and Waldman nails this one to the wall. Going back to the 1980s, he charts the confluence of conservative energies represented by politicized evangelicals, right-wing think tanks and specific-interest groups like the NRA, all combining to support a judicial agenda that seeks to roil back or dilute progressive programs and reforms.

It's not so much that gun control is at the top of the progressive agenda; it ebbs and flows as high-profile shootings come and go. But a majority of gun owners, particularly people for whom guns are a serious part of their life-styles, tend to be politically conservative anyway, so using fears of gun restrictions to enlist them in the anti-liberal crusade works every time.

A close reading of sources from the debates over the Bill of Rights makes clear that individual gun ownership represented the ability of citizens to protect and defend their political rights; rights to free speech, free assembly, due process and the like. But the argument for gun ownership advanced by the NRA today, Ollie North's appeals to patriotism notwithstanding, is based on the alleged social value of guns to protect us against crime. The NRA would never argue that the Glock in my pocket should be used to stop cops from coming through the door, but they insist that the same Glock is my first line of defense when a bad guy breaks down that same door.

Waldman clearly understands that by using the Second Amendment to justify gun ownership as a defense against crime, the pro-gun community has successfully restated the history of the Second Amendment to buttress a contemporary social justification for owning guns. Neither will be readily undone as long as gun control advocates believe they can respond to this strategy by stating and restating the "facts." Remember "it's the economy, stupid"? Now "it's the guns."

Emily Tess Katz   |   June 27, 2014   12:22 PM ET

While country superstar Miranda Lambert may not "preach guns," she certainly knows how to use them.

During a HuffPost Live appearance Thursday, Lambert talked about her experience shooting, which began at home during her formative years.

"My dad was a police officer my whole life," she told host Ricky Camilleri. "And so he'd come home and lay a gun on the coffee table, and he taught me early on what a gun is used for, how to use a gun."

Lambert recounted that she feels safe being around guns as a result of her early exposure.

"I had a BB gun when I was like, five. It's just part of our life," she said. "I never preach guns one way or the other -- this is the way I grew up."

And for those who were wondering, Lambert's been known to school husband and fellow country singer Blake Shelton when they head to the shooting range.

"I'm a better shot than Blake, I will say that," she laughed. "With a gun. He's better with a bow."

Watch Miranda Lambert's full conversation with HuffPost Live below:

  |   June 26, 2014    5:57 PM ET

A federal judge upheld gun restrictions in Colorado on Thursday, throwing out a lawsuit aimed at overturning the state's new gun laws, Fox 31 and the AP report.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger upheld restrictions that limit the size of ammunition magazines and expand background checks on firearms sold online and between private parties, according to the AP.

Many of Colorado's sheriffs had refused to enforce the gun laws, despite a December 2013 ruling -- also from Krieger -- that said the sheriffs don't have legal standing to challenge the laws in their official capacity.

HuffPost reported earlier on the gun laws:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed a package of new gun control measures into law in 2013, including universal background checks and the ammunition magazine limit. Support for the new gun laws resulted in the first-ever recall election in state history, which ousted two Democrats -- Senate President John Morse (Colo. Springs) and state Sen. Angela Giron (Pueblo).

A third recall effort against another Democrat, state Sen. Evie Hudak (Westminster), over her support of the gun control legislation, resulted in her resignation in November.

Below, more from the AP:

In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger said both laws are constitutional and that they don't infringe on individuals' right to bear arms.

The judge further said that limiting magazine sizes doesn't obstruct individuals' ability to protect themselves and that the expansion of background checks "is no more severe" than the requirements already in place before the new law.

Democrats passed the laws last year without Republican support.

Gun rights advocates and county sheriffs filed the lawsuit.

Democrats passed the laws in response to mass shootings in 2012 at a suburban Denver movie theater and Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Let's Call 'Open Carry' Gun Gangs What They Are

Bob Cesca   |   June 26, 2014    3:27 PM ET

On Monday, the Houston chapter of Open Carry Texas had originally planned an armed march into the Fifth Ward, a predominantly African-American community. The group canceled the event because, they say, one of the members was committed to a previously scheduled event elsewhere.

Canceling the march was probably fortuitous because what could possibly have gone wrong? A gaggle of white, paleoconservative rednecks with military-style rifles strapped to their chests marching through an African-American neighborhood is never a recipe for harrowing consequences.

But seriously, while they're not in line with the traditional definition of "terrorists," the various open carry gangs popping up in shopping center parking lots, Target stores and all points in between need to face more intensive scrutiny for deliberately inciting fear among bystanders.

Imagine in the days and weeks following the Boston Marathon bombing, a group of self-proclaimed "constitutionalists" decided to exercise their right to assemble at a high school track and field event with backpacks filled with pressure cookers. There's nothing inherently illegal about it, is there? Or imagine if following 9/11 a group of Muslim citizens walked into a random public place carrying box cutters and shouting, "Allahu Akbar!" It's extraordinarily difficult to see the difference between these examples and, in the wake of ongoing mass shootings and other less heinous though still terrifying shootings in schools, shopping malls and movie theaters, groups of, shall we say, odd-looking white guys marching into department stores and Starbucks restaurants armed to the teeth with AR-15s, the Sandy Hook weapon. Really, is there any difference at all? It's doubtful the pressure-cooker or box-cutter "protesters" would be allowed to get away with such activities. So, why are the open carry gangs getting a free pass?

open_Carry_target

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees "the right of the people peaceably to assemble." Naturally, then, there's nothing wrong with peaceably assembling and protesting, but much like anti-abortion protesters gathered near a grade school playground with giant placards featuring images of aborted fetuses, or Code Pink protesters accosting public officials with blood-red hands and, inexplicably, giant puppets, there are some forms of protest that go too far.

That said, Code Pink and the anti-abortion groups aren't (necessarily) armed.

However, carrying loaded -- or even unloaded -- military-style weapons that are intentionally designed to look like props from a Michael Bay movie goes light years beyond peaceably protesting and merges into being ominous, sneering intimidation of innocent people, shoppers and so forth. There's absolutely nothing "peaceable" about assembling while armed with weapons of death. If the only thing keeping intact the peaceable aspect of the open carry protests is that they haven't yet discharged one or more of their AR-15s into a crowd, I'm not so sure the First Amendment protects the open carry gangs.

What we're witnessing from these groups should absolutely be considered a form of "terrorism," thinly disguised as a defiant protest in support of the Second Amendment. Make no mistake, like the Bundy radicals, they're itching for a fight. They want to be arrested. They want a nation in which the open carrying of deadly weapons is commonplace -- with the critical downside that once the guns are accepted fashion accessories and the public is desensitized, actual homicidal mass shooters can more successfully blend into crowds without having to conceal a damn thing.

It defies reason that in the wake of these mass shootings gun laws continue to become more permissible, rather than more restrictive. More astonishing is the reality that open carry gatherings in public places, especially in locations where the open carriers aren't welcome, isn't a more contentious issue. The logical endgame here is a society in which every third or fourth white guy you bump into at McDonald's is armed with a retail product that can kill you on the spot. It's growing into a Mad Max movie with fewer shoulder pads and more corporate gathering places. Wait, come to think of it, firearms were banned inside Bartertown. So the metaphor doesn't totally hold up, but you know what I mean.

As with the conspiracy theory nutbars, there's an opportunity to marginalize the open carry gangs before their ridiculous "cause" balloons into societal regularity. There's an opportunity to shame them as extremists who are slowly transforming our public places into Tombstone, Arizona.

Oh, dammit, that's right -- guns were banned in Tombstone, too.

Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.

Click here to listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast.
BobCesca.com Blog with special thanks to Shawn Sukumar.

  |   June 25, 2014    3:06 PM ET


By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO, June 25 (Reuters) - The Chicago City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a law that would allow the resumption of gun sales in the city but with restrictions that require videotaping of purchases and limiting sales to one per month per buyer.

Forty-eight council members voted to approve the ordinance proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel after a federal court invalidated the city's long-time ban on gun sales in January.

The law also requires a 72-hour waiting period to purchase handguns in the nation's third largest city and a 24-hour waiting period to purchase rifles and shotguns.

Chicago has been plagued by a gun-related homicide rate that is three times higher than New York's and twice that of Los Angeles.

The court order had given the city six months to come up with its own gun store policies.

Under the new ordinance, gun store employees have to undergo background checks and sellers need to prepare quarterly inventory audits and make store records available for police inspection. Gun sales are prohibited within 500 feet of schools.

Emanuel called the ordinance "tough, smart and enforceable."

Emanuel has stressed the need to strictly control gun sales within the bounds of the court order.

"The level of violence is unacceptable in this city," Alderman Bob Fioretti said in support of the ordinance.

The Illinois State Rifle Association, a gun rights group, has said the restrictions will make it too difficult for anyone to open a Chicago gun store. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jim Loney and Bill Trott)

8 Things Guns Compensate For (Besides Your Penis)

The Second City Network   |   June 24, 2014    7:13 PM ET

By John Loos

It's hard out here for a P.I.M.P.H. (person inclined to be macho and pack heat). You love your gun more than you love Christmas, and your nontraditional love is protected by the Second Amendment, yet it seems like everyone hates guns and hates you for owning them -- that and it feels like every other day Obama is launching elaborate, highly coordinated, perfectly acted false-flag mass shootings to trick the public into thinking we have a gun problem (this from the same government that misspells both your first and last name on your tax return, Bolb Johnqson).

Let's face it: Guns are used for a lot of valid reasons: hunting, protecting the homestead, protecting yourself, party tricks at your Uncle Carl's house, backing you up in case you run into trouble in that strip-mall Chipotle full of middle-school cheerleaders.

I think it's also fair to acknowledge that guns have a huge symbolic significance for many owners. They're not only a weapon; they're a lifestyle choice, a tool to help compensate for things we may be personally lacking.

The joke is that the bigger the gun, the tinier the penis, and while that may be absolutely, 100-percent true in every single case, there are other things guns compensate for. Here are eight of them.

8. Your lack of claws, sharp teeth, and the ability to run faster than your prey.

Humans are oh-so-weak. Even Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would lose in a fight with a really small lion. Your fingernails can't even pick old Scotch tape off the wall, let alone rip the throat out of a deer. Your teeth bother you when the coffee is too hot or the Chunky Monkey is too cold. And the last time you ran more than eight steps, it ended it a gnarly calf cramp and vomit tinged with Jalapeño Popper Doritos. We can't kill shit without guns. Guns help us kill animals! Top of the food chain! Rarrr!

7. The fact that Rhonda took everything.

That she-demon from hell took the house, the Dodge Ram, the first four seasons of NCIS, the kids, your cat Buckshot, the grill that she never used once, your pride, your confidence, your goddamn soul, your manhood (which she kept in a jar on top of the fridge for the duration of your marriage), and the Pampered Chef pizza stone. Rhonda fucked you over big-time and left you a hollow shell of a man with a card table for a coffee table in your small-town apartment.

But she didn't take your gun.

"You're a child!" she said. No, you're a stud. Bang, bang, bang, Clint Eastwood, bang, bang, stud. Look how strong you look while you're brandishing your gun for your latest YouTube video about being a stud! One hundred six views! Rhonda can't take those away from you!

6. The fact that no one thinks you are special.

Man, these days it seems like everyone except straight white men is being celebrated: gays, racial minorities, trans individuals. Has everyone forgotten how bad-ass straight white men are? Does the name Rowdy Roddy Piper mean nothing anymore?

Maybe your gun will remind them how powerful you are. Yeah, you were in the driver's seat for several millennia, at the expense of everyone else. And yeah, racial minorities have had a few decades of perceived equality, and gays a few years, and trans folk about 11 days. But they've had enough fun. It's your turn again, damnit!

5. The fact that you can't do a pull-up.

Why would you need to pull yourself up to an iron bar when you can just shoot it off the wall and let it fall down to you? That's how a real man exercises.

4. Your laziness.

Back in the day, to stand your ground and kill someone, you had to get up, walk over to them, shove some heavy iron blade into their body five or six times, go wash off all the blood in a stream half a mile away, and then spend hours resharpening your blade. That was effing exhausting.

Now you can just drive by someone's house and take care of business while one hand's wrist-deep in a bag of pork rinds. Guns make you a bad-ass with as little effort as possible, which is what being an American is all about. The only way you'd give up your gun is if someone invented a button on your remote that immediately made your enemies and minorities who frighten you explode.

3. Your demeaning job at a big-box store.

Let's review: You can't do a pull-up, Rhonda took everything, you hate leaving the couch and you work for minimum wage in the warehouse of an exploitative big-box store, moving bulk tampons and adult diapers back and forth, because the steel mill in your small town closed and took all the good jobs to China. Your horrible job is absolutely antithetical to being a Man. Your boss is even a Hispanic woman, which is clearly Obama's fault. You need something to remind yourself that you have a big, hairy, low-hanging sack and are the manliest thing to happen since Charles Bronson last took a shit. Guns? Guns.

2. The fact that you played a cumulative 47 seconds in four years of high-school football.

Yet this week alone you've played 47 hours of Call of Duty. #WarIsSoF*ckingHotOhGodI'mGonna... #EverybodyAintAble

1. The fact that you can't find the can opener.

Gotta get that can of baked beans open somehow, right, Uncle Carl? Stand back and watch this!

This post originally appeared on The Second City Network.

Gun Owners Ease Off Buying Binge, Not So Worried About Washington Anymore

Marina Fang   |   June 24, 2014    3:35 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Gun nuts are calling the National Rifle Association's bluff.

After a year and a half of stockpiling weapons and ammunition, a buying binge that sent gun company stocks soaring, weapons enthusiasts seem to have realized that President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress are not, in fact, going to take away their guns.

The push to expand background checks for gun purchases, launched after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, fell short in the Senate and was never taken up in the House, but it helped fuel the buying binge, which continued with the news that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg planned to spend millions to push gun control. The paranoia was stoked by the NRA and the gun industry itself, which benefited from fears that the Second Amendment was in peril.

But even the most paranoid gun buyers are starting to understand that Washington will be unable to do anything anytime soon to stem the flow of school shootings -- of which there have been 74 since Sandy Hook.

Now, a leading gun manufacturer's stock is sliding as the demand for guns is expected to decline.

In its financial report released last Thursday, Smith & Wesson reported a 4.6 percent decline in profits for its fourth quarter, compared to last year. The company is also predicting lower demand for the coming year.

According to Bloomberg.com, financial analysts think that fears of tighter gun legislation have stalled, which is leading to fewer people buying guns.

"Demand for modern sporting rifles has fallen off significantly following the post-Newton [sic] legislation-driven demand and the ensuing post-surge period," said Chris Krueger, an analyst at Lake Street Capital Markets, in a note to clients. "Long gun sales will decline about 25 percent in FY2015 and become a smaller percentage of Smith & Wesson's sales."

Dean Lockwood, a weapons systems analyst at the market research firm Forecast International, told The Huffington Post that gun owners "have gotten over the panic buying stage and are back to a more normal level."

"Because of all the political furor, there was a huge spike in purchases in guns and ammunition. There were major retailers who could literally not keep things on the shelves -- people were buying things as soon as they put them out there. And that has since eased up. I don't know if you want to say people have gotten their fill, but the panic has subsided somewhat," he said.

Lockwood noted that gun sales are typically volatile based on political conditions.

"We're starting to see the ebb in the ebb and flow of sales. The gun industry is especially susceptible, given the politics of it, and you will see spikes and then it will ease off, spikes and then it will ease off," he said.

"It doesn't take much for another spike, another panic," Lockwood added. "You could have one announcement -- boom, we're right back. It's that sort of situation. Don't think of it as a rounded bell curve. Think of it as [a] spike and then gradual valley from there, because that's the way it tends to run."

However, he noted that the gun industry also relies on brand loyalty, which can help stabilize the market. In that sense, he thinks Smith & Wesson's sales decline is fairly inconsequential and "a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things."

"Smith & Wesson knows that they'll have customers who will always buy Smith & Wesson. It's that sort of loyalty that drives them and sustains them. As long as they can maintain the quality of their products, there's going to be a market," he said.

Smith & Wesson reported record profits for fiscal year 2014, and overall its stock has risen dramatically over the last year. The company's financial success has been bolstered by rising handgun sales for self-defense purposes and an increase in state concealed-carry legislation. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company has been focusing on a new line of lightweight pistols that can be stowed inside a small purse or a pocket.