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Jason Shulman   |   January 20, 2016    3:24 PM ET

Handguns are made of steel, aluminum alloy, plastic and brass. But one material in every gun sneaks in practically unnoticed: glass. I mean that metaphorically of course. Guns are not only firearms but lenses through which we see the world and, as with any lens, changes what we see and don't see, and gives us a description of the world that is particularized--we could say editorialized--by the nature of the lens itself. Though we like to believe that what we see is true and objective, lenses always open new vistas and close others. Nothing is neutral.

Facts and figures are malleable. Democrats and Republicans often use the same data and draw opposite conclusions. The lens, rather than being a clear substance through which the world passes through unaltered, it is actually an interpreter, selecting from the totality a particular view--often one we hold prior to seeking evidence to back our position, though we conveniently forget that this is so. Yet lenses, actual and metaphorical, can change the world. Here is an example: When Galileo used an actual lens to view the planet Jupiter, he saw small lights circling around it which he understood were moons. This observation had rebounding effects upon the Earth-centric model of the universe and removing humankind from the center of it all was the start of a revolution not only in the physical sciences but in re-patterning the relationship between humans and God.

Guns are quiet manipulators of what we see and believe as well. One thing their hidden prismatic activity does is accentuate the division of the world into victims and victimizers. This lens also accentuates a sense of innate fear of others as opposed to an innate sense of safety. The safety is seems to bring is based only on a physical device and not on something inside. I have yet to read statistics that tell me exactly how many mass shootings have been stopped by citizens having guns strapped to their hips. But it seems that people feel safer having guns on their person, whatever the facts actually are. Having an assault weapon under your bed in a suburban neighborhood in which there have never been home invasions somehow calms a frightened soul but does nothing to find the cause of that emotion.

The world is a nuanced place, except where the law of the gun proliferates. Power does indeed come from the barrel of a gun in Sudan and ISIL infected areas of the world and yes, we need to arm against aggression. But the fear of micro-aggression, personal slights, the need to "stand your ground" has warped a sense of the nuances of reality and made everything simply black or white. The woman who shot her twenty-seven-year old daughter when she heard what she thought was an intruder was seeing the world in black and white terms. Just so the man who shot his fourteen year-old when he heard an unexpected noise in the basement. George Guzman was controlled by this lens--believed this lens--when he shot the boy in the hoody for being, well, a boy in a hoody.

I'm not, as a matter of fact, against all guns. What I am against however, is ignorance. What we see as we sight along a gun barrel is always the enemy. Sometimes it is an enemy and most often it is not. But the gun changes the vision of the person holding it and supports a fictionalized version of the world.

I grieve daily for the children of Sandy Hook and the people of San Bernardino. But I grieve as much for the entrancing, seducing view of the world that says we can be safer with guns strapped to our belts and in easy reach of our pocketbooks. The world is inherently unsafe. It only gets safer when we see it clearly. Guns, and the lenses they are, are not the right prescription for eyes that need to see straight and see clearly so that the real dangers of our world can be confronted by many means and not just one.

Here's How Much Gun Violence Is Costing You a Year

GOBankingRates   |   January 20, 2016   12:52 PM ET


By Andrew Lisa, Contributor

The debate on whether the U.S. should adopt stricter gun control policies has been a hot topic among politicians, especially in 2015 as the nation dealt with a string of shootings that occurred in San Bernardino, Calif., at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colo., and more.

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In January, President Obama referenced the country's recent shootings in an emotional appeal for stronger gun control. But the push for more gun control is met with opposition from many Republicans and gun advocates who fiercely support the Second Amendment. And then, of course, there's the fact that the gun business is big business in the U.S.

According to 2013 data from the Pew Research Center, there are between 270 million and 310 million guns in the U.S. And IBIS World's "Guns & Ammunition Manufacturing in the US: Market Research Report" reports that the gun business is a $13 billion industry with a 3.4 percent annual growth rate from 2010 to 2015.

Sure, $13 billion is a lot of money. But that figure is nothing compared to the economic cost of gun violence in America.

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The Cost of Gun Violence in America: $229 Billion a Year

Eighty-nine people die from gun violence every day in the United States — that's about 32,500 people over the course of year. An even larger number of people (more than 75,900) survive from gun injuries each year, according to data from the Brady Campaign, which works to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries in the U.S.

The human toll is evident in the statistics, but gun violence also has a significant economic impact on American taxpayers.

Dr. Ted Miller is an internationally recognized safety economist with more than 200 publications. He is also a senior research scientist with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and the founder of the Children's Safety Network Economics and Insurance Resource Center.

In collaboration with online publication Mother Jones, Miller conducted extensive research on the cost of gun violence in America. His conclusion? Gun violence costs the U.S. $229 billion a year, or about $700 per American.

The cost of gun violence in the U.S. can be broken down into two different categories: direct costs and indirect costs — or "out-of-pocket costs and costs attributed to lost wages, pain, suffering and quality of life," said Miller.

Miller's research concludes gun violence costs about $8.6 billion in direct, or "out-of-pocket," expenses. This is more than just the costs associated with transporting gunshot victims to hospitals and treating them; it also includes long-term prison costs for those who commit gun crimes.

"The adjudication and sanctioning of the people who have committed gun violence, police investigations, incarceration and court proceedings can all get very expensive," said Miller.

What's more, about 87 percent of these direct costs (about $7.5 billion) will come out of taxpayers' wallets. Divided among the approximately 322.8 million people there are in the U.S., that's about $23 per person.

Meanwhile, pain and suffering, or indirect, expenses are much higher at roughly $221 billion. These costs include victims' lost wages, victims' loss of quality of life and employers' losses. About $49 billion can be traced to victims' lost wages annually, and an astounding $169 billion is due to lost quality of life.

Gun Violence Vs. Gun Control: Which Costs Americans More?

Despite a 2015 Gallup poll survey that found only 28 percent of Americans personally own a gun and 55 percent want to see stricter gun laws, the powerful gun lobby has successfully blocked attempts at gun reform.

During his January speech on gun safety reform, President Obama became emotional as he recalled recent mass shootings in America and called for an expansion of background checks on gun sales.

"We've created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules than a responsible gun owner who buys his or her gun the right way and subjects themselves to a background check," said Obama. "That doesn't make sense. Everybody should have to abide by the same rules."

Whether stricter gun laws would save lives is a hotly debated political issue. But, would stricter firearms legislation save money compared to the current cost of gun violence?

Firearms policy expert David B. Kopel is an associate policy analyst with the CATO Institute as well as a research director at the Independence Institute and an adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law. He has written more than 10 books, some of which analyzed firearm laws and policies.

Kopel doubts that significant gun-control legislation is likely to pass, nor does he think more gun control will necessarily save America money. "The U.S. has been very successful at reducing the costs of gun crime," said Kopel. "Infringing the rights of law-abiding citizens is not necessary or effective at saving money."

In fact, the U.S. has been able to reduce gun violence without passing stricter gun control laws. According to the Pew Research Center, the overall gun death rate has declined 31 percent since 1993. The trend is similar when it comes to non-fatal gun victimizations. In 1993, there were 725.3 nonfatal violent gun victimizations per 100,000 people ages 12 and older. But in 2014, that number was only 174.8.

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Mental Health and Gun Violence: The Relationship and Cost

Instead of strengthening gun laws, Kopel suggested America could save money — and lives — by focusing on mental health.

"More help for the severely mentally ill would be effective at reducing crimes against the mentally ill, who are disproportionately victimized," he said. "It would also reduce homicide. About one-fifth of state homicide prisoners are mentally ill."

In his speech, Obama said he plans "to do more to help those suffering from mental illness get the help that they need."

"High-profile mass shootings tend to shine a light on those few mentally unstable people who inflict harm on others," said Obama. "But the truth is, is that nearly two in three gun deaths are from suicides. So a lot of our work is to prevent people from hurting themselves."

Obama also added that he plans to invest $500 million to expand mental illness treatment across the country.

"President Obama's proposal for extra spending for this is a good first step," said Kopel, "although states need to be the leaders on the problem. Mental health spending is very expensive in the short run, but can produce enormous savings in the long run."

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Although the cost of gun violence and the merits of proposed gun control legislation is fiercely debated, one thing is certain — the epidemic of gun violence in America has become a fact of life.

"I did an NPR interview the other day, and they were talking about the mass shooting in San Bernardino," Miller recalled. "At a certain point, the guy said, 'When I started talking to you, I thought you were going to say the cost of the San Bernardino shooting was enormous, but you acted like it's not a big deal.' I said, 'It's not a big deal compared to the number of people killed by guns across the country every single day.'"

This article, Here's How Much Gun Violence Is Costing You a Year, originally appeared on

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When Manners Trump Murder

Renee Fisher   |   January 20, 2016    7:37 AM ET


It's a common story: Friends gather for dinner, one friend kills another, and the result is that the hostess is never thanked for all the work she spent preparing and serving the meal.

Not so in this case, according to yesterday's Washington Post, reporting on a murder that took place on December 20, at a holiday dinner party. Frank Trujillo, a married father of two, invited Mario Perez, also a father, and his girlfriend, to dinner. According to the Washington Post, "The children played, drinks were served, and the two fathers made their way to the house's lower level, talking about work."

Perez drank a lot, and became verbally abusive. Trujillo went upstairs into his bedroom, and got his gun (NRA take note: This is what makes you guys swoon and hyperventilate, one man's right to insert a gun into whatever situation he chooses). Perez then came upstairs, and Trujillo shot him in the chest.

Trujillo is now charged with first degree murder, using a gun to needlessly shoot an unarmed man" ("Boo!" shouts the NRA). Trujillo's attorney claims "self-defense, period." How else to stop a "threatening man in an alcohol-fueled rage?" ("Hoo-ray!" shouts the NRA).

While the lawyers slugged it out in court, a text was produced by Trujillo's attorney, written by Perez' girlfriend and sent to Trujillo's wife, several hours after the murder. The text read: "Know that I don't hold a grudge against anyone nor Frank. He reacted in a defensive way. Thank you guys for having us over. I really enjoyed being there."

Life in the Boomer Lane has never read Miss Manners, but she suspects that neither MM nor any other doyenne of acceptable social behavior has a chapter on what to do after being offered hospitality by someone and then having one's date be shot and killed by the host. It sounds pretty tricky to LBL. Perez' girlfriend has broken new ground in the world of manners. LBL can only hope that a lot of other dinner guests will not have to refer to her text when they, themselves, are considering what to do after a dinner party gone sour.

Guns and Politics and What Actually Reduces Gun Violence

Paul Heroux   |   January 19, 2016    9:11 PM ET

Guns are one of the most divisive aspects of public policy in America. Two sides compete for an outcome. One wants to expand gun ownership and the other side reduce guns in America. Both argue that their own perspective will reduce violence with guns. I disagree. Neither argues from a point of view about what works.

My standard is very simple: Does it work? Alas, child training programs don't work, and this has been reported on by USNEWS, ABCNews, and CNN. More guns, less crime doesn't work. Gun bans don't work.

What Then Works?

I define what works as an intervention in a place that has been measured against another place that didn't get the specific intervention. Did the intervention cause less violence with guns? I am skipping over all of the statistical and research methods mumbo jumbo to get to the point quicker and talk about what works.

If there is a common denominator that we find in interventions of what works we find that going after who is abusing guns and where they are abusing them is critical. This is what I call a bottoms-up strategy. This is usually a community or policing approach. A top down strategy is an intervention that casts a wide net and by definition is going to include people who aren't committing crime with a gun. This is usually a legislative approach.

The Kansas City Gun Experiment is one great example of what works to reduce gun violence. Police were trained how to detect people who were illegally carrying and concealing guns and the focused on the areas that had the most gun violence. The training was implemented in certain areas of the city that were randomly assigned and compared to other randomly assigned areas of the city where police did not get the same training. The result was a nearly 50 percent drop in gun violence. This approach was replicated in several other major cities. No new laws were created. But intervention did cost money in terms of police overtime and training. But it worked.

Another approach to gun violence is known as Operation Ceasefire. In a report on this intervention it states at the bottom of page 1: "The two main elements of Ceasefire were a direct law enforcement attack on illicit firearms traffickers supplying youths with guns and an attempt to generate a strong deterrent to gang violence." The report continues to states that "the implementation of Operation Ceasefire was associated with a 63-percent decrease in youth homicides per month, a 32-percent decrease in shots-fired calls for service per month, a 25-percent decrease in gun assaults per month, and a 44-percent decrease in the number of youth gun assaults per month in the highest risk district (Roxbury)."

In both of these approaches (and many more that I don't have space in a column to cover), the police used current laws to reduce gun violence where it was happening by the people doing it. Gun violence was successfully reduced and it was measured with a scientific rigor that was strong enough to stand up to scrutiny.

Politics is Getting in the Way of Public Safety

A lot of what we see proposed today on TV by political pundits or from special interest groups is only tinkering on the margins. In a recent live town hall style meeting on CNN, President Obama tacitly recognized that none of his executive actions would have prevented any of the recent high profile mass shootings. But he says that is not reason to not take any action. Mass shootings are not what are driving our high gun violence rates in America; individual homicides are. I don't think there is research yet available that tells us what to do on mass shootings.

Too many people throw around 'evidence based' but they don't know what it means. Good research is an evaluation of a real world intervention and when compared against a control group. The outcome doesn't make research good or not; the methodology does.

A lot of the solutions that are proposed by people who fiercely for or against guns just don't work. They argue about what they think should work or what makes sense, or what fits their political worldview, but not what has been empirically proven to reduce gun violence.

I voted against a 40-page gun bill in 2014 because it didn't go far enough to reduce gun violence. The bill tinkered on the margins as there was nothing in it that was an evidence-based approach.

A bill that I have twice filed (H.2136) would reduce gun violence where it is happening by the people doing it, and measure the outcomes. It would cost money but it would be based on peer reviewed empirical approaches to what works. I have published about two dozen articles on gun violence. Gun violence isn't going away under current popular and politicized approaches.

King, The End of Death as Deterrent, and Why The Police Should No Longer Carry Guns

Charles Howard   |   January 18, 2016   10:33 AM ET

Each January we witness the tragic beatific domestication of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The more radical nature of his message is annually watered down ignoring the more uncomfortable aspects of his words and witness. King was a man of peace and non-violence. And this non-violence was not simply a tactic employed by activists during direct actions. It was, as was the case for Gandhi, an all-encompassing ahimsa. Not just a tool, but also way of life.

It's easier to hear his words on racism than it is to contemplate his convicting prophetic message on violence, especially in our deeply fearful contemporary culture which is so quick to resort to armed protection to deter the entities that cause us anxiety.

King fought for Life and against death -- both the figurative and literal death that people were forced to face because of racism, militarism, and extreme materialism (what he called the triplets of evil). He fought against death, even as death was perpetually whispered to him as a potential deterrent.

Throughout his public ministry those fearful of the changes that King and other activists were calling and working for tried to deter them with violence and the possibility of being killed. The murders of Emmitt Till, Medgar Evers, Jimmi Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, the four beautiful little girls in Birmingham, and many others were meant to strike fear into their hearts and steer them away from working for change. Almost nightly death threats came to King's phone wherever he was.

But he did not let it stop him from working for change and from working for peace. He refused to be deterred. King was a free man. And that freedom from the fear of death allowed him to dream and to soar in powerful world changing ways. It allowed him to go to the mountaintop and see where we may go as a people.

In the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago, and as I reflect on the enduring strain between the police and people of color my thoughts have often returned to the timeless witness of Dr. King who had more than his fair share of difficult run-ins with the law. In particular I have held not only his message of peace and the beloved community, but also of how he got past the horrific use of death as a deterrent

Contemplating the end of death as a deterrent to me sheds light on the contemporary police/people of color dialectic. King's final speech that he delivered before being fatally shot in Memphis is known as his "Mountaintop speech." His final public words are so powerful because of its fearlessness in the face of death.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

But there is one line in that speech that most miss. Contextually, he is speaking about how he and others have faced the brutality of police forces in various cities around the country and responded with a heart changing non-violence. He says:

"We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces."

He of course is referring to disarming them of their hate and racially discriminatory violence. But what if he meant a literal disarming of their deadly weapons as well.


We as a society have surely advanced to a point where we can question whether or not police officers (who have sworn to keep the peace, to protect, and to serve the citizens under their watch) need to carry lethal force. We surely can at least consider whether societally it is healthy for cops to carry deadly firearms be it for actual use while on duty (which is devastating and tragic every single time it occurs) or as a deadly deterrent.

What might policing look like if our officers did not carry lethal weapons?

It is telling that this question astonishes. A cop without a gun, we believe, is in fact not a cop. How could they do their job without a firearm?

I raise this question not out of anger or from a punitive desire resulting from the high profile police killings of the last couple of years, but rather out of a respect for the police and a desire to bridge the gulf that has developed between community members and those courageous officers who seek to dedicate their lives to being peace keepers (the original intent of having a domestic police force).

In an age where moments can be captured by omnipresent hand-held devices, and in a time when information can be shared globally in an instant, images of police officers using excessive force and in too many cases taking lives, have caught the attention and broken the hearts of millions of individuals who now know the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and Laquan McDonald. Tragedies like these at the hands of racist or careless or PTSD suffering cops is not new, but the greater awareness and outrage over them is.

Thus, the conversations about reforming community policing and how officers are trained have begun in earnest. Already many changes are beginning to appear around the country like body cameras, sensitivity training, increased diversity on forces, and community oversight (rather than internal investigations of complaints against police). There is still a long way to go on each of these potential changes, but the fact that we are even exploring reform is positive. I am hopeful.

Yet, I think that we can push these conversations about police reform further and do something special in regards to the future of policing in our country, but it will take our leaders in law enforcement, government, and industrial innovation wrestling with and imaging what the future of policing and what our society might look like if our police officers did not carry lethal weapons.

Why should we consider the cessation of arming police officers with deadly force?

The first answer to this stems from a basic reverence for all human life. Granted as a clergy person I see this from a religious paradigm where all are children of God created in God's own image. Who are we to intentionally take the life of any other human being? And everyone is someone's child or sibling or parent or love. Each death is devastating no matter who that person is or what that person may have done.

But beyond spiritual or philosophical reasons I am motivated to consider the cessation of deadly force carried and used by police officers because quite simply far fewer individuals would die at the hands of the police.

In 2015 at least 1,202 people were killed by cops with the Washington Post counting 986 of those individuals dying from fatal gun shot wounds. If officers did not carry lethal guns on them that number would automatically plummet extending many lives -- most typically young and poor men.

Much of this stems from how officers use their firearms in their efforts to deescalate situations. It is extraordinarily difficult for a police officer to assess the nature of a threat and ones own personal safety in the split second that an officer has at the scene of a potential crime, especially when one's own life is potentially on the line. I hear that. Therefore discerning whether one should use their Taser, their pepper spray or club or something more deadly can't always happen in the very limited decision making time available.

But the presence of a gun with it being so ultimate makes that an officer's go to "problem solver" allowing them to take control of a situation quickly. The situation with former officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown captures this very clearly. Darren Wilson saw the unarmed Michael Brown as a potential criminal and as a potential threat. To deescalate and take control of the situation he pulled out and discharged his gun. A Taser, pepper spray, perhaps even physical restraint could have stopped Michael. If there was no gun involved or available, Michael would still be alive (he'd be in college now) and Wilson would still be on the force.

If Officer Jason Van Dyke did not have access to lethal weapons, Laquan McDonald would still be alive, Van Dyke wouldn't have had to lie, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel might not be facing the demands for him to step down. Van Dyke and Wilson would have had to figure out another way to deescalate the situation. They might have had to still use force, but the chances of it being a lethal encounter would become greatly minimized. A racist acculturation that allows for an officer like Wilson to see Michael Brown not as one of the young citizens of the community he is to protect, but as a "hulk" or "demon" certainly led to him using deadly dehumanizing force (would he have seen him the same way had Brown been White or a Woman?), but Wilson being racist was only a part of the problem. A racist having access to deadly weaponry is the other part.

A decrease in the number of deaths by police would save lives, but it would also save police forces and cities literally millions of dollars spent on settlements with the families of victims. Money that could be spent in others ways -- like developing alternative technologies and innovative ways to stop and deter individuals from disturbing the peace and committing crimes.

It is hard to be a police officer. And this is a difficult time to even explore disarming police officers of lethal force when they are being shot at by people who hate cops. While a relatively very few number of police officers are shot and killed every year (48 nationwide in 2014 according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund), one cop killed is too many. But the point of proposing a disarming of lethal force isn't to leave officers more vulnerable. In taking away lethal weapons we can and I pray will replace them with better just as effective non-lethal weapons, which would ultimately make policing safer.

Certainly we have advanced as a society enough where we can develop weaponry that serves the purpose of stopping a fleeing criminal or detaining an out of control individual without taking their lives. Future generations will look back on us as being barbaric and imprecise for our weapons and tactics. Futurists and tech innovators law enforcement needs you! Smart guns are a step in the right direction, but non-lethal ones are the destination. Gun manufacturers would profit tremendously if they moved in this direction of developing non-lethal but effective firearms. The ability to defend oneself without killing another would be something that a lot of people who are anxious for their own safety would buy. I am accused from time to time of hating guns. I don't hate guns. I hate that guns (can) kill people.

We can build a better weapon.


The oft-missed reality is that most police officers go their whole careers without discharging their guns while on duty. In many places entire forces go years without shooting a weapon while in uniform. The overwhelming majority of officers hope and pray that they won't be in a situation where they will have to take the life of another. Shooting another human being is a life-altering event that is very difficult to get over. It's traumatic to be shot and it's traumatic to shoot another. And so if officers are barely using their guns, why do departments spend so much of their budgets on purchasing guns and firearm training? Should forces in very low crime areas even carry guns on them?

Individuals who disagree with me on this issue will say "yes" because of the fact that "the bad guys" knowing that officers have guns deters them from doing crime and/or attacking an officer.

The notion that many law enforcement officials see some of the citizens under their watch as bad guys is an important idea to address as officer training is being revamped around the country. How can officers be focused on protecting and serving only the good ones and keep them safe from the bad ones? As a minister I was trained to not only minister to the good members of a flock, but to see everyone, imperfect as we all are, as members to be cared for.

But does death as deterrent work in our society? This in many ways is one of the points of the death penalty. I abhor the death penalty and am thankful that national opinion is trending towards abolishing it. Not only is it an anachronistic brutality, but also it exists in a racist and imperfect criminal justice system that sentences people of color to death at rates far worse than their White counterparts who do the same crimes. Some see it as a form of justice after a severe crime has been committed. And others see the executions of criminals as serving as a warning to other would be criminals that "if you do likewise, you too will face death." One may ask however does the death penalty deter crime? If we stopped executing people would crime suddenly spike?

Likewise, nations possess nuclear weapons with the intent of deterring others from attacking them. No world leaders want to use their nuclear weapons. The world has seen the clumsy, indiscriminate devastation that nuclear bombs bring. No one wants that again. But in a most uncreative way, many nations hold onto them as a deterrent from war.

Like the death penalty and like nuclear weapons, many police forces continue to carry guns as a perpetually present deterrent.

There is something very dangerous about operating in a currency of fear.

The use of death as a deterrent signals not only a society that does not seriously value every life, but also one that lacks imagination. It brings not a "realistic" view of human nature, but rather, it reinforces an inhumane way of dealing with conflict and perceived threats. How pitiful it is that we must resort to fear as the rope that restrains us from doing bad. We can do better than that as a nation and as a society. That's lazy. Just like the death penalty and nuclear weapons are lazy, inaccurate, and ineffective ways of keeping the peace.

We cannot un-invent the gun. But we can improve upon it. What might the future of policing look like with just as effective but non-lethal weapons? I think if those brave public servants who dedicate their professional lives to keeping us safe covenanted to never take the lives of those whom they have sworn to protect, we would live in a much safer more life-affirming world.

I have been afraid to write this. There is a type of death that occurs when taking dissenting views. And death is frightening. Death is a powerful deterrent be it figurative, vocational, or literal. But I thought it important during this season where we celebrate Dr. King to follow his lead and not be afraid of death. In conquering our own fear of death, let us bring down the aspects of our society that rely on the fear of death as a deterrent. For when we do, we can come closer to being free at last.

Igor Bobic   |   January 17, 2016    9:28 PM ET

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasted no time during Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate slamming Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for his record on gun control.

"I have made it clear, based on Sen. Sanders' own record, that he has voted with the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby, numerous times," she said.

Clinton accused Sanders of voting against the so-called “Charleston loophole,” a gun control provision that allowed the accused shooter of the Charleston church massacre to purchase his gun. She also charged that Sanders voted to let guns onto Amtrak trains, as well as in the National Park system.

Sanders dismissed the charges and said Clinton was being "very disingenuous."

On Saturday, the eve of the debate, Sanders distanced himself from a 2005 law he voted for that gave gun manufacturers and dealers legal immunity. His campaign, however, disputed the characterization that he had reversed himself on the issue.

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Mariah Stewart   |   January 15, 2016   11:15 AM ET

More people died from guns than from motor vehicle accidents in 21 states in 2014, according to a report released this week.

The Violence Policy Center, a research group that advocates for gun safety legislation, has found in past reports that traffic fatalities have been declining due to what the organization calls "effective regulation," such as safety prevention initiatives, improved vehicle and highway design, and efforts from the government and advocacy groups. Firearm-related deaths, meanwhile, have only climbed.

The VPC analyzed the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tallies all gun deaths, including suicides and accidents, and all fatalities in car crashes. As the number of people who die in car crashes goes down, the organization says, the number of people who die from guns is going up needlessly. 

"Firearms are the only consumer product the federal government does not regulate for health and safety," VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand said in a press release. "Meanwhile, science-based regulations have dramatically reduced deaths from motor vehicles in recent decades. It’s well past time that we regulate firearms for health and safety just like all other consumer products."

When VPC first compared firearm and traffic deaths in 2009, gun deaths exceeded fatal motor vehicle accidents in only 10 states. That number more than doubled in just six years.

(A full list of the 21 states can be found here.)

"The historic drop in motor vehicle deaths illustrates how health and safety regulation can reduce deaths and injuries that were at one time thought to be unavoidable," the report stated.

Nine out of 10 American households in 2014 had access to cars, while only one-third had access to guns, according to the group. 

Automobile deaths far outpaced gun deaths for years, but that gap has been closing steadily over the past decade. In 2014, the Center for American Progress predicted that more young Americans would die from guns than motor vehicles in 2015. Other reports have made similar predictions across all age groups, suggesting that 2015 could be the first year gun deaths would top automobile deaths nationwide. 

Last year's data isn't available yet, but the VPC shows that vehicle deaths still exceeded gun fatalities nationwide in 2014 -- 35,647 to 33,599. However, the organization says gun deaths will surpass motor vehicle deaths in more and more states if current trends continue.

Gun violence kills an average of 36 people a day in the U.S. -- a number that doesn't include suicides, which account for more than 60 percent of all firearm deaths -- and many experts say the time to rethink our approach to the problem is overdue.

Doctors For America, an organization for medical professionals and students promoting health, now calls gun violence a public health crisis, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has referred to gun violence as a health epidemic.

Congress has not budged on restrictions it passed two decades ago that have kept the CDC from researching gun violence as a public health issue. Earlier this month, a number of senators called for a hearing on the years-long blockage and pushed for the agency to research the issue.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) also presented legislation that would invest $10 million a year over the next decade into the CDC’s gun violence research.

"The epidemic of gun violence in America is not preordained, it is preventable," Markey said in a press release announcing the legislation.

Benjamin Hart   |   January 14, 2016    1:59 PM ET

Read More: guns

While the United States has failed to significantly reduce its annual rate of gun deaths, other high income countries have been making steadier progress, resulting in a wider gap between the U.S. and its international peers when it comes to fatal shootings.

Andy McDonald   |   January 14, 2016   11:59 AM ET

We need to do something about the guns in this country. They're not safe. And if I've learned anything in the past year, if you want to make something safe, you give it a gun.

Cracked says we should give our guns even tinier guns so that they can be safe.


Also on HuffPost:

A Partisan Culture, Not a Gun Culture

Margie Omero   |   January 12, 2016    2:55 PM ET

Last week President Obama took modest, but politically courageous, executive actions on guns. Despite the well-established popularity of strengthening background checks, the move was panned by the Republican Speaker and most Republican Presidential candidates. But there is far more to the contentious debate on guns than simply a favor/oppose question on any one policy, and more than discussions of a "gun culture" that gun law advocates supposedly don't get. Partisan polarization, and broader worries about security, likely drive public opinion more than gun ownership.

(Disclosure: Everytown for Gun Safety, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns before it, have been clients of my Democratic polling firm, Momentum Analysis, although the views in this article are wholly my own. I've also written extensively here at Huffington Post on gun polling.)

Support for background checks continues to be nearly unanimous.

This should really no longer be in dispute. Sometimes the figure nears 90%, sometimes it can be as low as the mid-70s. It's very high, and has been very high for some time. With numbers like that, even Republicans and gun-owners are also consistently in support.

Even when mentioning Obama, support remains strong.

Political-watchers would be forgiven for assuming a sentence including "Barack Obama," "gun," and "executive orders" would be massively controversial. But check your assumptions at the door. The latest CNN/ORC poll shows two-thirds -- and even 51% of Republicans -- support Obama's actions on guns. A recent GQR survey for Americans for Responsible Solutions (a pro-gun law group) shows a similar pattern, with slightly higher numbers (73% overall, 56% of Republicans).

Although, yes, many worry about safety, and are pessimistic about efficacy.

I've written extensively about the dangers of over-emphasizing the long-term tracking on guns by either Pew or Gallup. Pew's question uses the anachronism "gun control," which, while sadly still common parlance, is never used by gun law advocates as it's been shown to dampen support for stronger laws. Gallup's three-pronged question ("do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?"), and others like it, ask respondents to imagine what "stricter" gun laws might look like. We don't know if respondents are thinking about background checks, a registry, confiscation or something else.

But gun law advocates should view with empathy the pessimism many feel that even popular, detailed, stronger gun laws can reduce gun deaths. The recent CNN/ORC poll shows nearly six in ten feel the President's actions "will not be effective," despite the strong support for them. In October Gallup showed more feel a new background check law would reduce the number of mass shootings "not at all" (31%) than "a great deal" (19%). A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed slightly more feel "encouraging more people to carry guns legally" is a better way to respond to terrorism (47%) than "enacting stricter gun control laws" (42%). CBS News/NYT polling showed voters across party lines think mental health screening and treatment would "do more to prevent gun violence" than would stronger gun laws.

Beyond straightforward gun law opposition, or broader concerns about government efficacy, these numbers reflect despondency over the steady drumbeat of gun deaths, and anxiety about an unstable world. Indeed, almost three-fourths believe mass shootings are now a normal part of American life, and far more now than in the mid-90s say they own guns for self-defense rather than hunting. But pessimism and skepticism can co-exist with support for stronger gun laws. In 2013, Pew found majorities felt "stronger gun laws" (unspecified) would reduce mass shooting deaths, reduce accidental gun deaths, and also "make it more difficult for people to protect homes and families."

We should be mindful to not paint all gun law skepticism with broad brushstrokes like "cultural" or "politically charged." And given the rest of the gun polling, this pessimism -- while important to acknowledge and understand -- is not politically insurmountable.

But the "intensity gap" is mischaracterized. And perceptions of the politics have eclipsed the reality.

Conventional wisdom suggests gun law opponents overpower advocates with their intensity, but the data say otherwise. In the CNN/ORC poll, strong support for the President's actions (43%) far exceeds strong opposition (21%). While Gallup showed those who want "less strict" gun laws are particularly likely to say the issue will drive their vote, this is misleading; there are far more who want stronger laws than weaker ones. In fact, there are three times as many "more strict" gun law voters who say it will drive their vote as there are "less strict" voters who say the same.

The strong opposition that does exist is a recent phenomenon, mostly fueled by Republicans and trends of partisan polarization. In 2014 Pew showed Republican prioritization of protecting "the right of Americans to own guns" began to spike in 2007, while it's been fairly stable for Democrats. Gallup recently showed an increasing number of Americans feel guns make homes safer, but this mostly comes from a dramatic increase among Republicans and independents. Along with this partisan shift, a majority of Americans in an October NBC/WSJ poll saw Democrats as "outside the mainstream" on guns--more than on any other issue. This vocal opposition appears in broadly-written questions about "protecting gun rights" or the political debate. Recall support for stronger background checks, and even the recent executive actions, is strong, bipartisan, and consistent.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, more are voting with their feet and taking themselves out of the gun game, despite easy access to guns and the increase in the perception of guns' safety. The prestigious General Social Survey shows gun ownership continues to drop, with now fewer than a third of households owning guns. It's striking that decades ago, when about half of households had guns, support for a full handgun ban reached as high as 60%. A toxic political dialogue -- and not gun ownership itself -- is the real obstacle to stronger laws.

At Tuesday's State of the Union an empty chair will remind us of lives lost to gun violence. Let's use this as a reminder of what we share as Americans -- concern for others' safety, support for keeping guns out of dangerous hands, and a weariness of our divisive politics.

Leviathan, Gun Control and the Baleful Legacy of the 2nd Amendment

David Stockman   |   January 12, 2016    8:27 AM ET

Let me be clear from the outset. I vehemently oppose Big Government and Nanny State regulation, but also have no use for guns, find hunting distasteful and wish that James Madison had never dreamed up the Second Amendment while politicking for the Constitution. The so-called right to bear arms is truly a vestigial relic of the 18th century and has precious little to do with personal liberty or public security in the 21st century.

At the same time, I doubt whether any more Federal gun controls are possible or would reduce gun crimes against innocent citizens in a nation where 380 million guns -- 40% of the world's non-military total -- are already in circulation. In that respect President Obama is doing far more harm than good in his ceaseless agitation for tighter gun regulations and his latest feckless gambit to extend them via executive order.

That's because with zero political consensus for legislative action the only impact of Obama's provocations is to fuel the conservative anti-gun control crusade. Yet the latter is truly misbegotten; it amounts to a monumental waste of political energies and resources against the wrong target.

The real threat emanating from our Federal Leviathan is not the non-existent boogeyman of gun confiscation or abridgement of the dubious right to bear arms. What is running unchecked like never before is Imperial Washington's penchant for taxing, spending, borrowing, regulating, meddling, money printing, and foreign intervention and military adventurism.

It's almost as if the Left has baited conservatives into a diversionary political battle over guns -- the better to leave Leviathan unhindered in its unwarranted, unjust and unproductive intrusions upon the economic and social life of the American people.

Indeed, by battling for extraneous causes like Second Amendment rights, along with rearguard attacks on the purely private matters of abortion and gay marriage, today's so-called political conservatives have largely abandoned the battle where it counts. That is, on the essential front line of economic freedom, sound money, fiscal rectitude and the parsimonious extension of state power.

In that respect, rather than falling for a grand but pointless battle over guns, true conservatives would be far better advised to attack the source of gun violence where it might actually make a huge difference. To wit, there is no imaginable regulatory scheme that can prevent the massive inventory of guns in the US from falling into the hands of criminals and psychotics.

Accordingly, the better course of action would be to dramatically shrink the scale of the criminal enterprise by wholesale decriminalization of drugs -- all of them. So doing, Washington would at once rollback the state from an area that is none of its business, while transferring the drug distribution business from El Chapo to Phillip Morris.

Indeed, seconding the drug trade to the non-violent salesmen, deliverymen, warehousemen, and business managers of the tobacco companies would eliminate more crimes and gun violence than any conceivable scheme of background checks, registration and firearms regulation.

The truth is, there are about 10,000 gun based homicides in the US per year, and one recent study by Narco News estimated that up to 10% were directly due to drug trade based killings. But that's not the half of it.

The giant global network for illegal drug trafficking is like any other state enabled monopoly. The artificial scarcity created by drug prohibition creates monumental windfall revenues that enable the El Chapo's of the world and their vast networks of distribution to recruit, train, fund and reward the largest private armies of killers and criminals that the world have ever seen.

In many lower income communities especially, the ranks of the drug distribution pyramid amount to an open air crime school. Likewise, domestic prisons populated with up to 500,000 mostly small time distributors or users amount to graduate schools for the same.

In short, the NRA slogan that it's people not guns which kill surely needs amendment. What really kills is bloviating legislators and Congressmen who keep passing drug prohibition laws which prodigiously fund the heart of organized criminal enterprise in the United States.

Yes, the US Constitution -- as battered and impaired as it is -- is still the bulwark of our liberties and the ultimate restraint on the aggrandizing impulses of the modern state. But the constitution and its 27 amendments contain 7,591 words, and all of them are not created equal.

In fact, the following 27 words are among the very least important and do not rank even close to the First, Fourth, Fifth and Tenth Amendments in the hierarchy of liberty's safeguards:

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.

A lot has transpired in the 225 years since these words were ratified and duly certified by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1791 -- among them the rise of hunting for sport and the public's fear of criminal intrusion on their person and property. But the second amendment has no more bearing on these contemporary matters than it does on the right to fly a kite.

The tip-off is the governing clause and predicate which makes clear that the amendment is all about assurance of a "well regulated militia", and, in fact, involves an archaic 1780's argument between Federalists and anti-Federalists that has nothing to do with the contemporary notions of an individual's right to own firearms for the purpose of self-protection, hunting or target shooting.

To make a long story short, the articles of confederation had put defense of the nation in the hands of the state militias; the new constitution shifted the power to raise a standing military and arm the state militias to the Federal government (Article I, Section 8); and Madison's deft Second Amendment compromise was designed to reassure anti-Federalists that the state militias could not be disarmed by an aggrandizing and tyrannical central government.

Indeed, it cannot be emphasized enough that the whole debate was about how to organize the government's instruments of military violence as between citizen based militias at the state level and a professional standing army at the Federal level.

Thus, the Articles of Confederation had placed this obligation primarily on the former:

......every State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutered, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.

By contrast, Section 8 of the Constitution not only authorized the Federal government to raise a standing army and navy, but also empowered it to call up the state militias in order to execute the laws of the union, repel invasions and to even suppress domestic insurrections. Furthermore, it shifted control of the militias to the Federal government, granting Congress the powers of --

....... 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.

In that context, the anti-Federalists harkened back to King James II, the last Catholic King of England who attempted to disarm the protestant militias in the 1680s, and to British and Loyalist efforts to disarm the colonial Patriot militia armories in the early phases of the American Revolution.

Against that kind of tyranny, Noah Webster, among many others, explained the reason for the Second Amendment in a nutshell:

Before a standing army can rule the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.

The founders' pre-occupation with preserving the role of citizen based state militias could have not been made more strikingly evident than in a key legislative enactment less than one year after the Second Amendment was ratified. This law provided for the "National Defence" by establishing a "Uniform Militia" throughout the United States, and mandating universal enrollment in the state militias.

The very words of it tell you that it had nothing to do with Ducks Unlimited or the NRA's soporific propaganda about the Second Amendment:

Each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia...[and] every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball....... and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack.

Folks, a musket, bayonet, two spare flints and a knapsack have nothing to do with either national defense or individual liberty in this day and age. For better or worse, the era of the citizen militia is over and done; and the fact that we even waste public funds on the state based national guards is nothing more than a tribute to nostalgia and pork barrel politics.

So the Second Amendment belongs in a museum along with the muskets and knapsacks of the ancient state militias. No one in the right mind can argue that in the face of the modern state's insuperable monopoly on high tech military violence that an armed citizen insurrection would lead to anything more than a proliferation of government massacres like those at Ruby Ridge and Waco Texas. Ballot boxes, not bullets, are the only present day recourse against a tyrannical government.

Unfortunately, the gun lobby has ripped the second amendment from its historical moorings and invented out of wholecloth an individual right to bear arms for purposes unrelated to revolutionary era militias. But as former Chief Justice Warren Burger observed as recently as 1991, the idea of an individual right to bear arms is--

"one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word 'fraud'--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

Needless to say, that did not stop a 5/4 Supreme Court majority from embracing just that in Justice Scalia's rambling, incoherent exercise in Constitution writing in the 2008 Heller decision. Against Scalia's verbose ruminations, Justice Stevens cut to the chase for the minority:

".....the "right to keep and bear arms" protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase "bear arms" to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as "for the defense of themselves".

And that gets to the next issue -- the domestic policing function. Needless to say, the Constitution was not written by anarchists, even if the vast majority of the Founders were imbued with a republican distrust of state power.

Accordingly, they contemplated that the powers reserved to the states included the protection of their citizens' lives and property by means of criminal statutes and their enforcement by duly constituted officers of the law and courts. Indeed, that is at the very core of the appropriate functions of the state; and along with the common defense against invasion, it is the valid basis for levying taxes.

Nowhere in the constitutional debates or the subsequent practice of the American Republic was there a vigilante do-it-yourself notion of law enforcement or idea that the first line of defense against criminal assault was armed civilians. Even in the frontier west, people banded together to hire a sheriff who was sworn to uphold the laws of the state and to whom the function of protecting citizen lives and property from criminal intrusion was delegated.

Yes, contemporary America is plagued with an inordinate amount of crime against persons and property, but the idea that a gun in every closet is therefore warranted and an indispensable element of public safety and security is wholly specious; it is a product of contemporary NRA and gun lobby propaganda, not historical precedent or even practical assessment.

To be sure, there is no reason for the state to tell Michelle Obama's lonely farm wife in the boondocks of Iowa that she can't have a gun for self-protection. Nor for that matter should it deny a Park Avenue lady who lunches the freedom to have a pistol in her dresser drawer -- or the liberty to fly a kite or smoke a joint, either.

But that's private liberty and much to be treasured. It's not law enforcement, however, or a meaningful element in improving public safety. For that we need to liberate the cops.

That is to say, clear the criminal code of victimless crimes and social regulation. Enable the police forces and courts to focus their time and resources exclusively on prevention and punishment of crimes against the persons and property of citizens by third parties who violate the law.

The fact is, law enforcement today is drastically overburdened and distracted by the pursuit of innumerable victimless crimes including the classic trio of drugs, prostitution and gambling. Without the absolute stupidity of the nation's 45-year war on drugs, for example, the DEA would not even exist, El Chapo would have been chopping chickens in La Tuna, and "Breaking Bad" wouldn't have lasted even one season.

Likewise, the massive enterprise of enforcing gambling laws and other anti-vice statutes and the underworld of crime it spawns actually gets more preposterous by the day. This very day we have a significant share of the population and media hyperventilating about a $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot where the odds are 380 million to one; and a shameless publicity mongering New York Attorney General who has seen fit to protect the public weal from the apparent scourge of fantasy football -- a game of chance if there ever was one.

So why in the world does a nation of gamblers persist in prosecuting illegal gambling? Again, clear the statutes, eliminate the gambling underworld of violence and free the cops to pursue real criminals.

Finally we get to the truth that there is an arguable police function with respect to guns, but it's scope is far smaller than Team Obama would have us believe. The fact is, there is not an epidemic of gun violence in America that is any business of the state or that can be fixed by an appropriate exercise of its police powers.

In his town hall last week the President actually clarified the matter, even if inadvertently. The problem is suicide, not homicide. There were 33,000 gun deaths during 2013 in the US, but 21,175 of them were suicides, and another 1,000 or so were due to accidental discharges or other undetermined reasons.

But if people choose to kill themselves or be careless, that is none of the state's business -- nor could regulation of one means -- firearms -- by which such tragedies are accomplished make any difference. After all, you would need to regulate rope and strychnine, too. The statistics show that each year 7,000 people take their lives by poisoning and another 11,000 by "suffocation" aka, hanging.

In fact, it would appear that in a typical year there are more suicides by hanging than there are homicides by guns. And that comparison is even more telling when you consider that some considerable share of the 10,000 or so annual homicides stem from activities such as drug distribution, gambling and prostitution that would not involve any murders at all had they not been driven into the criminal underground by the proscriptions and prohibitions of the state.

Still, there is one angle on gun control that fully merits exercising the domestic police powers of the state. First, there ought to be a stiff automatic surcharge on the ordinary sentence of anyone using a gun in the commission of a crime against the person or property of another citizen. Deterrence is a legitimate and necessary component of the law enforcement function.

Secondly, it should be illegal upon a stiff penalty -- whether you are a national sporting goods chain, mom and pop gun shop or doing a friends and family transaction -- to sell a gun to any person who has been adjudicated as mentally ill or is undergoing active psychiatric treatment.

And if you want to be in the gun selling business, the burden of proof is on you! Freedom of commerce is the essence of capitalist prosperity and is to be protected at all hazards. But you are not free to emit poisons into the waters or air, either deliberately or by "accident". Nor should you be free to sell guns by accident to the next whacko who decides to attack the innocent public at an elementary school, mall or movie house.

Finally, keep Barack Obama and every other Washington official, lobbyist and hanger-on out of the equation entirely. The national debate over gun control is so metastasized that nothing good can come of a single additional word from Washington on the topic.

On this matter, the great American jurist, Louis Brandeis, has the last word. He was right. The states were meant to be "laboratories of democracy", and most especially in the matter of criminal law and the domestic policing function. And surely it is not beyond their capacity to use such powers to keep guns out of the hands of psychotics or to lock away criminals who turn firearms on innocent citizens.

Obviously, such a sensible path is way too much to be hoped for because what remains of the political Left has thrown in the towel on the Warfare State and foreign military adventurism; when it comes to the scourge of killing and violence, it has effectively retreated to its feckless campaign against guns to rally the troops and raise the political loot.

So the misbegotten liberal campaign to strengthen gun laws will continue and the even more misbegotten NRA and conservative crusade in behalf of the Second Amendment will flourish.

What a baleful legacy!

A feature of the Constitution which was designed to forestall the rise of Leviathan in a different time and place has been transformed by modern day right wing politicians into the helpmate of the 21st century Leviathan that actually reigns, largely unchecked, on the banks of the Potomac.

Cross-posted from David Stockman's Contra Corner.

Judging By The Response To Obama's Town Hall, The NRA Has Already Won

Mike Weisser   |   January 11, 2016    5:27 PM ET

So for the very first time in the lifetime of everyone who is alive today, a president devoted an entire hour of prime-time media to a discussion about gun violence. And it was a discussion, I might add, that was largely shaped by a series of questions which, vetted or not, were asked by members of the audience at the town hall who weren't particularly in favor of any of the president's gun-control ideas. Which was the whole point of this event, namely, to show the average American that Obama simply wants to have a sensible conversation about guns.

And in that regard, the president knew his stuff and spelled it out clearly and effortlessly. He knew the difference between gun ownership and concealed-carry (the former regulated at the Federal level; the latter regulated by the states). He knew and didn't disagree with the notion that people wanted to own guns for self-defense. He knew the difference between public and private sales. In fact, I didn't hear him make one, single statement during the entire event that couldn't be supported by facts.

The moment that the event ended, of course, the "other side" was rearing to go, with comments such as "law-abiding gun owners don't trust Obama," and Obama as "bully" flying through right-wing channels. Not that any of the pro-gun, anti-Obama rhetoric was unexpected, because that's what the digital news and political commentary environment is all about. But what provoked the greatest amount of attention on both sides of the political spectrum was the discussion at the end of the event when the president derisively dismissed the idea of gun confiscation as a "conspiracy theory" that had no basis in reality or truth.

Now here is where Obama was treading on a landscape that represents Gun Nation's most sacred cow. This notion that any kind of gun control is a harbinger of gun confiscation has gotten to the point that the NRA, for example, uses the phrases "2nd Amendment" and "disarming America" interchangeably; i.e., if you don't believe in the former, the latter will surely occur. And this has become the degree to which any attempt to talk about gun violence is debased insofar as any gun-control law by definition reduces protections afforded by the 2nd Amendment, which raises the possibility that you might lose your guns.

Now I don't care and obviously Obama doesn't care either if this nonsense about gun confiscation continues to generate an immediate backlash from the most committed members of the pro-gun crowd. But when it's taken seriously by liberal opinion-makers such as the Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund, it needs to be responded in kind. Ehrenfreund is a bright, young man, Yalie no less, who quickly produced a commentary on Obama's talk about conspiracies based largely on some ersatz academic theories about conspiracies which basically argue that political powerlessness makes people prone to believing in conspiracies, which is why all those conservative-minded gun owners are susceptible to believing in conspiracies. Right -- politically powerless gun owners. Yea, right.

When you run a daily blog you have to come up with new content every day. But I would hope that the editors of a Washington Post blog would occasionally ask themselves whether their contributors know anything at all regarding the issues about which they write. Because the whole point about conspiracies is they usually grow from the ground up; somehow people start believing in something whether there's any reality behind their belief or not.

Which is simply not what the gun confiscation conspiracy is all about. It's about a concerted, organized and continuous effort to promote the sale of guns -- an effort led and directed by the NRA and others for the past 30 years. Ehrenfreud doesn't perceive this at all, but Obama certainly does. His dismissal of the confiscation theory as reflecting "political reasons" and "commercial reasons" demonstrates an understanding of the gun debate that even the Washington Post hasn't figured out. Which is why Obama is president. Thank goodness for that.

Single-Issue Voters Can End the #EmptySeat

Shannon Watts   |   January 11, 2016    5:15 PM ET

Last week, I had the honor of witnessing history unfold as I stood in the East Room of the White House with fellow gun violence prevention advocates and gun violence survivors as President Obama announced a series of executive actions to reduce gun violence in America.

This move by the president signified the first real and meaningful action on gun violence at the federal level since Congress failed to pass life-saving background checks legislation in the wake of the devastating mass shooting at Sandy Hook School three years ago. Unbelievably, after 26 students and educators -- including 20 first-graders -- were murdered in the sanctity of an American elementary school; Congress did nothing.

But American mothers did something. We organized. And now, as part of Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has more than 3.5 million members and a chapter in every state. And we've spent the last three years creating change in statehouses and boardrooms, and asking the President to do everything in his power address America's gun violence crisis.

We asked, and last week, the president answered.

He can't make laws -- only Congress can do that -- but in light of their inaction, he clarified the law and provided resources to make sure those laws are enforced.

Last week, I also attended the President's Guns in America town hall on CNN. There, another significant moment took place -- one that is getting less attention. President Obama joined millions of moms and other Americans by pledging to be a single-issue gun sense voter in 2016. He reinforced this pledge in an op-ed to the New York Times:

I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform.

Why is this so significant? Because the gun lobby has decades of legislative experience and political activity under its belt -- and its grip on Congress and many statehouses is as tight as ever.

The National Rifle Association leadership has successfully created and mobilized a passionate voter base that will support any NRA-endorsed candidate when called upon, no matter their position on other important issues. This despite the fact that most NRA members are responsible gun owners who support common-sense legislation such as requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales.

The only thing that will loosen the NRA's grip on Congress and state capitols are leaders who are unafraid to act in the interest of public safety and support stronger gun laws. Our most powerful weapon is to create a voting base of even greater size and influence that will vote on a single issue: gun sense.

Even though the gun lobby has a decades-long head start, during the 2014 midterms we gathered more than a million pledges from Americans across the country as part of our Gun Sense Voter program to vote only for candidates who support strengthening our gun laws. And because the vast majority of Americans agree with commonsense measures to reduce gun violence -- like universal background checks -- we know we have the upper hand.

In fact, this past November, a little-known candidate for Virginia state senate -- Jeremy McPike -- pulled out a victory over an NRA-endorsed candidate, right in the gun lobby's backyard. The best part: He ran on a gun sense platform. Three years ago, a victory like this would have been completely out of reach. But with a grassroots movement of moms, survivors and supporters who are just as passionate about preventing gun violence as our opponents are about preserving gun rights, more victories like this are imminent.

We see this change among presidential candidates too. In 2008, not a single presidential candidate wanted to discuss guns on the campaign trail. Flash forward to now and some of the presidential hopefuls are arguing among themselves about who is the strongest on gun safety. And because our movement finally has boots on the ground, our Moms members will be showing up at rallies and town halls - for Democrats and Republicans alike -- between now and November to ensure that gun sense stays at the top of candidates' agendas.

As a mom of five, I have a hard time focusing on issues like the economy and education and healthcare when I'm not sure my high school freshman will make it home safely from school. Until we fix that, I'm a single-issue, gun sense voter. And no candidate -- regardless of their party -- will get my vote unless they're committed to gun safety.

On behalf of Moms Demand Action and our supporters, I welcome President Obama to the single-issue, gun sense voter club.

President Obama did one other thing this week. He said that one seat in the First Lady's State of the Union guest box will be left empty on Tuesday. It's a seat for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice -- for their families.

This week, the Everytown Survivor Network is leading an effort to show the faces of gun violence. Survivors will be sharing photos of their loved ones who were killed by gun violence on social media -- the people for whom they are leaving an #EmptySeat.

All of them need us to raise our voices on their behalf. In 2016 and for years to come, we will join the president as single-issue voters voting for them.

GOP Must Lie to Make Democrats Sound Extreme: Their Ideas Are Extreme Enough Without Embellishment

Ian Reifowitz   |   January 11, 2016    2:11 PM ET

This week, President Obama announced a series of actions on guns. The word that journalists most often used to describe them was "modest." Obama clarified exactly who is "in the business" of selling guns, and thus must perform a background check on potential customers. In a nutshell, the old rule allowed many who sold guns regularly enough that they should have been required to get a license -- and perform background checks -- to avoid doing so, in particular if they operated only online and/or at gun shows rather than in a brick-and-mortar store.

Its vagueness made the existing regulation largely unenforceable. The president's new clarification makes things, well, clearer. It is, however, in no way an imposition on the right of anyone to purchase a gun. It simply helps to more effectively enforce the longstanding requirement that those in the business of selling guns -- whether in a store or not -- do their part to prevent those whom the law says should not have a gun from legally obtaining one.

The Republican reaction? The guy who was supposed to bring those crazy House Republicans in line, Speaker Paul Ryan, characterized President Obama's action on guns as "a form of intimidation that undermines liberty." Never mind that, as recently as 2013, Ryan supported closing the aforementioned "loopholes" that allow so-called private sales online and at gun shows to remain private. Doing so, he stated, was "reasonable" and "obvious."

Could it be that Ryan only opposes what Obama did on guns because of the Speaker's high-minded and principled opposition to overreach by the executive branch (yes, I'm smiling as I type this)? You see, as Jennifer Bendery helpfully reminds us, Ryan said back in 2012 that a Romney-Ryan administration would repeal the entirety of Obamacare through an executive order. Not exactly an executive action journalists would call modest.

As for those who seek to replace the president, Marco Rubio launched a new ad where he darkly intoned that Obama wants to "take away our guns." Even before hearing the details of what the president was going to say -- although the general thrust had already been leaked -- Donald Trump offered: "Pretty soon you won't be able to get guns." Chris Christie beat the drums of fear as well, declaring: "This president wants to act as if he is a king, as if he is a dictator."

Last, but certainly not least, Ted Cruz spoke of an "abuse of power." He also added to his website a page dominated by the photoshopped image you see above -- depicting Barack Obama as some kind of jack-booted thug -- and which shouts: "OBAMA WANTS YOUR GUNS". The New York Times op-ed board slammed the president's opponents on this issue for "deliberately mis-stat[ing]" what his actions would do. I'll just call them liars.

That's my larger point here, it's about the lying. You see, what Barack Obama did last week on guns, and what Democrats seek to do in general, are well within the bounds of reason and appeal broadly to the American people. That's why Republicans have to lie. They need to bleat about dictatorship and gun confiscations because the truth isn't scary enough to get people to vote their way. They have to get people worked up with lies about Mexico sending rapists across the border, or lies that Obamacare included "death panels" that would kill grandma, or the particularly poisonous lie that President Obama has "deliberately weakened America," a falsehood uttered by the supposedly not crazy Marco Rubio.

This isn't just about Trump and Cruz, or gasbags like Sarah Palin -- who got the whole death panel ball rolling back in 2009. When Rubio -- the last, best hope of the GOP grown-ups -- essentially accuses the sitting president of treason, you know that lying to paint our side as extremists is simply coded into the Republican Party's DNA.

Projection refers to the act of attributing what one is or does onto others. This strategy defines the Republican approach to politics. They paint their Democratic opponents as extreme in order to deflect from the extremeness of their own ideas. You see, we don't have to lie to demonstrate that Republicans are extreme. They do that all by themselves.

For example, which party's leading candidate called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," yet continued to rise in the polls after doing so? Which party's members -- both in the House and Senate -- voted overwhelmingly to end Medicare as we know it by privatizing the program? Which party's candidates for president -- across the board -- offered tax plans that, according to an analysis done by the conservative Tax Foundation, would "deliver disproportionate gains to the most affluent"? And that's just a few to start with.

Republicans consistently take extreme positions on issues of profound importance. If our political discourse consisted of a substantive debate, and if it punished politicians for the kind of absurd lies and distortions the GOP tells on a daily basis, it would bear little resemblance to the carnival barking currently inflicted on the American people.

Conservatives need to distract the great mass of voters from what they actually believe. If they didn't, they'd lose. Republican demagogues have no choice but to use fear and lies because the truth is on our side.