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Guns and History

Gary Hart   |   December 7, 2015    7:34 PM ET

Read More: guns, gun control, isis

Terrorism is a method, a tactic, not a state, ideology, or political entity. It will continue to exist so long as there are even a few willing to commit suicide to kill others. We defeated Nazi Germany, yet fascism still exists. The Soviet Union collapsed, yet communism is still practiced in the most populated nation on earth. We can dismantle ISIS and its remnants, and others like it will still undertake isolated attacks on Western civilization.

When candidates for president propose full-scale mobilization and deployment of division sized combat units, plus air and sea support, to the Middle East (once again), they are seriously misleading the American people and deluding only themselves. We can propose World War III, or IV as some believe, but to think it will be fought in any way similar to the first two World Wars is a mistake of epic proportions.

Start with these facts: nation-state wars are virtually non-existent; the nature of conflict has changed dramatically; ISIS is trying to become a "state", but is failing; conflict is being waged by radical fundamentalists, ethnic nationalists, and clans, tribes, and gangs; 21st century conflict resembles mass crime rather than traditional warfare; the center of conflict is a 1300 year clash between Sunnis and Shia.

Because so few national candidates in either party have taken the time and trouble to study history, let alone military history, and understood the transformation of global conflict, they continue to revert to 20th century models and methods. They rely on advisors from previous administrations with the wrong experience or young graduate students without experience. They do not read Andrew Bacevich, Richard Clarke, or Elliot Cohen.

We have the most powerful military forces in human history, National Guard and Reserves, and very large State and local police forces. We now have a Department of Homeland Security that combines the Customs, Border Patrol, and Coast Guard, as a few of us proposed before 9/11. A visa application can take two or more years to be issued. Still, we have yet to find a way to examine the human heart.

Instead of relief with the end of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war, the transformation of conflict has produced a new kind of fear--fear that despite all our military and law enforcement protection we may be killed at the shopping mall. The powerful gun manufacturing lobby has encouraged that fear, to its great profit, and insidiously promoted the belief that Americans cannot trust their own government.

The loss of confidence in government, fostered by many in government, is a more serious threat to American security than ISIS. There is no American alive today who can destroy confidence in our government and expect to restore it by being elected.

An arsenal in every American home will not make us secure. It will make the gun manufacturers even more rich. No segment of our society is more concerned with the gun epidemic than our police forces.

Ask yourself this: If every student on campus, every churchgoer, every shopkeeper, every moviegoer, every sports fan, every business person is carrying a gun, will you feel more or less secure?

A Vision of Peace for America

Peter T. Coleman, PhD   |   December 7, 2015    5:54 PM ET

Read More: war, peace, violence, guns

America is at war. Here are the facts:

• Today in America, there is a mass shooting where four or more people are shot almost every day. Since January 1, 2014, there have been 1052 mass shootings, killing 1347, injuring 3817, and traumatizing countless others.
• As of today, the total number of gun violence incidents in the U.S. in 2015 is 48,746, with 12,340 deaths and 24,929 injured.
• The number of violent crimes in the U.S. was 1,165,382 in 2014 , and the murder rate is rising in over 30 US cities this year.
• Black Friday this year, 2015, was the biggest day in gun sales in U.S. history. Gun and ammunition sales in the U.S. today top $11 Billion a year. With 3.5 million new guns made every year, the number of guns in the US today is estimated at 380 million (larger than the population).
• This is happening in a year when tensions between the police and communities of color in the U.S are extremely high due to police shootings of unarmed Black youth, and the number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings tripling.
• The US also has the highest prison population of any nation in the world (the U.S. has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prison population) with approximately 2.4 million prisoners (1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record). The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States - GEO and Corrections Corporation of America - make a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenues.
• Of ethnic groups, African Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and American Indian Natives have some of the highest rates of incarceration. Muslims currently comprise 15% of our prison population, even though they comprise less than 1% of the U.S. population. Not coincidentally, the number of U.S. citizens joining ISIL has doubled in one year.
• The general American population is more fundamentalist today than the average European population. Fifty-seven percent of the general American population believes that "right and wrong in U.S. law should be based on God's laws". Levels of religious fundamentalism among Muslims and Christians in the U.S. are nearly identical.
• After over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq costing the lives of 6800 American troops (and injuring over a million ), 6900 contractors, and 43,000 uniformed Afghans, Iraqis and other allies, - and somewhere between 4-6 trillion dollars - current U.S. troop levels are today at 3500 in Iraq and 9800 in Afghanistan with little chance of changing soon.
• Military expenditures in the U. S. today are over 598.5 Billion dollars, roughly the size of the next nine largest national military budgets around the world combined, and constituting 54% of the total U. S. budget.

These current facts and figures characterize the state of the United States of America, the most prosperous and promising of nations, in a near-constant state of war, internally and abroad, against THEM (the outgroup, fill in the blank). We are well armed, frightened, highly suspicious, increasingly factional, punitive, disparaging of our opponents, and drowning in violence.

This begs the question, "Could America ever imagine itself at peace?"

In the anthropologist Doug Fry's important new book, War, Peace and Human Nature, he summarizes the findings of decades of research on peaceful societies around the world and argues that assumptions about the war-like nature of humans and the inevitability of war are both erroneous (according to sound archaeological and anthropological data) and deeply ingrained in our culture -- and thus need to be countered with a clear alternative vision of a peaceful society. He writes,

The importance of developing an alternative vision is overlooked in many discussions of peace and security. A common assumption is that a dramatic social transformation away from war is not possible. Such an attitude easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having a vision of a new sociopolitical system without war is the first step toward bringing change to a flawed existing system.

Fry's research suggests that nations are much more likely to evolve in peaceful directions if they have a clearly specified sense of what this entails. Such visions include an ethic of inter-ethnic unity, and care and nurturance of others, that is at least as strong as the view of peace as something that needs be secured and defended. Research has also found that when societies define themselves as peaceful, they are much more likely to behave and organize themselves in a consistent manner. Today, Iceland, Denmark, Canada and Norway provide good examples. Fry finds this vision - where peaceful relations are "the norm, the typical, the behavioral default" - to be an essential condition of peaceful societies.

What does such a vision look like?

Peace systems, defined by Fry as groups of neighboring societies that do not make war on each other, can be found on all continents and evidence six basic features thought to be important in the creation and maintenance of inter-societal peace: (1) an overarching social identity, (2) interconnections among subgroups, (3) interdependence (ecological, economic, and/or defensive), (4) non-warring values, (5) symbolism and ceremonies that reinforce peace, and (6) superordinate institutions for conflict management.

What could this mean for peace in America? The answers are not easy and would require a radical shift in our thinking, action and organizing. This includes:

1. Fostering more complex overarching social identities with our children. Shared, meaningful identities between members of different groups and nations set the stage for mutual problem solving and increased compassion. Humans would do well to recognize that we are but one species in a highly interconnected ecological system that seems to fare best when we live in harmony with (as opposed to in mastery over) the various other species on our planet and in our solar system. This entails increasing what Gregory Bateson termed our systemic wisdom: our awareness of the natural world, the seasons, the tides, the symbiotic nature of our existence, and the consequences of treating them as mere commodities.

Americans would also be served by applying this same interconnected sense of identity to their view of the international community, the United Nations, the developing world, and global human security (recalling that the nation state is a relatively new man-made invention and that our reliance on it as our primary organizational structure is highly problematic). This would involve reorienting our priorities from national to global (and only then national). At the local level, this means each of us coming to terms with the hard fact that our fate, and the fates of our family, our neighbors, our community, our profession, our religion and our country, are all ultimately determined by the fate of our planet, and of the well being of our brothers and sisters living across it.

But the U.S. must also come to terms with the fact that it is no longer a melting pot where minorities and immigrants are willing to assimilate to White America's identity. A multicultural society as increasingly complex as the U.S. will require the forging of a new American identity, which genuinely embraces and celebrates difference, pluralism and contradiction. We must live up to the motto on the Seal of the United States, E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. The good news is that research has shown that people with more diversified, complex social networks have been found to be more tolerant of out-groups and more supportive of policies helpful to them. They tend to have more positive out-group experiences, share more interests with people outside their own groups, and learn more about the contributions of outgroup members and the problems they face.

We must all learn to teach and model for our children how to, in Fry's terms, "expand the us" - to be Humans-on-Earth first, Globalists second, and New Americans third. The European Union, despite its challenges, is attempting to lead the way on this.

2. Creating more robust interconnections among our subgroups. Neuroscience research suggests that humans are hard-wired to move toward similar others and away from or against those who are dissimilar. However, one of the most important findings from neuroscience, psychology and ethnographic research on violent versus peaceful communities is the value of cross-cutting structures (multi-ethnic workplaces, schools, sports teams, labor unions, political parties, etc.) for connecting members of different ethnic groups, building relationships and mitigating escalation of conflict when it occurs. When societies are organized in nested groups, where members of distinct ethnic communities tend to work, play, study, and socialize with members of their own group; they have little opportunity for collaborative contact and social bonding with members of other groups. Thus, when conflict sparks between members of different ethnic groups, it can much more readily escalate to Us vs. Them violence. When societies are organized primarily in crosscutting structures, including ethnically integrated business associations, trade unions, and social groups, their members develop social bonds across groups, which mitigates outgroup hostilities and violence. This has been identified as one of the most effective ways of making intergroup conflict manageable and nonviolent.

A large, ambitious, and increasingly multicultural society such as America must have strong cross-cutting structures across all major ethnic groups if it is to move away from the types of factionalism and violence seen in our more segregated and ghettoized communities. Given our neurological predisposition to separate into ingroups, we will need bold leaders and policies to help us become and remain better interconnected across our differences.

3. Promoting cooperative interdependence in our most individualistic and competitive society. America prides itself on its fierce legacy of independence and extraordinary ability to compete to win. We see this reflected repeatedly in our American myths, history books and Hollywood heroes. Nevertheless, decades of research from disciplines as diverse as primatology, anthropology, neuroscience, social psychology, and political science converge on showing the vital importance of strong forms of cooperative interdependence for ameliorating intergroup tensions and promoting peaceful societies. This research has consistently demonstrated the fundamental importance of joint super-ordinate goals and attitudes and perceptions of positive interdependence between people (we sink or swim together) on constructive conflict and group dynamics at the interpersonal, intergroup, and international levels. These attitudes and skills are typically induced, developed, and maintained by various task, goal, and reward structures that incentivize working and interacting together.

American families, schools, work organizations and communities would benefit greatly from balancing our needs and tendencies for individualism and competition with solid incentives for coming together. This can be realized in ways big (bold joint-initiatives for communications, trade, and cultural and civilian exchanges between all nations) and small (cooperative decision-making in families and learning groups in schools). Such incentives simply bolster the affects of cross-cutting structures and reinforce the value of overarching identities, the basic building blocks of peaceful societies.

4. Inculcating non-warring values early on. This is a critical step in a country where children are increasingly raised on violent television, movies, advertising, sports, interactive video games and song lyrics. Anthropological research has found a significant positive relationship between warm and caring norms in families that value and nurture children and environments replete with more constructive and respectful adult interactions. In addition, schools that model and support nurturance, cooperation and teamwork among students help to shape the skills and attitudes conducive to more harmonious adult relations. When schools and communities provide early exposure to tolerant attitudes and effective conflict management skills, the effects trickle up, eventually impacting emergent social norms and more peaceful climates. In addition, communities which evidence social taboos against corporal punishment and other forms of violence in the home, schools, workplace, and public spaces have been found to be more peaceful internally among their own members and externally with members of different communities. Finally, the rise of an American elite (particularly popular leaders of business, government, celebrities and professional athletes) with shared norms of tolerance, cooperation, and creative problem-solving, can model for all the efficacy and value of constructive, non-violent action. This signals to the broader population the utility and importance of behaving in a compassionate and self-transcendent manner.

5. Creating symbols and ceremonies that recognize and reinforce peace. The United States is good at memorializing and celebrating war (albeit not at caring for its veterans). One simply need visit the Mall in Washington DC or The Smithsonian Institution to find a wide array of monuments, rituals and exhibits commemorating our many wars (today is Pearl Harbor Day). Almost every town in America holds a Veteran's Day parade, and the vast majority of mainstream Hollywood movies honor the bravery of the men and women who gave their lives for our country. This is as it should be.

However, in contrast, we rarely honor peace. There are no monuments to peace in Washington (although there is something called the Peace Monument which commemorates the naval deaths at sea during the American Civil War). There are no parades for peacemakers or even peacekeepers. In fact, we used to put "conscientious objectors," citizens who refused to go to war when drafted, in jail.

But as Doug Fry has observed, symbols and ceremonies can serve to reinforce unity and a commitment to peace in communities. In a paper published in Science in 2012, he described how the Upper Xingu tribes of Brazil participate in ceremonies to mourn the deaths of deceased chiefs and to inaugurate new ones, which help to unify the tribes and reinforce their expanded shared identity as members of the same broader peaceful society. One Xinguano said: "We don't make war; we have festivals for the chiefs to which all of the villages come. We sing, dance, trade and wrestle."

This begs the simple question, what symbols or ceremonies could Americans develop to recognize, celebrate, and help perpetuate a vision of peace? This cannot be something we out-source to the Norwegians or the UN. We must be proactive in recognizing and celebrating the tenacious commitment and hard work behind peaceful societies if we are ever to realize it here at home.

6. Enhancing our competencies and institutions for constructive conflict management. This is something we have studied extensively at Columbia University and have considerable expertise in. The data from decades of research on the effects of bolstering attitudes, skills and structures for constructive conflict management in a multitude of domains shows unequivocally that when implemented effectively, they can lead to higher levels of satisfaction, well being, improved social relations, creative solutions, innovation, and breakthroughs in mutual problems, thus increasing positivity in social systems and in turn reinforcing the utility of constructive conflict management. Programs and workshops in constructive conflict resolution and creative problem-solving for children, parents, adults, and leaders of schools, businesses, politics and nations can provide our citizens with functional and accessible methods for constructive, non-violent action to seek recourse and address perceived injustices and other harms. In addition, superordinate conflict management structures, such as the courts, institutional ombudsman, community mediation centers and town hall meetings, and well-functioning global organizations such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Courts, despite their flaws, can provide critical support when needed and signal the commitment of our leaders to fair and just processes.

Fortunately, the U.S. has been at the forefront of developing conflict resolution processes and centers locally in schools, communities, business, and as an alternative to litigation for the courts for decades. Unfortunately, the U.S. has been a major obstacle to the efficacy of multinational organizations like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, viewing their authority as a threat to American sovereignty. These policies and practices must be reconsidered in light of our increasingly interconnected planet.

To be clear, America's extreme levels of violence, crime, gun sales, imprisonment, and threats from terrorists and other anti-American groups will not vanish overnight from developing an alternative vision of a peaceful future. Many sound security policies and actions are necessary and need to be in place to help fight these challenges. However, America's transition from a violent, war-like country will only come about if a compelling vision for peace is articulated and communicated widely, and results in a new social movement for peace.

Bad Guys, Good Guys and Guns

Jeremiah Horrigan   |   December 7, 2015    5:18 PM ET

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, has famously said "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

As a newspaper reporter, I met with and spoke with a good guy who met a bad guy at a mass shooting. It happened on a cold February afternoon more than 10 years ago, after an angry young man named Robert Bonelli opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon in the Hudson Valley Mall in Kingston, NY.

Bonelli, of course, was the bad guy in that scenario. The good guy was named Barry Davis. This is his story, as I wrote it for the (Middletown NY) Times Herald-Record. See for yourself how Davis's story aligns with LaPierre's statement:

The muffled bangs sounded like books being slammed to the floor. Then Barry Davis saw the horde of panic-stricken people running away from the sounds, running toward him.

The Hudson Valley Mall had suddenly become a free-fire zone. The testing of Barry Davis had begun.

Once the rangy 24-year-old Kingston native realized that the place was under siege, he helped hustle about 20 customers and employees at New York & Co., a women's fashion shop, into the back fitting rooms. His girlfriend, Kristina Benjamin, had been trying on clothes there when the shooting started.

Davis stayed out of the fitting rooms to make sure there were no stragglers.

Then they all heard an agonized, wailing sound. A voice:

"I'm shot! I'm hit! Somebody please help me!"

Davis left the crowd in the back and went to investigate.

"People were yelling, 'Come back, come back. What are you doing?'" Davis recalled. "And I'm not really paying attention. It was like, 'I gotta find him (the wounded man).'"

He scrambled back toward the front of the shop, keeping low. He could hear bullets whistle by and ricochet in the hallway.

Davis looked to his left and saw a trail of blood on the shop floor.

Thomas Haire, a 20-year-old National Guard recruiter, lay on his side in the middle of the shop. He'd been hit by a single bullet in the left leg, just above the knee. He was bleeding badly and screaming in pain:

"I'm gonna die! Please help me!"

No sooner had Davis found Haire than he glanced toward the front of the store. That's when he saw the gunman. He saw the gunman's right arm go up, as if he were about to fire. Davis feared the worst.

"My first thought was to just cover (Haire) up and I told him, 'Hold on, just don't move' and I closed my eyes. It was him, I said."

Seconds disguised as minutes went by. For reasons he could only guess at, the shooter had looked away. Davis turned to the bloody business of keeping Haire alive.

Haire's leg was bleeding "like a gallon jug of water turned upside down."

"I took my hoodie off, ripped my shirt off. I asked him what his name was. He said Tom. I said all right, Tom, this is gonna hurt. Hold on."

Haire begged Davis to "Tie it tight. Tie it tight or I'm gonna die."

Davis tore Haire's fatigues away and found a small hole above his knee cap. He lifted Haire's leg up and the blood flow slowed.

"That's when I decided to put my hands inside his wound to see if I could find where the blood was coming from and try and clamp it down."

Davis said he later told his mother "all those years of watching ER finally paid off."

By the time the blood flow had been nearly stanched, help finally arrived. Davis had no idea that accused shooter Robert Bonelli had been wrestled to the floor outside the shop by three unarmed individuals.

Though authorities urged him to leave his name and go home, Davis stayed with Haire, reassuring him. He helped load the stretcher into the ambulance.

"Leaving him didn't feel right." Haire was taken to Albany Medical Center where he is being treated. His condition is not being made public. (editor's note: he survived.)

Finally, Davis put his hoodie on, wiped the blood off his neck, and went home. He was back at work at Kingston's Allways Moving moving company the next morning. He works there six days a week. He's also an aspiring (legal) graffiti artist.

Standing in front of a giant wall mural he and a friend painted after 9/11, Davis shrugged off what he did at the mall: "I was told when I was a child to put others before yourself. I swear that's not how I am, but . . ."

He let the sentence dangle in the cold afternoon air.

"I just -- all I hope is that if I'm ever in that situation, someone does the same for me."

In This Age of Terrorism, Lax Gun Laws Are a Liability

Brian Ross   |   December 7, 2015    2:05 PM ET

The whys of the mass shooting in San Bernardino remain murky, but the shooters' possible connection to DAESH, and the ease with which they obtained mostly legal weapons suggest that the NRA and the gun manufacturers' ease-of-access agenda under their Second Amendment umbrella may pose a huge security threat to the United States.

From Columbine to Sandy Hook to Colorado Springs and the hundreds of mass killings before and between, the pro-gun lobby's argument has always been about the Second Amendment. The San Bernardino shooting changes all of that. The FBI is treating this particular killing spree as a domestic terrorism incident.

So the new questions arise:

Is the "fun" of a gun enthusiast owning and shooting weapons that can be easily converted to automatic status a national security risk in this age of terrorism where anyone in a population can be radicalized?

Are our lax gun laws, designed for maximum profit of the weapons manufacturers, now a liability?

The rifles used in the San Bernardino shooting spree, AR-15s, the civilian flavor of the military M-16, were legally obtained and then modified to turn them back into fully automatic assault rifles.

Weapons capable of inflicting mass casualties are readily available in the United States. There are roughly 3.5M to 4M of these assault-style weapons that have been sold. AR-15s are estimated by some sources to make up 20 percent or 700,000 to 800,000 of that number, and, because they can be modified easily, seem to be a weapon of choice for mass killings.

Gun enthusiasts have steadfastly opposed any ban on assault weapons. They have even sneered at the term.

"It's relatively easy to circumvent a firearms ban based on cosmetic features. A pistol grip does not change the function of the firearm," Paul Valone of Grass Roots North Carolina told NBC News. "None of these things make any difference whatsoever."

Our hodgepodge of state laws banning gun sales to various individuals, from parolees to the mentally ill, are barely functional. Amazingly, our shoddy security apparatus doesn't even screen gun applications for terrorist sympathies or connectivity either.

"Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law," the Government Accountability Office also reported in 2010. The GAO said it did not have data on how many firearms purchases were completed because dealers are not required to submit that information to the FBI." Newsweek reported. They estimate that 2,000 suspected terrorists were able to obtain weapons legally as a result between 2000 and 2014.

National security doesn't apparently mean much to Republicans in the U.S. Senate, or to the four senators running for President. Thursday, the GOP roundly defeated a bill in the Senate that would require expanded FBI background checks on all gun purchases.

Yet this body that is supposed to do the will of the people isn't listening. According to an August, 2015 study by Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, support such background checks.

For years, those tasked with national security have concentrated their attention on the "big attack." The Bin Laden style theatrics of blowing up a symbol of American economic, military or political might. The attacks on our transportation infrastructure that have hardened airports, rail travel, and large sporting and concert events.

DAESH and its supporters, whether they are fully affiliated or not, have demonstrated that, in this age of mass communication, it is very easy to activate individuals who are very hard to detect. The attack in Texas in May and the one in San Bernardino last week point to this vulnerability.

"While the U.S.-based ISIS supporters who have been charged come from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, many share core characteristics: they were American-born, under age 30, and had no previous history of radical views or activities," says a recent paper by George Washington University, "ISIS in America, from Retweets to Raqqa."

Since 2008, the Justice Department and the FBI have turned their focus on to what FBI Director Robert Mueller described as "self-radicalized, homegrown extremists in the United States."

Gun owners will likely put forth the claim that their millions of weapons, both assault-grade and handguns, are all that stand between America and terrorist Armageddon. One sheriff in New York actually urged his citizens to carry weapons.

This is not a situation, though, where there is safety in numbers. Jihadist shootings are likely to increase, particularly if the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun lobby use their GOP advocates to thwart improvements to FBI background checks.

Terrorism is real, is here, and is the justification for lowering the collateral damage of assault weapons.

It would be false to say there is no reason for someone to own an assault weapon. People own them largely for the pleasure of shooting them. Some own them to defend against everything from burglars to black helicopter invasions to the threat of terrorism. Big sticks to protect themselves or their families.

Their ease of conversion to automatic, though, and their lethality, suggest that this is no longer a Second Amendment issue. It's a Homeland Security issue. On that score, assault weapons and their easy availability represent a clear and present danger to the security of the United States.

Assault weapons must be banned. The FBI must be allowed to improve background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

The amazing thing is not that homegrown terrorists are arming themselves and shooting up soft targets like the one in San Bernardino.

The amazing thing is that it has taken this long for it to start.

We Are More Afraid Than Ever of Gun Violence, But the Truth Is the Murder Rate Is at a 50-Year Low

Ian Reifowitz   |   December 7, 2015    1:32 PM ET


My mother watches cable news a lot. And she's on social media -- especially Facebook -- a lot. When we spoke Wednesday, she asked me if I'd heard. "About what?" I asked. "San Bernardino," she replied. I had heard, but had forgotten about it for the previous couple of hours, thanks to my weekly volleyball match. Playing makes me feel like a kid again.

"What's this world coming to?" she asked, bringing me back to the present. After so many mass shootings, she told me she's afraid that life in America is getting more dangerous, that nowhere in this country can one feel truly safe. She's not alone. Social media, the internet in general and the 24-hour news cycle only feed these fears.

Before I start offering data, let me say that I understand why some people will not want to hear this. Some may even think that the more scared Americans get about gun violence, the more likely it is we'll pass laws that will reduce it. Maybe, maybe not.

What we have seen in the recent past is that fear about crime -- as well as crime rates actually rising from the mid-1960s through about 1990 -- led to our country to embark on a misguided, incredibly harmful set of policies that resulted in mass incarceration, particularly affecting African-American men. Furthermore, heightened fear of terrorist violence -- which can, of course, be perpetrated by people of any race or religious background -- has, shall we say, not brought out the better angels of our country's nature in recent times.

Now, about that data. As the image at the top of the post demonstrates, the U.S. murder rate is now lower than it has been in half a century. According to some measures, the current murder rate approaches the lowest levels seen in more than 100 years. Or maybe even ever.

As for mass shootings in the U.S.? James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist and co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, has shown that the number of incidents -- defined as any shooting in which four or more people died -- has remained steady over recent decades, despite the doubling of the U.S. population since 1960. Regarding gun deaths as a whole, the data just about exactly parallels the overall U.S. homicide rate.

Let's look at some more data: violence in schools has dropped dramatically in the past two decades, as have the overall rates of physical and sexual abuse of children. The rates of rape/sexual assault and violence against intimate partners now stand at one-fourth the peak levels reached only a couple of decades ago -- and this is based on victimization surveys, so the question of whether such crimes are underreported to law enforcement is not a factor. Furthermore, there's no logical explanation why victims would have been more willing to report such crimes 25 years ago versus today. We were certainly not more enlightened on gender matters then.

This data may well directly contradict the impression many of us have. In fact, Gallup found that, starting in 2001, we saw an increase in the number of Americans who thought violent crime was rising, even though the actual violent crime rate continued to fall, and remains roughly three-quarters lower than it had been at its early 1990s peak.

Additionally, Pew recently asked Americans whether the number of gun crimes has gone down, gone up, or stayed the same over the past 20 years. Bear in mind that the gun murder rate is half what it was, and the rate of non-fatal gun crimes is about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago. Only 12 percent said gun crimes were down, 26 percent said they were the same, and 56 percent said they've gone up.

The last thing I want to do is put people down for being afraid, or, even worse, to belittle the pain and hurt people are feeling. Additionally, it's important to acknowledge that even as murder rates in the U.S. appear to have dropped equally across racial lines, black Americans remain about eight times as likely as whites and four times as likely as Latinos to be victims of murder. Furthermore, although we don't have the data to compare the rate over time, we know that killings by U.S. law enforcement officers is a serious problem, even as the rate of felonious killings of officers stands, thankfully, as low as it has been in many decades.

Separate from the question of whether fear about gun crime and mass shootings is productive or destructive is the fact that knowing the truth is always better than being misinformed. That should go double for us progressives, given that we are supposed to be a "reality-based community."

Armed -- with the truth -- we can still fight to improve our laws. Despite the fact that we are safer from crime now than we've been for many decades, we can make ourselves safer still. We know that where there are more guns, there is more homicide--both across state lines national borders, when comparing economically similar countries. We also know that the NRA--funded by gun manufacturers whose only interest is selling more guns and ammunition--stands in the way of progress when it comes to reforming gun laws.

As Igor Volsky has demonstrated, we need to make clear that the politicians who oppose even the most common sense restrictions on gun accessibility do so because they are in the pocket of the NRA, and thus the gun manufacturers. They don't care that a recent Harvard survey of more than 2,000 gun owners discovered that 40 percent of them acquired their guns without going through a background check. The lap dogs for the NRA won't consider a law that would ban people on the federal terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun, and I'm not optimistic about the chances of a proposal for a similar ban on those convicted of committing acts of violence or harassment at abortion clinics.

It's not about gun rights for them, but about dollars -- pure and simple. Whether crime is going up or down, it is that corruption we must expose in order to convince voters to finally punish -- rather than reward -- those who would make us less safe than we otherwise could be.

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos. Graphics and links are at the original)

Jerry Falwell Jr. Is Now The Worst Thing To Happen To God In A While

Derek Penwell   |   December 7, 2015    1:19 PM ET

It usually takes someone like Franklin Graham to make Christianity look like an econo-sized box of derp. But Jerry Falwell Jr. has managed to elbow his way to the front of that dubious line with his gun fetish, telling the students for whom he is theoretically (though not, it appears, practically) responsible that he "just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your [concealed carry gun] permit. We offer a free course. Let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here."

One wonders from which version of the Christian Scriptures president Falwell finds justification for his bellicosity. Jesus seems pretty solid on the whole “love-your-neighbor-and-pray-for-those-who-persecute-you” stuff, so I’m not sure how encouraging young Christians to brandish shootin’ irons against imagined threats demonstrates faithfulness to the Bible. I mean, isn’t a strict adherence to the text a sine qua non for fundamentalists? Apparently, fidelity to Scripture is also a pliable and self-serving concept among conservative Christians, once again pointing up the delicious irony raised by their own condemnations of liberal readings of Scripture. But, let’s be honest, Jerry Falwell Jr. is what you get when you let people roam about Scripture without adult supervision.

Even when it comes to self-protection and the protection of others, Jesus isn’t nearly as Ted-Nugenty as president Falwell would have his students believe. Think about Jesus’ arrest as it unfolds in all four Gospels. When it comes time for the authorities to arrest him, at least one of Jesus’ followers picks up a sword (John names Peter in 18:10) and starts hacking away in an attempt to protect Jesus.

And how does Jesus respond in the face of this "reasonable" use of violence in his defense? Does he tell the rest of his friends that it’s time to draw down, so, you know, they could “end” those Romans before they walk in?

No. In the face of the question of whether or not to use violence Jesus chooses to absorb it rather than inflict it. That is to say, in a disappointing lack of good ol’ American gumption, he says, “Put your weapons back in their holsters.”

Alas, Jesus also said something about buying a sword (Luke 22:36)--interestingly enough, he said this just 14 short verses prior to his run-in with the authorities when it would have made the most sense to use those swords, but which he forbade--so we can ignore the rest of that overwhelmingly liberal non-violentiness Jesus evinces throughout the rest of the Gospels. (See how easy that was?)

But not only does Jerry Falwell Jr.’s armed truculence make following Jesus that much more difficult for the rest of us to justify, his race-baiting antagonism against Muslims is also a big obstacle.

Unsatisfied with only inciting general violence at the prospect of the (obviously immanent) guerrilla incursions of Liberty University, president Falwell focuses his hostility by making a ham-fisted reference to “those Muslims” as apparent threats who need to be ended.

Oh, I know. He said he wasn’t speaking about Muslims in general … just the terrorist ones. The problem with that rationalization, however, is that the constituency to which Falwell appeals too often suffers under the delusion that “Muslim” is just a nice way of saying “terrorist.” The irony, of course, is that half-witted Christians feeding the narrative that “all Muslims are terrorists” inadvertently underwrites the common presumption that “all Christians are intolerant bullies.” Lest we forget, Jesus was a young man with questionable religious ties, violently killed in the name of protecting the state against radical revolutionaries.

And all this poor theologizing is why I once again find myself having to point out to the rest of the world already suspicious of Jesus’ followers that Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks for all Christians in the same way that Dwight Schrute speaks for all beet farmers--which is another way of saying that Jerry Falwell Jr. is now the worst thing to happen to God in a while.

Adam Goldberg   |   December 7, 2015    1:03 PM ET

Read More: guns, gun violence

The deadliest incidents understandably generate the most intense interest. Meanwhile, the everyday gun violence that plagues some communities goes overlooked.

Guns in the Old West

Barry Levinson   |   December 7, 2015    1:00 PM ET

Read More: guns, Old West, gun control

We will probably never be able to solve the gun issue in America, and we will continue to kill one another with a greater frequency than any civilized nation on Earth. We have a law, our second amendment right, so goes the cry. If people get shot to death, so be it. After all, we must obey and respect that amendment, that's what we hear over and over again.

I can't help but think of all those Westerns I have seen in the past. The stranger rides into town and that's when the trouble begins. He is carrying a gun. And the sheriff says, "didn't you see the sign coming into town, stranger? No guns allowed." Clint Eastwood's The Unforgiven uses it as a plot point. Countless other films use that same confrontation for dramatic purpose. In NONE of those films did the stranger ever say, "That's a violation of the second amendment, Sheriff." This was the old West. The West we idolize. The West when "a man was a man!" Or so we proclaim. That West had prostitution, gambling, drinking, and very bawdy behavior... and yet it didn't always allow guns in town. I guess this was before the Sheriff was aware of the second amendment. Or he noticed the sentence that mentioned, "a well regulated militia," and thought that meant that there should probably be limits to guns because of the word "regulated." Perhaps they didn't really understand the sentence because they weren't as schooled as the advocates today who demand no limitations on gun ownership. They do seem to draw the line just short of guided missiles. Although I don't know why, since missiles are referred to as arms -- hence the term "the arms race."

The debate will go on, but nothing will change. This is the way of our nation unfortunately. Statistics are always rolled out. And the dead don't vote. But the mourning will continue. America's killing fields always on our landscape and a death toll that shows no end in sight. There is a strange irony to this American way of life. It is the few who control the many. The many want changes to gun regulation, a better more thoughtful approach. But the few are in control. Was that the democracy the Founding Fathers had in mind?

Ryan Grenoble   |   December 7, 2015   12:44 PM ET

In a nation rocked by successive mass shootings, gun companies aren't exactly sweating bullets.

If stock prices are any indication, investors are fairly optimistic about weapons manufacturers. The day after President Barack Obama spoke from the Oval Office, imploring Congress to pass gun control legislation and help stem the threat from extremists, Smith & Wesson stock was up more than 7 percent by midday:

Similarly, Sturm, Ruger & Co. was up nearly 7 percent on Monday:

Historically, American gun sales have ticked up sharply after mass shootings. Reuters notes that more background checks were done for prospective gun buyers the week after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 than at any other time since 1998. 

Americans appear to be responding the same way this time around, following shootings at a college campus in Roseburg, Oregon; multiple entertainment spots in Paris; a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs; and an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

"Everyone is reporting up, every store, every salesman, every distributor," Ray Peters, a manager at a company that sells firearms and safes in Atlanta, told Reuters on Monday. "People are more aware of the need to protect themselves."

According to an analysis by The Washington Post, there are now more firearms in America than there are Americans, at an estimated 116 guns per 100 citizens.

On Black Friday -- the same day a gunman stormed the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, killing three and injuring nine -- the FBI processed 185,345 firearms background checks, setting a record for the most in one day.

 Also on HuffPost:

The New York Times Is Right About Assault Weapons

Mike Weisser   |   December 7, 2015    9:51 AM ET

In just three mass shootings -- Aurora, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino -- the final toll is 147 killed and wounded. Think about that number: 147. That's three busloads, two completely-full Amtrak passenger cars. The New York Times, in a nearly unprecedented front-page editorial, calls it a "moral outrage and national disgrace." The purpose of this column is to explain why we agree and why the editorial board's call for a ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons deserves to be supported in the strongest possible terms.

The gun industry has been promoting assault rifles by advancing a big, fat lie; namely, that assault rifles are just another type of 'sporting' weapon, no more dangerous than the old Remington or Winchester that Grandpa and then Dad used to lug out to the woods. Most sporting rifles load ammunition by the manual use of a bolt or lever, which considerably slows the speed at which the gun can fire multiple rounds. Semi-automatic sporting rifles like the Remington 742 increase the speed at which the gun can shoot more than one round, but the standard semi-auto hunting rifle still only holds 4 or 5 rounds.

What makes the AR so different, so lethal, and so non-sporting is not the fact that it looks like a military gun (which it is); not the fact that it might be fitted with a laser which makes it extremely accurate, particularly in indoor, low light; not the fact that the stock can be folded so that the gun can be easily carried or even concealed; not even the fact that the front barrel lug can also be fitted with a bayonet, just in case a little extra oomph is needed to finish the job.

What makes the AR an assault rifle and not a sporting rifle is one thing and one thing only, namely, that it fires ammunition specifically designed to kill or maim military combatants (who happen to be humans, by the way) and can easily fire 50 or 60 high-powered rounds in 30 seconds or less. This is not to say that mass shootings involving scores of victims can only be accomplished with an AR; Seung-Hui Cho killed and wounded 56 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 using a Glock 19. But Cho's attacks were spread over more than three hours; Adam Lanza killed 26 with an AR in five minutes or less. Better coordination and communication might have saved many lives at Virginia Tech; in San Bernardino the carnage was over almost as soon as it began.

What the Times calls a moral outrage and national disgrace is more than that; the ability of private citizens to get their hands on these highly-lethal weapons fitted out with high-capacity magazines is a risk to the nation's health. When two cases of Ebola occurred in the same hospital where a patient stricken with the virus had previously died, it wouldn't have taken more than one or two more confirmed cases and the city of Dallas would have ceased to exist. But the risk was recognized by the CDC and the threat was quickly brought to an end.

We are suggesting that the same situation now exists as regards the ownership and use of AR-15s. How many more senseless slaughters are we going to endure while politicians dither around and pretend they are truly concerned about Constitutional rights? And if anyone wants to believe that banning assault rifles would be an infringement on the sacred 2nd Amendment, the recent decision by the 2nd Circuit upholding Connecticut's assault rifle ban lays that NRA-concocted nonsense to rest.

The Constitution wisely gives government the right to institute comprehensive public health measures when the community's health is at risk. If 147 dead and injured human beings in just three assaults with AR rifles doesn't constitute a risk, then it's time to save the taxpayers some money and close down the CDC.

Deciding Who We Are

Brynn Tannehill   |   December 7, 2015    8:09 AM ET

Over the past few weeks, I have become increasingly aware that we, as a nation, are at a decision point. It is a more fundamental question than just Planned Parenthood, gun violence, Muslims, Syria. However, one central question underlies them all.

Who are we as a nation? Who are we as a people? What are our values? Each of the current issues says something about us. And it's not good.

Fear is guiding our moral compass, and deciding what values are most important to us. As a result of these fears, we are valuing things which are objectively actively harmful to people, and U.S. national interests. The discussion over gun control, discrimination against LGBT people, and Syrian refugees are all examples of this. Previous examples of fear based values can be seen in US history, whether the Red Scare, the Japanese Internment, opposition to desegregation, or the Lavender Scare.

It is also worth noting that each of these is now regarded as a dark moment in our past.

Many of the things we ascribe great value to would be senseless anathema to an outside observer. When we look at other cultures with traditions that are actively harmful and have no real benefit, like female genital mutilation, we cluck our tongues, call them barbarians, and go about our lives certain of our moral superiority.

Consider, though, how our devotion to gun culture looks to outsiders. There primary effect of having made guns readily available is that most people who commit suicide do so with a gun, and 64 percent of gun deaths in 2012 were suicides. The number of gun related homicides in the U.S. is higher than any other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country except for Mexico, where swathes of the country are controlled by competing, violent drug cartels. The supposed benefits of guns are not justified by statistics: guns did not prevent our current political oligarchy, and people are 143 times more likely to kill themselves with their gun than an intruder in an act of self-defense.

But we, as a culture, place the relative worthlessness of the ability to easily obtain guns over the value of people's lives.

Similarly, many among us are trying to embrace discrimination against LGBT people as a cherished and enshrined value. While most conservatives say that of course discrimination is wrong, and that no one should be discriminated against for being lesbian or gay, the right to discriminate is far more important than the actual people affected by the discrimination. Discrimination clearly has an adverse impact on a society, and the freedom to do so has no intrinsic benefit.

Behind it all is a Fox News-driven fear that Christianity is under assault, and that transgender people are a threat to life and liberty, women and children. People have been convinced that the ability to discriminate against LGBT people is central to the practice of their religion, and it is in danger of being taken away.

The fear-mongers hold up discrimination as fundamental a right. Some even cite discrimination as a matter of virtue and freedom of religion. There is a (false) ongoing narrative that the real discrimination going on in our culture is against Christians. They argue that people of faith need more legal protection against discrimination on the basis of religion. This has led to bills in the House of Representatives which would allow both religious organizations and for-profit companies to continue to take government money while discriminating against LGBT people.

Discrimination is such a fundamental right in our culture however, that it seems to somehow supersede what the constitution says about the government not discriminating on the basis of religion. The discussion about Syrian refugees has lain bare how little actual respect we have for religions other than Christianity.

Let's be clear; ISIS has created the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century. People are fleeing the repression, brutality, rape, and genocide perpetuated by the Islamic State, and returning is likely to be a death sentence. Even if they could go back without fear of ISIS, the refugees' cities lie in ruins and their infrastructure is devastated. However, we as a country have responded with our new, most cherished freedom: the right to discriminate.

Conservatives have made it clear this is about preventing Muslims from entering the United States. Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz proposed only giving refugee status to Christian Syrians, because, "There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror." Two weeks later Robert Dear, a Christian, walked into a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and shot 12 people, killing three.

New Jersey Governor (and also a candidate for President) Chris Christie abandoned any pretense that has anything to do with national security, though, when he stated, "I don't think orphans under... should be admitted into the United States at this point."

Opposition to taking in Syrian refugees might be understandable if the top experts on the subject were saying it was a bad idea. However, when non-partisan think tanks have looked at the issue, they have determined that the historical threat is low, it can be mitigated, and that taking in refugees is vital to the overall effort against ISIS. Even the libertarian, conservative-leaning Cato Institute regards the risks of Syrian refugees as low.

Sadly, the freedom to discriminate based on irrational biases and fears during a time of war are nothing new. It drove the decision to turn away 908 European Jewish refugees on board the M.S. St. Louis in 1938. We punished an entire class of people out of the unfounded fear that there MIGHT be some who sympathized with the enemy when we interned 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent living on the Pacific Coast in 1942.

Both are a national disgrace today.

The balancing act between freedom and a livable society is not an all or nothing proposition between complete chaos and authoritarianism. We accept some limitations over our rights to own and operate weapons already (e.g. fully-automatic weapons), but clearly these are insufficient to prevent the U.S. suffering from a rash of suicide and violence. We accept laws that circumscribe discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and other characteristics, but hold the freedom to discriminate for religious reasons as a sacred virtue, no matter what the consequences are.

Our problem now is that we are holding "freedoms" with no tangible benefit, and clearly defined harms, above all others. There is no logical, rational, or humanistic justification for them. Just fear and willful ignorance.

So who are we? More importantly, who will we choose to be as a nation? One governed by fear? One willing to accept unspeakable violence as the price of something with no real value? One willing to enshrine religious based discrimination as a lawful virtue? One where Muslims need not apply?

Or are we trying to become a society everyone would want to live in.

Christian Crusaders Urged to Arm for Liberty

Warren J. Blumenfeld   |   December 6, 2015    3:41 PM ET

Jerry Falwell Jr., current President of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, urged all students at the school's convocation on Friday, December 4 to apply for concealed-carry permits so they can proudly bear firearms around the campus.

"I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in," he proclaimed to the loud unrestrained applause of students. "I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course," he said. "Let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here."

Falwell acknowledged a large elongated protrusion in his trousers: "If some of those people in that community center [in California] had what I have [a .25 caliber pistol] in my back pocket right now ...," he said while students interrupted with even louder cheers and sustained clapping. "Is it illegal to pull it out? I don't know," he continued while chuckling. Falwell told reporters he owns several shotguns, rifles, and pistols, which he has kept on his farm for several years, and he confirmed that he was given a license to carry a concealed weapon over the past year.

Later, Junior clarified that "those Muslims" to whom he was referring represent people like Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the couple who shot and killed 14 people in a San Bernardino, California office building during a holiday party on December 2.

Junior took over as president of Liberty University after the passing of his controversial televangelist Baptist minister father, Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded the conservative Christian institution in 1971.

"Carrying" To Its Logical Conclusions

So, what are the implications of students carrying concealed weapons on the grounds of Liberty, and on institutions of "higher learning" throughout the United States? Let me count just some of the ways:

1. More and more unauthorized deputies will engage in citizens' vigilante (in)justice by misappropriating the national security duties of local, municipal, state, and national governmental agencies.
2. Students will no longer have need of the previously dependable apple to entice professors to raise grades on their term papers.
3. Enlarged trouser swells will snare potential sexual partners for sure.
4. Students will have increased options to end domestic quarrels or quell partners' threats of breakups.
5. Depressed students will have greater means of ending their pain.
6. Rather than simply giving professors nasty course evaluations on the many online sites, students will now effectively take out educators and spare future generations the torments of having to listen to their classroom chatter.
7. And of course, on a college campus or anywhere, firearms and alcohol always combine to produce pleasurable experiences.

The Christian Crusaders

Jerry Falwell's call to arm students at Liberty University comes at a very opportune time. Spike's Tactical shop of Apopka, Florida has begun marketing its special AR-15 assault rifle, which company spokesperson, Former Navy SEAL Ben "Mookie" Thomas, claims was "designed to never be used by Muslim terrorists," as the shop's never-ending battle in the Christian Crusades.

On one side of the rifle, shop employees laser-etched the Knights Templar Long Cross of the original Crusaders when they marched to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslims in 1099 CE. On the other side, they engraved Psalm 144:1: "Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle." Called "The Crusader," the rifle includes a three-setting trigger safety control branded "Peace," "War," and "God Wills It."

"Mookie" Thomas originated the idea for the rifle, stating, "Off the cuff I said I'd like to have a gun that if a Muslim terrorist picked it up, a bolt of lightning would hit and knock him dead."

Unfortunately, owners, employees, and customers at Spike's Tactical seemed to have forgotten that the Christian Crusades represent one of the most horrific, shameful, and tragic scars on Christendom.

Pope Urban II summoned the First Crusade in Clermont, France to "liberate" Jerusalem from Muslims. In the summer of 1096, as the crusade began, they murdered several thousand Jews along their way in the lands along the Rhine River, looted and destroyed their homes, as the Crusaders stated, "Because why should we go off to attack the unbelievers in the Holy Land and leave the unbelievers in our midst untouched.?" They accused Jews as being treacherous auxiliaries of Muslims. According to Pope Urban II, "Let us first avenge ourselves on them [the Jews] and exterminate them from among the nations so that the name of Israel will no longer be remembered, or let them adopt our faith."

When the Crusaders reached Jerusalem in 1099, they pillaged Muslim buildings and killed thousands. The massacre of the Muslim population of Jerusalem reached epic proportions. In addition, the invaders burned the synagogue on the Temple Mount to the ground with all the Jews inside. One Crusader, an eyewitness to the event wrote: "Men rode in blood up to their knees and bridal reins. It was a just and splendid judgment by God that this place would be filled with the blood of the unbelievers."

The Crusades lasted from 1040 - 1350. By 1204, however, the tide began to turn against the Western European invaders, as the Mamluk dynasty in Egypt drove them out of Palestine and Syria.

Oh well, Falwell doesn't need to understand history since he merely leads an institution of higher learning. Right?

But I would ask Falwell, if the historical Jesus were alive today, would he apply for a concealed-carry permit, or instead, would he accuse you of misinterpreting and thoroughly distorting his message? What do you think, Junior?

9 Gun Arguments That Need to Be Disarmed (Part 1)

Sam Corey   |   December 6, 2015    1:40 PM ET

The horrors of mass shootings have shocked America so frequently, it is left in a state of paralysis when trying to properly address this issue.

The latest killing spree occurred last week in San Bernardino County, CA. as U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook and Pakistan national Tashfeen Malik, donned in tactical attire, heavily armed, and carrying an arsenal of ammunition and pipe bombs in their Redlands home, shot up Inland Regional Center, a facility for disabled people.

As Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State in a Facebook post, the couple killed 14 people and wounded 21 more, most of them county employees.

It's at least the second high-profile mass shooting in a week. Just days before, a man shot several people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three, including a police officer.

Yet again, America is left to grapple with another gruesome, gun-driven carnage and debate when is the appropriate time to have a serious conversation about this issue that is claiming too many innocent lives.

Although gun violence and household gun ownership in the U.S. is facing a gradual decline, half of the 12 deadliest shootings in the country occurred after 2007, and active shootings (defined as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area") have increased from an average of 6.4 per year between 2000-2006 to 16.4 per year between 2007-2013.

Americans aren't calling for an end to our cherished 2nd Amendment Rights.

However, at the very least, sensible, responsible gun owners, concerned parents and everyday citizens just want a reasonable discussion on how we can curb this senseless, depraved bloodshed without impeding our ability to self-protect.

But each gun casualty triggers an outburst from our sensationalist media, detached politicians and hardline gun enthusiasts, whose erotic passion for assault weapons not only borders on ammosexuality, but also makes reform grossly improbable.

Americans seeking modest regulations have sunk into a constant state of blasé cynicism as zealous defenders fire off cliche, regurgitated gun-rights talking points, as their trigger-pulse reactions are as automatic as the guns they defend.

Many of these predominant arguments have no basis in reality, as we continue to talk in circles, spinning like a bullet in the chamber of a Colt 45.

If Americans want to reach a middle ground where gun violence is less frequent and our Constitutional rights left intact, here are the most common gun perceptions that need to be shot down.

The first two will target gun arguments that are either factually incorrect or simply defy reality

1. "More Guns Make Us Safe"

This age-old rationale is grounded in the belief that if everyone owns a gun, no one will want to shoot each other because someone will return fire on them. However, any empirical research that tracks the correlation between gun ownership and gun violence reveals the exact opposite.

This chart from the Guardian's Simon Rogers, shows America far and away leads other developed countries when it comes to gun-related homicides, with six times as many as Canada and 15 times as many as Germany.

Extensive reviews of the research by the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center suggest the U.S. is an massive outlier on gun violence because its gun ownership is starkly higher than any other developed nation.

This statistic isn't just exclusive to America; this chart from Tewsbury Lab reveals any developed country with higher gun ownership experiences increased rates of gun violence.

Additionally, Mother Jones assembled a chart revealing states with more guns tend to have far more gun deaths. This is supported by data from a study in Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

David Hemenway, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's director, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health"Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide."

Turns out giving people the capability of killing each other leads to more violence, who would've thought?

2. "Chicago Has Strict Gun Laws and the Most Gun Violence"

The Windy City has become the go-to punching bag for gun-control opponents, citing its alarmingly high crime rate and strict gun laws.

This is true: In 2013, 414 people were killed in Chicago; with more than 80 percent of those deaths attributed to gun violence.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the number of people shot in Chicago so far this year is at least 2,300 -- or about 84.5 per 100,000 residents. New York City has seen 1,041 so far in 2015 -- 12.3 per 100,000 people.

However, while Chicago has a troublesome murder rate, it isn't the most dangerous city in America: it ranks 10th in murders per 100,000 people (metropolitan area); 14th in murders per 100,000 people (city only); and 10th in murders per 100,000 people (gun crimes only), according to a 2010 and 2011 FBI Crimes Report and CDC's Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Report.

But gun-rights activists neglect the more nuanced propellants of Chi-Town's gun violence:

  • Chicago's homicides have taken place mostly in neighborhoods in the west and south of the city, where high rates of poverty and unemployment are prevalent.

  • Chicago has an extreme poverty rate of nearly 10 percent, with more than 260,000 households living in extreme poverty (i.e. $10,000 or less for a family of three in 2012).

  • High school graduation rate for black males in Chicago is 39 per cent and a staggering 92 per cent of all black males aged 16-19 were unemployed in 2012.

Poverty and gun violence seem to be inexorably linked, as these despotic environments present a bleak socio-economic future for those who toil in systemic oppression, who have nowhere to turn to but daily violence in order to make ends meet.

USA Today reports Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Montana have the highest gun violence rates by states, but also place in the top half of the nation in poverty rates (besides Alaska) and all don't require a permit to buy a handgun.

The article states, "Economic factors also appear to be related to firearm deaths. The poverty rate in eight of the 10 states with the most gun violence was above the national rate of 15.8%. Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas, the states with the four highest poverty rates in the country, were among the states with the most gun violence."

Additionally, "Educational attainment rates also tended to be lower in states with the most gun violence. The share of adults with at least a bachelor's degree was lower than the national rate of 29.6% in all 10 states on this list."

Additionally, the three cities with the highest homicide rates (Detroit, New Orleans and St. Louis) are all prohibited by state law to enact any new gun ordinances. They also have poverty rates considerable higher than the national average: Detroit's poverty rate stands at 38 percent, 27 percent in New Orleans (as of 2013) and 29.3 percent in St. Louis (as of 2014).

It's no coincidence that gun violence thrives in impoverished areas lacking in social and economic mobility.

Dororthy Stoneman, founder and CEO of Youth Build, Inc., offered her opinion on curbing gun violence by reducing poverty, citing her organization's programs in improving these communities through building strong networks and a loving, supportive community while providing a pathway to education and a decent-paying job.

It's strange how offering broken people a hope of a better future makes them more likely to pursue their ambitions rather than violence.


The second part of this series will scope in on three arguments that are misguided.

Do Americans Worship Guns?

Rudy Koshar   |   December 6, 2015   11:11 AM ET

In 1996 after a 43-year-old man with 4 handguns murdered 16 children and a teacher at a school in Dunblane, Scotland, the British government reacted with a ban on private ownership of automatic weapons and handguns on Britain's mainland. That legislation still enjoys widespread public support. The contrast with U.S. legislators' know-nothing, do-nothing response to mass gun violence could not be greater. One wonders why.

In the same New York Times article that looked back at the Scottish example, Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, commented that many Americans have an entirely different attitude toward guns than most other people around the world. Our autistic response to gun violence "reflects the worship of guns," he argued, and our treatment of guns as "a religious object."

Reading that quotation, I thought of a classic statement on commodities as religious fetishes from a source I occasionally use as required reading in my courses on modern European social history. In his magnum opus Capital, Karl Marx once wrote that in the nineteenth century commodities exerted an unnatural power over people. Everyday objects seemed like something from "the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world." It was as if they were "independent beings endowed with life," not unlike the natural fetishes of ancient civilizations in which--I quote from the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols--"shells, pebbles, pieces of wood, excrement" could possess magical powers over people.

Many gun-owning Americans would probably react with skepticism or outright anger to this suggestion. They would argue guns are a legitimate form of self-defense in an unfortunately violent society. They would argue guns are part of a family tradition, handed down responsibly and faithfully from generation to generation. They would point to how American frontier history was closely associated with guns as tools of everyday life. And others would recoil against the term "fetishism" itself, which in contemporary usage is inaccurately equated with sexual fetishism or perversion.

Yet there is much evidence around the country that guns do indeed command an authority usually reserved for sacred objects. Recently a pro-gun website,, featured an article by Dan Zimmerman that began with the following passage: "Most people purchase guns as fetish items." Zimmerman went on to argue gun owners should not only admit they fetishize guns but also be proud of their strange fascination with them. As for the idea of engaging in a DGU (an incident of defensive gun use), he opined there was as much chance of that in his lifetime as there was of winning the lottery.

Even more revealing was an Esquire article from 2013 by Stephen Marche entitled "Guns are Beautiful." Marche wrote that, "guns are one of the primary avenues by which ordinary Americans experience beauty." They are "the machinery fantasy of choice," replacing the automobile as a fetish object. But Marche also argued that gun violence would stop only when such attitudes changed. Guns, he argued, were once associated with masculinity (they are, after all, also phallic symbols) and rugged individualism. But the American culture of frontier freedom, if it ever really existed, is no longer relevant in an interconnected world crisscrossed by environmental destruction, political and economic crisis, and rapid (and often progressive) social change. Marche's final question is worth considering: "We're all clinging to something. What can we find to cling to that isn't machinery of death?"

There is bumper sticker circulating that reads "Pro-God. Pro-Guns. Pro-Life. Anti-Obama." I find the juxtaposition both evocative and deeply disturbing. If it's true that many Americans worship their guns, then not even the slaughter of innocents will move the country beyond its present murderous impasse.