Gun control

Welcome to 31 Days of Tough Things, brought to you by me and a whole lotta links.

Today: guns in America. The pain. The problems. The background. And, maybe, some solutions, not trying to be Sweden or some other totally different country, but solutions to fit America’s specific gun culture while preventing more deaths. 

Note. This is not a red versus blue post — hopefully, none of these will be — but I usually sit on the more liberal side of things and I’m aware I bring that bias into these conversations. If you have more conservative policy shops or journalists I should be following in the next month, please suggest them in the comments below. (Obvs already following AEI.)

What happened, and will keep happening

On October 1, a student at Umpqua College in Oregon carrying two handguns and a long gun shot nine fellow students and wounded seven others before killing himself.

It’s hard to type that seemingly easy summary sentence. I hope it is always hard to read. I echo many, many people when I say it sounds too familiar.

“The massacre added the community college to a string of schools that have been left grieving after mass shootings, a list that runs from Columbine High School in 1999 to Virginia Tech in 2007 to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children were killed in 2012.” (NYTimes)

“…Nearly 10,000 Americans have been killed by guns in 2015 – more than 30 gun violence deaths a day.  Yesterday’s terrible attack at Umpqua Community College in Oregon marked the 45th school shooting this year alone.” (Nancy Pelosi)

Both the president’s [convicting] address and this unfortunately-timed tweet below from the NRA both rang quite harsh in the light of a very fresh tragedy…

…but I understand why. The hashtags are trending, and people are paying attention. And the persuasive/action window for that attention is very narrow. So in the past few days the conversation has happened just as it usually has:

  • digging up dirt on the shooter, their web presence, beliefs, mental health record
  • pointing to countries with more gun regulation and their lower death rates
  • defense of gun rights, and calling for more guns as a solution
  • appeals to change laws
  • petering out back into silence
  • often, another shooting follows shortly after, caused by the media flurry: “A study this summer from Arizona State University found “significant evidence” that school shootings and other mass shootings were far more likely if there had been reports of a similar shooting in the previous two weeks.” (Quartz)

My stance — and fight me on this — is that in order for anything to change, the media needs to change the way they report these massacres, and for citizens to push bipartisan bills promoting more thorough background checks and dealer regulations.

And whatever happens, the legislature that follows needs to protect the people who should have guns, who use them safely for work, sport, and security — largely people who are both highly capable of using guns safely and understand their danger, and who also have little to no trust in the government doing that security job for them.

The media

More from that article in Quartz, where one of those sensationalist journalists to blame implores the news community to form guidelines on covering massacres such as the one in Charleston:

…There is compelling evidence that when media coverage inspires copycat deaths, well-considered guidelines can reverse that trend.

 A similar rationale inspired the news industry’s revamp of its reporting standards on suicide. In the 1980s, following a number of suicides in the subway system in Vienna, Austria, psychologists there urged local media to withhold details, avoid romanticized language, and keep the deaths off the front page.

The result? Subway suicides dropped by 75%. Formal guidelines on reporting suicide have since been adopted for journalists in the US, UK, Australia, Norway, and Hong Kong.

The sheriff of Roseburg, where the shooting took place, was championed in several different news outlets as a hero for calling for staying away from the typical sensationalism of these shootings by refusing to even name the shooter in respect for the lives that had been lost. Cool, right? No, of course, it’s more complicated. Turns out he has suggested that the Sandy Hook shooting may have been a conspiracy. (Oregon Live)

But he had a point, despite whatever his motives were. The way we talk about tragedy shapes future ones. The way we feverishly churn out hyperbolic headlines for click rates sets the stage for the next series of headlines. The more we pay attention (instead of voting about it…more on that) for those few minutes or hours proves that for whoever the next shooter is — and he or she is out there, and they are paying attention to the media now — that the next time, we will all be watching and listening. This should deeply disturb us. (My opinion)

A word from the pro [regulation] side

Two data sets.

One: almost twice as many acts of terrorism (ideological violence) in the U.S. since 9/11 have been committed by right-wing, mostly white extremists than Jihadists.

Two: the Mass Shootings Tracker. More incidents of gun violence in 2015 than there are days.

One interactive piece: How they got their guns.

And for lack of a better place to put this crucial article, it’ll go here: The Slave-State Origins of Modern Gun Rights, on The Atlantic.

A word from the con side

So, because I grew up in New York City, where guns = people dying, I quickly forget the heavy anti-gun bias I hold. I have very little personal experience of using guns and have never lived in a rural area where using a gun for sport would be remotely safe. Hard for me to wrap my mind around. So I was thankful for David A. Graham reining me in and reminding me where the gun rights advocates are coming from:

This distrust helps to explain one of the central paradoxes of the gun-control debate. How can it be that vast majorities of Americans, including gun owners, favor stricter background checks, and yet there’s not the political will to pass them? One reason is that theoretical support for checks is different than trust the Obama administration to institute them. (The Atlantic)

My “yes, but…” would echo this Pacific Standard column:

Unfettered access to firearms has become one of the defining tenets of the party currently controlling the Congress. Unless party control changes or that tenet is strongly challenged within the party, there will be little movement on this issue at the federal level.

But let’s not assume that an issue is untouchable because it’s complex or has deep cultural roots. So does every social issue. Some have seen legal changes anyway, and some of those changes have done the country a great deal of good.

Congress is looking grim

Well. On Oct. 1, the first thing I did was find all my senators and county reps. Then I researched the heck out of them. And then tweeted at them. (Only one responded.) I’m in NC congressional district 6, represented by Republican Mark Walker. Been tweeting at him like a monster. #noresponse #deadair #markwalkerdoyouevenexist

Here’s Richard Burr, one of two NC senators, giving the 2010 welcoming address to the NRA convention in Charlotte, from whom he has been awarded with an “A” letter grade for pro-gun voting. I didn’t know that was how I was represented (naive Northerner transplant forgetting that Democrats do not always win…I realize that could sound snobby, but I literally had forgotten that.). So I’d encourage you to check out your senators and reps. Where do they sit on this issue?

Then call them and tell them about H.R. 1217, which was introduced to the House in early March and has been shuffling around various subcommittees since. The bipartisan bill “expands the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads while providing reasonable exceptions for family and friend transfers.” (

Mike Thompson. Cool guy. Here’s what he has to say about his bill:

I will never give up my guns and I will never ask law-abiding Americans without a history of dangerous mental illness to give up theirs. Not only am I personally against this, the Constitution does not allow it. […] However, just as the First Amendment protects free speech but doesn’t allow you to incite violence, the Second Amendment has restrictions too. […] This ruling provides people on both sides of the issue with an opportunity to work within the confines of the Second Amendment and pass legislation that will reduce and prevent gun violence.

Here’s what’s been happening to that bill:

In the House, a conservative Republican bloc of 200 members constitutes a sizeable obstacle to any expansion of gun restrictions. […] The House has taken no action on the bill, and Thompson, a co-sponsor, said his Republican colleagues have made it clear that it will not proceed. “Basically, they’re not interested in doing anything that’s going to benefit Obama,” he said. (Washington Post)

Can’t get enough bills? There are at least 30 (if not more) bills of every flavor bumpin’ around D.C. currently (such as H.R. 93, which proposes to close a scary loophole in gun dealer laws). Just go here and search “gun”.

Ok. The last word on the state of the Congress from the same WPost article above, and then I’ve got to stop using my lunch break to toggle between 25 open tabs:

One proposal could emerge on the congressional agenda in the aftermath of the Oregon shooting: Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who holds an A-plus rating from the NRA, proposed legislation in August to keep people who are mentally ill from purchasing firearms by expanding the records sent to theNational Instant Criminal Background Check System and improving mental-health-treatment programs.

Gun-control groups have expressed doubts about the bill, saying one provision could make it easier for veterans who have been declared mentally incompetent to obtain firearms. The legislation would require a court to intervene in those cases.

But the NRA’s backing, as well as the fact that Cornyn is the Senate majority whip and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, gives it a chance to emerge from a Republican Congress.

Thanks for reading. -Jo


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