February 26th, 2018

Dumbledore’s Army Comes Alive In Gun Debate

Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, confronting Sen. Marco Rubio live on CNN for his support for the NRA.

(We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this off-topic, special message that might affect your life.)

Like many people, I’ve watched in awe as an army of teenagers has taken on the National Rifle Association and the extraordinary proliferation of guns across America. As organic as any movement ever created, it spontaneously erupted from the survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, who were cowering in classrooms and closets as their classmates and teachers were gunned down.

It started with three busloads of kids, some coming straight from funerals, going to Tallahassee to vent their anger at those who are supposed to  represent them.

That awe comes from watching kids use their old playrooms to meet and organize on one of the great political debates of the day. That’s a helluva thing, no matter what your political persuasion. After all, at every graduation I’ve ever attended — and probably every one that you attended too — the mantra has always been that the graduating group are our future leaders. And there they are leading, whether they were prepared for it or not.

To put this into kid-perspective, consider that the Columbine massacre happened in 1999. And many more have taken place since then. That means that today’s high school seniors, born in 2000, have always lived with instructions regarding potential attacks, lock-downs and places to hide.

The objectives list, on our basement chalkboard that my kids have used throughout their lives.

But kids brought up to hide are not hiding now. They’re out there now in force, not only in Florida, but around the country. One of my own teenagers, just days after starting a Facebook group to organize and see how students here in Westchester County can assist, had 500 members in just days.  And that’s for a strictly local group in a place that already has decent gun safety laws. Kids are interested in doing what they can. Big time.

My oldest — soon bound for college — met with some friends in the basement playroom this weekend. An initial objectives list they put together on their old chalkboard is shown here.

In the Harry Potter series, the Hogwarts kids form  Dumbledore’s Army to combat the dark arts. Today’s kids were raised on these books, which  inspired so many to become active readers. That fantasy world of a kid army at Hogwarts, in one sense, seems to be springing to life around us as they mobilize.

Battle, of course, can take many forms. None are so stupid as to believe that a magic wand will suddenly make them safe.

Raised in the era of social media, they know that their weapons of choice will have nothing to do with physical (or magical) arms, but the art of mass movements, protest and persuasion. And voting as they all come of age.

The #BoycottNRA movement has already caused the NRA to lose valuable relationships with car companies, airlines, hotels, banks and insurance companies. One would expect that less money means less financial support for politicians that have been doing its bidding in exchange for contributions.

Decreasing the power of the NRA is already underway. And that is before any nationwide boycotts or walkouts have occurred to help bring yet more attention to the issue. In other words, it is likely that the Florida kids are already making a substantial political difference.

Some have now started pushing their older brothers and sisters to avoid Florida for spring break, to pressure pressure their legislators to act.

As they organize, they will, of course, make mistakes, though none will be as grave as those that allow guns to be purchased willy-nilly, with less regulation than a driver’s license.

Like others who’ve preceded them in the gun debate over the decades, some will allow themselves to get sucked into semantic discussions about what constitutes an assault weapon, and lose sight of the fact that 30,000+ people are killed each year in the U.S. by firearms. It’s the easy access to guns in some states that has had an extraordinary impact on suicides, drunken rages, homicides (of the “regular” kind) and accidents negligence. [updated with link]

Others will get sucked into debates over protecting schools, as if malls, movie theaters, restaurants, and the entrances to sports/music venues (among other places that people gather) couldn’t also be targets for madmen and terrorists alike.

And still others will get sucked into Second Amendment debates. They should not. For it isn’t a question of “supporting” the Second Amendment, but of its (mis)interpretation. Even under the deeply strained logic of D.C. v. Heller that reversed prior law to say that the Second was an individual right instead of a collective one belonging to a well-regulated militia, it didn’t say that all gun safety laws were unconstitutional. It said that an absolute ban was.

Finally, some will try to argue with the gun fetishists, which are the loudest group of opponents to gun safety. This is useless and unproductive. Focus on the politicians, and the responsible gun owners who are, like you, appalled by the epidemic of gun deaths.

Given that many states that have good gun safety laws have withstood legal challenges — and those laws correlate to lower rates of gun deaths that those with lax safety laws — one should not stop arguing for gun safety.

Most folks don’t know that New York has one of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the nation, not just because of our gun safety laws, but because our surrounding states also have them making it less likely that they will be trafficked into New York. The graph you see here is extraordinary, with that grouping states in the lower left corner of NY, CT, MA, NJ and RI.

(Edit: Hours after posting this, an article appeared on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upholding New York City’s solid gun safety law in the face of Second Amendment challenge.)

If the kids were asking me — and none of them have, though it hasn’t stopped me from offering up my two bits — I’d urge them to do everything possible to maintain the focus on tightly restricting access to guns of all kinds. It’s the big picture of 30,000+ annual gun deaths that counts, and they shouldn’t let anyone try to play small ball with them.

As the kids step forth into politics, they might well be asking how it is that, when an overwhelming majority of America wants gun safety, it hasn’t yet happened. They may find themselves looking for the first time at how the influence of gerrymandering and pubic financing for elections has resulted in radicals being elected to office. The subjects are related.

Hopefully, they will also figure out fast not to overstate their case, giving opponents material to latch on to in order to distract the conversation.

The gun debate is hardly new, and was the subject of an early ’70s All in the Family episode when I was growing up. It’s been fought over long before this generation was born. The question is, will our Twenty-First Century Kids succeed where my generation has failed?

Don’t let anyone tell you “it’s too soon” after a tragedy. It has been going on for decades. It will not magically end on its own.

Go kids, go. Your parents are cheering you on to accomplish something that prior generations have been unable to do.

Go forth into the battle for gun safety laws. All of our lives depend on it.


December 3rd, 2015

More Important than Guns…

MachiinesGunsAndFrenchCheeseIn the wake of yet another spasm of mass murder by gun, this time in San Bernardino, CA, I’m going way off topic into politics again. My apologies. But people keep asking why we don’t have sensible gun laws when most of the country wants them.  Here are three ways to fix it, and they all come down to money:

First:  We have absurdly gerrymandered voting districts, which guarantee safe seats for each of the parties. Safe seats means extremists are more likely to win the primaries, where only the die-hard often come out to vote, and where the election is decided. Check out this incredibly ugly map in an article by Walter Olson.

Badly gerrymandered districts, Olson points out, also reward big money, since it is more expensive to run a campaign and more difficult to meet and get to know actual constituents.

Second: Public financing of elections. New York City has a system that matches small donations in a 6:1 ratio, so that a $100 donation is worth $700 to the candidate (up to a limit). This limits the power of the wealthy, be they corporations, unions, or individuals.

Will this cost a few bucks? Yes, but think what it will save when we get rational, on-time budgets without giveaways to the well-heeled.

Third: Regional presidential primaries. Why it is that Iowa and New Hampshire should play such an oversized role in electing our presidents remains incomprehensible to me, and beyond all logic. Most primary battles are already decided by the time New York comes up to vote.

So, cut the nation up into 4-8 regions and let each state grouping vote on the same day. It empowers candidates who are not as well financed since it is easier to campaign and money spent in one market seeps into others that vote the same day. And this broadens the field of ideas for the electorate. Who goes first? Pick it out of a hat. (One idea is here.)

We won’t get more rational governance from Washington, be it on the issue of guns, the budget or any other subject, if we don’t clean up the manner in which we elect those that represent us.

Having competitive elections is good for everyone. Except those already in power.


December 18th, 2012

Overstating the Case and the Sandy Hook Massacre

A graphic that shows one way to overstate an argument -- go ahead, try to buy a machine gun and see how far you get.

I’ve had a strong impulse these past few days to add my two cents on the Sandy Hook massacre and the subject of our gun culture that allows easy access to the mentally unstable, criminals, drunks, angry spouses, terrorists and more. Most that have written seem to focus on whether this horror could have been avoided.

Since I’m not a “me too” kind of blogger, I hesitated.

But in reading some of the arguments, one thing jumped out at me that I see through the eyes of someone trained to persuade: Many of those making arguments vastly overstated their case. And when you overstate your case, as any lawyer that’s argued in the well of the courtroom knows, you destroy your credibility with respect to other arguments.

So let’s take two sample arguments related to Sandy Hook and gun control. First, there is the magnificent stupidity of Megen McArdle writing at the Daily Beast. She argues, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, that there’s little we can do to present a future massacre. Given that no other industrialized nation in the world has as many guns and as many gun deaths, this is clearly false.

In 2008, for example, we had over 12,000 gun deaths while Japan had 11. We obviously can do something; the question is whether we choose to do so. The more regulation we have over firearms and their owners, the more difficult it is for homicides of passion, mental instability, or money to take place.  Fewer guns = fewer gun deaths.

McArdle makes the vapid argument — made by others I might add — that laws won’t stop all gun deaths.  She writes, “it’s unlikely that 100% of potential spree killers would be identified before they picked up a gun.” No kidding.

But that ignores the societal benefits of reducing the number by 25%, by 50%, by 75%. Laws will never stop all crimes, but they can reduce them, and thereby reduce the number of innocent deaths each year.

Here’s a clue to listening to an argument: When someone makes claims for all or nothing positions, they are usually building strawmen to easily knock down. Even if she had a legitimate point to make somewhere, her credibility is shot.

But after going through various excuses on why this massacre couldn’t have been stopped — and ignoring the 10,000+ others each year — she let’s loose with this imbecility, that will likely haunt her for years to come:

I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

I find my self continually amazed at those that think the answer to the gun problem is figuring out how to take down the guy after it’s already started, instead of making it difficult for him to get started in the first place.

Now on to the other side. See that graphic on this page, showing the stupidity of laws that make machine guns legal while certain French cheeses are illegal? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Machine guns aren’t the problem because access to them is so highly restricted.

Whoever created it effectively changed the subject away from the point sought to be made. Some machine guns apparently can be possessed, as you can see from this place in Utah,  that advertises you can shoot them on their range:

Many guns are available to rent at Doug’s. If you want to try out a handgun, a 22 rifle or a machine gun we can make it happen. Regular firearms are
$10 for the first gun and $6 per gun thereafter. Machine guns are $20 and include assistance in the range from one of our staff.

But it is pretty clear that they are not widely available because they are severely restricted if not outright outlawed in the state. Good regulations, you see, prevent widespread abuse.  (This is actually a fair argument for the pro-control crowd.)

With 20 small caskets going into the ground along with teachers, gun control advocates don’t need to overstate the case. They only need to set forth the facts — including the vast numbers of annual gun deaths in the U.S. — because the facts are horrible.

If you want to persuade, don’t overstate. Don’t sacrifice your credibility, for if you do, the rest of your arguments won’t be persuasive. They won’t be persuasive because you’ve lost the audience.