Orlando – How Convenient

Predictably, just like after any mass shooting or terrorist attack involving guns, a gun control lobby used the Orlando tragedy to push a fury of new gun bills at state and federal level.

Interestingly, since this was an act of terrorism, committed by a self-proclaimed ISIS supporter who is a Muslim, the debate is about gun control and not terrorism. We cannot have an honest debate about terrorism, because it would create a backlash against Muslims… OK then.

In California, the old and tried rhetoric immediately came from the left: the gun laws we have don’t work to curb gun violence – look at Orlando! – so we need to have more of them. I love the logic of it – what we are doing does not work, so we need more of it. Even better, Florida laws have nothing to do with California laws. But the fact that Orlando slaughter is immediately used to push the agenda shows the exploitive nature of proponents of ever increasing gun ownership restrictions. Couple examples below:

Statement by California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles): http://sd24.senate.ca.gov/news/2016-06-12-statement-california-senate-leader-tragedy-orlando

LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-essential-politics-after-orlando-california-lawmakers-1465845424-htmlstory.html

In California, Democrats voted yesterday to advance eleven new bills, which would further increasing burden on legal gun ownership in the state. Brown is likely to sign all of them. (SB 869, SB 894, SB 1235, SB 1407, SB 1446, SB 880, AB 1664, AB 1673, AB 1674, AB 1695 and AB 2607)

Some of the new bills are bluntly aimed at more government control of legal gun owners:

  • SB 1235 – mandates registration of ammo purchases, and limits the purchase options to face-to-face (no internet orders).
  • SB 1446 – mandates legal owners of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds to get rid of them by selling to a licensed dealer, turning them in for no compensation or destroying them.
  • AB 1673 – expands a definition of a firearm to include firearm parts.
  • AB 1674 – expands the prohibition of purchasing more than one hand gun in any 30 day period to all fire arms.
  • AB 2607 – would let an employer or coworker seek a gun violence restraining order. The current gun violence restraining order law went into effect January 1, 2016. It allows concerned family members or law enforcement officers to petition a court for a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO). In situations where there is sufficient evidence for a judge to believe that an individual poses a danger to self or others, the GVRO will temporarily prohibit the individual from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition and allow law enforcement to remove any firearms or ammunition already in the individual’s possession. This power should not rest with anyone’s boss or coworker. The law enforcement already has the power, call a cop and let them sort it out.

The answer to gun violence, in my opinion, is to focus on violent people, not guns owned by law abiding citizens. Guns are tools that can be used for good or evil. Religion can be also used as a tool for good or evil. It can be used as a spiritual guide to moral, peaceful life, it can be used to control millions of people, and it can be used to radicalize (and control) people. The latter is what Islamic extremists have mastered.

So if you are of an opinion that to deal with our problem of gun violence is not to address the violence but to restrict possession of the tools the violent people use to commit crimes – the guns, would you apply the same logic to a tool of today’s terrorists – the religion?

Should in your opinion Muslims apply for a Muslim license like gun owners have to apply for gun license? Should imams be licensed and controlled by the government like gun dealers? Should Muslims be restricted to what Muslim texts they may buy? Should they only be allowed to buy one Koran every 30 days? That certainly sounds crazy to me – but so does punishing legal gun owners for actions of criminals.

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country but we have plenty of gun violence – even a recent terrorist attack. No amount of gun laws prevented that. The solution to gun violence is not to push more gun laws that don’t work, but to invest in programs that do work. Yes, there are programs that work to reduce violence by a whole lot but you don’t hear about them much. (See my earlier blog for some references.)

Perhaps the gun legislation is not about public safety, but about destruction of the Second Amendment. If you are a member of a government elite, who does not want to serve but who wants to rule, the words in the Constitution like “We the people” or “… the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” are inconvenient.

Maybe that is why the movement to view the Constitution as something to be reinterpreted as time goes by is so strong in Washington. Maybe that is why Obama, after he swore to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States of America, referred to it as an “outdated document” that needed changing. Perhaps Obama never heard of a constitutional amendment.

America is the only country in the world whose constitution tells government what it is expected and allowed to do. The rest of the “free” world has constitutions that tell its citizens what they are allowed to do. We forget that difference – and we forget how many our people died defending that principle.

Constitution is not something to be “reinterpreted” by every administration to fit its agenda. It is the law of the land. And the Second Amendment is in it so that we the people have a way to protect ourselves against a tyrannical government. We are well on the way to tyrannical government so it only makes sense that there is such a push for the government to know who has what gun and who is buying what ammunition. The folks who gobble up the public safety argument are just useful idiots serving the government elite, as Saul Alinski would put it.

Policies That Reduce Gun Violence?

The past weekend brought the latest mass shutting. Over 100 people were shot in Orlando, about half fatally, by a self-proclaimed Islamic Extremist. Predictably, Trump immediately talks about the failure of immigration policy, while Clinton and Obama call for further erosion to the Second Amendment. Neither is going to work to save lives.

The access to guns in US today is more restricted than during any other time in our history. So why is it, that American society experiences more gun violence today than any time in the past? And what does it have to do with immigration if anything?

I know that over the last couple of decades, the gun deaths are down. However, the decrease in gun deaths is due to advances in medicine, which allow doctors to save more victims’ lives and not due to reduced violence in our streets.

What is the Root Cause of Violence?

I found a book titled “On Killilng” by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. I expected to read a discussion about effects of killing on soldiers who killed in combat – and I did find that. But Grossman also included chapters on killing in our cities by civilians, and offered a very plausible explanation I have not read anywhere else.

One of surprising facts he talks about is that it is very difficult to train soldiers to overcome the resistance to killing the enemy. He offers evidence and account from several wars dating back to the Civil War, that humans, even trained soldiers have an intrinsic revulsion to killing other humans.

He is not talking about the marksmanship but about actual act of killing. This of course presents a problem for our military leaders, because we need our soldiers to be able to kill the enemy soldiers if called upon.

To “inoculate” the soldiers against this natural resistance to kill, the military has special training. Soldiers are put through shooting simulations where the target is human like (as opposed to a bull’s eye), it depicts thread (Such as a crouching soldier with a ready to fire rifle), and it is presented quickly (pop-up targets).

These kinds of drills are repeated until the reaction to a thread becomes “automatic”, and embedded to soldiers’ muscle memory. This is a very short summary but the training techniques improved soldiers’ firing rates from 20% in World War II to over 90% in Vietnam and Korea.

Grossman then compares this aspect of the military training to what is happening in civilian lives and argues, that children and young adults who are exposed to violence in their neighborhoods, who watch violent movies and video games are also “inoculated” against resistance to killing through the same psychological mechanism.

The link between growing up in a violent neighborhood and becoming violent is frequently discussed. Grossman adds to it an equally well researched and documented but much less discussed link between consuming violent content in form of movies and video games and becoming violent.

Videogames, where the targets are high definition human figures, provide “training” similar to what soldiers are going through with one important distinction. In military, there are safe guards incorporated to the training, which are entirely missing in the videogames, movies and on the streets, such as being given the order to shoot. The order is part of the training and part of the “situation” that triggers the soldier’s “automatic” reaction.

According to Grossman, the soldiers who return to civilian life after battlefield experience do not exhibit anymore propensity to violence than general population. The same cannot be said about gang members who received their training from the ghetto and Hollywood. The videogames, violent TV programs and the “role models” on the street just teach young adults to shoot at who makes them mad.

Gun Restrictions Do Nothing to Curb Violence – What Does?

In August 2015, I have heard a piece on NPR about a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who pioneered a new approach to decreasing violence. His approach is to treat violence as a disease. I looked it up on the internet and found a June 2013 article on The Trace website:  The Doctor Who Tries to Cure Gun Violence By Treating It Like a Contagious Disease.

In 2000, Slutkin, began to put his ideas about violence into practice, starting an organization called Cease Fire Chicago with the hope of reducing homicides and shootings in the city. The group trains people with knowledge of their neighborhoods and ties to likely perpetrators to prevent shootings, by identifying and mediating potentially lethal conflicts in the community before the shooting occurs.

The program, now called Cure Violence, has since been implemented in other cities such as Baltimore and New York and has helped reduce violence in some urban neighborhoods by 40 to 70 percent. It’s model is now being implemented across four continents and seven countries.

Holder, the former Attorney General under Obama, has called Cure Violence “the kind of approach that this Administration is dedicated to pursuing and supporting.” The Department of Justice characterized the program as one of just a few crime prevention programs that has a proven record of effectiveness.

Regardless of the evidence of the effectiveness of the Cure Violence inspired programs, the administration mostly just gave the lip service to the initiative. Obama did not support the programs in a long term. In January 2013, the administration met with clergy members to seek their support in his gun violence legislature. Unfortunately, the president was unwilling to include any measures like Cure Violence programs proven to decrease the inner-city gun violence epidemic. The pastors asked for $500 million to support the inner city programs but the president preferred to focus on further limiting gun rights and creating his own initiative, called My Brother’s Keeper (MBK). See The Cure Violence Health Model & My Brother’s Keeper Initiative for more detail.

MBK was created in February 2014. After the first 90 days, the MBK task force delivered recommendations to use a three prong approach to curb violence: Place Based State and Local Engagement (the MBK Community Challenge); Private Sector Action (e.g. independent nonprofit, philanthropic and corporate action); and Public Policy review and reform (the work of the MBK Task Force). It focuses on Black, Latino and Native American Communities.

The MBK is not specifically focused on reducing violence like the programs mentioned earlier, though it includes it as it’s #6 objective. The MBK objectives for young people:

  1. Entering school ready to learn
  2. Reading at grade level by third grade
  3. Graduating from high school ready for college and career
  4. Completing post-secondary education or training
  5. Successfully entering the workforce
  6. Reducing violence and providing a second chance

It sounds like a good framework because it takes more holistic approach than Dr. Slutkin’s Cure Violence initiative.

I scanned the MBK Task Force One Year Progress Report and found no citations of progress in reducing violence the report. The MBK Task Force 2016 Report contained better news. Couple examples below:

  • Violent crime and homicide rates dropped nearly 25% during the six weeks of 2015 Grow Detroit’s Young Talent operation in Detroit.
  • Los Angeles funded Gang Intervention Program, and  recorded a decrease in homicides of nearly 50% from 2014to 2015.

Those are some encouraging results, though they come at a price. According to the 2016 report, since the launch of MBK, the private sector has committed more than $600 million in grants and in-kind resources, along with $1 billion in low-interest financing to support activities that are aligned with MBK priorities.

Regardless of what you or I may think of the MBK price tag, it proves that even our government can help reduce the gun violence, if they concentrate on root causes of the violence – the people.