A two-time participant in mass shootings speaks out

February 14, 2023 • 10:45 am

UPDATE: Jackie has been identified in a big NBC News story as Jackie Matthews, and is quoted extensively. You can also here a short interview with her (also on NBC) here.


I got an email and a Tik Tok posting from reader Tom, whose notes below explain the short Tik Tok video attached. It was made by Jackie, a friend of Tom’s daughter. Imagine being involved in the Sandy Hook shooting (where 26 people were killed) and the MSU shooting!  I surely agree with Jackie that thoughts and prayers are useless in such situations; we need legislation. We seem to have mass shootings nearly every day, and yet restriction of access to guns is not happening—states, in fact, are loosening gun restrictions.

From Tom:

My daughter graduated from Michigan State in December.  She spent last night and this morning talking and texting friends still on campus.  One of her friends was locked down in a janitor’s closet with three other students for 5 1/2 hours until released by police at 1:30 am.  To hear the fear and sorrow in my daughter’s voice as she spoke to her friends broke my heart.  Please find below a TikTok video of one of her friends, Jackie, speaking from lockdown across the street from one of the shooting sites.  Jackie is also a survivor of Sandy Hook.
I have permission to post the video (which is public) and the explanation above.
Click on the bottom of the video to turn the sound on.

#duet with @jmattttt #spartanstrong

♬ original sound – Jmattttt

Missouri votes down ban on children openly carrying firearms without adult supervision

February 12, 2023 • 12:30 pm

Every day it seems the world, and especially the U.S., goes more nuts. Some of the craziness in America comes from Republicans who, feeling their oats after the demise of Roe v. Wade, and buttressed by a hyper-conservative Supreme Court, are passing state law after state law about guns, abortion, gender rights, and education. This legislative effort, reported by Bess Levin in Vanity Fair, is especially bonkers, for it shows that Missouri Republicans want to have children in their state open-carry weapons without adult supervision. Click to read:

An excerpt:

In a turn of events that absolutely defies logic, the Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to reject an amendment that would have banned minors from being allowed to openly carry guns on public land without adult supervision. Which, thanks to a 2017 law, they are currently free to do. (That law, which was vetoed by then governor Jay Nixon and overridden by the Missouri House, also allows Missouri residents to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, safety training, or criminal-background check. As Sgt. Charles Wall, spokesman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “under current state law, there is no minimum age to lawfully possess a firearm.”) To be clear: The proposal rejected this week was not seeking to ban minors from openly carrying weapons on public land, period, but simply from doing so without an adult supervising them. But apparently even that was too much for the state’s conservatives, who quite literally believe it’s fine for actual kids to walk down the street carrying guns. The proposal was defeated by 104-39, with just a single Republican voting in favor of the ban.

Note that, contrary to many laws even in conservative states, Missouri allows anyone to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, safety training, or background check. Note too that a kid of any age can openly carry a gun. A ten-year-old could walk into the candy store, without an adult around, with a Glock holstered around his waist.  Finally, note that there is no specified age limit, and that the Republicans voted en masse to allow unsupervised kids to “open carry”. Finally, although the open-carry-for-kids-without-supervision isn’t yet a state law, there are at least enough votes in the House to override a governor’s veto.

The Democrats tried to stop the madness, but they were overcome by Republican stupidity. By no stretch of the imagination could one interpret the Second Amendment to mean that the Founders envisioned children running around with guns and rifles. Look again at what’s in the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Did the Founders want children in that “well regulated militia”? Unsupervised children? One would think that the use of guns in any militia would require some kind of adult in charge.

Yes, the Democrats tried, and at least in some parts of the state, the cops backed them. From the AP:

Democratic Rep. Donna Baringer said police in her district asked for the change to stop “14-year-olds walking down the middle of the street in the city of St. Louis carrying AR-15s.”

“Now they have been emboldened, and they are walking around with them,” Baringer said. “Until they actually brandish them, and brandish them with intent, our police officers’ hands are handcuffed.”

And here’s how the Republicans defended allowing kids to run around with guns:

Republicans decried the effort as an unneeded infringement on gun rights.

“While it may be intuitive that a 14-year-old has no legitimate purpose, it doesn’t actually mean that they’re going to harm someone. We don’t know that yet,” said Rep. Tony Lovasco, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon. “Generally speaking, we don’t charge people with crimes because we think they’re going to hurt someone.”

We don’t know they’re going to harm someone? What kind of craziness is that? Its KIDS WITH GUNS! It was just last month that a six year old in Virginia shot and seriously wounded a teacher, and it was not accidental but deliberate. Everyone know that kids haven’t been socialized into adult behavior and they’re often uninhibited. Give them a gun and then say, “we don’t know that they’re going to harm someone”? Seriously? Imagine the carnage of teachers alone that would ensue!

Only one Republican even had the sense to see this obvious point (bolding is from the magazine):

Representative Lane Roberts, apparently the only Republican with any sense in the Missouri House of Representatives, had said prior to the vote: “This is about people who don’t have the life experience to make a decision about the consequences of having that gun in their possession. Why is an 8-year-old carrying a sidearm in the street?”

A great question! And one that his fellow GOP lawmakers obviously did not have any good answers for because if you’re a sane person, there is none. In a ridiculous attempt to justify that scenario, Republican state representative Bill Hardwick argued that he “just [has] a different approach for addressing public safety that doesn’t deprive people, who have done nothing to any other person, who will commit no violence, from their freedom.” As a reminder the people Hardwick is arguing must have the freedom to carry firearms on their person, are children, some of whom cannot even buy a ticket for a PG-13 movie.

Do Republicans not have kids? Of course they do, but have they learned how kids are? I got this news from Matthew Cobb, who sent me the link with his comment, “Some parts of your country are insane.” And I can’t deny it.  The worst part is imagining that somebody’s going to get killed by a toddler with a handgun, and that will lead to a lawsuit that goes all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the Court would then uphold the Missouri law because, after all, it’s the Second Amendment, Jake!


h/t: Matthew

The injurious ruling of the Supreme Court on guns

December 1, 2022 • 12:30 pm

I didn’t really follow the Supreme Court case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, but the 2022 case was settled in favor of less restrictive gun laws—and by a vote of 6-3 (ruling here), with the dissenters being Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  Here’s the Wikipedia summary that brought me up to speed:

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, 597 U.S. ___ (2022), abbreviated NYSRPA v. Bruen and also known as NYSRPA II or Bruen to distinguish it from the 2020 case, is a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court related to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The case concerned the constitutionality of the 1911 Sullivan Act, a New York State law requiring applicants for an unrestricted license to carry a concealed pistol on their person to show “proper cause”, or a special need distinguishable from the general public, in their application.

In a 6–3 decision, the majority ruled that New York’s law was unconstitutional, and ruled that the ability to carry a pistol in public was a constitutional right under the Second Amendment. The majority ruled that states are allowed to enforce “shall-issue” permitting, where applicants for concealed carry permits must satisfy certain objective criteria, such as passing a background check, but that “may-issue” systems that utilize “arbitrary” evaluations of need made by local authorities are unconstitutional.

Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, which rested a semi-“originalist” decision that the Sullivan Act violated on the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. First, the Amendments:


“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Relevant bits of the Fourteenth (section 1):

… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Thomas interpreted these in two ways. The Second Amendment allows people to keep and bear arms, and the Fourteenth Amendment says that states can’t infringe on the Constitutional right to do so, i.e., it can’t make unreasonably restrictive gun laws. At least that’s what I get from this part of Thomas’s decision in the case.

The burden then falls on respondents to show that New York’s proper-cause requirement is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. To do so, respondents appeal to a variety of historical sources from the late 1200s to the early 1900s. But when it comes to interpreting the Constitution, not all history is created equal. “Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them.” Heller, 554 U. S., at 634–635. The Second Amendment was adopted in 1791; the Fourteenth in 1868. Historical evidence that long predates or postdates either time may not illuminate the scope of the right. With these principles in mind, the Court concludes that respondents have failed to meet their burden to identify an American tradition justifying New York’s proper-cause requirement.

Steven Lubet, the Williams Memorial Professor Emeritus and Director Emeritus, Bartlit Center for Trial Advocacy at Northwestern University’s School of Law, has a new article in The Hill about this decision, which he claims is promoting a “homicide pact”. Click to read:

Thomas really does seem gun-crazy; as Lubet notes, he’s been pushing a decision like this for years. Here’s some of the fallout (quotes from Lubet indented):

It looks as though there will be no end to the fallout from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen holding that gun control regulations are “presumptively” unconstitutional unless they are sufficiently “analogous” to a 19th century law. The Court’s requirement of a close historical comparator has turned out to be almost impossible to satisfy, causing lower courts to invalidate or question otherwise reasonable laws prohibiting the obliteration of guns’ serial numbers and firearm possession by convicted felons or domestic abusers.

Most recently, a judge held that the absence of a “historical tradition of sufficiently analogous regulations” limited New York’s ability to restrict bringing concealed weapons onto others’ private property.

Lubet brings up the issue of mass shootings, often with legally obtained guns, that now seem to happen a couple of times per week:

It did not have to be that way. In 2008, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an “individual right” to possess firearms. Two years later, the Court made it clear that the right to “keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense” is applicable to the states as well as the federal government.

Those decisions still left the scope of the Second Amendment right to be determined. In other circumstances, even fundamental constitutional rights may be subject to valid limitations when the government can currently demonstrate a sufficiently “compelling interest” to survive “strict scrutiny.”

A similar approach to the Second Amendment would have allowed lower courts to at least consider the value of existing firearms laws in relation to the constraints they impose on gun owners. But even that modest evaluation has been foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s command, as one judge put it, “that a gun regulation’s constitutionality hinge solely on the historical inquiry [as the] only consideration.”

The Court’s embrace of an exclusively historical method of constitutional review represented an ideological triumph for Justice Thomas, who had been pushing for it in a series of dissenting opinions for years.

I’ve always disliked a hard-nosed kind of “originalism” as espoused by Scalia (and now by his right-wing pal Thomas), for times have changed so much since the late 18th century that it’s impossible to tell what those who wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights would think about issues that didn’t exist then. For example, in 1995 Garry Wills made a convincing case (at least to me) that the Second Amendment was indeed there to allow militias but not private citizens like Lauren Boebert to pack heat in public, much less pack it concealed and without much scrutiny for a license.

Yes, cases have to be interpreted in light of the Constitution, but when cases arise that can’t be judged using those old standards, one has to rely on rationality and on more recent thinking. Because Thomas won’t do that, he has indeed signed onto a “homicide pact.” Lubet:

Thomas has ultimately succeeded at a long game, but his victory comes at a severe cost. Under Bruen’s holding, a gun regulation must be invalidated unless a court can locate “a well-established and representative historical analogue” dating to the 19th century. Reasoning from a silent record is perverse. The absence of an historical counterpart does not mean that a particular firearm limitation would have been considered unconstitutional by the framers, but only that they found it unnecessary, if they thought of it at all.

One judge has already ruled that domestic abusers cannot be prohibited from gun possession because there were no such laws in an age when domestic battery was regarded as an unprosecutable family matter. And high-capacity magazines were unknown, and would have been thought impossible, in the era of muzzle-loading muskets.

There is no logical, sensible or moral reason to confine today’s gun laws to the provisions favored by 19th century property owners, other than a dogmatic commitment to so-called originalism, no matter how much carnage follows. In 1949, Justice Robert Jackson famously cautioned, “there is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.” Justice Thomas has at last assembled a majority that now appears bent on turning the Second Amendment into a homicide pact.

I realize, of course, that the brief of the Supreme Court is to see if a recent law follows the Supreme Law—the stipulations of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. What I don’t know is how the Supreme Court should rule when there’s an issue (like abortion) that wasn’t envisioned by the Founders.  Usually they make in their decision on some trumped-up Constitutional issue like “right to privacy”. But for me, if the Second Amendment says the right to bear arms is there to allow a “well regulated militia,” then the reason for having guns is therefor all to see. And I know that Lauren Boebert is not a militia.

A congresswoman (oy!), not a militia

How useful are guns in civilian hands for defending against “active shooters”? Not very much.

June 23, 2022 • 9:15 am

The common defense of gun ownership by private individuals is that “what stops armed bad guys is armed good guys”. (This is a quote from Ted Cruz). Such is the defense for much private gun ownership, and also now for the ridiculous movement to arm teachers to deter or kill school shooters. Of course if you include police and security guards as “armed good guys,” the mantra has more credibility, but the mantra is often used to justify gun ownership by private citizens.

A new article in the New York Times (click on headline below) tests whether the Cruz Mantra is a verity, at least as far as “active shootings” are concerned.

It turns out that the answer is that the “conventional wisdom” is wrong for active shooters. It’s also wrong for home invasions in general, as private gun ownership involves accidental deaths, or suicides, far more often than it stops (by shooting) individual altercations between innocent citizens and “bad guys”. But today we’re talking about “active shooters”.

What is an active shooter? The paper, drawing from data collected by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State, collaborating with the FBI, defines active shooter attacks this way:

[Active shooter attacks are those] in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people in a populated place.

And they’re increasing—currently up to more than one a week. Here’s a figure from the NYT (all figures from the article) showing the number of active shooter attacks per year from 2011 to 2021. (According to the Washington Post, we’ve had 250 already in 2022; although their figures are for “mass shootings”, these seem the same as “active shootings”).

According to the data, there have been 433 active shooter attacks in the US from 2000-2021. What the figure below shows is how they ended, divided into two main groups: attacks that ended before police arrived (249) and those that ended after police arrived (184).Each of the two main divisions is further subdivided.

Click to enlarge:


Here are the lessons (bold headings and indented stuff are taken from the paper):

a.) Police officers shoot or physically subdue the shooter in less than a third of attacks. ”

Most events end before the police arrive, but police officers are usually the ones to end an attack if they get to the scene while it is ongoing.

Hunter Martaindale, director of research at the ALERRT Center, said the group has used the data to train law enforcement that “When you show up and this is going on, you are going to be the one to solve this problem.”

The average response time for police to get to the scene is very fast: three minutes. But this doesn’t mean that the cops themselves nearly always end the attack. Very often the shootings end when the attacker simply leaves the scene (not because he’s being shot at, kills himself, surrenders, or is subdued without guns.  These add up to 65% of total active shootings.

b.) The rate of suicide is extraordinarily high in these events. 110 of the 433 events ended with the attacker killing himself (there are a few women who carry out these attacks, but nearly all are by men). This is most likely either via “suicide by cop” or the result of a realization by the attacker that he’s going to be either caught or shot.

c.) When attacks are stopped by bystanders rather than security guards, cops, or off-duty cops, they are ended more often by physical force than by shootings.  Of 54 cases of attacks stopped by citizen bystanders, 42 of them—78%—were stopped by subduing rather than shooting the perp. Further, when attacks are stopped by shooting before police arrived, about half of them (10/22, or 45%) are stopped by security guards or off-duty cops than by citizens.

d.) When attacks are ended by the shooting of the attacker, the vast majority of time it’s by a police officer, on or off duty, or a security guard.  The number of attacks shopped by shooting the perp were 120. Of these, 12, or 10%, were stopped by citizen shooters. But 12 is only 2.7% of all active shootings that were ended.

Conclusion (from me): When mass shootings are stopped, only a very small percentage are stopped via shooting by armed citizens who are not cops or security guards. And attacks stopped by private citizens were most likely to be stopped by subduing him than by shooting him (42/54, or 78%; this drops to 66% if you include “bystander” cops or security guards.

But taking all the ways that active shootings could end, including the shooter leaving the scene (most are captured later), suicide, or subduing the shooter, only 2.8% of them are stopped by private citizens shooting perps (12/433). Ergo, Ted Cruz is wrong: in these mass shootings, at least, it’s not the “armed good guys” (implying private citizens) but other forces, tactics, and people (including cops) who stop the shootings. 

I have no objection to cops or security guards carrying guns; I do have objections to private citizens carrying or owning guns. In most cases these lead to the death of innocent people more often than to the extirpation of “bad guys.”

I’ll end with a couple of quotes from the article:

“It’s direct, indisputable, empirical evidence that this kind of common claim that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with the gun is a good guy with the gun’ is wrong,” said Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama, who has studied mass shootings for more than a decade. “It’s demonstrably false, because often they are stopping themselves.”

. . . But armed bystanders shooting attackers was not common in the data — 22 cases out of 433. In 10 of those, the “good guy” was a security guard or an off-duty police officer.

“The actual data show that some of these kind of heroic, Hollywood moments of armed citizens taking out active shooters are just extraordinarily rare,” Mr. Lankford said.

In fact, having more than one armed person at the scene who is not a member of law enforcement can create confusion and carry dire risks. An armed bystander who shot and killed an attacker in 2021 in Arvada, Colo., was himself shot and killed by the police, who mistook him for the gunman.

Now remember that this post (and the article) is about “active shooters,” which seem roughly equivalent to “mass shooters”. We’re not talking about home invasions or private confrontations between people. And at least in this case, almost no benefit is derived from arming citizens. When you compare that to the down side of arming citizens, the Ted Cruz defense falls to pieces.

9 mm vs. AR-15

May 27, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I knew that the shooter in the Texas school massacre used a semiautomatic weapon, but just found out it was the AR-15, which has been profiled a couple of times on the television show “60 minutes”.  Below, for example, is a demonstration by a retired Army general showing its power. While the general thinks the rifle should be available to gun collectors or gun aficionados (I don’t), he worries about “what happens when it gets into the hands of the wrong people.” Indeed!

The AR-15 is said to be “the most popular rifle in America.” It’s also a special favorite for mass shooters (it was also used in the Sandy Hook massacre)—and for good reason. (Have a read of this CNN article.)

Remember that a “semiautomatic” weapon like the AR-15 enables you to fire a shot each time you pull the trigger, as it uses the force of the previous firing to eject the casing and reload. According to Wikipedia, “assault weapons” are a subspecies of semiautomatic weapons with extra features, like “a detachable magazine, a pistol grip, and sometimes other features, such as a vertical forward gripflash suppressor, or barrel shroud.”

This clip is from 2018.

And here’s an exegesis of what was probably the piece above, comparing the AR-15 with a handgun often used in crimes, the 9 mm.  The damage done by the AR-15 is immense and scary, with a small entrance hole and then a huge exit hole clearly demonstrated by the experiment with a hog leg.

If you want to stop a perp, you don’t need an AR-15, but it sure is good for mass shootings. I favor strict weapons bans with minor exceptions, but even if you think you need a weapon for self-defense (something that happened 589 times last year compared to about 12,000 homicides), you don’t need a gun like this.  Gun control, which appears dead in the water (Manchin, for example, favors the 60-vote filibuster rule for it in the Senate), won’t even take on weapons like this.

(This appears to be a clip derived from the segment above, but shows different stuff).

Reader Ken sent an update:

Daniel Defense, the maker of the AR-15 style assault rifle used in the recent elementary school shootings in Uvalde, TX, has decided not to open its booth at this Memorial Day weekend’s annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Houston, TX. (In promotional videos, Daniel Defense bills its version of the AR-15 — the DDM4 V7 — as “a perfect rifle for everybody.”)

I guess Daniel Defense figures it can do without the advertising since, when a similar AR-15 style rifle was used in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, the rifle’s sales skyrocketed all on their own.

Two ways of looking at gun violence

May 25, 2022 • 11:00 am

After every mass shooting—and mass shootings constitute only 1.2% of all American deaths due to gun violence—we experience a brief period of self-awareness and self-assessment, and then discourse gets back to normal. Everyone jaws for a week about the solutions (some even offer them),but in the end the status quo is back with us. This is exemplified in a story from The Onion, appearing after the Las Vegas massacre (click on screenshot to read); it’s one of the best pieces the sarcastic site ever produced.

There are generally two kinds of reactions by well-meaning people after a mass shooting: fixing American attitudes towards guns, and fixing American attitudes towards other people. Today’s post gives examples of both solutions.

First, though, let’s recognize, as I noted above, that mass shootings are but a small fraction of all gun-related deaths. What we most need to deal with are not the attention-grabbing mass shootings, but the much larger number of homicides, suicides, and accidental gun deaths.  The Pew Research Center reports that in 2020, 45,222 died in gun-related incidents in the U.S.  Depending on your definition of “mass shooting”, those killed in mass-shooting incidents range from 38 to 513: 0.08% to 1.1% of all deaths. (I’m not trying to minimize the psychological effect and grief caused by mass shootings, of course, but trying to emphasize that if you want to save lives, these events are a smaller part of the problem than most people think.)

This figure from Nicholas Kristof’s new and illustrated op-ed in the NYT, “How to reduce shootings,” gives an overview of the problem:

This shows several things, the most striking being that the NRA and other gun owners’ justification for having guns (protecting yourself from bad guys) is unjustified: only 589 killed others in justified self-defense compared to 11,760 homicides (I assume the latter don’t include “mass shootings” but are one-off events, including accidents.)

Further, death by suicide is by far the largest form of gun-related mortality. I will assume that if guns weren’t easily available, this number would drop. (Shooting is the easiest, most reliable, and one of the least messy ways of doing yourself in. That’s why it’s the go-to way of killing yourself.)

It’s hard not to conclude that the lax gun laws of America are largely responsible for the death rate. You can say that we have more “bad guys,” and it’s the people who kill, not the guns (viz., the NRA), but then how does that explain our huge number of suicides? Only easy access to guns (or a special incidence of mental illness in America) explains that.

Here are some figures included in Kristof’s piece (illustrations are by Bill Marsh:

Further, there’s a positive correlation among states between the laxity of gun laws and per capita gun deaths:

This is a correlation, of course, not necessarily a causation, but the correlation is strong, and one would have to posit that sociological factors in states like Kansas and Idaho (more bad people per capita, for example), are the factor producing this. As Kristof notes,

Some of you will protest that the immediate aftermath of a shooting is too soon to talk about guns, or that it is disrespectful to the dead to use such a tragedy to score political points. Yet more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.3 million). And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.

He adds that another factor supportsthe ubiquity of guns as causal here:

For skeptics who think that gun laws don’t make a difference, consider what happened in two states, Missouri and Connecticut. In 1995, Connecticut tightened licensing laws, while in 2007 Missouri eased gun laws.

The upshot? After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.

Granted, this is an anecdote, but it’s surely worth following up. (To do that, of course, we need more states loosening as well as tightening gun laws.)

Presumably because of the futility of trying to enact gun-control legislation in the U.S. (even though most Americans favor some kind of gun control), Kristof instead floats a “public health” approach: controlling not the number of guns, but who gets to buy a gun. That, of course, would be helpful, but a lot of deaths come from shootings by sane people in bad situations or accidental shootings by children and the like. And plenty of suicides have no formal record of mental illness that would bar them from owning a gun—even if such laws were widespread.

Here are Kristof’s solutions.

a.) Regulate guns like we regulate cars.

Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them — and limit access to them — so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946.

Kristof then gives a list of the kind of regulations that reduced automobile deaths (seat belts, child safety seats, car safety ratings, etc.). And yes, they worked, but we own cars because we need them. Except for the army and police, Americans don’t need guns—except perhaps in the case of farmers or those who insist on target practice. (Even then, guns can be kept in lockers at the shooting sites.)

My solution, were I King of the U.S. (god help you if that were to occur!) would be to start by adhering to the UK model of gun control, where pistols and automatic weapons are banned, and both guns and ammunition must be licensed by the police before you can have them. (I’d go even farther, but we won’t get into that). How many people really need a gun as opposed to those who really need a car?

More suggestions from Kristof:

b.) The liberal approach is ineffective. Use a public health approach instead.  By this Kristof euphemistically says “gun safety” rather than “gun control” since the latter sounds more draconian. Here are his suggestions:

These are useful changes, of course, but won’t do much about suicides, and I wonder how much they’ll reduce homicides as opposed to implementing draconian laws against gun ownership. In Kristof’s favor, however, is the palpable fact that most Americans do favor tightening gun restrictions:

Note that although gun owners tend to be a bit laxer on these bans and stipulations, more than 50% still favor them. And yes, those bans have been enacted in some states. But remember that the 18-year-old who committed yesterday’s Texas school slaughter bought his gun(s) legally.

c.) Better training about using guns. Training about how to store guns and ammo will surely reduce gun deaths, particularly those caused when kids get hold of guns. But somehow this “better education” plan sounds ineffectual. For one thing, it does nothing to prevent suicides. And the general problem with training, as Kristof points out, is that a very high percentage of safety trainers both encourage gun ownership and gun carrying, as well as encouraging people to join “gun rights groups.”

There’s no doubt that implementing most of Kristof’s suggestions will reduce deaths, and even reducing one death is a good. But even as a package they seem to me a suboptimal way to solve the problem.The best way is, as I’ve suggested, going to a draconian gun-ownership system like the UK’s. You’ll tell me that’s impossible, and you’re probably right. (One can dream, however.) But solutions that have been offered only nibble away at the problem, and will still leave us near the top of all countries in gun-related deaths. Once again, Kristof says that if we can make cars safe, we can make guns safer;

But automobiles are a reminder that we can chip away at a large problem through a public health approach: Just as auto safety improvements have left us far better off, it seems plausible to some gun policy experts that a sensible, politically feasible set of public health steps could over time reduce firearm deaths in America by one-third — or more than 10,000 lives saved each year.

He seems to forget that we have no automobile equivalent of the NRA. There is no anti-car-safety lobby.


Bari Weiss’s solution, on the other hand, while also involving stricter gun laws and restrictions on gun proliferation, involves fixing a broken and divided America (click to read, but subscribe if you do that often):

Her plaint—and she’s right—is that we’ve “normalized” violence. The fact that each mass shooting evokes but a temporary outcry (while the much larger number of gun deaths continues unremarked) is an argument against Kristof’s solutions, since what’s the impetus to do anything if we accept shootings as a regular part of life? She advocates a Kumbaya solution: reducing divisiveness reduces deaths. Given that most deaths are single-person homicides or suicides, I’m not sure how that will work, and at any rate seems just as hard (if not harder) than tightening gun laws.

Weiss (my emphasis):

You don’t need another writer telling you what you already know: that mentally ill people getting their hands on guns to commit mass murder this easily is deranged and wrong. Accepting this as normal has nothing to do with respecting the Second Amendment. You don’t need another writer pointing out that this doesn’t really happen in other places and maybe the fact that America has more guns than any other nation on Earth has something to do with it. There’s nothing well-regulated about Salvador Ramos, though it appears he bought those assault rifles legally on his 18th birthday. There’s simply no world in which our founders would look at inner-city gun violence and these sick teenagers in suburban schools and say this was their intention.

Gun rights activists will argue that other countries have guns and that murderers don’t need guns to kill and that some of the cities and states with the strictest gun laws in the country have the highest rates of violent crime and that people kill people guns don’t kill people and that anyway good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns. (Uvalde police officers and a school resource officer reportedly fired at the shooter. They couldn’t stop him.)

Here’s where I think they are right, if inadvertently: The social rot that’s come over America, the nihilism and hatred of each other, is part of the cause here. The dissolution of our social ties—and with them the accountability and responsibility that an actual community demands—has allowed insanity to fester unnoticed. Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.

If we insist on viewing this shooting as part of some isolated issue or species of violence, then we miss the point. The point is the country is being consumed by what Philip Roth famously called “the indigenous American berserk.” It stretches back many decades, or longer, and for ages, it was possible to ignore or compartmentalize. Now the brokenness is everywhere we look and it is impossible to unsee it.

I’m not sure what “the indigenous American berserk” is, and the lockdown will eventually abate. But Weiss offers no other solution to the “dissolution of our social ties” problem, and I can’t think of one.

The one step to reduce these deaths that is at least feasible (but nearly impossible) is to ban the goddam guns. And yes, I know that won’t happen, so you don’t need to tell me. But at least that can be implemented with a few strokes of the pen. Fixing “indigenous American berserk,” well, how do you do that?

Or, as Matthew suggested to me this morning, I could leave America. But that doesn’t solve the problem except for me, and I’m in no great danger anyway.


Here’s Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors basketball team, declaring that he’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

There are too many guns in the U.S.!

March 24, 2021 • 12:30 pm

When I write about gun control, I know that I’ll get substantial pushback on either this site or on email. Americans love their guns, and can give many reasons why they should have them (including  semiautomatic weapons).

These reasons include the Second Amendment, which has, in my view, been misinterpreted by the courts to allow nearly anyone to have guns, handguns, assault rifles, and the ability to open carry. All that to ensure “a well regulated militia”!  But we no longer have militias!

I’ve always advocated for strict gun control—along the lines of Britain or even Scotland—as a way to reduce homicides in the U.S. The counterarguments I hear include the famous mantra “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns: the idea that making guns harder to buy will ensure that only criminals will have guns. But there are a slew of other arguments for why loose gun control in America isn’t responsible for mass shootings, some of them addressed in the NYT column below. These include the claim that the U.S. is an especially violent nation, is full of mentally ill people who commit mass shootings, have racial divisions that exacerbate homicides, and so on. Those arguments now appear to hold no water.

We already know that private ownership of guns causes the deaths of far more innocent people than of home invaders or other miscreants. We also know that the U.S. leads the world in per capita gun ownership (see below), with nearly as many guns (270 million) as people (328 million, but that includes kids and the aged).

The column below (click on screenshot) attacks the notion that the ease of gun ownership in the U.S. has nothing to do with the huge number of mass shootings. And it dispels the claims that other peculiarities of American culture are the real reason for mass shootings.

This plot shows the total number of guns per country and how much of an outlier we are in both the number of mass shootings and the number of guns:

Below: the correlation between per capita gun ownership and per capita number of mass shooters. Now if you remove Yemen (which has even more mass shootings per capita) as well as the U.S., there might not be a statistical correlation, but the analysis in the article apparently shows that there is, and it isn’t due to complicating factors like an American “culture of violence”.

Here are some data and citations from the article (quotes are indented). You can check the sources for yourself; I haven’t read them.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

. . . Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

. . . More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

Other factors that didn’t correlate with mass homicides included suicide rates (well, there are fewer mass shootings in countries with higher suicide rate), playing video games, racial diversity, general amount of criminal behavior (though American crime is “simply more lethal” than that in other developed countries), or mental health issues.

And here’s a comparison with China, suggesting that the lethality of weapons makes a difference in the homicide rate, at least in this case:

In China, about a dozen seemingly random attacks on schoolchildren killed 25 people between 2010 and 2012. Most used knives; none used a gun.

By contrast, in this same window, the United States experienced five of its deadliest mass shootings, which killed 78 people. Scaled by population, the American attacks were 12 times as deadly.

The authors of the NYT piece,, Max Fisher and Josh Keller, note that even in countries with high gun ownership, like Switzerland—second only to the U.S. among in gun ownership among developed countries—which has a higher than average rate of homicides, it’s still only a fraction of the U.S. rate (in Switzerland it’s 7.7 per million people; in the U.S. it’s 33). The authors add at the end that “The United States is only one of three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with. . . . the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns.”  That’s again pretty scary for us, but many Americans cling to the wonky interpretation of the Second Amendment.  It would be nice if the courts interpreted the amendment as I believe (as do others) it was intended.

According to this article, if you want reduce mass homicides in America, regulate our guns. There’s no sign that pervasive gun ownerships keeps America (or gun owners) safer, and lots of people get killed as a byproduct of “legal” gun ownership (viz., children, domestic disputes, and, of course, the mass killers). Reports of mass killings seem to be almost a monthly event now. Most Americans want stricter controls on guns. It’s only the NRA and the Republican Party that are preventing enacting the will of the people.

The article ends with a sad prognostication:

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

It should not be bearable. When I was a kid, we had “nuclear attack drills”, when we would pretend the Russians were bombing us and we’d hide under our desks. Those days are gone; now they have “mass shooter drills.”

Lauren Boebert, Congressional loon, now faces calls for resignation and pushback on her need to carry a gun in the Capitol

January 12, 2021 • 12:15 pm

Lauren Boebert is a political newcomer, an incoming Congresswoman representing the geographically large and conservative Third District of Colorado. She ran on what was largely a pro-gun platform, and she owned a pro-gun restaurant called “Shooters” in, of all places, Rifle, Colorado, where she encouraged her customers to “open carry.” (For you non-Yanks, that means you can tote your gun or rifle out in plain sight.) The waitresses all open carry as well.

Here’s Boebert open carrying in Shooters, handgun strapped to her thigh:

Boebert is a hyper-conservative who herself has open-carried for eight years. She’s also sympathetic to QAnon. As a New York Times article reported:

Appearing on a radio program last month, she said of QAnon: “I hope that this is real because it only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values, and that’s what I am for.”

“If this is real,” she added, “then it could be really great for our country.”

If you know what QAnon is, you’ll realize what a loon she is.

So far she looks to be amusing, though possibly dangerous. She’s insisted that, for protection, she’s going to carry her Glock into the Capitol and into the House chamber. That’s apparently legal for concealed carry, as the news report below notes. Twenty-one Congressional Democrats have asked Pelosi to get guns banned from the Capitol, but even more of Boebert’s fellow Republicans have defended her “right” to carry guns. Such is America.

All in all, Boebert looks to be a cross between Wayne LaPierre and Sarah Palin.  It’s going to be an amusing two years—and let’s hope that’s her total tenure—with Boebert in the House. But perhaps it will be distressing as well, for several venues, including the Independent and Alternet (click on screenshots) have repeated accusations that Boebert was not only was in favor of the storming of the Capitol last week (she was one of the House Republicans asking for an “audit” of the election results), but was also tweeting out information where Nancy Pelosi was during the siege, ostensibly to help protestors locate the Speaker.

As for the accusations that Boebert was egging on, or at least sympathetic to, the demonstrators, we have this (from the Independent):

Just before the attack, Ms Boebert gave an impassioned speech in which she claimed some of her constituents were among the mob fighting the police on the Capitol steps at the time.

“Madame Speaker, I have constituents outside this building right now and I promised to be their voice,” Ms Boebert said while challenging the results of the election in Arizona. “It is my separate but equal obligation to weigh in on this election and object.”

Ms Boebert is no stranger to far-right extremist groups.

ABC News reported that her former campaign manager, Sherronna Bishop, had praised the Proud Boys, an SPLC-designated hate group that travels the country starting fights at protests and espouses a neo-fascist ideology.

The Proud Boys were among those who attacked the US Capitol.

. . . and a tweet that Boebert issued the morning of the siege.

Now what on earth did she mean by that? 1776 was the American Revolution, and did she simply think that the protest itself outside the Capitol was “1776”? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Was she complicit in incitement? You be the judge.

As for the claim that she was helping the protestors locate Pelosi, I don’t see much evidence. What’s adduced is this pair of tweets:

Which gave rise to these accusations:

I can’t force myself to conclude that Boebert was using these tweets to help the insurrectionists find the Speaker. She could simply have been reporting what was going on with her group of fellow Representatives. But she really should have kept her fingers off the keyboard. You don’t tweet when a crazed mob is bent on breaking into your chambers. Clearly, like Trump, she’s going to use Twitter as a political weapon.

But this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Lauren Boebert. Trump may be on the way out, but we still have an unhinged government official with a love of tweeting running loose in the Capitol. And, unlike Trump, she has a Glock. I smell trouble.


UPDATE: Boebert issued a statement in response to calls for her resignation, which you can read here. Note that she quotes Johnny Depp and Madonna as real instigators of violence.

UPDATE 2. One website says this:

Lauren Boebert has had numerous brushes with the law herself (pdf) for petty offenses including disorderly conduct, fleeing law enforcement, speeding and careless driving, driving with expired plates, failures to appear in court, and other offenses.

Check out the rap sheet. Read about her husband, too, as there’s one funny quip about her future husband exposing himself in a bar (before they were married):

Two females described the incident to Garfield County Sheriff officers and signed witness statements leading to Jayson’s arrest. Jayson told the officers that he had “displayed his thumb pretending it was his genitals in a gesture of fun,” according to the report, but one of the victims wrote in her statement, “I know that wasn’t his thumb, because thumbs aren’t 6 inches long.”

h/t: Woody

Making America hate again: Gun sales way up during the pandemic

May 28, 2020 • 12:15 pm

Romper is a magazine for parents about how to understand and take care of their kids, and yesterday’s article (click on screenshot) emphasizes the huge increase in American gun sales during the pandemic. There’s no doubt that that’s true. But they also argue that there’s been a huge increase in unintentional deaths and injuries caused by children handling guns, an increase connected with the increase in sales. This is, as Romper calls it, a “hidden crisis.”  But the data they give about children-caused deaths are scant and unconvincing. The trend may well be real, but it’s not statistically demonstrable, and the article is a good example of how to mislead using statistics.

But let me back up. First, there’s no doubt that many people get killed by kids getting access to their parents’ firearms. This is a national scandal, and reflects both the pervasive ownership of guns by Americans and their failure to lock them up and store the ammunition separately. All I’m criticizing here are two statistics purporting to show a significant increase in child-caused deaths that went up with the increase in gun sales. That increase in sales is very real, and is really what I want to emphasize here.

A quote about gun sales, with the data shown below:

Within the COVID-19 crisis, another public health emergency is threatening our kids. Gun sales have surged during the pandemic, with an estimated 1.9 million more guns sold this March and April than during the same period last year. This spike in sales comes as kids and teens are home from school in states across the country, and many busy, distracted, overwhelmed parents try to balance work and homeschooling.

That data (see table below) seem sound, and this is really scary. More on that in a second.

But Romper adds this about 4-year-old Amir Jennings-Green, killed while playing with his cousins:

In an instant, Amir’s life was cut short in a tragedy that was preventable, one of at least 21 gun deaths that were the result of unintentional shootings by children in March and April of this year.

. . . All of these factors are increasing the risk that curious children and teens will get their hands on unsecured guns and hurt themselves or others. In March and April, unintentional gun deaths by children rose by a staggering 43%, as Everytown calculated, and unintentional gun injuries by children increased by 7% over the same period for the last three years. Those numbers could be even higher, as journalists struggle to cover the scope of gun violence while under lockdown orders.

In March and April of 2020, the peak months of the U.S. pandemic, there were 21 total deaths from guns handled by children, which is correctly represented as an increase of such deaths by 43%. That looks impressive, but the numbers are very small.

What it really means that there were 15 gun deaths caused by children the previous year. If we assume that there wasn’t a real increase, and the rate is about the same over time and can be estimated as the average value across both periods, we’d get an average of (15 + 21)/2 or 18 guns deaths expected each year. The numbers 21 and 15 are not significantly different from an expectation of 18, 18: the chi-square value is exactly 1, far from statistical significance. Although the difference may be real, one can’t demonstrate that it differs from a constant rate of children killing others that hasn’t changed between 2019 and 2020.  And certainly the 7% increase of “unintentional gun injuries” during that period cannot be statistically significant: it’s a difference between 33 and 35.

But if the numbers get even higher with a fuller accounting, then I’d be impressed.

It does seem likely that the more guns in homes there are, the more often we’ll have deaths and injuries. Regardless of the above, it’s clear that many more innocent people are killed and injured by home-stored or hand-carried firearms, or commit suicide when them, than are real malefactors like burglars and home invaders when guns are used in self defense. Ownership of guns, in net, takes more lives than it saves. That’s one reason why I favor a handgun ban, except, perhaps, for target shooting. (In that case, keep your guns locked up at the gun club.)

Well, enough of that; I expect the gun lovers will come out in force here to oppose me. But let’s just look at the increase in gun sales during the pandemic, which the Romper article breaks down by state (their link to the table below is here).



Just comparing March + April between 2019 and the pandemic period of 2020, we see that every state shows an increase save Hawaii, which reports no gun sales. That must mean that data aren’t available for the island state, as guns are legal in Hawaii and there are reports of a similar increase in sales there this spring.  Just scanning the data, I suspect that the rates are correlated with the “redness” of a state, but I’ll leave it to the readers to calculate such a correlation.

Overall, there was an 80% increase in sales between 2019 and 2020 during this period, and that is significant.

Why the increase? The Maui article above reports several causes:

All eight customers interviewed said they wanted to protect themselves and their families if coronavirus panic worsens and their safety is at risk.

“It’s not necessarily the virus that I’m worried about — it’s how people are reacting to the virus,” said one customer at the gun store, who asked for anonymity because her husband is a first-responder. “We’ve already had break-ins in our neighborhood. What if someone gets desperate and tries to steal supplies from our home?”

. . . “It’s combination of a few things,” Redeker said. “The virus thing is causing a lot of panic. That could explain the large numbers in a short time.”

And some people may fear that the government may try to take over during the pandemic, or there could be general civil unrest due to the disruption of society, and of course then the warm, living hands of Americans reach for their guns.

I’m ashamed to be living in a country so gun-happy, and once again I reiterate my call for not only greater gun control, but very strict gun control along the lines of England and especially Scotland. If guns don’t really protect you from the bad guys, and lead to more deaths of innocents than of malefactors, what reason is there to own them? The “militia” reason outlined in the Second Amendment is no longer valid.


h/t: Ken

Only in America: Paul Broun brandishes a semiautomatic rifle in his bid for Congress

April 13, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Paul Broun is a Tea Party Republican who was a state representative in Georgia until 2015; he lost in the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He also lost in a 2016 Republican primary race for a seat in Congress.

He’s now running for Congress again this year, and here’s one of his campaign videos. Lest those of you who aren’t blessed enough to live in America think this is a fake, it isn’t. And in case you wonder what his gun is, an AR-15 is a semiautomatic weapon, classified as an “assault weapon.” These illegal in 7 states, though a few states allow ownership if you’re grandfathered in. Georgia, like all states south of Maryland, allows them.

Note the coded racism  (“looting hordes from Atlanta”, a largely black city), the characterization of socialism as satanic, and the reference to this gun as a “Liberty Machine.” He even offers to give one of those Liberty Machines to one “lucky person” who signs up for email updates from his campaign site.

This video could have been made by The Onion. But again—it’s real!

Wikipedia has a bit more on this ad:

A campaign video where Paul Broun offered to give away an AR-15 rifle to “to one lucky person who signs up for email updates” from his campaign website. The video showed him walking through grass and shooting a rifle. The video says that during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic that Americans might need an AR-15 to shoot “looting hordes from Atlanta”. Broun lives in Gainesville, a white majority city about an hour outside the state capital Atlanta, which is a majority African American city.

In a phone interview Broun said that the phrase “looting hordes from Atlanta” was “not racial”, saying “Only the liberal press would take that kind of position” and “There are a lot of white people in Atlanta as well.” Broun was dismissive of the idea that his rhetoric might concern Georgian African-Americans or that it might increase the risk of innocent African-Americans being shot in majority-white neighborhods, and claimed “it’s about black people having the means of protecting themselves just as much as white people or Hispanic people or Asian people”.

Watch and weep.