The National Rifle Association uses the pandemic to promote the sale of guns

April 3, 2020 • 11:38 am

I’m just going to drop this here and leave, because it makes me sick. This NYT article shows the National Rifle Association, facing budgetary constraints and increasing calls for more gun controls, fighting to get gun stores classified as “essential services” that must stay open during the pandemic. Why? Because the NRA sees “the government’s coronavirus response as a threat to Second Amendment rights.” But why the threat, then? Because the NRA is fear-mongering: touting apocalyptic scenarios in which people need guns to defend their stuff against their neighbors—or against the government.

And so the organization is suing New York State, which has ordered gun stores closed as “nonessential services.”

Click to read:

An excerpt:

. . . demand for firearms has been surging as lines form at some gun stores during the pandemic, with background checks rising more than 40 percent in March from a year earlier, developments seen as an opportunity by the N.R.A.

“This has brought new people into the gun rights movement,” Mr. Arulanandam said. The surge in sales, he said, would “end up strengthening us.”

The group has been retooling its strategy. Many on the right played down the virus, including at the N.R.A. — Willes Lee, the board’s second vice president, called it an “election ploy.” But the organization itself has focused on the ramifications of the sweeping response in many states, sending out messages to its supporters with headlines like “COVID-19: Threat to Second Amendment” and “Pandemic Exposes Dangers of So-Called ‘Universal’ Background Checks.”

On Wednesday, the N.R.A. tweeted about the sharp rise in gun sales: “what do they expect when they are releasing inmates while closing gun shops during a pandemic.” The group has also circulated a video in which a disabled woman holding an assault weapon issues a warning to people buying extra food: “If you aren’t preparing to defend your property when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else.”

Yes, this is just what we need: people shooting each other over their stocks of toilet paper.  I would think that the NRA’s self-aggrandizing behavior would turn people off, but look at the growing demand for guns mentioned above.

What a country!

Eighteen year old woman with AK-47 and shotgun threatens to shoot up her school

September 17, 2019 • 2:30 pm

From today’s Washington Post (click on screenshot), we have the story of Alexis Wilson, an 18 year old woman who was arrested because she told a friend she had guns, showed the friend a video of her firing the guns, said that she hated the people in her old high school, and then added that she wanted to ““shoot 400 people for fun.”

Wilson had a checkered history and other signs that she might have become a shooter. As the Post says,

The 5-foot-7, baby-faced teenager is an anomaly as a female suspect allegedly plotting a mass shooting, but police described her as a serious threat.

The high school she allegedly targeted had suspended her once for bringing a knife to school and again for displaying swastikas on her personal belongings, a school resource officer told the sheriff’s office. Her booking photo shows Wilson wearing a T-shirt referencing “The Anarchist Cookbook,” a 1971 book advocating for violent civil disobedience that has been found among the belongings of school shooters. On Facebook, Wilson had liked a documentary about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

“A female can pull the trigger just as easily as a male,” Morris told KTUL Monday. “It’s rare, it’s different. I don’t know that there’s been a female accused of this.”

. . . Stites and Jordan [police officers] collected an iPhone with a purple case, an AK-47 with six magazines and a 12-gauge shotgun with a stock sleeve for extra shells from Wilson’s bedroom.

. . . After she had been suspended in her freshman year, she said she completed a program at Thunderbird, a military academy in Oklahoma that advertises itself as an alternative option to public school. She said she tried to re-enroll at McAlester High afterward, but she hadn’t been allowed to start classes this fall. Wilson explained the alleged threat by saying she had been trying to convince her co-worker that “not everyone that owns a gun is a bad person,” the police report said.

. . .At the end of the police interview, Wilson told the officers that she used to feel “suicidal and borderline homicidal” toward her classmates at McAlester High because of the bullying she faced. Jordan asked her if she thought about hurting anyone at the school.

“Not recently, but she has in the past,” the report says.

Well, Wilson clearly needs therapeutic help, and I hope she gets it. I also think that yes, it’s okay for the police to arrest her, for she made a threat to her friend and there were other signs that she could have become a shooter. Too many of these signs have been ignored in the past—resulting in tremendous loss of life.

But what I want to know is this: how the bloody hell did Wilson get an assault weapon with magazines, much less a 12-gauge shotgun? Did she buy them legally, or borrow them from her parents? Either way, those guns shouldn’t have been available to her. If we went to the Scottish system of gun control, they wouldn’t have.

This won’t happen in my lifetime, but Wilson should not have been able to legally obtain any gun, much less an assault rifle that could kill lots of her ex-classmates.  I’m with Beto O’Rourke on this one: yes, let’s take the assault weapons out of the hands of Americans. They have no use except for mass killing of other humans. And that’s just a start in the banning and confiscation that should occur.

I’m just glad the cops arrested her (making a threat is a felony) before she was able to use those guns.

After two mass shootings, Texas loosens gun laws

September 2, 2019 • 9:00 am

Granted, the brand-new looser gun laws in Texas, which are almost ludicrous in how widely they permit the possession and carrying of firearms, are part of a series of bills passed before June. But in view of the two recent mass shootings in Texas—making it the state with 4 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history—the laws look especially ludicrous. Given that most of the American public wants stricter gun laws, but the Republicans (pressed by the NRA) apparently want every American to be armed with a semiautomatic rifle that they can carry to Starbucks, these laws make Texas look especially bad. I can only imagine how the rest of the world regards us now—now that we seem to have a mass shooting every two weeks.

And the solution to these murders? MORE GUNS, Texas tells us. CNN reports what the new laws are (click on screenshot):

Read and weep (from CNN).

House Bill 1143 says a school district cannot prohibit licensed gun owners, including school employees, from storing a firearm or ammunition in a locked vehicle on a school parking lot — provided they are not in plain view.

House Bill 1387 loosens restrictions on how many armed school marshals a school district can appoint.

House Bill 2363 allows some foster homes to store firearms and ammunition in a safe and secure place for personal protection. Proper storage must be followed, the bill says, including putting firearms and ammunition together in the same locked locations.

House Bill 302 bans homeowners or landlords of rental property from prohibiting residents from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in the property.

House Bill 1177 prohibits residents from being charged with a crime for carrying a handgun while evacuating from a state or local disaster area.

Senate Bill 535 clarifies the possession of firearms at churches, synagogues or other places of worship. It allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship — and comes nearly two years after a gunman killed 26 people at Sutherland Springs church.

The news last night reported that, re the last bill, if a church chooses to prohibit the carrying of firearms, they can do so. Otherwise, we have to look forward to more guns in schools and churches, and even in Universities. Students at the University of Texas in Austin, for instance, can legally carry guns to class. What could go wrong with that?

The excuse for this shameful behavior is the usual: Americans need more guns to protect themselves against the bad guys. As CNN reports: “‘We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun free zone. Those with evil intentions will violate the law and carry out their heinous acts no matter what,’ state Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. ‘It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm’.”

NBC News, in a press conference I watched, reports the Texas governor making the same justification:

In a press conference Sunday, Gov. Abbott insisted the new laws will protect Texans, pointing to the law which allows more school marshals to have guns in schools. “Some of these laws were enacted for the purpose of making our communities safer,” Abbott said.

That’s about as lame as you can get. Yes, perhaps the laws were enacted with that intention, but do they actually yield those results? Apparently not. It seems as if more innocent lives are lost when criminals use guns (many of them obtained legally) than when guns are used for self-defense. From the Violence Policy Center (VPC):

The main argument used to advance these policies is that guns are a common and effective tool for self-defense. This argument is false.

A series of VPC studies on guns and self-defense thoroughly disprove the NRA myth. These studies analyze national data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Among the findings of the most recent edition of the study are the following:

  • In 2016, the FBI reports there were only 274 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm. That same year, there were 10,341 criminal gun homicides. Guns were used in 37 criminal homicides for every justifiable homicide.
  • Intended victims of violent crimes engaged in self-protective behavior that involved a firearm in 1.1 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2014 and 2016.
  • Intended victims of property crimes engaged in self-protective behavior that involved a firearm in 0.3 percent of attempted and completed incidents between 2014 and 2016.

Here are the graphic data on that survey provided by The Washington Post:

Even just considering guns kept in the home, those guns are far more likely to be involved in accidental shootings, criminal acts, and suicides than in justifiable incidents of self-defense. Here’s a survey from 1999 published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery (my emphasis):

Determine the relative frequency with which guns in the home are used to injure or kill in self-defense, compared with the number of times these weapons are involved in an unintentional injury, suicide attempt, or criminal assault or homicide. We reviewed the police, medical examiner, emergency medical service, emergency department, and hospital records of all fatal and nonfatal shootings in three U.S. cities: Memphis, Tennessee; Seattle, Washington; and Galveston, Texas. During the study interval (12 months in Memphis, 18 months in Seattle, and Galveston) 626 shootings occurred in or around a residence. This total included 54 unintentional shootings, 118 attempted or completed suicides, and 438 assaults/homicides. Thirteen shootings were legally justifiable or an act of self-defense, including three that involved law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty. For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.

Given this balance, what’s the justification for allowing people to keep guns in their homes?

The NRA responds that people wounded in acts of self defense and who escape are not reported by gun owners for fear of police investigation. But I strongly doubt that even if this underreporting exists, it can redress the balance of innocent lives lost versus successful defenses against criminals.

A 2015 paper in Preventive Medicine says pretty much the same thing: self defense gun use (SDGU) is not associated with reduced risk of injury to the people defending themselves, while use of any weapon, not just guns, reduces the likelihood of property loss.

Finally, a Pew Survey published in 2013 shows that the percentage of people who own a gun for protection has gone up dramatically since 1999 (“constitutional right” is a mere 2%)

My own view, which I’ve discussed before, is that the U.S. needs the same laws as Scotland, which has pretty much the same strict gun laws as the UK but with even stronger provisions:

Gun laws in Scotland differ in some details from those in the rest of the UK. However, in terms of licensing they are, currently, identical to the rest of Great Britain. A firearms certificate is required to purchase firearms, and a separate shotgun certificate is required for shotguns. The guiding laws for firearms in Scotland are the Firearms (Scotland) Rules 1989 and the Firearms Act (1968). All handguns, semi-automatic and pump-action non-rim-fire rifles are prohibited. A few pistols are licensed on a Firearm Certificate for exactly the same reasons as the rest of Great Britain. There are only 566 licensed handgun owners in Scotland.

Note that handguns were banned in the UK after the 1996 Dunblane School massacre in Scotland. That is a sane mentality, and the opposite of the craziness in the US, where after a mass shooting many legislators and NRA crazies call for more guns, assuming that people need to protect themselves from mass shooters. But mass shooters are nearly always taken down not by private citizens with guns, but by the police. And, as we’ve seen, having a gun in the home doesn’t make you safer; in fact, it leads to more deaths of innocent people.

The result: we have a gazillion mass shootings and accidental shootings in the U.S., and there are virtually none in the UK.

Finally, the whole “right to bear arms” issue, which some people—especially Republican legislators and the NRA—use to justify widespread ownership of handguns, is based on a Constitutional provision, the Second Amendment:

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.

That seems pretty clear to me: the amendment is there to allow the existence of a militia to keep the people from being oppressed by the arms of the government. Well, we don’t have militias any more, and armed private citizens are no longer a match to government weapons. Garry Wills, in an excellent article in the New York Review of Books, makes (to me) a persuasive case that the Second Amendment was not intended to justify the willy-nilly ownership of guns, even with the intention of self-defense. His piece ends like this:

The recent effort to find a new meaning for the Second Amendment comes from the failure of appeals to other sources as a warrant for the omnipresence of guns of all types in private hands. Easy access to all these guns is hard to justify in pragmatic terms, as a matter of social policy. Mere common law or statute may yield to common sense and specific cultural needs. That is why the gun advocates appeal, above pragmatism and common sense, to a supposed sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere. Those advocates love to quote Sanford Levinson, who compares the admitted “social costs” of adhering to gun rights with the social costs of observing the First Amendment.  We have to put up with all kinds of bad talk in the name of free talk. So we must put up with our world-record rates of homicide, suicide, and accidental shootings because, whether we like it or not, the Constitution tells us to. Well, it doesn’t.

Sadly, the Supreme Court doesn’t accept Wills’s argument; and since most of them are conservatives, they won’t any time soon. I have little hope that the gun epidemic in our country can be stemmed. We may get a few more regulations and background checks, but in my view we should adopt the UK/Scottish system, along with severe increases in legal penalties for committing crimes with guns. But of course that’s a pipe dream.


Biden in NYT: Ban assault weapons

August 12, 2019 • 8:00 am

Uncle Joe has a leading op-ed in today’s New York Times:

A quote:

In Dayton, where the police responded immediately and neutralized the shooter within about 30 seconds, he was still able to massacre nine people and injure more than two dozen others because he carried an AR-style weapon with a magazine capable of holding 100 rounds.

We have to get these weapons of war off our streets.

Nearly 70 percent of the American public support a ban on assault weapons — including 54 percent of Republicans.

When you have that kind of broad public support for legislation that will make everyone safer, and it still can’t get through the Senate — the problem is with weak-willed leaders who care more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins.

The 1994 assault weapons and high-capacity magazines bans worked.

And if I am elected president, we’re going to pass them again — and this time, we’ll make them even stronger. We’re going to stop gun manufacturers from circumventing the law by making minor modifications to their products — modifications that leave them just as deadly. And this time, we’re going to pair it with a buyback program to get as many assault weapons off our streets as possible as quickly as possible.

I won’t stop there. I’ll get universal background checks passed, building on the Brady Bill, which establishing the background check system and which I helped push through Congress in 1993. I’ll accelerate the development and deployment of smart-gun technology — something gun manufacturers have opposed — so that guns are keyed to the individual biometrics of authorized owners.

Of course I agree with him, but I’d go even further and follow the UK’s example: banning handguns nearly completely and putting the strictest control on all guns. Here’s the UK laws taken from Wikipedia (my emphasis):

The UK increased firearm regulation through several Firearms Acts, leading to an outright ban on automatic firearms and many semi-automatic firearms. Breech-loading handguns are also tightly controlled. Firearm ownership usually requires a police-issued Shotgun Certificate (SGC) or Firearm Certificate (FAC). The applicant must have: no criminal convictions; no history of medical condition including alcohol and drug-related conditions; no history of depression, mental or nervous disorder, or epilepsy; and a secure gun safe to store firearms. The FAC additionally requires demonstrating a good reason for each firearm the applicant wishes to own (such as hunting, pest control, collecting, or target shooting). Self-defense is only accepted as a good reason in Northern Ireland.

An SGC allows the holder to purchase and own any number of shotguns, so long as they can be securely stored. Shotgun magazine capacity is limited to two rounds. For weapons covered under an FAC, police may restrict the type and amount of ammunition held, and where and how the firearms are used. Aside from Northern Ireland, private ownership of most handguns was banned in 1997, with exception for section 5 firearms licenses, which are only generally issued to maritime security personnel, and those under police protection.

What’s with Northern Ireland?

Of course all the Democrats will rush to play catch-up, trying to outdo themselves in proposing gun restrictions, but to my mind that’s great. The important thing is to get a Democratic President elected, get both houses of Congress majority Democratic, and then perhaps we can start enacting sensible gun control.

In the meantime, kudos to Joe. (He’s still my favorite Democratic candidate, but I do worry about his gaffes, which are more frequent than ever. I’m not worried about his age, except insofar as it’s correlated with any decline in cognitive facilities. I put Elizabeth Warren right up there with him as a favored candidate, though I worry whether she could beat Trump, something I don’t worry as much about with Biden. But I’d gladly vote for either of them as President.

Anyway, something is very wrong with this country when people can march into a McDonald’s with a handgun or a rifle slung from their bodies.

Here: this is “open carry” of semiautomatic weapons at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland:


Gun violence in Chicago spiked last weekend

August 7, 2019 • 9:30 am

If you live in Chicago, you’re constantly reminded of the huge number of homicides in the city, many of them gang-related, most gun-related, and the largest proportion of identified victims African-American. According to the Chicago Tribune, which tracks these data, in the last 365 days there were 547 homicides. Of these, 314 involved guns, 209 had unknown causes, 19 involved stabbings, and 5 involved other causes. That is, of all homicides in which the cause could be ascertained,  93% involved guns.

Among the victims, 281 were African-Americans, 224 were not known, 34 were white, 5 were Hispanic, and 3 were Asian. That is, of all homicides in which the race of the victim could be ascertained, 87% were African-Americans. But only 30.5% of Chicago residents are African-American. The age of homicide victims spikes at about age 25. This is a terrible waste of young lives.

The peak of gun violence, as we all know, is in the summer, and I’ve heard gunshots in summer. Granted, the rate of gun deaths is down 11% from last year, but, as you see below, it’s still higher than in the years from 2013-2015. Whether this is a permanent decline in our city remains to be seen, but we still have about 1.5 homicides per day, most by guns. The U.S. and Latin America lead the world in gun deaths, and you can see the death rates of different countries caused by firearms in this chart on Wikipedia. The U.S., for instance, has 12.2 fire-arm related deaths per 100,000 population per year, while Britain has 0.23—a 53-fold difference.

Last weekend we had the biggest spate of gun violence this year, as the New York Times reported in the article below. Seven were killed and 52 wounded in 32 episodes, with more than 300 homicides this year.

An excerpt:

CHICAGO — While much of the nation’s attention was focused on the gun massacres in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend, Chicago was convulsed by its own burst of violence — the worst weekend the city has seen so far in 2019.

It was an extreme example of the routine but devastating gun violence, often related to gang conflicts, that cities like Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis experience on a regular basis. The police said seven people were killed and 52 wounded by gunfire throughout Chicago from Friday evening to Sunday, including a 5-year-old boy who was shot in the leg while sitting in a car.

Early Sunday, 17 people were shot in a period of two hours in a small pocket on the city’s West Side, turning residential blocks into chaotic scenes of ambulances, grieving family members and cars pockmarked with bullets.

There were 32 separate shooting incidents throughout the weekend, the police said.

. . .Gun violence in Chicago tends to peak during the summer months, when school is out, the temperature is high and residents spend more time outside at social gatherings, which can be a magnet for conflict. Shootings and homicides have decreased in 2019, but there have been at least 300 homicides this year and 1,600 people shot, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Data from the Chicago Tribune:

Yes, America, we have a gun problem (the NRA would call it a “criminal problem”, but without easy availability of guns, does anybody doubt that homicides would drop?). My solution, which some readers oppose, is to impose extremely stringent controls on guns; in fact, I’d like to see them banned completely except for target practice or, in rare cases, pest control. My position is extreme, but I think it would save lives.

As an aside, Ivanka Trump tweeted about Chicago’s gun violence this week, and, although she got the total numbers right, she got the circumstances wrong, saying that all the deaths and injuries occurred in one incident:

Well, I can excuse that error, though the “violence faced by inner city communities” seems a bit racist, as there are plenty of homicides outside of the inner city. But her message is in the right direction: we have to do something about gun violence.

But because she is a Trump, that message was completely obscured by her mistake, and so HuffPost jumped on her. Rather than highlight the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, they prefer to bash Ivanka for her mistake. To wit:

From the reportage:

According to Chicago Tribune, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was “livid” about Trump’s error-filled tweet.

“It wasn’t a playground, it was a park. It wasn’t seven dead. It wasn’t 52 wounded in one incident, which is what this suggests. It’s misleading,” Lightfoot said. “It’s important when we’re talking about people’s lives to actually get the facts correct, which one can easily do if you actually cared about getting it right.”

Lightfoot said her focus was to protect and run the city, and she wouldn’t allow herself to be distracted by “nonsense tweets from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Our new Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, was all over the news last night—not calling attention to the gun violence, which on a yearly basis far exceeds deaths by mass shootings, but going after Ivanka Trump for her mistake about the circumstances.  In this case, contra Lightfoot, the circumstances of the shootings aren’t nearly as important as the constant toll of gun-related homicides. But such is the hatred of Trump (a hatred I share), that every issue somehow gets turned into a criticism of the President (even via his daughter).

Let’s forget Ivanka: we have to do something about guns. But, as I’ve said before, the cry for gun control—and most Americans favor stricter regulations—goes up right after mass shootings (we’ve had three lately), but over time dies down, and business gets back to normal. You can still order assault-style rifles online, which is a travesty. And, of course, the carnage leads to stuff like this, which is about the saddest sign of our problem that I can imagine:

An unwise tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and some statistics on gun deaths

August 5, 2019 • 9:00 am

I guess Tyson was trying to make a point about data and how we receive it when he issued the tweet below yesterday, but it was surely ill-timed—and also somewhat misleading.

It clearly looks crass and uncaring. SFgate discusses some of the pushback, including this tweet from a lawyer and writer:

I was curious about this disparity, so I looked up the data. It turns out that, according to FiveThirtyEight, there were 33,000 gun deaths per year in America in 2015:  about 90 per day or 180 every 48 hours. Of these, two-thirds are suicides and 1/3 are homicides, so at a minimum there 60 homicides every 48 hours and, in that period, 120 suicides committed with guns. So Tyson was close to the mark, while Vanderpool lumped suicides and homicides as “people killed with guns.” That’s true, but killing oneself differs in several ways from killing somebody else, and lumping them is misleading.

But even if Tyson’s data be correct, it’s simply insensitive to try to make a point like this when hundreds are people are grieving over the three mass shootings we’ve had in the last week. Further, as Vanderpool notes, there are powerful lobbies—most notably the National Rifle Association (NRA)—trying to keep guns, including assault rifles, in the hands of Americans.

In contrast, there are no lobbies trying to promote sloppy medical practice, increase the amount of flu (except, perhaps, for anti-vaxers) or encourage more car accidents. In other words, perhaps the issue of gun deaths is more easily prevented, at least in theory, by direct action—banning or severely restricting gun ownership. Reducing car accidents and medical errors is much more difficult. (Further, restricting the availability of guns would surely cut down on the number of suicides, which give people an easy and quick way to kill themselves on impulse. I have no doubt that strong restrictions on gun ownership would drastically cut back the number of suicides: those who in a moment of depression grab a gun may be less likely to use other methods like taking pills, jumping in front of trains, or leaping off a bridge.)

I say, “in theory” above because while a gun ban is easy to craft, there are too many Americans who love and cherish their guns, and the NRA lobby is too powerful, to help us get strong and sensible gun restrictions. I myself favor a system along the lines of what they have in Britain, with a ban on private ownership of handguns and very strict ownership of rifles.

What makes me sad is that each time there’s a mass murder with guns—and now we’ve had three in a row—there’s a temporary uproar and call for bans or restrictions on guns. But in two weeks or so it all dies down and we’re back to being gun-loving America.

To be fair, this morning Tyson apologized for his unwise tweet on his Facebook page:

That’s a decent apology, but Tyson, like many people on Twitter and other social media, should have thought before he tweeted. Anyone could have told him that the tweet above would not be received lightly, and that the point it was supposed to make wasn’t really worth making. Given the difference in reasons for gun deaths in America on one hand, and medical errors and car crashes on the other, I’m not sure how helpful his tweet was in “saving lives in America.”

Another mass shooting, this time in Texas

August 3, 2019 • 2:21 pm

UPDATE: The news now says that at least 19 people are dead and 40 injured; the gunman, now in custody, is a 21-year-old man who used a semiautomatic, assault-style rifle. The motive is still unknown.


From CNN, a bulletin (click on screenshot). So far news is scanty.

How many deaths will it take till we know
That too many people have died?

Tempe cops kicked out of Starbucks because they made customer feel “unsafe” (and a note on disarming police)

July 7, 2019 • 11:30 am

It’s a sad day in America when cops (who run on coffee) are booted from a coffee shop because they make the customers feel “unsafe”. But’s that’s exactly what happened, according to this report from CBS News, in a Tempe, Arizona Starbucks (click on screenshot).

To be sure, Starbucks issued an apology, but this shows how far and how well the “safe space” termites have dined:

From the report:

A group of police officers in Tempe, Arizona said they were asked to leave a Starbucks by a barista following a customer complaint on Thursday. As reports about the incident went viral, the hashtag #dumpstarbucks started trending and Starbucks issued an apology.

The Tempe Officers Association wrote on Twitter that the six officers “stopped by the Starbucks at Scottsdale Road and McKellips for coffee” before their shift on July 4. The police officers said they ordered drinks and were told by a barista that a customer “did not feel safe” by their presence in the store. They said the officers were told to “move out of the customer’s line of sight or to leave.”

The proper response would have been to tell the kvetching customer, “Suck it up or leave yourself.”

The Tempe Police weren’t pleased, and released the following statement:

According to, though, Starbucks did apologize, issuing the following statement:

We have reached out to the Tempe police department to try to better understand what took place and apologize for any misunderstandings or inappropriate behavior that may have taken place.

We work with them a lot on events, like Coffee with a Cop, in our stores and we have a great relationship with them, so we are surprised that something like this may have taken place.

I just want them to understand how much we value them and what they bring to the community.

It is too early to say what type of ramifications employees will face, if any. But we want it to be known that everyone who walks into our store should feel welcomed and embraced and to have the best Starbucks experience– and when that doesn’t happen, that is not indicative of the kind of welcoming environment that we want to provide.

The fault, dear Brutus, is then not with the organization, but with the customer who beefed, and with the entitled Starbucks barista who booted the cops. As happened when Starbucks booted two black men who, they said, didn’t buy anything (they were there for a business meeting), all Starbucks should close for a day while the employees receive “police sensitivity training”. And it would be nice if Tempe Starbucks stores comped the cops coffees (and donuts, if they have them!) for a month or so.

“Safe spaces” are the mantra of our era. This incident is minor, and likely won’t happen again, but it is emblematic of the offense culture of our era. Further, it does bother me that on many campuses, including the University of Chicago, many students not only dislike and demonize the cops, but there is also a movement to disarm the campus police. (I saw many signs to this effect during the recent student demonstrations to unionize the graduate students.)

That’s right—disarmed cops on the South Side of Chicago. How stupid is that?

The University of Chicago Police are indeed armed, and have full police powers, including the right to arrest people. This is necessary to keep students safe (and their parents reassured), as the University is surrounded by areas rife with firearm activity. When one calls 911 for police help, the U of C cops, who patrol a large area around the University, often respond before the Chicago Police. When, several decades ago, I was attacked by a gang wielding a big wooden stick, knocking me unconscious as I rollerbladed through campus), it was the U of C police who showed up when I called.

Further, there’s been only a single U of C police shooting in over three decades, when our campus cops shot a student in the shoulder last year who was attacking them with an iron tent stake (see my report on the incident here; which includes video). The student, who did not sustain life-threatening injury, appears to have been mentally ill. The police shooting was justified self-defense, yet many students demonstrated, and this is when the move to disarm campus police began. It continues.

There are places where campus police may not need weapons (tasers might be a substitute in cases of violence that needs to be quashed), but Chicago is not one of them. Until the gun culture of Chicago can be brought under control (in my view, best done by banning guns, which of course is a no-go), it’s simply idiotic to demand that the University Police, usually the first responders to violence around campus, be deprived of firearms.

h/t: Bill


John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment

March 27, 2018 • 12:45 pm

If you’re an American, you’ll know that John Paul Stevens was an Associate Justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, serving from 1975-2010. Although a registered Republican, his decisions put him on the liberal side of the Court.  He’s now 97 years old, but is still fired up (if that’s the right word) about the misconstrual of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.  Let us look at Amendment before we read Stevens’s new op-ed in the New York Times (click on screenshot below):

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.

Read it again. The first part gives the rationale for the second, so that the “right to keep and bear Arms” is justified by the need to have a “well regulated Militia”. Militias were quasi-military bodies that the government, in colonial days, used to constitute the armed forces.

For many years, as Stevens notes, the Amendment was interpreted by courts as the government’s having the ability to regulate the possession of arms. That is, the Amendment was construed not as simply allowing Americans to have relatively unrestricted rights to own guns. (For a similar argument, see Garry Wills’s excellent article “To Keep and Bear Arms“, published in 1995 in the New York Review of Books.) Stevens begins by noting the groundswell of support for gun regulation evinced in last Saturday’s demonstrations.

That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “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.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”

During the years when Warren Burger was our chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge, federal or state, as far as I am aware, expressed any doubt as to the limited coverage of that amendment. When organizations like the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and began their campaign claiming that federal regulation of firearms curtailed Second Amendment rights, Chief Justice Burger publicly characterized the N.R.A. as perpetrating “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Ah, how I long for the Burger court. . .

But how things have changed! And they changed for the worse (and seemingly for keeps) with the Supreme Court’s decision a decade ago in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court ruled, by a scant 5-4 margin, that the Second Amendment didn’t need the requirement of a militia: that it gave individuals to have the right to own guns for self defense. (The decision overruled Washington D.C.’s prohibition of handguns and restrictions on rifle storage.)  The majority opinion was written by the odious Antonin Scalia, while Stevens wrote the dissent.

Since then, gun ownership has proliferated, and with it the spate of shootings in nightclubs, schools, and other public places that culminated in last Saturday’s demonstration. The way to cure this, says Stevens, is simply to repeal the ambiguous Second Amendment. Referring to the Heller decision and the Amendment, Stevens argues this:

That [Heller] decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.

That simple but dramatic action would move Saturday’s marchers closer to their objective than any other possible reform. It would eliminate the only legal rule that protects sellers of firearms in the United States — unlike every other market in the world. It would make our schoolchildren safer than they have been since 2008 and honor the memories of the many, indeed far too many, victims of recent gun violence.

He’s right, for as long as the courts interpret the Second Amendment in the wonky and right-wing way they have, the justification for widespread gun ownership will remain. And there’s no sign that the Court, which is even more conservative now than in Stevens’s Day, will reverse course. The only way to do an end-run around Scalia et al.’s stupid decision is to change the Constitution.

But of course that seems impossible. While there are several ways to amend the Constitution, the usual one is for a proposed amendment to pass both the Senate and the House by a 2/3 vote, and then be ratified by three-quarters of America’s states—all within seven years. (The time limit is why the Equal Rights Amendment, a no-brainer guaranteeing that equal rights couldn’t be abrogated on account of someone’s sex, failed.) Can anyone imagine the Congress even voting to send such an amendment to the States? And can anyone imagine that the ensuing confusion about what would happen with such a repeal would be cleared up before the time limit? And I’m not even taking into account the mouth-foaming, vitriolic, opposition of the National Rifle Association and the power and money it would muster to block such a move.

Stevens’s suggestion is a good one in principle, for it eliminates the Constitutional ambiguities that have led to virtually unrestricted private ownership of guns.  But what would replace it? A farrago of state laws, some even more lax than the ones we have today? Federal laws with even stricter gun regulations?

My own stand on guns is that they should be severely restricted along the lines that the UK has. No handguns, automatic or semi-automatic weapons, justifications and strict controls needed to own any firearm, and private ownership of such arms limited to shotguns and sporting rifles. (The UK of course has a much lower rate of gun violence than the U.S., but gun nuts make unconvincing arguments that regulation and deaths are unconnected.)

I don’t know how this will happen, but I dearly want it to happen, for too many lives have been taken away but morons who cling to their guns—or by innocents who accidentally discharge them. Statistics show that guns do not make people safer, for they wreak more carnage than they do in protecting homeowners.

When the shootings in Florida took place, I hesitantly suggested that perhaps this might mark a turning point in America’s attitude toward guns. And indeed, the demonstrations by young people, which greatly heartened me, made me think that maybe something will happen. But as the days pass, I fear the activism will wane, and we’ll be back to business as usual. In my own city, 499 people have been shot this year (91 killed), and someone is shot every four minutes. Can anyone stop the madness?

Firearm injuries go down during NRA conventions

March 3, 2018 • 12:00 pm

On March 1 this letter to the editor by Anupam Jena and Andrew R. Olenski, with data, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (click on screenshot to go to the letter):

The reference is at the bottom of this page, and the 19-page supplementary appendix (to a two-page letter!) is here.

The authors used American insurance data on gun injury rates during 9 years of National Rifle Association (NRA) conventions between 2007 and 2015. The uninsured population was not sampled, a caveat that the authors mention in their Appendix. They looked at firearm injuries on all days for three weeks before and after the dates of the conventions themselves, as well as during the conventions. They explain the controls in the Appendix:

For example, for the 2015 NRA annual convention held Friday, April 10 to Sunday, April 12 in Nashville, TN, the treatment group consisted of individuals who received outpatient (including emergency department) or inpatient care during those dates and the control group consisted of all individuals who received care Friday through Sunday in the 3 weeks before and after the convention.

The data are plotted as the injury rates during the convention versus the same days before and after the convention. Their hypothesis, based on claims of gun owners, was that gun injuries would be higher during NRA conventions, as inexperienced people without proper training would be using the guns, while NRA members, having that training and experience, wouldn’t be using their guns during conventions.

In fact, as these data show, the rate of gun injuries was significantly lower during NRA conventions, and during the periods before and after them. The differences were statistically significant at the p = 0.004 level, which is considered highly significant (anything lower than p = 0.05 is seen as statistically significant).

Among 75,567,650 beneficiary-period observations in the claims analysis, 14.3% occurred on NRA convention dates. The unadjusted rate of firearm injuries was lower during convention dates than during control dates (129 beneficiaries with a firearm injury among 10,883,304 persons [1.19 per 100,000] vs. 963 beneficiaries with a firearm injury among 64,683,254 persons [1.49 per 100,000]; P=0.004; relative difference, 20.1%; 95% confidence interval, 6.7 to 34.0). The findings were unaffected by adjustment for covariates (Figure 1).

They note that gun-related injuries, which include deaths, drop by 20% throughout the US during NRA conventions, and decrease by 63% in the state hosting the convention. They conclude, dryly, that this is not consistent with the “inexperienced gun users cause injuries” hypothesis, but is consistent with the notion that “experienced gun owners” (read: NRA members) cause injuries, and the decrease is related to NRA members holstering their weapons during conventions:

These findings are consistent with reductions in firearm injuries occurring as a result of lower rates of firearm use during the brief period when many firearm owners and owners of places where firearms are used may be attending an NRA convention. Our results suggest that firearm-safety concerns and risks of injury are relevant even among experienced gun owners.

The data:


Figure 1. Firearm Injuries among Commercially Insured Persons That Occurred on Dates of National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Conventions and Control Dates, 2007–2015. Shown are the adjusted rates of firearm injuries during convention dates versus control dates in a beneficiary-level multivariable linear regression of firearm injury as a function of indicator variables for convention and control dates, age, sex, indicators for calendar week and year (to adjust for seasonal trends), and state fixed effects. In Panel A, the adjusted estimates are from a model in which the key explanatory variable was a binary variable for NRA convention dates versus all control dates combined. In Panel B, the adjusted estimates are from a model in which the key explanatory variables were indicator variables for week relative to the NRA annual convention. In both panels, 𝙸 bars indicate 95% confidence intervals.

Now this is a big drop, and it surprised me. As Ars Technica notes, the NRA has the same objection that struck me, but the authors have a potential counterclaim:

In a statement to CNN, NRA’s director of public affairs, Jennifer Baker, called the study “absurd.” She continued: “This study is another example of when data and numbers fly in the face of logic and common sense.”

Baker went on to note that only a small fraction of the country’s gun owners—a group that totals about a third of Americans—attend the NRA’s annual conventions. She questioned how such a relatively small number of gun owners could explain such large decreases in injuries.

In a response to CNN, co-author Jena emphasized that the study was not designed to explain the cause of the drops. But he speculated that gun owners who attend NRA conventions may be those who tend to use their guns more frequently than non-attending owners.

Moreover, he and Olenski noted a potential domino effect from the convention disrupting other group events or trips involving firearms and venues, such as shooting ranges and hunting grounds, where owners may temporarily close up to attend the convention. Last, the researchers noted that many NRA convention goers travel long distances to attend, potentially helping to explain the nationwide declines. For instance, 60 percent of the 81,000 NRA members attending the 2017 convention ventured more than 200 miles to get there.

Good Lord: 81,000 people go to an NRA convention? That is one big meeting! But Baker’s objection does need to be considered.

Remember that this is from nine years of data, though. Perhaps there is some other correlate that explains the significant reduction in gun violence; and, as I noted, this is the insured population only, while many gun users are uninsured. In the meantime, take this as an intriguing result that might be right, but deserves extra careful scrutiny since it conforms to what we gun opponents want to believe.

h/t: Michael


Jena, A. B. and A. R. Olenski, 2018. Reduction in firearm injuries during NRA annual conventions. New England J. Med.  378:866-867 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1712773