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December 22, 2008

What's NOT in Santa's Bag

I am a fan of old-time radio programs. Last night I was listening to the December 22, 1949, broadcast of the original “Dragnet” series. The story, based on a true event, was about a nine year-old boy who was given a rifle for Christmas. As he and his closest friend were playing with the gun, one of the boys tripped and fell. The gun went off and one of the boys was killed.

In the closing scene of the Dragnet episode, Sergeant Friday was asked, "What did we learn from this?" His stern reply: "You should never give a kid a gun for Christmas."

I couldn't help but reflect how many times I have heard or read similar stories. And I wonder how many times this holiday season that story will be repeated.

Here is my wish for you…that you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season…and may the coming New Year be one in which we can work together to rid our society of gun violence.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and a joyous Festivus for the rest of us.

December 15, 2008

Granny Get Your Gun

Gun manufacturers are always looking for a sexy new product for the civilian market. Tom Diaz chronicled this phenomenon in his book Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America, noting that manufacturers increasingly market guns to consumers by emphasizing their capacity, lethality and concealability.

From time to time, you will see some bizarre ideas come out of the gun industry. I remember a belt buckle pistol which could shoot two small bullets at the touch of a button. Then there was a gun designed to look like a cell phone. But neither of those examples can touch the new “Palm Pistol” as a sheer head-scratcher.

The Palm Pistol has been described by its manufacturer, Constitution Arms, as "an ergonomically novel self defense handgun designed for seniors, disabled and others with limited manual dexterity.” Constitution Arms states that the single-shot 9mm weapon is “suited for home defense, concealed carry or as a backup gun. It is also ideal for [individuals] who may have limited strength or manual dexterity. Using the thumb instead of the index finger for firing, it significantly reduces muzzle drift, one of the principal causes of inaccurate targeting. Point and shoot couldn't be easier.”

A controversy recently erupted when Constitution Arms reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had formally designated the gun as a medical device. This gave rise to the suggestion that the Palm Pistol might be available by prescription and covered by Medicare.

Thankfully, none of this was based in truth. FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey recently made this clear, stating that her agency "has determined that the Palm Pistol, manufactured by Constitution Arms, is not a medical device under the Federal Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act.”

Matthew Carmel of Constitution Arms reacted angrily, saying, “I would assume it's due to political pressure … I find it quite ironic that certain elements of the political spectrum demand more protection for the weak, yet when someone steps up to the plate to provide that protection, to empower the weak from predators, they somehow cast a blind eye to their needs.”

Carmel certainly did step up to the plate. He stepped up and invented a gun with a hair trigger for older Americans with limited arm and wrist strength. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what could go wrong here. I can see an older gentleman responding to a noise at night, grabbing his Palm Pistol, and accidentally discharging it by clenching his fist when his cat runs out from behind a couch. Or perhaps, moving quickly through the house, his legs fail and he discharges the gun as he crashes to the ground. Or perhaps his four-year-old grandson visits one weekend, eager to show off his “limited manual dexterity.” And let’s not even get into the potential for suicide with this product…

In all likelihood, Carmel purposely put out fake information about the FDA approval to gain free advertising for his product. Tragically, the Palm Pistol will likely be on the market soon without ever being tested for consumer safety. Guns remain one of the only products in America not regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

December 8, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

There is an interesting mental charade that goes on between scientific researchers on the one hand and, public policy makers and American gun owners on the other. It goes something like this. Highly trained social science and/or medical researchers conduct a massive, peer-reviewed study on the effects of gun laws on violent crime rates in America. They—not surprisingly—find that states with lax gun laws have higher rates of handgun killings, fatal shootings of police officers, and sales of weapons that are used in crimes in other states.

The results of the study are released. The press downplays or completely ignores the study. The pro-gun lobby denounces the study as biased and inaccurate. The public policy makers—if they are even aware of the study—completely ignore the findings and continue to dodge the problem.

This past week, a 38-page study on “The Movement of Illegal Guns” was released by a group of more than 320 U.S. mayors and reported on by the Washington Post. Mayors Against Illegal Guns based the study on new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) data that had previously been withheld from the public.

The report finds that, “The stark differences in crime gun export rates appear to confirm the existence of an interstate illegal gun market, where a handful of states stand out as major sources for crime guns … States that export illegal guns at the highest rates have comparatively weak gun laws ... [These states] not only supply crime guns to other states, but they themselves also suffer higher rates of gun murders and fatal shootings of police officers than states with low crime gun export rates.

The Post ran the story on page A-10 of the paper. It will be fascinating to see what kind of coverage—if any—the report will receive from the nation’s other news media now that it has been officially released. More important will be how public policy makers respond to the data.

If the past is prologue, the NRA will once again denounce the study as “biased,” elected officials will ignore it and the anti-regulation faction will engage in “cognitive dissonance” and become more dedicated to their pro-gun myths than before.

The only thing that can break this cycle is you. You can obtain a PDF copy of the report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and see that it is widely covered by your local news outlets. You can make sure that it is brought to the attention of every one of your elected public officials. Do not let them ignore this important public safety data. You can make a difference when armed with the facts.

December 1, 2008

Question No. 59

The intricate web of organizations that make up what is commonly called the “gun lobby” has relied for years on scare tactics to stir up their members and raise funds. One of the staples of the fear factory has been the claim that Democrats want to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of firearms in the United States. This “Chicken Little” tactic was recently used by the National Rifle Association in the November elections. The NRA wasted $15 million trying to convince hunters and sportsmen that Senator Barack Obama planned to take their guns—and then watched him win a landslide victory over Senator John McCain, their candidate of choice. Maybe Wayne LaPierre & Co. simply forgot that bugaboo is no longer available for exploitation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller. Justice Scalia made it patently clear that gun bans are unconstitutional and therefore impossible.

The gun lobby needed a new fear to exploit—and the latest “smoking gun” they have zeroed in on is a real beaut. In an attempt to again paint the Obama Administration as a threat to gun ownership, the current hue and cry is about a widely disseminated questionnaire for those applying for jobs in the new administration. Specifically, this question has drawn the pro-gunners ire:

“Do you or any members of your immediate family own a gun? If so, provide complete ownership and registration information. Has the registration ever lapsed? Please also describe how and by whom it is used and whether it has been the cause of any personal injuries or property damage.”

The NRA has described the question as “chilling” and suggested it could be used to disqualify law-abiding individuals who use firearms for hunting or self-defense in the home. Republican Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina has also claimed (again without evidence) that the question was designed to “discriminate based on lawful activity.” Finally, Brendan Miniter of the Wall Street Journal argued that President-elect Obama has displayed “a typical ignorance of how gun ownership works in America.”

That’s funny. To hear the gun lobby tell it, I always thought gun ownership was about personal responsibility. It seems to me that the new administration’s questionnaire was simply trying to determine if applicants have exercised their Second Amendment rights in a responsible manner. Moreover, there is no evidence that gun ownership was being specifically targeted by the incoming administration. There were more than 60 questions on the questionnaire that sought to assess the overall character of applicants—including lobby ties, financial records, property ownership and the like. Given that these individuals seek to serve at the highest levels of government, that’s not only reasonable, but necessary—even in a pre-9/11 era.

I suspect the true reason the NRA got its tail feathers ruffled is because they seek to make private gun ownership in our country anonymous and unregulated. But responsibility and accountability go hand in hand—and no law-abiding citizen will ever have anything to fear from a little transparency when it comes to employment screening.