Thursday Reads: Guns and American Culture (and other news)Posted: February 27, 2014
I live in a state that has very strict gun control laws. A recent study by Boston Children’s Hospital found that states with the toughest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. And Boston tends to average between one shooting victim every other day to one victim per day. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days since I read this article at WBUR: When Mass. Criminals Want A Gun, They Often Head North
Massachusetts gun laws are widely considered some of the toughest in the country. But with a rash of shooting deaths in Boston this year, some law enforcement officials say it’s obvious that there are ways around the rules. And when Massachusetts criminals want to get their hands on a gun, they frequently head north.
In 2012, more than half of the guns that law enforcement seized in Massachusetts and managed to trace to their origins came from other states, according to federal statistics. The biggest suppliers by far were New Hampshire and Maine, as is the case most years.
According to the article, ATF agents discovered that gun traffickers in Massachusetts were legally buying large numbers of guns from New Hampshire and Maine, where they are much easier and cheaper to buy, and reselling them to people in Massachusetts.
The flow of guns from northern New England to Massachusetts is propelled by key differences among state gun laws. It’s all about private handgun sales, in particular. In Massachusetts every private handgun sale must be recorded and reported to the state within seven days. And the buyer must have a license to carry from local police, which in turn requires a background check. The Massachusetts rules are tight.
Up north, not so much. Buyers at federally licensed gun shops in Maine and New Hampshire are subjected to a federal background check for prior felonies, or a history of severe mental illness. But when it comes to private gun sales — at a gun show, or even a commuter parking lot — no documentation is required — no background check, no record of the transaction.
Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maine, says that in her state a private seller doesn’t even have to ask the buyer for a driver’s license.
Now it’s still illegal to sell guns to a convicted felon or for a felon to buy a gun, so if someone is caught doing this, they’ll go to jail for two years minimum. And the rates of gun deaths and injuries are still lower in Massachusetts than in states with less strict gun laws.
Clearly strict state laws are not enough to prevent gun violence. We need federal laws to control gun sales and to encourage gun safety–like the Massachusetts law that requires guns to be unloaded and locked up when not in use. But how can we make that happen? According to the WBUR article, Congress has even made it difficult to keep track of guns that are used in crimes and for academic researchers to access federal government data on gun trafficking.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has introduced a bill to require all guns to be personalized so they can only be fired by the owner or another authorized person. These so-called “smart guns” already exist.
One of California’s largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.
The watch’s primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. The watch makes the gun think. Electronic chips inside the gun and watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.
A dream of gun control advocates for decades, the Armatix iP1 is the country’s first smart gun. Its introduction is seen as a landmark event in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides, and accidental shootings….
Of course the NRA will fight this tooth and nail, and it’s not going to get through the Senate, much less the House, in the current environment.
Now check this out. According to a piece at Venture Beat, you can quickly and easily buy guns on Facebook!
That’s all it takes for children, felons, and people without IDs to buy illegal weapons on Facebook pages dedicated to the sale and celebration of guns.
A VentureBeat investigation has uncovered dozens of pages on Facebook where guns are for sale, including semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and silencers. While the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook, the social network is a remarkably easy way to find shady people willing to sell you a weapon — no questions asked. The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police.
In Kentucky, Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper remembers when a call came into dispatch last October saying a 15-year-old student had been arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school. The boy was arrested and brought to Cooper’s office for an interview.
When Cooper, a former Kentucky State Trooper with a heavy Southern drawl, asked the kid where he got the gun, his reply was shocking: Facebook.
Read it and weep. Oh, and Facebook claims they don’t allow people to sell guns or explosives on their pages, but clearly they’re not enforcing these rules very well.
It’s not news to anyone that America has a love affair with guns. Guns and hunting are part of American culture, going hand-in-hand with the cult of rugged individualism. I’ve always thought it came from the frontier tradition. Most of the country was settled by pioneering who set out from the East coast to begin new lives in the Midwest and West before the arrival of the accoutrements of civilization–like law enforcement, banks, and insurance companies. In my generation at least, kids saw endless movies and TV shows about “cowboys and Indians;” and we played with toy guns–even us girls. And of course, since we were born shortly after World War II, many of us watch movies that glorified war.
Still I’ve never wanted a real gun. It seems to me that the gun culture is much stronger in some ways than in those innocent days of the 1950s and ’60s. But why? The obvious answer is the lobbying and propaganda efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And what about the recent work of ALEC and the Koch Brothers to get state “stand your ground” laws passed around the country? Dahlia Lithwick has posted a fine piece about this at Slate.
Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed Chee. Officers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.
Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud music, wearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.
Is it true? Lithwick quotes doubters who say that neither George Zimmerman invoked “stand your ground,” However juries were told about the “stand your ground” principle, and could have been confused by the growing consensus in Florida that people [at least white males] have the right to shoot an unarmed person if they “feel threatened.” Lithwick writes:
It’s clear that at least some of the jurors in both cases took the principle of “stand your ground” into account to some degree during deliberations. We now know that at leastone juror, and possibly two, in Dunn’s trial took to heart the specific instruction that Dunn “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Whether or not jurors in Florida are technically instructed to apply the “stand your ground” component of self-defense law, it’s increasingly clear that they are, at minimum, confused about it (understandably) and may even be starting to apply it reflexively. Yes, Dunn’s attorney argued traditional self-defense. But, as former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein told the Associated Press, “I think people will say that because some of the language from the stand your ground statute gets embedded into the jury instructions, that stand your ground has an effect.”
I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.
Please go read the whole thing. It’s frightening but important. Lithwick argues that the new laws are changing the culture itself–and not just in the states with “stand your ground” laws.
Now I’ve gone and written another single-subject post. I just have room for a few headlines before I turn the floor over to you.
Washington Post: Hillary Clinton makes case for ‘full participation’ and equality
Talking Points Memo: Hillary Clinton Defends Obamacare While Backing Changes
The Daily Beast: The Spoiled Rotten Kids of the DC Elite
Dana Millbank: Republicans flip-flop on ‘judicial activism’
I hope Dak will weigh in on this one. Matthew O’Brien: How the Fed Let the World Blow Up in 2008