With a grain of salt: Gun Control Facts and Figures (by Jack)

Screenshot 2018-03-14 20.17.07           Most articles on gun control start with the conclusion that guns either should be banned or shouldn’t be banned and then provide reasoning and evidence to support their position. In this article I will try to reverse that process and start with some facts and figures and then draw some conclusions.

Let’s start with the problem—gun-related deaths.

As everyone is aware, the U. S. leads the developed world in deaths related to guns (about 30,000 deaths per year).

What is sometimes missed because of the media’s focus on the sensational (e.g. mass killings) is that about 2/3rds of those deaths are from suicides. The most “successful” way of killing oneself is with the use of a gun, usually a handgun. Suicide attempts with guns result in deaths over 96% of the time. All other methods of attempting suicide are far less “successful,” none reaching even 10% success rates.

America is awash with guns.

America has about 4.4% of the world’s population but has about half of the world’s guns owned by civilians. There is more than one gun per person in the U. S., but actually most people (57%) live in households that are gun-free. Gun ownership is skewed with some people owning lots of guns and most people not owning any. 3% of Americans own almost half of all the guns in the country. 7.7 million people own, on average, 17 guns.

As one may suspect gun ownership is highest among white men (48%) and lowest among non-white women (16%). Why do people own them? According to polling 67% of the people who own them say they own them for “protection.”

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What are people scared of?

Since Colonial times the crime rates have generally dropped. There have been occasional “up-ticks” in certain types of crime for various reasons, but generally the overall trend is down. In particular, since the 1990s all types of crime in the U.S. have declined.

However, over 60% of the American public actually believes that crime rates have increased in recent years.

Does arming people make them safer?

We often hear that countries with strict gun control have dramatically lower gun-related deaths than the U. S.—and that is true. What is seldom reported is that in developed countries with larger numbers of guns in circulation (even with strict gun control policies) the rates of gun-related deaths are higher than countries with fewer guns in circulation.

Even though crime rates have been declining, is it possible that crime rates in the U. S. are significantly higher than in other developed countries? That, also is not true. The U. S. actually has about an average amount per capita of crime compared with other developed nations.

States with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths (e.g. Hawaii, NY, Mass, Iowa, RI) while states with more lax gun control laws have higher rates of gun-related deaths (e.g. Louisiana, Alaska, Miss, Alabama, Arkansas).

Some states have, over the last decade, enacted right to carry concealed gun laws. Those states have experienced a 13-15% increase in violent crimes compared to states that have no such laws.

Where is public opinion on the issue of gun control?

70% of Americans say they want stricter gun laws and among owners of guns 57% say they want stricter gun laws

89% of gun owners as well as non-gun owners say that the mentally ill should be prevented from purchasing a gun.

77% of gun owners say background checks should be mandatory for the purchase of a gun at gun shows.

77% of non-gun owners support a ban on assault weapons, but only 44% of gun owners support such a ban.

 

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Boing Boing

Will meaningful gun control be enacted?

Republicans who control all three branches of the federal government are overwhelmingly opposed to significant gun control measures. Democrats at the national level generally support stricter gun control measures.

States vary in their approaches with Democratically controlled states generally enacting stricter gun policies and Republican states going in the opposite direction (right to carry states).

In sum:  Gun ownership is skewed with very few people owning most of the guns.

  1. Most gun-related deaths are due to suicides not homicides.
  2. Gun control measures generally reduce deaths due to guns.
  3. The public is generally supportive of stricter gun control.
  4. Democrats are more supportive of gun control than Republicans.

Conclusion—What can be done?

In a democracy government policies should follow the support of majorities unless those policies infringe upon the inherent rights of citizens. Yet, even then the Supreme Court has ruled that no right is absolute. Reasonable restrictions can and should be placed upon all rights. While the Court has ruled that individual citizens have a right to own guns, they also indicated that reasonable regulations are appropriate.

It would seem that greater regulation of guns is in order. Yet, in most states and at the national level this is not happening. Sadly, the major hurdle is the Republican Party, supported by (some would say captured by) the NRA. This was not always the case. All Republican presidents from Nixon to George W. Bush supported some form of gun control and Nixon actually wanted to ban all handguns.

If you want gun control today, and if it is a very important issue for you, then you are led to the conclusion that you cannot vote for any politician who refuses to support gun control—most likely not a Republican.

Where is Sarasota’s representative to Congress, Vern Buchanan, on gun control?

Buchanan is a member of the NRA and is “a strong defender of the Second Amendment.” He supports the right of individuals to carry concealed weapons across state lines, he wants to loosen the restrictions of interstate gun purchases, he wants to ban the registration of guns and trigger locks. He has “waffled” on banning bump stocks. If you are looking for measures to restrict access to guns Vern Buchanan is not your guy in Congress.

NOTE:  A protest against the NRA and in favor of gun control will be held in Sarasota, Saturday March 24 from 10-noon at the Bayfront Park.

 

With a grain of salt: Time to Politicize School Shootings (by Sasha)

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Joel Auerbach/AP

Yet another school shooting, but this time closer to home in Broward County, Florida. Television viewers are horrified at the film footage of children with raised arms running in a line from the school, of parents near hysterical as they search for their children, of law enforcement agents dashing about with raised rifles on a school campus; and of the 17 body bags.

The collective response of our lawmakers? “Ho-hum. You’ve got to understand that although it’s tragic, nothing can be done because we don’t want to politicize this tragedy.”

But of course there IS something they can do, and yes it is time to politicize these killings. It’s time to take on the National Rifle Association and to impose strict gun control laws. The Second Amendment is no defense for this lack of action because there is no constitutional right (think speech, religion, due process, press freedom, and yes the right to bear arms) that is absolute. Every right exists with limits (think libel laws, polygamy laws, age of majority laws, truth in advertising laws, and so on.) Every right is balanced by other rights; every right must be interpreted for the current time; and every right comes with responsibilities. If the Second Amendment must be viewed in absolutist terms, then it’s time to repeal it.

This Wild West gun culture is a death culture that is scarring and scaring the hell out of our children.

I grew up in the age of “duck and cover;” that is, when schools impressed on us the very real possibility of a nuclear attack by drilling us to run into the hallways and cower in a turtle posture until an all clear signal. So, one minute we are reading The Poky Little Puppy, and in the next, at the sound of an alarm, we are huddled on the floor waiting for either death or the all clear signal.

On the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I was in second grade and already well-versed in the Soviet threat to our survival. On the PA system, our Principal announced that the President had been shot and that our country was at risk of attack. School was canceled for the day, and we were told to run home as fast as we could, (no buses then; no caravan of parents waiting in cars).

What followed was a Brian De Palma-like slow-motion film segment of school doors opening to release a flood of screaming bobby-socked children who ran down the road from our school with lunch boxes and book bags flagging behind them. This phalanx then suddenly scattered as children fled in the various directions that lead to their homes.

The cluster of children from my street ran together and took to Pataki’s orchard, then ran through fields and wooded areas rather than risk being “captured” on the road by Soviet tanks. We ducked and covered at the sight of any airplane as we ran for our lives.

It was terrifying.

Today we have created a culture where students live with the real possibility of violence right in their place of learning–settings that should always be first and foremost safe places. So far in 2018, there have been 18 school shootings in the 45 days of 2018. (And that’s just the school shootings.) Isn’t that shocking?

Shouldn’t it shock us out of complacency that 438 people have been shot and 138 killed at schools since the Sandy Hook shootings of 2012?  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/15/us/school-shootings-sandy-hook-parkland.html)

Shouldn’t that rattle our political representatives to do something in response?

Isn’t it time to politicize (i.e., to pass legislation to address) these tragic moments?

So once you finish reading this, contact your representative of choice and rattle them: “Enough! DO SOMETHING!”

 

Photo Essay: March for Democracy/March for Women Jan. 20, 2018 (By Sasha)

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Once again we joined the March for Democracy and for Women in Sarasota. Last year the crowd was estimated at over 3,000. This year I’ll wager that it grew to over 4,000 (I was counted at 3,015 as I crossed the Ringling Bridge and there was a huge crowd behind me and in the park.)

 

Even some kayakers took to the water in protest.

Last year’s march was one of anguish the day after the Trump inauguration and people were consoled to find so many others who felt the same. This year’s march felt different; it was energized. It focused on taking action in the form of resistance, voting, support for progressive candidates, and work to overturn Trump’s actions and agenda. People supported causes: DACA, immigration, Planned Parenthood, the environment, LGBTQ rights, the ACA, peace not nukes, the news media, and democracy in general.

Here are some photos that capture the vibe of resistance (and even the sense of humor of many of the demonstrators):

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The Salt Life: Where is Tom? (by Jack)

Screenshot 2018-01-14 13.32.59If you are a reader of the Sarasota Herald Tribune you have no doubt noticed that journalist Tom Lyons’ column is no longer a part of the paper. In August of 2017 Tom resigned. His column performed an important function in the community. In many ways he became the voice for those who were the victims of unfair treatment by government officials, bureaucrats, employers, HOAs, and other authorities. His column was based on a fundamental democratic cultural assumption (perhaps naïve) that if an injustice was made public community opinion would function as a corrective and force authorities to correct the problem. His simple stories illustrated that democracy was not about institutions (e.g. voting) as much as it was about cultural attitudes and beliefs.

Lyons resigned because of personnel changes that he found unacceptable. Management at the paper made Lee Williams (a.k.a. The Gun Writer) the editor of Special Topics, in effect, making him Tom’s boss. Williams and Lyons “did not play well together” and Lyons decided to quit rather than work with him as his “boss.” He put it this way: “I have long had a strong personal antipathy for the man . . . assigned to become my supervising editor. The reasons for my feelings for the man may not matter. . . . Assigning this particular editor to me was a sharp stick in the eye.”

Many local government officials are most certainly breathing a sigh of relief knowing that Tom Lyons is not going to be second-guessing their decisions. Indeed the columnist who has replaced Tom, Carrie Seidman, has indicated that she will not be taking on the kinds of issues Lyons did. “My style is conversational, not confrontational, my focus on unifying rather than taking sides,” she wrote in her maiden column. But more than that, her columns are less about other people and more about her and her experiences. She writes about downtown flooding because she had to drive through a flooded intersection, she writes about the decline of newspapers because friends of hers are losing their jobs at them, she writes about racism after taking a walking tour of Newtown.

The contrast between Lyons and Seidman is stark. Lyons advocated for the person getting screwed and he identified exactly who was screwing him/her and he demanded answers. He used his column to offer a critical take on news stories and address issues behind the scenes that were not otherwise reported. Seidman is self-referential, and even when addressing situations of injustice fails to trace who the responsible authorities are who could solve the problems and instead concludes that somehow the royal “we” need to come up with solutions. It is the difference between exposés and taking a stance about abuses of power versus human interest stories that draw no conclusion.

I don’t know where Tom is today. My guess is he’s playing his guitar and fishing. In any case I miss his columns. He made Sarasota a better place (even though he never followed through on a couple of my “tips”), and given the state of American democracy today, a voice like his is needed more than ever.

Unintended Consequences of the Attempts to Repeal Obamacare (by Jack)

A strange thing happened on the way to the series of attempts to repeal and replace the Republican-hated policy known as “Obamacare.” Fundamental attitudes about health care began to change–and in an unanticipated direction.

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The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) has been an excellent example of how perceptual screens affect attitudes. Polling indicated that when people were asked about the policy called “Obamacare” it received less support than if it was called the “Affordable Care Act.” But even more, polling reveals that partisanship functions as a perceptual screen when making such judgments—Democrats support Obamacare/the ACA more than do Republicans. This was true when it was first passed and remains somewhat true today—but oddly enough, some attitudes on health care have shifted to bring Democrats and Republicans closer to each other. (Could we have the beginnings of an emerging bipartisan consensus?)

Health Overhaul Protest ChicagoThe latest polling indicates that a substantial majority of Americans (over 60%) now believe that health care is a right rather than a privilege. (Substantially less than a majority had this belief as recently as 2014). And while there is still a modest partisan divide, lower income Republicans now agree with Democrats of all income levels that health care is a right. The strongest support for the view that health care is a privilege and government should not play a role is isolated among relatively well-to-do Republicans.

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Ironically, the catalyst that has produced this change has been the controversy that has been sparked by the various aborted attempts in Congress to repeal Obamacare. Republicans, hoping to kill the Affordable Care Act have instead helped build support for not just the ACA, but for even greater government involvement in health care.

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Specific provisions that arose during the debate also helped to solidify public opinion and narrow the partisan divide on the issue. Now, an over-whelming majority of Americans (over 70%) want health care to be guaranteed to people with pre-existing conditions. Further, even a substantial number of Republicans (66%) want insurance policies to provide a minimum package of benefits and a vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions want coverage to extend to children up to age 26 (on their parents’ plan). These are significant changes in attitudes from just a images-1few years ago.

Sociologist Robert Merton first identified the “law of unintended consequences” in 1936 when examining decisions policy-makers make in complex social systems. While he identified a number of reasons for this phenomenon (including stupidity and relying upon short-term interests over long-term interests) he also noted that it was difficult to effectively adopt policies which went against the grain of fundamental underlying values and beliefs. That may now be the dilemma the Republicans face when they try—yet again as they no doubt will—to repeal and replace Obamacare. If Republicans in Congress continue to pursue health care reform in a partisan fashion they may find that their constituents, both Republicans and Democrats, may rebel.

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Stand or Kneel? Sports and Politics (by Sasha)

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As a political scientist, I view the controversy over the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as grounded in two related questions:

1)  How did football (and just about every other sport) become a forum for displays of patriotism?

2)  Why is the kneeling of a player during the playing of the national anthem viewed as an insult to veterans in particular?

So, in answer to #1, there is really no good reason why sports have been aligned with militarism. Some have theorized that joining the two connects nationalism with aggression; or winning with patriotism. “We (meaning the US) are Number 1!” But the history of this conjoining of (male) sports teams with national patriotism has its origins in WWI and this grew stronger during WWII.  During the fighting of the world war, it was viewed as unseemly that while other men engaged in international warfare to save the country and indeed the world, professional athletic males in the United States were playing their sports rather than engaging in true warfare. Sporting events were also an opportunity to mobilize much needed public support. Thus, patriotic moments were injected into the games: the playing of the national anthem or patriotic songs, the presence of the American flag, flybys or honor guards by the military, and the recognition of war veterans. But this association continued far beyond the world war years. It is now seen as part and parcel of what it means to be engaged in athletic competition. As a result, displays of patriotism infuses football, baseball, soccer, hockey, and so on.

image_20But think about it…this is a social construct that survived its time. This was a nationalistic practice that originated as a way of defending why able-bodied males should continue to play competitive (and lucrative) games during a time of war. The national symbolism has continued throughout the decades although it is now disconnected from the original purpose it served.

In answer to #2, I can understand that some people may be offended by NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. But why is this form of symbolic speech interpreted as an insult to veterans in particular?

This protest began last football season (2016) by Colin Kaepernick. Because it was a silent form of protest, in later interviews he had to articulate the meaning in words. His explanation was that the physical gesture was a sign of protest about the troubling incidences of black men shot by police officers who were not punished by the legal system. Kneeling was chosen a “respectful,” peaceful, and silent protest about racial inequality in the country.

nfl+9.24So how exactly does this implicate veterans?

It doesn’t. The protest is an indictment of the American legal system, law enforcement system, and systemic racism within the culture. But it is not in any way aimed at those who have served in the military.

Why? Because the flag, the national anthem, the Constitution, and patriotism at large does not belong to veterans exclusively. Yes, the nation should thank veterans for their service and should provide them in turn with respect and concrete resources to integrate them back to civilian lives (e.g., imagine a VA that is efficient and responsive and generous). However, criticisms about the nation, no matter how cutting, are not aimed at veterans. They are directed at society at large. Although symbolic speech, these actions invite reflection and conversation. Are they pointed and sometimes painful critiques? Yes, they are. But does kneeling constitute treason or an attack on veterans in particular; I’d say not. Political protest is and should be a protected right. That is necessary in any society that aspires to be democratic. Dissent should be met with conversation, not misdefined or misaligned as attacks on veterans or unpatriotic expressions in need of punishment.

It is a bit ironic that this sensitivity to the feelings of veterans as the victims of the NFL protests is taking place during a time when conservative commentators have been unforgiving in their criticisms of college and university policies designed to protect student “snowflakes” from upsetting speech, topics, or situations. Veterans, who have been redefined in recent years as heroes, are now being constructed as victims in need of protection from kneeling athletes. And so, in the words of Pres. Trump, a protesting athlete is a “son of bitch” who should be fired.

Some might say that political protests are unwarranted given the time and place consideration that these occur during sports contests, not political events. But, as I wrote earlier, the infusion of symbols of patriotism during athletic competitions is an odd coupling to begin with. If patriotic displays are embraced during games, one can expect, and one is expected to tolerate, differing views in response.

 

With a grain of salt: Being Taken by the Ballgame (by Jack)

Braves logoBusinesspeople often complain about government interference, arguing that government should stay out of the marketplace and regulate it as little as necessary. Of course you don’t hear many complaints from those same people when the government provides a host of tax deductions and subsidies that benefit them. The latest controversy involving government subsidizing business is playing itself out in Tallahassee where House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to eliminate the government agency Enterprise Florida (actually a public-private hybrid), claiming that it does not do what was intended.

Enterprise Florida is supposed to use its resources to lure business to the Sunshine State using a variety of inducements including tax refunds, tax credits, tax exemptions, and even outright cash grants. While Corcoran wants to eliminate funding for Enterprise Florida Governor Rick Scott who has campaigned on a platform of job creation is a vigorous defender of the program.

The use of government incentives to support business is nothing new in America. Primarily because of the nature of our federal system businesses can play off one governmental unit against others to negotiate the most advantageous package of inducements to locate their business in a particular place.

Our latest local example of this sort of bargaining has recently occurred with the Atlanta Braves who indicated they were willing to relocate from Orlando if “the price was right.” Consequently, they initiated a series of negotiations with Orlando, Sarasota, Collier County and Palm Beach County to see which locale would give them the best deal.

After several months of bargaining, negotiating and playing one county off against the others Sarasota emerged as the “winner” of the Braves sweepstakes and a preliminary deal was struck. A sports complex in the range of $75-$80 million would be built in North Port by 2019. Sarasota county would kick in $22 million, North Port would add $4-5 million, West Villages would contribute 150 acres of land worth $7-9 million, and the state would add about $20 million.

braves sports complex          The county’s contribution falls just under the amount that would otherwise have to be approved by voters—hmmmm. Supposedly the Braves would pick up the remaining $22-25 million and they get full operating rights to the baseball complex. The government is trying to negotiate use of the facility for a few days during the year (the latest estimate was 22 days), but profits from the games go to the Braves who will agree to make annual payments for 30 years to cover the stadium debt.

The arguments in favor of such sports stadium deals are common: they will spur economic growth in the local area, help raise incomes and they will create jobs. Sounds good. Sounds like a wise investment. Unfortunately economists who study such deals say there that there is no evidence to indicate that those things actually happen. Two economists, Coates and Humphreys collected all the studies done on the topic and concluded that there was no legitimate economic justification for the deals—they don’t spur economic growth, they don’t create more jobs, and they don’t raise incomes. So why do these deals continue to happen?

For the answer we need to turn to politics, not economics. Politicians often campaign on the argument that they will create jobs. Governor Scott certainly did that, but he is not the only politician to pass himself off as a “jobs-creator.” To justify that they are working to create jobs they must have some sort of highly visible way of showing that they are working on job creation. Enter government incentives! In many instances corporations and sports teams have already decided where they will locate and only as an afterthought do they try to obtain government incentives (hey, why not if they want to give us some freebies).

In fact, studies show that one of the most important factors in determining where businesses locate—in addition to the quality of the labor force, access to relevant transportation, and the cost of energy, (for sports teams a supportive fan base)—is where the CEOs live! (Note that Braves Vice Chairman John Schuerholtz owns a home in Naples).

Of course politicians don’t have to play this game and, to their credit, the politicians in Collier County ultimately decided to drop out of the bidding war for the Braves stadium. Perhaps they are smarter than our own politicians. They can now spend their money on more deserving projects and still enjoy the benefit of seeing the Braves. After all, it’s only a short drive from Naples to North Port. That drive won’t cost anywhere near $26 million.