This is a revised version of the April 15th post. Additional information has been added. (Note: The Constitutional Carry Law referred to here did not make it out of the Senate in SC. However, the SC Legislature did pass a law allowing concealed weapons in bars and restaurants.)
The New York Times’ blogger, Joe Nocera, has been running a feature column on his blog at NYTimes.com. He calls it “The Gun Report” and it contains a daily selection of gun violence news reports. There’s a daily report Monday through Friday and then a cumulative weekend report. It makes for sad reading. Unfortunately, we must rely on the media for our data on gun violence because the government doesn’t provide a centralized data repository. Oh, they have a piece meal system of reporting that they manage to gather the minimum data with and if you search, you can similarly piece together the data. But as far as actually having a real database to rely upon, the NRA and the GOP have effectively legislated to prevent it. Legislative restrictions placed on the CDC bans them from doing certain research on gun violence and the GOP provision that made creating an ATF director a Senate confirmable position has resulted in seven years with only a part time temporary ATF director. As a result, there is no centralized and/or standardized means of reporting nor are current gun laws effectively enforced. We do have a sense of how many people die from firearms in the aggregate, but the information that we need—the details that would allow us to approach gun violence as a systemic problem rather than an individual one—is simply unavailable. The human cost as well as the attendant fiscal and social costs of gun violence can be alleviated by approaching the problem as a public health issue. However, we don’t have the data necessary.
If you’re wondering about my credentials and whether or not my facts are accurate, then I applaud you. I will soon be posting more information on gun violence and reform. While I am not an epidemiologist or strictly speaking a social scientist, I do have years of experience and am well-trained as a researcher with critical thinking skills on par with any social scientist. I have spent the past two months immersing myself in the scholarship, research, opinion, law, history, and data dealing with gun violence, injury, crime, and reform. I know more about the effects of firearms as tools of destruction and as touchstones of ideology than I ever wanted to know. I know the ins and outs of the NRA and enough details about firearm manufacturers to make me dislike Wayne LaPierre even more than I already did. I have been and continue to scour the crime pages of every major newspaper in South Carolina daily for news reports involving guns and keep a record of gun violence by clipping those pages into a software program. I supplement that with several news alert systems that pull reports of items that contain both “South Carolina” and “gun” or “shooting” within the text. The people who know about this project frequently send me emails alerting me to news that they’ve heard, articles they’ve read, or news they’ve seen on television.
So, since I’m not an epidemiologist, sociologist, or in a related field that would make my gun violence research a logical choice, the next question would be why am I researching gun violence and even more so, why am I researching it so thoroughly and with such passion. In response, I’d say that there are a lot of reasons, but oddly it wasn’t Newtown that was the instigating factor, although ultimately that tragedy became one of the reasons. Of course I was pained and horrified by the events in Newtown. The tragedy of those beautiful lives lost weighed on my soul, as did the losses that they made me remember—the many children lost daily in the frequently violent urban areas and whose loss is mostly quiet and unremarkable. Certainly their deaths are not national news and they do not occupy the national consciousness for months. And yet they are no less precious in spite of our negligence, those of us who are privileged enough to not live in areas where gunfire is part of the soundtrack of our lives and where waiting at a bus stop can be as dangerous as Fallujah. Nor are they less precious for the lack of economic or pigment or race privileges that typically has so much to do with whether your environment is filled with the cacophony of bullets or the lullaby of crickets and so this is why the first of the two instigating factors moved me to action. In spite of my personal depression, the death of Hadiya Pendleton added another wound to the injured social fabric of the world we live in, the one that is so filled with acts and words of violence. I knew then that I needed to do something, to fight back against those who would continue to flood our world with instruments whose sole purpose is to cause death. Yes, violence exists, but guns make its execution so simple and easy. So just as I imagined that I had caught a glimpse of Hadiya marching proudly in her uniform during President Obama’s second inauguration, I also imagined her body ripped through with the wounds made by the bullets that stole her precious future. While Sasha and Melia joked with each other on a day that was an immensely happy one for me and probably an absolutely amazing one for her, I was certain that I had glimpsed her and her bright future through the tv screen, just as I would later hear the all too familiar story of how she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and imagine the scene of her death, the cries of her friends, the ringing out of the gunshots and how in that moment and smallest of actions, a squeeze of a finger, a young life and promising future was extinguished. The words “wrong place, wrong time” should not apply to a school or walking home from school or at all. The wounds and the words were crying out. Those wounds that ended Hadiya’s life cried out to be heard; they cried out for a voice. The wound in our social fabric demands a voice.
My other reason for engaging so vigorously in this fight relates to several pieces of legislation introduced in the SC General Assembly. The passage of this legislation would weaken South Carolina’s already lax gun laws and likely increase the already high levels of gun violence in the state. The most extreme of these is still under consideration. This lovely piece of “constitutional freedom” legislation was proposed and is sponsored by Senator Lee Bright from the Upstate (he of the Personhood Amendment and Tea
Bagger Party renown) who is also, by the way, involved in sponsoring and co-sponsoring several bills that would essentially nullify federal laws. South Carolina and nullification? Hmm, haven’t we already deja-ed that vu? I don’t remember it turning out so well for us the first time. Anyway, Senate Bill 151 “The Constitutional Carry Act” would essentially do away with the concealed carry law in South Carolina. But wait—you haven’t heard the best part! He’s not suggesting that it’s a bad idea for people to pack heat with a concealed carry permit. On the contrary, the right good Senator Bright thinks that anyone should be able to carry a gun anywhere without having to get a license or conceal their weapon and that carrying the gun should only be against the law if they are carrying it with the intent to commit a crime. Wow. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that the intent part won’t be clear until they actually commit the crime. There’s a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting this Tuesday afternoon and the subcommittee will be submitting a report with, I assume, their recommendation. I will, of course, be in attendance. I have every intention of posting further information after the meeting to share what I’ve learned. I’ll also be posting information from the policy brief that I’ve been working on. Much of that information will be useful for anyone who is on the fence regarding the proposed gun control legislation or who would perhaps like to know more than the shallow information product provided by the majority of the media. In fact, some of the information that I’ve heard is factually incorrect and reads like NRA talking points. To a degree this is Wayne LaPierre’s strategy. He seems crazy and overwrought even cruel in his reactions to Newtown (or that is my perception) at the very least, he is performing a bit of a spectacle and as a result we are paying attention to him. His rhetorical strategy relies upon attention and repetition. It is a cheap form of persuasion. Repeated false information heard and then repeated over and over by news media, even if it is repeated with questions of its validity, and mixed in with other information becomes so entangled that it is difficult to remember the source and its credibility. And so it is that we innocently integrate the fictions and manipulations of the pro-gun lobby and the gun manufacturers that they represent. In a future post, I’ll even go into how they shifted the way we as a society interpret the Second Amendment leading up to the Heller which opened the door for NRA sponsored legislation in the form of more relaxed concealed carry laws, guns in restaurants and bars, Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws, and so on. If you’re unfamiliar with those, I’ll fill you in soon. Look forward to my next informative post and the history of gun violence and gun reform in the US and abroad.
And finally, here is Joe Nocera’s blog, excerpted from my Scoop,it account (which I’ve done very little with, but here’s hoping) which unsurprisingly only contains a Gun Reform collection at the moment.
One of the problems with guns is that there are too many people who simply don’t take seriously their killing potential. Either that or they don’t care. Either that or they don’t care. Last Friday, for instance, a woman named Mary Frances Alday, 61, went into a Walmart in Crawfordville, Fla., and when she got to the checkout line, demanded that the store redeem a “dollar off” coupon she procured online. She became furious when told the store would not honor Internet coupons, and after lashing out at the store clerk and other Walmart employees – and hurling a shopping cart at them – she went to her car, where she pulled out a loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Special and waved it in the direction of the Walmart staff. After she fled the parking lot, Alday was pulled over by the sheriff’s department and charged with four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Here is today’s sampling of gun violence.
Two teenagers were shot in the back at the Delmont Village Apartments in Richmond, Va., overnight. Police found one teen in a stairwell in the apartment complex and the other half a mile away in another complex. The first victim told police he was robbed; the second victim couldn’t remember if someone put him in a car and drove him away. They are being treated at a hospital.
… [eight more excerpts from news articles discussing multiple incidents of gun violence are omitted here. See more on Nocera’s blog.]…
According to Slate’s gun-death tracker, an estimated 2,474 people have died as a result of gun violence in America since the Newtown massacre on December 14, 2012.