Bill Moyers is highly critical of the NRA

July 23, 2012 | By | 16 Replies More

Bill Moyers is highly critical of the NRA:

Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and 300,000 gun-related assaults in the U.S.,” he said. “Firearm violence may cost our country as much as $100 billion a year. Toys are regulated with greater care and safety concerns than guns … we have become so gun loving, so blasé about home-grown violence that in my lifetime alone, far more Americans have been casualties of domestic gunfire than have died in all our wars combined.


Category: American Culture

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    And firearms are used defensively between 64,000 and 2.5 million times each year, depending on whose study you believe. The data cited in that link is somewhat aged, a 2000 study found that civilians used a firearm to defend themselves or others at least 989,883 times per year.

    Regardless of which statistic you believe, the number of defensive uses of firearms is at least on par with Moyer’s numbers for gun-related assaults. How many of those assaults were committed by criminals who obtained their firearms illegally?

    And it’s simply not true that toys are more highly regulated than firearms.

    This is one of those issues on which I have completely changed my mind. I used to be an advocate for greater measures of gun control, but a couple of factors led to me changing my mind.

    First, presuming that one has an inherent right to self-defense, then it’s only a small step to the right to protect oneself with a firearm. This is especially true for women, the elderly, or the physically disadvantaged when facing an attacker. “When seconds count, police are only minutes away.”

    Second, gun control inherently disadvantages the law-abiding. Making it harder to obtain guns legally does nothing to stop those who are already criminal in their actions or intent. A 1997 survey of state prison inmates found that among those who had posessed a firearm, some 80% of those firearms were obtained from a family member, friend, street buy or illegal source. If you know someone who can pass a background check, you can get a gun, despite all the currently existing regulation. There’s a saying among firearm owners: “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”. Why don’t we just outlaw murder? Oh, wait.

    Third, the statistics on the matter are probably something of a mixed bag, and you could find statistics to support positions on either side of the issue. Gun crime or violent crime does appear to be higher in localities that have had handgun bans (see Washington DC, Chicago, Britain, etc… Although no causal link has been established, it would tend to support the idea that criminals generally disregard firearm regulation in the commission of their crimes.

    Third, I’m a big fan of constitutional rights. All of them. The Supreme Court has had several ruling supportive of individual and incorporated Second Amendment rights (D.C. vs. Heller, McDonald vs. Chicago).

    Fourthly, it’s impractical to enact stiffer regulations, and an outright ban would not work. The NRA has the political power to block most attempts at increasing regulation. An outright ban would serve only to disadvantage the law abiding (see above). Additionally, such a move would be seen as vindication in the paranoid subset of gun owners, and the possibility of provoking armed resistance cannot be discounted.

    So, realizing all of this, where are we left? Pandora’s box has been opened, and we can’t shut it again. Knowing this, it seems to me that firearms are a side-issue to whatever we are discussing. If it is crime that we want to limit or prevent, then we ought to look at other ways of doing that, perhaps by improving the socioeconomic status of those at the bottom. If it’s a disgruntled madman bent on killing a bunch of people, we ought to wonder what it is in our society that manufactures such malcontents. Especially in the case of the alleged Aurora shooter, who reportedly had manufactured explosives in his apartment. If he had no guns, couldn’t he just have brought those explosives to the theater and still accomplished whatever twisted goals he had? (BTW, manufacturing explosives is highly illegal without the proper permits, and yet he was allegedly able to do so anyway).

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: Thank you for injecting lots of good information into the discussion. Good food for thought.

      I used to be very much in favor of strict gun control. Given the proliferation of guns in the US, supposedly 300,000,000 of them, and the fact that many of them are in the hands of people I don’t trust, making handguns illegal (to use an extreme example, at least here in the US) would leave many law abiding people defenseless against those who intend to do ill with guns. This is, indeed, a conundrum. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make the US like Japan, where people simple don’t worry about getting gunned down on a city street.

      I think of what we have as a reverse-commons situation. We aren’t depleting a beneficial commons, but rather building up a toxic commons of weapons, which leads to many deaths that would not have occurred except that it is so easy to own and use a gun. I often read about a mugging within a mile of my house where a handgun was used or at least displayed. This is a horrendous situation, and it causes people to flee the city to even read about such events.

      I didn’t approve of the easy access of handguns, but that is now a reality and I don’t know how to get rid of them. In that environment, we either allow law-abiding citizens to arm themselves or not. One friend of mine carries (with a permit) and I don’t blame him one bit, given his/her circumstances. I suspect that other people I know also carry. I fully get that many people carry ONLY to protect and defend themselves, and I fully get that there are lots of people out there who attack innocent people. I also get that there is a steady stream of cases where law abiding people use weapons to defend themselves, and I do believe that this is a concern that might be keeping some killers from being more brash then they are.

      That said, I wonder why we can’t at least limit the number of bullets that guns can carry. Shouldn’t we at least make it harder for people to go into a store on a whim and then walk out and kill dozens at a time? I understand that assault weapons are not the same thing as machines guns. I just want to make it harder to kill lots of people quickly. It is my working assumption that law-abiding people don’t need to kill lots of people quickly.

  2. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Thanks Erich, and I’m glad we’re having this discussion. Your comment about Japan’s gun culture was interesting, and led me to this quotation from Wikipedia:

    Japan, in the postwar period, has had gun regulation which is strict in principle, but the application and enforcement has been inefficient. Gun licensing is required, but is generally treated as only a formality. There are background check requirements, but these requirements are typically not enforced unless a specific complaint has been filed, and then background checks are made after the fact. As is common in Japan, “regulations are treated more as road maps than as rules subject to active enforcement. Japan is still a very safe country when it comes to guns, a reality that has less to do with laws than with prevailing attitudes”.

    So again, it appears to come down to a matter of culture, as Niklaus pointed out in another thread.

    I appreciate your desire to limit the number of bullets per magazine. It’s a common expression following these types of incidents. See this Washington Post editorial following the Tucson shooting which wounded Rep. Giffords. One thing to be aware of is that such large magazines are generally “after-market” parts, and are more prone to jam the gun. There have been reports that the alleged Aurora shooter’s gun jammed, which was the catalyst for him to stop shooting. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but thought I’d point it out. I don’t know what the right answer is here, but could probably be persuaded either way.

    I forgot one other reason I changed my mind on gun control:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…

    I would not foreclose the possibility that such a day may come again, although it possibly seems anachronistic or fantastical to us now. I think the founders were considering this possibility when discussing the Bill of Rights, and chose to preserve an armed citizenry as a means of providing a final check on the power of the federal government. Madison and Jefferson in particular explicitly make these arguments. Should a new revolutionary war be needed, however far in the future, how much should we hobble the freedom fighters?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: Your talk of the possibility of armed revolution reminds me of several things.

      This country was born of a justified revolution, where the government was not run by the consent of the governed. It’s amazing how often people consider it blasphemy to talk of revolution as being inappropriate per se, even though there is increasing evidence that the government is massively corrupt. At what point do Americans have the right to revolt (again)? I suspect that there are many Americans who would say never.

      But there is another way to have a revolution, and it was built right into the Constitution–the amendment process. This reminds me that the corporate media dominate the information dissemination process, making it extremely difficult to make use of the amendment process. We have been severely indoctrinated into seeing ourselves as consumers rather than as citizens with substantial duties BETWEEN elections. Have you seen Annie Leonard’s Story of Change? Change need not be done with angry faces by the changers, and it can be accomplished with education and encouragement rather than guns.

      I’m trying to see this as an outsider (which I’m not), but if the government takes away all of the peaceful avenues of ridding the government of corporate corruption, and keeps a clamp on the mass media, what else is there for disgruntled citizens? What other avenues do people have other than reaching for their torches and handguns? On the other hand, it strikes me as quaint to think that a grassroots uprising would have a chance against the U.S. military, with its sonic canons, drones, takes and air force. Then again, it occasionally happens that the military decides to side with ordinary citizens rather than elitist/corrupt politicians.

      It seems to me that the pressure is building in the U.S., dissent is growing and the government is responding by clamping down on civil rights, secrecy and whistle-blowers, as well as serious attempts to peel back the veil of what the government is really up to. I, for one, hope that we figure out a way to revamp the system peacefully, but the trend makes me extremely nervous.

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Erich- well put, and I mostly agree with you.

    On the other hand, it strikes me as quaint to think that a grassroots uprising would have a chance against the U.S. military, with its sonic canons, drones, takes and air force.

    Perhaps, although I think our military’s reputation possibly exceeds its grasp. Let’s not forget that they’ve been fought to a stalemate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and I suspect that many Americans are better armed than most insurgents, at least in Afghanistan.

    Then again, it occasionally happens that the military decides to side with ordinary citizens rather than elitist/corrupt politicians.

    There was a small but visible contingent of Iraq Veterans Against the War and other current and former military members as part of last fall’s Occupy movement. I believe many of them are realizing that the wars we have been asking them to fight are frauds. I hold out hope that change can be managed without bloodshed, but if not, I hope that members of the military would carefully consider the choice presented to them.

    I must say, it appears a bit terrifying to me as I have noticed some preparations on the part of the federal government lately. The Marine Corps has just created 3 new “law-enforcement” battallions who “will be capable of helping control civil disturbances, handling detainees, carrying out forensic work, and using biometrics to identify suspects.” Ostensibly for use overseas, it strikes me that the government might consider such battalions to be “dual-purpose”, especially in light of this:

    For the last two years, the President’s Budget Submissions for the Department of Defense have included purchases of a significant amount of combat equipment, including armored vehicles, helicopters and even artillery, under an obscure section of the FY2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the purposes of “homeland defense missions, domestic emergency responses, and providing military support to civil authorities.” Items purchased under the section include combat vehicles, tanks, helicopters, artillery, mortar systems, missiles, small arms and communications equipment. Justifications for the budget items indicate that many of the purchases are part of routine resupply and maintenance, yet in each case the procurement is cited as being “necessary for use by the active and reserve components of the Armed Forces for homeland defense missions, domestic emergency responses, and providing military support to civil authorities” under section 1815 of the FY2008 NDAA.

    My bookmarks aren’t functioning properly at the moment, but there was also a whitepaper a few years ago from the Army, I believe, which speculated that the military may be needed domestically to maintain or regain control in the event of an economic collapse, terrorist attack, domestic unrest or other such conditions. I understand that their obligation is to plan for a wide range of scenarios, but when budget resources begin to be devoted to these line items, my concern grows.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Jason Alexander explains his position on the AR-15:

  5. Brynn Jacobs says:

    A former Marine posts a retort to Alexander’s claims here. No endorsement of the website linked should be implied.

    Alexander makes a few mistakes that I would like to point out as well.

    Alexander claims that the 2nd Amendment is a right given solely to militia members, then provides the Webster’s definition of militia:

    Definition of MILITIA
    a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency
    b : a body of citizens organized for military service
    : the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service

    He then goes on to ignore the sub-2 definition, which applies to the whole body of able-bodied male citizens eligible to be called for military service. The second definition is the one used in US Code: 10 U.S.C. § 311 : US Code – Section 311: Militia: composition and classes

    (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied
    males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section
    313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a
    declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States
    and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the
    National Guard.
    (b) The classes of the militia are –
    (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard
    and the Naval Militia; and
    (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of
    the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the
    Naval Militia.

    Alexander goes on to betray his ignorance with respect to “assault weapons”:

    What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away.

    Here is a typical sportsman’s “hunting rifle” available for sale at a local sporting goods store. The only item Alexander is correct on his comparison is that an AR-15 carries more rounds without reloading. The AR-15 typically has a 30 round magazine, while the Remington linked only has a 4 shot magazine. But an AR-15 will not fire farther or more accurately than the Remington, nor does it “accommodate a more lethal payload”. The Remington comes in either a .270-Win caliber or 30-06 caliber, both of which are larger, able to be fired further with greater accuracy, and presumably more lethal than the .223 caliber in which AR-15’s typically are made. Niklaus pointed out in another thread that AR-15’s are, in fact, used in many hunting applications. Generally, people react to the cosmetic appearance of these rifles though– they “look” military-style, and therefore shouldn’t be in private hands.

    I’m not trying to snarky about this, and I believe Alexander (and others on both sides of this issue) are mostly genuinely good-willed and well-intentioned. But he’s clearly misinformed about what features of various firearms are used for, and that’s how ineffective and stupid regulations come about, such as the ridiculous regulations that California has in place. Such regulations lead to people building “Hello Kitty” AR-15 models which are cosmetically different and perfectly compliant with applicable laws, yet their function and ability to effectively operate have not been significantly impeded.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Thanks, Brynn. It seems to me that there is a sweet spot that rational people can legislate and protect. I don’t know anyone who thinks that guns shouldn’t be available to hunters, target shooters or people who want to defend their property. I do know numerous people who are shocked to hear that an ordinary citizen can buy thousands of rounds of ammo on short notice and carry a gun that carries 100 rounds, such that he can shoot up a theater.

      When I’m in the secure section of an airport, where only law enforcement has guns, I don’t worry about people walking up and shooting me. I sometimes have that fear in my own neighborhood.

      I’m highly ambivalent about the claim that we need guns to take down our own government (under the premise that it is corrupt). I do believe that we can do far more with education and a committed citizenry. Unfortunately, our educational system is crumbling, citizens are highly trained to be consumers by our media, not knowledgable citizens. Self-interest has been put on the national pedestal (to the point where John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not” quote is now ridiculed). Our national government IS largely bought and paid for. We largely do have a one-party system, the two ostensible parties differing on perhaps 10% of the issues. It takes great wealth to run a campaign, so that citizens with good ideas alone don’t have a chance of winning political office.

      I deeply feel the frustration. It annoys the shit out of me that so few people use social media to organize to make the country work (instead, we mostly see Facebook posts about things like cats and movies). Therefore, because we sense the government has turned on us, we turn to . . . guns. That is our “solution,” even though we have solutions, if only we cared. This simply does not work for me. Violent revolution would then require that we rebuild the country and get citizens to care about each other, and care about sustainability. Revolution by guns would shake things up, but THEN what would we have? It might be a government that is more physically oppressive than what we have now.

      I thus worry that many of the folks out there who embrace guns, see them as a solution, whereas I see them as a method of shaking up the box, but then ultimately empowering those more willing to use guns, and putting a great amount of faith on those gun users to come up with a better system of government than the one we currently have. I see that as an act of unbridled faith.

      In the meantime, we have guns everywhere, with thousands of people dying because they are shooting each other. I don’t see the existence of these guns as pressuring our government to act reasonably or rationally. It’s as though the government is saying, “Sure, go play with your guns. We’ll be busy wrecking your lives by cuddling up to Wall Street, Big Pharma, the Insurance industry and the fossil fuel industry.”

      I don’t see guns as a long term solution to reshaping government, but only shocking it, which might make it all the more oppressive. We still need to figure out a way to do the hard work of making government work, with or without guns. Perhaps this is merely my aesthetic, but I find the “need” for guns as a distraction to the hard work that all of us should be doing.

  6. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Thanks Erich, good comments and I largely agree.

    Erich says:

    “I find the “need” for guns as a distraction to the hard work that all of us should be doing.”

    I find the “need” for x to be a distraction to what we all should be doing, where “x” is facebook, video games, consumer electronics, watching sports, and so much more.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Michael Moore had this to say on Piers Morgan’s show:

  8. Adam Herman says:

    If gun control actually succeeded in controlling guns, we could talk. Since that has never and will never happen, why would people be proposing laws that can’t be enforced?

  9. Brynn Jacobs says:

    One thing has been nagging at me about this whole discussion over the past few days, and I think I finally figured out what it is. Erich- you have posted repeatedly about the dangers of “innumeracy”. About a month ago, you posted on the infinitesimal odds of dying in a terrorist attack, and then questioned why we are devoting so many resources to fight an statistically non-existent problem.

    This firearm debate strikes me as much the same issue, but you seem to be on the other side of this debate. According to the National Safety Council, your lifetime odds of dying due to a firearm discharge is 1 in 6,609, slightly greater than your lifetime chances of dying due to an “air and space transport accident”. As a cyclist, you should know that your chances of dying on a bike (1 in 4,381) are significantly greater than dying due to a firearm. Your odds of dying due to suffocation or through a medical mistake are much much greater than your odds of death due to firearm (source).

    What’s more, the death rate due to firearms accidents has been declining steadily since its peak in 1904. The NRA reports that some 4 million new firearms go into circulation in the U.S. annually, so we should be seeing a change in these trends with all the new firearms, if access to firearms were the key variable. Instead though, the number of deaths due to firearms seems fairly stable. Granted, the odds are far greater than dying in a terrorist attack, but I think they are still tolerably low.

    In the wake of these horrific types of incidents, our natural urge is to attempt to prevent future occurrences. Similarly, in the wake of terrorist attacks, our natural urge is to do everything we can to prevent them in the future. But we live in an inherently dangerous world. We cannot prevent bad things from happening, and in some cases it’s folly and a waste of resources to try, as you’ve pointed out in the case of terrorist attacks. The odds are so small, and we take much greater risks on a daily basis simply living our lives. The government has shown that they are more than happy to seize these types of events as a pretext for greater control, always at the expense of our rights. I am not willing to make that trade.

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”– Benjamin Franklin

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: I think you’ve caught me flat footed, Brynn. Even though the raw numbers are disturbing, the chances of dying from a gunshot wound, for any particular person, is low.

      There were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000.[4] The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides,[5] with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007 due to suicide, while 12,632 (40.5%) were homicide deaths.[6] In 2009, according to the UNODC, 60% of all homicides in the United States were perpetrated using a firearm.[7]

      The numbers of deaths resemble the magnitude of deaths due to drunk driving, another thing I have strong feelings about.

      In the United States the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 17,941 people died in 2006 in alcohol-related collisions, representing 40% of total traffic deaths in the US. NHTSA states 275,000 were injured in alcohol-related accidents in 2003.[1] The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that in 1996 local law enforcement agencies made 1,467,300 arrests nationwide for driving under the influence of alcohol, 1 out of every 10 arrests for all crimes in the U.S., compared to 1.9 million such arrests during the peak year in 1983, accounting for 1 out of every 80 licensed drivers in the U.S.[2][3]

      Perhaps, this issue bugs me so much because it affects my behavior so often. Almost once a month I read about one of someone within a mile of my house getting mugged at gunpoint. It happens quite often, and it makes me nervous about being approached by strangers at night.

      I also don’t like what guns represent for me–that complex issues can be solved by violence. But I’ve already indicated that I have friends who carry and I fully understand why. Perhaps another reason is that the people who I know who carry do so because the are worried about other people out there carrying. We’re in the middle of an arms race, and the whole thing seem pointless, or even worse, it provokes paranoia.

      You’ve asked a good question, and I’ll think more on it.

  10. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Security expert Bruce Schneier echoes my point:

    Horrific events, such as the massacre in Aurora, can be catalysts for social and political change. Sometimes it seems that they’re the only catalyst; recall how drastically our policies toward terrorism changed after 9/11 despite how moribund they were before.

    The problem is that fear can cloud our reasoning, causing us to overreact and to overly focus on the specifics. And the key is to steer our desire for change in that time of fear.

    Our brains aren’t very good at probability and risk analysis. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. We think rare risks are more common than they are. We fear them more than probability indicates we should.

    There is a lot of psychological research that tries to explain this, but one of the key findings is this: People tend to base risk analysis more on stories than on data. Stories engage us at a much more visceral level, especially stories that are vivid, exciting or personally involving.

    Our greatest recent overreaction to a rare event was our response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I remember then-Attorney General John Ashcroft giving a speech in Minnesota — where I live — in 2003 in which he claimed that the fact there were no new terrorist attacks since 9/11 was proof that his policies were working. I remember thinking: “There were no terrorist attacks in the two years preceding 9/11, and you didn’t have any policies. What does that prove?”

    What it proves is that terrorist attacks are very rare, and perhaps our national response wasn’t worth the enormous expense, loss of liberty, attacks on our Constitution and damage to our credibility on the world stage. Still, overreacting was the natural thing for us to do. Yes, it was security theater and not real security, but it made many of us feel safer.

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