Light Over Heat #29: Just Say “I Don’t Know”

In this week’s “Light Over Heat” video, I reflect on the significance of a moment in my interview with CNN’s John Avlon for his show Reality Check in which he asked me a question and I answered, “I don’t know.” This part of our pre-recorded interview was included in what was eventually broadcast. At first, I thought it made me look bad, but in retrospect I realized it taught an important lesson: the power and importance of saying “I don’t know.”

I am reminded of Jon Meacham’s commencement address at Wake Forest University a few years ago when he said reason requires that you accept you may be wrong. Reason also requires you to admit when you don’t know something rather than pretending to know everything. Both requirements facilitate light over heat.

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Light Over Heat #28: Examining a Study of Permitless Carry Laws and Officer-Involved Shootings

NOTE: Since I recorded this video, I published an analysis of this study and one other study on Stephen Gutowski’s gun news reporting site, The Reload. The article is only available to subscribers, but a subscription is well worth the cost.

This week I look at a study that purports to show that the shift to permitless carry laws from 2014 to 2020 is associated with a rise in the number of officer-involved shootings of civilians.

The idea is that permitless carry creates more of a perceived threat among law enforcement officers, leading to more officer-involved shootings (OIS).

The paper’s abstract reads, “On average, Permitless CCW adopting states saw a 12.9% increase in the OIS victimization rate or an additional 4 OIS victimizations per year, compared to what would have happened had law adoption not occurred.”

But according to a press release announcing the article, an increase in officer involved shootings was only found in 4 of 11 states that went to permitless carry during the study period.

So, despite the headline, in a majority of states that went permitless, there was NO increase in the number of officer-involved shootings compared to the synthetic control states. Here again we see what I call “the problem with averages.”

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Light Over Heat #27: Lessons Learned from a Duke Firearms Law Center Workshop

In this week’s video, I talk about my experience attending a works-in-progress workshop at the Duke Center for Firearms Law. One of the best parts of this workshop is the diversity of perspectives represented. This year, it ranged from an attorney for the National Rifle Association to an attorney for Giffords Law Center*.  (*In the video I said Everytown, sorry!)

The topics covered are incredibly varied as well, and the entire discussion is conducted in a scholarly and respectful manner. I feel very fortunate to be able to spend the day learning outside my primary area of expertise.

Watch the video on YouTube and read more of my reflections below.

As an empirical social scientist, I am not entirely irrelevant to the proceedings, though. Many of the papers either draw upon or could benefit from data on how guns and gun laws actually work in society.

As I discuss in a later “Light Over Heat” video, establishing a clear empirical connection between restrictive/permissive gun laws and beneficial/harmful outcomes is very difficult, and people sometimes overplay the implications of their findings.

Here, a recent argument made by Andrew Morral, who heads up RAND’s gun policy research initiative, is worth some thought. In a New York Times article on gun violence research, Morral says we can’t expect definitive evidence: “That’s sort of like saying our standard for passing laws is a criminal standard — beyond all reasonable doubt. I think we should come into these discussions with a civil standard: Where does the preponderance of the evidence lie? Is there reason to think that the proposed legislation might be better than what currently exists?” (Drawing on a paper by the Duke gun scholar Phil Cook and the University of Chicago economist Jens Ludwig.)

My initial take: Perhaps we need to think of these things as on a continuum from not very sure to pretty sure to very sure (in the social sciences certainty is impossible), and the standard of evidence should vary according to how invasive the proposed policies are. E.g., banning people from owning/doing something should be based on a higher standard than an intervention with a significant upside & limited downside. On the latter, I think of community-based violence disruption or the work of Dr. Joseph Richardson on hospital-based interventions where the only cost is money.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Liberals Should Avoid These Arguments About Guns in America

Like many Americans, I reluctantly watched events unfolding recently at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, site of the NRA’s annual meeting. In our polarized gun debates, the two extremes were on full display, literally divided by Avenida De Las Americas. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and other (mostly) conservatives planted the flag for gun rights inside the convention center. Outside on Discovery Green, David Hogg, Beto O’Rouke, and other (mostly) liberals rallied the crowd for gun control. Neither side could or cared to hear the other.

I am a “card-carrying” liberal sociologist who became a gun owner in my forties and have been studying American gun culture since then. I have a foot in both worlds that see guns very differently. This allows me to hear how things said from one side in America’s great gun debate are heard by the other.

I understand the desire to do something, anything, in the face of exceptional and everyday tragedies involving guns. I feel the urge to scream out in anger and lash out in pain at those who appear to be standing in the way of progress. But as someone who has gotten to know a great many normal American gun owners over the past decade, I want to encourage my fellow liberals to be mindful of what they say in response to mass shootings, especially if they want to improve our national conversation about guns and find a way forward.

Read on or watch this week’s Light Over Heat video for my thoughts and suggestions.

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Mistakes Were Made: TSA Checkpoint Edition

As I am working on my book proposal, I have been reviewing my career as a gun owner. Over the past 11 years, mistakes have been made. None fatal or physically injurious, thankfully. But mistakes nonetheless.

It’s easy for me to dismiss Madison Cawthorn for so many reasons, including for being caught twice going through TSA checkpoints with a firearm. But it’s also true that in 2013 I had a loaded pistol magazine in my murse as I went through the TSA checkpoint at Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO).

Coincidentally, I was on a research trip to Houston for my first ever National Rifle Association Annual Meetings and Exhibits. I put my murse on the belt and walked through the metal detector. Once on the other side, they pulled my murse and me to the side. They politely asked if I had anything in my murse that they should know about. No, I said confidently. Any e-cigarettes or anything like that? No, I said, racking my brain for what it might be. Finally, they pulled out of the side pocket a loaded Beretta Nano magazine.

As I never murse-carried that pistol, I didn’t (and don’t) recall how the magazine got in there. But there it was. The TSA agents didn’t make a big deal of it. Just told me they would be keeping the magazine and I would be hearing from the TSA by mail. Sometime later, I received a warning letter from the TSA and that was it.

Of course, I never did it again, unlike some people (I also didn’t get to keep the magazine, unlike some people and their guns), but this blog post by George Mason law professor Robert Leider on “Guns at the Airport” is a thorough consideration of ways we might reduce the growing number of guns being found at airport checkpoints.

Someone recently pointed me to the “Standing His Ground” blog and this is the first post I have read. I’ll be looking forward to reading more.

Concealed Weapon Carry Laws in the US: A Primer (Updated March 2022)

In January 2021 the manuscript for my small book, Concealed Carry Revolution: Liberalizing the Right to Bear Arms in America, was at the publisher and when it was released several months later, it was already out of date. In the first months of 2021, five states passed permitless carry laws: Iowa, Tennessee, Utah, Montana, and Texas. I brought out an updated version of the book later that year. Alas, it appears that events in 2022 may necessitate a second update. Ohio, Alabama, and Indiana have recently passed permitless carry laws, and Georgia seems likely to join them soon.

These developments provide a good occasion to review concealed weapon carry permit laws in the US.

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Concealed Carry Revolution Book Available Now

Despite the profound significance of the issue, no comprehensive but concise history of concealed carry laws in the United States yet exists. Concealed Carry Revolution seeks to fill this gap. It is available right now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by special order through your favorite local bookstore. An electronic version should also be available soon.

An even better way to get a copy of the book is to make a small donation in support of my work through my “Buy Me a Coffee” page (like Patreon). Those who sign up as annual members will receive a free signed copy of the book and monthly supporters will receive a free electronic copy as a “Thank You!”

This small book (100 pages including extensive notes) was originally written as a chapter in my larger book on Gun Culture 2.0 on which I continue to work. As the chapter grew longer and the focus of that work shifted, I found myself with a great deal of material which had no obvious outlet.

If you happen to get a copy of the book, I would appreciate your review (honest, if necessary) on Amazon.com, Goodreads, or your favorite book review site.

As always, I am grateful for your interest in and support of my work in telling the story of American gun culture.

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Guns Don’t Kill People, Systemic Inequality Does

Another day in America, another pile of bodies, and another set of cries for gun control. Predictably, the Atlanta and Boulder and Indianapolis mass public shootings were followed by calls to ban AR-style rifles. President Biden proposes to subject “ghost guns” to background checks and place pistol-stabilizing braces under the National Firearms Act as short-barreled rifles.

This marks a return to the old, pre-pandemic normal in America in which extremely rare cases of large-scale homicide bring efforts to regulate guns and gun parts in ways so general they are unlikely to have the desired effect of dramatically reducing gun violence.

As tragic as they are, overemphasis on these dramatic but rare events diverts our attention from the vast majority of homicides which involve fewer than four victims, victims who are shot with regular old handguns that are acquired in transactions not covered by criminal background checks.

Having studied American gun culture for a decade now, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday gun violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. Efforts to reduce this violence should, therefore, be equally concentrated on addressing its causes in these same areas. Doing so shifts efforts at intervention away from guns per se, a move that allows us to circumvent federal gridlock on gun legislation and as well as legal challenges to gun regulation. We can carve a political path forward right now by decoupling violence reduction from gun control.

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Was the Storming of the U.S. Capitol Building an “Insurrection”?

In early January 2021, my work was disrupted by a text message from a friend: “They are storming the capitol.” It took me a moment to figure out who “they” were, but I soon made the connection. They were people gathered for the March for Trump rally in Washington, DC. Formally organized by Women For America First, the rally included a motley crew of people wanting to “Save America” by overturning Donald J. Trump’s defeat by Joseph R. Biden in the November 2020 presidential election. Joining run-of-the mill members of “MAGA nation” in forcefully entering the U.S. Capitol Building were followers of movements like Stop the Steal, the QAnon conspiracy, Proud Boys, Nick Fuentes’s Groyper Army, Boogaloo Bois, Oath Keepers, and III%ers.

As they were attempting to disrupt a meeting of Congress that was certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, many have called the event an insurrection.

But was it?

NOTE: I am not an attorney, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so nothing in this post should be construed as giving legal advice or as constituting comprehensive and accurate interpretation of the law.

DC Capitol Storming by TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
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