Thursday, September 19, 2013







Firearm Disinformation

O,K. This first part is just funny. Or maybe it's me.  Last night, on AC 360 Later, AC (as he apparently prefers being known) included as a panel guest Emily Miller, whom he identified as "senior opinion leader at 'The Washington Times,' author of 'Emily Gets Her Gun, But Obama Wants To Take Yours.'"  A portion of the argument proceeded as

BELCHER: Am I hearing you correctly that you are now for a universal background check? Because many of the Republicans in the House are not. 

MILLER: No, Cornell, that's actually not the issue I'm saying at all. 

I'm talking about the current issue we have in this country. It is illegal to have a gun if you have been adjudicated for mental illness or if you have put in patient in a mental hospital. That's a good thing, because none of us want crazy things having guns. Look what happened. 

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Could we not use the term crazy people, please?

MILLER: Why?

SULLIVAN: People who have mental illness are not crazy. There's a huge spectrum of mental illness. 

MILLER: This man is schizophrenic. 

After the compassionate Miller maintained "none of us want crazy things having guns," Andrew Sullivan replied "could we not use the term crazy people, please?"  To that, Miller actually asked "why?" and Sullivan noted "People who have mental illness are not crazy. There's a huge spectrum of mental illness."   Anderson Cooper:added "Guys, stop. Let's just put a brake on this for a second. Let's just not talk over each other. It just drives everybody nuts."

But the main takeaway from the discussion should not be that a gun fanatic doesn't understand that "crazy" is an imprecise term, a colloquialism meant to bypass serious thought (or maybe she does understand).  Nor is it that no one condemned her for calling American citizens- albeit "crazy" ones- "things."  Nor that Anderson Cooper, he of the "he said, she said" school, believes there is a moral or intellectual equivalence between labeling mentally ill people "crazy things" and stating "there's a huge spectrum of mental illness."  Now we know, thanks to AC, that the idea there is a huge spectrum of mental illness is mere hypothesis.

There is more (see below) to the exchange. The gun fanatic claims the Congressional Research Office concluded (text of report, here) there has been no increase or decrease in mass shootings the past ten years.  But the report she cited, issued in March, 2013, does not seem to take a position on whether the incidence of this offense has been increasing- although there is some evidence it has, an observation inconvenient to her argument.  

Displaying impressive sleight of hand, Miller claims "As gun ownership in this country has increased to about 300 million guns in this country now, gun crime -- all crime has gone down." But (self-reported) gun ownership has increased only in the past year or two, whereas the crime rate has been declining since the late 1980's- when gun ownership was higher than it is now.  (Concentration of more firearms in fewer hands is the major characteristic currently.)  But if she wants to play the correlation game, we ought not to ignore the academic literature which

indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries.  Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

Nor disregard researcher Richard Florida, who found

Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48).

But the main takeaway (there is that cliche, again) is the right's application of the mental health dodge. Here is Emily Miller spanking the state of Rhode Island because there was no referral by police of Aaron Alexis to a mental hospital which in Rhode Island, she implies, would not have been entered into FBI NCIS records:

The things that -- I say there can be things that can be done. That's why I wrote my column today. For example, this shooter was in Rhode Island recently, called the police and said, I'm hearing aliens talk to me and I have had to switch hotels. The police should have put him in a mental hospital. 

If he had been put in patient mental hospital, as Dr. Drew referenced in the previous segment, he would have been put in the prohibited category. But here's the kicker. He was in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has one of this country's worst records for putting member health records into the FBI's NICS check. 

Sensing an opening, Democratic activist Cornell Belcher asks "Am I hearing you correctly that you are now for a universal background check? Because many of the Republicans in the House are not."  Miller responds "No, Cornell, that's actually not the issue I'm saying at all."

So what we have is a an editor at a major daily newspaper (whose book was marked by inaccuracy, distortion, and dishonesty) arguing that "crazy things" should be involuntarily committed...  but not denied firearms.  And that- believe it or not- is the incoherent position of the National Rifle Association. Imagine the coincidence.



******************************************************************************************************




COOPER: Let me bring in Emily Miller, senior opinion leader at "The Washington Times," author of "Emily Gets Her Gun, But Obama Wants to Take Yours."

You heard what Andrew said. Do you own that? Do you accept that?

EMILY MILLER, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, all I know is what happened on Monday at the Navy Yard was absolutely horrendous, obviously.

The things that -- I say there can be things that can be done. That's why I wrote my column today. For example, this shooter was in Rhode Island recently, called the police and said, I'm hearing aliens talk to me and I have had to switch hotels. The police should have put him in a mental hospital.

If he had been put in patient mental hospital, as Dr. Drew referenced in the previous segment, he would have been put in the prohibited category. But here's the kicker. He was in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has one of this country's worst records for putting member health records into the FBI's NICS check.

Had he been put into a mental hospital in Rhode Island, we wouldn't know about it. He still would have passed his background check. Until this background check system is fixed, which means mental health records put into the system -- I suggest people look at FixNICS.org.

You can look at every state. And Massachusetts is another horrible one that won't put these records in. How are we supposed to catch these psychotic, schizophrenic people if the records aren't being put into the system? That's something positive we all could work on.

COOPER: Which is something that the NRA says a lot.

BELCHER: Am I hearing you correctly that you are now for a universal background check? Because many of the Republicans in the House are not.

MILLER: No, Cornell, that's actually not the issue I'm saying at all.

I'm talking about the current issue we have in this country. It is illegal to have a gun if you have been adjudicated for mental illness or if you have put in patient in a mental hospital. That's a good thing, because none of us want crazy things having guns. Look what happened.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Could we not use the term crazy people, please?

MILLER: Why?

SULLIVAN: People who have mental illness are not crazy. There's a huge spectrum of mental illness.

MILLER: This man is schizophrenic.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Guys, stop. Let's just put a brake on this for a second. Let's just not talk over each other. It just drives everybody nuts.

SULLIVAN: I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Andrew's point is anybody who is in a mental hospital is not -- it doesn't mean you're crazy. But go ahead.

(CROSSTALK) MILLER: Somebody who's paranoid -- I'm referring to the shooter on Monday. If Andrew wants to protect him, that's his own problem.

I'm telling you someone who slaughters 12 people and is hearing voices is a paranoid schizophrenic is the definition of crazy or insane. And you don't need P.C. police to be stopping that. That's real and he should have been in a mental hospital.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Andrew, to Emily's point -- and it's the point the NRA makes, is that a lot of these states are not reporting all the information they could be reporting and should be reporting in order to make this background check that does currently exist more effective.

SULLIVAN: And, of course, I agree with that, absolutely.

My only issue there is I think we should be careful if we're trying to de-stigmatize mental illness to suddenly broadly call anybody with mental illness crazy, crazy people. That actually makes it less likely for people to seek help. It actually re-stigmatizes this.

MILLER: That's not the issue. Andrew, you're talking about two different things. We're talking about what can we -- stop mass shootings, which are very rare? They account about, according to Congressional Research Service, about 18 people a year. They're very rare.

But the one thread we have, when talk about Aurora, Newtown, the Navy Yard, all of them.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: They're increasing, though.

MILLER: They are not increasing.

BELCHER: Yes, they are.

MILLER: No, that's completely -- based on what facts?

BELCHER: Based on the fact that every year there's more and more of them.

MILLER: OK. Cornell, let's talk about real facts which is Congressional Research Service, so the congressional arm of Congress, did a report in April, looked at 10 years.

There's no increase, there is no decrease. They are unpredictable. There's been about 500 people killed by these mass shootings. Just throwing out these things does not make them to be true.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: The CRS does say in that same report that there's a lot of information we do not know about how people use guns and that they recommend -- and I don't want to misquote it -- but that they recommend sort of not a database, but gathering more information, actually studying how people use guns in this country, which is something a lot of groups resist.

MILLER: Andrew, that's true. I mean, Anderson, that's true that they did say that.

But back to the facts if we're going to just talk about facts on this show, it is estimated it's been an average of 18 people killed by mass shootings. When the president says that this is increasing, that is not true. What we do have is gun control. And all gun crime has decreased since 1991 by 40 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: As gun ownership in this country has increased to about 300 million guns in this country now, gun crime -- all crime has gone down. There are about 8,000 people killed every year by gun crime. About a quarter of those are criminals, about 22 people, 18 people a year in these mass shootings.

(CROSSTALK)

SLAUGHTER: Let's talk about another fact, because the other fact is what Andrew said, which is regardless whether they're going up or down in this country, they happen every couple of months, to the point...

MILLER: No, they have not happened since...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let her finish her sentence, and then we can have an actual conversation.

Go ahead.

SLAUGHTER: It doesn't -- it happened in Norway and the whole country came to a halt. It happened in Scotland at Dunblane. The whole country came to a halt.

This happens. And my kid said in high school today, it was like, oh, yes, there was another shooting. What do we do about the fact that we now just accept as part of our lives...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But Emily is saying there is something we could do, and that's report. Again, Emily, stop me if I'm wrong. But follow the current laws, report more accurately to make the checks that exist, to make them more efficient and actually make them work.

SLAUGHTER: But this shooter wouldn't have gotten picked up because the police didn't actually do anything.

COOPER: Well, he did try to buy a handgun, which he was prevented.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Anderson, that's not accurate. This is a gun range that I go to, Sharpshooters. He did not try to buy anything than the shotgun he bought, something that Vice President Biden has encouraged quite a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: The report I just saw said that he attempted to buy a handgun, but because he was from out of state, he was informed...

MILLER: That's not true, Anderson. "The New York Times" actually said that he tried to buy a rifle.

COOPER: Right. I'm not talking about that report. I'm talking about a handgun. We will double-check.

MILLER: Not true.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: OK. We will double-check it. But clearly the background check that exists, it wasn't an issue because he bought a shotgun.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Right. And he bought a shotgun and nothing came up.

KRISTOL: But, look, on studying this, there's been a ton of social science work on crime and on gun violence and what the efficacy or lack thereof of various types of gun control laws.

James Q. Wilson, great social scientist, a teacher of mine, I think maybe of Andrew's, too, was not particularly a gun rights guy I think to start off. I think he was actually an open-minded social scientist. He studied this over the years and came to the conclusion that most of these gun control efforts -- and Andrew is right about this -- in a country that starts off with 300 million guns -- that's just a fact that we have to deal with -- don't do much good.

Some of them have contrary -- have sort of perverse consequences. I agree with you on the mental health issue. Everyone is now saying because this guy was clearly disturbed that we have to report everyone who ever goes into a mental health hospital or seeks mental health treatment.

I'm not so sure that's a great idea. You would discourage people. People have episodes, or they get depressed, they get treatment. I don't know, 20 years from now, do you want that to be in a database? I don't have a view on this. I'm just saying these things as a matter of actual public policy as opposed to reacting to a terrible tragedy are much more complicated.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: I agree. I came of this -- I'm English.

So I came at this -- came to this country 30 years ago -- looking at this country. It's a different country. And it does place a premium on freedom in a way that other countries do not. And the result of that is that when you look at other countries, the rate of murder, fatal murder, not violence, but fatalities, because God knows the English are violent as hell, but they don't have enough guns to kill each other.

BELCHER: They don't have access.

SULLIVAN: We nonetheless will have -- because it's a free country with a Second Amendment, we will have much higher levels of carnage through gunfire than any other country, and we do.

COOPER: We got to take a break.

And Emily raised a good point about the misreporting that a lot of media outlets did, including -- well, pretty much everybody did yesterday.

And I just want to clear up. This is from the lawyer for Sharpshooters, a small arms range. Emily, I think you go there.

MILLER: Yes.

COOPER: This is from their lawyer, J. Michael Slocum.

"The shooter did not attempt to buy an AR-15 as we said from the range. He did ask about purchasing a handgun. No brand was specified, but he was told he could not purchase a handgun, except for delivery to his home state through another federally licensed firearm dealer."

And that's when he decided to purchase the shotgun.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Yes, federal law, you can't purchase out-of-state handgun.

COOPER: Right.

So, listen, Emily Miller, it's great to have you on the program again.



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