Thursday, March 22, 2007

Republicans to DC: Drop Dead

Do Republicans hate DC more than they love guns? Or is it the other way around? Or both equally? Missing no opportunity to show their contempt for the Old Plantation, Republican congressmen derailed the House vote on the DC voting rights bill by introducing an amendment tying that to repeal of the DC gun control law. Maybe we should change the slogan on the license plates to "No representation without guns and ammunition."

Well, Shrub was probably going to veto the bill anyway, so this is basically just a gratuitous thumb in the eye. Actually, am I the only one who's a little embarrassed at all the groveling being done to get a bill passed that will still leave District residents second class citizens by keeping us unrepresented in the Senate? Maybe it's better to remain unrepresented and aggrieved.

It does seems that some folks like to screw with DC just because they can. Hope everyone saw the WaPo article on Sunday about the man--not a DC resident and not a gun owner--who organized and bankrolled the suit against the DC gun control law. Just a matter of principle, you see. So he searched out six people with suitable demographic attributes to be the plaintiffs. Just saying...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Comment Policy

I have previously asked that all commenters provide a name to identify themselves--a first name and last initial, or a first initial and last name, or both. The reason for this is that it tends to reduce the flame factor. I get lazy about enforcement or just don't bother because I'm the only one being slammed, but I'm hereby serving notice. I welcome comments whether critical or approving, but identify yourself, please.

Last Gun-related Post (for now, anyway)

A number of commenters on the previous two posts have basically told me I don’t know what I’m talking about, citing certain statistics and studies that supposedly prove that we’d all be safer if everyone carried a gun. I certainly wouldn’t claim expertise on the subject, so I was interested to read the op-ed piece in this morning’s WaPo co-authored by Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who one must assume does have considerable expertise. If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you read it.

I’m not totally uninformed on the subject, however, nor am I so naïve as to think arguments can change the mind of true believers. But in fact there are volumes of writings on both sides of the issue, and I think it’s fair to say that neither one is a slam dunk (though I obviously find one side more persuasive). So if you want to dive into these murky waters, you could do worse than to start with the Wikipedia articles on “Gun Violence in the US and “Gun Politics”, which lay out the major arguments and evidence with sources cited.

And for extra credit, class: Here’s a DOJ paper on the demographics of gun violence. Here’s another DOJ paper (from the Ashcroft years) on a program tried in St. Louis to get guns off the street. Here’s a Johns Hopkins study on strategies for reducing gun violence. Here’s a UN paper giving comparative crime statistics for countries around the world. (Homicide rates in the US are 2 to 4 times those in other developed countries in western Europe, Canada, Japan, and Australia.)

The leading academic proponent of the “guns make us safer” school is Gary Kleck, author of Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. He argues that many crimes are prevented because their intended victims have guns. Other researchers such as SUNY criminologist David McDowell have challenged his methodology and find far less evidence of that. Another key figure in the debate is Arthur Kellermann, who studied data on firearm related killings and injuries resulting from robberies, burglaries, and domestic violence. He concluded that having a gun on the home represented a greater risk overall of homicide than the protection it offered against intruders. His findings have also been challenged, though even Kleck has conceded that the likelihood of homicide in the home by an invading stranger is much less that that of one involving domestic violence. And so it goes.

Personally, I don’t think the macro crime statistics prove very much one way or the other, but if you’re inclined to delve into that sort of thing, the FBI publication Crime in the United States can give you all the crunchable numbers you could want. Here are a few nuggets from the 2005 report (the most recent completed one):

--In 2005, there were 14,860 homicides in the US, 10,100 of which were by firearm, and 7,543 by handgun.

--Of 8,136 cases in which the relationship of the killer to the victim was known, 1823 of the victims were family members, 4234 were other known persons (acquaintance, neighbor, girlfriend, etc.), and 2070 were strangers to the killer.

--63% of the victims were between the ages of 17 and 34.

--Out of 9,251 cases where the circumstance of the killing was known, 11% occurred during a robbery, burglary or car theft; 45% occurred because of a romantic triangle, a booze- or drug-fueled brawl, or other argument (the last accounts for 42%)

--Just 1% of homicides by firearm by a private citizen were considered justifiable homicide.

Here are the violent crime rates (crimes/100K population) for DC and some other major eastern cities:

Washington, DC 1401

Richmond 1221

Baltimore 1755

Boston 1318

Philadelphia 1467

Detroit 2357

Atlanta 1675

Miami 1580

Newark 1003

New York 673

St. Louis 2405

If you can find a consistent correlation between those figures and strict/permissive gun laws, you see more than I do. New Jersey and New York are pretty restrictive; Virginia, Florida, and Georgia pretty permissive; other places in the middle. As for Texas, the ur-guntotin’ state, the figures are 1254 for Dallas and 1172 for Houston, but they’re not really comparable because those cities’ incorporated areas include vast suburban stretches that in the DC context would be like including everything inside the Beltway—which would, of course, bring the DC rate way down.

So do your homework and make up your own mind. As for me, I’m with Chief Lanier.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Gun Chat, continued

The issue of gun control sure gets people going—witness the comments on my previous post. I once had a work colleague who would go all sputtery and splotchy-faced at the mere mention of the phrase “gun control”; co-workers would sometimes do it just for the show.

That’s not surprising, since the “right to bear arms” has become a kind of religion to a lot of people. It even has a sacred text—the Second Amendment—subject to radically different interpretations. And, like other religions encrusted with myth and fantasy, it is largely impervious to rational argument. But I still think we should try.

I have some familiarity with guns and, in fact, used to be a pretty good shot. (I still have my Junior NRA sharpshooter trophy to prove it.) I don’t necessarily think that all people should be denied the privilege (note the word) of owning one, but I think that privilege should be at least as controlled and regulated as the privilege of owning a car.

But truthfully, people who just love and fetishize guns scare me. I well remember how nervous I felt driving through the deep South in the 60s looking kind of hippie-ish and wondering if Bubba in the pickup with the gun rack might just decide to take a potshot at the “outside agitator”. And I’m white. “Easy Rider” wasn’t just fiction, and Martin was quite right to bring up the sordid history of how race is mixed up in this whole question.

Actually, I think that racial fears remain an unspoken element in the whole gun rights movement. I don’t know about all the plaintiffs in the DC case, but the ones I’ve seen pictured are all white, including the woman who wants a gun at the ready to protect her home in crime-ridden Georgetown. So many of the 2nd Amendment fundamentalists seem to live in monochromatic suburbs or exurbs where the chances of needing a gun to protect their homes (from what?) are about equal to being struck by lightning. (Yes, I know there are some black gun rights supporters, but they are not running the NRA.)

Sure it’s possible to construct a scenario where having a gun might keep you from being a crime victim—assuming you had instant access to a loaded gun and the bad guys didn’t already have the drop on you. But this kind of notion is mostly just fantasy, and the odds of a scenario in which that gun becomes part of some tragic mistake or is fired in a blind rage are a lot greater. And yes, it’s comically easy to flout the DC law by making a quick trip to Virginia or South Carolina for a gun buy with few if any questions asked. But that’s an argument for strengthening gun laws nationwide, not for gutting all gun control measures.

Because that’s what’s really at issue here. The gun lobby—led by the NRA—has consistently fought to overturn any restriction on gun ownership whatever, and the DC decision (though limited in its scope) will become relevant case law for that effort if it stands. They don’t just want you to be able to have a handgun in your home, they think you have the right to buy as many AK-47s as you want and take them anywhere you want. They have gotten legislation passed to indemnify gun manufacturers from liability for the consequences of their products—an immunity not shared by any other industry. This is sheer lunacy and contrary to any rational idea of a civilized society.

Which is why I’ll take whatever puny protections the DC gun laws provide. I really don’t want our neighborhood gangbangers to be able to carry guns legally. At least now, they can be arrested if caught packing, and this gives the police some leverage. It ain’t much, but it’s something.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Johnny Get Your Gun

Looks like now you, too, can have a gun!

The US Court of Appeals has just overturned a February 2005 US District Court Ruling, thereby declaring the District ban on gun ownership to be unconstitutional. Haven’t seen details yet, but it was a 2-1 decision.

It’s probably too early to dash out to Virginia and buy a Glock—the decision will probably be appealed—but this seems like a big setback for gun control and a huge victory for NRA fans.

Coming from a place steeped in gun culture (Texas, God help me), I can’t help thinking this is a huge step backwards. Let’s face it, though, the whole idea of gun control seems so last century—does anyone even talk about it anymore? We see the news reports of gunshot deaths daily, but nobody bothers to make the connection between those statistics and the fact that this country is up to its eyeballs in guns. Even the Democrats run away from the issue these days.

Personally, I think anyone has the potential to be a killer—you just have to be angry enough—and the idea that you can divide the population into criminals (who shouldn’t be allowed to buy guns) and non-criminals (who should) is nonsense. If more people acquire guns, look for more domestic quarrels involving gunshots, more kids accidentally shooting each other with daddy’s pistol, and more weepy candlelight vigils on TV with grieving parents wondering how this could happen. Actually, the answer is pretty easy, but as long as there is no nationwide gun control and the NRA’s Rambo fantasy holds sway—that’s basically what we deserve.

Oh, and I imagine the cops won’t be too happy about this either.
Something to think about for the next anti-crime rally.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

ANC2C Meeting Cancelled

Kevin Chapple's site and Slum Historique have also reported this, but might as well include it here, too: "This month's ANC 2C meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, March 7, 2007, has been canceled unilaterally by the chair, Doris Brooks. No other information is available at this time."

Well, I'm sure it's just because of the massive snow storm that's predicted.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Shaw, Hot "Gay Ghetto"

We saw the "open house" sign today at the gorgeous 2-unit condo at 5th and Q, so we went in to take another peek. (They've dropped the price by an astonishing amount, BTW; the upper unit with the killer roof deck is now listed at a mere $985K, down from $1.2M! Just in case you were wondering if the bubble has deflated.) But I digress.

Among the hand-outs were copies of the Feb. 21 issue of the Northwest Current (a free paper covering upper NW--content not on-line, apparently), which has an article about Shaw and a website called citing Shaw as one of the 20 or so "top emerging gay ghettos" in the country (but in a good way, of course). The site notes that "
where the gays go eventually so do higher property values, less crime, better schools, ethnic diversity and growth."

The Current article prominently quotes Alex Padro and Drew Porterfield (partner of a fellow blogger at "Slum Historique"), who put a generally positive spin on neighborhood acceptance of gays, while noting the BeBar controversy. It notes, however, that "some residents are far from warm to the idea of Shaw being recognized by a gay Web site."

The article quotes ANC commissioner Barbara Curtis as saying: "They didn't ask me 'cause I'm not friendly with it...To each his own, if that's the life they want to live, fine. The only thing I object to is them coming in, taking over the property that seniors and poor people have and can't afford once [gay people] come in." She added that "quite a few" of her neighbors share her feelings.

I think I'll defer discussion of that point for another time.