Will Being Held at Gunpoint Change Your Mind?

Pandemic Diary Entry #72

People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

January 11, 2020

On June 6th, the day of the domestic terrorist act on our Capitol, I was watching Twitter and saw David Hogg’s Tweet:

“The shooter at my high school was a white nationalist Trump supporter. The suicide bomber in Nashville — a white nationalist Trump supporter. The people that attempted a Violent Coup today — white nationalist Trump supporters. It’s not mental health they are terrorists”.

I was watching David’s feed because I thought he knows exactly what it feels like to be trapped behind a door with gunmen on the other side. He stayed away from personal drama and stuck to the politics of it all, but over the course of the siege, I kept thinking maybe Congress will learn how much we need gun control in this country.

I am not for taking people’s guns away from them, but we need reform.

Article 2 of the constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but at that time the most dangerous gun available to any white male looking to do harm, was a musket. I do not think the forefathers anticipated semi-automatic weapons or armor-piercing bullets.

In a general public sense of things, we have been living on the lucky side of the coin throughout this contentious period. There has been no extreme gun violence during the rallies of either the left or the right. Gun violence this past year was pretty much a product of our law enforcement agencies, but that is another subject for another day.

That being said what happened on January 6th was not an aberration. In September of last year, the FBI identified the period between the presidential election and the 2021 inauguration in January as a period of potential gun violence. They issued an intelligence report warning of an imminent “violent extremist threat” from far-right militias, including white supremacists.

Gun violence statistics across the United States are alarming. About seventy-two percent of all murders across the nation involve the use of guns. The US has more than 33,000 gun deaths per year.

2020 was a little different, the pandemic affected gun sales for predictable reasons. In a previous article, I discussed the increase in gun sales in the US at the start of the coronavirus pandemic especially involving “first-time buyers”. 1.3 million handguns and 700,000 rifles or shotguns were sold by August 2020.

41,000 people died in gun violence in 2020. 23,000 of those were suicides. Death by firearm has not been this high since 1981. These numbers are horrifying especially while knowing that the U.S. has historically reported a rate of gun homicides 25 times higher than other wealthy nations.

Despite the many stay-at-home orders, there were still 603 mass shootings in 2020, a number significantly higher than the 417 mass shootings in all of 2019.

The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) defines mass shootings as a minimum of four victims shot (either fatally or not) excluding any shooter killed or injured in the attack. Different organizations utilize different parameters such as the Mother Jones and the Mass Shootings in America databases. But no matter the organization, they all show an increase in mass shootings.

The United States has the highest percentage of gun ownership in the world. There are 120 guns per 100 people in the US. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of gun owners own more than one gun, and 29% own five or more. This amounts to 390 million guns, there are more guns in the US than people.

Why people kill is as varied as humans themselves. The reasons behind school shootings are not the same as shootings in workplaces or public spaces. Some attackers seek fame and/or attention — and tend to kill more victims as a result of their desire to “make the news”. Others may hold extreme ideological beliefs or harbor a hatred of people that are not like them. Despite the commonly held belief, severe mental health issues resulted in less than 30% of active shooter attacks.

The horror witnessed in our Capitol brought memories back for other students that expressed the emotional side of the issue.

Mariah Cooley who attended Rich Woods High School in Peoria, Illinois, talked to CNN about the day there was a shooter in her school: “In those moments I felt so afraid, I started texting my parents to let them know what’s going on. I was on the second-floor thinking, ‘Can I jump from this window, hide in the closet?’ That’s a real reality for many teens in America because the government has failed to put policies in place to stop these shootings at our schools.” “I hope [lawmakers] realize how much trauma high school Americans and middle school kids go through, not necessarily every single day, but more often than every other nation worldwide,”

Jaclyn Corin and Cameron Kasky, also survivors of Parkland, told CNN they agree: “When I see pictures going all over social media of senators and representatives in the House ducking under those chairs and hiding out in their offices… it is kind of weird seeing adults in suits doing that when I’m so used to seeing young kids doing that” “Mitch McConnell and my sixth-grade sister now have something in common.”

And from an article on Medium by Emma Rowland and Tatiana Washington, Policy Associates at March For Our Lives:

Lawmakers have had the chance time and time again to show us that our lives are valuable and worth protecting. Instead, they’ve shrugged off school shootings as “the price we pay for the right to bear arms.” Is what happened at the Capitol also the price we must pay, Mitch McConnell?

Maybe Mitch McConnell and others will listen now to people advocating gun control. I really doubt it. One would think that the obscene amount of school shootings would shock congress into action. Just look at the numbers. In the year following the Parkland shooting, there was a school shooting in the US every 12 days. Between 2009 and 2019, there were at least 177 schools that experienced a shooting. And yet we still have no meaningful gun control legislation, apparently, even mass murdering children is not enough to get our leaders to act.

According to the Pew Research Center, the numbers for and against gun control is pretty even. Fifty percent of people questioned say gun control is most important, just slightly more than 47 percent said it is more important to protect the right of Americans to bear arms. Importantly, however, 92 percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks for gun buyers.

Despite the polls, our elected officials care more about the opinions of those who vote for them than what the nation as a whole thinks, so they vote the way their constituency wants not necessarily what the country wants.

The reason we do not have stricter gun control laws are many. One is how to get the message across.

Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, says in his book The Righteous Mind that people form beliefs not through careful consideration of evidence but with gut emotional reactions to experience. They seek facts that justify their beliefs.

This means that people’s beliefs about gun control are not based on their analyzing the actual facts, but on how they view the world.

This makes targeting gun control messages similar to targeting climate change messaging, it is not an easy task.

Another roadblock is how we form laws. A large part of our population lives in coastal states. This has skewed the two Senators per state system that was so elegantly designed by our august founding fathers. So, while two of the most populous states, California and New York who favor stricter gun laws, comprise about 18 percent of the US population they are represented by only 4 percent of the Senate. Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, which lean towards favoring gun rights over stricter laws, make up about 2 percent of the population, and yet they hold 12 percent of the Senate.

A Senate filibuster also can keep majority-supported legislation from getting past the minority. This means that most of the more substantial legislation must get 60 votes in the Senate to pass. In a closely divided Senate, 60 votes has proved nearly impossible.

So how does this fit into this divided country going forward? Research by Cary Wu of York University in Canada has shown that widespread gun violence, both fatal and non-fatal, has a detrimental effect on people’s trust in each other. That erosion of trust is often long-lasting and has a greater impact on people of color.

One does not have to look far to realize that America has a crisis of trust. According to Wu only 33% of Americans report they have trust in their fellow citizens.

The divisiveness in this country is real and was on display for the world to see on January 6th, this means trust is gone for many, I have no doubt we will continue to see gun violence in the next few weeks.

We have had opportunities outside of the horrific school shootings to alter lawmakers thinking. I had hoped that the shooting during a baseball game on Capitol Hill would have changed some minds, but sadly it did not. What surprised me most was the hard and fast grip that these same senators held on their pro-gun stance, even after their experience.

At the time Virginia Governor Terry McAulliffe (D) called for stricter gun laws. But, Alabama Republican Mo Brooks, disagreed. “We are not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say ugly things and hurt some people’s feelings and we’re not going to get rid of the Fourth Amendment’s search and seizure rights because some criminals could go free who should be behind bars,” “These rights are there to protect Americans, and while each of them has a negative aspect to them, they are fundamental to our being the greatest nation in world history.”

At the time many drew a comparison to the 2011 Arizona shooting that badly wounded Representative Gabby Giffords, but neither of these harrowing events seems to have affected the minds of many in Congress. This gives me little hope that this most recent incident will bring about any change of heart amongst our leaders on the hill.

In the words of David Hogg: “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together. Get over your politics and get something done.”

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 56 degrees and cloudy

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +2146

COVID cases in the US: 22,930,852

Deaths from COVID in the US: 383,460

OED word of the day: kingmaker, — A person who uses political influence to control the appointment of a king or (in later extended use) other person of authority

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 301

Reading: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly From the Internet:



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