Fact-based Research?

August 8, 2019

When I was in school, there was zero tolerance for opinion-based research.

You either backed up your work with validated facts from reliable sources, or you didn’t pass the class.

In 1996, under extraordinary pressure from the NRA and other pro-gun rights factions, Congress essentially shut down support for CDC-supported-research into the causes of gun violence.

Why is this important?

The commonly accepted proactive method to solve difficult problems is known as “Root Cause Analysis”.  It relies on a rigorous independent methodology to identify the Root Cause of an intractable situation; that is, zeroing in on the primary factor that is the foundational cause of the dilemma.

Removing the Root Cause of a problem prevents the problem from recurring.  Removing a causal factor (one that may affect an event’s problematic outcome) certainly can improve an outcome, but it does not prevent its recurrence with certainty.

More than 2 decades after the Congressional ban on gun violence research, the paucity of research leaves some of our elected officials and media pundits to conjecture that ‘violent video games’, ‘mental illness and hatred’, ‘soft targets’ and plenty of other ingredients contribute toward increasing occurrences of domestic gun violence events.

A surprising number of elected officials have recently emerged, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider that access to military-style weapons could be the Root Cause of our gun violence problem.

Instead, we read or hear assertions that…‘racism, bigotry and white supremacy is the trigger. It’s not the gun’.

Research provides fact-based evidence.

There is no research which supports any notions that video games, mental illness or racism play a primary role in domestic gun violence incidents.

Despite the arbitrary Congressional moratorium on public funding toward the causes of gun violence, we have seen some compelling research from small private colleges and universities.

One research paper from an independent private college published in 2015 asserted that, “Men commit over 85% of all homicides, 91% of all same-sex homicides and 97% of all same-sex homicides in which the victim and killer aren’t related to each other.”

Many studies on human brain development have provided a rich array of data which strongly supports the fact that female brain development occurs at a more rapid pace than males of a similar age.

Specifically, the frontal cortex — the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act — develops later in males than in females.  The majority of research tells us that females tend to reach maturity toward the end of adolescence; where in males, the frontal cortex is still changing and maturing well into adulthood.

If we know that:

(1) Over 85% of U.S. homicides are committed by males;

(2) Significant scientific research supports the theory that male brain development is delayed to early adulthood;

(3) The vast majority of mass homicides in the U.S. over the past decade have been committed by American males under 30 using a military-style assault weapon with high-capacity magazine(s);

Lacking any specific research, what should we do right now to put a halt to these massacres?

Institute an immediate ban on the production, sale or civilian possession of military-style assault weapons, military-style ammunition and high-capacity magazines in the U.S.

AR-15 (AK-47, and similar weapons) have no place in a civil society, except perhaps for military and limited law enforcement use.

Removing assault weapons from civilian access on a temporary – say 5 year time-frame – will provide a window of opportunity to conduct meaningful contemporary research.

Is there a precedent to this “call to action” at the federal level?

Yes, there is.  The Public Safety Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (1994) prohibited the manufacture, transfer, or possession of “semiautomatic assault weapons” as well as “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” — defined as “any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device” which had “the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition”.

That legislation passed in September 1994 with a sunset provision for the assault weapon ban section. The law expired on September 13, 2004, and nothing has occurred at the federal level over the past 15 years to reign in the proliferation of civilian ownership of assault weapons, military grade ammunition and high capacity magazines.

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As a nation, we have everything to lose – and nothing to gain – by refusing to face the facts we have at hand, and to engage in proper research to help guide our future policy.

Today’s massacre in El Paso contains some common elements to dozens of similar occurrences.

Who are these killers?

The statistics tell us that they are most likely to be U.S. born while males, generally under 30 years of age.

A number of studies have shown that the male brain reaches maturity significantly later than females. The key brain region believed to be primarily responsible for reasoning and helping us to ‘think before we act’ is the pre-frontal cortex, which develops later in males, and is generally still changing and maturing well into adulthood.

What sort of weapons do these mass killers prefer?

Military-style assault weapons with high-capacity magazines.

What should we do right now to put a halt to these massacres?

Institute an immediate ban on the production, sale or civilian possession of military-style assault weapons in the U.S.

AR-15 (AK-47 and similar weapons) have no place in a civil society, except perhaps for military and limited law enforcement use.

Is there a precedent to this “call to action” at the federal level?

Yes, there is.  The Public Safety Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (1994) prohibited the manufacture, transfer, or possession of “semiautomatic assault weapons” as well as “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” — defined as “any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device” which had “the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition”.

That legislation passed in September 1994 with a sunset provision for the assault weapon ban section. The law expired on September 13, 2004, and nothing has occurred at the federal level over the past 15 years to reign in the proliferation of civilian ownership of assault weapons, military grade ammunition and high capacity magazines.

I refuse to stand by and wait for someone to go hunting with an AR-15 at the school which my grandchildren attend, at the mall where my family shops, or at the house of worship in my neighborhood.

Please join me:  Step up and demand common sense gun regulations from your elected officials.

Now!

Build The Wall?

January 23, 2019

Ever ready to incite a riot and to encourage acts of violence, President Trump recently tweeted, “Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country… We need a powerful Wall!”

[Background:  Wilbur Martinez-Guzman, 19, has been jailed in Carson City, Nevada since January 19 on an immigration violation. Federal immigration authorities said that Guzman entered the U.S. illegally from El Salvador. Guzman is a prime suspect in 3 home invasion burglaries in Nevada over a 6 day period during which four people were shot and killed.]

No, Mr. President.  We probably don’t need a Wall.  Certainly not because of this particular case.

What we need is elected officials who consistently adhere to the highest standards of mature, honest and responsible leadership.

And, we need our elected officials to separate day-to-day federal government operations from capital projects.

We need immediate restoration of funding for the day-to-day operations in all sectors of our federal government, at the same time putting debate and deliberations over capital projects into the traditional federal budget process.

Another branch of our armed forces?

I just can’t imagine an Industrial Engineer who would look at the current structure of the Pentagon and the U.S. military and not conclude that we have an extraordinarily inefficient approach to defense.

Air, land and sea.  Sounds good, right?

Except that we have 5 branches which overlap, compete with each other directly and indirectly, and don’t always communicate well.

Now, the Master Obfuscator and Distracter-in-Chief wants to start a 6th branch!

I can only conclude that The Donald is running wild trying to divert attention away from some of his self-created demons: Immigration; His war on Canada; His new love affair with Kim Jong Un; A ‘tax reform’ plan which will leave America bankrupt; The deterioration and ultimate disintegration of the American health care system; The ‘Russia thing’; Cyber security intrusions and risks across the entire U.S. public and private sector; Rapidly deteriorating physical infrastructure across the U.S.; Escalating gun violence, the NRA and 21st century gun control; Mueller and his ‘Russian Witch Hunt Hoax’; Stormy Daniels; and Dozens of other critical issues which need to be addressed in an honest, responsible and strategic fashion.

Donald J. Trump has the attention span of a gnat, the moral turpitude of a ‘made man’ and the integrity of a Carnival Barker.  Despite that, he is our POTUS, and he continues to dash along his path toward fooling many of the people most of the time.

We Rely on Journalists

April 17, 2018

As a nation, we rely on Journalists to provide us with well-researched, unbiased and true information.

Until recently, I included Journalists in the same realm as Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants, Nurses, Plumbers, Electricians, Welders, Financial Planners, etc. — assuming that Journalists were professionals who received appropriate training; passed standard professional exams; and subscribed to a high standard of ethics.

Now, I’ve learned that those who identify as Journalists are often self-certified.

Alex Jones is a self-identified Journalist.  He is the host of “The Alex Jones Show” (infowars.com) which is now syndicated on over 160 AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations across the United States.

Alex Jones rose to national prominence as a result of his position that the 2012 massacre in Sandy Hook which took the lives of 26 innocent children and educators was “a giant hoax”.

Jones used his self-identified position as a Journalist to discredit the parents of the dead children.  He fixated on his mission to convince the public of a giant hoax, a conspirancy staged by the federal government, which hired professional actors for the purposes of undermining Second Amendment rights.

Jones seems to be the father of a dangerous tribe of Conspiracy Theorists who continue to twist the truth and who cloud the continuing plague of mass murders in schools and public places across the U.S.

I’ve now learned there is no standard professional exam for Journalists. And, apparently, no standards exist in the public sector regarding ethical behavior by Journalists — perhaps driven by those who rely on the 1st Amendment guaranty of the right of free speech?

I try to be a discerning consumer of information I receive from various media sources, and I admire those Journalists who consistently provide well-researched, unbiased and true information.

Question is: Given the importance of Real Facts, why is there no official credential (“license”) which can be earned by Real Journalists to help separate the Real Journalists from the Pretenders?

No threat to Free Speech:  just a ‘check and balance’ which separates those commentators who have their own agenda from true journalists who seek the truth.

Although I don’t approve of Alex Jones and his behaviors, I acknowledge his right to free speech.  However, I don’t acknowledge his right to self-identify as a Journalist.

High on the Hogg

April 1, 2018

David Hogg, the Parkland student who has become one of the most vocal leaders in the March For Our Lives movement, has explained their position and their mission,

“I want people to understand, we’re not trying to take your guns, we’re not against the second amendment; we don’t want to repeal the second amendment. We simply want gun legislation in this country that allows law-abiding citizens to still own guns but prevents people with a history of mental illness or a history of a criminal background from owning a firearm. It’s as simple as that.”

I think the last real, sustained and almost universal call to action by America’s youth occurred in the late ’60’s – early ’70’s when large-scale opposition to U.S. military involvement in SE Asia was the focal point.

Sure, there have been many other issues, causes, protests, rallies, etc. in the ensuing years, but I am not aware of anything quite as promising as the current March for our Lives movement.

One of the great outcomes thus far is contained within the Laura Ingraham debacle.

On her broadcast television show, Laura Ingraham personally attacked David Hogg regarding his academics.

Within 2 days after Ingraham attacked him personally, Hogg organized a successful boycott of her advertisers.

Nothing personal, he remarked. We are just following the money. Take away the money, and the show will disappear.

Brilliant!

How true, yet how trite.

People kill people, whether with their hands, a blunt object, a knife or a gun.

That said, a person armed with a .22 caliber bolt action rifle and a 10 round magazine is much less likely to engage in a mass shooting than, say, a person armed with an AR-15 rifle with a 30 round magazine.

The difference in circumference between the .22 cal and the .223 cal is negligible. The design differences are substantial.

The .22 is a rimfire cartridge, and its design goes back over 100 years.  The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is the most commonly used ammunition in the world today.

The .223 is a centerfire cartridge, designed in the early 1960’s specifically for military purposes as ammunition for the M-16 rifle (the military version of the AR-15).

To the uninformed, there is not much difference between the .22 bolt action rifle commonly used for target shooting and hunting, and the .223 semi-automatic rifle which was designed for military use.

To the Rambo Wanna-Be who is planning his domestic massacre, the differences are extraordinary.

After all, how many civilians can you take out with a .22 LR equipped with a 10 round magazine, even if you are shooting copper-plated hollow point bullets? [We don’t have an answer to this question because there is no record of a shooting rampage involving .22 rifles.]

We know that the AR-15 rifle (and variants) have been the weapon of choice in the majority of firearm massacres in the U.S. over the past decade.

There have been more than 30 school shootings in the U.S. since the December 2012 execution of 20 elementary school students and 6 adults at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT.

If we were to outlaw the production, sale or possession of AR-15 style weapons in the U.S. tomorrow, would we immediately change this paradigm?  Immediately:  No.

Over the longer term (say, 3, 5, 7 years)?  Almost certainly.

The AR-15 (and similar weapons) have no place in a civil society, except perhaps for military and limited law enforcement use.

Please don’t stand by and wait for someone to go hunting with an AR-15 at the school which your children or grandchildren attend.  Step up and demand common sense gun regulations.  Now.

Several recent studies by independent researchers confirm that nonprofits are significant positive contributors to the American economy.

When we observe aggregate national statistics relative to not-for-profit organizations we find that NFPs contribute significantly to regional economies – estimated overall at 12.5% –through wages paid, retail and wholesale purchases, and professional service contracts.

Measured by total employment and jobs created, NFP organizations punch well above their weight class, primarily due to the trade-off employees in the NFP sector make between the expected job-security in the NFP sector vs. the higher risks inherent in private-sector employment.  Several sources estimate that jobs in the NFP sector pay about 75% of comparable jobs in the for-profit sector.

Public service, whether (1) in government as an elected official, or as a civil service employee, or (2) in the not-for-profit sector, is heavily supported and subsidized by the American people.  As such, we have a right to expect that the people who are employed within the public service sector are working for the greater good of society, and that they have made a conscious decision to accept a reasonable and customary package of salary and benefits in exchange for the low-risk profile of working in the public sector.

According to a study by Charity Navigator, America’s go-to charity evaluator, the median CEO compensation among not-for-profit organizations in 2015 was $123,462.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a not-for-profit corporation primarily supported by membership fees of public-minded citizens and clubs. Its primary stated purpose is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, especially the political, civil and inalienable rights of the American people to keep and bear arms as a common law and Constitutional right of the individual citizen.

Wayne LaPierre, EVP and CEO of the National Rifle Association is one of 10 highly compensated executives of the not-for-profit NRA who receives in excess of $400,000 in annual compensation.

LaPierre’s total reported compensation in 2016 was $1,422,339.

It really is not clear if or how Wayne LaPierre or the NRA is working for the greater good of society.

In the April 2018 issue of The American Rifleman, Mr. LaPierre had this to say,

American freedom faces no greater threat than from our academic institutions, where the most basic fundamental principles upon which our nation was founded are aggressively attacked by extreme socialists posing as honest professors.”

LaPierre goes on to explain,

“The socialist takeover of our college campuses is part of a massive wave of socialism that, if left unchecked, threatens all of our firearms freedom and all of the American liberty that we cherish and have fought hard to defend.”

LaPierre’s goal seems to be protecting the impressionable minds of our young people from the legions of ‘liberal college professors’ whom he believes have infiltrated colleges and universities across the U.S. to promote their ‘lust for a nation of socialism’.

His call to action seems to be woven into this concluding remark,

“… and then they’ll come for us… for our freedom and for our guns. That is the tsunami of socialism that threatens every law-abiding gun owner and freedom-loving American in this country.”

If it is true that the core NRA membership (as has been reported from various sources) is white, male, rural and relatively less educated, then this approach may be on target to energize that base.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to correlate with the broader wants and needs of our 21st century society.

Before I go further, I should explain my background.  I grew up on University Avenue in Buffalo, NY, just down the street from the University of Buffalo, so I was exposed to college professors from a young age.  In fact, my mother was one of them.

When I was a young lad, I learned that ‘liberal’ was a method of gathering, analyzing and digesting information from a variety of sources, and then using that information to help guide the individual to an informed and independent conclusion.

I also learned at a young age that people who self-identify as liberal tend to value liberty and equality; and they generally support ideas and concepts such as: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, gender equality and international cooperation.

Today, as a mature adult, I value the critical thinking skills which were introduced to me by a rather broad array of teachers and adult role models, from elementary school through graduate school.

I am an NRA member and a gun owner.  I don’t want to take away anyone’s legal firearm, nor do I want to impede the rights of my fellow Americans to own and responsibly use those firearms which are generally acceptable in a civil society.

That said:  I also believe that we can proudly bear our arms and have responsible and common sense firearm laws. The safety of our children and citizens doesn’t need to be at odds with gun ownership.

A legitimate and responsible debate over 21st Century common sense gun regulations will never take place if we demonize and vilify one group against another, one political position against the other.

When we have individuals and organizations which are supported and subsidized by American taxpayers conjuring up and promoting controversial and potentially incendiary commentary — aren’t we creating a deck stacked against a common sense discussion?

How is it that we – all of us taxpayers in the U.S. – are required to subsidize and support Wayne LaPierre in his partisan and razor-focused quest to support the gun industry, when some of us would prefer a more mainstream, middle-of-the-road approach?

A fair and equitable approach to ensuring that each of us – as Americans – continue to enjoy those unalienable rights with which we have been endowed, among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness should never be linked to the brand, caliber or style of the Arms which are the right of the people to keep and bear.

The NRA began in 1871 as a public benefit organization — just after the Civil War — by organizing classes designed to teach gun safety and marksmanship to those individuals who wished to follow their 2nd amendment right to gun ownership.

Over the ensuing 147 years, the NRA mission has evolved such that its public service component – gun safety – is no longer a priority when measured in fiscal terms.  Fact:  with 2016 total reported expenses of $413 Million, the NRA reported spending (1) $77 Million on Legislative programs; and (2) $48 Million on firearm training.

The NRA states in its financial statements, “Firearms safety is the cornerstone of everything the NRA does for its members.”

I hope to leave my readers with several questions to ponder:

  1. If ‘firearms safety is the cornerstone’ why does the NRA spend more on legislative programs than on firearm training?
  2. For 2016, the NRA disclosed a total annual payroll of $68.3 Million, with $7.8 Million paid to just 10 executives. This is an organization which is tax-exempt.  Does that seem reasonable to you?
  3. If ‘firearms safety is the cornerstone’ why does the NRA continue to fight common-sense gun legislation aimed to create a safer environment for both gun owners and bystanders?

Common Sense Legislation?

March 12, 2018

This Old Walrus just doesn’t get it.  We don’t rely on the Mattachine Society to write legislation on sodomy with young boys.  We don’t (usually) weigh in with the Russian Mafia to write our laws on money laundering. So, why is it that the NRA has become the singular expert – the ‘Go-to People’ – for all issues concerning firearms?

Over the past decade, or so, we’ve had enough mass murders in the U.S. to spot some common ingredients:  (a) Perpetrator is an under-25 white male; (b) He is angry, isolated and/or socially challenged (often described in retrospect as ‘mentally disturbed’); and (c) The weapon of choice is an AR-15 (or equal), accompanied by high-capacity magazines.

Young men mature physically much faster than they mature mentally and emotionally.  A typical 18 to 20 Y.O. male physically looks like an adult, but just hasn’t attained the emotional and mental maturity that post-25 year old adults generally possess.

There is a ton of research which supports the notion that changes in cognitive abilities occurring in males between ages 18 and 25 are essentially a continued process of brain development that start during puberty.  At age 18, a young man is roughly halfway through the entire stage of development. The prefrontal cortex doesn’t have nearly the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at age 25.

It is unfortunate that Congress passed legislation in 1996 which effectively precludes the CDC from conducting research on the causes of gun violence (the Dickey Amendment).

There is some colloquial evidence that people who act out their Rambo fantasies are angry, isolated and/or socially challenged, and there may be a preventable linkage between male brain development and assault weapons, but until qualitative research is conducted, we really won’t know.

Meanwhile, there seem to be a couple of simple interventions which we could enact tomorrow that would put this issue on ‘pause’ until some qualitative research can be conducted:

  • Ban the manufacture, sale or possession of semi-automatic military-style assault weapons in the U.S.;
  • Ban the manufacture, sale or possession of magazines that can contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and outlaw devices like bump stocks that make weapons more deadly;
  • Institute universal background checks and close loopholes that let too many people slip through the cracks and purchase firearms despite being a threat to themselves or others;
  • No weapons for suspected terrorists, domestic abusers, or individuals convicted of hate crimes;
  • Impose a three-day waiting period for the purchase of all firearms, and raise the minimum age for buying those weapons to 21;
  • Institute a Gun Violence Restraining Order that allows law enforcement to confiscate weapons from individuals who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

These are common-sense solutions to help reduce gun violence in all communities across the U.S. – including accidents, suicides, domestic violence, mass shootings, and acts of terrorism. Most of these reforms are supported by a majority of Americans – not just Democrats or Republicans, but ALL Americans.

And, once we have obtained high-quality qualitative research on the causes of gun violence, our elected officials will be in a much better position to adapt and/or modify these interim interventions to reflect data-driven conclusions on the causes of gun violence in the U.S.

What are we waiting for?

Dear Governor Rick Scott

February 21, 2018

I’ve been calling Florida my second home for 40 years, and I was finally able to move here permanently in January 2017. Florida has some fabulous positive attributes. Firearm regulations are not on that list. It is my belief that Florida currently has some very weak controls over gun acquisition, gun possession, gun ownership and the sale of ammunition and accessories.

Florida’s gun control regulations absolutely made sense in 1960 when the total population was about 5 Million, and the state was highly rural and agrarian.

Today, we have some 21 Million residents, highly concentrated in high density urban MSAs, with an economy highly dependent on tourism.

A number of academic studies have forecast a very high correlation between tourism and perceived public safety risks.  Areas with a reputation for a high risk of crime or violence against residents and visitors are shunned by visitors.

I’m a dues paying member of the NRA and a gun owner; I think the 2nd Amendment is a good thing, and I’ve read it dozens of times. I’m not sure exactly what the folks who wrote it were trying to say, and they are all now deceased so we can’t ask them in person.

Florida has been the location of several recent massacres involving young people wielding AR-15 weapons.

A massacre in Orlando in June 2016 involving a demented 29 year-old man wielding an AR-15 resulted in the death of 50 people (including the shooter) and physical and mental wounding of many others.

Nothing was done at the state or federal level following that atrocity because, as some said, “the Second Amendment didn’t kill anybody.”

On February 14, 2018 a young man named “Cruz” stormed a high school in Parkland, FL with an AR-15 rifle. He killed 17 and wounded many more.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following the Parkland massacre, you said, “Everything’s on the table, all right? I’m going to look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe.”

Some political operatives have focused their diversions on mental health issues, yet Federal law already bars people who have been adjudicated mentally ill or committed to institutions from buying firearms.

Until the State of Florida takes action to update our gun control regulations to recognize we are no longer a rural and agrarian state, and that we are now economically focused on tourism – both domestically and internationally – we as residents are at physical risk from demented individuals wielding assault weapons, and we as taxpayers are at economic risk for dramatic revenue losses from tourists who make decisions to avoid Florida due to perceived public safety risks.

It is incumbent on you and the elected members of the Florida legislature to enact legislation which will make sure that powerful assault weapons, high capacity magazines, bump stocks, suppressors, armor piercing bullets and other military grade accessories can’t be sold, owned or used by any civilians – including teenagers – who wish to live in our 21st Century Florida civil society.