Wednesday, May 31, 2017

In Lieu of Wearing Orange on Friday

Friday, 2 June is Wear Orange Day (it is Saturday in Santa Fe). This started in response to yet another senseless shooting in Chicago, as explained by Mike "The Gun Guy" Weisser. It has since spread far and wide and while most gun owners will cringe at supporting such a day, I think, as I have said before, that we need to find common ground between the firearms owning fraternity and those who see firearms in a negative manner. The vast majority of gun owners in the U.S. are honorable, law abiding citizens and should not be tarred with the brush of gun violence carried out by that subset of gun owners who see a bullet as a solution to all their social ills. But we will only escape the tar on that brush if we work to reduce the scope of the problems.

 I'm not sure I will wear orange because I gave all my hunting clothing to my brother in law back in New York State when I moved to Hawaii a quarter century ago and being a good Catholic, the idea of wearing orange is an anathema. That said, I am sympathetic to the cause. I do have, however, a traffic control vest in blaze orange with some yellow retroreflective tape. Maybe....albeit that would be pretty tacky.

The cultural appropriation by the gun violence prevention community of wearing orange is somewhat misplaced (although I am all for more "cultural appropriation"), since the vast majority of gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. are deliberate while blaze orange helps protect hunters against the rare hunting accident.  I can live with that. The main idea is to cut down on senseless gun violence. How to do that is the million dollar question. I've been quite critical of some of the stuff being bantered about in these parts, including the background check bill introduced by our own representative. That said, here are some suggestions.

1. The four rules of gun safety are critical. These are:
First, the gun is always loaded until you personally verify it is not. Accidental shootings are signs of negligent handling.
Second, never point a gun at something you don't intend to shoot. Dumb, dangerous things happen and bullets don't have a reverse gear.
Third, keep the finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Refer to previous rule.
Fourth, be sure of your target and what is beyond the target (hence, the wearing of orange to make hunters stand out against the background.

2. I will add my fifth rule: social gun safety. If you are angry, drunk, drug impaired, suicidal, or otherwise short on one's normal social inhibitions against violence, either self-directed or otherwise, lock up the arsenal. If you don't have social inhibitions against violence, don't own guns.  In that regard, I think the domestic violence restraining order gun removal bill that Gov. Martinez vetoed was a good bill; her veto was incomprehensible. The bill was generous in that it let someone store a gun with a friend or a gun shop until the order was retracted rather than having the police seize it, and had due process written in. As far as suicide, bullets are pretty universally effective at turning out the lights, so anyone who really wants to contemplate suicide, as George Eastman did with a clear head as he became increasingly infirm, should be sure of their intent because there ain't any going back.

3. In New Mexico, property crime and residential burglaries are common, especially in our larger cities. If you have guns, make sure they are secured when you don't need them and make sure if a burglar wants your guns, he has to work his ass off to get them. Even in Los Alamos. I had a chat with Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden and he told me that burglary, not gun shows, was by far the biggest conduit of guns to criminals in these parts. That's the real problem with widespread gun ownership in America: there are more guns to steal and fall into the wrong hands.  Those conduits mentioned by Chief Eden include residential burglaries and the occasional high profile smash and grab of guns in gun or pawn shops. Commercial gun stores should have decent security systems to deter theft. This is a legitimate social concern and indeed, some government oversight of gun shop security is completely consistent with Heller. Private homes are a different matter. Perhaps in that case, a fat state tax deduction for anyone buying a robust gun safe (and hopefully using it) should be what our legislators work to pass. The cost to the tax man of a gun safe tax credit is dwarfed by the costs to the state (or to loved ones) of a homicide or the long term medical care of a gun violence victim. Its too bad government is so mentally stovepiped.

The ancillary benefit of securing the family arsenal is just as important: keeping the kids from blowing their own, or each other's heads off until you, as responsible parent, teach safe and responsible gun handling to your brood when the kids are old enough to understand how to handle a firearm safely (for me, it was about 12 years old). I don't know if there is a single age to do this but parents have to make sure they cover this issue well.

4. Defensive gun use should be a last resort, not a routine option. De-escalation is something anyone who carries for self defense must learn and not the hard way. If you have any thoughts of needing a gun for self defense (and think about this carefully, since there are pros as well as cons of arming yourself and the jury is out on the effectiveness of going armed, even if you don't believe David Hemenway's research), take the New Mexico concealed carry class offered at multiple locations in New Mexico even if you don't want the concealed license. The class material is really good and the emphasis on exercising your situational awareness and shooting skills as well as understanding the law are all very important.

Aside from the logistics and statistics, one has to also ask if a "go it alone" mentality of carrying a gun rather than  working on a safer society is a good thing. Not that those are mutually exclusive ideas, but the left v right politics seems to have broken down that way. Living in a society where watching your back is not a constant necessity is a good thing.

5. Finally, we need to find ways to seek out common ground on gun violence reduction rather than polarizing the discussion so it becomes worse than it is already (and that goes for both sides of the discussion). Frankly, a lot of gun violence is pretty localized to violence prone subcultures, as researched by Andrew Papachristos of Yale, so blaming the firearms community as a whole for gun violence is like blaming all motorists for chronic drunk drivers. As Mike Weisser has said, the vast majority of gun owners will pass the BATF 4473 test or we wouldn't own guns. But keeping guns away from high risk cohorts will take some compromise, perhaps grudgingly, on the part of the rest of us.

But violent subcultures only address part of the story and dealing with other parts of the puzzle often means carrots such as NMTPGV's work getting teens to sign a pledge of nonviolence rather than concentrate on sticks (laws and enforcement). Meanwhile, Susan Sorenson at Penn has studied guns in domestic violence; her research shows they are used to effectively terrorize more than to shoot. Intervention to eliminate domestic violence is critical, even more so when weapons are involved. So is getting motorists to refrain from road rage, especially when packing heat. Guns are the most lethal tool but they don't alone explain the motives for acting out.

We need to recognize that frankly, some folks should not own guns until they can live up to the responsibility of having them, and those of us who can be trusted with firearms need to find solutions rather than argue incessantly with The Other Side. But finding common ground might be the hardest thing on this list to do as well as the most critical. Buy your opponent a cup of coffee, i.e., at least make the attempt to engage (I got started on this by having lunch with Miranda Viscoli). When we only hear our echo chamber talking, whether it be Everytown or the NRA, we hear half the story. Someone from rural Vermont where the crime rate is miniscule sees firearms differently than someone in Albuquerque or the South side of Chicago. Those folks need to talk to and understand each other's points of view.

Be safe out there, and as I tell bicycle folks in their context, be a valued and trusted ambassador from the gun community.

 Miranda Viscoli of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence in the Santa Fe New Mexican 

Greg Camp: Real Solutions (to gun violence)

Monday, May 29, 2017

"There you go again, KUNM" (with apologies to Ronald Reagan)

Sigh. I give up.

Dear Ms. Baumgartel and KUNM (copying FIRE and those...extremist speakers)

While listening to the news this morning, I heard Ms. DeMarco's update on the again-labelled "extremist" speakers vs the costs incurred in Milo Yiannopolis' visit. I had thought that as you say below, such labelling of people as extremists rather than identifying their points of view violated AP style guidelines and therefore the station's own reporting rules.

As far as charging variable security fees, there is a problem with that idea of which the station is apparently unaware.  Forsyth County v Nationalist Movement, 505 US 123 (1992) pointed out that speech cannot be held hostage to the heckler's veto with movable "security fees" based on content.  I find it ironic that a station that just got a news award for good work (and I congratulate you for the award) has once again missed the boat on an important First Amendment issue.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shot off a letter to Pres. Abdallah pointing out the legal issues with security fees, which explains why Abdallah was compelled to waive the security fee and suspend part of the UNM policy. Here is a link.

I really wish the station would identify, clearly, what is station editorial content (are these the opinions of the station or of the reporter?) and what is news.

Finally, both sides can play at this game and pretty soon the world will be silent.  A colleague of mine in the gun violence prevention community recently posted a link to a National Rifle Assn. site that categorizes animal rights advocates as extremists who are, in the NRA's language, out to end civilization as we know it. Imagine if my former college classmate and now law professor Gary Francione, an outspoken iconoclast in the animal rights movement, were to be invited to speak at UNM and his visit were torpedoed by speech fees imposed by rioters from the alt-right or NRA? I wonder if the station would treat the story the same way.

We need to protect all speech, not just that which we agree with. Implicitly giving value to heckler's veto costs vs. the message of a speaker is not a great idea.

Note added later. The station stands by its reporting (see Baumgartel's comment in the KUNM link), and I stand by my objection. I guess I might "vote with my checkbook" next time KUNM has a fund drive going.

Another note added later. If you think this is nuts, check out the situation at Evergreen State College.Here is Eugene Volokh's take.

At 24 hours and 18 minutes, Sen. Thurmond 
holds the record for longest Senate filibuster. 
Now that is extreme speaking
 Finally, Ms. Baumgartel has not responded, last time I checked, to my question of what constitutes an "extreme speaker". Here's my candidate: former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond of S. Carolina, who holds the record for the longest filibuster in U.S. Senate history. Now if that ain't an extreme speaker, I'm not sure what is....

Friday, May 5, 2017

Heckler's Veto at UNM, Round 2. KUNM Piles On, and Not Yet Invited Speaker Christina Hoff Sommers Responds

Police presence at Milo Yiannopoulos talk at UNM.
  Source: CFACT
 A university should be the last place on earth where one finds the suppression of free thought. That is not to say that we argue endlessly about whether the earth is round or flat, but that we tackle academic material in the spirit of free and unbiased discovery.  Well, that is the theory. In practice, universities are as political as any other institution and sometimes the politics washes over into the selective discussion of ideas. The latest battleground in the war over free speech vs. avoiding topics that make students uncomfortable and fleeing for their "safe zones" has been the University of New Mexico.

In the latest round of silliness over who are deemed acceptable invited speakers at UNM, the campus radio station KUNM's reporter Marisa Demarco weighed in on whether to invite two conservative speakers to lecture on campus saying this (in the original article, since amended as a result of my letter and one sent by Christina Hoff Sommers, both below):

"When extremist speakers come to town, free speech advocates argue it’s their right under the First Amendment to say whatever they want. But what does it cost to have an event like that on a university campus?.(snip)..The Albuquerque Journal reported UNM’s president Chaouki Abdallah declined to ban two more far-right speakers from campus, despite students calling for him to do so."

 Now Ms. Demarco has the right to her opinion and of course so does KUNM, but this was supposed to be a news article, not an editorial piece, right? That is the first problem--substituting the reporter's personal bias for actual information. The second is the message. I imagine the student government has policies in place as to how student organizations invite speakers to campus. Even confrontational or controversial speakers. But by casting the potential invitation of two conservative speakers into the context of the expense generated in protecting the appearance of someone I think is more of an agent provocateur than a scholar (Milo Yiannopolous), we muddy the water and impose the "bad company fallacy" on the argument. Furthermore, the implicit message is clear: is free speech worth the price imposed by those wielding the Heckler's Veto?  One has to wonder why the station would be so willing to pile on in the name of supporting the heckler's veto when the very existence of a public radio station relies for its protection on the First Amendment. So I emailed the station manager (Richard Towne) and New Director (Elaine Baumgartel) and reporter Demarco this spiel, albeit it might not be my best o-dark thirty rant:

Dear Mr. Towne, Ms. Baumgartel, and Ms. DeMarco.

Regarding Marisa Demarco's piece on the radio station "Yiannopoulos Security Costs Rise To $64K"
Your radio station states "The Albuquerque Journal reported UNM’s president Chaouki Abdallah declined to ban two more far-right speakers from campus, despite students calling for him to do so." (italics and boldface are mine).

The two speakers in question are Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former university professor and Ben Shapiro, who was formerly affiliated with Breitbart. Casually characterizing them as "far right" without justification certainly does not do justice to Sommers. I don't follow Mr. Shapiro or Breitbart, so will withhold extensive comments.

Anyone who has listened to Sommers (I listened to a recording of her recent talk at St. Olaf's college yesterday) needs to justify the label "far right". I find that label absurd.
The problem is that by dismissing these two people as "far right" your station attempts to poison the narrative of whether it is fair to invite these speakers to appear on campus in light of the financial costs imposed by deliberate acts of speech disruption.

Ms. Demarco's unjustified and undocumented characterizations amount to ad hominem and must be retracted. As a longtime supporter of public radio and of KUNM in particular, I expect a lot better than this from an NPR affiliate when it comes to promoting intelligent civil discourse. Especially given the importance of this topic to UNM, where the debate as to whether to ban speech that makes people uncomfortable by rioter's veto is reaching full boil.

Thank you.

Note in closing. As a response to this letter and one from Dr. Sommers, KUNM has amended its story and toned down the rhetoric considerably, excising the "far right" stuff and I thank them for that. Now Sommers is still criticized because "...She’s also known for arguing that rape culture doesn’t exist...". That too is a bit of an exaggeration when lacking a context (try this link for  context). But at least it is something readers can look up for themselves.

I wonder if KUNM would call someone like Democracy Now's Amy Goodman "far left" and go about weighing the costs of police resources against the value of hearing Amy speak (who I do listen to) if the police had to turn out in force to manage right wing goons. Maybe I am wrong, but I somehow doubt the station would treat the story the same way.

"Academic freedom cannot and will not flourish if its alleged defenders reserve their outrage only for when their ideological allies fall victim to the online mob. If progressives feel they have to torch conservative straw men before mustering up the courage to defend free inquiry, then academic freedom has a dark future indeed. Conservatives will be walled out entirely, and progressive discourse will be jammed into ever-tighter ideological spaces as a brave few liberals fight a desperate rear-guard action against the true radicals."--David French, in the National Review

Note added today, 5/6/2017. Christina Sommers response to KUNM.

Printed with permission of Dr. Sommers.

Dear Ms Baumgartel, 

  As an NPR affiliate, I think it is important for KUNM to amend the recent story by Marisa DeMarco that portrays Ben Shapiro and Me as right-wing extremists. 

For the record, Ben Shapiro is an Orthodox Jew and mainstream conservative. He famously quit his job at Breitbart because of its association with the Trump campaign. He was then targeted by a virulent alt-right anti-Semitic campaign. According to a 2016 report on "The Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists" by the Anti-Defamation League, the biggest target by far was Ben Shapiro.

I am a registered Democrat and a feminist. I am critical of radical third-wave feminism for its carelessness with facts and it's penchant for moral panic. Other liberal feminist scholars such as Wendy Kaminer and Laura Kipnis share my view.  Even the leading anti-sexual violence group RAINN has been critical of the concept of rape culture. In all my speeches and articles I make it clear that sexual assault is a serious problem on campus. But serious problems don't get solved by hyperbole.

Your report mentions that the president of UNM Chaouki Abdallah declined to ban Ben and me "despite students calling him to do so." Which students? How many were there?
In fact, the protest was organized by a small group with a an odd agenda.

What saddens me most about this news story isn't the misleading portrayal of Ben and me. The story conveys the idea that free speech is just not worth the money.  That may not have been Ms. Demarco's intention. But when she updates the story again, I would suggest getting a quotation from the ACLU or FIRE about what is at stake.

Sincerely yours, 
Christina Sommers
Resident Scholar
American Enterprise Institute

Heckler's Veto, Round 1.