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The United States of Guns

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Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 10 people in Santa Fe, Texas today. While this is an outrageous and horrifying event, it isn’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

Tags: guns   USA
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tedgould
8 days ago
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Collection of articles about gun violence in America. I find especially interesting the idea that gun rights effectively lower the value of freedom of speech.
Texas, USA
popular
34 days ago
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1 public comment
cjheinz
36 days ago
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#gunsense

Innapropriate Reading Material

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After all, you wouldn't want young impressionable boys to get exposed to Hegel's ideas about women.
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tedgould
23 days ago
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Not looking forward to my kids hitting the teenage years.
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jlvanderzwan
26 days ago
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Obligatory "Could be worse. Could be Rand."

The Midwest Is Getting Drenched, And It’s Causing Big Problems

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Minnesota is getting wetter. Over the last 100 years, the state has seen more storms that produce heavy rainfall, and its strongest storms have grown more intense. One of the more dramatic changes is the increasing number of “mega-rain” events — rainstorms during which at least 6 inches of rain falls over at least 1,000 square miles and the center of the storm drops more than 8 inches of rain. Minnesota has had 11 mega-rains since 1973,7 and eight of them have come since 2000. Two mega-rains swept through in 2016, which is only the third time the state experienced more than one mega-rain in a year. (It also happened in 1975 and 2002.)

Experts suspect climate change is behind this and other shifts in precipitation patterns. But knowing what’s causing an increase in precipitation and knowing what to do about it are two different issues. Minnesota and states across the Midwest are confronting an uncertain, flood-prone future, one where changes in precipitation patterns could get even more dramatic. The precipitation estimates that city planners have relied on in making preparations for flooding are based on historical weather trends, not predictions of future trends, and the estimates themselves were sometimes decades old. New estimates have been released for Minnesota, but they only show how much has already changed. They have nothing to say about what change is coming next.

Minnesota is not alone in its recent wetness. Though the Midwest is far from any hurricane-prone coasts, the region has seen an increase in both precipitation and, subsequently, flooding. “It’s a huge amount of water being added,” said Kenny Blumenfeld, a senior climatologist in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources State Climatology Office, “and a huge water-management problem.” This added water can be seen in the map below, which shows the nationwide changes in annual peak streamflows — that is, the highest yearly reading8 of how much water flowed past a gauge monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey.9 In the Upper Mississippi Valley, the peak ratings at nearly all the gauges show more water flowing through over the last century.

All this rain doesn’t just mean bigger floods, it also means more unpredictable floods. According to Eric Waage, the director of emergency management in Hennepin County, Minnesota, flooding in the state used to come primarily in early spring, when snow from the preceding winter melts and rivers rise. This kind of flooding from snowmelt can be dramatic, but the time between when the precipitation falls as snow and when it melts and pours into rivers as water allows for some advance planning (more snow in the winter means more water later). Recently, however, the state has had to worry more about flash flooding because intense rainstorms can arise with little or no warning. “It’s getting weird,” said Waage.

During one 2016 storm that resulted in parts of Minnesota qualifying for federal disaster assistance, concentrated storm bands over populated areas dropped nearly 10 inches of rain in just a few hours. Even away from any creeks or rivers, water coursed through neighborhoods and into basements. Flash flooding like this “can catch you off guard,” Waage said, making it harder to warn people or make preparations.10

Municipalities try to prepare for emergencies like these ahead of time, and they rely on precipitation estimates to know what to plan for. Erin Wenz, a Minneapolis-based engineer, uses precipitation models to help municipalities decide where and how to build while taking into account the possibility of extreme precipitation. “We need to change people’s expectations of what is normal,” she said.

Wenz models precipitation events using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlas 14, a publication that provides widely used precipitation estimates11 for most of the country. Among other things, the atlas shows how much rain qualifies a storm as a “10-year,” “50-year” or “hundred-year” rainstorm in each area — that is, storms that might be expected to occur only once in each of those timespans. Though these terms can mask the actual way such estimates work — it might be better to think about a hundred-year storm as one that has a 1 percent chance of occuring in any given year — they help set benchmarks for how robust a city’s infrastructure needs to be.

Unfortunately, until Atlas 14 was released for Minnesota in 2013,12 the most recent estimates available for Minnesota had been last updated in the ’70s. Between then and 2013, a lot of infrastructure and buildings were built using the older estimates, but precipitation had been increasing all along. The problem becomes clear, Wenz said, when she plugs Atlas 14 data into previous models: “Suddenly, I have flooding showing up as potential all across [a] built-out city.”

But even the new data isn’t perfect. While it’s much better than 40-year-old data, it’s still based on how much rain has fallen in the past. The estimates do not take into account how climate change might influence precipitation in the future. It’s a little like trying to use a road map while driving on a highway that’s still being built. The map may give you a perfect picture of the roads you’ve already traveled, but it can’t give you more than a general idea where the new highway is taking you.

According to Wenz, while the design standard has been to build roads, buildings and other infrastructure in a way that can withstand a hundred-year storm, some engineers are considering whether it’s time to build for a 500-year storm, with the expectation that soon it might no longer be such a remote possibility. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service’s Office of Water Prediction has begun a pilot program to determine how it might better estimate future precipitation. The program is scheduled to release its findings later this year, but even when it does, the NWS will still be a long way from providing better data to city planners or engineers like Wenz.

Until that data exists, if it ever does, Wenz, Waage and the municipalities they work with must make decisions based on the best information they have (and the limited resources available) as they help Minnesotans adjust to a new normal — the one they’re already living in. For Wenz, that often means bolstering infrastructure for emergency situations rather than planning massive overhauls of already-built cities. “With the knowledge that we probably can’t fix everything everywhere,” she said, “we’re thinking about it from an emergency point of view and trying to prioritize [building] in that way,” aiming to avoid the most dangerous and costly consequences of storms. For Waage, who is already focused on worst-case scenarios, finding ways to respond to emergencies faster and get information more rapidly is key to dealing with these sudden flooding events. And both agree that a big priority is informing local leaders and the public about the danger so that fewer people are caught off guard by a flood.

As the wet summer season approaches, no one knows whether 2018 will again bring historic levels of rain and flooding, but regardless, Minnesotans can be sure that those days aren’t far off.

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tedgould
37 days ago
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Changing city planning from historical models to predictive models is scary, but needed considering how fast our climate is changing.
Texas, USA
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Is there really an underground mall in downtown Dallas? Curious Texas goes exploring

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tedgould
38 days ago
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The idea of giving separate levels of cities for pedestrians and automobiles seems nice, though I'd put the cars underground.
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Russia World Cup: Argentina 'flirting manual' panned

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Argentina's football association is panned for giving advice about flirting in Russia.
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tedgould
39 days ago
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Someone did something stupid. But what I find amazing is that during the class a journalist posted pictures of the pages, they got mocked online, and the pages were removed before the end of the class.
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What Really Happens in China’s ‘Re-education’ Camps

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Protesters demanding that China respect human rights in its Xinjiang region and release members of the Uighur minority detained in so-called re-education centers there, in Brussels in April.

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tedgould
39 days ago
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Humans are awful to each other.
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