When I asked my middle-school students what an AK-47 is, they flung their arms up so quickly that I thought someone might dislocate a shoulder.
A rousing (and mostly accurate) description followed. Then, I asked my favorite question:
"How do you know that?"
As the cacophony of “It’s an assault rifle!” and “It’s the most popular gun!” gave way to debating the merits of various Grand Theft Auto sequels, I silently thanked the violent video-game gods.
Middle schoolers love to talk about things they know, and they love to talk about things they do. Put these two together, and we could very well have an enlightening discussion about gun control.
It was a fitting moment to segue:
"So, what do you know about the gun fired at the LAX airport shooting?"
It may seem unusual to talk to young students about such an unsettling topic, but it’s business as usual for me, as I teach current events to 6th, 7th and 8th graders at an after-school academy in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles.
Read more. [Image: David Goldman/AP Photo]
It fired 50 rounds and showed no signs of stopping.
Jessica Davis’s oldest son spent ten years in jail for shooting another man. She herself was questioned by police over a gun that, to this day, she believes her daughter bought and hid for a boyfriend.* So for Davis, joining Boston’s “Operation LIPSTICK,” which launched in April 2012, was personal.
Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killings is the product of a partnership between Boston’s Citizens for Safety and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, with grant money from the U.S. Department of Justice. Leaders of the organization say they aim to educate women about the dangers of “buying, concealing, storing, and holding” guns on behalf of men in their lives who, because of felony records, are prohibited from purchasing firearms themselves. Buying a gun for such an individual is called “straw purchasing,” and it’s illegal.
Read more. [Image: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]
Ever since the Senate voted down gun-control legislation in April, some advocates have remained convinced there was still hope. As of Tuesday, that hope is officially dead.
On Tuesday, two Colorado state senators, both Democrats, were recalled by voters for their votes in favor of gun control. Gun-rights advocates instigated the recall drives; the National Rifle Association spent $360,000, sending mailers and airing television ads calling the lawmakers “too extreme for Colorado.” Gun-control proponents, buoyed by donations from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, outspent their opponents five to one. But the NRA turned the money against the lawmakers, painting them as pawns of fancy-pants out-of-state liberal interests. And the NRA won.
Democrats and gun-control advocates have come up with a number of rosy rationalizations to minimize the loss. Gun-rights campaigners failed to collect enough signatures to initiate two other recalls, they point out, so the victory was really mixed. The gun-control laws passed by the Colorado legislature remain in place, and Democrats retain control of both houses. Tuesday’s recall was a low-turnout election with procedural irregularities that made it harder for people to vote. Both lawmakers represented tough districts, particularly Senator Angela Giron, whose district was Democratic but culturally conservative; she lost by 12 points, while state Senate President John Morse lost by fewer than 400 votes.
All those things are true. And they don’t matter.
Read more. [Image: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]
From Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, you can drive a narrow, two-lane road to Washington Avenue, cross the highway, and arrive about five minutes later at the headquarters of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the nation’s “other” gun lobby. You’ve likely never heard of the NSSF—they’ve kept a lower public profile than the National Rifle Association, but they’ve been quietly shaping American gun culture for more than half a century. Now, they’ve begun to play a much more influential role in politics.
Every year from 1998 through 2010, the NRA spent at least ten times more than the NSSF on direct lobbying. Today those numbers are converging—the NRA has spent $1.7 million so far in 2013, compared to $1.1 million spent by the NSSF, mostly in efforts to loosen state requirements for concealed carry permits. The NRA still boasts the political muscle to sway the outcome of major legislation, but the big gun lobby’s intervention is conspicuous and subject to ridicule, and an NRA campaign contribution can sometimes become a political liability—in a 2013 PPP poll, 39% of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate backed by the NRA, whereas only 26% said they’d be more likely to. This April, when Senator Mitch McConnell (the NRA’s single biggest recipient of campaign contributions) used procedural tactics to block an expanded background check bill, NRA Board member Adolphous Busch publicly resigned from the organization, saying the group “clearly places priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers while disregarding the opinions of [its] 4 million individual members.”
Read more. [Image: Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun/Reuters]
After nearly two decades of continual victories in state legislatures, gun-rights proponents have suddenly hit some turbulence. Despite paralysis on the issue in Washington, mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and elsewhere have led five states to tighten their gun laws.
Four of those states are liberal bastions, but the fifth is the formerly red state of Colorado, home of not only Aurora but also the Columbine massacre. Unsurprisingly, the Centennial State is also where the gun lobby is looking to make a statement in return – with recalls set to take place September 10 against two state legislators, including term-limited state Senate President John Morse, a Democrat.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Toy guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Nevertheless, campaigners in Pakistan are aiming to get imitation Kalashnikovs and Glocks off the streets, saying they help breed a culture of violence among children.
The campaigners have targeted Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of Ramadan (August 7-9) to launch their effort, knowing that children will be eager to buy new toys with the pocket money they traditionally receive during the festivities.
Nongovernmental organizations, poets, singers, and peace activists plan to fight back by staging walks, petitioning the authorities, and talking to parents and shopkeepers in the hope they minimize interest in the toy weapons that traders stock up on during Eid al-Fitr.
Read more. [Image: Morteza Nikoubazi/Reuters]
Even peaceful Switzerland is reeling from mass murders, and voters are demanding change. Public-health research on firearm deaths is notoriously inconclusive, but it’s safe to say that more guns make for more bodies: High firearm-death rates (totaling suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths) correlate with high levels of gun ownership, at least among countries belonging to the European Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The link between gun ownership and gun murderis fuzzier: Gun-loving Finland has more than twice as many firearms as Portugal, but the Finns have only half as many gun murders per capita. Income, development, and culture appear to drive gun-crime rates more than simple gun availability.
Explore the data at Bloomberg Businessweek