FLOTSAM & JETSAM: Alex Jones & Chris Matthews control

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Alex Jones & Chris Matthews control

Sam Smith - Before we do anything about guns, we have to get Alex Jones and Chris Matthews under control. They neatly typify the absurd over-simplicity to which the issue of violence has been lowered: either you're a nut or a Nazi.

In fact, the more you delve into this topic the more complex it becomes. Let's say, for example, that one could successfully ban not just assault weapons but all rifles and shotguns. If half the people who used them to kill others would be restrained from doing so, then the murder rate would drop about 3%. Hardly enough to divide a whole nation about.

On the other side of the ledger, consider this study reported by the New Scientist in 1999:
 People who carry guns are far likelier to get shot – and killed – than those who are unarmed, a study of shooting victims in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has found.

Charles Branas's team at the University of Pennsylvania analysed 677 shootings over two-and-a-half years to discover whether victims were carrying at the time, and compared them to other Philly residents of similar age, sex and ethnicity. The team also accounted for other potentially confounding differences, such as the socioeconomic status of their neighbourhood.

Overall, Branas's study found that people who carried guns were 4.5 times as likely to be shot and 4.2 times as likely to get killed compared with unarmed citizens. When the team looked at shootings in which victims had a chance to defend themselves, their odds of getting shot were even higher.
Now let's consider some of the things that neither Jones nor Matthews have any interest in discussing:

- Despite an overwhelming media enthusiasm for violence, our children are seldom given any training at all in mediation and dispute resolution.

- CNN repeatedly features military experts but hardly ever has a peace expert on.

- Here's another New Scientist report from 1999 that you probably never heard about:
Shootings and killings in deprived areas of Chicago and Baltimore have plummeted by between 41 and 73 per cent thanks to a program that treats violence as if it is an infectious disease.

Pioneers of the program, called CeaseFire, say it relies on simultaneously changing attitudes and behavior and will work anywhere.
The key is to change social norms so that violence is seen as "uncool" both by potential perpetrators and their communities, instead of being the automatic way to settle a dispute.

"Violence gets transmitted the same way as other communicable diseases, so we train 'violence interruptors' to prevent escalation," says Gary Slutkin, founder and executive director of CeaseFire.
"They change the norm from 'violence is what's expected of me' to 'violence will make me look stupid'," says Slutkin.

While violence interruptors work on the streets to intercept and defuse disputes before anyone gets hurt, outreach workers work in parallel to get the same message to the community, through schools and key members such as clergy.

The net effect is that the "default" norm of instant violence rapidly changes to one in which shooting is seen as unacceptable and unfashionable. "1800 of these types of events have been successfully mediated in the past 4 years," says Slutkin.
This doesn't surprise me. I edited a center city newspaper in DC during some of the worst years, including the 1968 riots, and remember  how programs that worked - such as having a squad of Recreation Department officials working the streets instead of just staying on the playgrounds - got ignored by the media and the public and eventually killed.

I argued futilely against the DC police's transfer of street cops into cars. The increased isolation would parallel a rise in violence. I later proposed things such as EMT training in high schools to create  alternative role models to the druggies.

What struck me was how such corrective policies attracted virtually no attention or appreciation. It was, then as now, all about more stringent laws.

And I wasn't exactly naive. At one point half my circulation department was in jail. I found needles hidden behind stacks of newspapers in our office. And once I had to get my wife and kid out of town after receiving a threat serious enough that a cop stayed with me overnight.

But then, on the bright side, I think of a friend who taught mediation in the DC public schools and to cops. One of her students - a teen aged girl - was sitting in a bus when a woman rider and the driver got into a shouting match. This young student walked to the front of the bus and said, "Excuse me, but I've been trained in mediation. Can I help?" And did.

And then there were the cold facts. Here's what happened in DC after strict gun laws were passed.
In the 1970s DC passed the strict laws and nothing happened.Then Reagan hyped the drug war and murders soared. Finally the drug market matured, policing got better, and the number of youths declined along with the murder rate.

Which is why I shake my head when people insist that banning assault weapons is going to have a significant impact.

Sure, there are improvements that can be made, but leave Alex Jones and Chris Matthews out of it.  Discuss the issue rationally with rational people. For example, Joe Biden talks of background checks, but does he mean checks that can be challenged legally or TSA no-fly list style enforcement? That's the sort of thing we should be talking about. Handling laws are like handling guns; it should be done calmly and sensibly.

And beyond that  is the liberal response to this issue - describing much of America as violent nutcases. They couldn't have done themselves less of a favor than if they had elected a Republican president and Congress. Their reaction to the gun issue has solidified the wall between the 21% who call themselves liberal and much of the rest of the country.

As Dan Baum put it in the Huffington Post in 2011, "Gun control not only does no practical good, it actively causes harm. It may be hard to show that it saves lives, but it's easy to demonstrate that we've sacrificed a generation of progress on things like health care, women's rights, immigration reform, income fairness, and climate change because we keep messing with people's guns. I am researching a book on Americans' relationship to their guns, and keep meeting working-stiff gun guys -- people whose wages haven't risen since 1978 and should be natural Democrats -- who won't even listen to the blue team because they're convinced Democrats want to take away their guns. Misguided? Maybe. But that's democracy for you. It's helpful to think of gun control as akin to marijuana prohibition -- useless for almost everything except turning otherwise law-abiding people into criminals and fomenting cynicism and resentment."

Baum's book, published by Knopf, will be out in March: "Gun Guys: A Road Trip."