Yes, We Should Politicize the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

In Newtown, Connecticut yesterday, the United States’ culture of violence flared up yet again in an especially tragic and gruesome way when Adam Lanza reportedly shot and killed 27 people, including 20 children and his mother, and killed himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   According to a comprehensive report by Mother Jones magazine, this killing rampage is just the latest of more than 60 mass killings that have occurred throughout the nation since the early 1980s.  And while high profile, mass killings account for only a small portion of total firearm homicides in the US, which numbered more than 11,500 in 2009.

Whenever a heinous murder spree like the one in Connecticut yesterday occurs, gun rights activists offer two responses.  The first is to argue that killings like these could have been prevented if there were more guns in our society.  For example, Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, responded to the Newtown tragedy by stating that:

Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.

This view that the solution to gun violence is more guns is a common one among gun fanatics – for example, the Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan on Thursday passed a law, which Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) is still evaluating, that would allow concealed weapons in bars, schools, child-care centers, colleges, hospitals, and places of worship.  It is also a view that is flatly wrong.   While it is hypothetically possible that a teacher could have stopped the shooting in Newtown if he or she had been armed, the far more likely result if multiple people in such a situation are armed is a shootout that could lead to even more deaths and mayhem.  And a wide array of scientific research bears that point out, by demonstrating that the higher the number of guns in a society, the higher the number of firearm homicides.

The second major response to mass killings offered by gun rights activists is to try to squelch any discussion of guns in the wake of the killing by claiming that we should not “politicize” the situation by talking about guns at a time when families and the nation are mourning the victims of yet another shooting.  But this response is utter poppycock.  To “politicize” something means to make it “political” which, in turn, means simply that the issue relates to or deals with the affairs of government, politics, or the state.  The death of 27 people, including 20 children, at the hands of an individual who was able to obtain weapons better suited for military or police work is already an issue that relates to or deals with affairs of government or the state.  In fact, as Ezra Klein has pointed out, gun rights activists are themselves politicizing the issue by trying to prevent a discussion of gun laws in order to preserve the status quo of little regulation of gun possession.  And gun control advocates can only change that status quo if they treat this as the political issue it is.  If anything, using the Newtown massacre to help get stricter gun legislation passed so that schoolchildren will be less likely to be killed by a firearm would demonstrate a compassionate understanding of the situation, not an inappropriate politicization of an already political tragedy.

To the gun rights activists who offer spurious claims of politicization to argue that now is not the time to discuss our nation’s gun laws, Winning Progressive asks when is the right time to discuss these issues?

- If the  firearm killing of 27 people, including 20 children, is not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and killing of six others was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of eight people in a salon in Seal Beach, California in 2011 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of five people in an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada in 2011 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of seven people at Oikos University in Oakland, California earlier this year was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the killing of twelve people and injuring of fifty-eight people in a shooting spree in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the shooting deaths of 11,500 people nationwide in 2009 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of 33 people and injuring of 23 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

While gun rights fanatics may not be able to answer these questions, Winning Progressive believes that the time to discuss and strengthen our nation’s gun laws is now.  Such laws should be based on the core principal that with the right to bear arms comes responsibility to make sure that guns are used safely, that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that ownership of the most powerful weapons that are clearly meant for little else than killing people is restricted or forbidden.  Consistent with that core principal, we need common sense gun legislation that reinstates the assault weapon ban, fixes the gun checks system, closes the gun show loophole, bans ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds, and makes it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers.

In order to get such common sense gun control legislation passed, we must all raise our voices in demanding government action gun control.  You can help do that by:

- Contacting President Obama - 202-456-1111 – and urging him to show leadership on the issue of gun control

- Write a letter to your local newspaper editor in support of common sense gun control laws

- Support the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, both of which are working to establish sensible gun control laws in the US


Texas A&M Study Finds ‘Stand Your Ground’ Means More Homicides

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

Florida state representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) sponsored the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that drew national attention after self-styled neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In March he defended the law on the Lehrer News Hour, claiming it had “saved thousands of lives.”

Representative Baxley offered no evidence to back up his claim, and a new study by Texas A&M economists Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra suggests Rep. Baxley won’t offer evidence anytime soon. Professors Cheng and Hoekstra compared crime statistics in states that had adopted ‘Stand Your Ground’ (SYG) laws, to those of states with previously similar crime statistics that had not adopted SYG laws.

Note: The study’s authors refer to these as “castle doctrine laws.” However the castle doctrine protected the right of self-defense in one’s own home, with no duty to retreat, long before SYG laws were proposed. SYG laws removed the duty to retreat from confrontations outside the home. I have replaced their references to “castle doctrine” with [SYG].

Their conclusion is disturbing (boldface added):

In recent years, more than 20 states have strengthened their self-defense laws by adopting [SYG] laws. These statutes widen the scope for the justified use of lethal force in self-defense by stating the circumstances under which self-defense is justified and removing the duty to retreat from a list of protected places outside the home. In addition, in some cases they establish a presumption of reasonableness and remove civil liability. Thus, these laws could hypothetically deter crime or, alternatively, escalate violence. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to examine empirically which of these possibilities, if any, is true.

The Palm Beach Post op-ed linked above also noted that Rep. Baxley offered no evidence – when he proposed Florida’s SYG law in 2005 – that Floridians had been wrongfully prosecuted after legitimate self-defense situations. The Florida Legislature simply accepted his claim that such wrongful prosecutions could happen, and his argument that SYG would both prevent those wrongful prosecutions and deter would-be criminals. Oops….

We find no evidence that [SYG] law deters crime. Furthermore, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out moderate-sized deterrence effects. Thus, while our view is that it is a priori reasonable to expect that strengthening self-defense law would deter crime, we find this is not the case.

The authors examined crime rates for burglary, robbery, and aggravated assault – crimes one might reasonably expect SYG to deter – in similar states with-and-without SYG, and within states before-and-after SYG laws were enacted. They found no significant difference in the rates of these crimes.

We find suggestive but inconclusive evidence that these laws increase justifiable homicide by private citizens. However, the absolute impact of even the largest and most statistically significant estimates is quite small, given how few homicides are classified in this way. Our estimates suggest the laws cause at most 50 additional justifiable homicides per year across all 23 states that adopted [SYG].

More significantly, results indicate that [SYG] laws increase total homicides by 7 to 9 percent. Put differently, the laws induce an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year across the 23 states in our sample that enacted [SYG] laws. This finding is robust to a wide set of difference-in-differences specifications, including region-by-year fixed effects, state-specific linear time trends, and controls for time-varying factors such as economic conditions and policing and incarceration rates. These findings provide evidence that lowering the expected cost of lethal force causes there to be more of it.

The additional homicides induced by [SYG] could be due to victims practicing self-defense under the terms of the new law, an increased propensity by criminals to use lethal force when committing crimes or encountering resistance, the escalation of other conflicts, or some combination of the above. While we would expect different analysts to weight homicides from these situations differently, it is clear that the primary impact of these laws, beyond giving potential victims additional scope to protect themselves, is to increase the loss of human life. Thus, in light of our findings, our view is that an informed debate over these laws will weigh the increased protection offered to law-abiding citizens against the increase in homicide that results from the laws.

The evidence shows that SYG laws have not “saved thousands of lives.” Quite the contrary, SYG laws have resulted in thousands more deaths. If state legislators care about evidence, and not simply NRA rhetoric, they should start to save lives … by ending the bloody experiment called ‘Stand Your Ground.’

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (