The Holiday Season Has Started Off With A "Bang" - actually, with multiple bangs

A Message from the President of Americans Against Gun Violence

December 1, 2020

 

During the four day period from the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, November 26, through Sunday, November 29, there were eight mass shootings in the United States,[1] beginning with a shooting in Henderson, Nevada, on Thanksgiving morning, committed by a couple who drove through the city shooting randomly at residents, killing a 22 year old man and wounding four other people.[2] A previous mass shooting on November 3 had left at least four people dead in Henderson,[3] a city described by its mayor as “one of the most vibrant and enriching communities in America.”[4]   The eighth mass shooting over the Thanksgiving weekend occurred on Sunday morning at a bar in Grenada, Mississippi, where at least 11 people were wounded.[5]

If Thursday through Sunday were just average days in the United States, though, when the total number of people killed and wounded with guns is added up, the eight mass shootings will account for only a tiny fraction of the more than 400 fatal gunshot wounds and more than a thousand non-fatal shootings that are expected to occur over any “regular” four day period in our country.[6] And when retail sales data are reported for “Black Friday,” the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, if trends from previous years hold true,[7] we can expect that the data will show that guns were among the hottest selling items, adding to the record number of guns already purchased in 2020.[8]

It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. It’s not this way in any other high income democratic country in the world.

We, as a society, know – or should know – that we can stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence in our country by adopting stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws that have long been in effect in all the other high income democratic countries of the world – countries in which mass shootings occur rarely, if ever,[9] and in which the rate of gun related deaths is, on average, one tenth the rate in our country.[10] But we, as a society, choose not to adopt such laws. In fact, for the most part, we, as a society, choose not to even discuss adopting such laws. At the time of my writing this message, Americans Against Gun Violence remains the only national gun violence prevention organization in the entire United States that openly advocates the adoption of stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and other advanced democracies.

Since founding Americans Against Gun Violence in 2016, we’ve held annual dinners at which we’ve brought experts in the field of gun violence prevention from abroad to talk to us about how they succeeded in dramatically lowering rates of gun violence in their countries. This year, we’d planned to bring Dr. Michael North of Scotland to be our keynote speaker. Dr. North lost his five year old daughter, Sophie, in the mass shooting at the elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996. The shooting was committed by a man who legally owned the handguns he used to kill Sophie, her teacher, and 15 other students. Following the Dunblane mass shooting, Dr. North helped lead a successful campaign to completely ban civilian ownership of handguns in Great Britain. Great Britain already had a ban on civilian ownership of automatic and semi-automatic long guns. Since the handgun ban went into effect in 1998, there have been no further school shootings, and the rate of gun deaths in Great Britain is currently 1/60th the rate in the United States.[11]

We weren’t able to bring Dr. North to the United States to speak in person due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we were able to arrange for him to deliver the keynote address at our virtual annual conference held via Zoom on November 15. He humbly and eloquently described how he and a small group of other Dunblane parents who had no prior political experience or infrastructure, but who fervently believed that nothing short of a complete handgun ban would suffice to protect other children from becoming victims of future mass shootings, were able to succeed in achieving what had previously been thought to be politically impossible. We recorded Dr. North’s moving keynote address, and you can view it by clicking on this link.

The recording of the first hour of our November 15 conference also includes an enlightening presentation by the prominent San Francisco Bay Area attorney, Anthony Schoenberg. Mr. Schoenberg speaks about the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s rogue 2008 Heller decision, in which a narrow 5-4 majority of the Court reversed over two centuries of legal precedent, including four prior Supreme Court opinions, in ruling that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own a handgun unrelated to service in a well regulated militia.[12] I’d first met Mr. Schoenberg at a dinner hosted by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco in 2015. During the social hour before the dinner, Mr. Schoenberg and I talked about the Heller decision, and I recalled Mr. Schoenberg telling me that the decision was “an abomination.” I’ve subsequently quoted his description of the Heller decision on multiple occasions, including in previous Americans Against Gun Violence president’s messages. The 2015 dinner was attended by hundreds of guests, including many other prominent attorneys, and during the dinner program, Mr. Schoenberg was given the Law Center’s pro bono attorney of the year award for his work in successfully defending a gun lobby challenge to a local large capacity magazine ban in the case of Fyock v. Sunnyvale.

 In his presentation during our virtual conference on November 15, Mr. Schoenberg claimed that I’d been misquoting him over the past five years. He recalled telling me that the Heller decision was “an atrocity,” not “an abomination.” He went on to talk about some of the more egregious distortions of the truth in the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller, including Scalia’s hypocrisy in claiming to adhere to the original text of the Second Amendment at the same time that Scalia argues that the phrase, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,” which constitutes the first half of the Amendment, is irrelevant to the proper interpretation of the second half, which states, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” I strongly recommend viewing Mr. Schoenberg’s presentation to anyone who has any doubts about the need to overturn the Heller decision.

Just as Americans Against Gun Violence is the only U.S. gun violence prevention organization that advocates adopting stringent gun control laws in our country comparable to the laws in other high income democratic countries, we are the only organization that openly advocates overturning the rogue 2008 Heller decision; and we were the only organization in the country to file an amicus curiae (friend of the Court) brief last year calling on the Supreme Court to overturn Heller in the important Second Amendment case of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. New York City,[13] in which the gun lobby challenged New York’s strict regulations on transporting handguns within the City. Although New York subsequently weakened its handgun laws in order to make the case moot, our amicus brief still stands on the Supreme Court docket as a landmark document putting the Court on notice that we recognize that Heller was wrongly decided and that the decision is worse than a rogue decision, worse even than an “abomination” or an “atrocity.” In creating a constitutional obstacle, where none previously existed, to the adoption of stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in all the other high income democratic countries of the world, the Heller decision is literally a death sentence for tens of thousands of Americans annually. We will not rest until the Heller decision is overturned.

You may wonder, as I do, why no other U.S. gun violence prevention organization has joined Americans Against Gun Violence in openly advocating overturning the Heller decision and adopting stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in other high income democratic countries, including a complete ban on civilian ownership of handguns, comparable to the one that Dr. North and his colleagues got adopted in Great Britain following the 1996 Dunblane Primary School mass shooting; and a complete ban on civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic long guns, comparable to the ones that Australia adopted after the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting and that New Zealand adopted after the 2019 Christchurch mass shootings.[14] I can assure you that it’s not for a lack of evidence in support of our position. For more information on this topic, I’ll refer you to the expanded text of the presentation that I gave at the American Public Health Association annual conference in October of this year.

And I can also assure you that the reason why no other U.S. gun violence prevention organization has joined us in advocating definitive measures to stop our country’s shameful epidemic of gun violence is not a lack of effort on our part in reaching out to these other organizations. Just last evening, I participated in a Zoom conference with the leaders of an organization that wants to use automobile safety as a model for preventing gun violence. While there may be some parallels between automobile safety and gun safety, the leaders of this organization didn’t want to consider the fact that whereas automobiles are specifically designed to get people safely and efficiently from point A to point B, handguns and rapid fire long guns are specifically designed to efficiently kill people. Nor did the leaders of this organization want to consider advocating any measure that would noticeably reduce the vast pool of privately owned guns in our country.

In his 2001 book, Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns, Joshua Sugarmann, the executive director of the Violence Policy Center, wrote:

America's gun lobby would be on the run, if only the gun control advocates would bother to chase them. Instead, trapped by their perception of the politically achievable, gun control advocates are always on the defensive[15]....They nibble around the edges of half-solutions and good intentions dramatically out of sync with the reality of gun violence in America.[16]

I’ve got my own theories about why other gun violence prevention organizations are content to “nibble around the edges of half-solutions and good intentions,” but instead of discussing my theories in this message, I’ll suggest that the next time you receive a donation request from these organizations, you ask them yourself why they’re not working toward overturning the Heller decision and adopting stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws in all the other high income democratic countries of the world. I hope it’s clear to you, though, why Americans Against Gun Violence is not content to “nibble around the edges,” and I hope you’ll help us accomplish our mission of stopping our country’s shameful epidemic of gun violence by becoming an official paid member of Americans Against Gun Violence, if you haven’t already done so; by making an additional year end donation to Americans Against Gun Violence, if you’re able; by helping us recruit others to our cause; and by letting your elected leaders know that taking donations from the gun lobby is unacceptable; that nibbling around the edges of half-solutions and good intentions is inadequate; and that you expect them to openly advocate and do everything within their power to accomplish overturning the Heller decision and adopting stringent gun control laws in the United States comparable to the laws that have long been in effect in all the other high income democratic countries of the world.

Finally, I’d like to suggest one last time that you view the video in which Dr. North describes how, after losing his five year old daughter, Sophie, in the Dunblane Primary School mass shooting in 1996, he and other grieving parents succeeded in taking definitive measures to ensure that no one else in their country would ever have to go through what they and their children had gone through. And after viewing the video, I hope you’ll join me in committing to redouble our efforts to follow Dr. North’s example.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Bill Durston, MD

President, Americans Against Gun Violence

Note: Dr. Durston is a retired emergency physician, a former expert marksman in the United States Marine Corps, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, decorated for "courage under fire."

 

 

 

 

[1] “Mass Shootings | Gun Violence Archive,” accessed November 17, 2017, http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people, not including the perpetrator, are wounded but not necessarily killed.

[2] Andy Rose and Alaa Elasar, “1 Dead after Multiple Random Shootings in Nevada on Thanksgiving,” CNN, November 26, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/26/us/henderson-nevada-shooting-shot-dead-trnd/index.html.

[3] Jason Hanna, “Four Dead, Including a Possible Suspect, after Shootings in Henderson, Nevada,” CNN, November 4, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/04/us/nevada-henderson-shootings/index.html.

[4] “City of Henderson,” accessed November 28, 2020, https://www.cityofhenderson.com/mayor-council/relocation-guide/welcome-to-henderson.

[5] Wilson Wong, “Shooting at Mississippi Biker Club Leaves at Least 11 Wounded,” NBC News, November 30, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/shooting-mississippi-biker-club-leaves-least-11-wounded-n1249327.

[6] “Fatal Injury Data | WISQARS | Injury Center | CDC,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal.html; “NonFatal Data | WISQARS | Injury Center | CDC,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed September 11, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/nonfatal.html.

[7] Josh K. Elliott, “Americans Bought More than 200,000 Guns on Black Friday,” Global News, December 3, 2019, https://globalnews.ca/news/6244058/black-friday-gun-sales-2019/.

[8] Lois Beckett, “Americans Have Bought Record 17m Guns in Year of Unrest, Analysis Finds,” the Guardian, October 30, 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/29/coronavirus-pandemic-americans-gun-sales.

[9] Jen Christensen, “Why the US Has the Most Mass Shootings,” CNN, November 28, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/27/health/u-s-most-mass-shootings/index.html.

[10] Erin Grinshteyn and David Hemenway, “Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-Income OECD Countries, 2010,” The American Journal of Medicine 129, no. 3 (March 1, 2016): 266–73, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.10.025.

[11] Michael J. North, “Gun Control in Great Britain after the Dunblane Shootings,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 185–93.

[12] District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US (Supreme Court 2008).

[13] “New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al., Petitioners v.  City of New York, New York, et Al.,” Supreme Court of the United States, accessed April 30, 2019, https://www.supremecourt.gov/rss/cases/18-280.xml.

[14] Rebecca Peters, “Rational Firearm Regulation: Evidence-Based Gun Laws in Australia,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 195–204; Philip Alpers, “The Big Melt: How One Democracy Changed after Scrapping a Third of Its Firearms,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 205–11; “2019 Firearm Law Changes (Arms Amendment Bill 2),” New Zealand Police, accessed August 27, 2020, https://www.police.govt.nz/advice-services/firearms-and-safety/2019-firearm-law-changes-arms-amendment-bill-2.

[15] Josh Sugarmann, Every Handgun Is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns (New Press, 2001), XV.

[16] Sugarmann, 181.