Are Mass Shootings Uniquely American?

In the wake of the latest American mass shooting in Las Vegas, there was an immediate, reflexive narrative from the left that mass shootings (and gun violence in general) is unique to America. As stated in an article from FiveThirtyEight on Wednesday, “There is something distinctly American about this way of death.”

Consider the flurry of headlines that erupted after the latest devastation:

This is nothing new, either. After the mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, CO, then President Obama said, “I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings: This just doesn’t happen in other countries.”

It’s an accusation that is coupled with the call for stricter gun controls, and the argument is that a crackdown on gun ownership will lead to a reduction in gun violence and overall crime.

Understandably, mass shootings receive a lot of media attention because of the ferocity and seemingly random suddenness of their occurrence. But for as long as this debate has raged through the decades, there remain a lot of blatant misconceptions from the left in regard to gun violence and gun control.

Are mass shootings uniquely American? Even if measured solely against other advanced nations?

The media run with this set of assumptions and overwhelm Americans with the narrative. And it would be justified if only it stood up to data and factual scrutiny – but it doesn’t…

US vs Europe

The reality is that most countries deal with this dilemma to varying degrees, and there’s nothing uniquely American about it. The United States doesn’t even rank at the top of the issue when it’s measured on a per capita basis.

From 2009-15, for example, the EU experienced 55% more casualties per capita from mass shootings (per the Crime Prevention Research Center).

In terms of annual death rate per million people from mass shootings, the United States ranks 11th.

The frequency of mass shootings per million people in the United States ranks 12th.

It must be stressed that this is not meant to diminish or dismiss the impact of mass shootings in the United States and across the world. It’s important, though, to analyze the issue with data to help consider possible solutions.

Mass shootings are not unique to America.

But is stricter gun control legislation the answer to the problem?

Gun Control

As a conservative, I sympathize with my friends on the left (to an extent) when they push gun control in the aftermath of mass shootings. After all, they believe that “common sense” gun control is the answer to the senseless loss of lives. If there were increased restrictions on assault weapons, mandated limits on ammunition and the number of guns that individuals could own, then this would certainly reduce the potentiality of mass shootings and gun violence.

But the data doesn’t support that argument either. There isn’t even a correlation to the argument, let alone causation.

In the United States, from 1993-2013, as the ownership of privately-owned firearms increased by 56%, the gun homicide rate decreased by 49%. That certainly doesn’t prove that more guns necessarily cause less crime, but it disproves the basic accusation that more guns cause more gun violence.

What’s unique to this latest mass shooting, however, is that Stephen Paddock was firing a fully-automatic rifle. Recent mass shootings in the United States have been associated with semi-automatic guns. Fully-automatic machine guns have been illegal in the United States since the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. And it wasn’t until authorities released information about the types of weapons Paddock used that we learned about a relatively new device called a “bump stock”.

A bump stock allows the user to modify a semi-automatic rifle to operate as a fully-automatic machine gun, and they’re completely legal. They were given the green light by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives back in 2010 during the Obama administration.

There is a reflexive defensiveness among conservatives when the left begins knocking on the door of gun control. It’s a hesitation caused from the more extreme elements of the left that want to ban all guns, for example. But if machine guns are illegal, then conservatives should be willing to consider the ban of bump stocks and similar devices.

As Jazz Shaw explains:

The fact is that if conservatives truly want to maintain the brand of being supporters of the rule of law in a society guarded by constitutional law and order, we must recognize (even if you disagree) that fully automatic weapons are illegal in almost every instance. (We have a few exceptions which all require the highest level of background checks and federal scrutiny.) We can have a separate debate on whether such a ban is acceptable if you wish, but as things currently stand, that’s the law.

 

These conversion kits and bump stocks only exist for one reason, and that’s to allow a semiautomatic rifle to fire as a fully automatic model… If you accept that the law forbids the possession of fully automatic weapons in all but the most limited cases, then these products should also be illegal unless the purchaser already qualifies for ownership of a fully automatic weapons. For everyone else they should be banned.

That is a reasonable and logical stance that should easily receive bipartisan support and provide common ground.

The left won’t stop there, to be sure, but at least it’s a wedge of agreement in an otherwise divisive issue.

Aetna Will Complete Its Exit from Obamacare in 2018 as the Death Spiral Continues

Aetna announced that it will complete its exit from Obamacare exchanges in 2018 by no longer offering policies in Nebraska or Delaware. The company expects to lose over $200 million in the individual business line this year, after losing approximately $700 million from 2014 to 2016.

This latest news comes on the heels of Iowans discovering that they might have no health insurance offering in 2018, as both Aetna and Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield are exiting the state exchange.

For all the pompous rhetoric that we’re hearing from Democrats about people losing their insurance if Obamacare is repealed, they’re unwilling to acknowledge that individuals and families are already losing their insurance.

This isn’t just a case of it “not being perfect,” as Democrats like to tout. “Hey, at least it’s something!”

The Obamacare death spiral continues…

Insurers that plan to remain in Obamacare in 2018 are requesting enormous rate hikes. For example, CareFirst BCBS, with expected losses of $600 million in four years, is requesting over 50% rate increases in Maryland.

The Obamacare trend is growing more bleak and disastrous as each month passes without a repeal from Republicans.

It’s due time that Obamacare supporters accept the fact that it’s a failing system. And to point the finger at the big, bad insurance companies isn’t the answer.

Kevin Williamson at National Review wrote a phenomenal article, brilliantly explaining how the economic concept of scarcity plays a role in health insurance:

Putting mandates on insurance companies is not a cure for scarcity. Sometimes, it makes things worse. Insurance companies operate by making a very careful study of actuarial information, which allows them to make remarkably accurate predictions about the medical needs of large populations with known demographic characteristics. Nobody knows whether any given 60-year-old man will have a heart attack this year, but stack up 10 million of them, and the pointy-headed actuarial nerds can tell you with a high degree of accuracy how many of them will. But we want insurance to be something different: We want it to be the conqueror of scarcity. So we do things like mandate coverage of preexisting medical conditions, which is to say, we demand that they place bets against things that already have happened. The usual metaphor here is offering fire insurance after the house already has burned down, and that is apt. We are asking them to bet against the Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl after the fact, in 2018, in 2019, 2020, etc.

As Ted Cruz suggests, let’s hope that Obamacare can be truly repealed in one bill. The Republicans will only have one shot at this!

Ted Cruz Seeks to Become GOP Peacemaker in the Battle to Repeal Obamacare

In the midst of the Republican battle over healthcare reform, we find Ted Cruz changing his approach to become a GOP peacemaker, rather than the disruptive maverick he has been in the past.

In a recent interview with KRIV in Houston, Cruz said:

And you’ve got to say, alright, where is common ground? What is the core thing you want, what is the core thing you want… how do we get to “yes” and get it done?

Republican in-fighting between conservatives and big-government party members continues behind the scenes, as the party struggles to fulfill a core promise… the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While recent focus has aimed at the budget, the speculation is that the Republicans will make a renewed push at healthcare reform very soon. As it stands today, Republicans still do not have the votes.

Cruz states that his focus is a steadfast commitment to capitalize on Republican control and fulfill the promise to repeal the ACA. His new peacemaker approach acknowledges that the goal is no longer to repeal “every last word” of the ACA.

This is a significantly different strategy by Cruz compared to the stand he made in 2013 to shutdown the government over ACA funding. It’s a tall task, however, to try and unite a party that might be at its breaking point.

Instead of delivering on their promises to their base, Republican leadership fear the political backlash of repealing popular measures in the ACA. Among party centrists, for example, the idea of touching the pre-existing mandate is considered too politically costly. This weak-kneed approach is why we witnessed the party’s embarrassing, hurried push for the American Healthcare Act (ACHA) that ended in outright failure.

David Weigel and Paige Cunningham write in the Washington Post:

In the messy effort to rally their often unruly party around a measure to replace big parts of President Barack Obama’s health-care law, House leaders have been forced to leave other objectives by the wayside and focus on one simple, political goal: pass a bill they can say repeals Obamacare — even if it has no hope of survival in the Senate — to shield their members in next year’s elections.

The change in Cruz’s approach exposes the seemingly stark reality that a full repeal will not happen in 2017, much to the dismay of conservatives. If it’s not repealed in 2017, when there is a rare breadth and depth of Republican control, then it’s never going to happen.

We’ll be left with a mangled, quasi-market, big-government patchwork control over our healthcare industry… A measure that is doomed to fail from a policy standpoint.

Even though conservatives have always faced an uphill battle in the Republican party, it’s still unbelievable to witness such a squandered opportunity!

This past Monday, on his podcast, The Conservative Conscience, Daniel Horowitz explained how Republicans rarely, if ever, scale back government control. Instead, they pride themselves on simply slowing down the unrelenting steady march toward socialist-style policies, if only for a bit.

Trump is increasingly to blame based on the ease with which he attacked conservatives during the AHCA push.

As Horowitz explains:

This is exactly what gives us a Republican Party that does nothing but make the other side’s issues more popular… I want to hear [him] representing people when it matters. When the point of leverage and the point of contention to actually affect the outcome of the critical promises, on Obamacare, on the budget, on immigration, on the courts, on the Iran Deal. I want him to be with us at those moments.

The next few weeks will be a huge challenge for Republicans. There’s a wide chasm that is paralyzing their ability to capitalize on their newfound control. We’re almost halfway through 2017, and not much has been accomplished in the grand scheme of things.

How much longer can a party survive in which the leadership is consistently at odds with its base of support?

Bret Stephens Questions Certainty of Global Warming Predictions in NYT Column. The Left is Enraged!

New York Times conservative columnist, Bret Stephens, published a column last Friday, Climate of Complete Certainty, that explains how too much faith in predictive data models drives leftist climate change supporters to refuse any sort of reasonable debate about the future.

As Stephens explains, “We live in a world in which data convey authority. But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris.”

Or as Ben Shapiro pointed out on Monday:

Stephens’ language about certainty is actually designed to help climate change enthusiasts – if they keep making claims that keep being proved wrong, without any doubts baked into the cake, people will simply discount what they’re saying.

While Stephens has been already branded a “climate change denier” by leftists, he actually references the 2014 IPCC report to find common ground that the global climate is indeed warming, and that it has been caused by humans. (Which is a far cry from the stance of more staunch climate change skeptics.)

Beyond those two elements, however, Stephens diverges in regard to predictive data models, their reliability, and how we should throw caution to the wind for policy and regulatory changes that are too drastic.

Climate change activists look to squash any sort of debate about predictive models and instead claim the science is “settled” as they advocate for policy agendas with clear ideological intentions.

As Stephens states:

Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

Many leftists are completely enraged over it, and the NYT is dealing with a wave of criticism. Instead of taking the feedback, many are canceling their subscriptions to the NYT, even starting a trend on Twitter: #showyourcancellation.

This kind of overreaction is a precise example of Stephens’s main argument. One would think that a reasonable conversation on the issue could be started on a basis of: 1. Global warming is real, and 2. Humans are causing it. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

It’s all or nothing, by and large, for climate change activists, and if you’re not on board for the sweeping policy changes (both domestically and internationally), then you’re a wacky, greedy-capitalist, flat-Earth denier that is hell-bent on the destruction of the planet.

Heck, maybe the federal government should throw you in prison!

Marvel Comics Panders to the “Diversity” Crowd, Sales Slump

At a Marvel Retailer Summit in NYC this past weekend, retailers provided feedback to both David Gabriel, VP of Sales for Marvel, and Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief, concerning overt political messaging as it relates to Marvel’s slump in sales beginning in October 2016.

“I don’t want you guys doing that stuff,” one retailer said of political content.  “I want you to entertain.  That’s the job.  One of my customers even said the other day (because he knew we were coming) he wants to get stories and doesn’t mind a message, but he doesn’t want to be beaten over the head with these things.”

And Gabriel reiterated such feedback to icv2.com:

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity…that’s what we saw in sales,” said Gabriel. “We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”

Alonso clarified Marvel’s intentions. “We’ve gone through a period where in pop culture as a whole (and you guys notice that as much as we do), there’s been this massive discussion about inclusion and diversity,” he said.

While Gabriel did clarify and slightly walk back his statement, the reality remains that there has been an overt push by Marvel to cater to the multiculturalism crowd. There have been a couple relaunches from Marvell; the latest starting in 2016. This particular relaunch has included many core, legacy characters being recast as either women or minorities, and many longtime Marvel fans aren’t happy with it.

Ben Shapiro, a Marvel reader himself, states in his opening monologue to his podcast on Monday, “It’s not racism and sexism that is driving people away from Marvel. It’s a feeling of irritation that classic characters are being redrawn and recast in order to assuage the feelings of social justice warriors.”

Rather than a demand for a “white male ideal,” as one SJW puts it, the problem is that nobody wants to see legendary superheroes recast as totally different people in a seeming effort to appease political pressures.

It’s not that the core audience demands the white male ideal, it’s that they demand characters and storylines that aren’t blatantly driven by political-activism. If Marvel wants to diversify their universe, then the best path is to create new characters that are able to achieve sustained success and that come across as authentic and real. Build diverse characters from the ground up.

In contrast to this kind of cheap transparent pandering, consider Game of Thrones – a show that deals with politics, power, and has an extremely diverse cast of characters – and which has attained wild success…What’s the difference?

It’s that the writing is authentic, real and beautifully complex, and it doesn’t beat its audience over the head with an overtly political message.

Consuming quality writing like GoT simply feels different than the experience of, say… Superman renouncing his American citizenship because Tehran perceives him to be an American agent (DC comic hero, I know, but this kind of stuff is happening there, too). Or, in late 2015, a comic relaunch with Sam Wilson as Captain America, standing up for illegal immigration and published at a time when Trump was leading with “build the wall” in the Republican Primary.

There is no doubt that this is a thin line for Marvel to tread, especially considering that so much of their content is based on present-day circumstances and includes governmental institutions. But their recent sales slump, and the feedback that they’ve received from retailers and fans, seems to suggest that they leaned too far toward an artificial push for multiculturalism in pandering to the diversity crowd.

As with most things in life, subtle change tends to be the best change. Or, least risky.

Jeff Sessions Plans to Crack Down on Drug Cartels, Gun Crimes, but What About Marijuana Laws

Attorney General Jess Sessions announced on Tuesday his intentions to crack down on drug cartels and gun crimes in order to curb the rising trend of violence and homicides. The implication of the rising violence is that there could be a national crime wave brewing.

What remains to be seen is the approach the Session’s Department of Justice will take in enforcing existing marijuana laws. Under the Obama administration, in what’s known as the Cole memo, the DOJ outlined their intention to relax the enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

On Feb 23rd, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that he believes we’ll see a greater enforcement of marijuana laws when there is a conflict with states where it’s legal for recreational use.

The legalization of recreational marijuana use in states like Colorado and Washington has potentially hurt the drug cartels that import marijuana into the U.S. There has been a decrease in the seizure of marijuana at the border. As Andrea Noble with the Washington Times explains:

Annual reports from the U.S. Border Patrol show that seizures of marijuana have declined steadily since fiscal 2013, when 2.4 million pounds of marijuana were seized at the border. In fiscal 2016, the Border Patrol reported seizing 1.2 million pounds of pot

The possibility exists, however, that the illegal operators are instead hiding in plain sight in states where marijuana has been legalized.

There are competing factions both for and against marijuana legalization. Supporters of legalization claim that it will help increase tax revenue, reduce crime, provide medical benefits and lower criminal justice expenditures. Critics of legalization argue that it will promote crime and other drug use, diminish traffic safety, harm public health and impact teen educational achievements.

The truth is that the legalizations for recreational use in some states is too recent to provide any conclusive data in terms of drug use and crime. If anything the data has shown minimal impacts in either category.

It’s a wait-and-see game with the DOJ, at this point, and we won’t quite know how their approach to marijuana laws will be used to crack down on drug cartels and overall crime.

Surprise! Democrats Outraged at Potential Cuts to Public Broadcasting and Arts Programs

The left has already begun attacking a Trump budget plan that hasn’t yet been produced. The Independent has recently published a handful of stories, including this one, attacking Trump’s plan to “slash funding to public broadcasting and arts programs.” They source the NY Times as well, which has revealed a “hit list” of popular programs on the chopping block. The left is already in an expectant uproar.

If we want to have a serious discussion about runaway spending, then it’s about time. But Democrats can’t, on the one hand, complain about cuts to things like arts & humanities if they’re unwilling, on the other hand, to seriously tackle unfunded liabilities and entitlement reform.

The Hill highlights Trump’s “dramatic” plans to cut approximately $10 trillion over 10 years. But the problem is we still don’t know the details. It seems premature to speculate about the privatization of PBS just yet if we don’t have the actual details of the plan. Besides, how will Congress work with Trump’s team to craft legislation? The Hill article also mentions that Russ Vought and John Gray are laying the groundwork:

Vought and Gray, who both worked for the Heritage Foundation, are laying the groundwork for the so-called skinny budget — a 175- to 200-page document that will spell out the main priorities of the incoming Trump administration, along with summary tables. That document is expected to come out within 45 days of Trump taking office.

The administration’s full budget, including appropriations language, supplementary materials and long-term analysis, is expected to be released toward the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, or by mid- to late April.

That’s encouraging to me as a longtime supporter of the Heritage Foundation. It’s reassuring to see two conservatives working to shape the groundwork. When it comes to the budget and the disastrous path of government spending, Heritage Foundation is one of the leading think tanks that’s willing to look at the cold hard facts.

The Cato Institute, another fiscally conservative think tank with a more libertarian bend, published a great piece in 2015. It should be noted that the Republicans are almost as much to blame as the Democrats for the fiscal mess in Washington:

Meanwhile, Republicans give frequent lip service to the debt crisis, but pretend that you can deal with the debt crisis by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the federal budget. Nor can you balance the budget by focusing on the usual suspects that Republicans love to criticize. Foreign aid amounts to less than 1 percent of federal spending. Federal subsidies to Planned Parenthood and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting amount to a combined 0.0002 percent.

It’s well known the George W and the Republicans in Congress lead the way a record amount of spending during his two terms. Only to be far outdone, however, by Obama’s two terms.

Even worse, though, Democrats by and large turn a blind eye to the root of the problem. As the Cato author explains:

The Democrats either deny that there is a problem or insist that it could be solved if only the wealthy paid higher taxes. But even if one thought that tax increases were a good idea, and could be implemented without killing jobs or slowing economic growth, it is simply impossible to increase taxes enough to close the budget gap. In particular, raising taxes on the wealthy falls far short of what would be required to pay for our current and future obligations. In fact, if you confiscated every penny owned by every person earning more than a million dollars a year, you would raise roughly $16.6 trillion—nowhere near enough to fund our debt.

In reality, the tax hike needed to pay our way out from under the mountain of future debt is almost beyond comprehension. Consider that, in 2008, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that in order to simply pay for then-projected spending, we would have to raise both the corporate tax rate and the top individual tax rate to 88 percent, raise the rate for middle-income workers to 63 percent, and raise the rate for low income Americans to 25 percent. Since then we’ve added another $8.84 trillion in debt, meaning rates would have to be even higher today. Does anyone really believe that such tax rates are possible?

We need a common-sense approach. If the Democrats are actually willing to play ball with entitlement reform and willing to help right the ship of the debt crisis, then who really cares about relatively minimal spending around arts & humanities? What we can’t do is continue to turn a blind eye and treat the terminal budget wound with band-aids.

The Republican Congress appears flat-footed to begin 2017, playing with the lead like the Atlanta Falcons in the 2nd half of the Superbowl. They’re operating as if the legislature is purely designed to sit on its heels and wait for the executive to come up with a plan. Let’s go, already!

Humana Leaves Obamacare in 2018, Republicans Are Flat-Footed

The Obamacare death spiral continues as Humana announced yesterday that it is dropping out of all state exchanges beginning in 2018. It shouldn’t be a shock considering the well-known volatility and instability of the exchanges. Unfortunately, Republicans appear to be flat-footed in their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act as they promised, and there appears to be considerable rifts within the party about how exactly to tackle the issue.

After the Aetna/Humana merger was blocked by a federal judge, Humana was forced to make a choice about their participation in state exchanges moving forward. While they will continue their commitments through 2017, there are a number of Obamacare exchange participants that will be left without a carrier in 2018.

Per The Hill’s article:

Humana scaled back its exchange participation to 11 states and 156 counties in 2017, down from 1,351 counties in 19 states the previous year.

The withdrawal will have a big impact in Tennessee, where it is the only exchange insurer in several countries.

Humana is also one of only two insurers in dozens of counties in states like Mississippi and Georgia.

President Trump promised to tackle the ACA immediately after taking office, and at this point, it would serve as a great way to regain ground after a tumultuous couple weeks. Between the poorly rolled out executive order on immigration, and now the sudden resignation of Michael Flynn, the administration needs to bring their focus back on policy.

There should be a concerted effort on behalf of the White House to guide Congress toward an effective and efficient repeal of the ACA. Where is the Republican leadership on this issue? Where is the party cohesion that the Democrats execute so well? With the May 2017 deadline looming for carriers to prepare their plans for 2018, there are merely 12-14 weeks for Congress to bring stability and predictability to the health insurance markets.

Outside of fulfilling promises made to their supporters, Republicans owe it to Americans of both parties to fix the sinking ship that is the ACA… and fast!