The world is watching: How Florida shooting made U.S. gun control a global conversation

AR-15 "Sport" rifles on sale at deep discounts in an Arizona store.
Image: john moore/Getty Images

When you move to America from a country with more effective gun control laws, one of the first things you learn is how hard it is to talk to Americans — even on the sympathetic side of the political divide — about the gun issue. 

It was particularly difficult when I arrived on these shores in 1996, direct from living in Scotland during its (and Britain’s) worst-ever school shooting. In the tiny town of Dunblane, a 43-year old former shopkeeper and scoutmaster brought four handguns to a school gymnasium full of five-year-olds. He shot and killed 16 of them and their teacher, then turned his handgun on himself.

After Dunblane, the British plunged into a state of collective mourning that was at least as widespread as the better-known grieving process for Princess Diana the following year. (Americans don’t always believe that part, to which I usually say: the kids were five, for crying out loud. Five.)

In a country where nobody would dream of pulling public funding for studies into gun violence, the solution was amazingly rational and bipartisan. After a year, and an official inquiry into Dunblane, the Conservative government passed a sweeping piece of legislation restricting handguns. Then after Labour won the 1997 election, it passed another. Britain hasn’t seen a school shooting since. (Same with Australia, which also passed major gun control legislation in 1996). 

But trying to talk about all that in America over the last two decades, I’ve learned from experience, has been like touching the proverbial third rail: only tourists would be dumb enough to try it. Even gun control advocates now think they’re dealing with an intractable, generational problem. Many tell me that we need to tackle mental health services or gun fetishization in Hollywood movies first. The legislation route couldn’t possibly be that easy, they say.

But what if it is that easy? What if the rest of the world also loves Hollywood action movies and has mental health problems, but manages to have fewer shootings simply because it has fewer guns available? What if the rest of the world has been shouting at America for years that gun control is less intractable than you think — you just have to vote in large numbers for the politicians that favor it, and keep doing so at every election? 

If that’s the case, then perhaps some powerful, leveling international marketplace of ideas could help the U.S. see what everyone else has already seen. Something like social media. 

In one sense, Wednesday’s massacre in Parkland, Florida — a school shooting as shocking and senseless as Dunblane —  was evidence that America was further away from a gun control solution than ever. In 1996, buying an AR-15 assault rifle was illegal under federal law. Now, in Florida and many other states, a 19-year old can walk into any gun store and walk out with this military-grade weapon of mass destruction. 

Yet anecdotally, I have noticed one glimmer of hope. Since the last American gun massacre that got everyone talking, there has been a small shift in the online conversation. It has become a little more global. The students of Parkland have been broadcasting to the world via social media, and the world is taking notice. 

I’m not suggesting some kind of slam-dunk situation where every American on Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat has an epiphany about gun control because they’re more frequently interacting with people from other nations with different laws. 

But I am saying it’s noticeably harder for pro-gun accounts to spread lies about the situation in other countries without people from those countries chiming in. 

Meanwhile, there is a mountain of evidence that Russian bots and troll accounts are attempting to hijack the online conversation using the same playbook from the 2016 elections — manufacture conflict to destabilize American discourse. That means taking the most trollishly pro-NRA position they can think of, in a bid to counteract the large majority of Americans who want sensible gun control. 

So the voices from other countries are chiming in just in time. If anything, we need more of them to balance out cynical foreign influence in a pro-gun direction. 

How effective gun control can happen

Twenty years of trying to have this debate in the U.S. have worn me down. As you might expect, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of Second Amendment-splaining from the pro-gun lobby. (Yep, I’m very familiar with the two centuries of debate over the militia clause, thanks.) I’ve been told I didn’t understand the power of the NRA (which, again, I’m quite familiar with: the organization supported sensible gun restrictions until it was radicalized in 1977).

I’ve heard every argument you could imagine: the notion that British police must now be lording it over the poor defenseless population; the blinkered insistence that there must have been a rise in crime with illegal guns and legal knives now all the good people with guns have been taken out of the equation. (Violent crime is still too high in the UK, but it is a fraction of America’s total — and has declined significantly since 1996.) 

I no longer have the dream that a UK-Australia-style handgun ban would work here. There are as many as 300 million firearms in private hands, according to a 2012 Congressional estimate; even though most of them are concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of owners, it’s simply impractical to talk about removing a significant percentage of them from the equation. 

But if anything, I’m more aware of creative legal solutions: laws that require gun insurance the way we require car insurance, or tax ammunition, or hold manufacturers responsible for gun deaths. I’ve seen my adopted state of California implement some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, laws that just went into effect. The fight to prevent future massacres is just getting started.

And any time you want to talk about how it can happen, the rest of a shrinking world is listening — and ready to talk. 

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/17/gun-control-social-media/

Yale psychiatry professor who wanted President Trump ‘contained’ vanishes from Twitter

Yale assistant professor of psychiatry Bandy X. Lee made a huge splash in the media last week after meeting with a handful of Democrats in Congress to sound the alarm over the president’s mental fitness to serve. Lee has appeared on MSNBC and SiriusXM, and pieces about her appeared in Vox, Politico, and The Guardian, all of which she retweeted, having just joined Twitter “to inform people where they may have questions.” Lee tweeted over the weekend that she was demanding a correction to a “wildly speculative and inaccurate article” in The Weekly Standard questioning her “meeting” with a Republican senator, but that tweet has disappeared, along with her entire Twitter account. The whole thing’s been shut down.

She writes in her last post:

Dear All, I was told that Twitter would be a good way to respond to mistaken notions, but I have a full-time job (also, “followers” jumping from the 20’s to the 600’s overnight is a lot to manage). So I am abandoning the idea. Please excuse–it has been nice to try this out!

So that’s all she wrote. After all, she does have a day job — not that it kept her from editing “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” or traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with a handful of representatives about her concerns.

Looks like the Twitter asylum was too much. Oh well … at least people can still tweet about her:

Read more: https://twitchy.com/brettt-3136/2018/01/08/yale-psychiatry-professor-who-wanted-president-trump-contained-vanishes-from-twitter/

Donald Trump defended his mental stability and Twitter has some thoughts on that

Image: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

2018 sure is off to a running start in Trumpland.

The 45th President of the United States kicked off a busy weekend of meetings at Camp David on Saturday with a brief, fiery tweetstorm that — even at this early point in 2018 — is already a surefire candidate for the year’s most memorable.

In three tweets, Donald Trump addressed his intellect (“being, like, really smart”), his mental stability (“a very stable genius”), and his successful presidential election campaign (“on my first try”). He doesn’t come out and say it, but the tweets are likely a response to Michael Wolff’s upcoming book, in which Trump insiders question the president’s stability on the record, and/or recent meetings on Capitol Hill to discuss the president’s mental state.

In typical Trump fashion, the three-tweet tirade blows past known facts in favor of creating a particular narrative. The “first try” election claim, for one, is hogwash; Trump ran in 2000, and even won a couple of primaries — though only after he left the race, in Feb. 2000. 

He ran under the Reform Party banner, and ultimately blamed his exit on the political organization being a “total mess.” The Reform Party countered at the time with the contention that Trump’s bid had never been serious.

“Donald Trump came in, promoted his hotels, he promoted his book, he promoted himself at our expense, and I think he understands fully that we’ve ended the possibilities for such abuse of our party,” party leader Patrick Choate said at the time.

Predictably, Trump’s tweets drew a disbelieving response from social media. 

By all means, laugh at Trump’s ridiculously transparent feelings of inadequacy if it helps you get through the day. But don’t let it draw you away from staying informed on news items of actual import.

This week alone: G.O.P. legislators asked the Justice Department to investigate Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind the infamous Trump dossier; the White House renewed its demand for a border wall; the U.S. cut off security aid to Pakistan; and the Justice Department moved to imperil the country’s burgeoning marijuana industry.

Among other things.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2018/01/06/donald-trump-very-stable-genius-tweetstorm/

Trump casually pre-games climate announcement with jazz band

While the world anxiously waited to hear whether or not President Trump would pull out of the Paris Agreement, a jazz band outside the White House kept things chill AF.

After much anticipation, Trump announced on Twitter that he would be making a statement about the country’s future with the major climate agreement on Thursday in the White House Rose Garden.

And what better way to pregame that very important speech than with a nice tasteful jazz performance, am I right??!

Before Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, which left the U.S. with only two other countries Nicaragua and Syria who also rejected the agreement, many business leaders, celebrities, and scientists publicly warned against the decision.

But hey, Trump knows that some nice, smooth jazz music can solve any problem.

As people waited for the president (who was more than 30 minutes late) to take the stage, the image of what appears to be the United States Marine Band performing jazz in the Rose Garden was all they had to mock.

Some people passed the time by thinking up some climate-friendly requests for the band to play! Fun!

In fact, with this romantic setting, some might even say Trump’s monumental climate announcement felt a bit like an episode of The Bachelor …

Though this random jazz band may seem a bit odd, Trump is certainly no stranger to oddly timed celebratory gestures. We learned this after the House Republicans voted on a health care repeal bill and definitely did not enjoy a cart full of beer.

Enjoy that Rose Garden while you can, Trump!

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/01/donald-trump-paris-agreement-jazz-band/

Popular social media sites ‘harm young people’s mental health’

Poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety

Four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young peoples mental health, with Instagram the most damaging, according to research by two health organisations.

Instagram has the most negative impact on young peoples mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young peoples feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact.

The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate childrens and young peoples body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

The findings follow growing concern among politicians, health bodies, doctors, charities and parents about young people suffering harm as a result of sexting, cyberbullying and social media reinforcing feelings of self-loathing and even the risk of them committing suicide.

Its interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing. Both platforms are very image-focused and it appears that they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people, said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, which undertook the survey with the Young Health Movement.

She demanded tough measures to make social media less of a wild west when it comes to young peoples mental health and wellbeing. Social media firms should bring in a pop-up image to warn young people that they have been using it a lot, while Instagram and similar platforms should alert users when photographs of people have been digitally manipulated, Cramer said.

The 1,479 young people surveyed were asked to rate the impact of the five forms of social media on 14 different criteria of health and wellbeing, including their effect on sleep, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-identity, bullying, body image and the fear of missing out.

Instagram emerged with the most negative score. It rated badly for seven of the 14 measures, particularly its impact on sleep, body image and fear of missing out and also for bullying and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. However, young people cited its upsides too, including self-expression, self-identity and emotional support.

YouTube scored very badly for its impact on sleep but positively in nine of the 14 categories, notably awareness and understanding of other peoples health experience, self-expression, loneliness, depression and emotional support.

However, the leader of the UKs psychiatrists said the findings were too simplistic and unfairly blamed social media for the complex reasons why the mental health of so many young people is suffering.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: I am sure that social media plays a role in unhappiness, but it has as many benefits as it does negatives.. We need to teach children how to cope with all aspects of social media good and bad to prepare them for an increasingly digitised world. There is real danger in blaming the medium for the message.

Young Minds, the charity which Theresa May visited last week on a campaign stop, backed the call for Instagram and other platforms to take further steps to protect young users.

Tom Madders, its director of campaigns and communications, said: Prompting young people about heavy usage and signposting to support they may need, on a platform that they identify with, could help many young people.

However, he also urged caution in how content accessed by young people on social media is perceived. Its also important to recognise that simply protecting young people from particular content types can never be the whole solution. We need to support young people so they understand the risks of how they behave online, and are empowered to make sense of and know how to respond to harmful content that slips through filters.

Parents and mental health experts fear that platforms such as Instagram can make young users feel worried and inadequate by facilitating hostile comments about their appearance or reminding them that they have not been invited to, for example, a party many of their peers are attending.

May, who has made childrens mental health one of her priorities, highlighted social medias damaging effects in her shared society speech in January, saying: We know that the use of social media brings additional concerns and challenges. In 2014, just over one in 10 young people said that they had experienced cyberbullying by phone or over the internet.

In February, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, warned social media and technology firms that they could face sanctions, including through legislation, unless they did more to tackle sexting, cyberbullying and the trolling of young users.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/19/popular-social-media-sites-harm-young-peoples-mental-health