Evan Lionel Richard Osnos is an American journalist and author. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2008, best known for his coverage of China.
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I cover politics and foreign affairs for The New Yorker. I most recently wrote about gun control: http://bit.ly/28SBIFN
For more background on how the gun industry exploits fear, here's a quick video: http://bit.ly/28OiKwO I’ll be taking your questions at 3:00 P.M. EST. Ask me anything.
Proof link: https://twitter.com/eosnos/status/745969099981881344
Thanks everyone for terrific questions. See you at newyorker.com and elsewhere. Signing off.
More than half of handgun deaths are suicides. A significant percent of the remainder are perpetrated by and against those willfully engaged in illegal gang and drug activity (not your stereotypical NRA member). And nearly all are due to handguns rather rifles. Why is gun control focused on the low-hanging fruit of NRA and "assault weapons"?
You're absolutely right about the preponderance of gun deaths coming from handguns, not long guns. Often, this gets lost in the moments after a mass shooting that involves a long gun (usually semiauto, obviously). But I wouldn't characterize the NRA as "low-hanging fruit." They have been the most successful advocates for gun rights in the last century. The organization is essential to any discussion of guns, and they would agree with that (though not with criticism of them, of course).
I listened to a brief portion of your interview on Fresh Air and you said (paraphrasing) that the moment you introduce a gun to your house, you double the chances of a homicide. Is this not the fallacy of correlation and not causation? The moment I introduce a lawnmower to my house, I significantly increase my chances of accidents involving lawnmowers. If I have a swimming pool installed, I significantly increase the chance of drowning. You paint the picture of an uninformed gun owner by and far, responsible gun owners understand and take steps to minimize the risks of gun ownership.
I hope you'll have a chance to listen to the whole thing. The guns vs. swimming pool analogy has been dealt with pretty well elsewhere (pls see link below), so I won't rehash other than to say that it's difficult, but not impossible, to use a swimming pool to kill a spouse in a domestic dispute -- or to use a swimming pool to kill your neighbor, or, if you're unwell, to massacre people in a movie theatre. I'm not trying to be facetious; it's an important point: Bringing a gun into the house raises your risks of homicide and that's precisely the point. It's not just the risk of homicide to a home invader, obviously. https://respecttheblankie.com/2015/09/19/no-swimming-pools-are-not-more-dangerous-than-guns/
Kitchen knives? Baseball bats? Hammers? Fists? Fertilizer & gasoline? Why not regulate the sale of those as well then?
Thank you for the response though. I will listen to the full interview.
Thanks -- fair question. In my view, it's about lethality. Not all weapons are created equal. Some products are capable of doing much more harm, more rapidly, more often, in the hands of either unskilled people or sick people. We regulate the otherwise ordinary components of Meth, for instance, because people do harm with them, even though they are harmless in the right hands. I'm fine with that. I'll take the inconvenience.
The NRA has millions upon millions of dollars because their supporters give them money. Why is pressure and lobbying by the NRA any worse than lobbying by any other organization or company?
No reason why it's "worse" -- as you say, it's part of the democratic system. I think what bothers critics is that politicians seem to ignore evidence that public attitudes are at odds with many NRA positions. Every public servant has to make the calculation between serving specific interests and the general interest; that's the job. And people are well within their rights to criticize politicians who they don't think are setting the balance in the right place, no?
What's the office culture like at the New Yorker? Is a hamburger a sandwich?
By "office culture" I suspect you mean the yogurt that I left on my desk for too many days. It acquired speech and locomotion, and it devoured the sandwich nearby.
Main stream media doesn't report on events like this. You have to look for it or be involved in organizations that look for that info and give it to you.
If you do Google searches, there are cases of people using guns every single day to defend their selves. And think about the number of cases where a person uses a gun to defend themselves, doesn't discharge the weapon, and doesn't call the police so it goes unreported.
How come all these Anti-gun people are so distrustful of the media on EVERY other subject... but when it comes to guns, they're the only people they trust. Makes no sense.
Lots of unpack here, but I would honestly recommend (if you have a rainy afternoon) to read Mike Weisser's book on the myths around how often people use their guns to defend themselves. Mike is an NRA life member, a gun dealer and instructor. He knows his stuff. And he thinks people are being sold a false bill of goods: https://www.amazon.com/Great-American-Argument-Guns-America/dp/0692336354?ie=UTF8&Version=1&entries=0
Thanks for the reply. I've always found the PLCAA to be an interesting piece of legislation, as well as the arguments for and against it.
I think it's fair to say that manufacturers/dealers/etc. of other products who don't have similar protection usually are liable when their product doesn't work as it should, whereas for gun related companies they would potentially be liable for their product working exactly as designed (speaking strictly to gun operation, not intended use).
If the PLCAA is revised or repealed, how high up in the chain of manufacturers/distributors/dealers should liability fall? Or do you think it would need to be taken on a case by case basis?
To encompass some of the comments below: Car companies, and oil companies, and gun companies, do, in fact, have a responsibility that extends beyond just sending the product out the door. Even if my product works as I designed it, there are areas of liability (e.g. "negligent entrustment") that we, as a society, generally agree is warranted. Nobody wants gun companies to be held to a higher standard; they just want gun companies to be held to the usual standard. Why should they be exempted? It's an honest question? What makes them unique?
In your reporting, what was the biggest myth about guns that you discovered?
There are myths on both sides: Many gun-control advocates imagine gun-owners = NRA. They're not the same. As I write in my piece (link below) many gun-owners are turned off by the fear-mongering, the insults to their intelligence. At the same time, I met a lot of gun owners who are convinced that urban elites want to confiscate their guns. The truth is that urban elites, if you want to call them that, could care less what others have stashed in their safes -- they just don't people getting shot all the time. There is so much room for people to meet in the middle on this, but it requires putting aside some myths we are convinced are true.
Mr. Osnos, What was the most difficult aspect of investigating the NRA at that depth?
I appreciated the fact that the NRA welcomes journalists to the annual meeting etc. It's a fair way of ensuring people understand the organization. But the leadership, and the businesses that support the NRA, are oddly secluded. Wayne LaPierre gives very few interviews, and gunmaker CEOs almost never talk. It's too bad because they could make a case for themselves.
I'm in the process of reading your article, so I apologize if you covered this at length already, but in the research you've done, what would you say is the most impactful move that could be taken to immediately curb, to any extent, gun violence?
On a non-gun related point, what is your favorite piece that has been published by the New Yorker this year?
Anybody -- especially people who favor free markets -- should conclude that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a big mistake. Imagine if Exxon was protected from liability after the Valdez? That's not how markets should work. It will probably be revised or repealed to make sure that companies are doing safe work -- as with any industry.
Also, on TNY pieces, Patrick Keefe has been on a tear. Read and diagram and study anything he writes.
I've read about how, for the NRA, part of selling self-defense is marketing towards women. As you were reporting, did you encounter many "success stories" involving women who used their guns?
The NRA is making a big push on marketing to women -- and it's been doing this consistently for two decades. But it's been an uphill climb. The General Social Survey shows that gun ownernship among women has barely budged. This data drives the industry crazy, because they say they are seeing more women customers. So what gives? Multiple gun dealers told me they think that women are coming in more often as part of a group or a family. But it's hard to get them to buy in the long term. So the core gun owner remains: white, male, aging.
Do you miss China? If you could name a favorite restaurant in Beijing, or one that you're craving, which would it be?
I miss China all the time, and I'll be back before too long for some reporting. Favorite restaurant is a Vietnamese place with Chinese characteristics: Susu.
politicians accepting money from the NRA is an important issue, but how much of their influence is due to the amounts of (dark) money that will be spent running campaign ads against anyone that doesn't fall in place/vote according to NRA's lines?
in other words, even if an office holder accepts no money at all, aren't they still controlled by the NRA?
the only answer i can see if for people to start voting: it seems like nobody is more motivated to vote than the NRA's supporters....
any insight into this? (age of ambition was great).
This is an important point, often overlooked, that the NRA's influence in Washington doesn't just come from direct donations to politicians. On that measure, they rank way behind, say, the real-estate-agent lobby etc. But on other measures of influence, including dark money, there is a lot more cash in play. The honest answer is that it's very hard to measure the full corpus of cash because it's dark, but, importantly, yes, the answer to those who ask how to challenge the power of the NRA is that voting is the way that gun-control advocates will ever achieve parity. They have to close the "intensity gap" and that means getting people to the polls. It's happening but not that fast. (thanks on age of ambition.)
When you're tackling a topic as vast as the gun business and gun culture in the U.S., where do you start for reporting and later for organizing that into a coherent story?
The first challenge on a story so vast is to figure out the boundaries of the known universe of information. What's the point of writing a piece that says things people already know? It baffles me. You HAVE to know what's known in order to know what's unknown, and then invade Iraq. I mean, then write a piece. So you read an absurd amount. But eventually reading becomes procrastination. You say, "I can't write until I finish the three volumes of the Fink Study" or whatever, at which point your wife tells you to stop reading and start writing.
Hey Evan, I apologize if this is slightly off topic. My questions are: how does covering American politics and issues compare with covering their respective Chinese counterparts? And do you find substantial similarity between Chinese nationalism and American nationalism? News reports make it seem Chinese nationalism is associated with a greater assertion of Chinese leadership on an international stage, while many Americans seem more isolationist lately. Is that a fair comparison, or is there more to it? I really enjoyed Age of Ambition by the way, hope we get a new book from you soon!
That's a good analysis of Chinese nationalism vs. American nationalism. I agree with you that the Chinese variety is more about expanding regional leadership and the American form (these days at least) is about recovering a sense of our relevance and vitality. Someday, when I have a moment to think, I'd like to write on the comparison between the two. As compensation, I'll send you a check in the high single digits.
I am uneducated in the gun industry and try not follow politics but here's a question. Do you think that with big Associations like the NRA there is even a chance to get any sort of reform? It seems like we are in a battle that cannot be won, they simply have too much money and too much influence on politics for any real change to happen IMO.
Actually, strangely perhaps, I have a different view: Studying guns reveals just how NON-static American political history is. Nothing stays the same for long. The strength of our system is, in fact, the resilience and flexibility of it. It's the gay-marriage principle. History happens slowly, then all at once. I'm increasingly convinced we're on course for a rapid shift of opinion on guns.
Do you support the recent gun control legislation banning people on the no-fly list from purchasing weapons? How does this square with the fact that the no-fly list is prone to error and (presumably) disproportionally affects Muslim citizens of the USA? i.e. How do we balance the benefits of such legislation when certain minority groups are affected more than others?
If you had to recommend one fiction and one non-fiction book, what would they be?
(Age of Ambition doesn't count.)
p.s. big fan! Thanks for doing this.
First the book question: Best fiction I've read in a while is the upcoming Jonathan Safran Foer book, "Here I am." We have a copy kicking around and it's powerful. Best nonfiction: Steve Coll's book on ExxonMobile, to recall an earlier theme from today. To extend the metaphor, you can't understand oil/climate/foreign-policy without understanding the business dynamics at the heart of the industry. I'll apply the same rule to guns. You gotta grasp the business.
As for the legislation, I respect the objections to using the no-fly list. They are serious. I also think the bill should've come up for a vote in the House. I wrote about some of the latest drama here: http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/forget-congress-the-gun-business-faces-a-judge?mbid=social_reddit
Could this be a numbers versus percentage perception issue? So as the population of the US grows, the industry does get more female gun purchasers in terms of numbers, but among the entire population the overall percentage of women owning guns remains constant?
The GSS expresses its number on a per capita basis. I think it has more to do with WHY women are going to classes and the range, and whether they ultimately become gun owners.
You mentioned briefly the rapid change in culture towards concealed carry from open carry (and specifically how unpalatable moderates seem to find open carry vs concealed).
I found myself realizing that I also, somewhat inexplicably, have a much tougher time accepting the idea of open carry guns in my presence in public places, but somehow concealed weapons seem less "scary." This feels really dissonant considering 1) the reverse opinion seemed to be more widely supported recently in the 1970's and 2) you'd think hidden guns pose more of a risk because they're hidden.
Can you speak more on what caused public opinion to change course so rapidly or how concealed carry became a friendlier option for gun advocates?
Really enjoying your interview on Fresh Air!
This is a really interesting issue. In the days of Dodge City, of course, the local sheriff was worried about concealed, not open carry. He wanted total information awareness, to borrow a phrase. But, as you say, intuitively we are more anxious around open carry than around concealed. The psych literature has good studies on how we're basically hard-wired to fixate on weapons in our presence -- so in experiments, people pay way more attention to a gun in the room than they otherwise should. Our eyes go to it over and over again. My guess is that, once guns became a rarer presence in our lives (decline of rural life, closing of the frontier, etc.) we became much more attuned to the oddity of a gun in the room -- and thus we became less comfortable with open than with concealed. But, interesting note: After a few months of working on this subject, I've found that I barely notice if someone is open-carrying. It performative. It's designed, in part, to make you ask and engage. The person I worry about is the person more like me: Who attended 4 hours of training, with no range time, and then (unlike me) started carrying concealed, ready to use that weapon in a pinch. I don't want that guy being my "sheepdog." For more on this, my article goes into some depth on this.
i read somewhere that the idea of the constitution granting a personal right to own a guy wasn't legitimized until a governor from CA decided to do an interview with Guns & Ammo magazine, in attempt to build his voter base....Ronald Reagan in the 1960s...
until then, Republicans wanted tougher gun control standards, as the party that's "tough on crime"...
any truth to that? should these gun zealots be required to carry militia cards next to their NRA cards, or what is your understanding of the constitution? will the Supreme Court ever vote on this?
I haven't heard the Reagan story, but his comment, in 1967, arguing against civilians carrying loaded weapons, which I reference in the piece, is a telling measure of how far the gun world has moved in the last half century.
Do you think the families of the Sandy Hook victims who have brought a lawsuit against Remington will manage to change the way guns are sold?
I think this case is very interesting. It has a long way to go before it really changes the way guns are sold, but courts are not immune from the changes in society. Attitudes are changing, and some gun owners are beginning to believe that the best way to preserve gun rights is not to fight for marginal needs (do you really want to burn your powder on protecting the terrorist-watch-list access?) but to make reasonable compromises and protect what really matters. Absolutism can alienate allies.
Do you think the CCP will remain in power as Chinese economic growth declines?
I've lived in countries with weak authoritarian regimes (Egypt) and countries with strong authoritarian regimes (China), and I don't think the CCP will lose power quickly. But I also think it will have no choice but to adapt to a slower mode of growth. That could be a profound adaptation, on the order of 1978-1979. BUT it might not be in the direction of openness. My profile of Xi Jinping in TNY looks at some of these dynamics: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/born-red?mbid=social_reddit
I'm a longtime NY'er reader and appreciate all they (and you!) do. But...there's one little "thing" I find immensely irritating: when they feel the need to refer to someone like, say, Paul McCartney as "the bassist Paul McCartney." or, "the singer Adele." What's up with that? Isn't it obvious who they're referring to? Is there an Adele the sanitation worker we might confuse Adele the singer with? Sincerely, the reader Bob.
We are allergic to the writing sin known as "indirection." That's the kind of fashionable writing that begins a piece with, say, "He was only in it for the tips." Or whatever. Even if the reader goes along with it, the reptile brain is screaming: "Who is he? Why the hell is he working for tips? What's he trying to do?" So we say, let's assume as little as possible -- even if it means that we occasionally overidentify Paul McCartney. It keeps us honest.