Why no 
"Mayors Against Airbags?"

Michael Bloomberg strangely silent on killer airbags.

On a hot August Friday afternoon in 2003, I climbed into my FBI vehicle (we called them “Bū-cars”) at about 5:40 pm to head home from my office near Van Nuys, California. But before I had gone two miles, a radio call from FBI dispatch alerted my squad to a criminal situation in progress. Turning on the lights and siren, I sped down Balboa Boulevard and turned onto the onramp for the 101 north—toward the crime scene—as I had done so many times before.

Four miles after merging onto the 101, traveling at a relatively high rate of speed, en-route to what I believed was a life or death situation, traffic abruptly stopped in front of me and cars swerved, clogging the shoulder where emergency vehicles drive. I had nowhere to go.  I remember thinking how hard the impact was going to be. I also have a vivid memory of my head bouncing back off of the airbag, confused as to why I was still conscious. The paramedic attending to me told me that even wearing seatbelts as I was, absent airbags I would have put my head through the windshield.

That night, sitting gingerly in my bed in Thousand Oaks, I mused about the events of the day. If you had asked me when I started the car that afternoon what the chances were of me needing either the seatbelts or airbag on the way home, I would have though them about zero. About the same as I would have placed the odds of random gang fugitives fleeing through my yard. I have lived in Thousand Oaks for years. It’s a safe, wonderful place to live. Annual FBI statistics consistently rate the city of Thousand Oaks, California as one of the 10 safest cities with a population of over 100,000 in the nation. For several years it was THE safest. Thousand Oaks is a place where people have to remind themselves to lock their doors. As safe as it is, Thousand Oaks’ large tax base (one of the wealthiest cities of its size in the nation) gives it a police to citizen ratio second to none. 

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But an interesting phenomenon is occurring now in places like Thousand Oaks. Gang members from South Central Los Angeles, 40 miles away, have found that businesses in cities like Thousand Oaks have more money and less security than those in South Central. In Thousand Oaks, homes and businesses generally do not have, and do not need bars on the windows and elaborate security alarms, so gangs are ‘heading west.’

Last Sunday morning, just after 4 a.m., something happened in our little neighborhood. We live on a street several blocks from anything one would consider a ‘main’ street, and with the exception of the sound of a horse or goat snorting or whinnying, I was confident that I would be able to enjoy the luxury of sleeping in. It didn’t work out, though. My wife was woken by the sound of sirens and looked out the front window to see not a police car, but a dozen police cars on our tiny, narrow street.  She then woke me.


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Our neighborhood visitors
Walking barefoot down our street early in the morning, I noticed police tape, a car protruding through a neighbor’s picket fence and wrecked on his lawn. All four doors were open and it was already surrounded by yellow police tape. One of the officers on the scene, carrying a shotgun, advised me that burglars had been discovered a few miles away, and a car chase with police ensued. They drove down my little street, lost control and crashed into the neighbor’s yard. They then “un-assed” their car and four of them fled—into my neighborhood. They were still ‘at large’ I was told. Wonderful. I thought it wise to go back to my house to protect my family.

“So they could be anywhere?” I asked.

“They might be watching us right now,” the deputy responded.

On the way back to my house, I bumped into a neighbor who had been up with a baby at the time of the excitement. He told me that he had witnessed the crash, and one of the escapees had hopped the fence between my house and my next-door neighbor’s house. Great. Then I noticed that my garage door was open, and the lights inside of the garage were ‘on.’ Super! I advised the police of this development and returned to the house where my children slept and my wife stood waiting for me. I had been advised by the police that they were searching from house to house and that they would get to my house “in about 20 minutes or so.”

The actions of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department to the incident were some of the most robust and encouraging I have ever seen. They are pros, and their response was truly huge and awesome. But realities are realities; even a department as exceptional as VCSD has only so many officers. The fugitives could be in any one of a hundred houses in the neighborhood (and in fact WERE); and regardless of how big a response the department made, or how well trained their deputies were, they couldn’t search every house simultaneously.

At that moment, for better or for worse, every homeowner and occupant in every house was responsible for their own safety until VCSD could clear their homes for them. As I learned later, one of the fugitives—a member of an L.A. street gang--burst into the back door of the residence behind my house, entering the hallways between the bedroom and the kitchen, where he bumped into the owner of the house investigating the noise.

I cannot express to you the relief it was to know that I had weapons in my home with which to defend it. Obviously, due to my background, I have training and weapons others might not have. But it made me immensely grateful to have the right to possess those weapons. As a matter of course, I keep a high-caliber pistol with “night sights” within arm’s reach at night. It is loaded and ‘chambered’ (a bullet ready to fire) with a mechanical safety engaged so that it will not fire if someone besides me or my wife or children—also pretty good with firearms--were to (God forbid) pick it up. I also keep a “Joe Biden” tactical shotgun secured but available in my bedroom, loaded but not chambered—because frankly, Joe is right to a point. In many situations, a shotgun is better. In some, it’s not. (Note that no SWAT teams carry shotguns as their primary weapons.)

Upon returning to my house, I felt it necessary to clear the garage—something I had done with SWAT dozens and dozens and dozens of times. Ironically, the majority of my experience in clearing garages was from operations in South Central. I advised the police of what I was going to do and where I was going to do it, and with what weapon. I uncased a rifle similar to the assault rifles carried by police on my street that morning, and spent the next 10 minutes clearing my back yard, my attic, and my garages with that rifle and a flashlight. By the time the police arrived, I could tell them with confidence that no fugitives were likely on my property, (but gladly accepted the offer of a K9 search.)

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Thanks, guys! Very proud of VCSD.
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Can guns save lives? Without a doubt. I’m a witness. Can guns be dangerous to keep in a house? Yes, if stored and used incorrectly and/or illegally.

Can airbags save lives? Without a doubt. I’m a witness. Can airbags be dangerous to occupants of a car? Certainly, even when used legally and correctly.

Between September 1, 1998, when airbags were mandated for new cars and light trucks, through the end of 2004, an estimated 10,000 lives were saved by airbags. One of those lives was mine. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) between 1999 and 2002, 238 people had been killed by airbags in accidental or extreme low-speed impacts. (An average of 59.5 per year or 390 for the period 9/98 – 12/04.)  A concurrent study by the University of Georgia postulated that dozens if not hundreds more (mainly children) were killed by the bags in high-speed crashes in which the deaths were attributed to the collision forces.  Still, only the NHTSA figures are used in airbag death figures. But the net fatality rate per lives saved with airbags is at least 3.9%.

What about accidental gun deaths?

On July 7, 2010, the Chicago Tribune published an article by a prosecutor with 30 years of experience which stated in part;

In actuality, multiple studies done by criminologists over the past three decades show that guns are used defensively--to thwart violent crimes--about 2.5 million times per year in the United States. Only one in every thousand (0.1 percent) of those defensive uses results in the death of the predator.

In a nutshell, while accidental deaths of household members do occur, these tragedies happen very seldom; one is far more likely to die in a car, by drowning, or even as a result of a medical error, than by being shot. Conversely, the number of lives saved by the defensive use of guns far outweighs the (almost nonexistent) number of accidental deaths of children.”

Everybody throws around their own figures about gun deaths and ‘saves.’ Some of the NRA figures seem a little suspect at times, and it was recently found that anti-gun-lobby figures for “accidental” gun deaths in homes included intentional suicides (83% or so of the deaths) and drug deals gone wrong! So, I’ll limit my figures to groups who don’t have motive to shade their figures.

According to the FBI, approximately 205 million privately owned guns (and guns of law enforcement officers brought home) are in private homes on a daily basis. Guns are used statistically 2.5 million times (displayed, fired in the air, fired at attackers) annually to defend home or life or both. On an average year accidental gun deaths (not counting suicides or violence due to drug deals) in homes total approximately 590. Simply stated, that results in the following statistics:

Annual uses of guns to defend life or property:                                        2.5 million 

Annual accidental gun deaths:                                                                           590

Accidental gun fatalities per lives defended:                                              .02%  

Lives saved by airbag deployments 9/1/98 – 12/31/2004:               10,000

Lives taken by airbag deployments 9/1/98 – 12/31/2004:               390

Fatalities per lives saved:                                                                                    3.9%

Statistically then, airbags are 195 times more dangerous to have in your possession than a loaded gun. Airbags, however, are mandated by law. If some legislators had their way, guns would be legislated out of existence along with the right to possess them. Why? 


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I believe that a main reason is perception. Seatbelts every year trap several people in burning cars or vehicles sinking in water when panicked occupants can’t undo the belts. Surveys show that a substantial portion (as much as 30%) of the populace report that their reluctance to wear seatbelts involves a fear of being trapped in a sinking or burning car.  However, a 1980’s University of Michigan study revealed that an infinitesimally small number of persons die in post-crash fires or immersions due to seatbelt use. That study is 30 years old, but it has not impacted the perception of a large group of people who drive or ride in cars—and their failure to understand the accurate statistics potentially puts their lives at risk.

Since retiring from the FBI, I have buckled my seatbelts every day—without fail. But not once in those five years have I needed them to protect my life or health. But in those same five years, I know that at least once, having a gun in the house has made my family infinitely safer. In the 30 years since I first brought a gun home from the FBI, only once do I feel like I did not properly secure a firearm—to no one’s harm. During the same time, there have been dozens of times on and off duty when the gun made me or my family safer.  

I have dear friends on both sides of this issue, and I admire their reasons for believing the way they do. I just believe that the information upon which they are basing their personal decisions is flawed. They disagree with me on that. By and large, the people on “the other side,” at least the ones with whom I personally deal, are honorable, good people, who have sometimes had to bear the unfair brunt of a tirade from me—and for this I sincerely apologize. To my close friends, I say that I respect you as people and as people whose opinion differs from mine. I think we both know of people on each side of the issue whose opinions or though-processes are not as honorable.

Before you think I am a naive gun-lobby shill, I need to tell you of my background. I am not unaware of the damage people do with guns.

I have been the first responder to and the agent in charge of investigating a school shooting—5 year olds machine-gunned with an illegal Uzi. I’ve seen the blood, I’ve seen the wounded children. I’ve heard the parents sob, I’ve been with grieving family, I’ve spent hours with the actual shooter the day of his arrest, learning of the sick details. His gun was illegal in the U.S., the shooter was not only a violent felon (knife assault), but had just been released from a mental institution just weeks prior despite his self-confessed inability to control his homicidal ideations. But released he was. He broke so many existing laws we lost track. 


1.  (Violent) Felon in possession of a firearm
2.  Possession of a machine gun
3.  Illegal modification of a weapon
4.  Interstate transportation of an illegal firearm
5.  Interstate transportation of an illegal firearm

And these are only the FEDERAL laws he violated. He also violated several dozen state laws.

The shooter had obtained his weapon through a second source who illegally imported the gun from China. (You know how you can buy "knock-off" Louis Vuitton purses in Asia? You can also buy "knock-off" Uzi's.)

I identified the mentally-ill Nazi-sympathizer who provided the illegal gun to the murderer—knowing that he intended to shoot people, and got a confession from him. I and my bosses begged the United States Attorney’s Office in Seattle to prosecute him, but even a personal appeal to Attorney General Janet Reno by an FBI Assistant Director failed to get us a prosecution. I still don’t understand why.

I would suggest to the reader that I have had more guns pointed at me than you have at you. I have seen the emotional damage done to FBI agents who had to take lives with firearms. I have experienced the shock at FBI agent deaths to gunfire. Even members of my family have been the victims of violent crime. I am not insensitive or naïve to the potential violence of firearms. I believe that the right to a firearm is absolute only until a person gives any indication they cannot be trusted—such as (but not limited to) a felony conviction or mental health issues. I believe the average citizen does not need bazookas, mortars or smart-bombs. But I’m not so sure that mentally stable, law-abiding persons can’t be trusted with a semi-automatic rifle, regardless of whether the handle is a pistol grip or a stock.  Reasonable people know that the firepower difference between an evil AR-15 “assault rifle” and a California-legal Ruger Mini-14 is exactly zero.

10 round magazines? Okay, but I was trained to swap magazines in less than a second. Many private shooters can beat that. Short magazines laws are nothing but an annoyance to law-abiding citizens protecting their homes, and yet another law potential murderers will ignore. A determined head-case will simply buy illegal magazines via mail order from overseas—or bring a couple dozen 10 round magazines. NOT ONCE IN ANY SCHOOL or MALL or THEATER or OTHER MASS SHOOTING HAS THE SHOOTER RUN OUT OF AMMO. He'll bring all the magazines he needs. Several times, I have recovered high-capacity murder weapons jammed and discarded. Frankly, very large magazines are more likely to jam and make a firearm useless. Making nut-cases use small-cap magazines would actually make their weapons more reliable. Low capacity magazines are a red-herring to make politicians look like they’re doing something. Only the law-abiding citizens will be handicapped

I am continually astounded that well-meaning people believe that criminals intent on violence will be influenced by realizing that their plans or their tools are "against the law."

One has only to examine prohibition or the last few decades of the "War on Drugs" to see the mechanism of failure which will occur if and when guns are outlawed. Certainly, just because a law is unenforceable does not mean--in and of itself--that the law should not be enacted. But sometimes it does. In both prohibition and the war on drugs, what the nation accomplished is the creation of massively powerful organized crime groups (La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.) Tens of thousands have died in the "wars" and territorial fighting among the gangs, our prisons have filled with otherwise law-abiding citizens, and the U.S. has spent billions of dollars to do all that.  Had the U.S. legalized most of the drugs (I still think the drugs are horrible), taxed them significantly, and used the proceeds for awareness and treatment, our prisons would be less crowded, the drug cartels could not topple governments, and our deficit would be more manageable. 

And that's a discussion regarding a truly evil substance with no socially redeeming value. Guns protect people.

If one were to significantly limit or ban private ownership of legitimate guns, there would be a MUCH larger explosion of organized crime, because more Americans (by a factor of tens) own guns than use drugs. The criminals would not be impacted, as possession of guns by them is already prohibited. Only those who want firearms to protect their families will be negatively impacted, and a whole new class of criminal--those who want to protect their families--would be created.  And not one violent psychotic would ever be prevented from killing. Oh, we might modify their method, their timing, or the money they have to spend, but killers will kill. Period. In the whole of human history, nobody has found a way to 'de-violence' a society with law enforcement.

With the track record of prohibition and the war on drugs, I am constantly amazed that anybody would believe that laws would influence a criminal to obey laws.

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I remember vividly the debate when California proposed mandating motorcycle helmet use. I remember understanding both sides of the argument and agreeing with both sides. I think anybody who rides without a helmet (and I once rode motorcycles) is a fool. But I believe they have the right to be a fool. I consider not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle a kind of Darwinian method of improving the species. If you’re too dumb to wear a motorcycle helmet, it’s just as well you’re not around to breed. I can understand the debate. But honestly, can you imagine the debate you would have if California proposed a law BANNING motorcycle helmets?

Those advocating banning of self-defense weapons don’t see their crusade that way. Those who believe as I do, that the right to possess personal firearms is crucial—do see it that way. I see it as the right to protect my family, which I take more seriously than I can express. And always will.

The debate needs to be civilized, the debate needs to be respectful, and the debate needs to be lawful. But the events of last week have reinforced my belief that absent any individual reason to the contrary, the right to keep and bear arms must not be abridged. Even in the safest community in the nation.

 
 
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Recently, the American public has been the eye-witness to a dark and horrible tragedy which sadly, can be attributed to little else but skin color. The Trayvon Martin case.

The formula is painfully obvious by now: Fear that a crime had been committed and the police were going to be of no help, combined with feeling of individual empowerment led to action before all the facts were known.  I’m speaking, of course, of the rallies calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and conviction.

Zimmerman is likely guilty of manslaughter, if not murder. I am NOT arguing that he is innocent. Nor am I arguing that he is guilty. Zimmerman killed because he believed that he was right and didn’t need to wait for the authorities to do what was needed. This is a form of vigilantism. But many in the nationwide rallies are doing the same thing.

I am not surprised that there are people like George Zimmerman around. That’s not the issue in this case; the issue is the failure of a police department to act in a responsible manner, and the drumbeat for Zimmerman’s “arrest and conviction” at rallies around the United States. Calling for arrest, while premature, is understandable. Calling for a conviction is vigilantism. The facts are simply not known. As an FBI agent, even when I knew every fact there was to know; the court still decided whether the person was guilty; not me. This case has become tragically polarizing. It’s like the O.J. Simpson case, where evidence inexplicably appeared to break on lines of race. Both sides are suffering from extremism at their fringes. This case pushes all the standard liberal v. conservative buttons: Guns, race, the South, police, and prejudice. It's an absolute goldmine for people like Al Sharpton and Rush Limbaugh.

While it APPEARS to me that Zimmerman killed Trayvon without any real legal justification, I am troubled by the calls (from people like Al Sharpton) for Zimmerman's conviction and punishment. There is one  incontrovertible, undeniable and obvious fact when any person calls for Zimmerman's "conviction": The person who uttered those words has prejudged the case. Prejudge is, of course, the root word for prejudice. 

From a law enforcement point of view, it is hard to argue self-defense when Zimmerman appears to have chased down an unarmed man and confronted him in what appears from the phone tapes to be a very aggressive manner. Why he was allowed to possess a concealed weapon after an arrest for assaulting an officer, why he could carry a gun after domestic violence allegations is incomprehensible to me. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say he's guilty of at least manslaughter and possibly 2nd degree murder. But that's why we have courts and juries. All the facts are not in yet, it has not been before a judge or a jury (all of the things we fight and die for), and nothing is certain. O.J. Simpson was exonerated on much more substantial evidence of his guilt than exists for Zimmerman's guilt. 

The point is this: WE JUST DON'T KNOW ALL THE FACTS YET! Even if we did, we're not the jury.

That said, it would be hard to mismanage a case worse than the Sanford Police Department has this one. A man was killed; and there is ample evidence that Zimmerman may have committed a crime, yet nothing was done--not even a cursory investigation, it appears. Even if the police had been pursuing an indictment or arrest, they told nobody. When a case begins to have a life of its own and the public has been given enough facts to feel resentment (justified or not), it is incumbent upon the authorities to completely inform the public on their actions and the reasons for their actions, if for no other reason than to prevent frustration, outrage and mass demonstrations.

However, with the exception of the shooting itself, there is nothing more troubling about this case than the demands from some immoderate people (e.g. Al Sharpton) for Zimmerman's "arrest" and "conviction." Not a thorough investigation; an "arrest and conviction." In the late 1800's and early 1900's, some white Americans in the south, with some regularity, decided that a certain person was guilty of a crime because of half-truths, rumor and skin color. If the police didn't do anything about it, they went out and lynched "the guilty party." These are some of the darkest and most repulsive acts in American history. And they all started with someone deciding on guilt before the courts had a chance to. 

If you are right now searching for a label with which to brand me in order to marginalize the value of my words and are considering "racist," let me remind you that I spent nearly half my investigative career on civil rights and hate crimes squads. I was for several years the Los Angeles FBI coordinator for all white supremacist crimes. I was for many months the acting supervisor of all white supremacist investigations in Los Angeles. I lived among the Aryan Nations in Idaho and Washington in the mid-80's during a particularly violent period in their existence.

If you think my rhetoric hyperbolic; know that today, March 27, 2012, the New Black Panther Party has offered a $10,000 reward for the “capture and citizen’s arrest," of George Zimmerman, "dead or alive."  Mikhail Muhammad, Southern Regional Director of the New Black Panther Party said today;  “It’s time for us as black men to take justice in our own hands,” said the voice of moderation, “You kill mine god-damn it I got to kill yours.”  Don't forget the rope, Muhammad.
 
The NBPP are sick, hateful people. But when people like Al Sharpton call for Zimmerman's conviction, he has in my humble opinion crossed a line into the very reasoning that was so prevalent in the south at the turn of the last century. The formula is the same: You have at least half the facts, a crime was committed wherein a person of your race is the victim and a person of another race is the perpetrator; therefore the alleged perpetrator is convicted in your mind. What else do you need? With few exceptions, the raising of a lynch mob certainly started with the phrase: "We all know he's guilty!" Al Sharpton says all he wants is "justice," which he defines as Zimmerman's conviction. This is frightening to me, but not surprising, as I  have long been convinced that Sharpton a racist and an opportunist. 

I do not think the rallies per se are problematic. When they simply demand a full and complete investigation they are in the greatest tradition of America. But there is a fine line between a 'rally' and a 'mob.' And it is this: When the rally demands an arrest, they presume to know all the facts. When they demand a conviction, they presume to be judge and jury. Sharpton has called the crime "murder," a legal term which presumes Zimmerman's guilt, and when asked to define what he means by "justice," he said that it included, "arrest," "a fair trial," "conviction," and "punishment" for Zimmerman. Calling for a "fair trial then sentencing" is a self-contradicting statement that originated in the days of the gulags.

In reality, Sharpton has shown himself to be a clone of Zimmerman. Zimmerman made assumptions based on race. Sharpton is making assumptions based on race. Zimmerman may have believed in his mind that he was doing what was best for society, that he was an avenging hero, and that he was ensuring justice. Sharpton seems to believe the same thing about himself. The allegations against Zimmerman are that he thought he knew all the facts he needed to make a life and death decision, that he was a person who had the delusional believe that he was the final arbiter of "justice," and because of that, acted before he really understood the truth. 

Who does that sound like to you?