Last week, CBS News got its hands on a copy of a Star Trek-themed training video the IRS made for its employees in 2010. The video and a Gilligan's Island-themed one also shot in the tax agency's in-house studio reportedly cost $60,000 to make. William Shatner is not amused:
So I watched that IRS video. I am appalled at the utter waste of US tax dollars.
Predictably, congressional belt-tighteners have set their phasers to outrage. "There is nothing more infuriating to a taxpayer than to find out the government is using their hard-earned dollars in a way that is frivolous," fumed Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.). (Meanwhile Congress is acting highly illogically by spending $380 million on photon torpedoes that don't work and no one wants.) Cowed by its critics, the IRS has apologized for "the space parody video."
At least none of your tax money was spent on acting lessons:
And so far, no one is freaking out about these Star Trek-themed spots produced by the Social Security Administration. Probably because they feature George "Sulu" Takei, who is awesome.
And let's not forget the time NASA decided to name a spaceship after the USS Enterprise.
In "10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down", I collected a range of research and statistics that challenge some of pro-gun advocates most popular sound bites. The National Rifle Association took notice and has been returning fire with a series of short videos attacking the "media misinformation." The clips score a couple of good points, but they're far from bulletproof. So let the debunking of the debunking of the debunking begin!
Myth #1: They're coming for your guns.
"Mother Jones is right," declares NRA News host Cam Edwards as he kicks off what he promises will be a 10-part rebuttal. "There is no way to round up all the privately owned firearms in the United States."
That hasn't stopped his colleagues at the NRA from claiming that the government will soon be coming for your guns. The group's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, has long insisted that the Obama administration is behind a secret "conspiracy" to impose "gun owner licensing and gun registration regimes that could be used for gun prohibition, confiscation, and ultimate destruction." (He was at it again recently, claiming universal background checks would lead to your guns being taken away.)
Besides, nobody in Washington is proposing gun confiscation. Tellingly, Edwards only cites nonlawmakers, such as this Daily Kos writer, who have called for restrictions far beyond anything being considered on Capitol Hill. And regulating firearms doesn't make confiscation inevitable. For example, the National Firearms Act of 1934, which requires the owners of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns to register with the federal government, led to no such roundup, and today machine guns are hardly ever used in crimes. When it passed, the law was endorsed by the NRA.
Myth #2: Guns don't kill people—people kill people.
Here Edwards claims that "we know that there really is no correlation between gun ownership rates and suicide rates." Yet researchers have found a link between higher rates of gun ownership and higher rates of suicide by gun—but not by other means—in the United States.
Edwards is correct that the suicide rate is much higher in virtually gun-free Japan. (Most Japanese suicides are hangings.) Obviously, gun availability isn't the only factor behind suicides in Japan (or the United States). Yet internationally, as the World Health Organization reports, readily available firearms "facilitate unplanned suicide acts" and "increase the suicide frequency."
The younger you are, the more likely you are to support gay marriage. But what if there's another dimension to this generational shift—the sushi gap? Raw data from a new survey of Americans' food preferences shows that age-based unwillingness to put delicious uncooked fish in your mouth correlates nearly perfectly with existing data about who disapproves of marriage equality.
We haven't heard much about hunting during the ongoing debate over gun violence. Perhaps that's because hunting is widely seen as a traditional, enjoyable, and safe pastime, even among the majority of Americans who have never donned camo and hunting orange. Or perhaps that's because most hunters don't need AR-15s or high-capacity magazines. Or perhaps it's because hunters are a minority among the 80 million or so gun-owning Americans.
How many hunters are there? In 2011, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF), 15.7 million Americans older than six went hunting. That's nearly 29 million less than went fishing, and 3 million less than went out to watch birds. Back in 1955, about 10 percent of Americans hunted; today it's around 6 percent. Overall, the number of hunters began to dip in the '90s but has slowly increased in the past few years.
Who hunts? The FWS's latest survey finds that hunters are 89 percent male and 94 percent white. More than half are 45 or older. Nearly 60 percent live in small metropolitan areas or rural areas. Similarly, about 80 percent of all gun owners are men, and they have been getting older as their numbers have fallen. (Around 35 percent of Americans say they own a gun.) A recent National Rifle Association (NRA) survey of its members found that nearly half identify as hunters and that they, like hunters in general, are largely from small towns and rural areas.
What do they hunt? More than 80 percent of hunters go after big game such as deer and elk. About 4.5 million hunt small game such as squirrels; 2.6 million hunt ducks and other birds, and 2.2 million go after other animals like feral pigs.
What do they shoot? Ninety-three percent of hunters use rifles or shotguns. In 2011, they spent more than $4.3 billion on firearms and ammunition. That makes them a significant part of the nearly $12 billion US firearms market, but they're not driving it. A 2010 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found that most Americans buy guns for protection; less than a 30 percent of those who recently bought a gun got it for hunting. Which may explain why the NRA has been focusing less on hunting and more on protecting the market for lucrative assault rifles and handguns. Just 6 percent of semi-automatic rifle owners told the NSSF that they were primarily used for hunting.
How do non-hunters see hunting? In a 2011 NSSF survey, 73 percent of respondents said they had no interest in ever going hunting. Yet even if they don't do it themselves, most Americans have a positive view of hunting: 74 percent said they approve of it. But hunting isn't America's most popular wildlife-related recreational activity: It's fishing, which 98 percent of Americans have no problem with.