Do The CDC Numbers On Gun Violence Tell Us What We Think They Tell Us? I’m Not So Sure.

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The gun control community takes as a given the idea that there’s a correlation between more gun control laws and lower rates of gun violence.  And while we all assume that most people obey laws, and therefore if we pass a law prohibiting or controlling a particular kind of behavior (such as how people use guns), the law will have its desired effect.  Except in the case of gun violence I’m not so sure that this is correct, nor am I sure that the data which is proffered up to justify this argument says what the gun control folks believe it says.  Case in point:  a new report issued by the Violence Policy Center that finds higher rates of gun violence in states with fewer gun control laws.

The report, actually a press release, is based on the 2012 mortality data issued by the CDC and available for viewing/analysis online.  The CDC breaks down injuries by how they occurred, on both a regional and a state-by-state basis.  Which means you can see how many guns were used in homicides, suicides and plain old accidents, divide these numbers by each state or region’s population and – voila! – you have the data used by the VPC.

cdc logoWhen I used the CDC data to calculate gun violence, the raw numbers agreed with the numbers published by the VPC, but I found myself  asking questions that simply don’t fit into the neat more laws = less gun violence paradigm that the VPC and other gun control advocates firmly believe.  For example, the VPC correctly notes that overall gun deaths increased from 2011 to 2012.  But gun accidents declined a tiny bit, while homicides and suicides both moved slightly up.  The more alarming news is that gun suicides account for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths, a percentage that has been steadily climbing each year as, until recently, gun homicides have come down.

One of the major reasons for the great distance between the two sides in the gun violence debate is that one side, the NRA side, refuses to admit that suicide has anything to do with gun violence at all.  Suicide is never mentioned in the phony safety campaigns they run in conjunction with the NSSF, and they are hard at work trying to gag physicians who want to talk to their patients about guns, even when patients exhibit obvious symptoms of mental distress.  But the reason why states like Wyoming and Montana rank in the top 6 states for gun violence has nothing to do with homicide, it’s a function of elevated suicide rates which are acts of gun violence that have little, if anything to do with gun control laws at all.  Does the fact that gun suicide rates in the Northeast are lowest of any region reflect stricter legal controls over guns?  Or does it say something about disparities in mental health treatment between various sections of the United States?

I’m also not sure that using state-level gun violence rates and then tying these rates to strict or lax gun laws gets us to where we want to be, namely, a society which experiences less gun violence.  For example, my state – Massachusetts – has the lowest rate of gun violence of all 50 states, and it is known as a state with fairly strong gun control laws.  But the city of Springfield recently recorded its 14th gun homicide for 2014, and if the killing continues at that pace for the remainder of the year, the city will end up with an annual gun homicide rate of about 16 per 100,000, higher than 44 of the 50 states.

Don’t get me wrong.  I support the efforts of the VPC and other like-minded folks to find ways to curb the awful carnage created by guns.  But if we are going to look for lawful solutions to this or any other problem we have to be sure that we really understand the problem that the law will try to correct.  In the case of gun violence, the problem is not as simple or obvious as it seems.

Here Come The Real Good Guys To Protect Us From Gun Violence.

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Yesterday NPR put out a story, “Lawyers Band Together To Fight Gun Violence” based on an interview with Cy Vance, Jr., and Mike Feuer.  Except these guys aren’t just lawyers.  They happen to be the prosecutors of the two largest cities in the United States, Los Angeles and New York.  Next week they are meeting in Atlanta with prosecutors from such other major cities as Boston, Miami, Seattle, Detroit and Houston to discuss strategies that all these cities and others can adopt to deal with gun violence.

If anyone thinks that such an event isn’t a major step forward in dealing with the 11,000+ gun homicides, 120,000+ gun robberies and 140,000+ gun assaults that occur each year, they better think again.  Most of the gun violence that makes America the numero uno advanced country for gun crimes occurs in the cities and metro areas whose top crime-fighters will be at this conference.  In a word, this is serious sh-t.

In their unending effort to keep Americans from passing gun control legislation, the NRA goes out of its way to cultivate good relations with law enforcement officials and cops.  Except with one or two exceptions (the Detroit Police Chief, for example), this usually takes the form of getting sheriffs from rural and small-town jurisdictions to make public statements about the uselessness of gun control.  Invariably, these sheriffs are Republicans, they are aligned with pro-gun national politicians and organizations in their own states and their opposition to anti-gun measures are no less politically-driven than their opposition to any other piece of the Democratic party line.

But when we talk about big-city prosecutors, we’re talking about a different breed of cat. These folks don’t develop anti-crime agendas at the ballot box, their success or failure is based on keeping their cities safe.  And none of these prosecutors buy into the NRA nonsense that giving everyone a concealed-carry permit will get their job done.  They know from long experience that public safety is always based on solid laws, aggressive enforcement and community support.  It’s a triad that has been used again and again for all sorts of law enforcement concerns, and there’s really no room in it for debates about whether taking away my hi-cap gun magazine robs me of my Constitutional rights.

gun crime               The last time there was a coordinated, national effort by law enforcement to deal with gun violence grew out of the Clinton crime bill passed in 1994.  Nobody has yet been able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the law was responsible for a 40% drop in gun homicides between 1994 and 1999, but it sure wasn’t because all of a sudden all the good guys were walking around armed with a gun.

Over the last fifteen years, beginning in 1999, the level of gun violence hasn’t gone up but it sure hasn’t gone down.  And the number and severity of multiple shootings has certainly increased, no matter what NRA sycophants like John Lott would otherwise like to pretend.  Even New York City, which saw the greatest drop in gun crime of any major urban center under Mayor Mike, has experienced a slight increase in shootings over the past year.

The appearance of a national effort by prosecutors to develop coordinated gun violence strategies has been paralleled by the recent emergence of another national organization, the National Network to Combat Gun Violence, representing city-level legislators from such cities as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore, Albany, Berkeley, Jersey City, Madison, Yonkers, Newark, Hoboken, White Plains, Richmond, Mt. Vernon, Olympia and Indianapolis.

The NRA might want its membership to believe that if they walk around with guns in their pockets they constitute the front-line defense against violence and crime.  But the truth is that the real good guys (and gals) are the people who are coming together at the legal, legislative and grass-roots levels to develop common-sense solutions to gun violence and gun crimes.

Physicians Need To Stop Talking Just To Each Other About Guns

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Gun owners, particularly the more activist gun owners, tend to be prolific bloggers.  Partly this is because they often believe themselves to be an “oppressed minority,” whose vies on guns aren’t reliably reported by the media; partly because guns still aren’t a “mainstream” item in many areas which prompts gunnies to create their own, alternate communication channels.  You can catch a flavor of this mentality in Brian Patrick’s The National Rifle Association and the Media, a book whose arguments I don’t necessarily agree with, but it nevertheless gives some good  insights into the gun-owning frame of mind.

I make a point of reading several gun blogs every day to keep up with what the “other side” has to say.  Many of the blogs are basically advertising vehicles whose content is comprised mainly of cut-and-paste entries from other blogs or sites.  My personal favorite is CalGuns, which seems to attract a fairly literate audience that not only refrain from much of the in-your-face rhetoric that characterizes so much of the current gun discussion (thanks to Ted Nugent, et. al.) but also gives space to interesting and informed questions that do need to be confronted in the gun debate.

docs versus glocks                For me and many of the readers of my blog, a major issue involves the role of physicians in dealing with the violence caused by guns.  I don’t really think there’s any connection between the NRA’s opposition to Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General and the possible outbreak of Ebola in the United States.  But I do believe that a pernicious trend exists to prohibit medical inquiries about gun ownership now that the Florida gag law has appeared in Missouri and will surely spread beyond.  It’s pernicious first of all because it fosters a wholly uninformed, stupid and reactionary view of the role of physicians in their everyday work, and it’s also pernicious because it is the foundation of a cynical marketing strategy to make consumers believe that guns are just another, all-American way to have fun.  I beg to differ with the NSSF, but the AR-15 just isn’t the Millennial version of the Daisy Red Ryder and we shouldn’t be creating a generation that will hope to find one on Christmas Day sitting under the tree.

In that respect the CalGuns blog posted an interesting thread yesterday that read: “My sister took my niece to the doctor the other day and they asked her if there are firearms in the house. Is that legal in California?”  The writer went on to reference the Florida gag law which, if nothing else, shows that he has some awareness of events beyond himself, and most of the responses he received were also fairly cogent and informed.  One writer differentiated between “legal” as opposed to “appropriate,” another suggested that the patient ask the physician “in a nice manner” why the question was being asked, a third poster stated that he would be concerned that perhaps the doctor suspected “foul play.”

These comments demonstrate to me that there are lots of gun owners who simply don’t understand the reasons why, medically speaking, physicians need to ask patients about access to guns.  And it doesn’t work to simply explain this lack of understanding because of the NRA’s demonizing of physicians over the past twenty years.  It seems to me that physicians, medical organizations and the medical establishment in general need to do a better job of explaining their role and responsibilities in dealing with the violence or potential violence caused by guns.  When the American Academy of Pediatrics publishes a statement about gun violence on their website, do they ask themselves whether the commentary will be picked by the readers of CalGuns?  As long as physicians only talk to other physicians about gun violence the NRA will own the argument about physicians and guns.

The Virus Is Spreading And I’m Not Talking About Ebola

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Last month the Missouri legislature passed a new gun law that was essentially a rewrite of a bill vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon.  Missouri has been in the forefront of easing restrictions on gun ownership and this law continues that trend.  In 2007 a decades-old law that required state residents to apply for police permits to purchase handguns was overturned, and the result was an immediate spike in gun homicides.  The new law drops the minimum age for concealed-carry from 21 to 19, allows teachers to bring concealed weapons into schools, and prohibits towns, counties or other local jurisdictions from promulgating gun laws that conflict in any way with state statutes.

According to the law’s sponsor, Republican Senator Will Kraus, the law was designed to protect the rights of gun owners who had “earned” concealed-carry privileges by dint of voting or military service.  Could this guy have a statement that dumb on the floor of the State Senate?  Obviously he did, and he went on to say that a concealed-carry license also gives state residents the right to carry a weapon openly, again because they had “earned’ this right by dint of registering to vote.

docs versus glocks                If the Missouri State Legislature wants to make it easier for state residents to pretend they can keep everyone safe by walking around with a gun, I really don’t care.  Despite the continued mouthings of John Lott and other NRA sycophants, there is simply no credible evidence which proves that legal gun ownership reduces crime.  The good news about concealed-carry is that most people who have a CCW permit actually don’t bother to walk around with a gun, and while CCW on the one hand doesn’t lead to less crime, it also doesn’t seem to spark any great increase in crime on the other.

But what I am concerned about is another part of the law which makes Missouri the second state to gag physicians who try to ask patients about their ownership of guns.  Here’s what the law says: “No health care professional shall be required by law to inquire whether a patient owns or has access to a firearm.”  It then goes on to prohibit physicians from noting gun ownership in a patient  records or disclosing the identity of a gun owner to “any government entity” unless the physician is ordered to disclose such information via court order, blah, blah, blah. The final clause of this section of the law contains the usual bromide about how gun ownership can be discussed if, in the physician’s professional judgement, the patient’s access to a gun might be of medical concern.  But make no mistake about it: Missouri, like Florida, has now instituted a gag order against physicians talking to patients about guns.

What really concerns me about this attack on physicians is not the fact that it has taken place.  Frankly, once those two idiots on the 11th Federal Circuit upheld the Florida law, I assumed that it would be replicated in state after state.  The bigger problem is that I learned about Missouri closing down physician inquiry from reading the text of the Missouri law itself.  When the Florida law was first passed, the Brady Campaign, the American Academy of Pediatrics and a host of other medical groups not only went immediately to court, but kept up a steady drumbeat about the issue and even now are asking that the 11th Circuit’s bizarre decision be overturned.  In the case of Missouri, nobody seems to have noticed that the gag-MD virus has spread.

The real reason that the gunnies want to push physicians out of the discussion about gun violence is not because physicians are opposed to guns.  It’s because the NRA and its allies want to disconnect gun ownership from violence to make their products more acceptable, more enjoyable, more normal for every dad and mom.  After all, we agree that violence is abnormal but guns don’t pose any threat at all.  Isn’t that right, doc?

 

Do Guns Protect Us From Crime? Here’s A Serious Study That Says No.

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Sooner or later someone is going to realize that most of what the NRA claims to be the value of gun ownership simply isn’t true.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love guns, bought my first real gun when I was twelve years old and have owned hundreds ever since.  But to me guns are a hobby, like model trains and toy soldiers, and I recoil in anger and disgust whenever the gun lobby tries to invest some kind of sacred value in their existence or use.  And one of the biggest lies about gun ownership that is spun again and again is the idea that guns are an effective way to protect us against crime.

This nonsense first started making the rounds when a criminologist, Gary Kleck, published a paper in 1994 which claimed that Americans used guns several million times each year to prevent what would otherwise have been crimes. He didn’t say that gun owners shot their guns at would-be criminals; he said that gun owners let a potential criminal know that they were going up against someone with a gun.  In fact, not a single person (less than 240 in a national survey) who claimed that they used a gun in this way could prove that their account of what happened was actually true.  Not a single incident was reported to police or verified by anyone else.  And in more than half the so-called defensive gun uses (DGUs) it turned out that the so-called criminal had neither said nor done anything that indicated criminal intent or any other kind of intent.  How did the gun owner who committed the DGU know that he was preventing a crime from taking place?  He didn’t.

John Lott

John Lott

Kleck’s work was shortly supported by another research hack named John Lott whose data that he used to “prove” that concealed-carry permits resulted in less crime turned out to be data that, to be polite, perhaps didn’t exist at all.  When he was asked to produce his data by the National Academy of Sciences he couldn’t; when he produced what he claimed was “similar” data the National Academy’s analysts couldn’t replicate his findings at all. When other scholars took his substitute data and used a different methodology, the crime rates that Lott said went down actually went up.

Don’t think for one second that the inability of either Kleck or Lott to validate their research to an even minimal degree has stopped the gun lobby from promoting the idea that guns protect us from crime or has prevented the two erstwhile scholars from finding receptive audiences for continued showcasing of their work.  Kleck routinely appears in courtrooms giving depositions and expert testimony on behalf of the NRA; Lott promotes himself endlessly and shamelessly on Fox and various right-wing blogs.

Now along comes a serious scholar named Michael Siegel who continues to provide us with peer-reviewed studies on gun violence which, to put It bluntly, shows the work of Kleck and Lott to be what it really is. In 2013, Siegel and his colleagues published a detailed article which found a significant correlation between gun ownership rates and gun homicides on a state-by-state basis.  Previously, the work of Hemenway and others had demonstrated a possible link between elevated gun homicides and gun ownership on a national level; the research by Siegel and his team, focused on more state-level data, made the connection between guns and gun homicide much more specific and real.

The new study takes the state data on gun ownership and tests the correlation between gun ownership and whether the perpetrator and victim either knew each other or not.  It turns out that gun ownership did not really alter the amount of gun homicides involving people who didn’t know each other, but gun homicides were significantly higher in gun-owning households where the perpetrator and victim did.  Why didn’t the gun homicide rate decline between strangers if guns are such a good way of protecting us from crime?  Because the studies which claim this to be true aren’t studies at all; they are promotional campaigns to sell more guns.

 

 

The NRA Says A Gun Protects You From Harm. The FBI And The Police Disagree.

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This week an official report commissioned by the Aurora City Government about the July 20, 2012 theater shooting was released.  The report was the work of the System Planning Corporation, whose TriData Division conducts detailed reviews of responses to emergency situations, including the mass shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech and the University of Illinois.  So they know what they’re doing and the 188-page report is a serious and sober assessment of what was done right at Aurora and what was done wrong.

What was done right, first and foremost, was the immediate, quick and effective response of cops and firefighters to an emergency situation that can only be described as utter chaos. The first police unit arrived at the scene within two minutes after the first 911 call, by which time hundreds of theater-goers were milling around, many bloodied and in shock, others wounded, others worried about friends whom they couldn’t find and, worst of all, nobody knowing whether the shooter or shooters were still inside the building or were moving from one theater to another.

aurora                The good news is that multiple police units arrived quickly at the scene, began looking for the gunman and assisting or controlling the panic-stricken crowd.  Police units also made what was termed an “unprecedented” decision to transport shooting victims to hospitals in their own cars, rather than waiting for ambulances or other medical units to take charge.  According to the report, had police cars “not been used for rapid transport of seriously wounded victims, more likely would have died.”

The bad news was that there was no unified command or communication system linking the police to fire/EMS personnel.  As a result, there was confusion in moving ambulances closer to victims, as well as assessing the risk to EMS personnel who needed to get into the theater in order to deal with victims who were still inside.  The coordination between agencies was not resolved until nearly an hour passed after the shooting began, and numerous communications between first-responders were either lost or misunderstood.  What probably saved additional lives was the fact that one of the first police officers to gain entrance to the theater was trained as a paramedic and thus able to make triage decisions until the situation was brought under control.

The report also contains suggestions for managers of theaters and other places where large groups are gathered and shootings might occur.  Chief among these recommendations is what the report calls public education, “inform the public of appropriate measures if caught in a shooting situation.”  And the appropriate responses to a shooter are to flee, hide, and if neither is possible, to attack. Physical resistance to shooters, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, reflects a recognition that shooters now use high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons that may inflict severe tolls even if police respond, as in Aurora, in under minutes from the first shots being fired.

The flee, hide, fight strategy, which is best described in a video produced by the Houston PD, doesn’t take into account the ability of armed citizens to resist an active shooter by pulling out and using their own guns. And we all know what Wayne LaPierre says, “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  Except there’s only one little problem.  It’s not true.  The recent FBI report on active shootings disclosed that in 160 incidents between 2000 and 2013, only one shooting was stopped by a civilian armed with a gun.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in any way opposed to using a gun or anything else for genuine, self-defense.  But I am opposed to the shameless pandering of the NRA and other gun promoters to the childish fantasy that if you walk around with a gun, that you’re protecting yourself or others from harm.  SWAT teams and other special response units train constantly – hundreds of hours – making themselves ready to use guns.  Do you really think that sitting on your duff watching a video amounts to the same thing?

 

 

Want To End Gun Violence? Vote Republican In November.

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I just took a look at how much money the NRA is pouring into the 2014 election campaign and, as I suspected, they are going over the top to try and make the returns as red as possible on November 4th.  In total they have spent nearly $20 million, which puts them in the Top 10 of major PACs giving money independent of specific campaigns.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.  You would think that an organization as savvy as the NRA would have figured out by now that the more the country tilts to the Right, the more gun sales go down.  It’s no secret that the election of Obama in 2008 gave the gun industry a much-needed boost, and his attempt to pass a new gun control law after Sandy Hook drove gun and ammunition sales through the roof.  If the Senate turns red in November, you can kiss any further increase in the American civilian arsenal goodbye.  In fact, the decline in gun sales has already begun and it threatens to get much worse.

Monthly background NICS totals, a fairly valid way to understand trends in gun sales, will probably top out in 2014 around where they were at the end of the previous year. But the monthly totals of more than 2 million checks which were common in 2013, have not occurred again since March of this year, and nobody in the industry is expecting this trend to reverse.  Sig-Sauer announced a major layoff in July, Savage Arms followed with the same news in September after putting a large group on furlough back in June and July, and Smith & Wesson’s stock tumbled after the company announced that quarterly sales had fallen off  by nearly 25 percent.

         Shannon Watts

Shannon Watts

Not only does it appear that the time for federal gun legislation has passed and gone, but notwithstanding the effort by Bloomberg and Watts to support pro-gun control candidates at the state level, the chances of additional gun controls in red states is also slim to none.  It appears, for example, that the ballot initiative in Washington State to expand background checks may pass, but that’s because in a statewide vote the Democratic voters along the coast easily outnumber the Republicans who dominate local politics in the rural, inland part of the state.

On the other hand, while there was a spate of gun legislation at the state level after Sandy Hook, nearly twice as many laws were passed that loosened rather than tightened gun restrictions, and the states which did increase legal controls over guns (NY, CT, NJ, MA) were, for the most part, blue states in the Northeast where gun ownership has never been all that strong. When gun makers think about their market they think the South, the rural Midwest and the western, mountain states. That’s where a majority of guns in this country are owned, and these areas, politically speaking, tend to be mostly colored red.

The NRA has been trying to widen the gun-buying demographic but have met with little success.  Their digital network features a series of rather stupid, sanctimonious message videos by, among others, an African-American, a couple of women with the Laura Ingraham look and an Asian –American who also happens to be gay.  But the average gun owner continues to age out of the population and despite the appearance of a new group called Students for Concealed Carry, college life and guns simply don’t mix.

The dirty little secret about the gun business is the only thing that promotes gun sales is the fear on the part of gun owners that their toys might disappear.  But because on occasion these toys inflict real damage on innocent people, from time to time an effort is made to control or restrict their use with a consequent upsurge in the volume of arguments on both sides.  Maybe Mike and Shannon should consider helping some red candidates rather than blue, because there’s nothing that will end America’s interest in guns faster than the knowledge that nobody’s going to take them away.

 

 

 

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