How Many Victims Of Gun Violence? More Than You Think.

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Over the last twenty years we have been bombarded with endless noise from the NRA about the value of guns because they protect us from crime.  This “social utility” argument is based on the mostly-discredited research of Gary Kleck and John Lott, of whom the latter’s work doesn’t really qualify as research since it basically panders to what he perceives to be the fears and prejudices of his audience.  But for the moment let’s assume that some people do use guns for self-defense, and try to compare those numbers to the numbers of people who are injured or killed by guns.

According to Brady, an average of 100,000 are killed or wounded each year by guns.  This seems to be the standard gun violence number bandied about by gun control groups. I think the number is way too low. The gun violence report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of fatal and non-fatal gun victimizations at 478,000; add the suicides and you’re around one-half million. I think this figure is also way too low.  The number is based almost entirely on data from the National Criminal Victim Survey (NCVS) which is conducted twice each year with respondents from 90,000 households who are asked to describe any criminal incident in which they were victimized over the previous six months. The good news is that the respondents are asked to describe criminal events regardless of whether or not they were reported to the police.  The bad news is that some of the methodological problems attendant to this survey result in substantial underreporting of crime.

gvFor example, the survey only involves individuals who are permanent members of a household at the time that the interviews take place.  This means that the non-permanent population, which has been estimated to be as high as 12% of the entire population, is not captured in the NCVS results.  Another group that is underrepresented are the elderly, particularly those living alone who may or may not be able to respond to visits or calls from representatives of the NCVS. Both of these populations, particularly in inner-city environments, are susceptible to being victims of crime.

Note however, that the discussion above only concerns figuring out how many unreported gun crimes occur each year.  But that’s a very narrow definition of gun violence.  To understand the true dimensions of the problem, we also must try to figure out how many people are affected by either witnessing gun violence or by being exposed to the possibility of gun violence when someone brandished or otherwise made them feel vulnerable because they had a gun.  For all the talk by Kleck and Lott about how many people used guns to thwart what otherwise would have been a crime committed against them, what about all the people who were on the receiving end of an explicit or implicit threat of violence because someone showed them a gun?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not jumping on the anti-CCW bandwagon and accusing or even hinting at the possibility that law-abiding gun owners who carry around a concealed weapon ever use it to intimidate, scare or otherwise threaten family, strangers or friends.  The idea that an expansion of CCW leads to more gun violence on the part of licensees is an old canard that should be put to rest.  What I am saying, however, is that witnessing an actual or even possible act of violence is a traumatizing, and not-easily forgotten event.  And we can assume that most acts of gun violence are witnessed by ancillary, non-participants who are affected acutely and emotionally when they see an act of gun violence or gun threats take place.

If the gun lobby wants to buy the idea that several million crimes are prevented each year because someone protected themselves or others with a gun, I can say with the same logic and certainly more evidence that the real toll of gun violence is just as high. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that something as lethal as a gun isn’t an object whose use can be considered in anything other than the most serious and consequential terms.

Why Do Some People Shoot Other People? We Really Don’t Know.

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In the past week I found media accounts of at least five cities which held community events to talk about gun violence.  The events are usually sponsored by a coalition of community groups, religious congregations, law enforcement representatives and the requisite political leadership from City Hall.  There will be some entertainment, probably a youth choir, a passionate, tug-at-your-heartstrings appeal from the mother or sibling of someone recently gunned down, and a “let’s get rid of the guns” rant from the head of the local Everytown group.  Pardon me if I’m sounding a little cynical, but I don’t see any real connection between these admittedly honest endeavors and any change in the rates at which we keep killing or wounding ourselves or others with guns.

I know, I know, the problem isn’t guns.  The problems are joblessness, hopelessness and all the other ness’s that pervade inner-city neighborhoods where the overwhelming amount of gun violence occurs.  Want to get rid of gun violence?  Get rid of the ghetto; it’s as simple as that.  But I’m not so sure that lifting sixty million people above the poverty line is such an easy task.  After all, we started trying to eradicate poverty after Michael Harrington published The Other America in 1962 and I think the only thing we’ve accomplished in that regard is to validate the old homily about how God loves the poor because He made so many of them.

gang boys chap 1                On the other hand, let’s not forget the fact that even if 11,000 people are killed with guns each year and another 50,000 are wounded, that gun violence is still a comparatively rare event.  In 2012, according to the UCR, there were roughly 10 million serious crimes against people and property committed in the U.S., of which 1/10th of one percent were gun homicides and another 1.5% were armed assaults.  So even though the chances of being the victim of a violent crime are about one person out of every thirty, the chances of being injured or killed with a gun are a lot less.  Which means that even in “high-crime” neighborhoods, there are an awful lot of people walking around with criminal intent who don’t use a gun.

That being the case, and the numbers don’t lie, we have to assume that the guys (and it’s almost always males) who do use a gun to damage someone else have made a conscious choice.  Because it’s not as if the shooters are the only people in the ghetto without a job; it’s not as if they are the only people in the neighborhood whose income doesn’t make it above the poverty line; it’s not as if they are the only ones without two parents in the home.  If this were the case, all we would have to do to solve the gun problem would be to get our hands on the U.S. Census neighborhood report, identify the folks who fit this down-and-out profile, and follow them around until they pull out their gun.

The problem really lies in the fact that we can do all the sociological research we want, we can amass and correlate all the data, and we still come smack up against one, unassailable problem; namely, we can’t talk to the people who pulled the trigger of the gun.  The victims are ready to talk from today to next year.  They’ll talk while they’re waiting for the EMT, they’ll talk while they’re being stitched up in the emergency room, they’ll talk at a community anti-violence event.  But the shooters won’t talk because: a) half of them aren’t found, and b) when they are apprehended the penal system and their lawyers won’t or can’t let them talk at all.

We need to figure out a way to get into the heads of the people whose behavior results in gun violence.  Most people, even criminals, don’t walk around with guns and even fewer use them in violent ways.  Until we understand what separates the shooters from everyone else by asking the shooters why they separated themselves from everyone else, we’ll have to hope that those anti-gun events make our streets and homes more safe.

 

 

Surprise! A Study Reveals That Unlocked Guns Are A Health Risk.

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Earlier this month The New York Times ran an editorial about a recent study on gun violence and children published by Everytown, aka Moms, aka Bloomberg, et.al.  Like a similar study published this year on mass shootings, the major sources were media reports about unintentional gun deaths of children which, according to this report, is substantially higher than the numbers furnished by the CDC.

The issuance of the report, according to a letter to the Times, coincided with the annual ASK day, which is a collaboration between Brady and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to encourage safe gun storage in homes with young children.  The ASK campaign has been around for more than ten years and, according to its website has “inspired more than 19 million households” to keep guns away from where children play. Unfortunately, if the numbers of unintentional child deaths from shootings can be believed, the ASK campaign has a long way to go.

everytown logo                I don’t doubt Brady’s claim about reaching 19 million households, although I’m not sure how many of these households either contain guns or keep them around unlocked.  My impression is that very few gun owners are willing to listen to what Brady or Bloomberg has to say, just as there can’t be more than a handful of non-gun owners who are members of the NRA. When all is said and done, this is the real problem in the debate about guns, namely, that the flagship advocacy organizations speak only to their like-minded constituencies, there’s no real communication between adherents on the two sides.

According to the Newtown report, there are 21 states that have no child access prevention (CAP) laws at all.  What this means is that if a kid (or an adult, for that matter) picks up a gun and bangs away, the gun’s owner doesn’t face charges even if someone is injured or killed.  Many of these states are out West, where gun controls have been traditionally lax, but while these states don’t suffer much in the way of unintentional shootings, they do experience higher-than-average gun suicide rates, which might also be mitigated if guns had to be locked up.  On the other hand, Eastern states like Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina all had multiple juvenile deaths from gun accidents, and none of these three states have any CAP laws that might have helped prevent access to guns.

I’ll leave it to Brady to figure out how to mobilize even a portion of those 19 million ASK households to help drive their agenda forward; my primary concern is to look at the role that pediatricians should play in diminishing the health risks of unlocked guns.  Jim Perrin, a co-signer of the New York Times letter and President of the AAP, believes that unlocked guns present the same kind of health risk to children as lead or unattended backyard pools. And he makes the point that just telling children about the risk of guns isn’t enough; kids are naturally curious and in this case curiosity could do a lot more than kill the cat.  After all, many pediatricians ask parents whether they lock children into a car seat before going for a ride.  How much longer does it take to add the word ‘gun’ to a question about locks?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to add a minute’s extra work or responsibility to everything that medical professionals are now required to do in the brief time they spend with patients each day.  But the physician’s task is to lessen risk, and no matter what nonsense Rand Paul and the NRA promote about how doctors are a threat to the 2nd Amendment, anyone who believes that an unlocked gun in a home with children isn’t a health risk is presenting a degree of stupidity that no amount of medical care will ever cure.

Book Review: Rise of the Anti-Media, Informing America’s Concealed Weapons Carry Movement

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The author of this book, Brian Anse Patrick, has given us a work which deserves to be discussed and read. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been engaged in a lively and somewhat combative email discussion with the author, but our disagreements in no way detract from the seriousness and value of his work.  So let’s see what he has to say.

The book is a very detailed history of how CCW laws were expanded and revised beginning in the late 1980’s with a particular focus on events in Ohio, Michigan and Florida.  Patrick places these developments within a broader historical recounti ng of concealed-carry laws and practices from before the Civil War up through present-day events, noting that much of the pressure for change came from a new gun ‘culture’ that embraced the use of guns for self-defense, thus displacing the more traditional gun culture which was all about hunting and outdoor sports.

patrick                The energy and activity that brought about the acceptance of CCW, according to Patrick, came largely from grass-roots, voluntary associations of gun owners who shared information, strategies and tactics through what the author calls “anti-media” channels that received and transmitted information horizontally via the internet rather than utilizing top-down resources which reflected establishment, anti-CCW views.  The push for CCW not only had to overcome the usual anti-gun prejudices of the political establishment, but also forced mainstream gun organizations like the NRA to abandon what had been a traditional reluctance to promote concealed-carry within their own ranks.

This is hardly the first time that Americans have come together on a voluntary basis to share information and develop or implement strategies for making the general public more aware of an issue that was of paramount importance to them.  Nor is it unusual for such horizontally-structured movements to then be subsumed and incorporated into the larger, top-down groups and organizations that later decide to take up the same cause.  There wasn’t a single college campus that didn’t have an anti-war group, SDS for example, long before the mainstream media, liberal labor unions and the Democratic party discovered there was a place named Viet Nam.  These campus groups (I was a member of one such group in 1963) didn’t trust the established media and used very unorthodox and largely unseen methods to maintain contact and build a national anti-war movement that only was embraced by the general public following the Tet offensive in 1968.

Patrick does an excellent job of explaining and documenting the effectiveness of such voluntary groups in the push to create legal and social acceptance of CCW.  Where he and I part company, however, is in his effort to vest in these voluntary CCW associations a greater awareness and accurate knowledge about guns and the wider world simply because they communicate through informal, horizontal channels and do not rely on the artificially-packaged, frequently erroneous world views of top-down media and corporate points of view.  He too often assumes that just because people gain their information from sources that have not been tainted by the mainstream media, that this makes their information more correct.  Many of these people, for example, were absolutely convinced that the retail ammunition shortages experienced after Sandy Hook were symptoms of an Obama-led conspiracy to keep gun owners from being able to defend themselves with their guns.  Patrick also spends a little too much effort constructing and then demolishing the straw horse known as the liberal bias against guns.  Do we need yet another author to argue that liberals and guns rarely, if ever mix?

Yesterday I received my now-daily email from the NRA’s Chris Cox begging me to push some money his way for the 2014 Congressional campaign.  From the way he talks you would think that Armageddon will occur if the election map on November 5 isn’t colored bright red. The NRA goes to great lengths to make gun owners believe they are members of the country’s most persecuted minority but Patrick’s recounting of how CCW has spread across the land undercuts that point of view.  The NRA would probably make a lot more friends in the non-gun community if it would simply admit the truth, which is that the battle for CCW is largely over and it’s time to move on to better things.

Want To Get Rid Of Gun Violence? Here’s A Plan

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Rolling Stone just published an article that listed 7 steps that should be followed to “beat the NRA.”  It’s not exactly clear what the writer, Tim Dickinson, believes would be the result of such a victory; I have to assume he thinks it would have a real impact on the gun violence which continues to claim more than 30,000 lives each year.  But he says it will take a generation to unseat the NRA, so in the spirit of speeding things up a bit I’m going to offer my own 7 steps for dealing with gun violence before the next mass shooting takes place.

Step 1:  Let’s stop being so accommodating with the pro-gun side.  After all, the suffragettes didn’t demand the vote every other year; for that matter, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t give the South ten years to free the slaves.  The truth is that the easiest way to get rid of gun violence is to get rid of the guns.  That should be the point at which the debate begins.  After all, the other side has made it clear they’d be happy if there were no gun laws at all. Doesn’t one extreme position deserve another?

tph                Step 2:  Stop talking about gun control and focus on the real problem. More than 80% of all gun violence is committed with handguns, and if we got rid of every one of them there would still be 140 million shotguns and rifles floating around.

Step 3: Stop arguing about so-called assault rifles and magazine limits.  If the handguns go away, at least let everyone play with a pretend machine gun which, notwithstanding a few high-profile incidents like Aurora, can’t be blamed for much gun violence anyway.

Step 4: Eliminate the manufacture of handguns except for the military, export and LE. There are six gun companies who between them manufacture 80% of the guns sold on the domestic market, and with the exception of Glock, the other five also make long guns.  If the gun folks couldn’t buy any more handguns, long gun sales would go up.  Chances are that the total job loss at the manufacturing end would be less than 3,000 for which ways could easily be found to compensate this workforce for any financial loss.

Step 5: Let each family register and keep one handgun for protection in the home – the 2nd Amendment wouldn’t be disturbed at all.  The others could all be sold to the government at a fair market price and lotteries could be held with an additional payment to one owner every time 100 guns were turned in.  Or for each handgun deposited the owner could get a nice redeemable coupon for a rifle.

Step 6:  Sales of new rifles and shotguns would require a NICS background check; private transfers or sales would be exempt.  I never understood all the brouhaha about extending background checks to cover all long gun transactions in the first place.  From a crime-control perspective it’s not quite as meaningless as another assault weapons ban, but it comes close.

Step 7: Eliminate state-level licensing of long guns so that I can walk into a gun shop in Montana and buy a rifle off the rack.  Those Western states have all kinds of hunting guns that I’ve never even seen back East, and I don’t want to go through a whole rigamarole to grab that beautiful  Weatherby Mark V Deluxe that I saw when I walked into Big Sky Guns  in Great Falls.

.  If no more handguns come into the market it will take about ten years for the current supply of crime guns to completely disappear.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I’m in favor of doing any of these things.  But if the gun control crowd really wants to end gun violence it wouldn’t take a switch in that many Congressional seats for a bill containing most of these provisions to land on the President’s desk. Doesn’t that sound like a more feasible plan than tilting at windmills like the NRA?

 

Massachusetts Gets A Gun Bill That’s Not About Guns

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Last week the Massachusetts Assembly voted a gun bill that was initially submitted to the Legislature last year by Governor Deval Patrick following Sandy Hook.  The bill was debated at a half-dozen public forums attended by advocates on both sides, went through any number of iterations and finally appears to be making its way for final passage and approval before this year’s legislative ends on July 31st.

In fact, the bill doesn’t contain a single change in the current law covering how state residents purchase or transfer guns.  The only change that has any application to gun ownership clarifies the manner in which town police chiefs, who are the ‘issuing authority’ for gun licenses, can determine how and when an applicant for a gun license could be denied either the license itself or the CCW privilege even if they meet the legal requirements for the basic license or, as it is known, the LTC-A.

deval                So the changes in current gun law as it impacts gun owners are benign and slight.  But the changes were very significant in areas that have never been the focus of gun bills before; namely, in issues relating to safe schools, mental health and, most of all, suicide and guns.  The law requires every school district to create a plan to deal with in-school emergency events;  to develop a “safe and supportive school” plan to help identify and treat troubled student  who might become risks to themselves or others; and to hire a resource office to help implement safety and security in the schools.

But the most important part of the bill has to do with the issue of suicide.  Guns are the method of choice for 50% of all suicides, a percentage which is growing particularly in suicides committed by teens and young adults.  Nobody is saying that someone who wants to commit suicide wouldn’t do it if a gun wasn’t around; our national suicide rate is roughly similar to other Western countries where there are very few guns.  But anything that can be done to keep mentally-distraught people from impulsively grabbing a gun and using it to end their lives is an important goal, and along with requiring gun dealers to post suicide warnings in their shops and mandating suicide prevention programs in schools, this bill contains a provision that is, without doubt, the most innovative and significant response to suicide that has ever been tried.

The bill creates a task force to consider ways to create ‘safe harbors’ that can be used by families and friends of “distressed individuals” to remove and store their guns temporarily – and informally – until the mental crisis is considered as having passed.  The whole point here is to give loved ones, family members and close friends a way to prevent a depressed father, sibling or child from having access to guns while not invoking or involving formal contacts with the courts or the police. Maybe it would be another town resident, or perhaps some storage space could be set aside in a local church, but here is a law that will empower individuals to deal with controlling guns precisely so that the government doesn’t have to get involved.

For the very first time a gun control issue will be determined not by the government, but by the people themselves.  This is a remarkable precedent, and it has gone unnoticed in all the pro and con reactions to the bill.  In typical fashion, the NRA wasted no time trying to gin up its membership to oppose the whole thing, stating shortly after its passage that the bill “still contains provisions which will directly and adversely affect your constitutional right to keep and bear arms.” The fact that the bill gives us the responsibility to protect people from using a gun to hurt themselves is something that the NRA wouldn’t even understand, even though “We The People” is emblazoned on virtually every NRA poster that you can find.

 

Why Do Gun Owners Love Their Guns? Not Because They Protect Us From Anything.

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One thing about the gun debate I find interesting is how quickly and easily gun owners get riled up when politicians, or anyone else for that matter, begin talking about taking away their guns.  From the way they talk, you’d think the world was about to come to an end.  What was Heston’s famous line?  “From my cold, dead hands.”  Here’s a guy who made more forgettable movies than anyone could ever remember, but five words uttered at the NRA convention and he’s immortalized forevermore.

I see the same intensity of feelings in comments on my blog.  “You’re a traitor,” is one of the less-angry ones; “Mike the Gun Guy is Enemy #1,” crops up from time to time.  I have never once advocated any legislative or legal response to gun violence, but God forbid I say that maybe some of what the NRA claims to be true isn’t so true and you’d think I was calling for the confiscation of every, single gun.

heston                Maybe  I just don’t appreciate how gun owners think about their guns. So yesterday I decided to get a better understanding of the average gun owner by conducting a survey on how frequently gun guys (and gals) actually walk around with a gun.  After all, if you listen to the NRA, you quickly learn that nobody understands the problems faced by gun owners like they do, and nothing is more important to gun owners than being able to protect themselves and their loved ones by walking around with a gun.

So yesterday I sat down and sent an email to 650 people who took the required safety course from me that my state requires for issuance of the LTC.  And if they had, in fact, received the LTC, I asked them to tell me how often they carried a concealed weapon with the choices being: always, usually, sometimes, frequently or never at all.  Obviously, the folks who said they always or usually carried a concealed weapon were embodying Wayne LaPierre’s “good guys” dictum; the rest were pussies or worse.

Within 24 hours I received back more than 130 responses, of whom 102 stated they had received their LTC.  And how did the NRA do in convincing MR or MS gun-owner that they would be fulfilling a sacred trust by walking around with a gun?  Not very well, I’m afraid.  Only 29 of 97 LTC-holders reported that they ‘always’ or ‘usually’ carried a gun, of whom 22 were guys and 6 were gals.  The rest just weren’t convinced that they needed to carry a gun, and 53 of the respondents, 39 men and 10 women reported that they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ carried a concealed weapon at all.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The latest numbers indicate that there are roughly 8 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States, so if the results of my poll are representative, that means there may be about 2 million people walking the highways and byways of our beloved country ready at any moment to yank out and use their guns.  But 2 million doesn’t even represent 1% of the country’s population so it’s not like there’s some huge, gun-toting army out there just waiting to protect the rest of us from the criminal hordes.

On the other hand, a couple of million people who believe that something’s about to happen in DC that will directly affect them can make a lot of noise.  They can contact their Representatives, or make a telephone call, or send a nasty email to me.  I have never done any of those things because I can’t recall that Congress ever debated a law which would have any direct impact on me.  But the NRA, to their credit, has managed to make its membership feel that any discussion about gun control is a discussion about them.  Why pass up the opportunity to let everyone know what is the most important thing to you?  I wouldn’t, that’s for damn sure.

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