How Violent Is Gun Violence? More Than You Think.

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One of the continuing debates within the GVP community is how to define ‘gun violence.’  On the one hand there are the obvious categories: homicide, assault and robbery with a gun.  Then there is suicide with a gun, which results in death but is certainly a different sort of violence than what happens when a gun is used in a criminal act. And of course we also differentiate between intentional, as opposed to unintentional acts of gun violence; indeed, the latter may not actually be gun violence, even though someone still ends up being injured by a gun.

conference-program-pic              Incidentally, outside the GVP, gun violence doesn’t exist.  As far as I know, the NRA and the NSSF have never used the term ‘gun violence’ in anything they have ever said about guns. The various pro-gun noisemakers (Emily Miller, Dana Loesch, every Republican Presidential candidate, et. al.) prattle on about violent ‘thugs’ who use guns, but it’s people who kill people, remember?  It’s got nothing to do with the gun.  Now back to reality.

Adding up all the categories above, the national gun violence toll in 2013 was 117,894.  At least this is the number published by the CDC. By the agency’s own admission, this number is understated.  Why?  Because when we count nonfatal injuries, any kind of injury, we are estimating the actual number based on reporting from a ‘representative’ group of emergency medical facilities, and sometimes the estimations are close to reality and sometimes they are not. So the death toll is close to accurate but the injury numbers may or may not be exact.  And this is a serious gap in what we know about gun violence because gun injuries are more likely to be significantly more serious than any other type of injury, unless you fall out of a fifth-story window and somehow manage to survive.

My friends at the Gun Violence Archive, by the way, have gun morality numbers which match up pretty close to the CDC.  In 2014 the CDC found 12,265 gun deaths from every type of shooting except suicides.  The GVA number for 2014 was 12,585.  Obviously, the GVA calculation for non-fatal gun injuries is far below the number recorded by the CDC, because most shootings that don’t result in a death aren’t newsworthy enough to get media mention, which is the basic source of information used by the GVA.

Which brings me to the point of this commentary, namely, the fact that by focusing on gun deaths, as opposed to overall injuries, the main issue of gun violence is obscured, if not altogether lost.  The gun violence issue is driven by homicides, particularly when a mass shooting occurs.  But in terms of how many people are seriously affected by shootings, gun mortality is the tip of the iceberg, and we need to understand the totality of the problem if we are going to map mitigating strategies that will really work.

There’s a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvesant, a.k.a., ‘Bed-Stuy, Do or Die.’ Like many Brooklyn neighborhoods, it’s beginning to experience a degree of gentrification, but the area around Fulton and Atlantic Avenues is still the Wild West.  So far this year the neighborhood has experienced 2 murders, which if the carnage continues, the yearly homicide rate per 100,000 will top 20.  But the total number of shooting victims is now 6, which will yield an annual gun violence rate of 60; further down Atlantic Avenue in East New York the GV rate could top 140 by end of year.

Numbers like this don’t describe an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence.  Frankly, I don’t know whether we have invented terminology which accurately describes this state of affairs. But there are neighborhoods all over the United States which experience gun violence at levels equal or above to what goes on in Bed-Stuy; higher even than the violence experienced in Honduras or the Ivory Coast. I’m not even sure that a word like ‘violence’ describes what is really going on.

 

 

 

 

Does Knowledge About Guns Laws Promote More Gun Laws? Maybe Yes, Maybe No.

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A new study conducted by researchers at Yale University and covered in The Trace appears to confirm a truism in how people develop and hold opinions, namely, the more you want to believe in something, the more you can make yourself believe in something.  In this case, the issue is guns, and what two Yale researchers discovered in a survey of 1,384 people, is that people who support stronger gun-control laws also know that background checks are not conducted on all gun transfers, whereas people who are less inclined to support less gun-control laws believe that universal background checks are already in place. In other words, if you believe there is a gun “problem” and you further believe that new laws could help solve the problem, you will be in favor of more laws.  And to quote an old Spanish saying: If not, not.

peacenow              I have two issues with this survey, but I want it understood that I am not trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater; I’m just trying to make the bathwater a bit more warm.  To begin, I am always somewhat suspect of public surveys about guns if the survey purports to reflect the views of a ‘representative’ group of Americans without distinguishing whether this particular group includes gun owners or not. Because on any issue related to guns, these folks are going to have plenty to say, particularly if they happen to be among the minority if gun owners who really do ‘cling’ to their guns because it’s a lifestyle and a hobby that is very important to them.  They are not necessarily the majority of gun owners and it certainly isn’t a majority of Americans, but it may be a majority in certain gun-rich states and it’s for sure just about everyone who turns out when a new gun law comes up for debate.

In this respect the Yale researchers ask the following question: “Could it be that public misperceptions of existing gun control laws also contribute to the absence of public mobilization for new legislation?”  Let me break it gently to our GVP colleagues from Yale – the folks who are against new gun laws never have any trouble mobilizing for a public debate, whether they know anything about the law in question or not.  It’s the 89% of respondents to this survey who both know there are no universal background checks and want an expansion of gun-control laws who usually don’t show up.

The authors focused this survey on questions about background checks because, according to them, “universal background checks for gun purchases could substantially reduce the number of gun-related deaths in the USA.”  They cite two well-known studies to bolster this statement, but that’s not what either study actually says.  The research by Eric Fleelger and his group correlates gun fatalities with the presence or absence of gun laws in every state, but background checks are just one of 17 different legal procedures that are used to monitor public traffic of guns.  As for the study by Daniel Webster, et. al., on the effect of the repeal of Missouri’s handgun-purchase law, a permit-to-purchase procedure conducted at the state level is, by definition, a much more rigorous method for weeding out unqualified handgun purchasers than a 60-second conversation between a gun shop owner and an FBI staffer at NICS.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying or implying that the problem of gun violence can be effectively addressed without additional laws.  I am also not saying that researching the effect of gun-control laws with an eye towards making those laws more effective shouldn’t be done.  But what I am saying is that if we believe in public policy as a mechanism for change, then the question we really have to ask is not whether folks understand the ins and outs of specific policies, but whether they are willing to come out and show themselves when a public policy is being addressed.  Perhaps that’s the question which should have been asked.

 

Want A New AR Rifle? Don’t Buy A New Gun, Just Buy A New Part.

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One of highlights of the gun business is going to the SHOT Show each year and looking at new products.  The gun industry is awash each year in new products for the simple reason that gun makers have to find ways to sell more guns to the same consumers, even if these same consumers already own more guns than they really need to own.  Actually, the last time the gun industry changed the basic design of any product was when Gaston Glock substituted a striker for a hammer and stuck it inside a polymer frame. Otherwise, all the various doo-dads that you find on guns may change the look, the finish or the feel, but a gun is still a gun.

ar              This may not be the case with a new product from an AR custom shop out of Nevada, Franklin Armory, that specializes cobbling together various components to create various different styles of black guns.  And while a gun is a gun is a gun, this time around the folks at Franklin Armory appear to have come up with not just a new type of AR rifle, but a new technology design which differs very significantly from the traditional way in which assault rifles actually work.

It’s called a binary-trigger system, which means that you don’t just get off a shot every time you pull the trigger, you also get off a shot by letting the trigger snap back to its standard firing position rather than waiting for the trigger to snap back to the firing position while the bolt slams shut and then pulling it again. In other words, because the firing mechanism is activated by the trigger moving in either direction, you are getting 2 shots even though you are only pulling the trigger once.

The company has sent relevant engineering and design documentation to the ATF, and while they haven’t gotten an official ‘yes’ as regards this new design, they also haven’t received a ‘no.’  The ATF test lab is the last word on whether any gun can be sold in the United States, which means that right now there’s a teeny chance that all guns sold with this firing system will have to be recalled, but I wouldn’t bet the barn that this would happen anytime soon.

You can catch a discussion about this new firing technology on a video posted on the Guns America website following SHOT.  You can also see the BFS system in actual use by going to the recoil.com website linked above. In the interests of full disclosure, I have not personally tested the Binary Firing System myself.  But if it performs the way it appears in the videos I have watched, there may be a real change in assault-rifle technology looming ahead.

The AR-style platform is popular because of its modular design, which means you can pull out just about any part of the gun and replace it with another, similar part of your own choice.  It’s the ability of gun owners, particularly younger owners, to customize virtually every piece of the AR which makes the gun so popular because you don’t have to buy a new gun to get a new product, all you have to do is buy a new part.  And if or when Franklin Armory gets the official go-ahead from the ATF, I’ll guarantee they will start selling this BFS module to any AR owner who wants to use it with their own gun.

Now here’s the problem for my friends in GVP.  Because of the way the binary trigger works, a gun with this system delivers shots faster than the standard AR. It’s not a full-auto gun, but you are basically shooting semi-auto mode twice as quickly as when the trigger has to be pulled for every shot.  If I need to spell out the implications of this technology to anyone who is concerned about the lethality of an AR, I suggest you go back and read this column again.

 

Want To Live Where You Don’t Need Training To Walk Around With A Gun? Live Just About Anywhere.

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Anybody who thinks The Trace isn’t a source for serious journalism about gun violence ought to think again. Last week Mike Spies authored a story about the conflict between hunters and ranchers in places like the Malheur Reserve, and went far beyond any of the cliché-ridden nonsense that spewed forth from the media before and after the Bundy Boys tried to protect their Constitutional rights.  This week we have another important contribution to GVP journalism with Jennifer Mascia’s report on training required for concealed-carry permits, although her research clearly demonstrates that in most cases this so-called training amounts to no training at all.

training              You may recall that before he was found groping between stalls in a public toilet, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) had introduced the first national, concealed-carry bill. The bill went nowhere, but it has of late been gaining steam, and last year fell just a few short of getting a positive Senate vote.  It goes without saying, of course, that the entire clown act running for the Republican Presidential nomination would sign such a bill into law.

What Mascia’s article points out is that even without formal, national reciprocity, Gun Nation has managed to create a state-by-state reciprocal infrastructure which allows CCW-holders to carry concealed weapons in a majority of states and, in many cases, to do so without being required to experience any live-fire instruction or proficiency-testing whatsoever.  And why does an organization allegedly devoted to training and gun safety like the NRA promote such dangerous behavior?  Because, as one trainer told Mascia, “I agree with it from the safety perspective, but disagree with it constitutionally.”  In other words, according to this constitutional expert-turned-gun-trainer, the 2nd Amendment grants Americans the unfettered right to own and use a gun, and nobody can be prevented from exercising this ‘right’ just because in the process of doing so they might prove to be dangerous to themselves or someone else.

Now let’s not waste anyone’s time by reminding the ‘I can do whatever I want with my gun’ crowd that, in fact, the majority opinion in District of Columbia vs. Heller explicitly gives public agencies authority to regulate the use of guns.  And let’s also not waste anyone’s time by reminding the same crowd that the courts have said again and again that “preventing danger to the community is a legitimate regulatory goal.” Because the truth is that Gun Nation believes that walking around with a gun is, in fact, a way of preventing community danger, and they cling to this belief even if it means that people are out there protecting the rest of us by carrying guns that they haven’t shot at all.

Or maybe they shot the gun a whole, big 25 rounds which is what the Nevada CCW requirement entails. Does anyone in their right mind actually believe that standing in front of an unmoving paper target and taking as much time as needed to hit a humanoid outline 4 out of 5 times prepares someone to safely deliver lethal force with a gun?

Never mind shooting the gun.  How about just holding it?  Take a look at the picture of the concealed-carry class in Utah which adorns the top of Mascia’s text.  Notice the kid is sitting in a crowded classroom with his finger on the trigger of his gun. Of course he knew the gun was empty, of course he knew. He checked, right?

Anyone who thinks I applaud this journalism because The Trace is anti-gun can go lay brick.  If Gun Nation had one, single media venue whose concern for accuracy and evidence-based reportage was even a fraction of what is practiced in The Trace, we might actually engage both sides in a serious and substantive discussion which might yield some fruit. But as long as pro-gun organizations continue to deflect concerns about gun violence through some half-baked reference to their 2nd-Amendment rights, we might as well ignore the 30,000+ gun deaths each year because nothing’s going to change.

 

Why Can’t We Use The Militia To Defend Ourselves?

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Now that the Bundy Militia has decided that eating dinner at home is better than freezing in the administration building on the Malheur Preserve, I decided to spend a bit of time reading about the whole notion of militias, if only because the bunch at Malheur seem convinced that they represent some kind of unquestioned Constitutional mandate to protect liberty and justice forever.

rubio               Actually, if the modern-day Boy Scouts who go out on weekends and play soldier boy in some gravel pit with their AR rifles would take the trouble to read the Constitution, they might actually discover that as members of a militia they are first and foremost required to follow the dictates of their most hated enemy, a.k.a., Barack Obama, who happens to be Commander in Chief.  I quote from Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 which says: “The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.”

But why let facts or legal texts stand in the way of shooting your mouth off on Fox News?  And it stands to reason that the group at Malheur would call themselves a militia since the modern militia movement has descended directly from anti-government ‘patriot’ groups which, if traced back to their origins, bear a certain clear resemblance to racialist groups which go all the way back to the Ku Klux Klan.  How could it be otherwise when Ammon Bundy’s father Cliven was about to be lionized by Sean Hannity until he screwed up the whole thing by saying, “Let me tell you about your Negro,” followed by a few other choice words.

In this respect, I just read an interesting Letter to the Editor of the Kansas City Star. The author pointed out that the Kansas State Constitution requires the Legislature to organize and equip the state’s militia, and he was wondering (obviously tongue-in-cheek) whether this meant that the Legislature had to supply these self-styled militias with guns.  It’s an interesting concept when you think about it, because currently 23 states have organized militias, usually referred to as State Defense Forces, which can be pressed into service if the National Guard units have been deployed somewhere else. And although such units are sanctioned by Title 32 of the U.S. Code, they are wholly volunteer outfits serving solely at the discretion and direction of state officials, normally the Governor and the Adjutant General who also commands the National Guard.

Not surprisingly, these modern-day militias tend to be called out in response to natural disasters, more than 2,000 SDF personnel participated in rescue and cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina, to cite one very important case. On the other hand, SDF units do not receive any regular training nor do the Feds provide any dough for weapons or other equipment and supplies.  Know what happens when a state government has to bear the entire cost of any program?  There usually isn’t a program.

Maybe the Bundy boys and their militia buddies aren’t really so off the mark when they claim to be standing up for their Constitutional rights against the abusive power of the Feds.  After all, wasn’t it Rick Perry who, as Governor of Texas, raised the possibility that Texas might secede?  Which means he would need some kind of armed force to make good on his threat, which means maybe he would use the state militia, which means that the Bundy brothers and their gang could drive down to Texas, volunteer for militia service and finally get a chance to use all those AR rifles to defend their God-given rights.

If you are thinking that I’m just having a little fun because Donald Trump lost the Iowa primary you’re right.  But let’s remember that it was Marco Rubio who took a day off from campaigning to buy a gun as a response to the looming ISIS threat. You think the boys at Malheur are the only crazy ones around?

 

Grover Norquist Might Like To Think That Women Are Into Guns But That’s Not The Case At All.

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As a dedicated GVP advocate, it’s hardly a challenge to take on an intellectual middleweight like John Lott or respond to the dopey antics of Colion Noir or Dana Loesch.  But when someone like Grover Norquist decides to get into the gun debate, responding gets you in the deep water, because Norquist is nobody’s fool and he’s respected by both sides among the groups whose views really count.

Norquist’s venture into the gun issue can be found in an open forum blog whose contributions are surprisingly eclectic and politically diverse.  And if Grover is writing about guns at the behest of the NRA, on whose Board of Directors he sits, then he’s chosen a forum that would be hard-pressed to produce another NRA member besides him.  Actually, medium.com now has at least two members because I just joined.

hillary               The point of Norquist’s column is to argue that Hillary is probably making a big mistake by coming out against guns.  And the reason she is going down the wrong road is because political ‘swing’ states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin have shown significant increases in the recent issuance of concealed-carry permits, in particular CCW issued to women.  Norquist states that more than 1.5 million concealed-carry permits have gone out over the last twelve months, the “majority” to female applicants. To quote Grover: “The demographics of the gun issue have shifted significantly under Hillary’s feet in the past 20 years.”

They have?  Well I guess it’s probably true if you want to believe the marketing bromides of the gun industry.  But there is not a single, reliable source that can be used to confirm such claims, and pardon me if I don’t accept the unsubstantiated claims made by the NSSF or the NRA.  If anything, women always poll more strongly than men when asked if they favor gun control over gun rights, and minority groups remain, for the most part, overwhelmingly resistant to guns.

Hillary’s plunge into the middle of the gun debate, pace Grover Norquist, is a very smart move. For one thing, it covers a very important flank vis-à-vis Bernie, whose voting record on gun issues, to be polite, is somewhat mixed.  It also helps increase her stature with millennials, who appear to be anti-gun.  Ditto with new immigrants and particularly ditto with minorities whose voting numbers for Obama better be duplicated by whichever Democrat sits atop the ticket later this year.  Republicans face a real battle garnering a majority of any of those groups, and while Grover might want to believe that, as he puts it, “voters today carry their guns in their purses, not their pickup trucks,” he better hope that most of those purses are being carried by older, white men, because that’s still the gun-owning demographic bar none.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a political analyst and I certainly wouldn’t for one minute pretend that I possess one iota of Grover’s political experience or smarts.  But I have taught the safety course that my state requires for CCW to more than 5,000 men and women over the last ten years, and when I first started teaching the course, almost all the students were men.  Now I would say, on average, that women count for one out of three bodies that fill the seats.  So there has been a change in the gender composition of the folks who apply for CCW in my state.  But the change in numbers doesn’t explain the story at all.

Overwhelmingly, the women who apply for CCW are doing it because a husband or boyfriend brings them along. The real change that has occurred is a change in how couples now share activities rather than go their separate ways.  And not only do they share activities but increasingly women make the decisions for how household money will be spent.  Which means that the guy who wants to buy a gun asks her for the dough. But he’s still buying the gun.

Do Doctors Know What To Say To Patients About Guns? Not If You Believe That Guns Aren’t A Health Risk.

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Since the health care industry now racks up revenues in excess of $1.6 trillion each year, there are plenty of online publications and other venues which are used to promote (i.e., advertise) the services and products driving this economic juggernaut.  And one such venture, an online publication called MD Magazine, caught my eye because it published a survey of subscriber attitudes towards guns and counseling patients about guns – a hot-button topic in the medical profession ever since Florida passed a gag order prohibiting doctors to talk to patients about guns.

conference-program-pic              While the Florida law didn’t absolutely prohibit doctor-patient gun discussions, it just relegated such discussions to situations in which the physician had reason to believe that the health of the patient was at imminent risk.  Of course since we are talking about behavior, it’s virtually impossible for a physician, or anyone else for that matter, to accurately predict imminent risk, which is precisely why doctors need the widest possible latitude in patient contacts, which is why doctor-patient relationships are circumscribed in every respect by the tightest degree of confidentiality, which is why the attempt to push the medical profession out of the discussion about guns is nothing more than pandering to the lowest, common intellectual denominator.  But what the hell, if you can build an entire Presidential campaign around your ‘love’ of the 2nd Amendment, why not demonize doctors into the bargain?

The good news about Docs-Glocks, however, is that it did result in the beginnings of a recognition on the part of physicians that they will only get back into the gun game if they bestir themselves and begin to argue for that role. Last April all the major medical associations issued a ‘Call To Acton,’ which not only endorsed the usual menu of gun-control options (background checks, assault-rifle ban, etc.,) but also made a commitment to be “part” of the solution to gun violence.  Which means that, like it or not, physicians must continue to advocate for the widest possible freedom in talking to patients about guns.

The problem with this more activist approach is that if physicians are going to engage in  unfettered, candid discussions with patients about guns, they have to know how to frame the discussions in ways that are both understandable and meaningful to their patients.  After all, the fact that the medical profession has decided that gun violence constitutes a serious medical issue does not, ipso facto, mean that doctors know how to explain the medical risks of gun ownership.  Knowing that guns are the instrument used in 31,000 fatalities and 70,000 injuries each year is one thing; knowing how to use that information medically is something else.

This is the context in which the survey in MD Magazine needs to be understood because the results indicate that many doctors do not currently engage in gun counseling, nor do they consider gun ownership a proper issue about which they should be concerned.  The survey, conducted online, was answered by 928 subscribers to the magazine.  When asked if doctors should “play a role in curbing in gun violence,” 43% said ‘no,’ 40% said ‘yes.’  When asked if they had ever asked patients about gun ownership, 60% said ‘no,’ and 40% said ‘yes.’ It also turned out that 60% of the survey responders claimed to be gun owners which is a rather remarkable statistic for physicians, assuming that this magazine’s readership is at all representative of the medical profession as a whole.

If nothing else, this survey reflects the fact that, until now, medicine has not developed a clear and coherent medical response to gun violence at the level where it is needed most; namely, in discussions between care-givers and patients, which is ultimately where all medical responses to any kind of medical risk needs to start and end.  The MD Magazine survey didn’t ask whether the survey respondents actually agreed that gun violence was a health issue.  Maybe the magazine’s subscribers practice medicine on Mars.

 

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