Molly Ann Wymer Talks About Guns And Hits The Nail On The Head.

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Two days ago Molly Ann Wymer uploaded a video to her Facebook page, where she has been posting videos for the past year or so, and the last time I looked, it had received over `16 million views in less than three full days!  Now I don’t know if Facebook keeps records on how many views any particular page receives, but I can tell you that this is by far and away the largest audience to ever watch a social media post about guns.  What has made this effort so resoundingly successful is the fact that Molly Ann has obviously found a way to talk about guns to the widest possible audience imaginable, and both sides in the gun debate better figure out what she’s doing that none of them are doing, because otherwise she’s going to end up owning the public debate all by herself.

wymer               Wymer has a disarming way of talking about guns as if it’s just another, simple problem that can be solved if we would all just get along.  She talks about going into a gun shop where the salesman greets her by calling her “ma’am,” which is a traditional Southern-ism that used to mean that women were somehow not quite the equal of men.  They were treated differently, they were expected to act differently, there was a whole sub-culture of deference and politesse which, in fact, did nothing more than to put women in a traditional, subservient class. The look on Wymer’s face and the way she rolls her eyes as she describes the gun shop conversation is enough, in and of itself, to tell you that this lady is no subservient gal.

Anyway, she goes on to say that she loves being single but sometimes feels afraid, which is why she wanted to buy what she calls a “protection gun.”  Now the use of the word ‘protection’ is the tip-off that something new and different is about to take place in a digital space, because the gun industry has spent a gazillion dollars trying to sell the false idea that guns are the best means of self-defense, but no gun maker has ever produced a product called a ‘protection gun.’  And of course Molly Ann goes on to say that the gun shop guy then rushed to assure her that, “Ma’am (which pissed her off again) all guns are the same.”

And this is the point at which the video takes a brilliant turn.  Because after a few additional Ma’ams, Molly says to the storekeep, “I watch the news, and I know there are guns that arrack people and guns that protect people and I would like the protection kind of gun.”  She then goes on to say that she bought a “pink one” because that was more “feminine” and here’s the kicker: “If we can just figure out how to get all the murder guns and the attack guns and not keep selling them and just sell protection guns, I think that would be great and solve a lot of problems.”

Now I’ve been following the gun debate for more than forty years, and this is the first time I have heard the two sides of that debate referred to simply in terms of what a gun can do.  Of course a gun can be used for self-defense, but the same gun can also be used to inflict great harm against someone who isn’t a risk or threat to the gun owner at all. And by verbally juxtaposing the words ‘attack’ and ‘protection’ with the idea that we are talking about different kinds of guns, what Molly Ann has done is reduce the whole argument about guns to what it really is: a dispute about what a gun represents in its most finite form. Because what protection means to the pro-gun community is what attack means to people who want to regulate guns.  And Molly Ann Wymer has expressed this better than anyone else.


A New Collection Of Public Health Gun Research Is A Must Read

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The Journal of Preventive Medicine has just published A Special Issue on the Epidemiology and Prevention of Gun Violence, bringing together the foremost group of scholars ever assembled in one publication devoted to understanding gun violence.  If anyone wants to quibble with me over the superlatives of the previous sentence, that’s fine.  The bottom line is that if you want to know what some of the best and brightest in this field have been doing lately, this journal number is a good place to start.

It’s altogether fitting that the collection should be introduced in a guest editorial written by David Hemenway and Daniel Webster, who direct the two most important academic centers devoted to gun violence research from a public health perspective.  Hemenway and Webster can thus take a global view of gun violence research which, unfortunately, doesn’t yield very positive results.  The authors note that public health research is underfunded in medicine, injury prevention is underfunded in public health and gun research is underfunded in injury prevention – a triple whammy, if you will. Between 1991 and 2010, gun injuries were the second leading cause of injury deaths among youths ages 1-17, yet public health/medicine research accounted for less than 1% of all injury research.

conference program pic                This is a rather dismal state of affairs, and while much of the blame can be placed at the doorstep of the NRA, which pressured Congress into ending CDC-sponsored gun research after 1996, we shouldn’t discount other factors contributing to this research void as well.  Chief among the reasons that inhibit public health gun research is the fact that injuries caused by guns are almost always considered major crimes. And while someone who punches someone else has committed an assault, the impact of such an event simply cannot be compared to what happens when someone shoots someone else with a gun.  More often than not, gun violence is viewed as something more fittingly lodged within criminology rather than anything having to do with health.

Which is why I find the linkage of epidemiology to prevention in the title of this collection so exciting and perhaps signaling an important and fruitful change in the direction of gun violence research.  Because epidemiology is the study of the incidence, distribution and control of disease, and if the editors of this collection believe that gun violence is a disease which can be controlled through the application of medical knowledge and techniques, then perhaps we will see an attempt by members of the medical community to reclaim the formative position they held in this field prior to the elimination of CFC-funded gun research.

I am going to leave a discussion about each article in this collection to specific columns to be published over the next few days.  But I do want to briefly mention the editorial which introduces the volume because it’s the work primarily of three scholars from outside the United States.  And while we tend to think of gun violence in America as a particularly American problem studied only by Americans themselves, it’s good to have an international perspective on the issue, in this case submitted by three medical researchers from over our northern border at McGill.  The editorial, An elusive low-hanging fruit for public health: Gun violence prevention, notes that gun violence in America can’t be entirely separated from events throughout the world, in particular the cycle of violence unleashed by the attacks on 9-11.

This is hardly the first time that America’s obsession with guns and its toleration of excessive levels of gun violence have been tied to the continuing warfare and militarization provoked by terrorism both here and abroad.  There’s only one small problem: not true.  There was a spike in gun sales after the Twin Towers came down, but by the time it was noticed it was over.  Gun sales continued at modest levels throughout the eight years of George W. Bush, and zoomed upwards only after a certain Kenyan moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2009.  Want to understand the epidemiology of guns?  The U.S. Army, I’m afraid, won’t get you there.

The ATF Issues A New Report On Gun Traces And Once Again They Get It Wrong.

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Here they go again – patting themselves on the back for the good work they do protecting America from the scourge of gun violence.  We do have a scourge of gun violence, but whether the ATF does anything in response to this problem other than releasing self-congratulatory and misleading reports remains to be seen.  The latest such missive, the ATF annual Firearms Trace Data, covers 2014 and Is advertised on the ATF website as containing “critically important information.” This sounds impressive, but let’s spend some time trying to understand exactly whether this ‘critically important’ information has any bearing at all on efforts by law enforcement agencies to deal with gun violence.

atf                In 2014 the ATF traced 246,000 guns, of which 175,000 were handguns, 65,000 were rifles and shotguns, 245 were “unknown types,” (I love that category), the remainder various pieces of crap.  Here’s how a trace works.  The cops get a gun and then send a trace request to the ATF which includes the manufacturer and serial number and the reason why the gun is being traced. The ATF then contacts the manufacturer and a paper trail from factory to distributor to dealer to first buyer is created by contacting each point in the trail in turn.

Of course once the gun leaves the shop with the initial buyer, that’s it.  And the ATF has absolutely no way of knowing whether the gun being traced was sold to someone else, or stolen, or ‘trafficked,’ – a meaningless word if I ever heard one – or whatever.  The ATF keeps a missing/stolen list of guns but the only people required to report such guns to this list are federally-licensed gun dealers.

In addition to describing the gun, the agency making the trace request must also specify the reason for the request.  Here’s where things get very interesting.  There are 64 different reasons why a trace is made, ranging from homicide and aggravated assault to such serious threats to community safety as abortion, bribery, election laws (I’m serious), forgery, gambling and the greatest scourge of all – found firearm.  This last category by itself covered more than 22,000 traces in 2014; i.e., nearly 10% of all traces.  Of the 246,000 total traces conducted by our intrepid ATF in the process of protecting us from gun violence, I’m being generous by saying that 25% involved guns picked up during or after the commission of serious crimes.  Yea, yea, I know.  All those other guns might have been used in serious crimes, and I might actually go on a diet later today.  In my state, Massachusetts, the cops asked the ATF to trace roughly 1,200 guns.  Know how many were associated with violent crimes like homicide and assault?  44 guns.  That’s five percent.

Along with telling us which gun shops sold all these crime guns, the ATF report also discloses another pile of data that is indispensable in the fight against gun crime, namely, what the ATF refers to as ‘Time-To-Crime;’ i.e., how long between when the traced gun was sold and when it was traced, the idea being that guns that are purchased as ‘straw sales’ will end up being used in crimes more quickly than guns sold to law-abiding purchasers.  In 2014, the ATF says that TTC was just under 11 years.  So if a bunch of guns came from a gun shop with a much briefer TTC, obviously this is a shop where something nefarious is going on.

Let me break the news to the ATF gently. The firearms inventory of most gun shops consists of 30%-40% used guns.  Since TTC is only calculated on the initial sale, the TTC numbers are off by a factor of 30% to 40%,.  Want to base public policy on data that might be 40% incorrect?  I don’t.

I have no issue with regulating a consumer product that is as lethal and dangerous as a gun.  But the regulators should at least know something about how the industry operates they are regulating.  The ATF trace report proves that they don’t.




Since Flanagan Bought His Glock Legally, Why Have Background Checks At All?

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In case you didn’t know it, there’s absolutely no reason to pass laws regulating guns. Want to know why?  Because criminals don’t obey laws.  And since the only people who use guns in ways they shouldn’t be used are criminals, what’s the point of passing more gun laws, right?

The idea that gun laws are a useless response to gun violence doesn’t come from me.  It doesn’t even come from the NRA.  It comes from the place that has tried to pass all kinds of gun laws the last few years, namely, the White House.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s today’s headline from the NRA-ILA website:  “White House concedes new gun laws wouldn’t have stopped Virginia gunman.” The headline links to a story in the Washington Times that quotes WH Press Secretary Josh Earnest that background checks wouldn’t (and didn’t) stop gunman Vester Flanagan from legally purchasing two Glocks and using one of them to fatally gun down Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

flanagan                Now the truth is that the ability of Vester Flanagan or anyone else to purchase a gun and use it to commit mayhem has absolutely nothing to do with whether guns should be regulated at all.  But the NRA and its self-appointed messaging minions like John Lott are out there busily selling the idea that the reason we don’t need gun laws is that they don’t work.  Lott got out there the same day as the Virginia shooting and proclaimed that “virtually all” NICS background checks were “false-positives,” meaning that not only did the background check law not work properly, but worse, it deprived law-abiding people from being able to protect themselves with guns.

So I went to Lott’s website to see whether this comment had even the slightest bearing on the facts, because according to Brady and other gun-control organizations, including the ATF, NICS denials over the years have kept several million guns out of the wrong hands.  And here is Lott’s ‘evidence’ that ‘virtually all’ NICS transaction denials should have been allowed to proceed.  According to our intrepid gun researcher, there were 71,010 initial denials, of which 4,681 were referred to ATF field offices for further investigation, and the remaining 66,329 “did not meet referral guidelines or were overturned after [further] review.”  Of the 4,681 referrals, the ATF reversed 572.  Lott doesn’t present a single bit of evidence for how many of the remaining 66,329 were reversed, but that doesn’t stop him from claiming that ‘virtually’ all NICS denials deprived law-abiding citizens from buying guns.

Further on, Lott makes brief mention about background checks conducted by what are called Point of Contact state agencies that utilize the NICS databases but conduct the background checks themselves.  In fact, the total number of POC background checks exceeds the number conducted by the FBI, which means that POC denials also probably exceed the denials that come from the FBI. If Lott is unaware of POC procedures, he shouldn‘t be writing about the regulatory system at all.  If he knows about what goes on in POC states and chooses to ignore it, then his claims about how NICS deprives ‘virtually all’ law-abiding citizens from getting guns is a conscious effort to state a case that isn’t true.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no fan of the ATF and my book, Gun Trafficking in America, is a study of how the ATF has screwed up big time since it first got into the gun regulatory business thanks to GCA68.  But it seems to me that if gun violence is going to be addressed honestly, then laws and regulations are tools that need to be evaluated in clear, evidence-based terms.  Given what I have written about the ATF, I would be the last person to criticize John Lott if he could back up his pronouncements on the inadequacy of NICS with solid data that makes sense. Or is the attack on NICS really a way to divert attention from engaging in a serious discussion about gun violence itself?

Do More Guns Equal Less Crime? Not Any More.

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If I had a nickel for every time the NRA reminds us that gun violence is down while gun ownership is up, I wouldn’t have to work for a living.  Not that writing is such hard work, mind you, but my previous comment still stands.  And the latest ‘more guns = less crimes’ was just posted by the NRA, which linked to a comment by Charles Cooke in National Review, who compares current crime data to the numbers from 1993 and concludes that “national rates of gun violence are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s,” although he admits that the rate has “declined less dramatically since 2000.” The source cited by Cooke shows that 94% of the decline from 1993 occurred by 2000 and he refers to a 6% drop over the last 14 years as “less dramatic?”

This celebration of the drop in gun homicides coincident with the increase in gun sales has been spun again and again by the NRA and its helpmate, the NSSF.  And while nobody has ever been able to determine whether there’s any causal relationship between gun purchases and crime rates, the coincidence of the latter going down while the former continues to go up is a major argument in the pro-gun playbook for promoting gun rights.

conference program pic                There’s only one little problem, however.  We won’t know for sure until early next year, but preliminary data appears to indicate that the two-decade drop in gun homicides has come to an end.  The best numbers I can find do not come from the FBI, but from the CDC.  And the reason why CDC numbers are more reliable is they are based on comprehensive state public health data which is based on coroner’s reports, whereas FBI numbers are based on local law enforcement agency data which is notoriously incomplete and, in fact, is not required to be reported at all.

The CDC data clearly indicates that the raw number of gun homicides stopped dropping by 2000, and the gun homicide rate has dropped minimally since 2000 as well.  In 1993 gun homicides and rates were 18,253 and 6.75; in 1999 they were 10,828 and 3.83; in 2013 they were 11,208 and 3.55. Cooke’s statement that post-2000 gun violence has declined “less dramatically” is, to be polite, not consistent with the facts.  And further, it should be noted that gun homicides stopped dropping exactly at the time when gun sales started rising; i.e., since 2009.  Annual gun sales, as estimated by NICS background checks, have nearly doubled under Obama; gun homicides have remained stable or moved slightly up.  So much for the nonsense about how guns and/or concealed weapons permits protect us from violent crime.

The news may get worse for 2015.  The best real-time data I can find is captured by the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks gun violence through a combination of agency and media reports.  This methodology has severe limitations, if only because media reports on gun violence by definition are woefully incomplete, and agency reporting is never done on a real-time basis.  Which means that the 8,616 gun deaths counted by GVA so far this year must be an understatement, but it would still work out to nearly 13,000 gun deaths this year.  And this increase is borne out by data from specific cities like Chicago, whose gun homicide rate is up over last year, ditto New York, ditto Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit.

It will be interesting to watch pro-gun zealots spin the news about how guns protect us from crime when gun sales continue to soar but so does violent crime.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll decide  that all those armed citizens walking around need to spend more time outside their homes making sure the streets are safe.  Or maybe everyone should carry both a Glock and  Bushmaster in plain sight. There’s really no limit to the fantasies you can concoct when the entire argument about how guns protect us from crime is based on facts that don’t exist.  No limit at all.





Let’s Stop Kidding Ourselves About Gun Violence.

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What did Goebbels say?  Tell a lie enough times and people will believe it’s true.  The NRA has been saying again and again that good guys with guns protect us from bad guys.  And the latest polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe that your home is safer if you own a gun. There’s only one little problem.  It’s not true. It’s a big lie.  But it’s a lie being repeated again and again since the killings of Alison Parker and Adam Ward and it’s now been picked up and repeated by Donald Trump and every other red-meat politician who will do or say anything to coddle up to the pro-NRA vote.

I’m using the word ‘lie’ in a very objective way, namely, you know something to be true and you consciously decide to say something else.  The NRA has been collecting stories about armed citizens protecting us from crime since 1978. They have never published more than 100 such incidents in any given year. Do these 100 incidents, even if it’s 200 or 300, balance out 70,000 gun homicides and injuries each year?  Here’s how Trump added to the Big Lie: “He [Bryce Williams] snuck up on them, whether it was a gun or a knife, it would have been something. “  Hey Donald you moron.  Take a look at the video.  After the first shot you can see Alison Parker running away.  That’s how people protect themselves from someone with a knife.  Doesn’t work so well if the guy has a gun.

glock 23                John Lott did his best to add to the Big Lie last night with this comment made on CBS Nightly News: “Every country in the world, or place in the world, that has banned guns has seen an increase in murder rate,” he says, even though he knows that in Australia, for example, the effect of the buyback and destruction of 20% of the civilian arsenal in 1997-98 is difficult to understand because Australia had such a low rate of gun homicide even before the ban took effect.

Know what?  I’m getting tired of trying to dig up one study or another to persuade people that guns do more harm than good.  I’m also sick and tired of the endless veneration of the 2nd Amendment that pops out of the mouth of every person who wants to regulate firearms before they tell you how they want to regulate firearms.  The 1st Amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.  The 2nd Amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to use a gun to hurt someone else.  What’s the latest gun-nut phrase being tossed around?  SecondAmendment Absolutist.  It’s meaningless, it’s stupid and it’s just another attempt to make people believe that the so-called Constitutional protection of firearms means that we don’t have to talk about gun violence at all.

I don’t want to talk about gun violence either.  I want it to stop.  And it’s not going to stop until and unless the gun industry admits that what they are making and selling is a lethal product bar none.  Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made and shouldn’t be sold.  After all, it’s estimated that more than 70,000 full-auto machine guns which fire upwards of 600 rounds per minute are in civilian hands. Know why I can count the number of machine gun homicides committed since 1950 using the fingers of one hand?  Because the sale of these guns is regulated and controlled the way the sale of all guns are regulated and controlled in countries like England whose gun violence rates are a fraction of ours.

I’m not saying take away the guns.  I’m saying that some guns that have no use other than to kill or injure someone else.  Bryce Williams didn’t buy that Glock to shoot a bird out of a tree.  He bought it to commit deadly harm.  And if you believe that he could have committed the same damage with a knife or a bolt-action rifle, you can start laying brick.

It’s Time We Stopped Letting The NRA Set The Rules For The Debate About Guns.

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I have been following the gun debate since 1963 when Senator Dodd introduced a bill that eventually became the law known as GCA68.  The reason I got interested in gun law was because my great-Uncle Ben was manufacturing a crummy, little 22-caliber revolver that broke after the 2nd or 3rd shot.  It was a classic Saturday Night Special and Dodd wanted to get rid of those guns to help maintain the market for real Connecticut gun makers like Winchester, Ruger and Colt.  So what I say now is based on following the argument about guns for more than fifty years.

2A                For at least twenty of those fifty years, perhaps thirty, the NRA and its pro-gun allies have been telling us that guns aren’t a problem as long as they don’t get into the wrong hands.  And if they do fall into the wrong hands, we can count on all the good guys with guns to set matters straight.  Mad Dog Lott, one of the chief propagandists for the NRA, said it last night like this: “Guns can do bad things, but they can also do good things.” He then went on to claim, without a shred of evidence, that he knew of “dozens” of mass shootings that were prevented by good guys with guns.

I don’t really care about whether John Lott can distinguish between what is true and what is false.  What concerns me is the idea that an event as horrific as yesterday’s shooting could be discussed or even thought about in terms of ‘good’ versus ‘bad.’  It has nothing to do with good or bad, right or wrong.  It has to do with a moral imperative: Thou Shalt Not Kill.  And despite the attempts by the NRA and sycophantic jack-offs like John Lott to reduce such awful events to a tit-for-tat analysis, we need to stop allowing the pro-gun community to set the terms of the debate.

A good friend who happens to be one our most important public health researchers on gun violence said to me last night, “You know Mike, the problem is that if we are going to claim the high moral ground on this issue, we need to make sure that everything we say can be indisputably supported by the facts.” With all due respect, that’s really besides the point.  When you stick a gun in someone’s face and pull the trigger, you’re committing an act of gun violence.  And it doesn’t matter if you pull the trigger because you’re trying to protect yourself or protect anyone else.  You’ve committed a violent act because you used a gun.  And the truthfulness of that last sentence doesn’t require any research at all.

My problem is that whenever there’s an act of gun violence someone from the pro-gun gang ends up on radio or television spinning the ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ argument again and again.  The NRA is relentless in this respect, their self-appointed minions like Mad Dog Lott endlessly promote the armed citizen nonsense without regard for the facts, and sooner or later they gain the upper hand because the other side of the argument doesn’t yet match their tenacity or resolve.  If the White House is painted red in 2017, I guarantee we will have a national, concealed-carry law that will make the armed citizen as American as apple pie.

I think that groups fighting to reduce gun violence need to come together and develop some kind of ongoing media effort to proactively engage America in a serious debate about gun violence, rather than a debate based on the necessity of preserving 2nd-Amendment rights.  If Hillary wants to lead a discussion that “balances” the 2nd Amendment with “preventive measures,” that’s her business.  What I want is to turn on my television or radio and hear someone talk about the fact that more guns equals more gun violence.  It’s as simple as that and it needs to be said again and again.

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