Are We In The Middle Of A Gun Violence Epidemic, Or Is It Something Worse?

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I happened to glance at the remarkable Gun Violence Archive website today and two things caught my tired, old eyes.  First, the site has added maps, which allows someone at a glance to see the location of mass shootings, the places where law enforcement officers have been shot or killed, and the locations where people were shot or killed by police.  I’ll comment below on what these maps mean to me, but first I want to spend a few paragraphs discussing the other thing that caught my eye, namely, the number of people who have been killed this year by guns.

GVA            The figure for fatal shootings is unbelievable: 9,175.  If gun shootings continue at this level for the rest of the year, we end up at more than 14,000 who lost their lives due to guns, which will also be an unbelievable figure.  And it’s unbelievable for two reasons: first, because the number would mark an extraordinary increase from previous years; second, because the numbers captured and then published by the Gun Violence Archive go far beyond the numbers presented by anyone else, including the government agencies who are paid by us – the taxpayers – allegedly to track and publish these numbers on official terms.

According to the CDC, the total for all gun deaths other than suicide was 11,995, a number which includes homicides, accidental shootings and what is politely referred to as ‘legal interventions, which means that someone was shot (and killed) by a cop.  The FBI doesn’t track deaths, it tracks crimes, and they say there were 11,971 homicides in 2014, of which 8,124 were committed by someone who used a gun.  If we compare these 2014 numbers to the number in the GVA, both the CDC and FBI come up short.

I trust the GVA not because their numbers are higher than the other figures, but because their research is rigorous and comprehensive. But let’s not forget that since GVA pulls its information from media and other open sources, by definition even its number undercounts what’s really going on.  Notwithstanding these caveats, what the GVA shows is that gun deaths went up 7% from 2014 to 2015, and if the current carnage rate continues until year’s end, the 2016 figure will jump at least another 4% again. Is there a chance that we are now looking at an annual 5% increase in gun deaths every year?  That’s not only a good possibility; the numbers actually indicate that the increase in annual gun-deaths might be higher than that.

Now let’s take a look at the new GVA maps.  There are three maps that show the location of this year’s mass shootings, the location of cops shot or killed and persons shot or killed by cops. I am hopeful the GVA will eventually give us is a map showing the location of all person-to-person shootings because what I suspect we will see is that gun violence is generic to all 50 states.  And this should not surprise given the number of times each year that someone kills or injuries someone else with a gun.

If the annual rate of gun deaths continues to mount at 5% a year, by 2024 we will be over 20,000 gun deaths, and if we add that number to what has also been an upward trend in gun suicides, we could be looking at gun violence claiming more than 50,000 lives each and every year. Gun violence is often called an ‘epidemic,’ but I prefer the approach taken by one of our most brilliant gun researchers, Katherine Christoffel, who considers gun violence to be endemic to our society because it exacts a constant and more ongoing toll.

Feel free to download Dr. Christoffel’s article and consider what she has to say. The bottom line is that unless we take very dramatic and very forceful steps to curb gun violence, we may find ourselves with no choice but to accept this extraordinary loss of life as an ordinary state of affairs. And that is something we simply cannot permit.

Get Ready For September 25! A Really Big Event.

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Want to see a really hip and cool website?  Take a look at the Concert for America website which is promoting a remarkable event on September 25th. This event is becoming so big, and the website is so beautiful and chock-full of energy, ideas, things to buy and things to do that I don’t know where to start.  So let’s start with why this event, or I should say, this phantasmagoria of events is being held at all.

CAA           Actually what this really is all about is a #ConcertAcrossAmerica to #EndGunviolence.  You see, even an old guy like me is starting to write with hashtags rather than just plain, old (boring) words.  Behind these tags is a remarkable, collaborative effort combining the energies and commitments of more than 100 organizations who have already organized more than 75 concerts in 40 states, with more on the way.  And not only can you get to a live event by driving a couple of hours in one direction or another, if you even have to go that far, but through the miracle of social media you’ll be able to attend multiple events. In that regard, I should also put a link (it’s right here) to the concert’s Facebook page, which also contains news about all the different events.

I was going to stick around my home state, Massachusetts, and go to concerts here and there, but I’m tempted to go down to da city because the concert at the Beacon Theater, which happens to be a few blocks away from where I used to live, is going to be an unbelievable event.  I mean, when was the last time that the one, the only, the magnificent Jackson Browne shared a stage with Marc Walkin’ in Memphis Cohn and, and, Roseanne Cash??? I mean, this really can’t be done.

I’m going to make a prediction.  My sister Barbara and my mother actually went to Woodstock for the real deal in 1969.  They went up there because my father, who managed a big dairy in New Jersey, used to buy raw milk from Max Yasgur, on whose farm the concert was held. So a couple of days before the great event Max called my father to tell him not to send up a truck to get that week’s milk supply because, as Max put it, “they’re running all over the place.” And he wasn’t talking about his cows. He was talking about the 400,000 who showed up and camped out all over his land.

Anyway, back to my prediction.  If I had a nickel for everyone who, over the years, claimed to have been at Woodstock, I wouldn’t have to keep working for a living.  Truly, the concert was a national, cultural event.  And my prediction is that we may be looking at the same kind of situation on September 25th because everyone will either have been at one of the performances or will want everyone else to believe that they went to one of the events.

Take a quick look at the logos of the supporting organizations.  It’s a who’s who of faith-based groups. anti-violence groups, environmental groups, student groups, education groups – an enormous outpouring of interest, energy and concern.  And don’t forget to buy a t-shirt and contribute to the campaign. I just bought a shirt and added some more dough.  You should do it too.

In addition to the music already planned, many more are taking shape, and at least 150 faith-based organizations are also planning to hold musical and devotional events. This gets us to around 300 venues where people will gather on September 25th to use music as a medium to express their determination to stop the killings, the injuries and the violence caused by guns.

Know who’s really going to take back America?  The Gun Violence Prevention movement is going to take back America and the campaign gets into high gear on September 25th.  Remember, if you don’t go to one of these concerts, you’ll have to tell everyone that you did.

The NRA Doesn’t Believe That Gun Suicide Is Gun Violence Since They Don’t Believe That Guns Cause Violence At All.

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If you are active in the field of Gun Violence Prevention, you can tell you are making a difference if you get attacked by the NRA, or better yet by Breitbart, which is one and the same thing.  Breitbart has been pimping for the NRA since it first started up in 2007 because if you want to become known as the loony voice on the Right, what better way to do it than to say something crazy about guns?  And at least for the next couple of months the craziness will be spread even further by a guy named Trump.

suicideSo it was no surprise to me that yesterday’s NRA-ILA political blog would carry a lead story attacking (and distorting) the views of one of our most dedicated and distinguished public health scholars, who happens to be Shannon Frattaroli, a faculty member at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Professor Frattaroli has been an outspoken advocate in many areas of gun violence, in particular helping to frame the discussion around taking and keeping guns away from individuals involved in domestic disputes.  She is also an authority on the issue of restricting gun use by persons who are strong self-harm candidates, and helped the California Legislature draft its 2014 law that allows family members and intimate partners to directly petition a judge to determine if an individual might be a threat to themselves or someone else.

The gun industry has always been reluctant to acknowledge the fact that two-thirds of gun deaths each year are caused by people who use a gun to end their own lives.  For some of the more extreme Gun-nut Nation elements, this isn’t a worrisome aspect of gun violence, it’s all about ‘personal choice.’  But there are more enlightened approaches being taken about gun suicide by the gun-owning community, witness the recent announcement by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to partner with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to develop resources for gun dealers, shooting ranges and gun owners about suicide and guns.

About the last thing that the NRA is going to endorse is any effort by anyone to develop ‘educational’ resources about anything; their definition of ‘education’ is to have an invented YouTube character with a phony name like Colion Noir prance around with his AR, or home-school queen Dana Loesch come down from her perch and lecture all those soccer moms on how they could defend the ‘real America’ if only they would all go out and buy guns.

But when the NRA really wants to concoct an argument completely out of whole cloth, they can always count on Breitbart to help them out.  And the story they relied on for this week’s attack on Shannon Frattaroli comes right out of the Breitbart land of make-believe.  Pulling some of Frattaroli’s comments out of context from an article in New America Media, the Breitbart writer, a Gun-nut Nation noisemaker named AWR Hawkins, accuses her of trying to disarm the senior, gun-owning population because older gun owners tend to be the most adamant supporters of 2nd-Amendment rights.

Actually, what Frattaroli is really saying reflects nothing more than common sense, namely, that guns are problematic when they are on the hands of an aging population, because the older we get, the more we become susceptible to physical and mental conditions that make us more vulnerable to the risks posed by guns. The CDC reports that in 2014, for example, while the overall gun-suicide rate per 100,000 was 6.54, the rate for ages 70 and above was 12.4, more than twice as high.

The NRA has never felt comfortable with saying anything about guns which leads to a discussion about risk.  This is because the only gun-risk they believe exists is when you don’t own a gun. Which is why they find it convenient and necessary to attack what Shannon Frattaroli says.  All the more reason why it’s very important to read what she has to say.

 

 

Can Gun-nut Nation Push Trump Over The Top?

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So now Shlump-o has gone from the bizarre to the absurd, and brought in the real lunatics from the asylum to run his campaign.  I’m referring to the appointment of the head of Breitbart, a former Goldman-Sachs banker, who will now make sure that the Shlump doesn’t fall prey to anyone who even quietly suggests that maybe Americans are just getting sick of all the insults, cursing and rhetorical flailing-about that is claimed to be a political campaign.

trump2            When I go to the internet to look at news blogs I spend most of my time reading stuff on the Right, first of all because I know what the liberals are saying because I happen to be a liberal; but also because in keeping with the maxim of don Corleone, it’s important to keep my enemies closer than my friends. So I read Breitbart and Drudge and listen to Rush who is really becoming boring as hell.  At least Drudge is basically an aggregator promoting for the most part right-wing mush, but Breitbart pretends to be a real newspaper, with op-eds and reporters and headlines and even an occasional exclusive.

The problem with Breibart, however, is that you really can’t tell if anything you read is even remotely based on facts, which is why I guess the management gets it on so easily with Shlump, who seems to have something of a problem distinguishing between facts and fiction as well. And if there’s one issue above all where the line between true and false doesn’t exist, it’s the issue of guns. Here’s a few doozies randomly picked off the Breitbart site

  1. On June 9th there was a story about whether a Clinton-appointed 9th SCOTUS Justice would reverse the Heller and McDonald decisions which give Americans Constitutional protection for keeping a gun in the home for self-defense. The article says that the 2nd Amendment guarantees that citizens should be able to carry a weapon outside the home (which it doesn’t) in order to defend against a ‘tyrannical’ government.
  2. On August 15 they ran a column which blamed universal background checks for the mass shootings in California, Colorado, Paris and Munich – “all sites of some of the highest profile and deadliest shootings of the last 18 months.” I thought that the Aurora movie shooting occurred in 2012, and what does Paris or Munich have to do with FBI-NICS?

Breitbart has been pimping for the NRA since it first appeared back in 2007 and declared itself to be the ‘Huffington Post of the Right.’ And if there is one voting bloc on the Right that Shlump has assiduously courted, it’s the gun-owning voter who, it is assumed, might make the difference in swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, not to mention keeping him above water in Southern states like Georgia where his ship is beginning to tilt.

I don’t want to imagine that someone running to be the CEO of the world’s largest corporation could be a captive of such delusions, but I’m beginning to think that from the very beginning, Shlump believed that he could ride a pro-gun wave into the White House if he could just find a way to motivate gun owners to vote.  His panderings about concealed-carry (“…if someone in the Orlando nightclub had been armed…”,) his positive allusions to gun violence (“… I could shoot someone down in the street…,”) and his latest not-so-veiled invitation for 2nd Amendment supporters to ‘deal’ with Hillary, there has never been a Presidential candidate who has so openly and continuously promoted guns as a positive and necessary political stance.

So now it’s time to roll out what I hope is a bit of delusional thinking of my own, except I’m not so sure that I’m wrong.  In the last three Presidential elections, the winner polled more than 60 million votes.  That’s about half the number of adults who live in households which contain guns.  There are 82 days until November 8th. Get it?

Apple Gets Rid Of Its Gun Emoji But Did They Do The Right Thing?

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Every once in a while I like to share something which takes the issue of Gun Violence Prevention far beyond the boundaries in which the issue is usually discussed.  And in that respect, what Jonathan Zittrain wrote today in The New York Times should be read and given thoughtful consideration by everyone in GVP.

emoji3            Zittrain is the co-founder  of the Berkman-Klein Center, a Harvard-based research group which focuses on cyberspace, in particular the legal issues that abound regarding internet use and abuse.  His editorial is a response to the decision by Apple to make a change in one of its iconic emojis, the revolver, so that it now looks like a water gun rather than the cap gun image that used to adorn lots of messages that I received from Gun-nut Nation over the years.

Although Apple isn’t saying anything outright, the decision to ‘de-lethalize’ this graphic and turn a gun into a plaything is no doubt a response to a campaign waged by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence to get this emoji removed from the approved emoji Unicode list so that it could no longer be attached to any message flying through cyberspace.  The campaign asked supporters to tweet Apple’s CEO and send him a letter which reads, in part, “We ask that you stand with the American people and remove the gun emoji from all your products as a symbolic gesture to limit gun accessibility.” Evidently, the campaign worked.

Zittrain has no issue with the idea of Gun Violence Prevention per se.  In fact, I suspect that given his background and training, he’s probably as interested in promoting gun ownership as the man in the moon. The problem, as he sees it, is that Apple’s decision to remove the gun emoji by basically turning the image into something else, raises the wider issue of who owns the internet and who should be making the rules on how we all use this technology to share and spread ideas.

This isn’t the first time that policing internet content about guns has been raised.  Last year the Brady Campaign asked everyone to sign a petition that called for Facebook to police user content that promoted the sale of guns, in particular advertisements for private sales that were posted either by individuals or Facebook gun groups, a campaign that resulted in Facebook announcing a gun-sale ban although like any content restriction it’s a toughie to enforce.

But telling a company what they can sell or not sell on a proprietary website is one thing (commercial advertisements are not considered free speech) telling a company or an individual what they can say about a product is something else. And here, for Zitrain, is where the rubber meets the road.  Because what he is arguing is that emojis have become not just a way to decorate a cyber-message, but now constitute a cyber vocabulary in and of themselves.  As he says, “To eliminate an elemental concept from a language’s vocabulary is to reflect a sweeping view of how availability of language can control behavior, as well as a strange desire for companies — and inevitably, governments — to police our behavior through that language.”

And this brings us back to the central problem, namely, who can and should control what we say to one another, even if what is said constitutes something offensive, or something that a lot of people don’t like, or even promotes a type of behavior that we want to eliminate or change?  Note the demand by NYAGV to get rid of the gun emoji as a ‘symbolic gesture,’ which is exactly what raised Zittrain’s concern; i.e., where do we set the border for acceptable versus unacceptable when we are talking about symbols which represent figures of speech?

The GVP community is dedicated to changing a culture which celebrates guns and gun violence as proper social norms. But Zittrain’s fears about how to strike a proper balance between what we want and what we do to get what we want deserves an audience too. His commentary should be read and shared.

Of All Places – A University In Gun-Rich West Virginia Bans Guns.

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            “The possession and/or use of any dangerous weapons is strictly forbidden on university property. Weapons include but are not limited to the following: Firearms, BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns, blowguns, bows and/or arrows, dangerous knives, firecrackers, ammunition, and other explosive material. Possession of the above will result in the immediate suspension from the residence halls, and may also result in expulsion and possible legal action.”

WLU           Folks, this isn’t from the student manual at Berkeley, or Johns Hopkins, or Harvard, or some other bastion of liberalism where students are taught first and foremost to be politically correct in everything they do or say.  This is from the student manual from West Liberty University which happens to be located in Wheeling, West Virginia. Now don’t confuse West Liberty University with Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by one of America’s most successful televangelists, the late jerry Falwell, which prepares its students, according to the school’s website, to become a ‘Champion for Christ.’

West Liberty University was founded in 1837, at a time when the state hadn’t yet been admitted to the Union, but its location at the far western corner of West Virginia meant that it was considered to be the westernmost spot where liberty and justice was guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence.  The school was actually started to provide a liberal arts education to the Appalachian region, which it has done from then up until the present day.

So the school is quite different in terms of culture and content from what goes on at Liberty University in Lynchburg, and nowhere is this difference more apparent than as regards the issue of guns. Because you may recall that our illustrious Republican Presidential Pretender, Donald the Shlump, made an appearance at Liberty University back in January, misquoted the Scripture but still managed to give the University a big pat on the back because the University President, Jerry Falwell Jr., is an unabashed supporter of anyone and everyone who wants to walk around his campus carrying a gun.  He went so far as to say back last December that if more people had been carrying guns in San Bernardino, that the Muslims could have been ‘killed’ before they walked in the door.

Falwell’s message evidently hasn’t gone over very well with the Board and Administration at West Liberty University in the neighboring state. In fact, the decision to ban all guns from the campus, even guns locked away in automobiles, was in response to recent mass shootings on college campuses and elsewhere, and I quote the University President’s statement right here: “We want our students to feel safe, secure, and comfortable. I don’t know how comfortable someone would feel knowing that someone on campus is carrying a dangerous weapon.”

So when it comes to college campuses and guns, the veritable cat has finally been let out of the veritable bag, namely, this school has decided that all of the NRA and Gun-nut Nation crap about how guns in the hands of civilians protect us from crime is simply not true.  And furthermore, this enlightened University administration is equally unimpressed by the other Gun-nut Nation crap about the lure of gun-free zones.

What really prompted West Liberty University to promote and enforce its campus ban on guns was the recent constitutional-carry law in the Mountain State which basically means that anyone who can legally own a gun in West Virginia can also walk around armed.  The bill was originally vetoed by the Governor but the Legislature overlooked opposition from the law enforcement community and told Governor Tomblin to stick his veto you know where.

The Administration and Board of West Liberty University, a school located in what is probably one of the most gun-rich states, had the intelligence, common sense and leadership to decide that guns and education simply don’t mix.  College-age students often drink, they sometimes get depressed, and most of all, they sometimes do silly and impulsive things.

Go Hilltoppers! When it comes to a gun-free campus, let’s hope your message spreads.

 

Can Gun Violence Prevention Take On And Beat Trump’s NRA? They Sure Can.

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Now that Donald Trump went down to North Carolina and sent a clarion call to Gun-nut Nation to save his Presidential bid by going after Hillary with everything they’ve got, we might take a minute to try and figure out exactly what the 2nd-Amendment gang can really bring to the attempt to change the color of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from blue to red. Of course Trump will say that his victory would once again make the White House really white, if you know what I mean, heh heh.

gun control           It does seem that the Trump Express has not only run off the rails, but in the process just about run out of steam.  Those huge leads in the polls are now a distant memory, even with all that money he allegedly raised last month basically the campaign is broke.  The Fox News freebies meant a lot more when he was running in the primaries against other Republicans whose supporters also only watched the ‘fair and balanced’ news shows that used to be produced by a fat, old philanderer named Roger Ailes.

If the GOP can’t beat the most vulnerable candidate the Democrats have nominated since I don’t know when, they can’t beat anyone at all.  Which means the GOP may also lose the Senate and there are whisperings that the House might be in play. If that happens, we will have the one political alignment in Washington which produced the gun-control laws in 1968 and again in 1994, namely, a Democratic Congress and a liberal President with strong ties to the South.

Anyone who tells you that HRC will be content with a gun bill that just widens the NICS background check system to cover secondary gun transactions doesn’t know the history of the Clintons and gun control at all. Because one of the big, unfinished pieces that was left behind in 2001 when Bill and HRC departed from the White House with some of the silverware in tow was an agreement with Smith & Wesson that basically required the company to not only forge ahead with smart gun technology and other safety standards, but also made the company responsible for downstream behavior of everyone – wholesalers and dealers – who sold their guns.

I don’t think it would have been possible for the company to have met those terms and retain a fraction of its current financial strength and manufacturing size; I also believe that this is the kind of regulations that might just reappear in a Clinton-sponsored gun bill next year. Because the truth is that many of the provisions of that agreement have become the stock-in-trade of the Gun Violence Prevention movement today, and if Mister Trump owes something to Gun-nut Nation for helping him secure the Republican nomination, HRC will certainly owe GVP big-time if she ends up grabbing the brass ring.

The problem of course, is that everything else which Trump used to pull himself to the top of the primary heap when he was talking only to Republicans, particularly the most activist Republicans, won’t count for all that much against the other side.  And this is the first general election in which even the vaunted power of the NRA membership will be competing against a motivated and large GVP community which didn’t even exist in any real numbers just four years ago.

Shannon didn’t sit down at her kitchen table and start contacting her Moms until after Obama beat Romney in 2012.  Guess what?  Moms Demand Action now counts more than 3 million energetic members which ain’t chopped liver when it comes to grass-roots activity and support.

The NRA’s attacks on Hillary are right out of the same playbook they have been using for twenty years.  And to me, even Trump’s snarky and stupid threat muttered in North Carolina sounded a little stale. If he thinks that the NRA still has the playing field to itself when it comes to the 2nd Amendment, he better think again.

 

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