Want To Do Something About Gun Violence? Take A Look At Seattle.

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King County Sheriff's Office (Washington)

King County Sheriff’s Office (Washington) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A rather remarkable document was published this week, remarkable because it undercuts much of the current nonsense that comes from the NRA and its supporters about the link between guns and deaths or injuries suffered by children.  The report wasn’t issued by the CDC or any other federal government agency whose research has long been derided by the NRA as being useless because it’s “anti-gun.”  Rather, it’s a report issued by the Public health Department of Seattle and King County, areas not particularly known for their anti-gun or DC-elitist sentiment.

The report covers the years 1999 to 2012, during which time 68 children were killed by firearms and another 125 admitted to hospitals with gun injuries.  The sober comment that introduces the report and these numbers are: “Every one of these deaths and injuries was preventable.”  Why?  Because according to the report’s authors, more than two-thirds of all homicides involved either people who were related or people who knew each other and, in the case of suicides, more than three-quarters of the victims used guns that were owned by a member of the victim’s family.  In other words, child gun violence in King County, WA, is like child gun violence everywhere else: a personalized form of anger that has roots in social or familial relationships.

King County’s gun-owning population, according to the study, contributes to the level of gun violence simply because too many guns aren’t unloaded and/or locked away in too many homes. More than one in five gun owners stored their guns loaded and nearly one in five left them unlocked.  The result is that the risk of a completed suicide among children under the age of 18 is more than 9 times higher in such gun-owning environments, and even in homes where guns were locked away, 16% of the successful children who used a gun knew how to unlock and get their hands on the weapon they then used.

The good news in all this is that King County isn’t waiting for the Federal Government to pass another law on gun control.  In fact, the County has enrolled gun dealers all over the area in a program called LOK-IT-UP, in which consumers can purchase gun safety safety devices at discounts of ten or fifteen percent. As I mentioned in my previous post, more and more local communities are beginning to develop their own public health programs to deal with gun violence in positive and meaningful ways.  They aren’t taking guns away from law-abiding gun owners, they don’t demonize anyone for owning a gun.  They are responsible and meaningful approaches to a problem that won’t go away no matter how much we argue about 2nd Amendment rights.

As the one-year anniversary of Sandy Hook approaches, let’s hope that the program in King County becomes a national trend.

Want To Get Rid Of Guns? Go Where The Bad Guns Are

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Federally-supported gun violence intervention ...

Federally-supported gun violence intervention program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to gun control, Congress still seems confused about whether more regulation equals better regulation.  I don’t think it necessarily does.  Particularly when a law is passed that only will make a difference if it is rigorously enforced at the level of the neighborhood and the street. And anyone who thinks that guns aren’t a neighborhood and street-level issue doesn’t know much about neighborhoods or guns, for that matter.  Which is why I wasn’t terribly concerned when Manchin-Toomey went down to defeat, because I knew that it would force people who are trying to do something about gun violence to stop looking to Uncle Sam for a quick solution that probably wouldn’t change things at all.

One organization that really seems to understand gun violence where the violence actually occurs is the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, located at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.  The Director of the Center, David Kennedy, has been a researcher, policy expert and program director for more than thirty years, and prior to coming to John Jay, he directed the Safe Guns project in Boston which created a successful model for dealing with gun violence by uniting law enforcement, social service agencies and community groups.

By moving to New York, Kennedy has been able to take his experiences and widen his vision beyond one city to embrace the country as a whole.  The Center offers planning and technical assistance to help cities and towns build safer communities, and is currently engaged in ongoing projects in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, the State of Connecticut, and several Native American reservations.  The Center recently received a million-dollar grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to “develop and sustain its highly-successful crime-reduction strategies” which, BJA noted,  are in “high demand” from communities that want to implement such programs.

There are two things about the Center’s approach that I find exceptional.  The first, as I mentioned earlier, is the focus on prevention not through legislation, but with hands-on, street-level programs that actually work.  And the reason they work is that the Center combines theory with practice through diligent research into the effectiveness of what they are doing and an awareness that not two situations, two neighborhoods, two cities, are exactly alike.  This was proven, for example, in the different approaches to gun violence in New York and Boston; the latter created a tapestry of law enforcement, social service and community groups to deal with the problem while the former sent ‘stop-and-frisk’ police teams into high-crime zones.  Both programs worked at first but results tailed off earlier in Boston, then later in New York.   The Center’s success in its more recent programs shows that they learned from both.

It’s great to see efforts like David Kennedy’s Center for Crime Prevention and Control getting some nice, big funding support from the folks in DC.  But why doesn’t the NRA kick in some dough as well?  After all, the NRA keeps reminding us that they represent law-abiding gun owners who believe that 2nd Amendment guarantees should not stand in the way of getting criminal guns off the street.  Which is exactly what Kennedy and his colleagues are all about.  Want to build a real alliance between gun owners and non-gun owners over the issue of gun control?  Here’s the place to start.

What Does That NRA Small-Arms Treaty Really Say?

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Case O' Guns

Case O’ Guns (Photo credit: Gregory Wild-Smith)

Last month the Obama Administration joined 114 other countries and signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty, immediately setting off howls of protests by the NRA and its Congressional supporters insisting that this was just another example of the Administration’s desire to disarm America and take away all our guns.  According to Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) the treaty undermines the 2nd Amendment guarantees of gun ownership because, among other provisions, it requires importers to identify end-users for whom small arms have been bought.

I have read every word of the treaty, it’s not a terribly lengthy document, and I think it would be worthwhile if I spend one post explaining what the treaty actually says.  Not that I’m assuming that anything I say will change anyone’s mind about the treaty, or the 2nd Amendment or anything else related to guns. But in all the hysteria that has been drummed up about this document by the NRA and its allies and friends, I have never seen the treaty text itself.  So here goes.

The treaty begins with a preamble that “reaffirms the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.”  This statement isn’t buried in some footnote; it’s found at the very beginning of the treaty itself.   Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this mean that our government, and not the United Nations, gets to figure out how guns will be handled within the United States?

But what about the question of end users, because here’s where the NRA believes there lurks an attempt to create not just a national, but an international registry of all guns.  I quote again from the treaty text: “Each State Party shall maintain national records, pursuant to its national laws and regulations, of its issuance of export authorizations or its actual exports of the conventional arms….”  Now note what it says about imports: ” Each State Party is encouraged to include in those records: the quantity, value, model/type, authorized international transfers of conventional arms actually transferred, details of exporting State(s), importing State(s), transit and trans-shipment State(s), and end users, as appropriate.”

This is in fact no different than what U.S. exporters and importers must now do to comply with State Department and ATF regulations on export and import of small arms.  But the operative word here is encouraged; not required, just encouraged.  Signatories to this treaty are not bound by any requirements to either compile lists of import end-users (which we compile already) or deliver such lists to any international body.  The only required record-keeping involves the destination of exports, and correct me if I’m wrong, but only American citizens possess 2nd Amendment guarantees.

The NRA, the Washington Times, and all the other pro-gun stalwarts who make a living by ginning up the fears of gun owners every time that someone says anything even remotely connected to gun control might do us all a favor and stop concocting arguments out of whole cloth.  I know, I know, Obama’s a liberal which means he hates guns and he’ll do anything to  take them away.  But maybe it’s time to stop worrying about Obama and start thinking about how to convince rational and reasonable people that responsible gun ownership is the American way.

The real enemy of gun owners isn’t Washington and isn’t the UN.  The real enemy is any discussion in which facts and logic give way to noise and a lack of common sense.  I don’t need the NRA or Mayor Bloomberg to tell me about guns.  I can read as well as the next person and figure out what’s really going on. So can you.

 

 

 

Can Hunters Do What Beavers Do?

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Previous posts explained the primary role played by hunters in exploring, opening and ultimately settling the Western wilderness, an experience motivated by financial rewards from the trade in furs. But it would be a mistake to assume that this took place only as we pushed West.  In fact, from the moment that white Europeans first set foot on the East Coast, moving inland was as much a taming of the wilderness as would later happen when we began moving across the territory that we owned by dint of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

According to the biologist and agriculturalist Toby Hemenway, within a decade after the first landing by the Mayflower in 1620, at least 100,000 beaver pelts were shipped back to Europe, and by 1640 as many as 800,000 beavers had been slaughtered over the previous ten years.   The demand for animal fur, largely beaver but also including bear and wolf, continued to grow over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the point that more ships crossed the Atlantic carrying furs than were used to catch and carry fish.

Trappers and hunters who extended the fur trade beyond the Missouri after 1810 found that Europe’s demand for furs was now subordinate, in many cases, to home-grown demand from within the United States. Cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston now had large populations whose tastes in clothing meant that furs were treated and re-sold within the domestic market rather than being sent overseas.  When fashion began changing in the 1840s and fur garments gave way to leather goods, the Western hunters shifted away from slaughtering beavers and quickly made the buffalo almost extinct as well.

While hunters and trappers were still exploring and opening the Western wilderness, in the East the process of moving from farming to industry had begun. Factories began springing up all over New England by the 1840’s, with textile, firearms and clothing manufacturing combining natural resources like furs and hides from the West with abundant energy from the fast-moving streams in the East.  The growth of a huge internal market based on cheap resources from the frontier combined with cheap energy from what had previously been the frontier launched a half-century of economic expansion that no other country has experienced before or since.

Beavers at work: stream, marsh and woods.

Beavers at work: stream, marsh and woods.

What lay behind this enormous economic growth was the handiwork of hunters whose ability to kill off beavers brought about a crucial change in the ecosystem that allowed all those New England factories to create the goods and satisfy both domestic and foreign demand.  The deep gullies and fast-moving streams that created energy for factories was not a natural feature of the New England landscape; it was what happened to slow-moving and gentle ponds when, as Toby Hemenway says, they were fed by “beaverless watersheds.” Beavers create environments that hold maximum amounts of water and soil on the land.  Remove the beavers and the water turns into a cascade.

Beaver activity creates a natural cycle of environmental replenishment. Ponds become marsh, then meadow then woodland, and then the beavers build another dam, and the cycle repeats again.  We’ve tried to do the same thing in many places where the hunters killed off the beavers, because this let us us build factories. Except the factories then collapsed.  A paper factory in Monroe, Massachusetts first gained a workforce when it opened in 1866 because farmers in the surrounding Monroe Plateau were happy to trade their plows for a steady wage.  The town lived off the mill for more than one hundred years, but when it was shuttered in 1985, the town basically shut down as well.

Monroe, Massachusetts

Monroe, Massachusetts

Nobody has come up with a plan for these towns; fancy catchwords like rural reindustrialization can’t  do for this environment what the beaver could do for its environment with a flat tail and some sharp teeth. I can tell you, however, that most of the remaining residents in Monroe and other small, country towns love to hunt.  Who knows?  Previous generations of hunters sparked an economic miracle, maybe it could happen again.

Based on my book, Hunters in the Wilderness.  Volume II in the series, Guns in America, to be published in December.

Want To Avoid Getting Shot? Stay Away From Where The Shootings Occur

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Lotka-Volterra equation

Lotka-Volterra equation

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that what the novelist Walter Mosley said about guns is true: “If you carry a gun, it’s bound to go off sooner or later.”  Which is kind of obvious because after all, if you don’t carry a gun it can’t go off, right? But the trick, if you’re concerned about gun violence, is figuring out when and why a gun goes off, and once you know that, what to do about it. We seem to be much better at figuring out the when and the why, but an article published yesterday in the Journal of Public Health, may point a way towards also figuring out the what.

The authors, two Yale sociologists, Andrew Papachristos and Christopher Wildeman, have constructed a model for predicting gun violence based on studying gun homicides from 2006 to 2011 in an area of Chicago that had some of the highest rates of gun violence in a city that’s know for gun violence.  The study found that 6% of the area’s population was involved in 70% of the murders, and nearly everyone in this population group had prior contact with criminal justice or public health.  The data allowed the authors to construct a predictor of future gun homicides based primarily on social networks, a methodology that is now going to be used by the police to identify and visit with these high-risk kids and adults.  As Papachristos puts it, “It’s who you hang out with that gets you into trouble.”

Papachristos and Wildeman are planning to extend their research to cover the entire city of Chicago, and perhaps the Chicago PD will be able to mount a citywide program to monitor the social networks that breed the violent use of guns.  But the idea that guns are being used to commit violent crimes by people who know each other and band together is hardly new.  In fact, it’s not only humans who behave this way – the same type of behavior can be found in animals and even insects, and this has been known for nearly a hundred years.

Back in the 1920s a statistician named Alfred Lotka and a mathematician named Vito Volterra developed a statistical analysis (known as the Lotka-Volterra equations) that are used by ecologists to predict how different species occupy and protect their home territories.  This equation was then picked by a UCLA anthropologist, Jeffrey Brantingham, to study the territoriality of street gangs in Los Angeles and the links between each gangs’ territorial imperatives and gun violence.  What Brantingham found was that the further away from the gang’s headquarters, the less gun violence was committed by members of each gang.  The closer to the gang headquarters, the more shootings took place.  The behavior of the gangs was no different from the behavior of hyenas or bees. Want to avoid being attacked? Stay away from the place where the guys with the guns are found.

The research just published by Papachristos and Wildeman defines gun violence territory not from a geographic, but from a social network perspective.  It’s not about which street you walk on, it’s who you hang out with that predicts whether you’ll get shot or use a gun to shoot someone else. But when all is said and done, aren’t the findings by Papachristos and Wildeman on the one hand, and Brantigham on the other, really two sides of the coin?  After all, people tend to spend their time with people they know.  Call them a ‘group,’ a ‘gang’ or whatever, the tendency of humans to associate with one another in an organized manner is as old as humanity itself. It also seems to be as old as the existence of all living species.  Maybe the cops should spend a little less time giving out parking tickets and spend a little more time at the zoo.

 

Think Doctors Shouldn’t Ask Patients About Guns? Think Again.

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English: A roadside sign at Santa Clara Valley...

English: A roadside sign at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. This sign is an example of how the U.S. state of California requires all hospitals with emergency rooms to include text like “Comprehensive Emergency Medical Service” and “Physician On Duty.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s been a lot of talk in and out of gun circles about the attempt by Florida to criminalize physicians who ask patients whether or not they own guns.  The law, passed in 2011, was  overturned in Federal Court but now is headed for another hearing in the 11th Circuit.  At issue is whether physicians can inquire about the ownership of guns, even if no clear threat to health is perceived. Supporters of the law insist that because most physicians are anti-gun, what they are really trying to do is disarm law-abiding Americans.  To quote the NRA-sycophant Dr. Timothy Wheeler:  “doctors are following a hidden agenda laid out for them years ago by the American Academy of Pediatrics — an agenda that would take guns away from Floridians.”

But the question is not whether physicians are following some hidden agenda.  The real question is whether they are following federal law.  And the law I am referring to is the law that covers all hospitals and physicians delivering medical services covered by Medicaid and Medicare, which in the case of hospitals basically covers every hospital treatment facility in the United States.  This law is regulated by an agency known as the CMS, whose treatment manuals define medical care.  And here is what the CMS has to say about what a physician must do when a patient walks into an Emergency Department and requests care: “In such a case, the hospital has incurred an obligation to provide an appropriate medical screening examination (MSE) for the individual and stabilizing treatment or an appropriate transfer. The purpose of the MSE is to determine whether or not an emergency medical condition exits.”

Notice that I say “walked” into the emergency room.  Obviously if someone is wheeled into the emergency room bleeding from a gunshot wound, the attending physicians don’t have to figure out whether an emergency medical condition exists.  But most people who visit emergency departments don’t present such obvious symptoms of distress.  Rather, they show up because they “don’t feel good,” or have a pain here or a pain there.  Many are suffering from mental distress, others have been victims of domestic violence that, if left untreated, might get much worse.

How many of these patients are caught in a vortex of physical or mental deterioration that could wind up in a gun being shot off?  According to Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician in Providence, patients who are treated for gun wounds have a one-in-five chance of returning with another gunshot wound within five years. Wouldn’t there be a good possibility that many of these patients would re-appear in an emergency room in the intervening period and shouldn’t an attending physician need to know whether that individual had access to a gun?

Let me quote a little further from the CMS: “Individuals coming to the emergency department must be provided an MSE appropriate to the individuals’ presenting signs and symptoms, as well as the capability and capacity of the hospital. Depending on the individual’s presenting signs and symptoms, an appropriate MSE can involve a wide spectrum of actions….” So what should a doctor do when a patient says that he or she feels “depressed” or “upset,” or reports some other sign of mental distress.  Should the attending physician ignore all the data that indicates a clear correlation between household gun ownership and successful suicide attempts?

It’s time to set aside all the nonsense about how physicians have some kind of secret agenda to take away the guns.  Let’s remember that it was the CDC’s announcement in a 1981 morbidity report regarding deaths from an “unknown” lung infection that eventually led to treatments for AIDS.  If the NRA wants to pretend that 31,000 annual deaths and 75,000 injuries don’t constitute a health issue that’s fine.  But I’ll close this post with a quote from the novelist Walter Mosely: “If you carry a gun, it’s bound to go off sooner or later.”  Physicians need to figure out if the gun is going to go off, and when it does, what to do about it. That’s not a secret agenda, that’s the law.

 

 

 

 

Want To Play A Shooting Game? Buy A Redfield Scope

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When I was a kid, which was before most of the readers of this blog were born, the gun industry made two very different types of guns. They made rifles and shotguns for hunting, and they made handguns and military-style rifles for the armed forces and the police.  There was some cross-over in products of course, largely because most adult males did military service thanks to the draft, so if they wanted to own a handgun as a civilian they would naturally gravitate to a Colt .45 pistol or a Smith & Wesson revolver.  But if you walked into a gun shop in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s you were in a place that sold arms, ammunition and accessories for outdoor sports, which meant hunting, with an occasional self-defense handgun thrown into the mix.

Even though hunting remains popular in certain parts of the country, nobody can deny that the consumer taste in guns hasn’t changed.  In 2010 for the first time, American gun companies manufactured more handguns than long guns, and more than 200,000 of the 1.8 million rifles manufactured that year were military-style AR-15s.  This blending of military and civilian styles isn’t just a function of the design of guns.  It’s taking over the nomenclature of the industry to the point that you can hardly tell the difference between what a soldier carries into the field and a hunter carries into the woods.  Take, for example, the Redfield Optics Company.

The company was founded in 1909 by John Redfield, an avid sportsman and hunter, whose product line was aimed at the “middle market” consumer who could afford to pay a bit more for his equipment but expected some quality in return.  Like many smaller companies in consumer optics and electronics, Redfield fell prey to overseas brands in the 1980s, limped along for another few years and eventually shuttered the doors in 1998.  One thing led to another and in 2008 the brand name was purchased by the most iconic American optics company – Leupold – who now sells Redfield products through their multiple channels both here and overseas.

To see where I’m going with this post, take a look at the Redfield website.  The scopes haven’t changed, they are the same mid-level, mid-priced optics that the company has been selling for more than one hundred years.  But the old scopes had names like Partner, Widefield and Accu-Range, the last being a 3x-9x scope that was originally mounted on a variation of the Remington 700 rifle  used as a sniper gun by the Marines. What does Redfield call its scopes now?  Names like Battlezone, RevolutionCounterstrike and Revenge, the last being their standard hunting scopes that can also be mounted for archery hunts. Naming a hunting scope Revenge?  What are the hunters avenging themselves about? Because the deer ate some apples off a tree?

A new study says that violence in PG-13 movies is more common than in popular, R-rated films.  Which means that children are being exposed to shootings and violent gun use at a younger and younger age. Why wouldn’t companies like Leupold take advantage of this trend towards more violence?  After all, there’s really no difference between a movie, a video game and a real AR-15, right?

 

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