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

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.

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

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?

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?

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

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.

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

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?

 

Obama’s Putting Together an Arsenal Thanks To The TSA

There’s been a rumor floating around (thank you Glenn Beck) that Obama has been putting together a secret army that will surround the White House and protect him when the real Americans – the 3 percenters and all the other patriots – finally rise up, take our country back and preserve our God-given, constitutional rights. So I’m here to announce that I have found Obama’s arsenal, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the TSA.

English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage.

English: A TSA officer screens a piece of luggage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You see, the TSA is responsible for security at all the airports, and even though there are warnings and signs all over the place telling passengers to stow their weapons in checked luggage, the folks who screen carry-on bags before passengers go to their gates just keep finding more and more guns.  In 2011 the TSA found more than 1,200 guns, in 2012 the number was over 1,500.  If the 2013 rate continues, by the end of the year the number will exceed 2,000.  That’s nearly 4,000 guns in three years.  Not a bad haul.

Of course some of the guns don’t look like they would be carried by any kind of army, unless it’s an army that has a special need for really small-caliber weapons.  In the three weeks from September 27 through October 17, for example, TSA confiscated 99 guns, of which 6 were 22 or 25 caliber, but there were also 27 pistols that were 9mm, 40 or 45-caliber, and that’s plenty of firepower for any army, whether in the pay of the President or not.  And the good news is that most of the guns were loaded, 84 of the 99 found over those three weeks, which means that the Presidential militia doesn’t even need to stop off at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Cabela’s to get ready to rumble because gun-toting Americans have made sure that the guns they’re taking on airplanes are ready to go.

Unfortunately for the President, his arsenal seems to be mainly handguns; after all, it’s not all that easy to stash an assault rifle (oops – a modern sporting rifle) into your carry-on before getting on a plane.  But Americans have always been an ingenious lot, so while the Presidential militia may be short on long guns, they’ll have enough explosives to help them carry the day.  In the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport someone walked through the line with a live, 40mm grenade; in Grand Junction there was 6 lbs. of black powder, detonation cords and a timing fuse; and a live blasting cap was found on a passenger in Richmond, Virginia.  I know, I know, they all just ‘forgot’ that they were carrying explosives onto a plane.  When was the last time you forgot that you were carrying explosives? When was the last time you carried explosives anywhere?

Getting back to the would-be passengers whose guns were taken away – know what?  It was clearly a violation of their 2nd Amendment rights.  And worse, they just wanted to bring their Glock into a ‘gun-free zone’ so that the rest of us would be protected from the nuts who figure they can shoot the place up because nobody’s got a gun.  In the light of District of Columbia versus Heller we really need to re-think our policy about allowing guns on planes.  And Obama needs to stop using the TSA to build his secret weapons cache.

Four thousand guns in three years? By the time Obama leaves office the TSA will probably be sitting on 10,000 guns.  Any chance that the TSA will let me buy the whole pile to increase the used gun inventory in my store?

Coming Up: The Next SCOTUS Gun Case

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may recall that in the debate over a new gun bill earlier this year, the major issue was whether to expand the FBI background check system to cover private sales. Proponents of expanded checks (Bloomberg, et. al.) argued that background checks helped prevent “straw sales,” thus keeping guns out of the wrong hands; opponents of the measure (NRA) said that there was no reason to further restrict law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to own guns.

Now the Supreme Court has decided to hear a straw sales case concerning a transaction that took place in Virginia where a former state trooper, Bruce Abramski, was convicted of committing a straw sale purchase because he bought a gun for his uncle but stated on the background check form (ATF Form 4473) that the gun was for himself. Abramski argued that there was nothing illegal about the sale because his uncle was, in fact, legally able to buy a gun. Therefore, since the intent of the statute and the background check was to keep guns from getting into the wrong hands, the defendant’s transfer of the gun to his uncle didn’t violate the law at all.

Abramski is represented by the NRA, whose attorneys discovered a split at the federal appellate level over how to handle straw sales. Several circuits have upheld the government’s contention that making a false statement on the 4473 is, in and of itself, a violation of the law, regardless of the intention or additional facts in the case. But the Fifth Circuit held in US vs. Polk, that purchasing a gun for someone else, as long as the latter individual also qualified to own a gun, was completely permissible within the statute that applies to the 4473. The SCOTUS has agreed to hear the case and resolve the apparent dispute between the different appellate courts.

Who was this guy Polk whose conviction for lying on a 4473 Form was overturned by the 5th Circuit? It turns out that Polk didn’t actually purchase the gun or guns in question; the real straw purchase was committed by a guy named Davidson who was acting on instructions from Polk. And the reason that Polk instructed Davidson to buy more than 40 guns for him, along with plastic explosives, grenades, a light tank anti-weapons system and a machine gun was that he allegedly represented an organization called ‘Constitutional America’ that was planning a rebellion to restore America to its “common-law roots.” Polk was finally arrested, charged and convicted of soliciting various crimes of violence, along with “aiding and abetting” a straw purchase even though he didn’t actually fill out the 4473.

The NRA wants SCOTUS to exonerate the Virginia state trooper who lied on the 4473, using as precedent a wacko in Texas who got somebody else to lie on his behalf. It would be nice if Mother Theresa was the defendant every time an attorney wanted a conviction overturned, but a guy who wants to blow up IRS offices and assassinate judges and police officers all over the country deserves just as much consideration if the law was used improperly to get a conviction in his case. On the other hand, it seems to me that the NRA is really scraping the bottom of the barrel by trying to assert a constitutional right to gun ownership because everyone involved in the transaction is legally entitled to own a gun. The 4473, with all its shortcomings, doesn’t give the purchaser the right to decide for himself whether the gun will eventually wind up in law-abiding hands.

Abramski could have avoided the entire problem by having his Virginia dealer send the gun directly to his uncle’s dealer in Pennsylvania; licensed dealers do this all the time. If the SCOTUS decides this case in favor of Abramski and the NRA, we might as well get rid of the background check system all together. But isn’t that what the NRA wants?

Thanks To The Government, We Finally Have Some Good Numbers About Gun Violence

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the major issues in dealing with gun violence is that the data seems to fly all over the map.  And if you don’t have reliable data then it’s pretty tough to develop a solid strategy for dealing with the problem. Of course you can always deal with this by saying that there is no problem.  But let’s leave the loonies to talk (or yell) among themselves.  For the rest of us, who believe that we try to make evidence-based decisions, if there ain’t good evidence there ain’t a decision.But this may have changed this week with the release by the American Public Health Association of a report that analyzes firearm injuries from 2003 to 2010, using national data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is a branch of HHS. The study aggregated data from virtually every hospital in the United States, or at least every hospital that is connected to the government through HHS-administered programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans, etc.  In other words, virtually every hospital. And the injury data, drawn from hospital admissions, was coded to pick up just about every type of primary or secondary diagnosis that could have been the result of a gun injury.  The bottom line is this: If this data ain’t complete, there ain’t no complete.

One caveat before I talk about the actual findings:  the data on hospitalizations seriously undercounts the actual level of gun violence because it does not cover ER visits, but only hospital admissions. We can assume that most people who came to the ER with a gunshot wound probably ended up staying in the hospital, but the Department of Justice data on gun violence, which comes from the FBI (which comes from state and local law enforcement) doesn’t break gun injuries out of the much larger category of gun violence, which means any criminal incident in which a gun was involved,whether someone was shot or not.  And of course the hospital data completely undercounts homicides, because even though slightly less than ten percent of hospital admissions resulted in death during the admission period, we can assume that almost all homicides and certainly all suicides were taken not to a hospital or an ER, but to the morgue.

Given the caveats above, the findings of this report still require serious thought and consideration.  First and most important is the fact that of the more than 250,000 gun injuries between 2003 and 2010, more than 30% were classified as self-inflicted wounds.  Of late the NRA has been patting itself on the back because the number of firearm deaths that are ruled as accidents is quite low, so low that accidental gun deaths don’t even make it to the list of major accident deaths published by the CDC.  But gun injuries are very serious, the report gives convincing evidence that the costs of gun injury hospitalizations averages $75,000, which means that we are spending an awful lot of money, nearly one billion dollars every year, on taking care of people who didn’t even know how to handle a gun.

The other significant finding from a public health point of view is that more than one-third of gun injury patients had no medical insurance. But this should not surprise, given the fact that 40% of the hospitalizations involved males between the ages of 18-30, which is exactly the age bracket occupied by people who usually make the conscious decision not to carry medical insurance at all. So not only do we face a serious use of medical resources for gun injuries, a third of which could be prevented by simply locking up, locking away or unloading the guns, but we also face a significant impact on public health budgets, since so many of these patients are uninsured.

It seems to me that enough data has now been produced to move the discussion beyond the debate over whether gun violence represents a health issue at all.  And if anyone reading this blog truly believes that physicians and other health professionals should refrain from talking about guns in terms of health, then they’re reading the wrong blog.  Over the next several weeks I’m going to be making some suggestions about how the medical community might try to deal with gun violence at the level where it really counts – the contact with patients before they become a statistic in the next report.