How Safe Is Project Childsafe?

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Today I received a press release from the National Shooting Sports Foundation which proudly announced it had signed up its 500th supporting organization for Project Childsafe, the NSSF’s safety program for children that kicked off in 1999.  Under this program, the NSSF has sent more than 36 million safety kits and locks to more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies who, it is presumed, then distribute the printed materials and safety devices to local residents free of charge. The program used to be funded by a grant from the Department of Justice, but this funding ended in 2008. Now the NSSF and its member organizations bear the costs themselves.

Project Childsafe has been tirelessly promoted by the NSSF and the firearms industry following the massacre at Sandy Hook.  And part of the reason for ramping up the PR about Project Childsafe was to gain the industry some extra leverage in its efforts to stop the Obama Administration from really putting the screws to gun owners by increasing gun safety through more regulation of guns.  On the other hand, since everyone agrees that making guns safer through locking them or locking them away, why not distribute gun locks and safety information whether a new gun law is looming or not?

childsafeSo rather than view this NSSF safety effort in a cynical and self-serving kind of way, I decided to take the gun industry at its word, and see whether Project Childsafe has many any difference in whether Americans, particularly younger Americans, were safer around guns than they used to be.  And like anything else, when you go looking for data to either prove or disprove a particular point of view, the results are always mixed.

According to the CDC, which tracks every kind of unintentional injury resulting in death or not, the rate of unintentional gun injuries was 6.21 per 100,000 in 2001.  In 2012 the rate had dropped to 5.45, a decline in unintentional shootings of 13%.  Let’s compare those numbers to a major cause of injuries, namely motor vehicle accidents which. over the same period dropped from 1,067 to 816 per 100,000, a decline of 24%.  Now we have spent I don’t know how many millions of dollars promoting and legislating automobile safety over the last decade, so we should have seen some real results.  But I don’t think the gun industry should be ashamed of a 13% decline in unintentional gun injuries for that matter, except that the numbers cited above obscure one very important fact.

The fact is that the greatest decline in unintentional gun injuries between 2001 and 2012 took place among children ages 1 to 19.  Their injury rate per 100,000 dropped from 6.29 in 2001 to 3.25 in 2012.  On the other hand, the rate of unintentional gun injuries for adults ages 20 and above hardly changed at all; in fact it went up from 6.09 per 100,000 in 2001 to 6.34 in 2012. The Project ChildSafe program may have had some impact on reducing gun injuries among children, but if the NSSF is really serious about gun safety the data shows that they are taking aim at the wrong group.  It’s not the kids who are going around shooting each other, even though it’s always the gun injuries to young people that make the evening news.  The truth is that we have a problem about safe use of guns with people who should know better, and it’s an issue which seems mostly hidden from view.

If the NRA wants to continue telling us that it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people, that’s fine.  But it’s clear that people also injure other people and the industry should smarten up and approach this issue heads on.  Because if they don’t, sooner or later it’s going to be done for them and we all know what that means.

 

 

Which Republican Will Win The Concealed-Carry Vote?

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I haven’t yet had time to listen to the speeches delivered at the just-concluded NRA meeting in Indianapolis, but within the next few days they will probably be posted by the NRA.  I won’t bother to listen to Palin and Oliver North because they are just show up for a speaker’s fee, but I will pay attention to Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, because this trio are prominently mentioned as potential Republican standard-bearers in 2016.  I did find a report on Rick Santorum’s speech on a CNN blog, which quoted him as saying that he was in complete agreement with the NRA as regards using guns to protect all of us from crime.  In fact, Santorum came up with a catchy little phrase which I suspect he’ll trot out a few more times before the election really begins to take shape.  At the NRA show and again on a Sunday television interview he said, “a well-armed family is a safe family, a well-armed America is a safer America.”

Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre

And if you want to know who all these well-armed Americans are protecting us from, a complete list was furnished the NRA audience by America’s chief crime-fighter, Wayne LaPierre, who painted this portrait of a society on the edge of chaos and collapse because the following people are running around: “terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, car jackers, ‘knock-out’ gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse as a society that sustains us all.”

I can’t think of a more effective way to stop chemical attacks or the spread of the plague than a loaded .38 on my night-table or an assault rifle propped up behind the front door.  Okay, so Wayne-o is given to a bit of hyperbole when he gets up in front of the faithful, and he knows he won’t get air-time unless he says something that’s just a little bit beyond belief.  The only problem is that the NRA is staking out such an extreme position that to wind up as the most pro-gun candidate in a field of pro-gun candidates is to push yourself so far to the edge that there’s no way to go but down.

At one point LaPierre rhetorically asked the audience whether they would trust the government to protect them and of course the answer was a resounding ‘no.’  But while the NRA only ramps up its anti-government rhetoric when the government happens to be controlled by the Democrats, the notion that we all have to walk around with guns because, as LaPierre says, “we’re on our own” in facing this terrible, crime-ridden world, cuts both ways.  The truth is that if you get elected President, the first thing you have to do before moving into the White House is to take an oath in which you promise to defend America against its enemies.  What’s Santorum going to do if he’s standing there with his hand on the Bible? Ask Wayne LaPierre to serve as Secretary of Defense?

The NRA’s been able to grow its membership and flex its political muscle for one reason and one reason only: there’s a very liberal, very progressive politician sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who doesn’t buy the argument that walking around with a concealed weapon makes you safe.  Even if the NRA could produce a legitimate study that showed this to be the case, which they haven’t, by the way, it probably wouldn’t change Obama’s mind anyway.  But Obama’s out of here in slightly more than 28 months, and we could wind up with a President who really does believe that the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center could have been shot out of the sky if someone in one of the twin towers had been armed with a gun.  Which will make it rather difficult for the NRA to pretend that we need to arm and protect ourselves because the government isn’t up to the job.

They Finally Get A Chance To Carry A Concealed Weapon In California. Or Do They?

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Back in February, the 9th Circuit in California ruled that the state’s concealed-carry law was unconstitutional, a ruling which was hailed by the NRA and other pro-gun groups as a “major victory” in the campaign to extend the 2nd-Amendment ownership rights defined in the 2008 Heller vs. DC decision to carrying a gun outside the home. But while the judicial panel’s initial decision was stayed pending appeal to the full 9th Circuit (whose action may then result in the SCOTUS finally deciding whether the 2nd Amendment extends to CCW,) the court let stand the part of the law which allows the sheriff in each California county to set concealed-carry rules. Most of California’s counties, including San Diego, which challenged the current law, have decided to wait and see how the whole legal issue plays itself out.  But Orange County began accepting CCW applications immediately after the 9th Circuit ruling and has been, according to County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, “overwhelmed” with the demand.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens

Notwithstanding the fact that crime in Orange County has declined by 20% over the last ten years, it appears that most of the demand for concealed-carry permits is being driven by the conviction that walking around with a gun will make people feel more safe.  At least this is what the Orange County Sheriff says, and she should know since she has hired 15 part-time workers to handle the administrative load and the waiting time for the required interview that must precede issuance of the permit is now out to 30 months.

Wait a minute!  A “required” interview before the license is issued?  I thought that the 9th Circuit’s panel found California’s CCW law unconstitutional because it was only granted if an applicant could convince the police that carrying a concealed weapon was a necessity for business reasons or documented proof of the need for personal defense.  And when Orange County started accepting CCW applications, the Orange County Register stated that a permit would now be issued if a county resident simply stated that they needed to carry a gun for “personal safety,” without requiring any documentation of this claim at all.

So I decided to do what nobody ever seems to take the trouble to do whenever a law is passed regarding guns, namely, I actually read the text that defines the Orange County application process itself.  And the process is as follows.  In addition to the usual background check, fingerprints and let’s not forget the $200 fee, the applicant must also provide “documentation” that “good cause” exists for the license based on the following criteria: (1). “Specific evidence that there has been or is likely to be an attempt on the part of a second party to do great bodily harm to the applicant;” (2). “The nature of the business or occupation of the applicant is such that it is subject to high personal risk and/or criminal attack;” (3). “The occupation or business of the applicant is such that no means of protection, security of risk avoidance can mitigate the risk other than the carrying of a concealed firearm.”

There are a couple of more issuance criteria listed on the sheriff’s website but I think you get the point.  Sheriff Hutchens may say that she’s going to issue a license to everyone who says they want one, but Orange County is not about to deprive their law enforcement authorities from having the last word on who shall and who shall not walk around with a gun.  Which is hardly the same thing as saying that anyone who wants CCW will get it just by showing up at the police department with a clean background and a $200 check.

If the argument over whether the 2nd Amendment covers CCW ever gets to SCOTUS and if gun-nut Scalia writes another decision which cites the new California law as a valid protection of gun-ownership rights, the Brady Campaign and Shannon Watts will be able to arouse their followers over this NRA threat to safety, but the truth is that the law doesn’t really change things at all.  But what laws actually say never seems to concern either side in the gun debate. It’s a lot more fun to yell and scream than to sit down and figure out what, if anything, should really be done.

Want To End The Argument Over Guns? Go Green.

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Now that Mike Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to pour $50 million bucks into anti-gun campaigns, you can be sure that the argument over guns will heat up pretty fast.  One thing I’ll say for the former Mayor Mike is that he’s no shrinking violet, and if he decides he really wants to go after something, he makes his presence known.  So at the very least, whether he’s successful or not in expanding background checks or whatever other strategies he thinks will curb gun violence, we will hear some pretty angry comments coming from both sides.

I have written over 130 posts on guns, both on my blog and on Huffington Post, and I try to align myself with the words of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” I wish there were more acknowledgement of these wise words in the current debate but there’s not.  No matter which side grabs the microphone, opinions always seem to trump facts.

So I’m wondering if there isn’t a different way to approach the whole issue and look at the question of guns not from emotions, but from the perspective of their real value; i.e., what it is that a gun can really do.  Because the biggest problem in the gun debate, it seems to me, is that both sides justify their attitudes towards guns based on rationalizations that fly in the face of reality and simply aren’t true.  The idea that the 2nd Amendment is a sacrosanct, inalienable, God-given gift that cannot be limited in any way is Csimply not true.  It is enumerated as one of many Constitutional rights, and like every other Constitutional right, can be defined and limited by laws.  Conversely, the idea that America is some kind of weird outlier among Western nations because of its embrace and love of guns is also not true.  In fact, the United States is the only Western country in which hunting (and therefore ownership of guns) was extended to all citizens regardless of social class.  In the rest of the Western world, particularly our mother country, England, hunting (and therefore gun ownership) was limited to the Monarchy and the aristocracy; the common folk could actually be executed if they were found hunting or poaching on private land.

lewisGun ownership in the United States is embedded in the traditions and history through which the country was explored, hunted, settled and farmed.  The government encouraged this process through the 1862 Homestead Act,  but while vast swatches of the western half of the country was being settled by gun-toting folk, we were also creating the greatest industrial economy in the world, fueled by European immigrants who settled in enormous, urban-industrial enclaves like Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York.  Guns weren’t part of the urban landscape back then, and they aren’t part of it now.  And these two very different histories and traditions aren’t acknowledged or even understood by the advocates for either side in the current gun debate.

But I have an idea for how his might change.  Turns out there are now more than 40 million American households that grow at least some of their own food.   This is an increase of 17% in just the last five years.  Now the gun industry has done pretty well over the same period, but that’s because gun owners are buying more guns, not because the percentage of people who own guns is really going up.  So I’m thinking that if so many new people are getting into farming, even if it’s only a tiny farm in their back yards, maybe the ones who aren’t gun owners will begin to appreciate the reason why Americans always had guns.  And this could lead to a recognition that we all have certain things in common, historically and traditionally, that speak to the value of guns. You certainly can’t say that either side understands or is saying this now. So here’s their chance.

 

 

 

Watch Out Gun Owners: Bloomberg’s Out To Get Your Guns!

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I can see it now.  The NRA annual meeting is about to kick off in Indianapolis and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that every speaker at the banquet and other public events will be told to say something nasty about Mike Bloomberg’s new campaign to “get rid” of guns.  What’s going on is that Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to spend 50 million bucks to bankroll a new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, to build a grass-roots movement across the country that will mobilize voters to enact background checks at the state level to counteract the NRA whose power at the federal level has prevented an expansion of national background checks from taking place.

Bloomberg and many other gun-control activists are convinced that the key to cutting down the rate of gun violence is the ability of the government to keep guns out of the hands of disqualified individuals (felons, mentally ill, etc.) by requiring pre-transfer clearance for anyone who wants to acquire a handgun regardless of whether the transfer occurs in a retail store, a gun show, or two people simply standing in the street.  The evidence supporting this argument can be found on the Everytown website, and it goes like this.

bloomAccording to Bloomberg’s organization, in 2010 there were 14 states plus DC that required background checks for all handgun sales, and together these states had a 3.17 rate (per 100,000) for gun deaths, whereas the remaining 34 states (CO and DE were excluded due to new laws) registered a gun homicide rate of 5.09; a difference between the two groups of 38%.  If Bloomberg’s group is correct in asserting that universal background checks would bring the gun homicide rate in the country as a whole down to 3.17, we would be talking about at least several thousand less gun deaths each year, and that ain’t chopped liver, even if you’re the former Mayor of New York.

But the moment that anyone come up with a plan to curb gun violence, I always try to figure out whether the plan really aligns itself with the data that is used to explain how and why it’s going to work. Or are we looking at what we often encounter in the gun debate, namely, a confusion between coincidence and causality which has a way of somehow obscuring the facts?  I’m afraid that in the case of Bloomberg’s continued love affair with background checks, it may be a little of both. Here’s what I mean.

Of the 14 states that required background checks for all handgun transfers, nine of them had rates of gun homicides lower than the national average going back to 1970 and before.  The fact that many of these states at some point instituted background checks at the state level wasn’t necessarily the cause of lower gun homicide rates because most of these states had lower homicide rates before any gun control laws were put into effect. For that matter, Mike Bloomberg’s own city, New York, had the most severe background check system,, the Sullivan Law, on the books since 1908.  But the city experienced a severe increase in gun homicide between 1988 and 1993, and then saw the greatest drop in gun violence of any major city in the United States over the next twenty years, a trend that started under Rudy Giuliani but increased even more during Bloomberg’s stint in City Hall.

Don’t get me wrong. Study after study has shown that when you pass gun control laws, the number of gun owners goes down, which no doubt leads to less guns, which probably results in less crime.  But Mike Bloomberg’s successful effort to make New York City safe from gun violence was not, according to his own testimony, due to any change in the laws.  It was the result of smart and aggressive policing and his 50 million bucks wouldn’t cover the costs of such a strategy across the river in Hoboken, never mind across the United States.

If The NRA Didn’t Exist, The Gun Control Crowd Would Have To Invent It

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Today I received an email from the Violence Policy Center, a DC-based advocacy group that often partners with Brady and Bloomberg to push back against the legislative and legal initiatives of the NRA.  Like every organizational email I receive from both sides, the VPC wants dough.  But this particular message caught my eye because of what it said about the NRA’s upcoming Indianapolis show.

The VPC is upset not just in general about the NRA’s impending celebration of gun ownership, but in particular because the show is being held this year in a city that has an alarmingly high murder rate, many of these homicides, according to the VPC, committed with guns.  Here’s a quote from the email:  “Wayne LaPierre, Ted Nugent, and the rest of the NRA leadership will be in Indianapolis later this month for the NRA’s annual meeting which begins on April 25. We don’t expect they will mention the fact that Indianapolis has a murder rate higher than Chicago’s and that most of those killings are committed with guns.”

I’m not exactly sure what the connection is between the crime rate in Indianapolis and the fact that the Indiana Convention Center no doubt worked like hell to land the NRA show.  I also suspect that the decision to hold the show in Indianapolis was made years ago and who knows whether crime in Indianapolis has since gone up or down.  But if you think for one second that anyone who’s coming to Indianapolis to visit the NRA show gives a rat’s damn about crime in Indianapolis, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

feinsteinThe crowd at the NRA show is going to look just like the NRA membership everywhere else; mostly male, White, over the age of 50 and living in rural areas or smaller towns.  The NRA show is just a big gun show and these folks will do what they always do at those shows: play with the guns, eat a few treats, stand on line for a couple of hours to get Ted Nugent’s autograph, say hello to friends, then hop in their 4×4’s and drive back home.  They won’t spend a second in the city of Indianapolis, and if while they’re at the show a couple of more inner-city residents are gunned down, they won’t know about it and they won’t care.

Meanwhile, the NRA will treat them to a good dose of double-talk as to why they are really there.  They’ll remind the visitors that guns are the best line of defense against criminals and crime. There will be endless exhortations to fight back against a federal government that is out to grab their guns.  And if they need the ultimate proof that God is on their side, they can always line up for admission to the Prayer Breakfast before entering the exhibit hall.

lapierreWant the truth? Both sides in the gun debate mobilize their followers by appealing to fear.  In the case of the NRA, it’s a fear of losing your guns, a fear of the government, a fear of crime.  For the Violence Policy Center and like-minded organizations, it’s a fear of guns.  As long as the two sides continue to appeal to their followers on the basis of fear, there’s really no chance that we will have a reasonable and responsible discussion about how to stop the killings that occur in Indianapolis and other cities and towns.

If we ever had such a debate, maybe it would turn out that we as Americans would decide that 30,000 gun deaths every year is a small price to pay for the fun of attending the NRA show.  Or maybe we would decide that the violence has to stop right now and the 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, everyone has to turn in their guns.  I don’t really care which way such a debate works out; all I know is that neither pro-gun nor anti-gun advocates are interested in kicking one off.

 

When It Comes To Guns, Physicians Need To Do What They Do Best – Be Physicians.

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The American College of Physicians has just released a survey covering attitudes of its members towards  gun violence.  This was the second survey conducted by the ACP on medical attitudes towards guns, the previous having been published in 1998.  In the earlier survey, while 90% of the respondents believed gun violence to be a public health issue, less than 20% stated that they engaged in prevention counseling with patients.  The feedback from the most recent  survey was similar; most physicians consider gun violence an even bigger medical problem than they did previously, but a majority still do not consider themselves willing or able to intervene with patients who present evidence of being at risk for violent behavior with guns. In fact, three-quarters of the respondents said there was a need for more education of physicians to help them counsel patients in firearm injury prevention.

acpThe survey results reported by the ACP are similar to feedback from other medical specialists.  In 2013 The American College of Emergency Physicians also published a survey on how emergency physicians felt about gun violence patients and, like the ACP, found that the vast majority of emergency physicians had never been formally trained regarding firearm safety counseling and did not believe that patients would see them as credible sources for gun counseling.

Gun violence appears to be the one public health issue for which physicians have not developed very clear guidelines for counseling and/or treatment.  In fact, there is no medical agency or association that has even issued a protocol for identifying patients who might be at risk for gun violence, either as perpetrators or victims.  While we know everything about gun violence victims after they are shot, physicians do not have the knowledge to appropriately intervene before the violence takes place.  Lacking the kinds of treatment guidelines that exist for other public health issues like obesity, smoking or substance abuse, physicians are forced to pretend that gun violence as a clinical issue doesn’t exist.

The ACP survey was followed by a Policy Position Paper in which the organization listed nine recommendations to help prevent gun violence and only the first two recommendations covered practice and counseling methods for physicians to follow in treating patients.  The other seven recommendations covered the usual legal/legislative solutions that have been advanced by every advocacy group that promotes policy initiatives to reduce gun violence.

Everyone should debate and support common-sense legal and legislative solutions to the problem of gun violence, but you don’t need four years of medical school followed by an internship and a residency to figure out how to advocate against guns.  What physicians should and must bring to the debate is exactly what they are not doing now, namely, using their unique skills and their equally-unique relationships with patients to deal with gun violence as a medical issue for which interventional counseling might yield significant results.

In a paper published last year, Shannon Fratteroli and colleagues pointed out that the greatest value of joining advocacy to medical treatment in discussions about gun violence is the fact that physicians are trained to communicate with patients about fear, they are “accustomed to helping people manage their fear of disease and death.”  As so much of the current gun debate is generated by fear – fear of crime, fear of violence, fear of government – physicians should bring their clinical experiences in managing fear to this debate and thus provide patients with sound and effective alternatives to using a gun.

 

 

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