Physicians And Guns: Another NRA Sycophant Ignores The Truth.

As physicians slowly but surely push their way back into the debate about gun violence, you can be sure that the NRA and its legion of willing sycophantic journalists will be right behind them attempting to explain why doctors should avoid any discussion with their patients about guns.  The latest such effort comes from a right-wing blogger, Vic Khanna, who identifies himself as a health-care consultant and gun owner in an opinion-piece found on the Federalist blog.

The piece begins with the usual nonsense about how Obamacare is a threat to everything and that it threatens everyone’s individual liberties, most of all the liberty to own a gun.  This is the standard crap that has been promoted about every liberal program or policy since the Republicans realized that protecting the 2nd Amendment was a good wedge issue for them to use at the polls.  But Khanna then goes into detail criticizing the efforts by Adam Goldstein and other physicians to create standards for judging CCW fitness among patients, an issue for which Goldstein has published several important peer-reviewed articles over the last several years.

docs versus glocks                Of course Khanna neglects to mention the fact that Goldstein, who happens to be Professor of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill, got into the CCW-competency business after receiving requests from sheriff’s departments in North Carolina who are required under law to consult a physician if a person’s mental or physical condition might make granting of CCW a risk.  Now isn’t that amazing? North Carolina actually had the good sense to codify a requirement that recognized the unique competencies of physicians in diagnosing mental or physical impediments to carrying around a gun.  What?  Let those gun-grabbing, elitist doctors decide whether you or I can walk around with a gun?

But Khanna isn’t about to tell the truth and enlighten his readers to the fact that law enforcement is in kahoots with the medical establishment to keep North Carolina residents from carrying their guns.  He’s also unwilling to honestly summarize the gist of Adam Goldstein’s publications on this issue, namely, the lack of clinical guidelines that physicians need to use when they diagnose all sorts of physical and mental conditions which might otherwise keep Americans from doing such non-essential activities as driving a vehicle or going to school.  Perhaps in his role as a health care consultant Khanna tries to figure out ways to help parents avoid taking their children for the mandated health exam that most jurisdictions require before a kid can enroll in school.

Last year Adam Goldstein and other researchers sent out a questionnaire to 600 North Carolina physicians asking whether the recipients believed that they possessed sufficient medical knowledge to make a determination about the CCW fitness of individual patients.  Of the 40% who returned the questionnaire, “a majority felt that they could not assess their patients’ physical capability to carry concealed weapons,” and nearly all the respondents felt that they needed special training before making medical assessments for CCW that might be required under North Carolina law.

Did Goldstein and his colleagues use these findings to promote the idea that issuance of CCW should be curbed or discontinued?  No.  Did they use these findings to challenge the rights of North Carolina resident to own guns? No. They did what the Hippocratic Oath requires them to do, namely, to raise concerns about their own ability to identify and reduce harm, in this case the harm that might occur if someone who was mentally or physically disabled could go around with a gun.

The NRA and its sycophant journalist crew like Vic Khanna have been playing fast and loose with the facts about physicians, patient care and gun ownership for the past twenty years.  They’ve gotten away with it quite simply because most people visit doctors for medical conditions that don’t involve guns.  But the tide is beginning to turn, and when the American College of Physicians urges their members to ‘educate’ patients about guns, physicians like Adam Goldstein  won’t be turning to the likes of Vic Khanna in order to figure out how to respond.

 

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Want To Get Shot With Your Own Gun? Carry It Concealed.

Back in the 1990s, when middle-class America started being obsessed with personal security, the National Rifle Association began promoting the idea that everyone except the most deranged among us should own a gun because it was the best and most affordable way to protect ourselves against crime.  Forget the fancy alarm system that usually doesn’t work, forget the 24-hour guard service that doesn’t remember to check the house when you’re away, forget moving into the gated community with the old man asleep in the guard house at the end of the drive.  Just plop down a few hundred bucks, put a banger in your pocket and when the moment arrives, out it comes and the bad guy runs away.

The NRA backed up this carnival-barker approach to crime control with research allegedly proving that armed Americans prevented millions of crimes from occurring each year, with consequent savings that ran into the billions.  And this research was then supported by more research which showed that wherever and whenever Americans were legally able to walk around with guns, violent crime and the costs of that crime went down.  The gospel of concealed-carry quickly spread from state to state, with the number of ‘shall-issue’ CCW-states increasing from 7 states in 1986 to 36 states in 2006, while crime-fighting members of Congress like Larry Craig crafted bills to create a national concealed-carry license that, like the standard driver’s license, would be valid in all 50 states.

gun free                Once the CCW fever swept across from sea to shining sea, the NRA began making sure that we could carry those legal guns wherever we went, so the cry went up to eliminate what is known as gun-free zones, a campaign that mounted with increasing fierceness after the slaughter at Sandy Hook.  After all, since Wayne LaPierre had been telling everyone that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, just make sure that there are good guys wandering around everywhere with guns.  And to back up this new bromide, the NRA began fighting to give gun-toting Americans not just the right to carry a gun, but the right to carry that gun into schools, churches, bars, theaters and anyplace else where bad guys would then fear to tread.

Let’s stop for one paragraph and put all this nonsense into perspective.  First, there is not a single, credible study which validates the idea that concealed-carry makes us safer from crime either in the street or in our homes.  Second, there is not a single, credible study which validates the idea that using a gun to defend yourself against a criminal attack is any better than other ways of defending yourself, such as running away or calling the cops.  Third, there is not a single, credible study which shows that armed citizens play any role in preventing multiple shootings from taking place.  Fourth, the vaunted Heller 2nd-Amendment decision gives Americans the constitutional right to keep a gun in their homes, not to carry one around in the street for self-defense.

Of course it doesn’t really matter whether opinions align with facts; people believe what they want to believe.  But it’s pretty hard to believe that when a two-year old can reach into Mom’s purse, somehow get his hand on a gun, somehow pull the trigger and somehow end up killing Mom, that this event demonstrates the value of carrying a concealed gun.  This is exactly what happened yesterday in Hayden, ID, an event that the local cops called a “tragic accident” because Veronica Routledge, the owner of the weapon, held a valid CCW and therefore had every legal right to get shot to death by her own son.

Would someone from the NRA explain to me what the grieving Routledge family would be doing today if Wal-Mart had declared itself to be a gun-free zone? The next time that Shannon and Everytown make their case for keeping weapons out of public spaces, I’m not sure they’ll have great difficulty making their case.  Like Walter Mosley says, “If you carry a gun, it’s going to go off sooner or later.”

The Best Gun Video PSA. The Best.

There’s a new video floating around the Internet called Stop Gun Violence – PSA that’s making quite a stir.  Created by Rejina Cincic, it follows a teen-age boy who takes an unlocked pistol out of his mother’s bureau drawer, slips it into his backpack, walks into his class at school and, when there are no other kids in the room, plops the gun down on the teacher’s desk and says, “I don’t feel safe with this at home.”  And that’s it.

From viewer reactions, you would think that the NRA had posted a video telling gun owners to turn in all their guns.  I have never seen such vitriol, such anger and such cheap and snarky comments directed at any statement about gun ownership, and once the hoi polloi weighed in with their usual invectives, the pro-gun propaganda media known as the Washington Times came forth with their usual, nonsensical conclusion that the video “encourages” children to commit crimes, such as stealing the gun and then taking the weapon onto school property.  The Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Bear Arms, which is the other website belonging to the successful mail-order company known as the 2nd Amendment Foundation, declared that the video depicted six or perhaps seven different crimes.

1911                Know what crime wasn’t depicted in the video?  The crime that would have occurred if that same kid had taken his mother’s gun to school, walked into a classroom and opened fire at other students and adults.  How do you think that Jaylen Fryberg got his hands on the gun he used to kill four students at Marysville High School on October 24?  And it really didn’t matter how many other crimes Fryberg committed that day in order to bring the gun into the school because after shooting the four other kids, he then used the gun to kill himself.

This PSA video has provoked such an intense reaction from the pro-gun community because it strikes directly at their most sacred cow, namely, the idea that guns in homes make us more safe. The gun industry has been tirelessly promoting this crap for the last twenty years ever since they noticed that the traditional reason for owning guns – sport shooting and hunting – were beginning to fade away.  But if you can make people believe that the protection afforded by a gun far outweighs the risk of that weapon lying around, you’ve created a new and unending market for guns.

Let’s take a minute and look at some numbers about whether guns really keep us safe from violent crime.  The gun industry loves to tout the fact that there has been a 50% increase in gun sales while violent crime rates have declined by about the same amount over the last twenty years.  The only problem with this bromide is that 95% of the decline took place between 1994 – 2003, while the number of guns bought by civilians began to show major increases after 2004.

If that argument doesn’t work, let’s try another one.  According to the FBI, the number of felonies that were prevented by what is known as justifiable homicide using a gun runs around 225 per year.  Meanwhile, the number of non-justifiable gun homicides sits above 10,000 annually – wow, that’s quite a safety record for guns, right?  As for using a gun to prevent a crime, the NRA publishes a listing of such events on its Armed Citizen website, and the numbers run between 60 – 75 per year.

I happen to think that Stop Gun Violence is the best gun PSA I have ever seen.  It says what we all know, namely, that a gun in the home is a safety risk and an unlocked gun is a much greater risk.  I notice that all the critics who were busily counting up the felonies depicted in the film forgot to mention that in most states, leaving an unlocked gun around is not a crime at all. Shouldn’t we be talking about that issue rather than attempting to discredit a teen-age boy who showed a lot more common sense than the owner of that gun?

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Want To Do Some Gun-Running? Call The ATF And Ask Them To Help.

There’s been a lot of Internet chatter this week about the insufficiency of gun laws that enabled a violent felon like Ismaaiyl Brinsley to get his hands on a gun, bring it up to New York City after assaulting a girlfriend in Baltimore, and then use it to murder two NYPD cops. And first and foremost on the list of stricter gun controls is the idea of instituting background checks on all gun transactions, not just the initial sale between dealer and customer that moves every gun into the civilian arsenal in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not opposed to sensible measures that will reduce gun violence, but I think the continued attempt by gun-sense advocates to push for universal background checks at the national level is something that won’t happen, nor under the present regulatory system am I convinced that it should.  Any expansion of background checks means an expansion in the authority and regulatory reach of the ATF and frankly, when it comes to enforcing the gun laws we already have on the books, I don’t get the warm and fuzzies looking at the job they’ve done.

atf                On February 28, 1993 the ATF so badly bungled the serving of a search warrant on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco that the end result was 4 ATF agents killed, along with 76 members of the Branch Davidian sect.  The ATF wanted to search the Mt. Carmel compound because they were convinced, on the basis of not a shred of credible information, that David Koresh and his followers were converting semi-auto assault rifles into full-auto weapons which they were going to use in an assault on ‘non-believers’ living in Waco and God knows where else. This theory of an imminent Branch Davidian Armageddon-like attack was pure nonsense, and what wasn’t pure nonsense was pure crap.

Not only didn’t the ATF learn anything from this fiasco, but they upped the ante in a bizarre investigation called Fast and Furious which was conducted in Phoenix and Tucson between 2006 and 2010.  This time they actively encouraged and managed the straw sales of more than 2,500 guns which were allegedly headed for Mexico and the Sinaloa drug cartel.  Once again, the ATF was convinced without a single bit of evidence that the straw purchasers were converting semi-auto ARs and AKs into automatic weapons, using local auto-body shops both to stash and re-do the guns.  The so-called ‘mastermind’ behind this gun-running operation was a 26-year old schlub, Manuel Celis-Acosta, who, it turns out, was also working as an informant for the FBI.  At one point an ATF supervisor actually let Celis-Acosta walk away from an arrest, wrote her phone number on the back of a ten-dollar bill and made him ‘promise’ to call her back.  Of course he called her back.  Of course.  Talk about the Keystone Kops.

Of course once the Republicans heard about this whole mess, they did what they can always be counted on doing, namely, ignored the stupidity and possible malfeasance of the ATF in order to grandstand a Congressional hearing which turned into the usual ‘let’s get the President’ kind of thing.  It’s really too bad that Congressman Issa (R-CA) didn’t take a long and hard look at Fast and Furious, if only because he knows more about illegal guns than you think.  In 1972 he was arrested and convicted for driving around with an unregistered gun in his car, which sounds a little bit like what the ATF did with Celis-Acosta, except Celis-Acosta didn’t show up in court.

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has been pushing a gun trafficking bill year after year but it won’t ever reach the floor.  The truth is that the numero uno gun trafficker in the United States is a federal law-enforcement agency called the ATF. I’d love to see the local cops be given more tools and resources in the battle against illegal guns.  Up until now, unfortunately, waiting for the ATF to provide such help has been like waiting for Godot.

The NRA Thinks The Bushmaster Lawsuit Won’t Fly. They Might Think Again.

I was wondering how long it would take the gun lobby to respond to the lawsuit filed against Bushmaster by the families at Sandy Hook.  It took less than a week and the response was a video interview with attorney Stephen Halbrook on the NRA-sponsored video show, Cam & Company.  I love how shows like this are called ‘interviews’ when the guest is never asked a question that reflects anything other than his own point of view.  But I shouldn’t complain because I’ve also done my fair stint of Serius radio gigs and I can’t say that I was ever asked a question that didn’t give me an opportunity to say what I wanted the audience to hear.

And what the NRA wants its audience to hear about the Bushmaster law suit is that it should never have been filed at all.  In fact, Halbrook went so far as to call the lawsuit ‘frivolous’ and even considered the possibility that it would not only be immediately dismissed but plaintiffs might have to pay defendant’s legal costs as well.  I’m sure that Attorney Halbrook did not mean to give the impression that the horrendous deaths of 20 young kids and 6 adults was in any way a frivolous event.  Not even the most ardent 2nd-Amendment supporter would ever sanction that kind of violence just because Americans have the right to own guns, right?

bushmaster logo                Incidentally, Steve Halbrook makes his living by representing the NRA but also fancies himself as something of a historian when it comes to discussions about guns.  He recently published a book, Gun Control in the Third Reich, in which he argued that the Nazi regime consolidated their power by using pre-Nazi gun ownership lists to disarm Communists and Jews, thus giving the 2nd-Amendment supporters an alleged historical context in which they can continue to promote their ‘slippery-slope’ nonsense about how gun control leads to gun confiscation, which leads to totalitarianism and blah, blah, blah. How Halbrook could imagine that Germany’s Jews would have stood up to the organized terror of the SS even if they were riding around in Sherman Tanks is beyond me, but that’s an issue I’ve discussed in another time and place.

The NRA’s response to the suit against Bushmaster is that the gun used by Adam Lanza was sold legally at every step of the way; hence, under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, the industry is shielded from this kind of a suit.  The 2005 law was aimed at preventing lawsuits that held gun makers liable if a gun that had been used in a crime moved from ‘legal’ to ‘illegal’ hands, even though there was nothing preventing a law-abiding gun owner from selling one of his guns to anyone he wished.  And why should a gun maker or any manufacturer be responsible for how his product is used downstream if he has met all the requirements for getting his product to the market in a lawful way?

But the complaint against Bushmaster doesn’t take issue with the legality of the sale, and Halbrook’s attempt to characterize this lawsuit as ‘frivolous’ from that perspective is grandstanding at best.  The plaintiffs are arguing that this type of weapon, because of the lethality of its design, shouldn’t be made available to civilians at all, and here they actually get support from the 2008 Heller decision, in which the Scalia’s opinion clearly gave the government the right to withhold ‘military’ weapons from civilian sale. But isn’t there a clear difference between the full-auto M-16 carried by our troops in Iraq and the semi-auto AR-15 that Adam Lanza carried into the Sandy Hook Elementary School? Halbrook goes out of his way to make this point except that he and all the other black gun apologists are wrong.  Most of the troops in our military carry semi-auto versions of the M-16, a few carry guns set for 3-shot bursts, hardly anyone in the U.S. military is using a full-auto gun.  If that’s the basis upon which Bushmaster’s going to defend itself, the gun industry’s hope for a quick dismissal just isn’t going to fly.

 

Why Do Americans Favor Background Checks And Oppose More Gun Control?

Of late there seems to be lots of pitter-patter about national polls which show that Americans are in favor of expanded background checks but are against more gun control.  The consensus among what I call the gun-sense community is that this contradiction is the result of the NRA’s relentless quest to make ‘gun control’ a toxic term.  So an effort appears to be taking shape to find another way to describe measures that will curb gun violence without raising the hackles of 2nd-Amendment supporters and their political friends.

I think the polling results need to be understood in a different way.  National polls tend to disguise the degree to which gun ownership varies enormously from place to place.  More than two-thirds of the guns currently owned by Americans can be found in the 13 Old Confederate states, 3 border states and the rural swatches of 5 Midwest states.  Together this territory contains about 40% of the U.S. population and, for the most part, politically speaking, is painted red. The remainder of the country, particularly the Northeast corridor, the West Coast and the urban Midwest, contains a majority of the U.S. population but also contains far fewer guns.  In gun-rich states like North Carolina or Kansas, per capita gun ownership runs at least 50%.  In states like New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the number falls to 20% or even less.
brady2               Gun ownership has become a potent wedge issue for Republicans in gun-rich states.  The redder the state, the more you hear appeals to ‘2nd-Amendment rights’ even when the politician making the appeal is talking about something that has nothing to do with guns.  On the other hand, in Connecticut the NRA and its local allies couldn’t prevent Dannel Malloy from capturing a second term, and strident calls to gun owners to defeat the ‘gun-grabber’ may have actually widened his lead.

Meanwhile, even though a national poll might not accurately capture sentiment about gun control, how do we square those results with the polls which show an overwhelming support for additional gun control measures, such as expanding background checks?  I have always been leery of assuming that just because a gun owner is in favor of keeping guns out of the “wrong hands,” he will turn around and support specific measures to accomplish that goal.  If you were to tell a gun owner that expanding background checks to cover private sales is a good and proven way to keep guns out of the wrong hands, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll say ‘count me in’.  But if you tell him, which no poll that I know of has actually ever said, that making it harder for disqualified people to buy guns will mean that he can’t go to a gun shop, buy a rifle and then leave it under the tree for his son to unpack on Christmas Day, he’ll tell you to take your background checks and jump off you know where.

The reason that the NRA’s message about gun control is so effective is not so much because the average gun owner thinks that one day he will lose all his guns. There’s an element of that in the consciousness of gun folks, but much more in their minds is that almost all of them have not only shown themselves to be law-abiding as hell in order to own guns, but they have never even considered doing something illegal or dangerous with the guns they own.  Given that case, why should they support new gun laws that will force them to jump through more legal hoops?

I don’t think my friends who advocate for more gun safety are going to get around this problem by calling gun control by another name while promoting sensible proposals that, by the way, will widen legal controls over guns.  Which is no reason, of course, to stop or lessen meaningful strategies to make us safer from the violence caused by guns.

 

 

What Should Physicians Do About Guns? Tell The Truth.

Last week I attended a conference on medicine and gun violence in which a cross-section of researchers and clinicians focused on how to figure out if patients are at risk for gun violence and how to intervene appropriately when such a clinical situation appears to exist.  The problem raises medical, legal and ethical issues involving proper patient care, privacy, liability and other questions that the medical profession has been wrestling with for a long time but have really come home to roost this year.  Three states have now passed laws limiting the degree to which physicians can ask patients about guns and only a last-minute surge of votes from Democratic Senators who will shortly be replaced by Republicans allowed a Surgeon General to be confirmed whose views are decidedly anti-gun.

Throughout the conference I kept listening to presentations which were based on an assumption about medicine and guns which I’m not sure is really true.  And the assumption goes like this: in order to effectively raise the issue of gun risk, the physician must first determine whether a patient is, indeed, a risk to himself or others if he has access to a gun.  And if the physician determines that the patient is, in fact, a health risk if there’s a gun around, how do you determine the degree of gun access without invading the patient’s right to privacy or infringing on his right to own a gun whether he’s a risk for gun violence or not?

docs versus glocks                The reason I’m not comfortable with this assumption is because I happen to believe one simple thing about guns, namely, that if there is a gun lying around, locked or unlocked, the risk of gun injury is simply much greater than if the gun doesn’t exist.  To borrow a phrase from the late Elmore Leonard, “Don’t fool with guns in here, okay? The goddamn piece’s liable to go off.”  Now researchers can parse all the data with a fine-tooth comb from today until next year, but the bottom line is exactly what Leonard says: if it’s around sooner or later it’s going to go off.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not anti-gun, no matter what many people who read this blog and others will choose to believe.  I currently own two black guns, a Colt H-Bar and a Ruger Mini-14, along with a Mossberg tactical shotgun, a Marlin 30-30, without doubt the single best deer gun ever made, and one of those Remington 700s in 270 Winchester which might go off even if the trigger isn’t pulled.  Not that I’m against handguns, for that matter, because I also own every Glock in 9, the two John Browning masterpieces, a Colt 1911 and a P-35, a Walther PP in 22, another Walther PP in 32, a little TPH for when I’m out walking in shorts, three or four K-frame Smiths and just for good measure, a S&W Model 39. And I almost forgot the two Sigs I own, the new little guys in 380 and 9. But I know one thing about all my toys – put a round in the chamber, pull the trigger and if someone’s standing in the direction in which the gun is pointed, they’re going down.

It’s all well and good that physicians are concerned about how to make guns safer, how to keep them out of the “wrong” hands, how to lock them up or lock them away.  But I think what doctors should do is always tell all their patients that a gun can cause real harm.  And they should say it again and again. My internist doesn’t ask whether I smoke before cautioning me not to light up a cigarette.  Pediatricians don’t ask parents whether they fasten the child’s seatbelt before reminding them to make sure the kids ride safe.  The role of the physician, every physician, is to reduce harm.  Not having a gun reduces harm.  The patient doesn’t agree with you, that’s fine.  But you did what is required and expected of you, which was to say something true about risk from guns.