A New Website That Really Gives The Data On Gun Violence.

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The research team at Everytown has put up a new website which gives an easy access to most of the numbers that we need to use in any discussion about gun violence.  And I like this site because it not only aggregates numbers for each gun violence category in readable and understandable formats, but also provides links to the original data sources, which in most cases happen to be the FBI and the CDC.

everytown logoThis brings us to an issue about gun violence numbers that needs to be addressed, namely, the fact that most of the data comes from two agencies, one of which is concerned with crime and the other with health. Which means that gun violence is defined differently, the data collection methods are very different and the ways in which the data are analyzed is also dissimilar to the point that comparisons between the two data sources usually don’t work very well.

Not that the FBI and the CDC are the only two places where you can go looking for gun violence data.  You can also relevant data collected and published by the National Crime Victims Survey, which operates under the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and somewhat more detailed CDC data can be found on the CDC’s WONDER database, although much of the latter data just links back to the WISQARS site.

The problem with all the data collections, however, is that none of the agencies whose reports are used, in the aggregate by the FBI or the CDC are mandated to submit any information at all.  The FBI claims that its data represents submissions from 18,000 “city, university/college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the program.”  Note the word ‘voluntarily.’  As for the CDC, all their numbers are estimates based on reports from what thy refer to as a ‘representative’ group of hospitals, but in the case of intentional, non-fatal shootings, for example, they specifically state that the data is drawn from a sample that is too small to be considered reliable.

It’s unfortunate that the GVP community is committed to evidence-based arguments about gun violence when the other side couldn’t care less about how they use data at all.  Take, for example, the attempt by John Lott to debunk President Obama’s claim about the frequency of mass shootings in the United States. After the Charleston shooting, Obama said, “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”  Lott looked at mass killings in other countries, then divided the number of fatalities by 1 million and this bizarre data manipulation made the U.S. the 11th country for mass violence attacks, exceeded by such places as Norway, Slovakia and the U.K.  Between 2009 and 2015 these three countries together sustained 86 mass fatalities, whereas in the same time-period with a country that numbers 6 times as many people, ‘only’ 181 Americans died in mass attacks. But each of these countries experienced one mass shooting, the United States had twenty-five!

Everyone involved in GVP advocacy should welcome the Everytown data collection and should use it whenever they find themselves discussing gun violence in forums where such information can better inform the public at large.  But I do have a suggestion for Everytown in terms of maximizing the value of their effort because sometimes I get the feeling that when the GVP presents hard evidence about gun violence, they sometimes present it only themselves. I think it would be great if Everytown could get these numbers in front of every public office-holder in America who could or might vote on legislation that will reduce the human carnage caused by guns.  The Everytown numbers can better inform the public debate and should become part of the debate beginning right ow.

This Doctor Better Not Read Medical Charts The Way He Reads Reports On Hospital Crime.

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This was a pretty quiet week in the world of guns.  The Republican debate came and went without any born-again pledges of absolute fealty to the 2nd Amendment, only 67 people were shot dead since the middle of the week, which is below the normal rate, and the headline article on the NRA-ILA website was just a kvetch about Hillary’ taking away all the guns. So I figured I’d have to dig pretty deep to come up with something to say in the column I write every Monday for the Huffington Post, until low and behold the looniest pro-gun group, a.k.a., my friends at Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, let fly with yet another attempt to challenge the assumption that physicians align what they say with at least some regard for reality, if not for facts.

docs versus glocks              Because the truth is that we really wouldn’t feel pleased about visiting the doctor if we felt that what he told us about our health was something made up out of thin air. So when we hop on the scale or let the nurse wrap our arm in a blood-pressure cuff, the whole point of these tests and others is to give our physicians an opportunity to evaluate our medical condition based on what he sees and what he knows.

But when it comes to their views on guns and gun violence, the physicians who contribute commentaries to the DRGO website are about as far removed from any reality as the veritable man in the moon.  The latest flight into fancy is a column written by a family physician in Iowa, Sean Brodale, who is of the opinion that hospitals are not only becoming very dangerous places, but that the remedy is – you guessed it! – allowing the medical staff to be armed.  In fact, this physician believes that since healthcare professionals are entrusted with caring for patients every day, why shouldn’t doctors be trusted to “defend our patients’ lives with a firearm if a violent situation requires it?”

In all of the explanations and justifications for CCW put forth by Gun Nation, this statement comparing medical caregiving with armed self-defense has to rank as maybe the single dumbest thing I have ever heard.  In order to administer medical care to his patients, the author of this riveting commentary first graduated college with a specialty in pre-med, he then did four years of medical school, followed by at least three years of internship and residency and perhaps then a fellowship year or two.  In other words, before he ever sat down to discuss anything with a patient, he had been training for upwards of a dozen years.  And to maintain his medical license, he needs to spend a substantial amount of time in accredited, continuing education classes, as well as being re-tested on his medical boards.  Know what the training requirements are for CCW in the Hawkeye State?  Taking a couple of hours to complete the usual NRA course.

No article promoting the value of armed self-defense would be complete without some attempt to prove that the world is a very dangerous place.  And in this instance, the author gets his evidence from a report on hospital security which shows a whopping 40% increase in hospital violent crime between 2012 and 2014.  But if the DRGO author had bothered to read beyond Page 3, he would have discovered that this growth consisted entirely of increases in vandalism and cars being stolen out of hospital parking lots; every category of person-to-person violent crime – assault, disorderly conduct, burglary, theft – went down.

I just hope that when Dr. Brodale puts together a patient’s wellness program, he reads the relevant test documentation with a bit more care than he used in making the argument for letting hospital staff walk around with guns. He might also ask whether the NRA’s stance against any mandated CCW training meets the most minimal definition for reducing medical risk. Don’t worry, it doesn’t.

A New Report On Guns And Hate Crimes That You Should Read.

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The Center for American Progress has just issued a report on gun violence and hate crimes, and like all CAP reports, the authors have digested a wealth of data and given us important and arresting information about a serious aspect of gun violence, namely, the use of guns in crimes motivated by hate.  Actually, the report emphasizes two issues, because in addition to guns being used in disputes motivated by racial, gender, religious and other forms of hate expression, we also have the problem that individuals convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes can also continue to buy and own guns.

Hate crime misdemeanors are not the only misdemeanors which, even after sentencing, still allow an individual to maintain ownership of guns.  In fact, under federal law, the only misdemeanor which carries an outright prohibition on firearm ownership is domestic violence, and when we move from the federal level to the states, the laws on misdemeanor gun prohibitions are so diffuse, so different and so unlike one another that it’s not worth trying to summarize the situation at all.  Suffice it to say that there are lots of people walking around with guns who might be considered a threat to public safety in one place but in another locality they are not considered any kind of a risk.

The problem with hate crimes and guns is even more complicated by the fact that we simply don’t know how many such crimes actually occur.  First of all, hate crimes appear to be seriously underreported, with 60%-70% of all violent hate crimes which victims claim to have suffered each year never officially reported to the police.  And we aren’t talking about a rare event; according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 200,000 hate crimes are committed each year.  Between 2010 and 2014, according to the CAP study, there were 1.2 million hate crimes, of which roughly 43,000 involved the use of a gun.

This also gets us into a bit of an issue with the data, because according to the BJS, roughly one-quarter of all hate crimes involve the use of a weapon, which obviously includes things other than guns. And the inability of the BJS to come up with any kind of valid number for gun hate crimes forces the authors of the CAP report to base the numbers of guns used in hate crimes on what they admit is a rough estimate at best.  Which gets back to a very basic problem which pervades every aspect of the gun issue, namely, there is no mandated reporting system that captures criminal gun use in any comprehensive way.

On the other hand, we know from studies summarized by Wintemute that persons convicted of misdemeanor assaults other than domestics are not necessarily restricted from owning guns, ditto misdemeanor violence of other types, ditto misdemeanor offenses growing out of alcohol abuse.  And we also know that many misdemeanors should be classified as felonies but are plead down because it’s easier and faster to get a misdemeanor conviction than to run every criminal case through open court.

Which brings us back to the first issue raised in the CAP report, namely, the fact that misdemeanor convictions for hate crimes rarely involve a loss of guns.  Because the report points out that although 23 states have passed laws prohibiting persons convicted of certain violent misdemeanors from having access to guns, only 3 states have extended such prohibitions to include misdemeanor hate crimes.

We are now in a Presidential campaign which, among other things, appears to be turning on the extent to which Americans can be made to feel afraid of Muslims not only abroad but right here at home. The gun industry has always used fear to promote ownership of guns, so now Gun Nation has a new bogey-man whose existence can be used to ignite more gun sales. Maybe Obama won’t be the last President to deserve a Salesman of the Year award from Smith & Wesson or Glock.

Sorry, But What’s Wrong With Gun Control?

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I’m probably going to get a lot of bad press for what I’m about to say, but it goes with the territory so I might as well say it right now: I don’t see anything wrong with talking about gun control. Not responsible, not reasonable, not sensible.  Gun control.  Control, control, control.  And the reason I believe in gun control is very simple: It’s the only way we can hope to really make a dent in a public health issue that kills or injures more than 125,000 Americans every year.

conference-program-pic              Right now I am listening to a very good podcast from an online forum called The Other Washington entitled “Gun Responsibility,” which covers the events leading up to the passage of Initiative 594 in Washington State which expanded background checks to all transfers of guns. And the commentators point out that expanded background checks have overwhelming support, even among gun owners, which makes this kind of regulatory initiative ‘sensible’ because everyone thinks it should be done.  But then the commentators veer off in another direction, justifying I-594 by noting that states with the ‘strongest’ gun laws have the lowest rates of gun violence.

Guess what?  Know what the phrase ‘strong gun laws’ means?  It means gun control, folks, period, end of story. And I happen to live in one of those states, Massachusetts, which is given a B+ rating for its gun laws, and if the gun laws in my state don’t amount to gun control, then I don’t know what does.  In Massachusetts private transactions must be registered not with NICS but with the state, police have the arbitrary authority to deny or impose conditions on the issuance of a gun license even if the applicant passes the background check, and the Attorney General can determine which handguns can and cannot be sold based on whether the design of the weapon is considered child-safe; which means that a civilian can’t buy, among other products, a Glock.  And by the way, the safe storage law, if violated, carries a four-year stretch in jail.

It just so happens, no surprise, that Massachusetts also has the second-lowest gun violence rates of all 50 states. So if ‘strong’ gun laws lead to less gun violence, and gun laws are usually ‘strong’ precisely because they regulate the movement of guns and the issuance of licenses to own guns, why do we continue to pretend that words like ‘sensible’ and ‘responsible’ mean something different from what the words ‘gun control’ mean? And if anyone actually thinks that by avoiding the term ‘gun control’ that somehow the NRA will hang an ‘out to lunch’ placard on the office door when a ‘reasonable’ gun regulation is being discussed, I strongly enjoin you to think again.  Because Gun Nation isn’t interested in any law, any regulation, any kind of anything being done to change or redefine America’s alleged love affair with guns.

But, you counter, it’s not the NRA we are trying to convince.  It’s all those undecided, decent folks in the ‘middle’ who could be brought over if we convince them that we aren’t trying to ride roughshod over the 2nd Amendment and push all gun owners down that veritable slippery slope.  I think this is wishful thinking and I also think it denigrates the ability of most Americans to understand issues when they are given all the facts.  The Surgeon General’s report on smoking risk was released in 1964, a time when less than 50% believed that smoking was a health risk. By 1980, more than 80% of Americans believed that smoking caused lung cancer, and since then no state has made smoking illegal, but 28 states have passed laws prohibiting smoking in most public places, including restaurants and bars.

Guns are lethal.  Guns are dangerous.  Guns are a risk to public health.  Controlling guns is not sensible or responsible.  Controlling guns needs to take place.  And you won’t speed up the process by trying to somehow camouflage what it is you want and should do.

Comment On A Proposal To Regulate Guns.

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Although there are some fringe elements in Gun Nation who claim that their ‘right’ to own a gun is unlimited, usually based on some kind of eternal recognition that self-defense is ordained by God, even the most strident pro-gun voices will admit to some degree of regulation when it comes to owning guns.  And the regulation that is usually proffered as being acceptable to the gun crew is the basic regulation which is in force right now, namely, a NICS-FBI background check that only takes place at the initial point of sale.

2A             The argument that is usually advanced to restrict background checks to initial gun transfers is that imposing secondary background checks on law-abiding gun owners is a slippery-slope that will eventually lead to gun registration, and we all know that registration leads to confiscation, which leads to the Holocaust, which leads to God knows what else.  And it’s pretty difficult to find anyone on the pro-gun side of the argument who won’t tell you that all those people who claim to support the 2nd Amendment but want to expand gun regulations aren’t anything other than wolves in sheep’s clothing looking for some way or another to get rid of all the guns.

If Gun Nation is looking for some kind of ‘proof’ that gun-control advocates are a threat to their beloved 2nd-Amendment rights, they need not look any further than an op-ed which appeared today in The New York Times.  Authored by Professor Lawrence Rosenthal and Abner Mikva, the latter a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, the commentary argues that while the 2nd Amendment precludes the government from preventing private ownership of guns, it does prevent government from enacting more expansive gun-control laws.  Citing the 2008 Heller decision, the writers believe that if citizens can keep guns in their homes, then the phrase ‘well-regulated’ refers to this form of ownership, hence, additional gun-control measures can and should be invoked.

It would be difficult to find fault with this argument if Rosenthal and Mikva made their case based only upon an extension of NICS checks to secondary sales. Their comment in this regard, that the “entire secondary gun market is a vast regulatory void,” is not only true but has become more true as the internet has stretched private gun transactions far beyond the local gun show.  But the argument doesn’t rest there, because Rosenthal-Mikva then swing effortlessly into a discussion linking expanded background checks to universal gun registration, as if coupling the latter to the former  represents no great difference at all. Here’s the way they put it: “A comprehensive system of background checks and registration would not prevent law-abiding people from obtaining guns for purposes of lawful self-defense.”

When all is said and done, one could posit a similar thought for just about any kind of gun regulation which didn’t keep law-abiding individuals from owning guns.  But in gun circles, the word ‘registration’ is so toxic that once you introduce it into any discussion about regulating guns, you are guaranteeing that the discussion will quickly come to an end. And in addition to the political implications of registration, studies on the effectiveness of gun registration as a means to reduce gun violence have basically found the results of registration strategies to be inconclusive because there aren’t enough case studies to prove either the pro or the con.

I’m not opposed to registration because I believe the ‘slippery-slope’ argument has no basis in history or fact, and I’m somewhat old-fashioned because I side with Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said that public policy should be based not on opinions but on facts.  But in that context I wish that Rosenthal and Mikva could have been a little more sensitive to the manner in which the gun violence debate plays itself out. Advocating gun registration as just another, sensible regulation is a little bit like walking into the lion’s den and sticking your head into the lion’s mouth.

We Have A Choice: Get Rid Of Violence Or Get Rid Of Guns.

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I want to follow up the blog I just posted with a comment about the nature of gun violence – what it is and what it isn’t.  And I want to write this as a response to another Big Lie promoted endlessly by Gun Nation, namely, the idea that guns don’t kill people, it’s people who kill people.  And the way that Gun Nation promotes and justifies this Big Lie is to just as endlessly promote the notion that just about everyone who gets killed with a gun is either shot by a maniac, a home-grown terrorist or the favorite shooter-personality of all, the ‘street thug.’

conference-program-pic              It’s the caricature of guns always being used by drug dealers and gang-bangers which shows up again and again in attempts by Gun Nation to spread the gospel of the ‘armed citizen’ as our first line of defense against crime. This started with the discredited nonsense created by Gary Kleck, moved into high gear with the even more-discredited work of John Lott, and has now become the standard talking-points of 2nd-Amendment enamorate like Rubio and Trump.  And frankly, I think it’s time for GVP advocates to stop paying any attention at all to occasional attempts by pro-gun sycophants who pretend they do ‘research’ which justifies the human carnage caused by guns. It’s not science, it’s not honest, it’s nothing more than pure, unadulterated junk.

Want to really understand gun violence?  Read the remarkable commentary by the late Lester Adelson, who was Cuyahoga County Coroner from 1950 until he retired in 1987 at the age of 73.  During his extraordinary career he wrote and published 117 articles, along with a classic textbook, The Pathology of Homicide, which remains a seminal work of forensic medicine up through today. The textbook runs about 1,000 pages so I wouldn’t recommend it for a quick, casual read.  But what you might do is take a look at his 1992 article on gun violence which, to my mind, remains the most brilliant and comprehensive approach to understanding the problem that you will ever read.

I’ll get right to the point of this article by quoting what Adelson has to say: “The most reasonable explanation for the use of firearms in the majority of culpable homicides is that a gun, illegally used, is a coward’s weapon. This is true whether the killing is committed in connection with a family argument, political terrorism, an armed robbery, a drunken quarrel between friends, or a skulking assassination. With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.” The reasoning (based on great experience) behind this statement is very simple, namely, that guns achieve their intended use most easily when the perpetrator and victim come face-to-face. And the implication of this statement, which Adelson details in his textbook, is that gun violence is overwhelmingly an event which takes place between people who know one another and not, as Gun Nation would like us to believe, between a victim and some unknown, anonymous ‘thug’ who accosts his victim in the street.

All of the data on gun violence from the FBI-UCR, NVDRS and the NCVS bears him out.  Homicide data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that upwards of 80% of all murders, including gun murders, occurred between perpetrators and victim who knew each other; this percentage zooms to nearly 100% when the victims are females (who represent 20% of all homicide victims) because those episodes invariably rise out of domestic disputes. For that matter, even though FBI data shows that 15% of all homicides occurred during other felonies (robbery, burglary, etc.,) more than one-third of home ‘invasions’ occurred in homes where the ‘invader’ knew the people living in the home.

We could end gun violence tomorrow by developing magical elixir that would modify the behavior of people who express anger or violence by picking up a gun.  But that’s not going to happen tomorrow or any other time, so why not just get rid of the guns?

The Gun Violence Numbers Continue To Add Up. And Up. And Up.

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Hey folks.  Something really crazy is going on.  I hope I’m wrong but I suspect I’m not.  But if I am, please correct me as quickly as you can.  Okay?  I really mean it.

According to my friends at the Gun Violence Archive, so far in the last 72 hours we have racked up 78 deaths from guns.  So far in 2016 the total gun deaths stands at 1,735.  Overnight there were at least 26 gun homicides, of which 6 were evidently the work of one armed citizen, Jason Dalton, who just drove around Kalamazoo, MI, firing a semi-automatic pistol at whomever happened to come into his sight. That’s more than one killing every hour, which is actually a slightly lower hourly rate than what has been going on since the beginning of the year!

conference-program-picAs Bill Clinton said when he re-nominated Barack Obama in 2012, let’s do the arithmetic.  So far this year we have gone through 51 days plus 9 additional hours on Day 52. This adds up to 1,232 hours since the great ball dropped in Times Square.  Which means that the per-hour gun killing rate is now 1.4.  Which means at this rate we end up with 12,297 homicide deaths by year’s end; let’s add in 1,000 unintentional gun deaths which is probably a decent estimate and then tack on another 22,000 suicides, another reliable estimate, and we wind up with a grand total of more than 35,000 Americans who will be killed by guns in 2016.

There’s only one little problem, and it’s not a problem with my math.  Taken together, January and February are the two lowest murder months of the entire calendar year.  January is actually higher due, of course, to the usual way in which many people celebrate the Holiday Season by getting drunk, getting into a brawl and then, God bless ‘em all, pulling out a gun. But February is the lowest month for all serious crimes because in most parts of the country, it’s just too darn cold.

On the other hand, when we get into the warmer Summer months, what happens in the Winter as regards violent crimes is just a fraction of what takes place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with high-violence cities like Chicago, Detroit and DC racking up twice as many killings in those months as what is usually recorded at the beginning of the year.

This is why I began this blog with a plea for help in the hopes that perhaps the data I am looking at is wrong. But it’s not wrong.  The numbers so far this year reflect what has been happening with gun violence for the last decade, namely, a slow but steady upward climb from 28,685 in 2004 to 32,743 in 2014.  That’s a 14% increase in gun violence during the same years that the pro-gun noise machine has the unmitigated gall to keep telling us that guns are protecting us from violence and crime.  It’s as if the NRA and their media mouthpieces don’t care whether anything they say has even the slightest relationship to reality at all.

Remember this quote from Dickens: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.”  I think these words really describe the gun debate today.  Because if the gun violence numbers so far this year continue and then increase as they surely will during the summer months, we will end 2016 with a body count that will probably crest somewhere above 38,000 or even higher, which takes us back to levels that haven’t been seen since the great crime wave that peaked in 1994.

Is it too much to imagine that yesterday’s shooting in Kalamazoo might provoke folks to consider the possibility that it’s not people who are the problem, it’s the ease with which people can get their hands on guns?  Recall again what Dickens said.

 

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