Get Ready For Battle With Your AR But Don’t Forget All Those Extras That Go With The Gun.

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I bought my first AR-15 in 1978 and with a scope and sling the gun ran me about $600 bucks.  Which means that in today’s numbers, that gun should cost me about $1,500 bucks. And right after Sandy Hook, when it looked like a gun bill had a chance of squeaking through Congress and landing on Obama’s desk, prices for black guns did briefly flirt at the $1,500 mark. Then reality set in, everyone who wanted an AR owned an AR or maybe two ARs, the number of ‘new’ shooters coming into the market has never been more than a trickle, and AR prices went back down south.  Last year I bought a mint Colt H-Bar for $700 which a year earlier would have set me back at least thousand bucks.

ar              Had I waited until this year to enlarge my AR arsenal, I could have bought the whole wing-ding now for several hundred dollars less because multiple companies are now selling AR “kits” which, like the old ham radio kits that I bought as a kid for $29.95, enable me to build a complete gun from scratch.  I can also simply buy every single part from different suppliers, which will even save me a few more bucks, and all the instructions for assembling the gun are, of course, available on various internet websites. Or if I don’t want to bother to read anything, I can also watch a video which claims to show me every step that I need to follow to build an AR for less than $500 bucks.

Let me quickly clarify the legal issues involved in building your own gun.  In fact, these AR kits are firearms that need to be purchased through a federally-licensed dealer because they come with a part known as the receiver which contains a specific serial number and is, under law, the part which makes a gun a gun.  Every firearm has a receiver, it’s the part which normally holds the trigger and is the foundation, if you will, for assembling the entire gun.  But if you know someone with some good milling equipment you can make your own receiver, and if you don’t transfer this part to anyone else, then under law you have not actually manufactured a firearm which means you don’t have to register the gun at all.

The reason that you can’t buy a kit to make a Glock or a Sig is because the design and functioning of those guns is protected by trademarks and copyrights, so anyone who attempted to make home-grown parts for a Sig 226 would find himself quickly facing a legal suit.  But the AR consists of what is referred to as ‘mil-spec’ parts, none of which are any more protected by trademark or copyright and all of which are manufactured by hundreds of small machining companies who just make sure that the part they produce is exactly the size required to fit into any AR gun.

So where does this leave the gun industry if anyone can put together their own version of America’s most popular gun at half the price that the same gun commands when it’s sitting on a dealer’s shelf?  Where it leaves the gun industry is in a happy place because the real attraction of the AR is that it can take a multitude of accessories, many of which cost more than the gun itself, are manufactured cheap as hell overseas and, best of all, don’t require any kind of point-of-sale licensing at all.  I just received a Shop Now email from Optics Planet with links to 118 products which I can use to ‘deck out’ my AR.  An Aimpoint red dot scope, front and rear Troy folding battle sights, a Mission First tactical grip and a Blackhawk sling will set me back around $900 (almost twice the price of the gun) or I can go whole hog and slap on a Trijicon ACOG for a thousand bucks.

And what will I do with my battle-ready AR when it’s all decked out?  Stick it in the closet with all my other guns.

 

Take A Look At Some Interesting Public Health Research About Gun Violence.

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               I like it when public health research on gun violence gets in the way of Gun Nation’s continued effort to pretend that the only thing which stands between America and Armageddon is a good guy with a gun.  So I think it’s important now and again to highlight some recent gun violence scholarship, even though by including a handful of important articles I am forced to omit others that are of equal importance to the field.  Feel free to download any of the articles mentioned here.

               Article #1.  “Lethal means access and assessment among suicidal emergency department patients” is a study of more than 1,300 emergency patients across the country who either reported suicide thoughts or actually attempted suicide in the week prior to their ED visit, of whom 11% reported having at least one, if not more than one gun in their home. Of the gun-owning suicidal patients, 22% considered using a gun as their chosen suicidal method, with only medication scoring higher among this group as the preferred way to bring their lives to an end.  Among the emergency population that did not own guns, only 6% reported thoughts about using a gun to end their lives.  Pills have a 5% success rate for suicide, with guns the death rate is 90%. Get it?

               Article #2. “Firearm-related hospitalization and risk for subsequent violent injury, death, or crime perpetration” is a comparison of the frequency of hospitalization for victims of gun violence when compared with the population that is hospitalized for an injury not involving guns.  The study looked at patient outcomes for more than 9,000 violent injuries and 68,000 non-violent injuries, of whom 680 were classified as FRH or firearm-related hospitalizations.  And what was learned from this study, which was the first to look comprehensively at medical histories of patients shot with guns? “Hospitalization for a firearm-related injury is associated with a heightened risk for subsequent violent victimization

or crime perpetration.” Gee, what a surprise.

               Article #3.  “Long-term mortality of patients surviving firearm violence” deals with the degree to which being injured by a gun increases the possibility of early death.  What makes this study significant is that the researchers compared five-year outcomes following hospital discharge of 516 patients who sustained gun wounds, 992 vehicle accident injuries and 695 assaults where no gun was involved. What they found was that five-year, post-discharge mortality rates were significantly higher among gun assault victims and other assault victims as opposed to patients who were injured in accidents involving cars.  But while the 5-year mortality rates for gun and non-gun assaults were similar, a greater proportion of the victims of gun assaults died within one year of their initial hospital release.  Most of these early gun-injury deaths were – you guessed it – gun homicides.  In other words, if someone leaves the hospital after getting shot, they have some unfinished business which usually ends up with them getting shot again.

               Article #4.  “Social networks and the risk of gunshot injury” goes beyond the usual epidemiological data that drives public health research and looks at group behaviors which influence gun violence on a community-wide scale.  For this article the researchers studied two inner-city Boston neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime and utilized data from the Boston PD Field Intelligence Observation unit to construct the social networks linking the population which was most likely to be criminally involved with guns.  What they found was that using standard demographic categories (income, race) to define a population as high-risk for gun violence was not as important as understanding how individuals were situated in social networks where gun violence frequently occurred.

               Four studies, each of which fills important gaps in our knowledge about violence caused by guns. Four studies, which if it were up to Gun Nation would never be funded, would never see the light of day. Four studies, which whether we are talking about suicide, homicide, assault or combinations of all three, remind us again that you don’t protect anyone from anything by walking around with a gun.

                

Want To Know Why People Like Guns? Because Adults Need Toys Too.

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If there’s one thing that gets the noses of Gun Nation out of joint, it’s when I refer to guns as ‘adult toys.’  It generates a mountain of outraged emails every time: “How dare you call the thing I use to protect myself and my family a toy?”  “I’ll bet you’ve never owned a real gun!”  “It’s people like you who want Americans to believe that we don’t need self-defense tools.”  And so forth, and so on.

But the truth is, the gun industry itself has begun to promote its products in the same way, and if you don’t believe me, just take a look at the NSSF website promoting its first Shooting Sports Fantasy Camp, to be held this week in Las Vegas for 30 lucky campers, a joyous, three-day wonderment which happens to be all sold out.  But don’t worry, you can leave your name on the website and you will be notified when future Fantasy Camps take place.

Here’s what you get for the paltry sum of three grand:  a room at the Aliante Casino-Hotel, transportation from the airport to the hotel, meals, a cocktail reception, a goody-bag filled with all kinds of souvenirs, a video of your camp experience and, most of all, 4 shooting sessions and all the 9mm ammunition you need.  I guess campers have to bring their own guns, although maybe not because the Clark County range also rents guns.

Now here’s the real deal.  The campers will be joined by “six of the top pro shooters in the world,” including the husband and wife Miculek team; Julie Golub, who makes those adorable NSSF videos explaining why gun safety is something the whole family needs to understand; KC Eusebio, who represents an ammunition company, and several more award-winning, competitive shooters.  All of the camp instructors come out of the USPSA environment; those are the ‘practical’ shooting folks who run around and blast away at various targets which simulates the how’s and why’s of defending yourself with a gun. Which is, I guess, why the weekend is called a ‘fantasy’ camp.

Incidentally, I don’t know how much things have improved at the Clark County shooting range, but back in 2014 the County Commissioners reluctantly ponied up 30 grand of taxpayer dollars to do a marketing push because the range had lost money every year since it opened in 2009.   The granddaddy of all these shooting camps is Thunder Ranch, which has gone through several changes in ownership due to the fact that, when all is said and done, it’s just not that easy to find a lot of people who are willing to shlep all the way to Oregon to do exactly the same thing that they can do either at a local shooting club or, if they have enough space, in their own backyard.

I got my first toy gun when I was six years old.  It was a plastic replica of the Colt Single Action Army revolver and I spent hours practicing my fast-draw techniques with this gun, and made sure I was always wearing my Roy Rogers ‘official’ cowboy hat along with my leather holster and belt.  The fact that I was standing in front of an apartment building in the middle of New York City didn’t bother me at all.  For that matter, I may have seen John Wayne pulling out his six-shooter in the middle of the Wild West, but in fact he was standing in the middle of a movie lot not far removed from Sunset and Vine.

Know why these folks are going out to the NSSF Fantasy Camp?  Not because they are worried about the 2nd Amendment, not because they are worried about Hillary grabbing their guns, not because they want to make sure that their gun ‘rights’ make them free.  They are going out there because it’s fun.  And what makes it fun?  Exactly what the NSSF says – it’s a fantasy.  And believe me, if it wasn’t a fantasy that some adults enjoy, the gun business would long ago have disappeared.

 

Who Wins When Harvard University Goes Up Against Ruger? Neither One.

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You know the gun business is a serious business when someone writes about it in the Harvard Business Review.  And thanks to my friend Shaun Dakin, I just finished reading an article about the gun business published in the latest issue of HBR whose author, Robert Dolan, is a member of the Harvard Business School faculty.

Actually, the article is basically an update of a business school case study that Dolan published in 2013 which, although Dolan claims makes him someone who has studied the gun industry “in depth from a management perspective,” is actually an analysis of one company, Ruger, whose CEO, Michael Fifer, happens to hold a Harvard MBA degree.

Dolan’s article argues that gun companies should redefine their business practices to go beyond concerns for the bottom line and move from ‘management’ to ‘leadership’ by taking a more active role in making sure that company products are only used in safe and lawful ways.  Rather than just complying with gun laws, Ruger and other companies should take some of their profits and bring ’smart guns’ to market, expand programs that curtail straw sales and more closely monitor gun dealers who let their guns get into the ‘wrong hands.’

Even though Dolan attempts to validate his approach by invoking the legendary Peter Drucker (as if you can publish a Harvard case study without mentioning Drucker) there’s little here that can’t be found in many other calls for more gun industry responsibility, beginning with President Obama and moving on down. The Clinton Administration tried to get the gun industry to adopt all those ideas in 1998, and what they got for their efforts was a boycott of Smith & Wesson and then a law protecting the industry from class-action torts that was signed by George W. Bush in 2005.

To understand how the gun industry views Dolan’s argument for transitioning from management to leadership, you can find a response just below his comment from none other than Larry Keane, who happens to be the Senior Vice President of the NSSF. Keane begins his response by noting that “there is so much wrong in [Dolan’s] piece that it is hard to know where to begin.”  Actually, Dolan’s case study on Ruger contains more errors than his op-ed (including the extraordinary claims that the value of Ruger stock increased by more than ten times between 2008 and 2013), but Keane wants to make sure that everyone understands the basic idea that either you know the truth about the gun business or you don’t; and if you say anything negative about the gun business, you don’t.

Keane argues that policing the gun industry should be done by the police; i.e., law enforcement agencies like the ATF.  It’s a disingenuous argument at best, a wholesale fabrication at worst.  The Tiahart Amendment that severely curtails the ability of law enforcement to track illegal guns was not, as he claims, based on misrepresentation of gun-trace data by GVP advocates; it was nothing more than a successful effort to hamper government’s effort to regulate the gun industry through stricter enforcement of the distribution chain.

On the other hand, Professor Dolan is engaging in his own brand of wishful thinking by assuming that the gun industry is ready, willing or able to regulate itself.  Detroit didn’t begin installing seatbelts until the Federal Government mandated their use; the money spent by the gun industry to lobby against government regulations is a trifle compared to what the tobacco industry spends to stave off more government rules on cigarette sales.  If Dolan wants to write an interesting case study on the gun business, perhaps he should examine how and why the gun business has kept the regulators under control.

The GVP community rightfully takes umbrage at the degree to which the gun business has insulated itself from government mandates or controls, but the industry is just doing what comes naturally – no business owner wants the government to tell him what to do.

Was The Civil War Our Bloodiest Time? Maybe Not As Bloody As Today.

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We usually think of the Civil War as the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history based on the number of men who went off to fight and never returned home.  The definitive book on how this veritable avalanche of death changed American social culture was written by the historian Drew Gilpin Faust, who otherwise spends her days running a little university in Cambridge, Mass.  Her book describes how in just four years, more than 600,000 men perished at a time when the country’s total population (including slaves) was slightly above 31 million.

To put this into perspective, total mortality in World War II was 405,000 out of a national population count of 132 million.  In other words, in the conflict with the second-highest number of casualties, the mortality rate was .003 percent.  The Civil War mortality percentage was .019, almost ten times the casualty rate of World War II.  And in fact, the Civil War numbers may be understated, according to recent scholarly publications, by as much as 25%. Wow!

Given my interest in the medical response to gun violence, I decided to look at the Civil War data in a little more depth.  First, and this is a well-known fact, two-thirds of all Civil War mortality, perhaps even higher on the rebel side, were not from battlefield injuries, but from contagious diseases which spread like veritable wildfire among stationery troops.  The biggest killer was typhus, which continued to decimate armies up through World War I.   Next in line was ‘acute diarrhea,’ followed by dysentery, pneumonia and various types of ‘fevers,’ that were classified as ‘miasmatic’ disease.

All of the above information and much more can be found in a remarkable document, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, a 6,000-page collection that was prepared and published by the United States Surgeon General five years after the war came to an end.  Most of the data was collected from military medical units that were located at or near the battlefields themselves, or ran the military hospitals that sprang up in larger cities, particularly Washington, D.C.  By war’s end there were more than 20,000 beds in military hospitals in and around the nation’s capital, one of which happened to provide a bed for my mother when she gave birth in 1944 to me.

Roughly 90,000 men in the Union army were killed in battle or died from gunshot injuries either during or after they were being treated for their wounds.  The figure has to be used with caution because, in fact, the numbers for troops who lost their lives while fighting did not come from the Surgeon General, but from the Office of Adjutant General, which was responsible for verifying battle deaths in order to figure out pension/survivor benefits during and after the war.

Now check this out.  In fact, physicians and surgeons treated more than 235,000 cases of gunshot wounds over the course of the conflict, of which less than 15% ultimately died.  That would be a pretty impressive case fatality ratio for what was the birth of trauma surgery, except that roughly 70% of all gun wounds were to the extremities, particularly arms and hands, two areas of the body which are not particularly vulnerable to injuries which lead to death.  What this reflected, Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg notwithstanding, was that most battles involved troops who were stationed behind stone walls or in trenches with the torso well out of sight.

If we could construct a case fatality ratio covering contemporary gun violence, I would suspect that current numbers might be worse.  The best we can do is compare fatal to non-fatal gun injuries from the CDC, which shows a ratio of the former to the latter of 16%. Which might mean that guns are much more lethal today than they were in America’s bloodiest war, and by the way, compare an annual average of 22,500 gun deaths during the Civil War to 30,000+ gun deaths today.  Were the years 1861-1865 America’s bloodiest time?  I’m not so sure.

 

 

 

Score A Big ‘W’ For GVP Laws In The Centennial State.

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               Back in 2013 two new gun laws took effect in Colorado which extended background checks to just about all weapons transfers and also banned the purchase of high-capacity gun magazines.  The laws were a response to the Aurora movie theater shooting the previous year that left 12 people dead and 70 injured and earned the shooter, James Holmes, twelve life sentences and an additional 3,318 years.

            The law was immediately attacked by the usual coalition of gun-nut groups; i.e., NRA, 2nd Amendment Sisters, blah, blah and blah, who took to the legal ramparts to defend their precious 2nd Amendment rights.  A concurrent suit was also filed by 55 Colorado sheriffs who claimed that the law was unenforceable and therefore should not be allowed to stand. In 2014 District Court Judge Marcia upheld both laws, stating that neither infringed on the 2nd Amendment or anything else.

            Today the 10th Circuit ruled that the initial finding by the District Court was correct and went further, dismissing the both appeals because the appellants could not prove any ‘standing’ in either case. In order to bring a case of this sort into Federal court, the plaintiffs have to demonstrate that they were harmed by the law which they are challenging, or would face imminent harm.  Without such proof, the plaintiffs don’t have ‘standing’ in the case, or what we might call skin in the game.

            To show you how much the plaintiffs in this case were being damaged by these laws, it’s worth examining their specific claims in each case.  As to the injuries that might be caused by limiting magazine capacities to 15 rounds, the plaintiffs were represented by someone named Elisa Dahlberg who said she owned two 30-round magazines and one 17-round magazine, all of which were grandfathered in under the 2013 law but, according to Ms. Dahlberg, might eventually “wear out” and thus could not be replaced.  But since Ms. Dahlberg did not testify that she was going to purchase a new hi-capacity magazine, nor did she even have any plans as to when she might try to buy a new hi-cap mag, she had not been injured by the law nor did she face the imminent possibility that she might wind up being prosecuted in court.  And that meant she had no standing to bring this case.

            As to the damage from background checks, the plaintiffs produced the secretary of a Colorado chapter of Outdoor Buddies, which happens to be a wonderful organization that helps disabled individuals enjoy the outdoors.  And basically what this guy said was that a disabled individual might want to borrow a gun to go hunting but would encounter difficulties if borrowing the weapon created the need to engage in an immediate background check.  Except that not only does the Colorado background check law include exemptions for temporary loans of guns, but just like Ms. Dahlberg who hadn’t yet decided that she actually was going to need more hi-cap magazines, the Outdoor Buddies had yet to take a disabled person out to the woods who actually needed to borrow a gun.

            What I find interesting in this case is the degree to which the gun-nut community goes hog-wild every time they sniff the slightest threat to their so-called Constitutional ‘rights,’ but when push comes to shove, they can’t show that their rights have been damaged at all. In fact, in this particular case, the plaintiffs couldn’t even find anyone who gave one rat’s damn about exercising their gun rights, at least the gun rights that were allegedly being circumscribed by these draconian laws.

            As to the sheriffs and their defense of the 2nd Amendment, in order to have skin in the game they had to show that carrying out these laws created a ‘credible threat of prosecution’ but in their own testimony the sheriffs admitted that not one of them faced any prosecutorial threats of any kind at all.  Which meant that their legal challenge also got tossed, which means that both Colorado laws remain in full force.

Should We Compare Civilian Gun Violence To Military Gun Violence? You’ll Learn How Violent We Really Are.

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            I was at a hospital conference this morning where the speaker happened to mention that gun violence claimed more American lives since 1968 than were lost in every military engagement fought by U.S. troops since the country began. And while this is a shocking notion – the idea that we are more the victims of our own violence than the violence suffered when our country is at war with other countries – I decided to take a deeper look at those numbers, in particular the gun injury numbers from the Civil War.

            Why look at the Civil War?  For two reasons.  First, in terms of wartime deaths, it was far and away the costliest war of all.  We used to think that the final toll was somewhere over 500,000; that number was recently revised upwards to 750,000, which appears to be closer to the real mark. But this global number hides a significant issue that must be explained when it comes to comparing war deaths to civilian gun violence, namely, that two-thirds of the soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865 were victims not of wounds from warfare, but died from diseases caused by unsanitary conditions on and off the battlefield, and at least another 15% died from other causes not related to battle engagements at all.  In fact, it is estimated that only 20% of all the men who died on both sides during the Civil War actually were killed during the fighting itself.

            According to the Congressional Record Service, and I tend to think their research on all issues is about as valid as any research can be, the total number of battle deaths suffered by U.S. troops since 1775 is 575,000.  This number excludes casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, and also doesn’t count Confederate soldiers who lost their lives between 1861 and 1865.  Throw them into the overall figure and we are still something just beyond 600,000 victims of gun violence in warfare over the entire history of the United States.  According to the CDC, the total number of gun deaths for the civilian population of the United States since 1999 is 497,632.  And everyone thinks that gun violence has claimed more lives than Americans lost in battle if we go back to 1968?  Give me a friggin’ break. How about just go back to 1995?

            I don’t think that comparing civilian gun deaths to overall military fatalities is a valid comparison at all.  For the simple reason that men and women in uniform die from all sorts of causes, natural and otherwise, which may have nothing to do with whether they were victims of hostile fire or not.  Soldiers are not infrequent victims of accidents in training, military suicides may be declining lately but they are certainly not unknown.  As far as we can tell, the great flu pandemic of 1918 probably first infected Western countries from an outbreak in a military base in France. The ratio of all military deaths to combat deaths in all American wars is in the neighborhood of 2:1. The percentage of marines killed in Desert Shield – Deseret Storm, of all the Devil Dogs serving in the Gulf, was one-one hundredth of one percent. Hell, you would have been safer walking around with the 1st Cavalry Division in Wadi Al-Batin than traipsing down Prospect Avenue in the South Bronx.

            Know what?  I’m sick of the 2nd Amendment and I’m sick of all the dopes and dupes who email me nonstop to remind me that the 2nd Amendment gives them the ‘right’ to protect themselves with a gun.  Because the truth is that the number of people who successfully use a gun to protect themselves and everyone else is about as many as the number of troops who lost their lives protecting Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.  Which by no means should be taken as even the slightest rebuke of those who participated in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. But carrying a weapon into battle and carrying a weapon as you walk through Walmart just isn’t the same thing.      

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