Are Safe Guns Finally Here? The President Just Gave Them A Big Push.

The man who still lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has just unveiled his plan to move forward with ‘smart gun’ technology, and while the Devil is always in the details and I’m not sure that all the details have been worked out, some of the hurdles that previously stymied the development of smart guns seem to have been anticipated and overcome.

bomberThe idea of electronically preventing someone other than the qualified owner from using a gun has been floating around for more than twenty years, but a combination of gun industry resistance, the usual bureaucratic inertia and consumer disinterest has kept this stuff on the back shelf. The biggest issue is not whether the technology works per se, but whether a workable ‘smart’ technology can be added to a gun without seriously impacting the retail price. I have heard different numbers from various ‘smart gun’ inventors and entrepreneurs, but all I know is that the one market-ready gun, the Armatix iP1, has a retail tag in excess of $1,600; in other words, fuggedaboutit.

The Obama plan surmounts this problem somewhat by approaching the entire issue from the perspective of developing a new law-enforcement technology and using federal funds both to help develop the product as well as to subsidize police agencies that might then adopt the gun.  The good news is that the civilian gun market is very much influenced by what the cops carry and buy, the bad news is that a subsidized police price doesn’t necessarily translate into an over-the-counter deal that will being gunnies into to my shop.

Leaving that issue aside for the moment, what impresses me most of all about this plan is the decision to create a bone-fide procurement process that reminds me of when the Army junked the Colt 1911 pistol back in the mid-70’s and went to the Beretta M9. First they figured out what they wanted, then they issued an RFP, then they ran a proof test to make sure that submitted guns actually met the design requirements and worked, then they got serious and did the requisite torture tests at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds to validate that the gun wouldn’t fall apart after it was shot thousands of times, dropped into water and sand, in other words replicating what happens to any military weapon that is carried in the field.

From what I can see in the White House report, a similar plan has been developed for smart guns, which will have to get through two test phases before the technology is considered to work. Entry requirements for the competition, however, do not specify what type of gun is permitted, nor the caliber of ammunition. Nor has the NIJ published the pass-fail criteria for the second and much more rigorous test phase.  So this initiative is still focused on testing the technology rather than testing a specific gun that might be adopted by law enforcement agencies. The “baseline requirements” for such a weapon (or weapons) will be determined following the Phase 2 test results.

If a technology exists that will meet the rigorous performance criteria that will no doubt be adopted, I am sure that we will see some product being carried by a few cops on a provisional basis by the end of the year.  But if the purpose of smart guns is to diminish gun accidents caused by an unqualified individual grabbing a gun, the number of such shootings involving law enforcement personnel is a tiny fraction of the accidental civilian shootings that take place every year. Which means that the issue of commercial market penetration must still be addressed.

On the other hand, it was nice to see the NRA’s positive response to this report which I quote: “At a time when we are actively fighting terrorists at home and abroad, this administration would rather focus the military’s efforts on the president’s gun control agenda.”  Now when do you think the NRA wrote that one?

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Don’t Miss This Important Report On Gun Violence.

A serious and substantial report on gun violence and minority communities has just been issued by the Joyce Foundation, the Urban Institute and The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, accompanied by a national survey conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group. Is there any crossover between the fact that Joel Benenson happens to be a leading consultant for Hillary who just happens to have made gun violence a central plank of her Presidential campaign?

conference-program-pic           This effort largely reflects meetings held with more than 100 members of minority communities in Stockton, CA, Milwaukee, WI and Richmond, VA, in an attempt to create a new strategy to deal with gun violence which, as the report points out, is the first and second leading cause of death respectively for Black and Hispanic males, ages 15-34.

Much of the discussions held with community representatives, along with a majority of the report’s content, deals with relations between minority residents and the police.  And this should hardly surprise, given the fact that the types of gun violence examined in this report all happen to be crimes.  Of the report’s four categories of recommendations, only one category – Improve Relations Between Police and Communities of Color – yielded more than two basic recommendations because, as the report says, “police must be viewed as a legitimate authority in the communities they serve.”

The Benenson survey casts some doubt on whether minorities believe that cops riding down their streets represent any legitimacy at all.  Benenson found that a majority of Blacks and a third of Hispanics reported having a ‘negative interaction’ with law enforcement, although there still was overwhelming support for the idea that, on the whole, most cops were professionals with a few ‘rotten apples’ giving police a bad name.

In tandem with its publication was a public event at the National Press Club featuring an analysis of the survey by Joel Benenson, along with a roundtable discussion involving researchers and activists who contributed to the report.  What I found most interesting about this discussion was the conviction on the part of all participants that successful implementation of the recommendations for reducing gun violence would require giving ‘everyone’ a seat at the table whenever new policies or programs would be discussed.

Which got me thinking: How come there was nobody at the National Press Club representing the folks who always have the most to say about gun violence, namely, the folks who represent the sector that is wholly and completely responsible for all gun violence, namely, the folks who make the guns?  Because the truth is there would be no gun violence, not one, single, solitary gun injury if the gun industry hadn’t convinced Congress and the Supreme Court that guns were legal commerce and should be allowed in every home.  And by the way, the Benenson survey discovered once again that even in minority neighborhoods that are racked by gun violence, a majority of residents believe they would be safer if they owned a gun.

Now just wait until the NRA-ILA gets its hands on that one! I can see the headline now: Hillary’s pollster admits that minorities need to own guns. What if this report had been authored, say, by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, funded by the Scaife Foundation which supports every cockamamie right-wing policy idea?  The report would have denied the existence of gun violence, would have chastised minority communities for not keeping their kids under control, would have trotted out Detroit’s Police Chief who believes the most effective way to deal with gun violence is to make sure that every citizen is armed.

I believe there should be a seat at the table for everyone who needs to be present in a discussion about gun violence.  But just understand that several of the chairs won’t be filled no matter how many invitations go out. And I’m still waiting for the report that explains how we are going to deal with that bunch.

 

 

 

Maybe We Need To Understand Gun Ownership From A Scientific Point Of View.

Why do Americans own 300 million guns?  Building a civilian arsenal of that size really is an extraordinary achievement, particularly when you consider that the U.S. counts for roughly 5% of the world’s population but together we own maybe one-third of all civilian small arms in the world, maybe almost half the number of handguns and long guns that exist on the entire planet.

Now if you go to the so-called experts on gun ownership, the NRA and the other gun-marketing organizations, they’ll tell you that guns have ‘always’ been part of American history and that God plus the Founding Fathers gave us the uncontested ‘right’ to protect ourselves with guns.

lunde          Actually, like all good marketing slogans, this one has a bit of truth to it but it’s mostly hyperbole.  In fact, early colonial governments enacted gun-control laws to make sure that the guns which the colonists needed for hunting didn’t wind up in the ‘wrong hands,’ i.e., the Injuns.  And later on, when Roy Rogers and Gene Autry opened up the West, most frontier towns also enacted strong gun-control laws to keep things under control.

But until 1890, when the government announced that the ‘frontier’ was dead and gone, it was presumed that if you lived outside of a city, you needed a gun in order to secure necessary food for the table.  But the problem was that hunters had been so adept at bagging game that many of the animals whose meat had filled American stomachs were no longer to be found.  The white-tail deer were disappearing throughout the East, the bison was just about extinct, the huge flocks of carrier pigeons that had darkened the skies had disappeared, altogether the balance between Man and Beast was definitely tilting towards Man.

Enter Theodore Roosevelt who, by the age of eight and living in a Manhattan townhouse, was already captivated by the idea of studying every animal specie that he could find, and the way you studied an animal was to kill it, then stuff it and preserve it, then put it on view for others to do the same.  This is the opening theme of an important new book by  Darrin Lunde, who happens to be the manager of the Smithsonian’s Division of Mammals, which happens to be one of the largest collections of animal species, a collection that was started largely through the efforts of TR.

Roosevelt happened to grow up at a time when Americans became interested in natural history, largely because the Industrial Revolution was quickly transforming much of the natural landscape along with threatening the animals, fish and plants which comprised the natural environment.  His father, Theodore Sr., founded the American Museum of Natural History in New York; Roosevelt himself became a close friend of America’s first naturalist, John Bird Grinnell; going out into the wild and hunting game in order to learn more about wild animals remained TR’s passion for his entire life.

The attempt to use the hunting experience to understand nature came to full flower for TR between 1883 and 1887 when he lived and hunted extensively on his cattle ranch, the Elkhorn, located in the North Dakota Badlands, now part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Lunde chronicles the growing awareness on the part of Roosevelt that many of the big game animals he hunted were quickly disappearing; this awareness led to the founding of Boone & Crockett, the push for hunting regulations and the development of our national parks.

Roosevelt’s passions were hunting and guns.  But behind these two passions, and this is where Lunde’s book really stands out, was an awareness on the part of our 26th President that hunting needed to serve the interests of science, that guns were a means to advance our knowledge and appreciation of natural things.

The GVP community is uncomfortable with the notion of guns as self-defense ‘tools’ and rightly so.  But maybe a more balanced message about gun ownership could be developed by reminding Gun Nation why Teddy Roosevelt loved his guns.

Pennsylvania Was A Good Deal For Hillary And A Good Deal For GVP.

As a yellow-dog Democrat who also happens to be a gun nut, I view every election through the prism of how the gun issue will impact the vote, as well as how the vote will impact guns. Which is why I have been waiting with great anticipation for the Pennsylvania primary, because the Keystone State in many respects is a perfect mirror for projecting how the gun issue may play out come November 8.

hillary           First, Pennsylvania is a ‘swing’ state; i.e., you don’t win it, the path to the White House gets pretty tough.  Second, the state has mucho pro-gun and anti-gun constituencies; the former living in the vast, rural swatch between Philly at one end of the state and Steel City at the other, the latter controlling the political balance of power in those two big towns. And let’s not forget that it was in Pennsylvania that our sitting President almost lost his primary campaign in 2008 because of his obsession with all those Quaker ‘clingers’ who couldn’t detach themselves from their religion or their guns.

So here we are back in Pennsylvania eight years later and this time it’s Hillary who’s getting in the face of gun owners with a promise to make guns a “voting issue” which are fighting words to the NRA.  And she’s going further than just putting herself squarely in favor of more gun control, she’s also stated explicitly in a Town Hall event the day before the primary that she wants politicians punished who follow the NRA.

This is the same Presidential candidate, by the way, who tried to position herself as a pro-gun gal when the Bomber made his ‘clinging’ statement back in 2008.  She sent letters out to rural voters wistfully recalling going on hunting trips with Dad; she backed off from a previous commitment to register handguns nationwide; she was all gun-warm and gun-cuddly in an effort to pull in Democratic votes from smaller towns.

So in a final and probably successful effort to knock Bernie out of the box, Hillary is also setting up a November confrontation with “I love the 2nd-Amendment” Donald Shlump, she’s also getting ready to turn the general election into a referendum about guns.  Which is why I couldn’t wait to see what would happen in Pennsylvania yesterday, and what happened from a GVP perspective, was a very good result.

It goes without saying that Hills won the big cities – Philly, Pittsburgh, Erie and Allentown, the latter interesting because it’s in the middle of the Lehigh Valley which has seen better days economically except that was so long ago that nobody remembers those better days. I thought the ‘left behind’ areas were prime markets for Sanders, but I n this case I was wrong.

But I was wrong about something else as well, namely, that Hillary was even competitive in some of the most gun-rich parts of the state. She won York County, for example, won it only by a couple of points, but won it nonetheless.  And York County probably has more guns than people, at least judging from the crowds that roll through the York gun show every three months.

On the dumb side, Donald Shlump won York County handily, rolling up more votes than the other two putzes combined.  But before anyone believes that Hillary is making herself vulnerable to the NRA noise machine because of her new-tough stance, the total dumb vote in all of Pennsylvania was 1,573,338, the blue vote was 1,652,863.

Now all I’ve been hearing this primary season is how the Shlump has brought all kinds of disaffected Democrats out to vote red for the first time and in some states this may have been true. But it wasn’t true yesterday in Pennsylvania, and Hillary didn’t hurt herself at all with her non-compromising statements about guns. Pennsylvania was good news for Hillary and good news for the GVP.  Come November, it may turn out that loving the 2nd Amendment won’t count for much at all.

A Remarkable GVP Event Is Being Planned And Everyone Should Come!

The very first time I drove into Boston, probably 1994 or 1995, I came towards the center of the city on the Mass. Pike and as I passed the newly-completed Prudential Center on my left, the light towers of Fenway Park loomed to my right. As I drove towards Fenway I was expecting to see the back of the Green Monster but, all of a sudden what I really saw was the huge billboard with pictures of kids who had been victims of gun violence, along with a caption that read: “15 Kids Killed Every day.”

concert           This remarkable public statement about gun violence, which decorated Fenway Park from 1993 until 2015 (there were actually a series of different, eye-popping murals,) was the handiwork of a Boston resident, John Rosenthal, who makes a nice living developing real estate and, by the way, he’s no Donald Shlump.  He’s an activist in gun violence, environmentalism, homelessness; in other words, he puts his money where it will really do some good.

His latest bright GVP idea is a national Concert Across America to End Gun Violence which will take place on September 25.  The concert will actually be a series of concerts taking place around the country on the same day, but the Boston event will be the anchor for the whole shebang, which is why we need to get out there, shout out there, and make it work.

I know a little bit about gun violence and about trying to prevent gun violence because I have been involved with guns, one way or another, since 1965.  And if I have learned one thing about gun violence prevention over the last fifty years, it hasn’t been an easy sell.  And the basic reason that GVP sometimes has difficulty reaching out to a wider audience is that one of our two major political parties – I’ll let you figure out which one – has decided that 110,000+ gun deaths and injuries each year is a small price to pay for unfettered and unquestioned access to guns.

Think about this for a second.  We had a big argument over whether to mandate seatbelts but nobody would dare stand up in Congress or run for President proclaiming that seat belts were a risk to health!  Yet every single Republican who entered a Presidential primary this year declared, indeed demanded that 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ be left alone.  As if there is such a thing as a 2nd-Amendment ‘right.’ What sheer, unadulterated crap.

But the problem with the GVP community is they really are committed to an honest exchange of ideas.  So not only are they up against liars, panderers and promoters on the other side, their messages calling for safety and restraint are easily and continuously drowned out.

Which is why Rosenthal’s billboard was so different– talk about being in your face.  And now (to paraphrase Arnold) he’s ba-ack with a new GVP venture that should be a home run, because there’s nothing that gets people going, gets them talking, gets them moving like a great, big musical event and, in this case, a whole country full of musical events.

The concert is already sponsored by nearly 50 organizations from sea to shining sea, you can help organize an event if you like, be in the audience at a concert, or just tune in through one of many social media venues that will carry the activities on that special day.  The website is up, artists are committing, the whole thing is moving forward and you should be involved.  This could be another Woodstock and don’t underestimate the impact of that one event on the culture of the times.

Sign up on the website, spread the word, make your organization a sponsor, tune up your old guitar.  In 2007 Congress designated September 25 as a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims and let’s not forget that two-thirds of all those victims are killed each year with guns. Get it?

 

 

 

Is Gun Violence Going Up Or Going Down? A New Technology Gives Us One Answer.

If you want to fix something, the first thing you have to do is figure out what you are trying to fix. So if you are a GVP activist or supporter, obviously you want to do something about gun violence.  But how do you define ‘gun violence?’  Does it mean when someone uses a gun to hurt someone else?  Does it mean when someone uses a gun to hurt themselves?  How about when the gun was used intentionally?  Or unintentionally?

And even if you decide that ‘gun violence’ includes all those categories, the 110,000+ or so physical injuries that happen each year when the trigger of a gun is pulled may only be the tip of the iceberg.  And it’s a very large iceberg, believe me. To begin, we only count victims by the number of people who end up with a bullet in their bodies.  What about the people who witness the assault? Numerous studies support the idea that witnesses to shootings are often severely traumatized, particularly when these witnesses happen to be kids.  What about people who are threatened with a gun but luckily are able to walk away without getting shot?  This happens many more times each year than the few times that guns are used for self defense.

The problem in trying to figure out the real size of the iceberg is compounded because Gun Nation decided years ago that there’s no iceberg at all.  In fact, the truth is that guns have nothing to do with violence because it’s the people stupid, not the gun.  The gun-nut lobby is so committed to disconnecting the word ‘gun’ from the word ‘violence’ that many of them refer to guns as ‘tools,’ which has got to be about the stupidest, most pandering and meaningless description of any consumer product that has ever been produced anywhere, any time.

But let’s get back to the serious side of the issue which has been raised in an article just published by the Washington Post. The article describes a technology, ShotSpotter, which is now operating in more than 60 locations around the U.S., and basically is used by police departments to figure out how and when to deploy resources in response to spikes of violence measured by the number of guns that go off in the areas where the technology is deployed.

Guess what?  According to the data generated by ShotSpotter, gun violence went down from 2014 to 2015,  The ShotSpotter website contains a very interesting report which compares data from 2014 to 2015 in the 46 cities that deployed the technology both years. And with the exception of cities in the Midwest like Chicago and St. Louis, reports of gunfire are way down in the East and West, and even slightly lower in the South.

My only issue with the report’s methodology is that it generates gunshot rates by comparing the number of gunshots to the geographic area in which the technology is deployed, whereas gun injury rates developed both by the FBI and the CDC compare injury numbers to an area’s population. At this point that we can’t really tell whether the measurement of gun violence by ShotSpotter can really be compared to the usual way that we measure gun violence, namely, by the number of bodies that end up in ER, Trauma, or the morgue. On the other hand, we have to assume that outside of shooting ranges or hunting areas, anywhere that a gun goes off, gun injuries won’t be far behind.

I happen to think that ShotSpotter technology is an effective response to gun violence for the simple reason that the data collected by a ShotSpotter device, if nothing else, tells us where guns are can be found. And despite what Gun Nation would like to believe, it’s the gun, not the person, which causes 31,000+ gun deaths every year. How we find and (yes) grab those guns remains to be figured out.  But ShotSpotter is a good first step.

Think That Suicide Isn’t Gun Violence? Think Again.

The bad news is that suicides overall are up, the good news is that gun suicides as a percentage of all suicides is down. Well, kinda down.  Fifteen years ago, the CDC counted 29,199 suicides of all types across America; the per-100K rate was 10.48.  In 2014, the overall number was 42,773; the rate had climbed 23 percent to 12.93.  Ouch!  That’s not good.  Gun suicides, on the other hand, claimed 16,599 lives in 1999 for a 100-K rate of 5.96; in 2014 gun suicides were 21,334 resulting in a 100-K rate of 6.34.  So the gun suicide rate only increased by 6 percent.  I guess Gun Nation is doing something right, right?

Actually, wrong. Want the latest and greatest from Gun Nation about suicide and guns?  Take a look at the new, online safety program developed by the NSSF.  It’s a glossy website that gives a roadmap for ‘responsible’ gun ownership based on safe storage, training, communication and all the other things that you should do to be a ‘responsible gun owner.’  The website includes a nice list of safe storage options ‘to fit your lifestyle and home circumstances,’ ranging from a trigger lock to a full-size gun safe, all of which should be used to ‘prevent accidents.’

But what if you don’t want to lock the gun away because you might need to use it to shoot a You-Know-Who breaking down the front door?  After all, isn’t concealed or open carry also a lifestyle?  You betcha, considering that for the last twenty years the gun industry and its media sycophants have been promoting how much safer you’ll be if you own a gun.

But will you be safer?  To my utter astonishment, the NSSF’s safety brochure actually contains a statement about gun risk which is true: “Keeping a firearm to defend your family makes no sense if that same firearm puts family members or visitors to your home at risk.”  What kind of risk? The risk that is never mentioned by the NSSF or anyone else who promotes gun ownership, namely, risk that someone might end their own life with a gun. The NSSF gets about as close to this untouchable issue as they can by noting that gun safety is particularly necessary if “loved ones experience a difficult time.”  Well, at least Gun Nation has found a pleasant euphemism for depression; i.e., a ‘difficult time.’

But let’s drop the euphemism and look at reality: “States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide and overall suicide.  This relationship held for both genders and all age groups.  It remained true after accounting for poverty, urbanization and unemployment.” The link between gun ownership and suicide is particularly evident among teens, according to researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and the fastest-growing age-group prone to suicides are teens. Since 2007, the overall rate of gun suicide has increased by 12%, the gun suicide rate among teens is up by 42%.

Why is Gun Nation so reluctant to mention the word suicide when they talk about gun safety?  Because it’s an unbroken rule among the gun-nut fraternity/sorority that the only people whose lives are lost from the misuse of guns are law-abiding citizens who didn’t use a gun to defend themselves against the You-Know-Who’s.  Think I’m overstating things?  Just listen to Wayne-o or home-school queen Dana Loesch repeat this nonsense in the videos they produce for the NRA.

Don’t think that suicide isn’t gun violence?  Think again.  Here’s how violence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary: “Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Notice it doesn’t say ‘someone else,’ because that’s a crime called aggravated assault.

Violence means damage and there’s nothing out there that can damage someone as effectively or quickly as a gun, particularly when you don’t even have to aim.  As far as I’m concerned, at least when it comes to suicide, maybe the GVP community should just drop the ‘V.’

 

 

Even If Hillary Uses The Gun Issue Against Bernie, Will It Work Against Cruz Or Trump?

Ever since Hillary broke Bill’s taboo on making guns a campaign issue, I began to fantasize about the possibility that, for the first time of all time, guns might become a major issue in a Presidential election.  In other words, what might be in the offing for November would be a national plebiscite about guns.

But then a strange thing happened, because all of a sudden Hillary wasn’t waiting for the general election to push her gun agenda against red blowhards like Cruz or Trump; in fact, she was using the gun issue to shore up her path to the Democratic nomination itself.  And the reason she was doing this was that every time there was a mass shooting, she could remind Democratic voters that her opponent from Vermont voted for the 2005 law that gave gun makers immunity from wrongful-death suits.  In fairness to Bernie, it should be pointed out that he also voted against the invasion of Iraq whereas Hillary followed the herd and voted the other way.  Okay, so even if maybe she tried to steal the White House silverware, she’s not exactly Caesar’s wife.

hillary            Today there is a great article in The Trace that examines in detail how the Clinton campaign is using the gun issue to round up more delegate votes. Turns out that she’s hired a consulting firm that specializes in identifying different demographic groups that might respond to a particular campaign message crafted either from the Left or the Right. And it further turns out that, based on their model of where gun owners tend to live, that Hillary’s strong gun-control stance will apparently resonate in areas of upcoming primary states which will deliver a majority of the delegates that she needs in order to wrap things up before the big deal in Philadelphia on July 25th.

Of course, as Dan Friedman points out, the same Hillary Clinton who is taking such a courageous stance on gun control in 2016 was the self-same Hillary Clinton who exhibited a much more compassionate and reassuring stance towards gun owners after the Bomber uttered his infamous ‘clinging’ comment about guns and religion back in 2008.  To counteract Barack’s strength among urban voters leading up to the Pennsylvania primary, Hillary tried to shore up the rural vote by backing off a previous stand that favored a national handgun registry; she also helped push the ‘more human’ Hillary image with stories about hunting with Dad.

If Hillary’s campaign managers had wanted to save themselves lots of money this time around, they didn’t have to hire a fancy-schmancy consulting firm to tell them where Democratic voters live who would be receptive to her new-found concern about guns.  All they needed to do was look at a map that broke down the 2012 election returns on a county-by-county basis and the counties that are colored the darkest blue are where most of the gun-control populations tend to live.

And where are these counties located?  In the larger, urban areas with large minority communities where Hillary tends to do well.  And since urban counties usually have much larger populations than the less-populated rural areas where support for Hillary often fades, a strong message about gun violence could net her more delegates than Bernie even if the popular vote remains fairly split.  New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey – five states with large, urban populations coming up.  These states alone award over 1,200 delegates and if Clinton can grab the bulk of the highly-populated county delegates by pushing a gun-control agenda, who would argue with that?

But the real issue is looking past July to see whether the gun issue can be sustained in a general election against one of the hare-brained red jerks.  Because when it comes to guns, Hillary might have the cities, but gun control certainly isn’t a winner in rural areas and may not be an advantage in the suburbs.  And guess what?  A majority of Americans live in the burbs.

Should Doctors Treat Gun Violence? A Program At The Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia Shows You How.

I don’t know how Philadelphia came to be known as the City of Brotherly Love, but I can tell you that the name doesn’t apply to certain sections of the city.  I’m thinking, for example, of the neighborhood known as North Philadelphia/West, which is actually walking distance from the Museum of Art steps that Rocky Balboa climbed back in 1976.  And I’m wondering whether a modern-day Rocky could run down 24th Street today without getting mugged, or robbed, or worse. Because the crime numbers, particularly robberies, assaults and homicides, just don’t seem to be possible except they really are.

For the last 30 days, this neighborhood of slightly less than 60,000 residents reported 60 violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, assault), along with 188 serious property crimes (auto, burglary, theft.)  If this crime rate continues, and it will probably go up as the weather gets warmer, North Philly-West will be running an annual violent crime rate of 100 per 100,000, with a homicide rate alone of 20 – the national homicide rate is under 4.

And by the way, don’t think for one minute that North Philly-West is all that bad.  In fact, when it comes to violent crime rates, there are 13 Philadelphia neighborhoods that are worse. Fairhill, which is just a hop, skip and jump away from North Philly, may end the year with a homicide rate of 160!  That’s simply not possible.  But you know what?  There were two murders over the last 30 days in this neighborhood of 16,000 people, four homicides already this year. As Bill Clinton said in his 2012 speech re-nominating Barack Obama: “Do the arithmetic.”

So Philadelphia has a murder problem, which means it has a shooting problem, which means it has a problem with kids.  Because I don’t care whether we are talking about North Philly, Chicago Heights, East St. Louis or Timbuctoo, when it comes to violence, this problem first shows up in kids, particularly early-teen boys.  By the ages of 12-13 they have guns, by the ages of 15-16, they are using them in the streets, by the ages of 20-21 they are on their way to either going to jail for homicide or going to the morgue.

Which means that effective interventions have to involve behavior modification and getting rid of the guns.  Now let me stop right here and say that I’m not interested in any discussion about 2nd Amendment crap, okay?  Enough is enough with all this nonsense about how any attempt to regulate guns deprives law-abiding Americans of their God-given rights to defend themselves or whatever else God allegedly gives them the right to do. We figured out how to prevent the spread of Ebola, it shouldn’t take rocket science to figure out how to stop the spread of violence committed with guns.

And one place it is being figured out is at CHOP, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a remarkable medical facility that has been pioneering pediatric medicine since its founding in 1855.  In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the hospital developed a program specifically aimed at curbing gun violence among pre-adults in an effort to reduce what had become nearly 1,000 juvenile shooting victims every year.  The program, called Violence Prevention Initiative (VIP), has screened more than 108,000 juveniles who come into the ER with symptoms and histories that might make them at risk for violence.  A small number of these kids are then closely monitored and kids also receive anti-violence lessons in school.

And here’s something to bear in mind.  Asking teenagers about reasons why they are violent often involves discussions about very personal things.  And many young people are reluctant or resistant to have such discussions with cops, or teachers, or even their friends. But the one place that everyone feels secure enough to say anything they want is behind a closed door sitting across from that kindly man or woman who wears a white coat. Which is why doctors always need to be involved in dealing with the violence caused by guns.

Are Guns Pathogens? Yes. They Cause A Disease Called Gun Violence.

            You may recall that last year eight national medical organizations plus the American Bar Association issued a manifesto calling for medical professionals to become more involved in the debate about gun violence. Actually there wouldn’t be any reason for physicians to justify or explain their professional responsibility to counsel patients on gun violence if it weren’t for red-meat politicians at the state and federal level who gin up political support from Tea Party elements by pretending that guns aren’t a risk to health.

 docs versus glocks           Of course we all know that guns don’t kill people, right? Know how many gun homicides and suicides were recorded by the CDC in 2014?  32,743.  Know how many homicide-suicide deaths occurred with every other type of device?  26,354. Nah, guns aren’t lethal, people are lethal. And if you really agree with Wayne-o and all the other gun promoters on that one, please don’t waste your time sending me a snarky tweet or a nasty blog.  Go lay brick.

            When the Florida gun-crazies passed the physician gag law I was actually somewhat pleased in a perverse kind of way.  Because the truth is that prior to Docs v. Glocks, medicine had allowed itself to get sidelined on the gun issue through a combination of inadvertence, lack of specific counseling guidelines and the refusal of the federal government to fund gun-violence research through the CDC.  And even though medical academies like the AAP had issued pronouncements about gun violence over the years, stating a concern about a medical problem is one thing, doing something about it is something else.

            But last year’s manifesto by the 8 medical organizations marked a turning of the tide, and a recent editorial in the Boston Globe demonstrates that the medical community is moving back into the center of the gun debate where it happens to belong.  The editorial, “Doctors should talk to patients about guns,” is a no-holds barred declaration by the newspaper’s editors that doctors need to go beyond voluntary screening for gun risk and incorporate such questions into their everyday contact with patients.  The editorial recommends the development of clinical guidelines that would not only give guidance for what kinds of questions should be asked, but would “lay the groundwork for breakthrough research on the effect of gun ownership and the roots of gun violence.” In this regard, doctors in Massachusetts have a willing and forceful ally in State Attorney General Maura Healey, who has offered the resources of her office to help develop and implement treatment guidelines as well.

            The Globe editorial was acknowledged several days later in a Letter to the Editor from two prominent Massachusetts pediatricians, Judith and Sean Palfrey, the former a past-President of the AAP, the latter a leader in the campaign to rid lead from environments in which children live and play. What makes this letter so important is the following statement: “Guns, and the bullets they shoot, are deadly pathogens….” 

            Like it or not, that statement happens to be the truth.  The evidence to bolster that statement has been published again, and again, and again.  And I believe that as physicians get more involved in counseling their patients about guns, their approach should be governed by this one fact above all: guns are pathogens.  And a pathogen is something which causes a disease.  And 120,000 violent deaths and injuries each year is a disease.  Period.  Let’s cut the nonsense, okay?

            By the way, calling a gun a pathogen has nothing to do with 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  I happen to be carrying around 30 pounds of excess weight.  And when I see my beloved internist he would be remiss if he didn’t tell me to cut out some of those carbs that I love to eat.  But it’s my choice if I want to keep eating more than I should.  And it’s his responsibility to remind me of how what I choose to eat might affect my health.  Think it’s different with guns?  Think again.