A New Attempt To Understand Gun Violence. Will It Work?

              Here we go again. Yet another group concerned with gun violence has discovered that they are dealing with a ‘public health’ problem and are putting together a research agenda that will seek to reduce this threat to community safety and health. In this case the researchers,in King County, WA (that’s Seattle and environs) want to analyze “the relationships between victims, witnesses and perpetrators of gun violence the same way an epidemiologist studies the spread of contagious disease,” the goal is “to find ways to intervene in the lives of the most vulnerable individuals….”  

              The research to be conducted follows from earlier research done by the gun-violence scholar group at the University of Washington led by our friends Ali Rowhani-Rahbar and Frederick Rivara, which found that victims of gun violence came back to the hospital with another gun injury much more frequently than people who were admitted for non injury reasons or the overall population at large.  This study covered the entire state in 2006-2007 and clearly established that the victims of gun violence were involved in a culture of violence which kept repeating itself in terms of future violent events.

              The new study will only cover Kings County, but will engage all 40 law-enforcement agencies operating within the county, hopefully leading to results that could be used to develop a comprehensive intervention strategy.

              Before I raise my usual concerns about this approach, let me make it clear that I have always supported the efforts by researchers to develop coherent explanations for the causes of gun violence leading to remedies for same. My problem with so much of the research, in particular research which is based on a public- health perspective, is that the way in which the research plan is developed often seems to be a case of using accessible data to develop a question which needs to be answered, rather than the other way around. 

              Why do 75,000 individuals, overwhelmingly males between the ages of 16 and 35, choose to inflict a serious injury on someone else by using a gun, when probably 1.5 million or more individuals in the same age cohort decide not to use a gun to engage in the same behavior?  After all, if you smash someone’s head in with a baseball bat, you’ll face the same homicide charge that you’ll face if you put a bullet between their ears. And folks, don’t kid yourself into believing that only 75,000 kids and young men who want to beat the s*it out of someone else can get their hands on a gun.  The friggin’ guns are all over the place, particularly in neighborhoods where violent assaults are frequent events.

              If the King County researchers have granular access to the actual criminal and health data on gun violence, I only hope they can gain access to the same kind of data covering the many more violent attacks where guns aren’t used. Because if we are ever going to figure out how to really make a dent in gun violence, it’s not going to happen by telling someone who bought a gun legally to engage in a 4473 transfer when he wants to sell the gun to someone else. It’s also not going to make much of a difference to lock all the guns away because I never heard of anyone getting shot with a gun that was locked in a safe.

              Know why we don’t know much about gun violence? Because the data on the gun violence which accounts for more than 70% of all gun violence happens to be non-fatal assaults, for which the CDC admits its numbers may be off by as much as 30 percent. Hopefully the data being examined in King County will help us figure out why some people commit violence with guns, but many others don’t. I’m still waiting for the answer to that one.


10 thoughts on “A New Attempt To Understand Gun Violence. Will It Work?

  1. Choking in from King County, Wa… short term goals, long term goals… the basis of your point makes perfect sense, and is absolutely on point. However, in this country where gun violence has been stifled by a gun lobby that has run roughshod over its citizens, in its extreme opposition to anything resembling common sense, I’d argue that short term goals are a good place to start. There is real momentum thanks to the parkland students and a somewhat sympathetic house of reps. Why not tackle some short term needs – researching victims is useful in driving some very common sense laws – yeah I’m going to say it – like banning high capacity magazine rifles. We need to build on this momentum. Now.

    • https://youtu.be/ksZqzPWm7VQ (and the following video) show how quick some guy can change magazines. The following one compares different sizes. How small do magazines need to be to overcome people from doing evil with them? Zero may be the correct answer. The time when the weapon cannot be shot is when people can rush the shooter. Limiting magazine size making a real difference sounds like an urban myth unless the shooter is pretty unskilled.

  2. “Common sense” is a non-starter, as it presumes you have common sense and anyone who disagrees has no common sense. So it is a form of ad hominem argument, which we know is a formal fallacy. As far as the NRA? It represents its membership and as Mike has pointed out in the past, it can galvanize its member base because it finds powerful psychological, emotional, and other ways to unite them. The fact that the left has finally figured out a way to do that is good, but it doesn’t mean the NRA’s position does not represent a constituency that deserves a voice.

    Nowhere in this discussion do I hear a middle ground. Are ARs are more dangerous than a break open shotgun to the public? Sure, since they were designed to control the battlefield with supressive firepower rather than shoot a deer or a home intruder. One can therefore make a cogent argument to regulate them at a higher level such as by amending the 1934 NFA. But this ain’t Australia. I don’t think folks will just turn ’em in, at least in the short term, but we can put more national restrictions on ARs and some handguns if we could ever get the red and blue states to find common ground rather than asserting that someone’s political adversary lacks common sense.

    I never thought I would see such a rapid sea change in marriage equality but that has happened. In 1998 I was being cursed out by anti-marriage people. I think the nation will get tired of all these guns around so I would take the long game over more short term infighting. Frankly, there are bigger fish to fry. Climate change will kill more people than guns (indeed, climate change will cause more nations and subnational groups to take up arms) and we need to coalesce around bigger problems than ARs. This gets old and a little odd.

  3. Why do 75,000 individuals, overwhelmingly males between the ages of 16 and 35, choose to inflict a serious injury on someone else by using a gun?

    Bad parenting.

    Ask a social worker or teacher in one of those neighborhoods that suffer high rates of violence, they’ll tell you the same thing I saw in the 80’s and early 90’s. The lucky kid had absentee parents who just ignored him. The unlucky one’s parents were probably hopeless addicts with violent tempers who abused their own kids. In both cases the kids probably found their own way with no role model. More than one young person told me they’d joined a street gang because that’s where they found love. The gang was their family.

    Oh, did I mention that the gang was violent?

    So do all the public health research you want. If you believe that doing something about “the gun” is going to solve the problem you are sadly mistaken. You can go ahead and fool yourself into thinking you’ve made a difference. At best you’re treating a symptom that has not one thing to do with the real problem.

  4. Mandy,
    A lot of countries have vastly higher levels of gun violence than the US.
    Almost all of the US, geographically, has no more gun violence now than places like the Scandi countries gun control advocates want to emulate.
    Demographics… there, I said it.

  5. New Mexico has a state preemption on counties or cities writing their own gun laws, so all counties have exactly the same laws. You have to be a historian to find the last shooting in Los Alamos County. In Albuquerque, you need today’s paper. Its not like Los Alamos doesn’t have guns. There are roughly 1,000 members in the Los Alamos gun club. Total county population about 18k. The difference is sociological, not availability.

    Much of the studies, and I use the term loosely, act as though states and cities are interchangable entities. That’s just wrong. Even in large cities like Chigaco and NYC which have strong gun laws and perhaps similar demographics, the gun violence rate differs dramatically due to city policies (zoning, enforcement, etc).

    Certainly we could eliminate gun violence if we eliminated guns but in a nation with such a strong gun culture and Constitutional protections, we can also look at what drives the minds behind the rear sight and do something about that without assuming we are all black boxes that behave interchangeably.

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