Are Guns Getting Safer? Don’t Believe What You Hear.

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Once again the gun industry is patting itself on the back for something it didn’t do, namely, reducing accidental deaths and injuries caused by guns. Hey – wait a minute! It’s not the gun which causes the injury, it’s the person using the gun. Remember that one? The NRA will remind you of it every chance they get no matter whether we are talking about a gun which went off accidentally, or on purpose, or on whatever, it’s always the person, not the gun.

nsf              Which is why the gun industry continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth on this one – congratulating itself every time that statistics allegedly show a decline in gun accidents but rejecting any and all efforts to mandate gun safety either through the development of safe-gun technologies or passage of child access prevention (CAP) laws to keep guns out of the hands of kids.

Why do I say that the statistics ‘allegedly’ show a decline in gun accidents?  After all, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) didn’t dream up the latest information on gun safety all by itself.  Their press release is based on the latest report from the National Safety Council (NSC) which says that gun accidents declined 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, the same year that gun sales hit an all-time high.

The NSC’s information comes from the CDC, whose website shows a drop in accidental gun deaths from 586 in 2014 to 489 the following year. Of course the numbers for accidental, non-fatal gun accidents only show a 5% drop from 2013 to 2014, but like unintentional gun mortality, this number has also steadily dwindled down.

Incidentally, although the NSSF couldn’t wait to rush forward and take responsibility for the good news from the NSC, in fact the Council isn’t so enamored of the gun industry’s safety record.  Take a look at the NSC’s Statement on Firearms Policy which actually claims that more than 1,400 deaths occur annually because of gun accidents. The NSC goes on to say, “The absence of a reliable system for collecting and analyzing such accident data makes extremely difficult any meaningful evaluation of the effectiveness of accident prevention programs.”  Know why we don’t have any ‘reliable system’ for understanding the true extent of gun injuries?  Because the gun industry has steadfastly rejected any and all attempts to reinstate CDC funding for gun research, remember?

But when it comes to gun injuries, there’s a much bigger problem than just whether we can get good data, and this is a problem which neither side in the gun debate seems to understand. Because the fact is that unless one breaks down gun injuries not by the number of injuries, or by the age, race, sex or location of the victim (the current categories utilized by the CDC,) but by the type of gun that caused the injury, you really can’t tell much about the issue of gun accidents at all. You might find bits and pieces of such information in the data collected by the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) but it’s sporadic and highly fragmentary at best.

Why do we need to know what kind of gun caused the accident?  Because most long gun accidents occur during hunting (e.g., Dick Cheney) but handgun accidents rarely have anything to do with walking in the woods. And if we don’t know the ratio of handgun to long gun accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, then we understand very little about guns, gun use or gun safety at all.

The NSSF is absolutely correct when they use the NSC report to champion the idea that hunting is one of the ‘safest’ outdoor activities around. There’s only one little problem. We don’t hunt as frequently as we used to hunt and most new guns now being added to the civilian arsenal are handguns, and may account for the lion’s share of ‘accidental’ shootings each year. Isn’t it time the gun industry took the NSC at its word and did something meaningful about safety and guns?

Two New Books On Cops And Guns.

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I have reviewed Chris Hayes’ new book, A Colony In A Nation, here and there, and I think it’s a good read.  It also takes a look at ghetto policing that is seriously incomplete.  And what makes it incomplete is the final chapter where Hayes promotes an idea for more effective (and less brutal) ghetto policing based on his experiences as a Brown University student in interactions with the campus police.  This approach is a rather silly way to discuss a very difficult problem and I suspect that the chapter was tacked onto the book because the editor said, ‘Chris, you gotta’ say something about what needs to be done,’ but it would have better be left unsaid.

hayes             If you want to read  a serious discussion about how to fix  ghetto policing, I suggest you read Franklin Zimring’s new book, When Police Kill, which I also previously reviewed, But I focused that review on the first half of Zimring’s book, which explores the data on cop killings, as well as the data on how many cops get killed.  And one of the important issues discussed by Zimring is the degree to which cops get shot while on the job.  If you think the differential between civilian gun homicides in the U.S. versus other advanced countries is very wide (on the order of 6 to 200 percent) you ought to look at the difference between the number of cops shot in assaults in the U.S. as compared to everywhere else. Countries like Great Britain and Germany will go multiple years without a single cop being killed at all, whereas nearly 300 on-duty police are killed in the U.S. each year and 90% of these assaults involve the use of guns.

Hayes is aware of this problem, and he notes that “the threat of the sudden bullet extends to every single aspect of policing.” [p. 103.] But police who patrol the Brown University campus really don’t have to worry about whether the students they confront will be armed, whereas in the inner-city, the reality is that guns abound.  And while this doesn’t mean that every cop riding through Harlem, Watts or Roxbury should believe that he’s in the middle of the OK Corral, the element of uncertainty and fear on the part of police because there are so many guns needs to be factored into any discussion about policing and race.

And that is exactly what the second half of Franklin Zimring’s book is about, namely, a serious and fact-filled discussion about preventing and controlling police killings, which seem to have lately spiraled out of control.  The first issue is a question of data – you can’t fix what you don’t know. And Zimring gives us chapter and verse on how poor, inconsistent and often contradictory the data happens to be.  Along with the lack of good data, the response of cops to being attacked is frequently far beyond the use of force necessary to repel that specific attack.  Take a look at the data covering 2015 (pp. 61-62) and note that in nearly half of the fatal shootings committed by cops, the victim didn’t have a gun at all. Finally, it turns out that there is no solid reporting of police shootings where the victim didn’t die.  So how can we understand the scope of police violence and the reaction of the community to that violence if we don’t even know how often or where it occurs?

Zimring concludes the second half of the book by discussing what he calls “precision in reporting and measurement, and the willingness to invest resources in evaluating new strategies of disarming the dangerous,” and he presents concrete steps for doing both. He believes, and backs up his beliefs with hard data, that such strategies could reduce cop killings  by roughly 90% within a decade’s time.

We now have two books out there that look at the issue of police violence from different points of view.  My recommendation is that you read both.

Want To Understand Gun Violence? Get Down To The Street.

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I have been saying for a long time that looking at gun-violence numbers at the state or even the county and city level doesn’t really tell us much about gun violence and certainly doesn’t give us much of a roadmap for figuring out what to do about gun violence. This is because while anyone in America is ‘free’ to live wherever they want to live, the truth is that our residential neighborhoods tend to be very segregated by race and by income even down to the square-block level, or what the U.S. Census refers to as a ‘tract.’

tract             Now a tract, according to the Census, is actually an area which holds somewhere between 2,500 and 8,000 people which is roughly 900 to 3,000 households per tract.  Census tracts often cross town or city borders and the space they cover tends to reflect the degree to which residents in that particular tract share basic social and civic amenities such as schools, shopping and parks or open space.

Given the granularity of mapping tracts, using this information to identify levels of gun violence opens up all kinds of new perspectives that otherwise would remain lost from analysis and view. For example, this year the national gun violence rate (computed by taking the number of gun homicides and dividing per 100,000 persons) will end up somewhere between 3 and 4.  The city of Springfield, MA, will have a gun-violence rate of 11 or 12, but a neighborhood like Indian Orchard (which covers two census tracts) may not have a single gun homicide at all.

And this is an important distinction, knowing the difference between city gun-violence rates and tract gun-violence rates, because people tend to live and stay around their own neighborhoods, and thus the quality of life in their neighborhood is a much different issue than the quality of life in the city as a whole.  It also happens to be the case, according to the BJS, that most homicides take place in, in front of or down the street from the victim’s home. So, for example, if you live in Census tract 67000 of Springfield, there were 5 murders committed in that neighborhood in 2015, which gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 61(!), but if you walk a half-mile into the adjacent census tract of Longmeadow, that place hasn’t had a homicide in years. Obviously, the strategies we might develop to reduce gun violence in Springfield would have no relevance to Longmeadow even though the two tracts lie side by side.

Using census tracts to better understand gun violence has produced a remarkable collaboration between our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) and the folks who write about gun violence issues for The Guardian, whose work in this area is really superb.  What the Guardian has done is to take the 13,039 instances (actually victims) of gun violence found by the GVA for 2015 and plotted each one against the census tract in which it occurred.  And guess what? It turns out that more than one-fourth of all gun homicides took place in census tracts containing 1.5% of the total population living in the United States.

That’s an extraordinary concentration of violence in what totals a fairly small amount of space. But even more interesting is the fact that the homicide rate in all the tracts where homicides occurred was 32.9.  In other words, where gun violence actually takes place the result is a gun homicide rate which is ten times higher than the national gun violence rate as a whole.

What this tells us is that yes, we have a national gun violence problem if only because thousands of Americans are gunned down every year. But while the problem is national in scope and size, it is local in terms of where it actually occurs. Thank you GVA for giving us this data, thank you Guardian for giving this data a new and important look.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Training To Carry A Gun.

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Jennifer Mascia has just republished an article which should be required reading for everyone who’s interested in reducing gun violence.  This is valuable research because she has figured out how many states allow people to carry a gun who have not taken any training at all.  And don’t forget to notice the picture that goes with the story showing some dopey kid in Utah sitting in a gun class with his finger right on the trigger of his Sig 226.

torso             It turns out, according to our intrepid Trace reporter, that 26 states have no live-fire training or live-fire certification of any kind.  In other words, you can walk into a gun shop and buy a gun, walk out with the gun in your pocket to protect yourself from all those street thugs, having never actually fired that gun, or any gun for that matter.  And Gun-nut Nation has the absolute, unmitigated gall to reject mandated gun training while, at the same time promoting the idea that ‘armed citizens’ protect us from crime. Oh well, we have a President who says with a straight face that cutting 40 million people off of medical insurance will make us healthier all around, so why shouldn’t the NRA tell just as big a lie when it comes to talking about guns?

What I found interesting about Jennifer Mascia’s story, however, was not the fact that more than half the states don’t require any kind of training before someone can ‘strap on’ a gun. Rather, it’s the idea that the states which do require training are, in fact, mandating anything that could even remotely be considered responsible or serious training at all.  Because if anyone actually thinks that the 24 states which do require some form of training before issuing a CCW license have instituted some kind of system that will prepare someone, anyone, to use a gun properly for self-defense, think again.

Know how long the ‘average’ gun fight lasts?  About three seconds, and by the way, the target is usually moving during that brief span of time.  Know how many shots are fired during such an encounter?  Two, or maybe at best, three. Now when was the last time you or anyone you know went to a shooting range and tried hitting a target that was ten feet away with two or three rounds?  And let’s not forget that the three seconds you have to complete this exercise also includes the time you need to yank out the gun.

Our friend Jennifer quotes a gun trainer in Kentucky who claims that his state is going about CCW training the right way. And in his case, what this means is a class which is mostly book-learning and QandA, but also includes a live-fire qualification at a private range.  The qualification consists of firing at a torso target placed seven yards away, and the student has to hit the target 11 out of 20 times.

Forgetting for a moment whether hitting the target means putting a hole anywhere on the torso, note that the shooter can take as long as he/she likes, there’s no timing requirement at all.  And the target, of course, is stationery, which means that neither the person doing the shooting or the ‘person’ getting shot is simulating anything that might be considered a real-life event. And this exercise is believed by an experienced gun trainer to be an effective way to determine whether someone should be able to walk around with a gun.

I’m not suggesting in any way that Jennifer Mascia’s piece is either misleading or wrong, and she gets kudos for pointing out just how easy it is in most places to get a concealed-carry permit and walk around with a gun. But the idea that anyone with a CCW has actually developed the skills necessary to use that gun to defend us against all those street thugs is some kind of sick joke. But such jokes now abound in the Age of Trump.

 

 

Don’t Forget: Owning A Gun Protects Your Freedom To Sell A Poster Like This.

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poster2One of our good friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community put a pic of this poster on her Facebook page and said it was for sale at the Trump rally in Nashville. I have no doubt that this was true. Over the course of the campaign, Trump’s rallies, particularly in Southern states, were more like Klan rallies than anything having to do with electing the next President of the United States – the only difference being that Hillary was White, not Black. But this didn’t stop Trump or some of his mouthpieces (ex. Rudy Giuliani) from appealing to the lowest, common social denominator they could find. And what’s lower than someone who tries to make a buck out of pretending that you can craft an effective political message by putting someone’s face behind a target that will be used to sight in a gun?

The strategy of using crosshairs to ‘target’ political opponents wasn’t started by Trump.  In fact, it appeared on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page when she was raising money for her PAC which she actually believed would keep her politically alive. And along with the graphic which has targets superimposed over various states were her usual dopey comments designed to make the connection between her politics and Gun-nut Nation even more real, comments like “this is just the first salvo” or “we’ll aim for these races,” the usual, know-nothing verbal crap.

Palin’s attempt to combine fundraising with allusions to going into political campaigns ‘loaded’ for action turned out to be one, sick attempt at political communication when, several months after she posted this screed, Jared Loughner took her seriously and gunned down Rep. Gabby Giffords who had been identified as a ‘target’ on Palin’s map. Of course leave it to the liberals to defend Palin on the basis of free speech; after all, Loughner was just typical of the basic problem which creates 120,000 gun deaths and injuries each year, namely, that every once in a while a gun gets into the hands of some nut.

Now the fact that a gun gets into the hands of some nut because maybe, just maybe we have too many guns lying around – oh well, that’s the price we have to pay to be ‘free.’  And what’s more important when it comes to defending our freedoms than my ability to walk into a gun shop, tell the guy behind the counter that I’m a law-abiding citizen and walk out with a gun? Please don’t give me all that nonsense about how we need to ‘balance’ out our God-given freedoms with concerns for the rising rates of gun violence in cities like Dallas, Memphis and San Jose.  The answer’s very simple, lock ‘em up and throw away the key.

I wasn’t at that Trump rally in Nashville earlier this week but I guarantee you that at some point during his rambling remarks no doubt #45 got a big cheer out of the crowd by telling them that despite an attempt by a couple of federal judges to make the country unsafe, his administration would ‘crack down’ on the criminal element and put them, along with Hillary, behind bars.

But why waste previous federal dollars on locking up ol’ Hills? Why not just gun her down and, if necessary, take out a few of those ‘illegals’ as well? Our new, tough President won’t let anyone prevent me from carrying around my AR with a magazine that holds 30, 40 or 50 rounds. Then I’ll be armed and ready when the Commander in Chief tells me to go out and help keep America free.

I really believe that the dopes who buy into such nonsense are the same dopes who also believe that the government still delivers food to the Martians who landed at Area 51. And no doubt one or two will read this column and tell me that I better watch out. Maybe Betsy DeVos can figure out how to better educate their kids.

 

Do Armed Citizens Protect Us From Crime? The Cops Don’t Think So.

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If you want to check out one of the truly great internet marketing scams, take a look at the website of the Concealed Carry Association of America, an outfit started by a guy named Tim Schmidt who developed something called ‘tribal marketing’ which entices people to join (and spend money) on websites promoting the idea that membership is a very special kind of thing.  And what’s more special than believing you’re fulfilling God’s work by walking around armed? Tim’s CCAA website gets a membership ‘retention’ rate three times’ longer than the average membership website, and the longer the members hang around, the more they’ll spend.

tombstone              And believe me, there’s plenty to buy, including books, videos, clothing, gifts and novelty items, and all sorts of other stuff. Next month you can go down to Fort Worth and enjoy a fun-filled three days at the annual CCAA trade show, which includes a live-fire range where you can bang away with real guns and a guest appearance by none other than the prancing master, Colion Noir.

When I say that CCAA is a ‘scam,’ it’s not because you don’t get anything for your membership fee.  To the contrary, you get a slick magazine, a pretty decent personal liability insurance policy, a newsletter and, of course, a nice decal to stick on the window of your car. But no matter what CCAA gives you for joining, the real reason it’s a scam is because there’s simply no truth (as in none) that walking around with a gun makes you safe.  I didn’t say that you might be a little safer; I didn’t say there was a chance that carrying a gun made you safe, I said there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that you will be safe or safer if you carry a gun.

I know, I know, examples abound about all these armed citizens who pulled out a gun and chased the bad guy away. There’s only one little problem; all these armed citizens who engaged in what we call defense gun use (DGU) don’t really exist. Gun-nut Nation still cites Gary Kleck’s 1993 survey conducted which pegged yearly DGU’s at maybe 2 million and maybe more.  Funny, but the same folks who promote this survey never seem to mention the study Kleck published in 2004 where he couldn’t find any difference in outcomes for resisting crime by crime victims who didn’t use guns.

If you want to attempt a serious and honest look at whether guns keep us all that safe, I suggest you take a look at the article just published by Julie Mack, who interviewed law enforcement officials in Michigan’s 15 most populated counties asking them whether they knew of any DGUs in their jurisdictions, and “most officials could not cite a single incident in their jurisdiction within the past 12 months.” Now this doesn’t mean that the cops are necessarily opposed to concealed carry (CCW); in fact Detroit’s chief, James Craig, is an outspoken and ardent supporter both of CCW and of Donald Trump. But being in favor of CCW  and knowing that an armed citizen prevented a crime just aren’t the same.

Undaunted by their inability to actually validate the ‘widespread’ occurrence of DGUs, Gun-nut Nation has fallen back on the notion that the increase in CCW licenses, estimated at roughly 14 million nationwide, has been a significant factor in the continued decline of violent crime. Once again, the research shows that this rationale for spreading the gospel of concealed-carry simply isn’t true.

Want to play cowboy, walk around with a gun and pretend you’re in Dodge City, you go right ahead. But Dodge City experienced, at best, two murders each year and Dodge City banned guns in the 1870s, a law that was strictly enforced by lawmen like Wyatt Earp. I don’t know a single man, including myself, who didn’t have a Roy Rogers revolver when he was a kid. But I grew up and some of my Gun-nut friends might think of growing up too.

The War On Drugs Didn’t Work, So Why Should We Expect It To Work With Guns?

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Back in 1963 I got a summer job in a Kentucky shingle mill and reported to the foreman of my shift, a redneck named Slim.  And Slim assigned me to go around the plant helping out ‘that boy sittin’ over there.’ It turned out that the ‘boy’ was a Black man named Gladys Turner who was sixty years old.  We became good friends, at one point I even bought a Browning Hi-Power pistol from Gladys, and we used to joke about how the Whites in the factory referred to him as a ‘boy.’

jail             That was my first but certainly not my last experience regarding the issue of race and, in particular, the assumptions made by most Whites that Blacks were somehow not even with them.  I’m not talking about legal equality; the Civil Rights bill was passed just a year after Gladys and I drove around the shingle factory picking up trash. I’m talking about something less objective but more powerful, namely, the culture of racial beliefs.

Which is why I finally got around to reading Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which is an argument about how the War on Drugs has resulted in the mass incarceration of Blacks. Once they are in the penal system as prisoners, parolees or ex-cons, Blacks become a sub-caste denied de facto all the basic socio-economic amenities (employment, affordable housing, voting rights, etc.) that are basic for all.

Professor Alexander argues that over the thirty-year period beginning in the early 1970’s, the American incarcerated population increased from 300,000 to 2 million, that these convicts were disproportionately Black young men, and that most of them were in jail because of convictions related to drugs. In addition to the number of Black prisoners behind bars, there are another 5 million who are marginalized politically and economically because they are on parole or under some kind of supervision in lieu of being behind bars. For Professor Alexander, this is what creates what she refers to as the ‘new Jim Crow,’ because convictions and jail sentences for drug offenses among Blacks is seven times higher than convictions and sentences for Whites – even though there are little racial differences in the number of people who use or sell illegal drugs.

Now why would I write about this book when I usually write about guns? Because it’s when you get to the end of the book where the author discusses advocacy strategies for dealing with the new Jim Crow that what she says could equally apply to the strategies adopted by advocates who are fighting to reduce the violence caused by guns.

On pages 225 et. seq., Professor Alexander raises a difficult and challenging question, namely, why is the issue of mass incarceration largely absent from the discussions and priorities of the organizations that continue to push for civil rights? And while part of the answer, she believes, is that many civil rights organizations are more comfortable engaging in strategies based on challenging laws that deny equal status or opportunity based on race, she also claims that there is a generalized reluctance of the established civil rights coalition to demand legal protections for individuals who, because they have been convicted of a drug offense, are considered by the average person to be a criminal, regardless of their race.

The gun violence prevention (GVP) community faces the same problem, when all is said and done. Because of the 120,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries suffered each year, at least 75,000 of these events also happen to be crimes. And like it or not, every time GVP advocates propose any kind of gun regulations, the other side immediately jumps up and yells, ‘We’re law-abiding gun owners. Want to end gun violence? Lock up all the thugs!’

Alexander’s book makes a convincing case that there’s really no connection between the size of the incarcerated population and the incidence of drug crime. Shouldn’t we say the same thing about Trump and Sessions’ plan to ‘get tough’ on gun  crimes?

 

 

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