Mass Shootings and Anti-Depressants. Is There A Link?

From Ammo.com.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a mass murder occurs when at least four people are murdered, not including the shooter, over a relatively short period of time during a single incident. Over the last 30 years, the United States has seen a significant increase in mass shootings, which are becoming more frequent and more deadly.

Seemingly every time a mass shooting occurs, whether it’s at a synagogue in Pittsburgh or a nightclub in Orlando, the anti-gun media and politicians have a knee-jerk response – they blame the tragedy solely on the tool used, namely firearms, and focus all of their proposed “solutions” on more laws, ignoring that the murderer already broke numerous laws when they committed their atrocity.

Facts matter when addressing such an emotionally charged topic, and more gun controllegislation has shown that law-abiding Americans who own guns are not the problem. Consider the following: The more gun control laws that are passed, the more mass murders have occurred.

Whether or not this is correlation or causation is debatable. What is not debatable is that this sick phenomenon of mass murderers targeting “gun-free zones,” where they know civilian carry isn’t available to law-abiding Americans, is happening. According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, 97.8 percent of public shootings occur in “gun-free zones” – and “gun-free zones” are the epitome of the core philosophical tenant of gun control, that laws are all the defense one needs against violence.

Therefore, when the media and politicians focus their ire on guns, specifically what types of guns are used, such as AR-styles, carbines, semi-automatics, and “high capacity” handguns, in the wake of such tragedies the American public are being intentionally drawn into an emotionally charged debate about legal gun ownership (irrespective of whether the murderer’s gun was legally or illegally obtained). This debate leads them away from the elephant in the room and one of the real issues behind mass shootings – mental health and prescription drugs.

Ignoring what’s going on in the heads of these psychopaths not only allows mass shootings to continue, it leads to misguided gun control laws that violate the Second Amendment and negate the rights of law-abiding U.S. citizens. As Jeff Snyder put it in The Washington Times:

“But to ban guns because criminals use them is to tell the innocent and law-abiding that their rights and liberties depend not on their own conduct, but on the conduct of the guilty and the lawless, and that the law will permit them to have only such rights and liberties as the lawless will allow.”

Violence, especially random violence, is a complex manifestation of various thoughts, feelings, and external factors. When a multivariate analysis of these factors is conducted, it becomes apparent that it’s not just mental health issues that are leading to such an increase. There may be an underlying substance which plays a role in a high percentage of these violent acts – the use of prescription antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

At first glance, it makes sense that those involved in mass shootings may be taking antidepressants, as they’re clearly suffering from some sort of mental health issue. But the issue with SSRIs runs much deeper than just a random mental health break. These drugs are a prescription for violent crimes, and that’s a story the anti-gun media and politicians don’t want to talk about.Table of Contents

History of Antidepressant Use in the U.S.

Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs & Mass Shootings

To understand the rise in antidepressant use, one must first understand depression. Everyone, no matter how great their life, has periods of sadness, times when they feel down or low. This is especially true when faced with hardships or going through things like a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a parent.

This is not clinical depression. Clinical depression is a serious mental disorder that impacts how a person functions on a daily basis. Depression makes it hard to get out of bed. It makes it hard to go to work. It makes it hard to take a shower or answer the phone. It stops a person from functioning on the basic levels.

Understanding Depression

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM-5, to be considered clinically depressed, a patient must experience five of the following symptoms most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks. What’s more, these symptoms must be so severe, they interfere with normal functioning:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling “empty”
  • Feeling guilty
  • Irritable
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Slow talking and moving
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Abnormal sleep patterns, whether sleeping too much or not enough
  • Abnormal weight changes, either eating too much or having no appetite
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression is a serious, and sometimes life-threatening, illness. But in the modern world, it’s highly over-diagnosed. A study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics looked at 5,639 patients in the U.S. who were diagnosed with depression by their clinician and compared their symptoms to the DSM criteria for clinical depression. Of these patients, only 38.4 percent met the criteria, even though the majority of the 5,639 patients were prescribed depression medication.

Today, with the way antidepressants are prescribed, nearly one in four Americans will meet the criteria to be diagnosed with depression within their lifetime, and will be prescribed medications that interfere with how their brain functions.

The Rise of Antidepressants

In the 1950s, the first generation of antidepressants hit the market. The introductory class of antidepressants to gain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval were monoamine oxidase inhibitors, known as MAOIs. Although highly effective, MAOIs can cause extremely high blood pressure when paired with certain foods or medications, and therefore require diet restrictions. Because of these restrictions, they’re rarely used today to treat depression except in cases where other treatments fail.

By the late 1950s, a new class of antidepressants became available – tricyclic antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants are also highly effective for treating depression, but are prone to side effects. Even so, this class of antidepressants remained the go-to depression treatment for years. Other drugs were tested for depression treatment, but they hadn’t proved more effective than tricyclic and MAOI antidepressants, especially for severe depression.

Fast forward to the 1980s. America’s tranquilizer dependence was becoming problematic. Quaaludes were heavily over-prescribed for anxiety, resulting in overdose deaths, as well as an increase in deaths from vehicle accidents. The Feds stepped in and in 1984, classified Quaaludes as a Schedule 1 drug, making them illegal to sell, buy, and use.

Valium, a benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety, was also extremely popular, and was the most prescribed medication in the U.S. from 1969 through 1982. In 1978, the year the medication peaked, more than 2.3 billion pills were sold in the U.S. But Valium was highly addictive and it was believed that a serotonergic medication was a better option to fill the void that was left when Quaaludes were outlawed.

In 1987, Prozac, the first SSRI, was released for depression. Along with it came the idea that depression could be the underlying cause of anxiety. The idea took off, as did the sales of Prozac, and within a few years, it overtook the antidepressant market. Soon, other SSRIs followed.

Along with these SSRIs came direct-to-consumer advertising, which became legal in 1985. By the mid-1990s, the FDA regulations became looser and direct-to-consumer ads exploded into the market. Prozac and other medications showed Americans through glossy advertisements that unhappiness, stress, and anxiety could be treated with a pill.

Instead of doctors recommending a specific medication, patients started coming in, requesting a medication they saw in a magazine or on television.

SSRI sales skyrocketed.

By 2010, 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 were prescribed an antidepressant, making it the third most prescribed medication, topped only by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen. When looked at over time, there has been a 400-percent increase in antidepressant use from 1988 through 2008.

SSRIs 101: What You Should Know

Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs & Mass Shootings

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of drugs commonly referred to as SSRIs, are the most prescribed antidepressant in the United States. These second-generation antidepressants are marketed to doctors and patients as safe and effective, with relatively minimal side effects. SSRIs are designated to treat mild to moderate depression, as well as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and bulimia nervosa.

How do SSRIs work?

SSRIs work to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. A neurotransmitter that helps neurons communicate, serotonin is associated with many different body functions, but is best known for its influence on mood. Sometimes called “the happy chemical,” serotonin plays a role in a person’s happiness and general feelings of wellbeing.

Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, although the relationship is not clear. Research has not determined if the low neurotransmitter level causes depression or if depression causes the level of serotonin to drop. It should also be noted that a large amount of serotonin, up to 90 percent, is produced in the gut and may be influenced by what a person eats and drinks.

SSRI medication does exactly what its name says. When two neurons communicate, one releases neurotransmitters, which causes the other neuron to react in a certain way. Because this is constantly going on, these chemicals are always present in the brain. To keep the brain’s chemical balance correct, neurons regulate the amount of neurotransmitters released by a process called reuptake, which involves the reabsorption of the chemical by a neuron.

For instance, if there’s a high level of serotonin, the neuron knows to release less through reuptake, keeping the level balanced. If levels of the neurotransmitter are low, reuptake tells the neurons to release more.

SSRIs inhibit the reuptake of serotonin, causing neurons to release more of the neurotransmitter, therefore increasing the amount of the chemical found in the brain.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a variety of SSRIs, including:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil and Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Vilazodone (Viibryd)

When it comes to effectiveness, SSRIs don’t appear to have an influence on those with moderate to severe depression, with virtually no improvementseen when comparing SSRI use to placebos. Instead of a popular drug with a high efficiency, modern SSRIs have become popular based on an effective marketing campaign and little more.

Too Much of a Good Thing: Serotonin Syndrome

Sometimes serotonin levels become too high, causing Serotonin Syndrome. A potentially life-threatening disease, it occurs when serotonin levels in the brain increase to a toxic level, often caused by too much medication or taking two serotonin-increasing medications that use different mechanisms to increase the neurotransmitter.

Along with physical symptoms of excessive nerve activity, such as dilated pupils, elevated heart rate, and high blood pressure, those with the syndrome may also experience:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Disorientation
  • Excitement

The Connection Between SSRIs and Violence

Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs & Mass Shootings

Regardless if depression is overdiagnosed and America has a habit of over-prescribing mind-altering medications, there’s little doubt that SSRIs have a risk of increasing violence in patients, even in patients who have no previous history of violence or aggression before taking the medication.

This risk of violent behavior, both to the individual taking the medication and those around them, is so significant, it has led to the FDA mandating a black box warning on all SSRI medications. These black box warnings are designed to provide information and draw attention to the fact that the medication has serious and life-threatening risks.

As of 2004, all antidepressants in the U.S. are labeled:

“Anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, aggressiveness, impulsivity, akathisia, hypomania, and mania have been reported in adult and pediatric patients being treated with antidepressants for major depressive disorder as well as for indications, both psychiatric and nonpsychiatric.”

SSRIs Can Increase the Risk of Suicide

In one study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, patients suffering from depression, but free of serious suicidal ideation, were given fluoxetine. Within two to seven weeks of starting the medication, six patients developed an intense, preoccupation with violent suicide. Although all were immediately taken off the medication, this preoccupation persisted from three days to three months, depending on the case. In all six cases, the patient had never experienced such a severe level of depression or troubled state of mind before or with other psychotropic prescriptions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Surveillance for Violent Deaths, in 2013, 35.3 percent of those who committed suicide tested positive for antidepressants at the time of their death.

The risk of SSRIs and suicide is most prevalent in patients under the age of 25. It’s also more likely to occur shortly after starting the medication, after a dosage increase, or after a patient stops taking the medication.

SSRIs Can Increase the Risk of Violence Against Others

Some of the side effects caused by SSRIs can increase the risk of violence against others. Perhaps the most risky, emotional blunting (or detachment) has been linked to SSRI use and many people who’ve taken the drugs report “not feeling” or “not caring” about anything. There’s also been an established causal relationship between SSRI use and psychosis and hallucinations, both of which are known to increase the risk of violence in individuals.

According to a review of the FDA’s database, 484 drugs were identified as triggers to serious adverse events significant enough to warrant a case study during the five-year period from 2004 through 2009. Of these 484 medications, 31 were identified to have a “disproportionate” association with violence. These 31 drugs make up 78.8 percent of all cases of violence toward others in the FDA’s database and included multiple psychotropic medications:

  • 11 antidepressants
  • 6 hypnotic/sedatives
  • 3 ADHD medications
  • 1 smoking cessation drug

Researchers concluded that violence against others was a “genuine and serious adverse drug event” and that of the 484 medications, the drugs that were most consistently and strongly associated with violence were the smoking cessation medication, varenicline (Chantix), and SSRIs.

The list includes five SSRI antidepressants:

  • Fluoxetine: Prozac increased aggressive behavior 10.9 times
  • Paroxetine: Paxil increased violent behavior 10.3 times
  • Fluvoxamine: Luvox increased violent behavior 8.4 times
  • Venlafaxine: Effexor increased violent behavior 8.3 times
  • Desvenlafaxine: Pristiq increased violent behavior 7.9 times

While a surprise to the American public, this shouldn’t have been a surprise to the drug companies. During the clinical trials for paroxetine, hostility, which was the term to include homicidal idealization and aggression, presented in 60 of the 9,219 participants (.65 percent). Hostile acts were documented both while taking the medication and after tapering off. Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) taking the medication were the most at risk for becoming hostile, with a 17-times higher probability than the rest of those in the clinical study.

In a Swedish study published in PLoS, researchers looked at information on over 850,000 patients prescribed SSRIs in the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register, which is a national database of all dispensed medications. They then compared the violent crimes committed during a three-year period and compared it to violent crimes committed by the same individuals when not taking the medications. When age was taken into effect, a significant association was apparent between violent crime convictions and SSRI use in patients between the ages of 15 and 24.

In one 2001 case, Cory Baadsgaard, a 16-year-old who attended Wahluke High School in Washington, was first prescribed Paxil, which caused hallucinations, and then was switched to Effexor. He started at a 40 mg dosage that, over the course of three weeks, increased to 300 mg. On the first day of that high dose, he woke with a headache and returned to bed. He then got up, took a rifle to his high school, and held 23 classmates hostage.

Baadsgaard’s testimony claims he has no recollection of the event, or of his principal convincing him to put the gun down and release the hostages.

In 2002, the BBC aired the documentary Panorama, which focused on paroxetine. The producers received 1,374 emails from viewers, the majority of whom told stories of violence or self-harm while taking the medication, particularly when starting and when increasing the dosage.

What’s more, in 2009, after investigating the connection between SSRIs and violence, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare revised the label warnings on these drugs to read: “There are cases where we cannot rule out a causal relationship [of hostility, anxiety, and sudden acts of violence] with the medication.”

Connection Between SSRI and Murder

Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs & Mass Shootings

In most cases, the vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness are nonviolent. Even those who self-harm are highly unlikely to hurt others. In fact, these individuals are more likely to become victims of violent crimes than the general public.

Yet after each mass shooting tragedy, the media fills with psychiatrists who say that the individual didn’t seek the help they needed and that with the proper treatment, the tragedy may have been prevented. But research doesn’t support that philosophy.

In fact, depression in particular doesn’t lead to violence, yet since the increase in SSRI antidepressants being widely prescribed, the rise in mass shootings has increased right along with it. And evidence shows that many mass shooters were either taking or had recently taken SSRIs.

Here are just some examples:

  • 1989: Joseph T. Wesbecker walked into his former employer Standard Gravure Corp and shot 20 workers, killing nine. He had been taking Prozac for a month. This shooting led to a landmark case, where the survivors sued the makers of Prozac, Eli Lilly. Wesbecker used a semiautomatic Chinese AK-47-style firearm, a 9mm pistol, and a .38 Special snubnose revolver – all of which he purchased legally, passing his background check.
  • 1995: Jarred Viktor was 15 when he was prescribed Paxil. Ten days after starting it, Viktor stabbed his grandmother 61 times.
  • 1996: At 18, Kurt Danysh murdered his father just 17 days after being prescribed Prozac by his family doctor, who failed to do even one psychological test. During his police confession, Danysh told police the medication made him feel odd, “I just act differently. I don’t have the energy or personality I used to. I spend half the time in a trance.”
  • 1997: Luke Woodham stabbed his mother, then traveled to Pearl High School, where he was enrolled, using a .30-30 to shoot two students and wound six others; he was stopped by his assistant principal (aka a good guy with a gun) who used his own .45 ACP handgun to force Woodham’s surrender.
  • 1998: 15-year-old Kip Kinkel shot both of his parents, then carried a 9mm handgun, .22 rifle, and a .22 pistol to his Thurston High School, where he murdered two classmates and injured 22 more, all while taking Prozac.
  • 1999: Eric Harris, 17, with Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students, one teacher, himself, and wounded 23 others during the Columbine school shooting; he had been prescribed Zoloft and then Luvox before he used a 12 gauge shotgun received through a straw purchaser and a 9mm TEC-DC9.
  • 2001: Christopher Pittman, a 12-year-old, was prescribed Zoloft, which caused him to become agitated, jittery, and experience tactile hallucinations; Pittman told psychiatrist Dr. Lanette Atkins that he heard voices telling him, “Kill, kill, do it, do it.” He took a .410 shotgun and shot his grandparents, then burned their house down.
  • 2001: Andrea Yates drowned all five of her children. She was taking Effexor and was suffering from delusions about satanic possession. The murder of her children led Effexor to list homicidal thoughts in the medication’s side effects. Although it’s a rare side effect, manifesting in one in 1,000 patients, over 19 million prescriptions were written and filled in 2005. That’s an estimated 19,000 people suffering from homicidal thoughts because of the medication.
  • 2005: 16-year-old Jeff Weise was taking 60 mg/day of Prozac, the highest dosage for adults, when he shot his grandfather, his grandfather’s girlfriend, murdered 10 students at Red Lake, Minnesota, and wounded 12 more, before shooting himself. He was armed with a .40 caliberpistol, .22 pistol, and a 12 gauge shotgun.
  • 2008: Steven Kazmierczak was prescribed Prozac, Xanax, and Ambien, a sleeping medication, three weeks before walking into Northern Illinois University, killing six people and wounding 21, with three pistols (one chambered in 9mm and two in .380 ACP) and a shotgun. Kazmierczak had stopped taking the antidepressant “because it made him feel like a zombie.”
  • 2009: Two weeks after starting Lexapro, Robert Stewart walked into his estranged wife’s work at Pinelake Health and Rehab, and opened fire. He killed eight elderly patients and wounded three others. He doesn’t remember the incident.
  • 2012: James Holmes, also known as the Batman Movie killer, was taking sertraline when he walked into the showing of The Dark Knight with two .40 caliber pistols, an AR-style .223 rifle, and a 12 gauge shotgun, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. In his personal notebook, which he sent to his psychiatrist the same day as the shooting, shows that as the medication decreased his anxiety, he lost his fear of consequences. As the dosage became higher, his thoughts became more obsessive and psychotic.
  • 2013: At the time of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Aaron Alexis was a civilian contractor working at the yard and was prescribed trazodone, a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) that works much like an SSRI to increase serotonin levels in the brain. He killed 12 people and injured eight others.
  • 2014: Ivan Lopez was a 34-year-old U.S. soldier who shot 15 of his comrades, killing three of them, at his base in Fort Hood, Texas. He was undergoing mental health treatment through the Veterans’ Administration, which is known for over-prescribing medication. The VA confirmed that Lopez was taking antidepressants (the VA only uses SSRI antidepressants) during the time of the shooting and his subsequent suicide.
  • 2015: From the moment it occurred, the Charleston Church shooting has been deemed an act of white supremacy, a race crime against blacks. But two years after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people and injured another, the court released documents that show it was more mental health than hatred that led to the murders. The documents confirmed he was taking antidepressants.
  • 2016: Arcan Cetin, who was just 20 years old, walked into the Cascade Mall where he shot and killed four women, one just a teen, and shot one man, who later died at the hospital. Records show that Cetin was under the care of a psychiatrist and taking medication for depression and ADHD, including Prozac.

The list goes on and on. And with the implication of patient privacy laws, getting information on the medication and mental health diagnoses of people has become harder and harder, even with mounting evidence that there’s a connection between SSRI use and violence.

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act commonly referred to as HIPAA, was set in place. HIPAA represents the U.S.’s first attempt at national regulations for the use and disclosure of a person’s personal health information, or PHI. HIPAA makes it more difficult for medical personnel to release information regarding a person’s medical care, diagnosis, and prescription drugs, including those involved with mental health related crimes.

For example, in the 2008 Virginia Tech shooting, perpetrator Seung Hui Cho had multiple interactions with the mental health department on campus, some for suicidal ideation, but yet his parents nor authorities were never notified. University officials stated privacy laws restricted them from sharing the information.

Beyond the necessity for communication prior to these horrific shootings, after the incident, the person’s records are often protected. Even in situations where the perpetrator dies during the shooting, HIPAA protects their records for 50 years.

Because of this, the American public doesn’t know what kind of medications these people were taking and if it may have had an affect on their actions. Just looking at public shootings over the last five years, there’s a huge list of murderers who were likely on SSRIs. Here are a few:

  • Zephen Xaver and the SunTrust Bank shooting
  • Ian David Long and the Thousand Oaks Nightclub shooting
  • Travis Reinking and the Waffle House shooting
  • Nikolas Cruz and the Parkland, Florida school shooting
  • Devin Patrick Kelley and the Texas church shooting

The Push for Stronger Mental Health Legislation

Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs & Mass Shootings

With the media’s coverage of mass shootings, more and more legislation arises limiting the rights of those with mental health issues. While no one wants firearms in the hands of the mentally ill, the lack of clear language surrounding mental illness, and the limitations caused by government red tape, make knee-jerk mental health legislation dangerous and lay a path for more government control.

In general, people with mental illness are rarely violent to other people. Many mental health experts and advocates agree that policies that focus on the violence of mental illness make scapegoats of the individuals, who are likely to never act violently against another person.

What’s more, according to the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study (MVRAS), substance abuse was significantly more responsible for violence committed by discharged psychiatric patients than their mental health. Those patients who didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol showed no higher risk for violence than the others in their communities without mental health issues.

Laws are being created that don’t focus on the research, but on the fear of guns, thinking that stricter gun laws will keep people safer.

Red flag laws are the newest gun legislation making their way through Congress. Considered a “protective order,” red flag laws will allow a family member or law officer to petition a temporary seize on someone’s firearms if they’re deemed a threat. What a “threat” consists of isn’t clearly defined.

There’s also a push for universal background checks on all gun sales, even those sold between private individuals, and the FixNICS campaign. The philosophy behind FixNICS is that the background check system can only be as strong as the records it contains. And it’s currently missing a lot, especially when it comes to mental health issues and domestic violence.

For instance, documentation of an individual diagnosed as “mental defective,” having been involuntarily committed to a mental health setting, or having engaged in domestic abuse disqualifies that person from purchasing or owning a firearm. When this information is present in the NICS, it flags the background check and stops the sale of the firearm. But too many of these records are missing.

That was the case with the 2017 Sutherlands Springs church shooting. The gunman Devin Patrick Kelley was prohibited from purchasing firearms due to a 2012 court martial for two counts of domestic abuse. The U.S. Air Force failed to provide this information to the NICS, allowing Kelley to erroneously pass his background check and to purchase an AR-style 5.56 rifle – which he used to kill 26 people and injure 20 more. He was confronted and pursued by a neighbor, another good guy with a gun.

Gun Control, Mental Health, and SSRIs: What’s the Solution?

When it comes to mass shootings, there’s no easy solution. Violence, especially random violence, is a complex manifestation of various thoughts, feelings, and external factors. While it may be impossible to fully stop mass murders, ignoring the fact that certain medications, including SSRIs, play a role in a high percentage of these violent acts, no justice is being served.

Gun control is obviously not the solution, as the rate of mass shootings has increased over  the last 30 years, at a time when multiple gun control lawshave been implemented. Taking firearms away from law abiding citizens has not and will not stop the problem.

Personal Responsibility

Instead, doctors need to educate patients and make them aware of the risks, as well as take the time to explain warning signs to loved ones. If patients are taking medication for a mental health disorder, including depression, then they should see a mental health professional and be involved in mental health treatment. After all, medication – even mental health medication – does nothing to fix the problem, it only masks the symptoms.

Patients need to take some responsibility for their lives, improving their health before reaching for a mind-altering pill to make them feel good about themselves. A healthy diet, physical activity, and time spent in nature are ways to boost the mood that can help relieve the symptoms of mild depression.

The FDA-Big Pharma Connection

Lastly, the government and big pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable for not sharing what they know about the medications they create. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) looked at drug company sponsored clinical trials on antidepressants.

Of the 74 FDA-registered trials the study looked at, 38 had positive outcomes, 36 had negative outcomes. Thirty-seven of the positive outcome trials were published, but of the 36 negative outcomes trials, 22 were not published and 11 were written in a way that initially presented the data to convey a misleading positive outcome. Only three were published with unbiased and accurate information about the drug.

With this type of misrepresentation of clinical trials on medications, particularly antidepressants, the medical community and the public can’t trust medical literature for honest and reliable drug information, nor the government agency that’s designed to monitor new pharmaceuticals for safety. When medical professionals can not rely on the FDA to provide unbiased and honest clinical trial information, a true risk-benefit ratio can’t be determined and patients suffer the consequences.

Political Influence of Big Pharma

Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs & Mass Shootings

The connection between the FDA and big pharma goes beyond clinical studies. Drug companies lure FDA employees to sit on their regulatory boards. They hire their spouses. These pharmaceutical giants utilize the field’s leading experts, who happen to be the same experts who are invited by the FDA to sit on screening panels.

Big pharma’s influence over the FDA goes even deeper. Drug companies spend billions of dollars on political lobbying and campaign contributions. Direct payments support the FDA budget. And in response, the FDA conceals risks and looks the other way when necessary.

The FDA also gives its own kickback to the drug companies. Only FDA-approved medications can be prescribed for government health insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and through the VA. And to ensure Big Pharma continues to sell its drugs, the federal program only allows treatment claims on FDA-approved drugs.

The FDA Approval Process

The FDA approval process is a laborious and expensive endeavor, which typically takes more than a year and can cost up to a million dollars to complete. The process allows drug companies to patent their product. But when it comes to natural supplements, they can’t be patented, and therefore don’t go through the FDA approval process. Therefore supplements, which are often highly effective with little to no side effects, can not claim to “treat” a condition, even when there’s research that supports that claim.

On the surface, this may not seem like too big of a deal, but let’s circle back to Prozac, which hit the market in 1988. In the fall of 1989, the FDA recalled the supplement L-tryptophan, an amino acid that’s a precursor for serotonin and highly effective in treating depression. The recall occurred after one supplement company had an additive that caused a flu-like reaction. On March 22, 1990, the FDA issued a complete ban of L-tryptophan for public sale. Four days later, on March 26, 1990, Prozac was featured on the cover of Newsweek, along with a lead article about its benefits.

In 2001, the ban on L-tryptophan was lifted and since, research has shown it has huge therapeutic potential in the treatment of pain, insomnia, depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD),  bulimia, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), attention disorders, sleep disorders, and chronic fatigue.

A quick note about PMDD. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome, otherwise known as PMS. It officially became a medical condition in 2013 with the newest addition of the DSM-V. Yet in July of 2000, the FDA approved a new medication from Eli Lilly, the same pharmaceutical company that created Prozac. The drug was Sarafem and it was marketed to treat PMDD, which technically wasn’t even a fully recognized medical condition at the time.

Sarafem is, quite literally, the exact same medication as Prozac, only in a different color capsule. Why would Eli Lilly issue the exact same drug under a different name? It just so happens that the patent for Prozac expired in August of 2001, which allowed generic versions to be made. Eli Lilly changed the medication’s name, indicated it for this “new” disease, and the company had a new patent for Sarafem that would last until 2007.

Situations like this demonstrate that the more aspects the government controls, the worse this corruption and mismanagement becomes. Federal agencies in the hands of big pharmaceutical companies, and politicians using gun control to give a false hope to the American people, distracts them from the real cause of the current state of the nation and the frequency of mass shootings.

It’s time to personally explore the evidence surrounding the issues and come to your own conclusions.

Safe Storage Isn’t Safe At All.

              It is now more than a quarter-century since Art Kellerman, Fred Rivara and other scholars published a seminal work on suicide risk and access to guns. This article not only brought public attention to gun risk, but was probably the single, most important event leading to the 1996 elimination of gun research funding by the CDC.

              Just this week, another research effort linking guns to suicide has appeared, giving us an opportunity to compare research findings on the same issue over the last 25 years. And I’m going to give you my conclusion up front, which is that public health research on gun risk has created a medical consensus on how to deal with gun violence that moves us further away from where we should be.

              The whole purpose of public health research is to identify a risk to community health, figure out the proper response to that risk, then give physicians the proper tools to (note the next word in caps) eliminate the risk. Sorry, but the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t mention reducing disease; it says: “I will prevent disease whenever I can.”

              The authors of this new paper, obviously cognizant of the role of medicine in the prevention of disease, inject that issue into their work with the following conclusion: “In the overall model, 6% to 32% of deaths were estimated to be preventable depending on the probability of motivating safer storage.”

Reducing a threat to health by 6 percent isn’t prevention. And worse, even this minimal outcome, which is at best an ‘estimate,’ is dependent on whether the at-risk population responds positively to the ‘probability’ of ‘motivating’ a certain public-health strategy known as ‘safe storage.’

The ‘safe storage’ strategy has become the deus ex machina for gun control embraced by virtually every gun-control initiative both within and without the medical field. The strategy has never (read: never) been tested in anything other than a variety of statistical manipulations of relevant (but not definitive) data. Not one researcher has ever created a control group versus a comparison group and then analyzed outcomes between the two groups. The definition of ‘safe storage’ doesn’t even cover how the term is utilized in relevant legal statutes and texts.

I happen to live in the state – Massachusetts – which has the strictest safe-storage law of all 50 states. In my state, a gun owner can be charged with a felony even if a gun is simply left unlocked or not locked away in the home. But MA also recognizes that a gun is safely stored if the qualified owner can reach out and touch the gun. So if I am sitting in my living room watching TV and cleaning one of my guns at the same time, the gun is safely stored.

I have yet to see a single public health study advocating safe storage which asks respondents to define safe storage as locked, locked away or sitting next to the gun’s owner when he’s awake or asleep. Which means that these studies, like the one just published, are based on a primary variable (type of storage behavior) which has no connection to reality at all.

This is why I said above that public health gun research has moved us further, rather than closer to figuring out what to do about a threat to public health that results in at least 125,000 deaths and injuries every year. Because if you go back to the Kellerman-Rivara research which found gun owners to be at higher risk for suicide, their finding wasn’t based on whether or not guns were safely stored.

Why has the public health field decided that only guns that aren’t safely stored represent a risk to health? Because they actually believe that medical counseling on gun violence must respect our Constitutional ‘right’ to own a gun.

Since when did the Hippocratic Oath require physicians to determine health risk based on  whether some law gives individuals free license to harm themselves or others? Which is what the 2nd Amendment is really all about, whether the medical community and their public health research friends want to acknowledge it or not.

What We Know And Don’t Know About Guns.

              Our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg School have mounted a very impressive online curriculum on gun violence which I will review when I complete the course of study itself. In the meantime, the initial lecture by Daniel Webster opens with a reference to the Pew survey on gun owners, which is one of several recent efforts (note the survey from Harvard-Northeastern) which attempts to describe the kinds of folks who own and use guns.

              What these surveys have found is that, generally speaking, gun owners tend to be White males who live in smaller cities or rural areas, they start buying guns in their 20’s, but most of them are now in their 40’s or 50’s, a majority live in Southern and Midwestern states, they are married and they vote the GOP line. These surveys also show that the percentage of homes with guns has declined from roughly 50 percent to somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, and that the primary reason for gun ownership has shifted from hunting to self-defense.

              I understand that public health research is based on the collection and analysis of enough data to allow for meaningful discussions about the problem that the research is attempting to understand. Hence, the research is usually based on detailed surveys using what is referred to as a ‘nationally-representative’ sample of respondents whose answers are collected either by computer, telephone or both.

              I hate to break the news to my public health research friends, but they could save themselves a lot of time and money in this regard by simply choosing a weekend, just about any weekend, and going to four gun shows in different parts of the country to observe what goes on. What they will observe is that the folks who go to these shows, no matter where the shows take place, will exactly, I mean exactly fit the profile which emerges from all those national polls.

              In addition to these surveys really telling us what anyone can learn from a few hours at the national guard armory in Wheeling, WV or the VFW Hall in Melbourne, AR, these surveys suffer from two gaps, which until the gun violence research community makes some effort to fill in, reduces the value of these studies to a great degree. And these gaps reflect the fact that the whole purpose of gun surveys is to help us understand how to craft policies that will reduce the violence caused by guns. After all, if we didn’t suffer from 125,000 fatal and non-fatal gun injuries every year, would anyone other than the gun makers be interested in who owns guns?

              Gap #1 – These surveys do not (read: not) tell us anything about illegally-owned guns. We have no idea how many illegal guns are out there, where they are located, how often they are sold or traded and, most of all, how such guns start off as legal purchases and then wind up in the ‘wrong’ hands. We also don’t know how many illegal guns are responsible for the yearly, gun-injury toll, but it’s certainly more than half.

              Gap #2 – These surveys only ask gun owners about protecting themselves with guns. How about asking non-gun owners why they don’t feel the need to protect themselves with a gun?

              If these surveys show that only one-third of law-abiding Americans have decided that a gun in their home protects them from violence and/or crime, does this mean that the other two-thirds of the country aren’t worried about being victims of violence or crime? In fact, the last Gallup poll taken in March, 2019 found that nearly 50% of all respondents ‘personally worried’ a ‘great deal’ about violence and crime. How come they aren’t all running out to buy guns?

              If my friends in Gun-control Nation want to have a serious and productive discussion with the folks who live and die for their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ they might consider talking to people who have evidently found other ways besides gun ownership to protect themselves from violence and crime.

Josh Montgomery: El Chapo’s Diamond Gun.

Yes, you read that right: a diamond gun. At this point, everyone probably heard about the Mexican drug lord “El Chapo” waltzing into the dance floor with a gun that has been studded with diamonds.

Many pictures were taken that day, and Jurors Friday even presented a picture of El Chapo dancing closely with a lady – with the bedazzling .38 pistol poking out of his waistband.

What’s the idea of this pistol? Why diamonds? Is it actually any good for anything if you want to deal any damage – or is it only for the glamour? Well, here’s what you should know about the diamond gun.

What Does the Diamond Gun Look Like?

The Diamond Gun is certainly meant to be flashy – all while remaining practical. We all know that El Chapo (Joaquin Guzman) is completely obsessed with guns – and it’s not surprising that he’d want to engrave a gun with his initials. Just in case he lost the gun, the initials “JGL” that were written on the weapon would give it away that the gun is his – and that the one who found it should give it back.

The question remains: why diamonds? Well, we’re trying to get into El Chapo’s way of thinking and answer with another question: why not diamonds? He certainly had the money. Being a drug lord means that you have access to a fair amount of cash – and that cash will allow you to buy a lot of things.

And El Chapo took high advantage of this. He owns at least two pistols that have been bejeweled, and he also has a gold-plated AK-47. The more fabulous a gun looks, the better it will make El Chapo look. But perhaps his favorite gun is the one that has been encrusted in diamonds.

Unsurprisingly, the gun doesn’t shoot diamonds; there’s a limit even to the fortune of a drug lord. There’s no gain in shooting diamonds into your enemies, particularly since you know that you would not be getting those diamonds back. This “diamond gun,” therefore, shoots regular bullets – and he only had it customized to look fabulous.

From a distance, the gun will look almost normal. The .38 has a simple barrel – and he had not customized that part. The handle, however, had been completely encrusted with diamonds. He used black and clear diamonds. The clear diamonds were added on the base and then he used black diamond to spell out the initials of his name. It’s quite the bling – but one that El Chapo certainly thinks was worth it.

The Matter of Comfort 

Diamonds are known for the fact that they can cut through the glass – and even if you are wearing them like jewels on your body, you are still careful enough not to press them onto your skin. So, when you think about more than a few hundred diamonds pressing into your skin, you can’t help but think: is it comfortable?

When looking at that gun, you can see that each piece of diamond has its own place in the puzzle. You can see where they have been spaced to protect the gun – and while they seem to have been polished and treated properly, you can’t help but think that it will be harsh on your hand. When you think about the recoil of a gun, having something on the handle that can potentially injure you may not seem so great. It looks fancy – but it may end up badly.

Personally, we can’t think that holding this gun would feel the same as when holding a classic full-size 357 magnum revolver, for example. The smoothness of those guns would make them easier to hold – and therefore, would not be an issue during gun recoil. We cannot imagine this being the case with a gun encrusted in diamonds. The purpose would be to only make it look more expensive – and more appropriate for a drug lord.

That being said, one could argue that the diamond serves a fairly good purpose when it comes to the durability of the gun. A regular plastic or metallic handle, for example, might take a fairly short time until it wears out – but since diamonds are not that short-lived, they will “bling” away through generations. It could actually be considered a family legacy, if it wouldn’t be illegal. This is, after all, a gun that has killed and injured several people – and we can’t assume that all of them were for self-defense.

The Diamond Gun – A Flashy Companion in Bloodshed

This gun – that is likely a very expensive one – has followed El Chapo throughout many of his endeavors. In an attempt to protect his multibillion-dollar drug operation, he went through bribery and rampant bloodshed. His trials revealed that this gun was always at his side, doing the killing.

El Chapo also had many enemies – and it is suspected that he used this gun to kill some of his competitors. It is even said that he ordered to have a man killed because he refused to shake his hand. He tortured people with car lighters and irons – but most of the time, he relished in using his bejeweled guns. El Chapo has been incarcerated three times – and during two of his incarcerations, he managed to escape. He has been caught once more in 2017 – and only recently, his gun has been revealed.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to drug lords, not all of them want to show off their richness. They want to blend in – and they generally enjoy their fortune through other means. However, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman had a completely different thought on that.

He was not afraid to show off that he was rich and dangerous. Even incarcerated, stories of his “reign” are still spreading among the mafia: the man who had a very valuable diamond gun – one that he would always show off wearing at his waistband. When you have all the money you would need, getting a diamond-encrusted gun with your initials on it should not be a problem.

Guess Who Wins When It’s MOMS Versus The NRA.

              Who does Gun-nut nation fear more than anyone else? Who is the one person who represents Armageddon when it comes to all those beloved gun ‘rights?’ It’s not Hillary, it’s not Bloomie, it’s not those twenty-odd Presidential wannabes vying for the attention of blue-team donors like me.

              It’s a little lady from Indiana named Shannon Watts, whose organization, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, represents a real threat to the nonsensical narratives about the role of guns in American society peddled by various pro-gun noisemakers and their friends on the alt-right.

              This gang of fools launched an organized assault on Shannon last week, which started after Shannon posted a tweet criticizing the NRA‘s announcement that they would continue to fight against regulations that ban ‘armor-piercing’ ammunition since, according to America’s ‘first civil rights organization,’ all centerfire ammunition will pierce ‘soft’ body armor. As soon as Shannon’s post went up (and btw, the NRA‘s statement about the lethality of ‘all’ centerfire rifle ammunition is totally and completely full of sh*t) the boys in Fairfax responded with posts on Instagram, telling their supporters to send negative comments to Shannon. This resulted in a flurry of threats, insults and profanity which has become the staple of how the alt-right deals with anything that even remotely smacks of gun control.

              Once the semi-literates who flock to Instagram started going after Shannon, the big boys and girls on the alt-right weighed in with more. Breitbart got in on the act, so did Townhall. And just to makes sure that the alt-right audience wouldn’t miss a trick, the NRA named Shannon as ‘Bloomberg’s chief lobbyist.’ Why not try to kill two birds for the price of one, right?

              Not that Shannon has ever been anything other than a pain in the you-know-what to Wayne-o and the rest of the NRA gang, but I suspect that maybe, just maybe, her tweet about armor-piercing ammunition may have given the boys from Fairfax exactly the issue they needed to avoid discussing another threat to the organization’s leadership which has just cropped up. I am referring to a pile of documents anonymously leaked to the internet, which are letters sent to the NRA Counsel, raising questions about payments made to a law firm, as well as expenses run up by Wayne-o himself while allegedly engaged in travel activities for the NRA

Most of the latter charges were for clothing bought at a clothing boutique, Ermenegildo Zegna, where a polo shirt can run as much as $495 bucks.  Right. A short-sleeve polo shirt.  Since 2004, Wayne-o has run up $275,000 in charges at the Zegna store in Beverly Hills, including a $21,000 charge in February, 2017.  All of these charges were billed to (and paid by) the PR firm, Ackerman-McQueen. No wonder the NRA and Ackerman-McQueen are now battling each other in court.

Maybe there’s an innocent explanation for why Wayne-o has run up wardrobe costs which outstrip anything Sarah Palin did in 2008. On the other hand, if he used his Ackerman-McQueen account to hide purchases for personal items which were then covered by invoices paid by NRA to the PR firm, someone’s going to jail. Using tax-exempt dollars to pay for goods or services not directly related to the tax-exempt entity’s approved affairs happens to be fraud. And $275,000 ain’t chopped liver, even in my book.

Getting back to our friend Shannon, there may be a more innocent reason why she’s getting blasted again by the NRA. Go to the MOMS website and type:  https://momsdemandaction.org/take-action/.  Then go to the ‘Attend’ link, put in your zip  code and see what comes up. Now go to the NRA website and type: https://explore.nra.org/interests/events-and-entertainment/.  Then click around and look for ‘friends of NRA‘ events in the same code. I guarantee you’ll find more grass-roots events sponsored by MOMS. I did it for Maryland – NRA has three upcoming events, MOMS has nine.

Know why the NRA hates Shannon and her gals? Because MOMS is now a true,  grass-roots organization in every sense of the word.

Right on Shannon, right on.

A Different View of the 2nd Amendment.

Ask anyone who is engaged in making noise for Gun-nut Nation why they think the 2nd Amendment is so important and they’ll tell you that we ‘need’ the ‘2nd Amendment’ to keep us ‘free.’ Or they’ll mumble something about the God-given ‘right’ to self-defense. Or you’ll get some half-cocked lecture on the ‘tyranny’ of government or some other nonsense.

I prefer the argument about the importance of the 2nd Amendment made by one of America’s most fervent gun owners, who not only was a life-long devotee to hunting in all forms, but also just happened to be the 26th President of the United States. In 1887 Roosevelt formed the Boone and Crockett club whose mission, then and now, was to develop public policies that would create a balance between the desires of hunters to kill game and the necessity to preserve species. Ultimately, B&C’s membership included just about every major figure in the environmental movement (Grinnell, Pinchot, Leopold) because they all agreed with Thoreau who said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”

Teddy Roosevelt National Park – Thank you Sean Palfrey.

Here’s how Boone & Crockett defines the importance of the 2nd Amendment today:
“The Club is concerned with any restriction on the public’s legal right to own and use firearms for hunting that could weaken or undermine our unique and successful system of wildlife conservation.”

Hey! What happened to the God-given ‘right’ to self defense? Where’s all that talk about protecting us from the ‘tyranny’ of government? What about all those ‘patriots’ who demonstrate their love of country by walking into a Starbucks with an AR-15 slung over their backs?

I’ll tell you where it is. It’s a crock of sh*t. You want to believe that there is one, single community in the entire United States that is safer because everyone’s walking around with a gun? Tell that one to the residents of Sanford, FL whose armed, community-watch guy named George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Or try that argument out with the families and friends of the teachers and children slaughtered at Sandy Hook. After all, both Adam Lanza and his mother believed that having an assault rifle in their home represented their first line of defense.

I have spent the last seven years trying to convince gun owners that the armed, self-defense argument is nothing but a marketing scam. I have also spent the last seven years trying to make Gun-control Nation understand that ‘reasonable’ gun restrictions which preserve legal access to lethal products like assault rifles and hi-capacity, concealable handguns is also a marketing scam. Both arguments are nothing more than what pro-gun and anti-gun organizations believe their constituencies want to hear. To quote myself this time, both arguments are a crock of sh*t.

On the other hand, everyone likes the idea of wilderness. Nobody would dare argue with the concept of a tree. And this is why I think both sides in the gun debate need to spend some time thinking about the 2nd Amendment in terms of what the Boone & Crockett club has to say. Not only thinking about it, but thinking that perhaps here is the real common ground where both sides should meet.

Stay tuned and enjoy a lovely weekend.

When It Comes To Guns, The New York Times Gets It Wrong.

              Now that gun control has become an accepted issue for mainstream concern, as well as a required part of ‘this is what I will do’ spiel for every Democratic Presidential candidate, it figures that our friends at the (failing) New York Times would start ramping up their coverage about guns. This past weekend, the paper ran a major article in the Sunday Magazine section explaining how Remington, one of the iconic names in the gun business, went bust due to the financial machinations of its ownership group, a ‘secretive’ private-equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management.

              I met the owner of Cerberus, Steve Feinberg, at the SHOT show (or maybe it was NRA) back in 2006 (I think) when he was first floating around looking to become a player in guns.  He said that his plan was to purchase multiple gun companies, then consolidate manufacturing in one or two factory sites. When I told him that the problem with thinking of gun companies as investment opportunities was that industry were always very thin, he said this problem could be solved by achieving ‘economies of scale.’

              As it turned out, Feinberg didn’t know much about the gun business, but according to the NYT article, he certainly knew how to make a quick buck. To acquire Remington he formed a holding company with money from the private sector, then getting Remington to borrow money which was used to pay back those investors (a.k.a. Cerberus and other hedge funds) leaving the gun company saddled with debt. The debt obligation couldn’t be sustained when gun sales went south following the end of the Obama regime.

              All well and good except for one little thing. What spelled the end of Remington was not just  the confluence of bad timing between taking on debt and declining sales. What was much more of a problem was how the gun company was already in deep trouble even though, according to the author of this article, Jesse Barron, “sales were strong and the future bright.”  If Barron had taken the trouble to walk into any gun shop and ask the proprietor how Remington products were selling back in 2008, he would have learned that the company’s future was already going down the drain.

              I got into the gun business in the 1960’s when companies like Remington, Winchester and Iver Johnson were name brands. Winchester and IJ were long gone by the time Feinberg came floating around. Remington was still holding on simply because everyone who wanted to go hunting with a bolt-action rifle or a semi-automatic or slide-action shotgun had at least one Remington in their home.

              Notice the phrase ‘go hunting.’ Guess what started happening to all those hunters beginning in the 1980’s? They all began to die off. Which is why gun companies like Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Springfield Armory saw the handwriting on the wall, along with the appearance of the European handgun imports (Beretta, Glock, Sig) and remade themselves as companies whose products were primarily designed for armed, self-defense.

              How did Remington meet the demand for small, concealable self-defense handguns? It came out with a whole line of large, full-metal pistols based on the Colt 1911 design which was never (read: never) considered to be a personal defense gun. When the Remington engineers realized that it was small, lightweight polymer guns that were pushing sales, the product they brought to the market, the R51, didn’t work.  And in the gun business, where everything is word of mouth, if a gun doesn’t work, you might as well close down your shop.

              If The New York Times wants to become an important voice in the burgeoning noise being made by Gun-control Nation, the editors might consider checking the content of their articles with someone who knows something about guns.  On the other hand, since the average NYT reader is probably not a member of Gun-nut Nation, does it really matter whether an op-ed piece aligns with the facts?

Let’s Stop Being Afraid of the Second Amendment.

              I bought my first, real gun in 1956 when I was twelve years old. At a flea market on Route 441 somewhere in the Florida Glades. Now Route 441 is an endless collection of strip malls, condo developments and more strip malls. Then 441 marked the western edge of the Glades.

              Between 1956 and 2008, when the Supreme Court gave Constitutional protection for the private ownership of guns, I probably bought and sold 500 handguns and long guns. That’s ten guns a year which isn’t all that many for a certified gun nut like me. Every one of those transactions was legal (well, most of them were legal) and none of those transactions had any Constitutional protection at all.

              Whenever some well-meaning person who supports gun control starts off by saying that they don’t want to infringe on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ I want to cringe. What’s so bad about infringing on all these 2nd-Amendment rights, particularly when most of these so-called rights don’t really exist? The 2008 Heller decision does not (read: not) give gun owners the ‘right’ to walk around with a gun. It does not (read: not) give AR-15 owners the ‘right’ to show up at Charlottesville with an assault rifle strapped to their backs. It does not (read: not) give gun owners the ‘right’ to wander all over the United States with their guns. It gives gun owners one ‘right,’ which is to keep a handgun in their home. Period. That’s the ‘right.’

              I want this issue to be clearly understood not because it will make any difference to how Gun-nut Nation talks about gun ‘rights.’ Want to know the latest Gun-nut take on gun ‘rights?’ Check out this spiel on NRA-TV by a noted foreign policy expert about how people in Venezuela are unable to fight back against the Maduro regime because they don’t have any guns. The country happens to have the second-highest murder rate in the world, but no doubt all those murders are committed with clubs and knives, not guns.

              So let’s not worry about how Gun-nut Nation promotes gun ‘rights.’ But we have an election next year. And every Presidential candidate lining up against Sleazy Don has announced their support of stronger gun laws. At the same time, all these candidates are steadfast in their desire to ‘respect’ the ‘right’ of Americans to own guns.

              As far as I’m concerned, my gun-control friends can pat themselves on the back as much as they want for supporting Constitutional guarantees, but by getting up on the barricades and proclaiming their fealty to the 2nd Amendment, they are giving away the argument before it begins. And they should stop doing it – right now!

              I just donated one hundred bucks to Moms Demand every month. I can guarantee you that I am the only donor to Moms who also happens to be a Lifetime Benefactor member of the NRA. Why do I swing both ways? Because I believe in an equal fight. But what I don’t believe is that Gun-control Nation levels the playing field by pretending that there’s no  disagreement with Gun-nut Nation when it comes to Constitutional ‘rights.’

              The reason we have a problem known as gun violence is not because all our guns aren’t safely stored. It’s not because we don’t require a background check every time we transfer every gun. It’s because we pretend that the 2nd Amendment only allows us to pass ‘reasonable’ gun laws. And if anyone out there really believes that a ‘reasonable’ gun law would prevent anyone from getting their hands on a concealable handgun holding 15 or more rounds of military-grade ammunition, you might as well follow Alice down the rabbit hole. Ending gun violence means ending the demand for guns which are used to commit gun violence, not ending the supply.

              There are still at least fifteen Presidential candidates who have yet to tell us what they would do about gun violence. Maybe one of them will figure it out.

Will Cory’s Plan To License All Guns Work?

              Yesterday, one of the umpteen 2020 challengers of Sleazy Don, Cory Booker, announced a plan to reduce gun violence which should be taken seriously, because Cory lives in Newark, so he should know something about guns. Seriously, his plan goes further than any of the other gun-control plans so far announced, because he’s calling for some kind of national gun licensing. To quote the Senator, “If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to own a gun.”      

              I have to hand it to my Gun-control Nation friends. Who would have ever imagined that coming up with an approach to gun violence would become a de rigueur requirement for a 2020 national campaign? Can it actually be the case that the NRA Emperor doesn’t wear any clothes? Maybe he never had any clothes in the first place.

              Booker’s plan to create a national licensing system is something of a muddle because he wants the system to be run by the FBI but the actual vetting will be done by the local police. So even if the devil is in the details, the bottom line is that Booker has just injected the unmentionable into the gun debate, namely, that ownership of all guns needs to be regulated the same way no matter where the gun owner happens to live. If nothing else, his plan is an implicit recognition that the patchwork of state and local gun laws that currently exists simply doesn’t work.

              But why doesn’t it work? According to current research, places with more lax gun laws have more gun deaths.  Conversely, jurisdictions with stricter laws have fewer gun deaths. Incidentally, before I go further, note that gun violence is defined only in terms of mortality rates when, in fact, gun deaths probably constitute less than one-third of all injuries caused by guns. But the data on non-fatal gun injuries simply can’t be trusted, so we are making the assumption that the relationship between gun laws and gun deaths would also hold true if we could count all the injuries caused by guns.

              Much of the argument that more laws = less gun violence rests on data from Massachusetts, where I happen to live. I have also been a gun dealer in Massachusetts since 2001, so I know how the system in this state works and doesn’t work. And what I know is that if anyone wants to use Massachusetts as a template for how stricter gun laws results in less gun violence, they are creating an argument that has as many holes in it as a slice of swiss cheese.

              Here is what the experts say about the Massachusetts law.

  • David Hemenway:  “All other things equal, [places] where there’s strong laws and with few guns do much better than places where there’s weak laws and lots of guns.”
  • Cassandra Crifasi: “The end impact is you decrease gun ownership overall, and then you have fewer firearms around, and less exposure.”

Note the caveat; i.e., the number of guns. In other words, is it the severity and comprehensiveness of the laws per se? Is it that there were less guns in a particular locality before a new gun law was passed? Is it a combination of both or maybe something  else?

The current regulatory system in Massachusetts, which makes it one of the most regulated of all the states, dates from 1999. Since that date, the aggregate gun-violence rate in Massachusetts is the lowest of all 50 states. Prior to 1999, the Massachusetts gun-violence rate was the second-lowest state rate. Now in fact, the gun-violence rate in Massachusetts under the more restrictive law is lower than it was before that law was passed. However, the gun-violence rate also happens to be lower in the other 50 states.

The truth is that the relationship between gun laws and gun violence is a classic case of the chicken and the egg. What we don’t need is to hatch the egg and wind up with a turkey, okay?

Phil Cook: What Cops Can Tell Us About Gun Violence

From Youth Today.

I began my research program on gun violence prevention in the early 1970s, when my children were just starting school. Now I am the proud grandfather of two preschoolers, with renewed worries. In the United States, gun violence poses an outsized threat to children and youths. That threat is made vivid to students who are subjected to active shooter drills on a regular basis, just as my generation drilled for nuclear attack. In some communities children are traumatized by the sounds of gunfire in the streets; their older siblings and parents are all too often the targets.

Much of my research, like that of others who initiated this field of study, has been concerned with the prospects for mitigating criminal violence by regulating the design, marketing and use of deadly weapons. In the 1980s we were joined in this effort by researchers from the public health field, a welcome expansion of resources and scope.

Philip J. Cook (headshot), professor emeritus of public policy, economics, sociology at Duke University, man with short white hair, gray mustache, green fleece jacket.

Phil Cook

But recently I have parted ways with some of my colleagues in the public health field over differing perspectives on law enforcement. In my view, effective law enforcement is a vital part of the mix in gun violence prevention, and developing and evaluating police investigation methods should be a central aspect of the research agenda for gun violence prevention.

The public health approach to gun violence prevention has been widely touted as providing fresh ideas and real promise of ultimate success. Government officials, scholars and other commentators associated with medicine and public health advocate for more research funding, stronger regulation on guns and measures to promote a fairer and more just society.

These ideas are clearly important but not in any sense new or distinctive. What distinguishes the public health approach as usually articulated is its tendency to ignore, downplay or outright reject the role of police and criminal justice in gun violence prevention. And in that respect, I believe it has the potential to do real damage to our shared cause.

POLICE CAN HOBBLE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE

Most gun violence is criminal, as opposed to accidental, self-inflicted or legally justified. For the U.S. population as a whole, 70 percent of gunshot victims suffered their wounds as a result of a criminal attack, and for children and youths the percentage is still higher, at about 80 percent. Whether a horrendous rampage shooting in a school or the far more common violence of the streets, the police are tasked with investigating the crime, identifying and arresting the perpetrators and gathering evidence against them that will stand up in court.

The police response is not just a clean-up operation. To the extent that their investigation is successful and shooters are arrested and convicted, the rate of subsequent shootings is arguably reduced. The well-established causal mechanisms by which law enforcement prevents crime are incapacitation and deterrence. But there is also a reasonable expectation that if the police do their job well, the victim and his associates will be less inclined to seek revenge and continue the cycle of violence. The point is that while the police investigation follows the crime, its success also prevents subsequent crimes. The police are in the prevention business.

This claim is often discounted or contradicted by those who espouse the public health perspective. While there is strong evidence in support for both deterrence and incapacitation when it comes to gun violence, the evidence may be trumped by a distaste for punishing the perpetrators, who in many cases are, like their victims, low-income minority youths living in distressed neighborhoods.

But if the police fail to do their part in controlling gun violence, it is hard to see how we can hope to achieve the overriding objective of making those neighborhoods safer, a precondition for the families living there to thrive. Unfortunately, a number of our major cities are in effect running this “experiment” by arresting fewer than 20 percent of the shooters. Regardless of what other services these cities may be able to offer or what gun regulations may be in place, that strikes me as a recipe for failure.

If we do embrace the goal of increasing arrest and conviction rates for criminal shooters, then what? First is that police investigation should be recognized as an important topic for research on gun violence prevention. In fact, research and policy agendas put forward by public health groups and medical associations have routinely ignored the police and criminal justice system.

In the pursuit of evidence-based gun violence prevention, it only makes sense that the research incorporate the front-line capacity for preventing violence and determine how to make it more effective. There are a variety of options, from increasing the priority that police departments give to investigations of gun assaults, providing training to investigators, investing in programs to improve victim and witness cooperation, making better use of available technology and much else. An overriding concern is to improve police-community relations, since investigations are greatly handicapped if the relevant community views the police as uninterested or hostile.

The ultimate goal is to pre-empt the epidemic of gun violence in some distressed neighborhoods. Gun regulation can help if well designed (and enforced!). But we also need to preserve and enhance a credible response by the authorities to criminal violence.

Philip J. Cook is Terry Sanford Professor emeritus of public policy, economics and sociology at Duke University, and an honorary member of the National Academy of Medicine. His most recent book (with Kristin A. Goss) is “The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know.”