The Only Way To Avoid Gun Accidents Is Never Load The Gun.

There a lot of buzz going around the GVP community today about several gun deaths that were apparently the result of dropped guns.  One of the fatalities was a 16-year old girl in Houston, whose father’s gun may have discharged when he dropped it (the news report isn’t clear) the other was a 12-year old in Mississippi who came back from hunting, a gun was dropped and – BAM!

 

peacemaker

Colt Peacemaker

In 2015, the CDC says that the death toll from unintentional shootings was 489, of which 48 were under the age of 14.  These numbers may be off by as much as half, because if someone shoots someone else accidentally, state laws sometimes require that the death be ruled as a homicide even though the shooter isn’t usually charged.  But when a gun is dropped and goes off, nobody’s to ‘blame’ but the design of the gun itself.  But that’s not really true and the purpose of this column is to explain why.

Pardon me for a slight technical digression, but in order for a gun to go off, there has to be at least one round of live ammunition sitting in the breech.  The breech is the part of the gun where the live round sits with the front facing the barrel and the rear facing a firing pin.  When the firing pin is pushed into the back of the round, the chemicals in the primer create a spark, the spark ignites the powder and the explosion creates gasses which expand and push the bullet through the barrel and out of the gun. In other words, for any gun to fire, some mechanical action has to occur which pushes the firing pin into the shell.  Which is usually done by the hammer which falls on the firing pin after the trigger (which is connected to the hammer) is pulled.  Get it?

Now where things get tricky is in lining up the live shell in front of the firing pin. Because if there’s no shell in front of the firing pin, no matter how hard you push the firing pin forward, the gun simply can’t go off. When guns go off because they are dropped, what really happens is that the gun hits the floor with enough force to push the firing pin into the live round without pulling the trigger at all.

America’s oldest gun manufacturer, Colt, became famous for its Single Action Army revolver called the “Peacemaker’ or the gun that ‘won the West.’ It was known as the ‘six-shooter’ but we called it the ‘five-shooter’ because until the company redesigned its firing pin and hammer assembly, if you had the hammer over a live round in the cylinder the gun would go off sometimes just by accidentally touching the hammer as you went to pick up the gun. How many millions of these guns sold before Colt fixed the problem sometime around 1985? Remington finally settled a 20-year class action suit because the bolt in most of its hunting rifles had a funny way of going off even with the safety switch on.

The gun industry has been patting itself on the back of late, claiming that accidental gun deaths have declined to ‘historic lows,’ a result, of course, of the safety programs run by the NRA and the NSSF. I suspect that what’s also behind the decline is the spread of child access prevention (CAP) laws, but those laws penalize the gun owner if an underage person grabs a gun.  How many times does the gun owner himself or a friend lose an arm, a leg or a life because – oops! – I dropped the gun?

You can design or redesign the safety mechanism all you want, but a gun is a mechanical device and mechanical devices sometimes don’t work the way they should.  I don’t know how many of the 40 million American gun owners pick up one of their guns each day, but the more guns that are picked up, the more that will drop on the floor.

Advertisements

Want To Help Reduce Gun Violence? Support The Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance.

A new gun violence prevention organization has just popped up and their goals are worthy of mention here and elsewhere.  The organization is called the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance (CFSA) representing a coalition of physicians, law enforcement, prosecutors, lawmakers and gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates, and its goal is to reduce gun violence committed by or against kids.

cfsa          You may recall that back in 2011, Granny Hammer got a bunch of her ass-backward Florida legislators to pass a bill that basically made it a felony for physicians to counsel patients about guns.  The case is still awaiting a final appellate decision and there are several other dumb states that have enacted similar ‘gag’ laws.  Until Docs vs. Glocks was enacted, the medical community had been fairly reticent to speak out about gun violence beyond the obvious policy pronouncements about the dangers of guns.  But one thing that always seems to happen when it comes to any kind of public policy – push hard in one direction and someone will push back.  Which is exactly what has happened when it comes to physicians and guns.

Last year eight of the most important medical associations, along with the American Bar Association, published a manifesto which declared that gun violence was a serious public health problem that required the medical community to get involved.  And many of the national and state-level organizations followed by issuing their own statements of concern, as well as supporting and sponsoring educational programs to bring the issue of gun violence to the fore.

The CFSA represents another important step towards the involvement of the medical community in efforts to reduce gun violence, because although it is a physician-led organization, its membership embraces all of the major stakeholders who have an interest in GVP. According to the CFSA website, its mission is: “To reduce senseless child unintentional deaths and injuries in every state by advancing legislation holding adult gun owners responsible and educating the public how to keep children safe if a gun is in the home.” And to that end, their intention is to advocate for stronger and more comprehensive child access prevention (CAP) laws, of which there are no laws at all in more than 20 twenty states.

Of course the response of the Gun-nut Nation noise machine to physicians getting involved in gun safety is that such activity should not be within the scope of medical activities because most doctors don’t know anything about guns.  This is the argument made by a handful of dopey doctors who run a website called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, which happens to be supported by the 2nd Amendment Foundation, get my point?

But the fact is (note use of the word ‘fact’) that physicians have played a leading role in campaigns to protect children from all kinds of injuries and unintentional harm, including efforts to mandate harnesses and seat belts, safety barriers around in-ground pools, removing lead from paint and toys, and child-resistant bottle caps to guard against the ingestion of toxic substances and meds.  I don’t hear anyone stating that doctors need to get certified as automobile mechanics before they remind parents to buckle in the kids.  Nor for that matter do they need to become lifeguards in order to ask whether there’s a fence around that pool which just got installed in a patient’s backyard.  But guns?  Nobody except a licensed gunsmith should be allowed to voice an opinion about safety and guns, right?

I am pleased to be able to spread the word about the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance and I urge you to give them your full support. Yea, yea, I know you just have to send Hillary a few more bucks this week but as regards the CFSA, you might also consider sending a donation their way.  And just in case you missed their website address up above, don’t bother to scroll up because here it is again.  Click here, check out their website and sign up for a great cause.

 

How Many People Are Victims Of Gun Violence? Beats Hell Outta’ Me And The CDC.

Thanks to Nashville and the Grand Ol’ Opry, Tennessee prides itself as being the place we think about when it comes to country music. But how ‘bout being the place we all think about when it comes to getting accidentally shot with a gun?  Right now, according to the CDC, Tennessee not only ranks first in the number of accidental shooting deaths, but ranks so far above every other state that something is really going wrong every time someone who lives in the Volunteer State picks up a gun.

safeestIn 2014, we don’t have more recent numbers, 586 Americans killed themselves or others using a gun that was declared to have been an accidental shooting. Believe it or not, 105 of those deaths occurred in Tennessee.  Now how did a state that contained 2% of the entire U.S. population in 2014 rack up 18% of the accidental gun deaths that year?  I’ll tell you how they did.  The numbers simply aren’t any good.

But it’s not the fault of the good folks in Tennessee.  There’s a group down there, they call themselves the Safe Tennessee Project, and they have been tracking accidental shootings for the last several years, along with promoting a child access prevention (CAP) law which, like most states, Tennessee doesn’t have. This group brought the media’s attention to the alarming increase in accidental gun deaths, and they also talked to the staff at the state’s Health Department which verified that the number of accidental shootings was correct.

There’s only one little problem.  It turns out that in 2014, Tennessee was only one out of eight states that reported a ‘reliable’ number for accidental shooting deaths to the CDC.  That’s right – eight.  And the accidental gun deaths in these states amounted to 324.  There were 11 other states that furnished ‘unreliable’ numbers (meaning that you can’t rely on them for accuracy) and the remaining 31 states didn’t report anything at all.

There is another database out there, the National Violent Death Reporting System, which collects and evaluates information on violent deaths that not only gets information from the standard medical sources used by the CDC, but also picks up data from medical examiners and even funeral directors in cases of a violent demise. But its records are so scant that for 2013 it listed the total number of accidental gun deaths at 128, so we can forget them altogether in terms of helping us out.

Don’t think for one second that gun violence numbers are all screwy only when it comes to accidental deaths.  How about the hottest button of all, what is called ‘legal intervention,’ which is a polite way of categorizing people, mostly Black people, shot by cops. In 2014 our friends at the CDC put this number nationally at 464, the FBI, which also tracks this issue, said it was 444.  But the Washington Post put the 2015 number at 990, and so far this year the number stands at 681.

Ever hear of something called ZIKA?  As of last week the CDC reported 18,773 cases in the United States, a number broken down to all 50 states and U.S. Territories, as well as whether the infection was caused by a mosquito-borne virus or was a travel-associated germ.  In fact, the total number of residents of the 50 states who have so far contracted the disease because of a mosquito bite they received where they live stands at 43!  That’s right – with all the big hue and cry about the public health threat posed by ZIKA, the odds that someone living in the 50 states will contract the disease without going to Puerto Rico are zero to none.

ZIKA is considered a ‘nationally notifiable’ condition; i.e., it must be reported to the CDC. Know what a condition known as gun violence that kills more than 30,000 Americans each year is considered?  To Gun-nut Nation it’s not a public health problem at all. Unfortunately, the CDC appears to agree.

A New Gun Survey Has Some Good News And Some Not So Good News Too.

My job, as I see it, is to deliver the news about guns to the Gun Violence Prevention community.  I’d be happy to deliver the news to Gun-mob Nation as well, but they don’t seem very interested in what I have to say. Or I should say that if Gun-mob Nation is interested, it’s just to tell me that whatever I have to say isn’t what they want to hear. But occasionally I also have to tell my GVP friends some news that they would rather not hear.  But that’s my job.

18d107c334bf4dfdb66f20012db87ef4            And one bit of gun news that might not set well with people who are trying to figure out what to do about this curse called gun violence (and it is a curse) is contained in an AP poll that was published this past week. The poll was conducted by GfK, and what I like about this outfit is they not only announce the results of their polls, they also give you the detailed responses on which the poll results are based. Well, you know what they say – the Devil is in the details, and this poll contains some devilish little details that most of the stories about the poll overlooked.

And the reason these details were overlooked was because the big headline about this survey of 1,000+ Americans was that a strong majority said they were in favor of stronger gun-control laws.  In fact, nearly two-thirds said that gun laws should be made stricter, with only 11% saying that the laws should be loosened, and about one-quarter saying that the laws should be left as they are.

When you drill down to the specifics, the poll continues to register solid majorities in favor of tightening current laws: 73% ware in favor of universal background checks, 53% agree that high-capacity magazines should be banned, 57% say that AR rifles should also be banned and 65% favor criminal penalties for adults who violate Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws.

Obviously the poll results are skewed in the usual way; i.e., Democrats are stronger when it came to stricter laws, Republicans less so.  Women are less pro-gun than men; urbanites and suburbanites favor more controls, rural folks want less.  Not only have these profiles been consistent among all polls that survey gun attitudes, but this poll validated other studies insofar as gun ownership continues to remain at about one-third.  The NRA can talk all it wants about how declining gun ownership is a ‘myth,’ but I’ll give the Fairfax gang credit for being steadfastly consistent in their refusal to face the facts.

As I said earlier, however, this poll also contains some facts that the GVP community  needs to face. By a narrow margin (53 – 44) respondents to this poll favored a national concealed-carry law which would allow armed citizens to move from one state to another with the same reciprocal legal status which now exists for the license that every state issues to drive a car.  But at least all fifty states require a road test before you can drive. How many states impose a real competency test as part of the CCW process? None. Not one.

More worrisome is the response to Question 11: “Do you think that owning a gun does more to protect a person from being a victim of a crime or more to put their safety at risk?”  By a margin of 2 to 1, respondents said that owning a gun would protect them from crime.  Which means that even many non-gun owners believe Gun-mob Nation’s biggest lie, namely, that a gun is more of a benefit than a risk.

I would strongly urge my GVP friends to consider the implications of this last response. Because if nothing else, as long as a majority of Americans believe that a gun is a legitimate way to respond to crime, then Gun-mob Nation will find it much less difficult to prevent any change in gun laws. Which is exactly their plan.

Did Martin Luther King, Jr., Preach Against Gun Violence? In A Very Big Way.

Exactly one year before he was shot to death, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out publicly against the Viet Nam War.  He did this in disagreement with many of his civil rights contemporaries, who were afraid he would fracture what was becoming a tenuous alliance with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding the fact that Viet Nam was a Democratic war.

king              King’s opposition to the war was entirely consistent with his lifelong adherence to non-violence; simply put, he believed that using violence as a response to the social or economic ills that plagued mankind only produced more violence and could never be justified as the necessary means to achieve a desirable end.  I was at New York’s Riverside Church when King made his first anti-Viet Nam speech, and I recall how the emotions in that hall jumped as King accused his own country of using the same violence to quell the revolution in Southeast Asia as had been used to deny civil rights to African-Americans at home.

How much has changed in the nearly 50 years since Dr. King delivered that speech? I’d like to think that when it comes to the use of violence in response to social and economic problems, perhaps we have moved ahead.  But I’m not sure this is the case, and I’m certainly not about to say that we have learned how to separate the use of violence from the use of guns.

A day doesn’t go by without some pro-gun mouthpiece reminding us that guns protect us from crime.  And basically what they are all saying is that violence can and should be used against violence, except they don’t call it gun violence, they call it self-protection, freedom, and 2nd-Amendment rights. But make no mistake about it, when the NRA promotes CCW or Stand Your Ground laws, they are not only saying that violence is and should be a response to violence, they are asking for legal immunity for anyone taking that path. Now that most states have legalized unconditional CCW when it did not exist as a doctrine during Dr. King’s lifetime, shouldn’t we say that violence has become more, rather than less of an accepted social norm since his death?

Not only is violence sanctioned in the American legal fabric, but when efforts are made to curb violence through lawful means, the gun lobby and its sycophants in and out of the media resist such efforts on a continuous and usually successful basis.  Only 28 states have CAP laws which, by definition, would curb the unintended violence caused by accidental shootings, often committed by young children.  And if this isn’t bad enough, we have the disgraceful attempt by the NRA and several of its loony medical partners to demonize physicians for asking patients about access to guns, as if gun violence, as opposed to other forms of violence, lie outside the accepted purview of medical care.

We could blame this socially-acceptable diffusion of violence on the rhetorical excesses of the NRA, but Dr. King would be the first to object to such a facile explanation. Because in his 1967 speech, King was clear that we would not be able to reduce or eliminate violence at home if we did not find ways to reduce our use of organized, state-sanctioned violence abroad. And while I would like to say that we have learned this lesson from the debacle of Viet Nam, in fact it appears that each succeeding generation needs to re-learn this lesson again.  The $600 billion that we spent on the Pentagon in 2015 represents nearly 40% of military expenditures worldwide, and American military personnel are based in more than 100 countries that do not fly our flag.

Let’s not forget on Dr. King’s Day: the same President who signed the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965 signed the Gun Control Act in 1968.  In between those two dates, he sent half a million young men to Viet Nam.

Will CAP Laws And Safe Storage Keep Guns Safe? I’m Not So Sure.

Yesterday comes the news out of Michigan that a 12-year old, mentally-impaired boy, who took a shotgun out of his grandfather’s gun safe, pulled the trigger and killed a pregnant, 28-year old woman sleeping in a different room in the same house, will now be charged with careless discharge of a firearm.  The sentence could involve fines and/or placement in a juvenile facility. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Michigan is one of 23 states that does not have a child access prevention law (CAP), which means that a kid who had no idea what he was doing gets charged in this death and grandpa, who owned the gun, gets off scot free.

gun safe                Every week or so the media seems to carry another story about a youngster who somehow manages to grab a gun and kill or wound someone else.  Probably the recent episode that garnered the most media attention was the shooting of Veronica Rutledge by her 2-year old son in an Idaho Wal Mart; Mom had a pistol in her handbag, turned away for a sec and – bam!  Rutledge was alleged to be a trained shooter who carried a gun for self-defense.  Some self-defense.

In 2013, the CDC estimates that 538 kids under 14 were unintentionally injured by guns and another 69 are estimated to have lost their lives because someone accidentally shot off a gun.  THE CDC also reports that 625 kids 14 years or younger died from drowning and 1,345 youngsters lost their lives in accidents involving trucks or cars. I’m not saying the deaths of 69 children for any reason should be ignored; I’m just trying to put it into perspective as regards the issue of safe guns.

Even though we don’t have exact data on how many children kill or maim themselves or others with guns, every time it happens we get the chorus about locking up or locking away the guns. The issue of gun safety needs to be understood beyond the degree to which young children are injured or killed because when we look at total unintentional firearm mortality and morbidity for all ages, the numbers dramatically change. Accidental gun deaths jump to 505; for non-fatal gun injuries the toll is 16,864. This latter figure, to quote one of my street friends, is serious sh*t.  And it would be a lot more serious were it not for skilled trauma surgeons who somehow manage to bring many shooting victims back from the dead.

The problem with relying on CAP laws and safe storage is that most unintentional shootings occur not because a little kid grabs a gun, but because the owner or one of his friends does something impulsive or dumb while the gun is being used in a lawful and legal way. In 2013, there were 2,590 unintentional gun injury victims ages 15 to 19, but nearly 2,000 of these victims were 18 years old, which meant that they were lawfully able to use a gun.  The gun accident rate for the 18-19 age group was 22.74, drops to 9.38 for ages 20-35, to 7.82 for ages 35-44 and down to 3.16 for ages 45-54.  This decrease in gun accident rates moving up the age scale is exactly what we find in rates by age bracket for accidents involving cars.

Everyone is in favor of using guns safely; the NRA talks about it all the time. What nobody wants to face, however, is the simple fact that when you have 300 million dangerous weapons floating around, a certain number are going to be used every day in stupid and senseless ways.  If CAP laws and safe storage prevented every unintentional gun injury to children, the overall deaths and injuries would drop by 3 percent.  CAP laws and gun locks are necessary, but they don’t really respond to the fact that 300 million extremely lethal weapons are owned by humans, and at some time or another every one of us will be careless or forget.

Is Gun Suicide A Form Of Gun Violence? You Betcha.

Gun suicide accounts for 2/3 of fatal gun violence every year.  Until recently I have always been somewhat uncomfortable lumping suicide and homicide together, if only because the nature of the event is so different, the ownership and access to the weapon is so different, hence one assumes that the mitigation strategies should be different. But following discussions with the expert suicide researchers at Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center and a review of peer-reviewed literature, I am persuaded that gun suicide is not only a fundamental gun violence problem, but understanding and responding to it might provide a map for mitigating gun homicides and gun assaults as well.

suicide foto               Gun suicides and gun homicides intersect In two basic ways: the lethality of the weapon and the motives and behavior of the shooter leading up to the incident itself.  As to the former, guns used in suicides result in a success rate of 95%.  No other suicide effort is half as effective in the final result.  As for homicide, obviously the “success” rate is only about 10%, but there is no other serious injury which comes close to generating the costs and trauma that results from being wounded with a gun.

As to behavior, the degree to which impulse governs the actions of everyone who shoots themselves or others with a gun should not be overlooked.  Less than 20% of all homicides occur during the commission of another, serious crime.  Most gun homicides grow out of a history of disputes between individuals who know each other and the incidence of domestic abuse in homicides where the victims are women is virtually 100%.  I recently discussed a report from the Violence Policy Center in which I noted that a random search of gun homicides committed by CCW-holders showed that virtually all of them grew out of arguments and fights, usually aggravated by too much to drink. Is there really a great difference between the guy who gets sick and tired of fighting with himself or sick and tired of arguing with his wife and reaches for his gun?  I don’t think so, and the research on suicide and homicide tends to bear me out.

What about mitigating strategies for both types of fatalities involving guns?  An article on suicide prevention among Israeli soldiers caught my eye because Israel is often touted by the pro-gun community as the model for giving civilians full access to guns with a consequent low rate of violent crime.  But the policy of allowing soldiers to keep their guns with them on weekend leave also resulted in an alarmingly high rate of suicide among these soldiers, which dropped by nearly 40% when soldiers had to leave their guns secured at their base while spending weekends at home.  Anyone who thinks there’s no connection between suicide and gun access needs to look honestly at what happened in Israel before and after access to guns was denied.

The pro-gun folks would like to believe that gun fatalities have nothing to do with guns and are all about crime.  There’s a simple logic to that argument except for the fact that every single gun involved in a criminal event first started out as a legal gun.  For that matter, most of the guns in suicides either were legally owned by the suicide victim or belonged to another family member who legally purchased the gun.

The usual response from the gun-safety community is to push for an expansion of CAP laws, and clearly such laws do have a mitigating effect when it comes to keeping kids away from guns.  But let me break the news to you gently – the big problem with such laws is that the only way that someone can use a gun is to unlock where the gun is stored or unlock the gun itself.  And the problem we face with both gun suicides and gun homicides is figuring out how to spot the impulsive, destructive behavior of certain people before they get their hands on a gun.

 

We Don’t Need Better Laws On Gun Safety. We’ve Got The NRA.

            Shannon Watts wrote a column for Huffington Post promoting more effective laws to hold parents accountable when their children get their hands on guns. She points out that child access prevention (CAP) laws make a real difference in unintentional gun injuries in which the victims are kids, but that the NRA has chosen to oppose such laws because CAP might “infringe on gun owners’ rights to effectively protect their homes.”

eagle            What Shannon didn’t mention is that the NRA goes a lot further than just fighting CAP laws. They also promote themselves as America’s gun-safety organization through their Eddie Eagle program which they claim to have introduced to more than 26 million children in schools throughout all 50 states. The program materials consist of instructional brochures, DVDs, student workbooks and the like, all designed to “keep America’s young children safe.”

The gun industry and the NRA touts their commitment to gun safety because unintentional gun injuries have steadily declined over the past twenty years.  The NSSF cites data from the National Safety Council which shows that deaths of children from accidental shootings has dropped by more than 70% since 1993, with all unintentional gun mortality for both children and adults now standing at an all-time low. What better proof could there be about the effectiveness of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program or other safety programs conducted by the NSSF?  All the more reason why comprehensive CAP laws would just make it more difficult for gun owners to protect themselves, their families and their homes, right?

Duhhh, there’s only one little problem.  The NRA and the gun lobby in general can’t ever seem to understand that causation and causality are two very different things.  The fact that unintentional gun injuries have declined over the same period that the NRA claims to have introduced its Eddie Eagle gun safety program to millions of school kids doesn’t mean that one has anything to do with the other, even if they occurred at the same time.

The NRA has never validated its claims about the effectiveness of Eddie Eagle through an objective, third-party source.  And while the NRA Eddie Eagle website contains what at first glance appears to be an impressive list of individuals who comprise the program “task force,” if you examine the list closely you soon discover that while it includes teachers, school administrators, NRA staff and a few cops, there isn’t a single individual connected to the program in any way who has ever attempted to study the impact or value of the program at all.

Public health researchers have convincingly demonstrated that efforts to change the behavior of children by discussing issues in group settings yields little, if any positive results.  The most effective way to modify the behavior of children is on a one-to-one basis, and if the teaching is widened to a group setting, the target group should be very small.  The fact that the NRA has never conducted any study to test the before-and-after results of distributing their safety literature either in classrooms or in community groups makes it impossible to accept their self-congratulatory statements about teaching gun safety to kids.

I’m not saying the Eddie Eagle program doesn’t work.  I’m saying that to use a totally non-validated safety program as an excuse for opposing CAP laws is shabby at best, harmful and unsafe at worst. The real reason that unintentional gun injuries have declined over the past twenty years is because gun makers have phased in more safety engineering (e.g., floating firing pins) and states now require additional safety features such as loaded chamber indicators and minimum trigger-pull weights. But neither factor invalidates Shannon’s call for more comprehensive CAP laws.  If the NRA was really serious about representing all those responsible gun owners, they would welcome laws that require guns to be locked or locked away.