A National Gun Buyback On December 16.

It was November 2, 1981. Mike Hirsh and John Wood, surgery residents at Columbia University Medical School, were sitting in a meeting when John told Mike he was going to go across the street to a deli and get them some snacks. Ten minutes later John Woods was dead, gunned down in the street by an armed robber who had come up to him, demanded money, then shot him and ran away.

buybacks             This event has remained in the forefront of Mike Hirsh’s emotional fabric in the more than thirty years that he has practiced pediatric surgery, knowing that had it not been for a random, violent event, his dearest and closest friend would have enjoyed the same positive and beneficial life. Gun violence is random, it robs someone of the life opportunities the rest of us take for granted, its impact can only be felt by the ones who knew the victim before he or she died.

And this is the reason why Mike Hirsh began working on gun buybacks and will now run a buyback in Worcester, MA for the sixteenth consecutive year. It’s not just that as a pediatric surgeon he sees the results of violence first-hand in the operating room. It’s because the buyback is his way of remembering the dear friend he lost to gun violence just because his friend stepped out of the hospital for a minute to go buy a sandwich and a drink.

But this year the buyback being run by Mike Hirsh is taking a decidedly different turn. On December 16, two days past the 5th anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook, the event in Worcester is being copied by buybacks in two other cities in Massachusetts, cities in five other New England states, a site in California and perhaps several more states coming on. In other words, for the first time there will be a national gun buyback day, and next year plans are already being made to hold buybacks on the same day in at least 12 states.

The plan is to eventually extend to all 50 states using the resources and staff of medical centers in each state whose emergency, trauma and primary care departments are only too well aware of the medical and human costs of violence caused by guns. A National Gun Buyback Day will not only get guns off the streets, but will also serve as learning opportunities for physicians and medical students to talk about gun violence with folks who turn in the guns. Now that the 11th Circuit has thrown out the crazy Florida law which criminalized doctors for talking to patients about guns, physicians can move themselves back into the middle of the gun debate which is where they belong.

National Gun Buyback Day has also allied itself with a new effort in California, Gun By Gun, whose organizers want to provide cash for buyback incentives through receiving public donations and then funneling revenues to buyback activities that might need some extra help beyond what their own community can provide. If you want to make a tax-deductible donation for the National Gun Buyback Day on December 16, you can do it here.

What binds the pro-gun movement together as a social and political force is the simple fact that most folks who consider themselves to be pro-gun also happen to own a gun. So there’s a tangible connection between what they say and what they do. And this has always been something of a problem for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, because GVP supporters are rally around a moral absolute (‘thou shalt not kill”) rather than around defending what they like or want to do.

But an ongoing, national activity like buybacks gives the GVP community to get their hands ‘dirty,’ so to speak, which always has a way of creating more energy, more commitment, more buzz. So let’s get going and get behind the December 16 event!


Want To Take On The NRA? Make Sure You Know The Facts.

I bought my first real gun when I was twelve years old, have maybe owned 300 to 400 guns since.  Don’t ask me why I’m a gun nut, I just am.  Now a report has been issued which, for the first time, attempts to quantify the size of the gun nut population, or what is called social gun culture.  And based on a ‘nationally representative’ survey of 4,000 respondents, the number of gun nuts is roughly 14 million, which is based on what the survey believes to be 13.7% of the 100 million Americans who own guns.

Wowee – Kazowee!! Can there really be 14 million other gun nuts like me?  If this were true, I’d have lots more gun shows to visit every weekend, lots more gun shops with guns I just have to own.  The problem, however, is that I don’t think these numbers are true because I’m not persuaded that the survey questions which elicited the data are the questions that should have been asked.

gun nuts              To begin, the survey reports that 29.1% of the respondents answered ‘yes’ to one of six questions used as indicators to capture the number of people who own guns.  One of the questions asked whether the respondent had attended a gun safety course; another asked whether the respondent advocated gun safety.  I happen to live in the only state (MA) that requires a safety course prior to the purchase of any kind of gun, a majority of states require no course at all, so the response to this question from a ‘nationally representative’ sample is meaningless at best.  As for advocating responsible gun ownership, 606 answered ‘yes’ and 3,394 answered ‘no.’  Since 1,200 respondents are presumed to own guns, does this mean that at least half of all gun owners would say they were against responsible ownership of guns?  Give me a break.

As to the overall number of gun owners and, by extrapolation, the number of those owners who are gun nuts, again I don’t get the warm and fuzzies from the manner in which the research team analyzed the results.  Again, the survey was based on a ‘nationally representative’ sample, so I have to assume that every respondent lived at a different address. Which means that the 29.1% who were identified in the survey as gun owners was really a count of households which contained guns, and not a count of individual gun owners themselves.  If the survey counted gun-owning households, then the 29.1% figure would be similar to what other polls have recently found.  And if 14% of these households contained one gun nut, then we are down to around 4 million of us gun nuts, which happens to be the official membership figure claimed by the NRA. And yes, I’m a Life Member of the NRA.

Don’t get me wrong.  My criticisms of the report should not be taken as a lack of respect for the work and diligence of the research team which conducted the survey and analyzed its results.  My concern, rather, is the degree to which the attempt to define gun culture and the behavior of gun owners may not reflect a clear understanding of what guns mean to the people who own guns, use guns and define themselves in terms of guns.

Want to figure out who likes guns?  Ask how often someone has been in a gun shop over the past six months.  Because people who make multiple trips to a gun shop really enjoy their guns.  Dropping “the wife” off at Wal Mart and spending a half hour playing with guns is a much better indicator of gun culture than whether someone bases their opinion about someone else because the latter person does or doesn’t own guns.

If understanding gun culture, in the words of the report, is important for developing “prudent” gun policies, then you’re stepping on the NRA’s turf in a very big and direct way.  So you better make sure that your information is fundamentally correct.  In this respect, the new report falls a bit short.