What’s The Connection Between ‘Weak’ Gun Laws And Gun Violence? I’m Not Sure.

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Now that the Trump Administration has made it clear that creating new gun regulations is hardly a national priority, I’d like to recommend to my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community that perhaps they would step back and rethink the issue of the alleged connection between federal gun laws and gun violence; i.e., the belief that fewer federal gun laws leads to more criminal and accidental misuse of guns.

traffic             I’m not saying that we should do away with laws which regulate the purchase, ownership and use of guns.  I’m saying that GVP needs to be a little more sensitive to the assumption that more federal guns laws equals less gun violence because at the federal level we aren’t about to see any more laws. And what the GVP community needs to do most of all is stop assuming that just because a bunch of guns from one state end up getting sold to bad guys in another state, that this means the way to fix the problem is to pass new federal laws.

Here’s a fer-instance:  The Brooklyn DA announces that he is charging 24 putzes, most of whom are Blood members, with trafficking 217 guns into Kings County, including 41 assault weapons, and selling them on the street.  The weapons, according to the DA, were ‘purchased’ in Virginia and his indictment ‘highlighted the need for federal gun control to help stem the flow of thousands of illegal guns from the South.’  And what was the evidence produced to show that these jerkoff gun sellers were exploiting (as one media report called it) the ‘weak’ gun laws in Virginia?  It was a wiretap comment made by one of the jerkoffs named Antwan Walker (a.k.a. Twan) that he could go into any gun store in Virginia and buy as many guns as he could put into a car and take up to New York.

Now let’s assume for the sake of argument that my man Twan was actually telling the truth, even though the chances that he has ever told the truth about anything is probably about as great as the chances that we will ever hear a truthful statement from #45. But the point is that if Twan could go into a licensed gun dealer and buy even one gun, he had to be able to pass a NICS background check, which means he had to have a clean record or else he would not have been able to walk out of the store with the gun.

Guess what?  The gun law which allowed our the gun-trafficking expert Twan to go into a shop and buy 50 guns and take them up to New York was the exact, same federal law which would have regulated the sale of those guns to Twan in whatever state he happened to live. So the idea that all those Southern guns are coming up to New York because Southern states have ‘weak’ gun laws isn’t necessarily true.

Now someone might say but Mike, isn’t it easier to buy guns in Virginia because that state doesn’t require background checks for secondary (i.e., non-dealer) sales? Which happens to be the case in 39 other states besides Virginia, but our young gun trafficker (a.k.a. Twan) didn’t say anything over the phone about getting guns through private sales.  Know why? Because Twan and everybody else who wants to move guns from gun-rich states like Virginia to gun-poor cities like Big Apple doesn’t have to pay for the merchandise at all. They just have to walk down any residential street, break into a private home and I guarantee you they’ll find plenty of guns to steal.

With reliable estimates of between 200,000 and 400,000 handguns stolen each year, why does the GVP community sit around bemoaning the fact that there are so many ‘straw’ sales? I’m totally in favor of extending background checks to secondary sales BTW; I just don’t think it has much to do with how those guns end up on Brooklyn streets, no matter what Twan was heard to say.

 

When It Comes to Gun Violence Chicago Is Bad But It Ain’t The Worst.

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Chicago was ablaze with gunfire again this weekend and as of Sunday morning, five people were dead in a single house and another fifteen were in various hospitals with wounds.  There’s a good chance that the Windy City will rack up more than 800 gun deaths in 2016, almost double the number of gun murders in 2015, which was a 12% increase from the year before.  The city is looking at the newly-issued report of a taskforce that is calling for new measures to deal with the violence; you know, another taskforce, got it?

chicago             Last year I looked at the map of shootings for Chicago that is carried in The Tribune, and noticed that some neighborhoods, particularly parts of the South and West Sides, appeared overwhelmed with gun violence, whereas other areas of the city seemed to have little or no gun violence at all.  But the map for 2016 is different because although gun violence is still concentrated in neighborhoods like Austin in the West and New City in the South, shootings occur in every neighborhood, even in places like Rogers Park.  I lived in Rogers Park in the 1970s and forget about violence or crime, our apartment on Greenleaf Avenue didn’t even have a front-door lock.  This year there have been 25 shootings in Rogers Park, although that’s an improvement because shootings numbered 40 in 2014.

Doing a quick calculation brings the murder rate in Chicago (per 100,000 residents) to just around 30, give or take a few. The national gun homicide rate is around 3.5 per 100,000, in other words, one-tenth of what’s going on in Chicago these days, no wonder the weekend shooting deaths of five people in one house made the national news. Incidentally, I just went back to the browser and the city’s shooting toll since Friday afternoon has been upped to 9 dead and 26 wounded with most of Sunday still to be gotten through.

So what makes this city such a human shooting gallery with no end in sight?  It’s almost like you could walk down any street in the Second City and a bullet might go whizzing overhead.  Except the fact is that Chicago, compared to some other places, isn’t so dangerous after all.  St. Louis this year has a murder rate of 61, New Orleans is 46, Newark is 39.  I don’t know how many of these murders were committed with guns, but if the usual 70% average for guns used in homicides holds true in these towns, then all of them, and some others, rank well ahead of Chicago when it comes to the number of residents who are being gunned down.

If the gun-violence problem in Chicago was just related to Chicago, we could probably come up with some quick and easy reasons why such an exceptional situation existed in only this one place.  But gun violence, more particularly the increase in gun violence, isn’t just a Chicago problem at all. It seems to be occurring in many places, and I am not sure that this generalized increase in gun violence is only found in high-density, inner-city neighborhoods. The FBI says that the murder rate is lowest in cities with less than 100,000 residents, but the town of Mangonia Park, FL (which has a great waterslide) registered two murders in 2015 which gave this place a murder rate per 100,000 of 151!  When a homicide occurs in a place like Mangonia Park it never makes the national news, but there are little towns (what the FBI calls ‘tiny cities’) all over the place and violent crimes, shooting crimes, take place in these spots as well.

Violent crime and, in particular gun violence dropped steeply in the 1990s and 2000s but levelled off but let’s stop patting ourselves on the back and pretending that we’ve got the problem under control. As the accuracy of gun-violence reporting gets more accurate, it’s clear the numbers are moving up.  And they are moving up everywhere, not just in the city on the lake.

If Minorities Are Buying Guns, It’s Not To Exercise Their 2nd-Amendment ‘Rights.’

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During the Presidential campaign there were all sorts of stories floating around about how some of Trump’s supporters were planning armed insurrection if it turned out that their candidate was somehow cheated out of his rightful prize.  And even The New York Times ran a story based on some interviews with Trump loyalists, none of whom actually said that they would lead an armed revolt (which even to verbally promote such nonsense happens to be a federal crime) but they knew other people who were ready to take their guns into the streets.

hate           Luckily we were saved from a revolutionary situation because Shlump actually won.  But in the aftermath of his victory, while the guy who really understands the ‘common man’ lines up an Executive management team which represents the billionaire class, we are now being treated to the opposite of the ‘Trump loss equals armed revolt’ crap with stories about how people who consider themselves targets of Shlump-o’s fascist-populist message are arming themselves in response to the impending warfare that will sooner or later break out.

This latest effort to sensationalize every aspect of political news and commentary was the handiwork of NBC, which ran a story about how ‘fearful minorities’ (read: African-Americans) were ‘buying up guns,’ the reportage based entirely on interviews with a black lady who lives in Alpharetta, GA, a black gun-shop owner in Virginia and the guy who heads something called the National African American Gun Association, which just happens to be occasionally featured on the Breitbart website (where else?) because of the group’s strong support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

This idea that African-Americans should become gun owners predates the 2016 campaign, reflecting an attempt by the gun industry to reach out to new markets, in particular women, Hispanics and blacks.  The problem is that none of these demographics have ever shown any serious inclination to join Gun-nut Nation, and while noisemakers like Dana Loesch (for the women segment) and Colion Noir (for the African-American segment) push their stupidly-contrived videos on the NRA website and YouTube, they are basically speaking for themselves. The FBI, under statute, does not maintain or release data on the racial breakdown of NICS-background checks (my request for such information was politely refused last year) and anecdotal evidence is anecdotal but it’s not evidence.  What we do know from the latest Pew survey is that roughly one out of five African-American and Hispanic households contain guns, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

But let’s assume for the moment that even with the shallowness of the reportage, the NBC story about how minorities are streaming into gun shops is true.  You would think this would be a salutary news event for Gun-nut Nation, given how the gun industry has tried to promote the ownership of its products to non-white groups. But judging from a Breitbart story based on the NBC report, the enthusiasm is less than real.  Because the problem that Gun-nut Nation now faces is to find a way to promote the idea of minority gun ownership while, at the same time minimizing (or simply lying about) the reason why African-Americans are buying guns.  And the reason is very simple:  the incoming President of the United States has made it clear that minority communities can expect little, if any protection from a federal government whose Chief Executive pollutes the digital airwaves daily with a mixture of racism, appeals to violence and outright scorn.

If, as the NBC story suggests, minorities are considering gun ownership out of fear of what an unbridled racism promoted by Donald Shlump might bring, this also creates an important turning-point for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community as well. Because the one thing we know is that defending yourself or your community by going around armed basically does nothing except create circumstances and situations in which more gun violence occurs. I’m not denying the reality of a palpable sense of fear created by the shenanigans of Jerk Trump. But sticking a gun in your pocket will only make it worse.

The Government Issues A New Report On Safe-Gun Technology Which Moves The Discussion Backwards.

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It’s official.  The newspaper of record, a.k.a. The New York Times, has just announced its support of a new government statement on safe-gun technology which probably represents the last thing the Obama Administration has to say about guns.  And if The New York Times believes that this report is the non-plus-ultra statement about safe guns, then this must be a very solid and very impressive report.  In fact, it’s not.

safegunThe report is an amateurish cut-and-paste job which was obviously put together so that someone deep inside the bowels of the Department of Justice could complete some end-of-year checklist and get on with looking for a new job. But of course once The New York Times gives this report its official imprimatur you can bet this shabby effort to make something out of nothing will become the new argument for adoption of safe-gun technologies, an argument that has been floating around for more than 20 years under the guise of how digital innovation can help us be safe with guns.

Entitled “Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology,” the report is an effort to nudge the safe-gun discussion a little further by setting out design and performance standards that would have to be met by any manufacturer hoping to sell such a product to any federal agency whose personnel carries guns.  Actually, since the document is not any kind of official RFP, it represents no legal or practical advance at all.  For the most part the text consists of nothing more than a combination of the government’s handgun performance criteria which will be used to possibly adopt a new military handgun sometime in the future, along with design specifications which were taken from an RFP issued by the FBI for a new pistol awarded to Glock.

Buried near the end of the report is a brief section which describes the safe-gun technology itself except that all it basically says is that some kind of ‘security device’ will be a permanent part of the gun, will be programmable and may include something worn by the operator, like a wristband or a ring.  By the way, if the security device ‘malfunctions’ the gun will still work.

Now I thought the whole point of safe-gun technology is to prevent a gun from being used at any time except by someone digitally authorized to use the gun. But the problem with these digital gizmos is they need some kind of power source which comes from a battery and batteries wear out.  Is the average cop going to check to make sure while he’s on the job that the gizmo is always ready to go? He won’t, which is exactly why the gun defaults to being used by anyone which is exactly why nobody’s going to adopt this gun.

The NYT Editorial Board says this report is a positive step forward in the development of safe-gun technology because it creates “industry standards for reliable battery power in a smart gun, for ensuring unhindered speed in drawing the weapon and for the distance allowed between the gun and its owner’s ID device.”  In fact, what the report does is give the gun lobby an excellent opportunity to once again claim that gun-grabbing bureaucrats will find any reason to take away our guns.  The NRA called the report another example of “empty gestures meant to placate a gun control constituency that was disappointed Congress had spurned efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights.,” and went on to list several parts of the report (beyond what I mentioned above) which demonstrated the lack of substance and understanding about the actual use of safe guns.

The gun industry opposes safe-gun technology because it fights any effort to reduce gun violence through government mandates, government regulations or anything else that interferes with the industry’s ability to control the kinds of products it decides to put out for sale.  But the gun violence prevention community shouldn’t make it any easier for the gun lobby to pursue its aims, and the decision of the NYT Editorial Board to promote this report moves the safe-gun argument in a direction it shouldn’t take.

 

Are We In The Middle Of A Gun Violence Epidemic, Or Is It Something Worse?

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I happened to glance at the remarkable Gun Violence Archive website today and two things caught my tired, old eyes.  First, the site has added maps, which allows someone at a glance to see the location of mass shootings, the places where law enforcement officers have been shot or killed, and the locations where people were shot or killed by police.  I’ll comment below on what these maps mean to me, but first I want to spend a few paragraphs discussing the other thing that caught my eye, namely, the number of people who have been killed this year by guns.

GVA            The figure for fatal shootings is unbelievable: 9,175.  If gun shootings continue at this level for the rest of the year, we end up at more than 14,000 who lost their lives due to guns, which will also be an unbelievable figure.  And it’s unbelievable for two reasons: first, because the number would mark an extraordinary increase from previous years; second, because the numbers captured and then published by the Gun Violence Archive go far beyond the numbers presented by anyone else, including the government agencies who are paid by us – the taxpayers – allegedly to track and publish these numbers on official terms.

According to the CDC, the total for all gun deaths other than suicide was 11,995, a number which includes homicides, accidental shootings and what is politely referred to as ‘legal interventions, which means that someone was shot (and killed) by a cop.  The FBI doesn’t track deaths, it tracks crimes, and they say there were 11,971 homicides in 2014, of which 8,124 were committed by someone who used a gun.  If we compare these 2014 numbers to the number in the GVA, both the CDC and FBI come up short.

I trust the GVA not because their numbers are higher than the other figures, but because their research is rigorous and comprehensive. But let’s not forget that since GVA pulls its information from media and other open sources, by definition even its number undercounts what’s really going on.  Notwithstanding these caveats, what the GVA shows is that gun deaths went up 7% from 2014 to 2015, and if the current carnage rate continues until year’s end, the 2016 figure will jump at least another 4% again. Is there a chance that we are now looking at an annual 5% increase in gun deaths every year?  That’s not only a good possibility; the numbers actually indicate that the increase in annual gun-deaths might be higher than that.

Now let’s take a look at the new GVA maps.  There are three maps that show the location of this year’s mass shootings, the location of cops shot or killed and persons shot or killed by cops. I am hopeful the GVA will eventually give us is a map showing the location of all person-to-person shootings because what I suspect we will see is that gun violence is generic to all 50 states.  And this should not surprise given the number of times each year that someone kills or injuries someone else with a gun.

If the annual rate of gun deaths continues to mount at 5% a year, by 2024 we will be over 20,000 gun deaths, and if we add that number to what has also been an upward trend in gun suicides, we could be looking at gun violence claiming more than 50,000 lives each and every year. Gun violence is often called an ‘epidemic,’ but I prefer the approach taken by one of our most brilliant gun researchers, Katherine Christoffel, who considers gun violence to be endemic to our society because it exacts a constant and more ongoing toll.

Feel free to download Dr. Christoffel’s article and consider what she has to say. The bottom line is that unless we take very dramatic and very forceful steps to curb gun violence, we may find ourselves with no choice but to accept this extraordinary loss of life as an ordinary state of affairs. And that is something we simply cannot permit.

Let’s Get Some Good Numbers On Police Use Of Lethal Force And Then Figure Out What To Do.

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Tuesday night Street Thug got a big roar out of the Crowd in Jacksonville when he said that he would make America “safe” for the cops. Now I was always under the impression that the cops were supposed to make America safe, but obviously the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge have changed all that. Or at least changed it in the minds of the crowd that showed up to chant about building a wall in front of their beloved Mister Trump.

cops           How bad is the problem of cops getting killed on the job?  According to the FBI, 51 police were feloniously killed in 2014, of whom 46 lost their lives to assaults involving guns. After Dallas and Baton Rouge, the number of cops shot to death this year jumped to 37; last year at this point only 20 officers had lost their lives to gunfire. But 2015 was an exceptionally safe year; in fact in 2011 there were 73 fatal law enforcement gun deaths, in 2010 it was 60 police gun deaths. Notwithstanding recent events, the number of cops getting shot has been drifting downward over the last ten years.

I wish I could say the same thing about civilians who are shot by cops.  This number appears to be going up.  According to the CDC, which tracks gun deaths attributed to the actions of law enforcement as ‘legal intervention,’ the average yearly toll between 2005 and 2009 was 340, from 2010 through 2014 the yearly average was 440 – a yearly increase of 30%! The CDC data also shows that over the last ten years, African-Americans were 26% of the toll of legal interventions, which happens to be twice the percentage of African-Americans in the population as a whole.

So what we have when we look at the trends of gun violence involving police is that the number of cops getting shot on the job, this year’s tragic events notwithstanding, has been going down, the number of civilians shot by cops has been going up. Meanwhile, police deaths from accidents, which along with shootings comprises more than 95% of all on-the-job police mortality, have also been declining, the result of better training.  So what’s up with guns?

Not only can’t I answer that question, but I’m not sure that the numbers produced by the FBI or the CDC on police use of lethal force bear any resemblance to reality at all.  And if they don’t, then how can we even begin to talk about what needs to be done, or should be done, to bring this situation under control.  Street Thug can scream out from today to next year that under his rule cops will be protected and safe.  But you can take that statement about as seriously as you can take anything else he says, except when he admits that he was always looking for an ‘easy’ way to be awarded a Purple Heart.

According to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, 168 people were shot and killed by police between June 25 and August 3 of this year.  That’s more than 4 a day.  At that rate, the yearly total of cop shootings would come to more than 1,460.  Is that possible?  Can the number of people killed by cops amount to three times the number given by the CDC? Not only is it possible – it’s probable because The Washington Post also tracks police shootings through media reports and says that the 2016 number is up to 564.  Another online tracker says the number stands at 690 for this year.

I’ll be the first person to say that police deserve all our support.  But supporting the men and women in blue is one thing, dealing properly with the issue of aggravated assaults by cops is something else.  And if we don’t even know the scope of the problem, how are we going to deal with it at all?

 

What Would Happen If Americans Didn’t Own Guns?

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The NRA keeps saying that if HRC is elected, the first thing she will do is confiscate all the guns.  So that got me thinking.  What would happen if the guns were taken away?  Or to put it more specifically, what would happen if America implemented licensing for gun ownership similar to what exists in the rest of the OECD?  Such a system would mean the immediate disappearance of assault weapons, the gradual disappearance of small, concealable handguns and the remaining firearms (true sporting rifles and shotguns) being regulated to varying degrees. The number of guns manufactured and imported each year would drop by more than half, but the revenue loss of roughly $13 billion in a GDP of almost $18 trillion would hardly be noticed at all.

conference-program-pic            On the other hand, what would the absence of guns mean to public health and crime?  As to the former, there would probably be some drop in the 20,000 suicides that occur each year with guns, but the evidence also suggests that there would be a ‘substitution’ effect, meaning that many, if not most suicide-prone individuals would find other means for ending their lives.  As for unintentional injuries from guns, as the total number of guns in civilian hands declined, so would the number of injuries, but the medical costs of gun accidents is less than .001% of the medical costs racked up each year for treating all unintentional injuries, hardly a major component in driving costs of medical care.

As for intentional gun injuries, for the sake of argument, let’s place annual gun assaults midway between FBI and CDC, or roughly 100,000.  That’s still only 15% of all serious assaults which might not be committed if guns couldn’t be used, but I suspect that the ‘substitution’ effect here would also render the difference less, because our overall assault rate is not much different than average assault rates throughout the OECD.  As for the argument that our homicide rate would be much lower if we didn’t have easy access to guns, this is perhaps true.  But in 2014 the U.S. still racked up almost 5,000 homicides without guns, substantially higher than most of the OECD.

In all of the arguments being made about strictly regulating guns however, what seems to be missed is the effects of gun absence on gun owners themselves.  Because there are somewhere around 30 million households that contain legal guns, and of the 60 million or so legal gun owners, at least 5 million define their life-styles, the social milieu, their culture and cultural beliefs in terms of guns. So what happens to these folks and their everyday existence if they can’t have access to guns?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, I had lots of toy guns but what I really took pride in was my collection of Lionel trains.  The trains and the room-wide track display eventually disappeared, both for me and for just about everyone else who loved model trains.  By the time my children were old enough to play with model trains, they were sitting in front of a television set playing Nintendo and collecting video games.

For that matter, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I don’t recall all that many cars on I-91 going towards New Hampshire and Vermont with kayaks on top or backpacks and tents behind.  Times change, styles change, leisure activities change – the market will always find a way to satisfy our desire to accumulate objects we really want but don’t need.

Which is exactly the problem with guns.  More than 30,000 people die and another 70,000+ are injured each year because Americans have free access to something they really don’t need.  So the issue of how and why to regulate this product doesn’t come down to numbers at all.  It comes down to a moral imperative which says that we should not sanction the use of violence in the ordinary course of human affairs – neither violence towards ourselves or towards anyone else.

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