When We Talk About Gun Violence, Aren’t We Talking About Crimes?

For all the talk about a new gun law which is sweeping across both sides of the Congressional aisle following the mass shootings of last week, there seems to be one response to the problem of gun violence which somehow never gets said. And this response would take into account the fact that more than 75% of all gun injuries happen to be crimes. That’s right – crimes. 

Here are the numbers from 2017, rounded off a bit: Unintentional injuries – 15,000; suicides – 21,000; homicides and aggravated assaults – 90,000. Oops, that’s only 72% but it’s close enough. 

I know all the reasons why so many guns wind up in the ‘wrong hands.’ I also know all the reasons why so many shootings occur in inner-city, what we politely refer to as ‘disadvantaged’ zones. The latter topic may not be as popular for trade books as why America is quickly becoming a Fascist state, but a new book on this subject has a way of appearing every year.

Our most eminent gun researchers, Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig, have begun developing a different approach to this whole problem which my friends in Gun-control Nation should spend some time thinking about instead of always promoting the ‘public health approach.’ According to Cook and Ludwig, the average arrest rate for aggravated assaults in major cities is somewhere around five percent.  In other words, if I’m walking down Blackstone Avenue in Chicago and I decide to yank out my Glock and shoot someone else in the head, even if I miss and only hit him in the shoulder, the odds that I’ll get away with the assault are better than nine out of ten.   

The good news for my intended victim is that like most people walking around with a legal or illegal gun, I don’t practice enough to hit what I’m trying to hit. So even using a very lethal round like a 9mm or an S&W 40, chances are my intended target will survive. The better news for me is that when the cops show up and ask the three or four people who witnessed the assault to give them a description of what I look like, what they’ll be able to broadcast over the radio is that they are looking for someone who ‘I didn’t see nuttin’ at all,’ is the way I’ll probably be described.

Know why so many street-corner shootings appear to be just random, drive-by events? Because the nabe knows that if they go to the cops to complain that someone dissed them or someone assaulted them or someone’s just being a pain, the chances are better than even that the cops won’t do anything at all. Yea, yea, I know all about community policing – tell that one to communities of color in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., where the gun-violence rates in both cities have lately increased by more than 30 percent!

Let me make it clear. Believe it or not, I’m very pro-cop.  I earn my living doing lethal-force certifications for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and I appreciate the fact that when police show up at a home that is burning down they will rush right in to make sure that all the occupants are safely outside, including the family cat. So the purpose of this column is not (read: not) to dump on the cops.

On the other hand, I don’t understand why anyone who shoots someone else isn’t charged with attempted murder, since the only reason it was attempted and not completed was because the shooter didn’t shoot straight. Unfortunately, according to Cook and Ludwig, that even when someone actually aims accurately enough to leave a dead body in the street, the arrest rate for capital gun crimes is less than 20 percent.

My friends who promote the idea of a ‘public health approach’ to gun violence might take some time to consider the implications of the Cook-Ludwig research. Somehow I just don’t buy the argument that crimes as serious as gun assaults should go unpunished because we don’t want to be ‘judgemental’ about life on inner-city streets.

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The Supreme Court Just Shattered A Favorite Pro-Gun Belief.

              Talking about adding insult to injury. Last week the Supreme Court jumped on the ‘let’s get rid of the NRA’ bandwagon with a decision which undermined one of the basic tenets of the pro-gun movement; namely, the idea that the best way to reduce gun violence is to lock ’em up and throw away the key. America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ never talks about gun owners without referring to this population as ‘law abiding,’ the idea being that as long as ‘good guys’ own guns, they will protect us from the ‘bad guys’ who own guns.

              Congress went along with this marketing scheme for selling more guns by passing a law in 1986 which gave federal judges undefined authority to increase penalties if someone was convicted of a crime in which they used a gun. So if a guy robbed a mini-mart by brandishing a knife he might be sentenced to prison for so-many years, but if he pulled out a gun, his time in jail could be many more years. 

              Giving judges arbitrary authority to impose stiffer sentences for gun crimes is not the same thing as mandatory sentences for using a gun during a criminal event.  The latter legal strategy exists in many states, but these statutes usually spell out exactly how much additional jail time will be tacked onto the sentence pronounced by the court.  In the case of the 1986 federal law, the statute is silent regarding the specific additional penalty that a criminal earns by using a gun, and these arbitrary punishments can be tacked onto the harsher penalties stuck into the federal criminal statutes by Clinton in 1995.

              There has been a lot of back and forth over the years about whether criminal charges for violating gun laws make any real difference when it comes to how we try to deal with violent crime. For the most part, tacking an additional criminal charge onto a case of armed robbery doesn’t change the fact that the offender invaded someone’s convenience store and tried to take away money or goods with force. In fact, the studies on whether longer sentences for gun crimes reduces violence shows little, if any connection between sentencing and crime rates at all.

              Studies aside, there’s always been some kind of nostalgia for the idea that at some point in the distant past, we were tougher on crime and criminals than we are today. And much of this nonsense is peddled by the same hot-air balloons who are quick to remind us that everything has gone down the drain since we let the ‘element’ move into our neighborhoods, get more welfare and food stamps and vote multiple times so that a guy born in Kenya could end up living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight long, miserable years.

              That’s right. The bottom line on all this talk about getting ‘tough’ on crime and particularly gun crime, is the issue of race. Because when Dana Loesch goes on NRA-TV and loudly proclaims that she uses her gun to protect herself and her family from ‘street thugs,’ she’s not talking about guys who happen to be White. The good news is that even though Dana blocked me yesterday from her Facebook page, a small legal issue between the boys in Fairfax and the PR mavens at Ackerman-McQueen, has now blocked her from appearing on NRA-TV.

              Know why my friends in Gun-control Nation didn’t mention or even notice the SCOTUS decision to redress what has been a hallowed argument by Gun-nut Nation for reducing violence caused by guns? Because the 5-4 decision found the 4 liberal justices joined by none other than one of Trump’s main guys, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. Remember when he was confirmed that all the gun-control noisemakers were saying that he would tip the balance of the Court towards a more aggressive protection of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ Yea, right.

              This decision is exactly in line with what Gun-control Nation has been arguing for years. The silence is remarkable in this respect.

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.”

California’s New Ammunition Law Will Only Make Matters Worse.

Want to take a look at a new law for controlling gun violence which will probably have the exact, opposite effect of what the law is supposed to do?  Take a look at the California law going into effect next year which requires that everyone who buys ammunition must go through the same kind of background check that is now required for every California resident who want to buy a gun. The law is being touted by, among others, the current Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom, who is now running for Governor as the Golden State’s most fervent gun-control politician because, as a recent campaign ad says, he has shown ‘bold leadership’ in taking on the NRA.

ammo1            What Newsom is really taking advantage of is the complete and total lack of understanding about the whole ammunition issue, a knowledge gap which he shares with a group of gun-control researchers who published a peer-reviewed article on this new ammunition law in a widely respected journal, Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences last year. The authors of this article interviewed 140 inmates in Los Angeles county jails and found that these lovely individuals knew next to nothing about laws covering purchase and/or ownership of ammunition; in particular, they seemed to be completely in the dark about this new ammunition law. The scholars raised serious concerns about this lack of legal awareness on the part of the jail-bird population since this would probably mean that the new law would be broken the moment these fellows got out of jail.

Know what? When it comes to understanding the gun business, stupidity can break out at any time. And in this case, as dumb as those county inmates might appear when it comes to the legal issues surrounding the purchase of ammunition, the scholars who did the research and wrote up their findings have a much greater dumbness quotient than the guys in the clink.  Having discovered that these criminal detainees are unaware of ammunition law, the researchers ask: ”How can we expect individuals—and prohibited possessors in particular—to be deterred from illegally possessing guns and ammunition if they are not aware of the laws to begin with?” The research team concludes by saying that what we need to do is come up with some more effective messaging within the criminal class.

The point is folks, that the people who aren’t allowed to buy ammunition because they won’t be able to pass muster during a background check already know a simple and easy way to get around the new law – knowledge which seems to have somehow not yet been processed by the Russell Sage research team. And for that matter, the new California law, designed to enhance public safety and reduce gun violence, contains specific reference to the manner by which the so-called unqualified population will be able to get their hands on all the ammunition they need.

Last time I checked, there were at least 20 commercial shooting ranges operating within Los Angeles County. Now let’s say that each range attracts 10 shooters a day – that’s probably far below the actual traffic – and each shooter buys 50 rounds of range ammo before he/she leaves. Range operators make their money selling reloaded ammunition for a fraction of the price shooters would pay for the factory stuff from Remington, Federal, Winchester, et. al. This means that every day in LA County at least 10,000 ammunition rounds are being sold, of which the purchase of not one single round requires any kind of background check at all.

The California ammunition law exempts purchases at gun ranges, which basically means that once the law goes into effect, the result will be to open up the handloaded ammunition market for everyone who would otherwise be unable to get their hands on the stuff they need. And the Russell Sage research team had the balls to publish a peer-reviewed article which claimed that criminals don’t understand gun laws?

Want To End Gun Violence? It’s The Guns That Count.

I just came across an article in the website of a local CBS affiliate station in Wisconsin – WKBT – concerning a new effort to deal with gun violence in Madison, WI. It’s a brief statement, but evidently Madison has been dealing with a growing crime and gun-violence problem over the last several years, with the Police Chief saying that it’s the worst he’s ever seen in his entire career.

may22Crime in Madison?  Are you serious?  This town of roughly 250,000 people is the location both of the State Capitol and the flagship campus of the University. It’s got great schools, lovely parks, plenty of local theater and arts groups and thanks to the university and the legislature has an unemployment level of somewhere around 4 percent or less. In 2008 Madison was ranked as the least armed and dangerous city in the entire United States.  So what’s going on?

Nobody seems to know, but there will now be a ‘coordinated approach to gun violence with a new program that includes representatives of agencies from the city and Dane County, including nonprofit groups.’ They will meet on a weekly basis at a local church ‘to share updates on incidents and discuss ways to address violence that go beyond police work.’

When it comes to dealing with crime, the term ‘coordinated approach’ happens to be a euphemism usually employed to disguise the fact that the police don’t have enough men and women in uniform to put an officer 24/7 on every corner where crime might otherwise occur. Because, like it or not, individuals who are prone to commit crime, particularly crimes of violence, seem to avoid hanging around with the cops. Think this is just a theory? Take a look at New York City where violent crime has dropped to the lowest levels in more than 60 years, okay?

Now one could argue that the most effective way to reduce violence, particularly gun violence, is to get rid of all the guns. But since owning a gun happens to be a Constitutional ‘right,’ the next best thing, according to my Gun-control Nation friends, is to pass laws which make it more difficult for these Constitutionally-protected items to fall into the ‘wrong hands.’ And according to the Giffords Law Center, Wisconsin sits somewhere in the middle of all 50 states when it comes to laws that regulate guns; the state gets a C- for the effectiveness of its gun-control policies and has a gun-death rate which puts it in the lower third of all states. That being the case, how come things are so much worse in Madison than in the rest of the state?

I’ll tell you why. Because the one piece of data which my dear friends in Gun-control Nation never seem to take into account is strength and activity level of the gun business in any particular state. And that’s because while the NICS checks can be analyzed on a monthly basis for each state, I have yet to see a single piece of research on the reasons or gun violence which takes this data into account.

In 2018, the FBI performed 26,058 background checks for gun transfers in Wisconsin, which works out to a per-100,000 monthly rate of 449.66. Now in California, the FBI conducted 67,661 2018 background checks, for a per-100K monthly rate of 171.  In other words, on a per capita basis, three times as many guns changes hands in Wisconsin as changed hands in the Golden State. And you don’t think this disparity wouldn’t in some way or another impact gun violence in Madison?  In 2014, of the 2,802 ‘crime’ guns whose origins could be traced by the ATF, nearly 85% were guns initially sold within Wisconsin – so much for the impact of gun ‘trafficking’ in this state.

There happens to be a very clear connection between gun violence rates and how many guns float around in a particular state. This isn’t because of weak laws – it’s because guns are legal commerce and the more guns bought and sold, the more guns end up being used the wrong way.

Reducing Gun Violence The New York City Way.

How should we go about reducing gun violence? According to The New York Times, we need to adopt a ‘public health strategy’ based on lessons we learned in reducing fatalities from accidents involving cars. The approach favored by the less-compassionate crowd; i.e., Vladimir Trump and the NRA, is to ‘get tough’ on crime and lock all those ‘street thugs’ right up.

blight2              In fact, we seem to have a remarkable example of a successful drop in gun violence within New York City, where homicide numbers in 2017 might end up at the lowest level since the 1950’s, as well as representing nearly a 90% drop from the 2,245 homicides recorded in 1990, an all-time high.  To give you another perspective on these numbers, this year the city of Baltimore may finish with more homicides than New York, even though Baltimore’s population is around 650,000, whereas more than 8.5 million call the Big Apple their home.

To explain what’s going on, the Times turned to our good friend Frank Zimring, whose book, The City That Became Safe, attempted to explain the decline through a combination of more effective, data-driven policing focused on specific high-crime ‘spots’ rather than the more generalized ‘quality of life’ policing tactics such as looking for ‘broken windows’ or stop-and-frisk. But Zimring’s book only went through 2010, and homicides have dropped nearly 50% since that time. What’s driving the decline now? It’s “utterly mysterious” says Zimring, who is hardly alone in not being able to figure it out.

With all due respect to the criminologists and social scientists who have looked at New York’s crime stats again and again, I’m going to throw out a little theory based on an element of the urban landscape in New York and other places which appears to be overlooked. It’s a phenomenon I call ‘re-urbanization;’ i.e., the reclaiming of distressed, inner-city neighborhoods not through ‘urban renewal’ plans, but on a block-by-block basis by newly-arrived residents who move into cheap, marginal housing which they renovate, upgrade and slowly but surely create a stable environment where middle-class families can work and live. Know why New York is a ‘sanctuary city?’ Because it’s those new immigrants, those documented and undocumented ‘aliens’ whose presence brings many distressed neighborhoods back from the dead.

Several years ago I took a ride in Brooklyn all the way down Atlantic Avenue from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to the border of Queens, a trip which took me through parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York.  When I was growing up in New York in the late 1950’s, these three neighborhoods comprised the worst part of the Brooklyn ghetto; going from the corner of Sutter and Rockaway Avenues to Times Square was like going from the Earth to the Moon.

The four police precincts covering these neighborhoods – 73rd, 75th, 79th, 81st – patrol a combined population of 246,050 which in 2000 racked up 289 homicides; last year the homicide total was 54.  These same four precincts made 458 arrests for illegal weapons in 2000; the 2016 number more than doubled to 979. Want to reduce gun violence? Get rid of the guns.

What really struck me as I drove and walked through these neighborhoods, however, was the extent to which I could see again and again the degree to which new pockets of residential housing and commercial enterprise were springing up all over the place.  Take a look at this apartment complex on Gates Avenue in Bed-Stuy.  The tab to live in what the developers call ‘historic’ Bedford-Stuyvesant begins at $2,500 bucks a month. Check out a rehabbed building at 1365 Fulton Street; no vacancies at the moment but if one comes up the monthly for a one-bedroom will only run you two grand.

People moving into those apartments don’t expect to be robbed or shot. And they won’t be because for all kinds of reasons as an urban environment becomes more prosperous, it also becomes crime-free. Want to reduce gun violence? Try upgrading a neighborhood where gun violence occurs.

 

 

 

Does Concealed-Carry Reduce Crime?

wreath

Today’s media will be carrying the story about NRA Board member and NASCAR team owner Dick Childress, who evidently frightened away three dopes who broke into his home by firing a gun at them, an event which Childress claims resulted in no loss of life to himself or his wife thanks to “the 2nd Amendment and God.” No doubt this story will be repeated when the Senate takes up a debate on the national concealed-carry reciprocity bill, with Childress becoming a poster-boy for the idea that we should all be going around armed.

If there is one cottage industry which has emerged and grown within the gun violence prevention (GVP) research community, it’s the continued effort to debunk the work of John Lott, whose book – More Guns Less Crime – has been the clarion-call for the concealed-carry (CCW) movement since it was first published in 1998. The book first appeared when the residents of nearly half the states still had to prove a need to walk around with a gun. As of today, only 8 states still give the authorities who issue CCW some discretion as to who shall and shall not be able to walk around armed; the rest of the country couldn’t care less.

Lott’s argument is based on statistical models which show that as the number of concealed-carry licenses increase in most jurisdictions, criminal activity shifts from in-person to anonymous crime; i.e., a decline in homicides but an increase in burglaries, his argument based on the assumption that criminals don’t want to confront potential crime victims who might be armed.

Lott’s thesis has been attacked by any number of GVP researchers, of whom perhaps the most prominent and prolific scholar is a law professor at Stanford, John Donohue, who has published two, very detailed critiques of Lott’s work.  The first paper was published in 2012, and basically argued that Lott’s argument was based on data which was, at best, incomplete. The second paper was released this year, and went further because it claimed that by using a more sophisticated modeling approach, the data actually showed that in CCW states that violent crime went up. Lott has replied in detail to both these critiques, so the battle wages on.

I recently began a study of murder from a forensic point of view, hence, I took the trouble to read Lott and Donohue again and find myself unable to subscribe to either point of view. The reason I am unpersuaded has nothing to do with the validity of statistical models employed in either approaches; rather, it is based on the assumptions that both Lott and Donohue make about the behavior of criminals versus the behavior of armed citizens, assumptions which I believe in both cases to be totally wrong.

Let’s go back to the three jerks who broke into the home where Dick Childress and his wife were asleep. Obviously, they didn’t do their homework in preparation for the attack because not only were the residents in their home, but the homeowner was certainly armed. I mean, a member of the NRA Board wouldn’t have been able to pull out a gun?

But let’s presume for the sake of argument that the burglary team’s collective IQ wasn’t below the standard of ‘dumb.’ The point is that anonymous crimes, crimes of stealth, usually involve some degree of thought and planning before the crime occurs.  On the other hand, what emerges from the brilliant, 1,000-page textbook on forensic homicide by Lester Adelson is the proven argument that of all crimes, murder is the one crime which is preceded by any planning or conscious thought at all.

Then there’s the question of the degree to which the population which commits the most violent crime – murder – has any degree of contact with the population that believes they need to protect themselves by walking around armed. Because if these two population groups don’t come into contact with one another, making some kind of causal connection between how the two groups behave regarding any issue is about as far away from reality as you can get.

Violent crime, particularly murder, is overwhelmingly an intra-racial affair. Blacks kill blacks, whites kill whites; for both races the intra-racial character is around 90 percent. And just as murder is segregated by race, it’s also segregated by income and where people live. Warren Buffet lives in Omaha, the only murder in Buffet’s neighborhood in the last couple of years was an elderly lady, living alone, who met some dope on the internet and then invited him to move in. He repaid her for her generosity and kindness by bopping her over the head and running off with her jewels. Meanwhile, a mile away from Buffet’s house is a small ghetto surrounding a ballfield and some swing sets known as Giffords Park. The neighborhood has about 5,000 residents but chalks up 8 or 9 shootings each year, the reason that most of the victims survive is because the park is located a block away from the Creighton University Medical Center and ER.

If we are really going to do something about the behavior caused by guns which will probably result in more than 12,000 murders this year, I think it’s time to stop indulging in arguments about statistics and statistical models and start paying attention to how, when and where these murders actually occur. And by the way, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the number of individuals who have concealed-carry licenses represents in any way, shape or form, how many Americans are walking around with guns.  Let me break it to you gently – in neighborhoods, both white and black, where most murders occur, everybody’s got a gun.

Have A Wonderful and Joyous Christmas Season.  

 

In States Which Like Gun Violence, They Also Like Trump.

The map below appeared on the Gallup website at the end of July when Trump’s national job ratings were about where they are right now; i.e., pretty damn bad. But the point of this map was to demonstrate that the Whiner-in-Chief still had significant support in most of the really red states. The darker the state, the higher Trump’s support.

Map 1

            And this map, when all is said and done, isn’t terribly different from how the electoral map played out on November 8, 2016, because even in the ‘swing’ states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan whose shift from blue to red put Trump out in front, his support is still much greater than in the blue corridors on each coast. In other words, as long as the popular vote doesn’t determine who sits in the Oval office, right now (I hate to say it) looking towards 2020, the bully with the world’s most expensive head rug isn’t in such bad shape.

But now I’m going to throw another national map at you and notice that the shadings in this one aren’t all that different from what we see in the map of Trump’s state-by-state support. Again, the darker the state, the higher gun-violence rate.

 

 

Map 2

With a few exceptions, it appears to be the case that the states where Trump is most popular are also the states which have the highest rate of deaths from guns. And while a majority of these deaths are suicides, no matter what Gun-nut Nation tells you, using a gun to commit suicide isn’t just like jumping out a window or falling off a bridge.  Because the fact is that there is no other method you can use to end your own life which is as effective and efficient as using a gun.  And when it comes to calling suicide a form of gun violence, I’m sorry but I’ll rely on the definition of violence adopted by the World Health Organization: “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death….” Get it?  Oneself?

The national gun-violence rate is currently 10.6 per 100,000. With the exception of two states – South Dakota and Nebraska – every other pro-Trump state has a rate of gun homicide/suicide rate (GV) higher than the national average, and in most instances, significantly higher. Alaska leads the entire country with a GV rate of 19.6.  Right behind Alaska is Louisiana (19.1), Alabama (17.8), Wyoming (17.5) and Montana (16.9).  Two of these states have elevated rates because of suicide (WY,MT), the other two states make the top ten list because residents of those states evidently enjoy shooting guns not so much at themselves, but at others.

If we examine gun-violence rates in states where Trump’s numbers are the worst (less than 40% approval rating and compare his polls in those states to gun-violence rates we discover exactly the reverse. Thus, with the exception of New Mexico, where the gun-violence rate is 15.6, there is not one other anti-Trump state with a gun-violence rate above 11 per 100,000, which is just about the national gun-death average, and 10 of those 17 states have a per-100,000 single-digit rate, beginning with Hawaii’s 2.7, followed by Massachusetts at 3.2.

Looking at these numbers forces me to say that Trump’s continued outbursts invoking, justifying and supporting violence of all sorts isn’t just a symptom of some kind of mental derangement but may reflect his awareness of where his political strength really lies. Because if nothing else, the maps above force us to conclude or at least suggest that residents of pro-Trump states have no great concerns about the most violent form of behavior within their own communities; namely, the violence caused by guns. And if that’s true, you can bet that Trump will take pains to make sure that nothing is done to reduce gun violence in places which believe he will make America great again.

Jeff Sessions May Believe That Longer Sentences Curb Gun Violence But He’s Wrong.

The moment that the 45th President nominated Jeff Sessions to be the People’s Lawyer, everyone on both sides of the gun debate began to shout out. The NRA posted television ads saying that “our nation’s chief law enforcement officer will work tirelessly to defend our rights while protecting us from violent criminals.”  As to the former, Sessions was an outspoken champion of the 2005 PLCAA federal law immunizing gun makers from tort suits; regarding the latter, he is known to be ‘tough on crime,’ in particular violent crimes caused by a gun.

sessions             Sessions is one of a number of public officials who has been fervently impressed by a gun-control initiative in Richmond, VA known as Project Exile, which mandated lengthy federal prison time for anyone convicted of a gun crime in a city whose gun violence rates in the early 1990s ranked it as one of the most violent urban centers in the entire United States. In 1997, when the program first began, Richmond experienced 140 homicides, or an annual rate of 73!  In 1998 homicides dropped by 36%, and continued to dwindle down over the next few years.

The good news is that by 2005, homicides in Richmond dropped to 84, then to 76 in 2006 and to 31 in 2008.  From 1997 until 2010, more than 1,300 people were convicted of gun crimes and received prison sentences which totaled more than 8,000 years, for an average prison stay of more than 6 years per crime.  No wonder Tough Guy Trump has praised Project Exile, but in all fairness the program was strongly supported by a Richmond City Councillor named Tim Kaine.  The program was also supported by folks in the GVP community, including the Brady Campaign, then known as Handgun Control, Inc.

There were also some dissenting voices, most notably from various Gun-nut groups like saveourguns.com, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and, of course, Larry Pratt.  And lost in the rhetoric were complaints from federal judges who heard these cases and claimed they were an ‘overreach’ of federal authority, along with the charge that the program was inherently racist and led to over-incarceration of black defendants who always end up as the chief victims of any over-zealous response to crime.

Like most special law-enforcement initiatives that cost extra dough, Project Exile petered out in the mid-2000s after funding was cut by Congressional Republicans in 2003.  But meanwhile, homicides in Richmond remained well below levels recorded before Project Exile went into effect in 1997-98.  That is to say, until this past year.  In 2016, the final murder number may end up at 60, the highest since 2007, and this would bring the annual murder rate back up to 30, which puts the former capital of the Confederacy back in the high end of gun-violence cities big time.

Nobody really knows for sure how come gun killings in Richmond have suddenly spiked last year, just as nobody really knows how come they dropped so significantly twenty years ago.

Back in 2002 several noted public policy and gun researchers, Steve Raphael and Jens Ludwig, published an assessment of Project Exile for Brookings, and decided that the “reduction in Richmond’s gun homicide rates surrounding the implementation of Project Exile was not unusual and that almost all of the observed decrease probably would have occurred even in the absence of the program.”  Why did Raphael and Ludwig come to this conclusion? Because the same drop in violent crime occurred at roughly the same time in many cities which didn’t have any special anti-violence programs running at all.

Trying to figure out why America experienced a 50% decline in violent crime from the mid-90s until the mid-years of the following decade has become an academic cottage industry, without any real consensus as to the cause. Senator Sessions may believe that getting ‘tough’ is an effective to what has now become a new upwards spike in gun violence, but it won’t work until and unless we figure out why sometimes violent crime goes up and other times goes down.  The solution hasn’t yet been found.

Is Gun Violence A Medical Event? Not If You Agree With The NRA.

I’m not exactly sure why The Washington Post would run a big story today on the government’s continued failure to fund gun research through the CDC, considering that when it comes to health matters the new Congress has much more important things to do like getting rid of the ACA. Nevertheless, the story does make the point that gun violence is the least-researched of all major causes of death, and had it received research funding commensurate with the number of gun deaths each year, the total research dollars that might have been spent over the last decade would be $1.4 billion or more.

urban              The Post’s story is hardly the first time that the funding deficit for gun research has been mentioned and it won’t be the last. This story was prompted by a brief JAMA article in which two researchers calculated a predictive figure for gun violence research (the $1.4 billion quoted above) and compared it to research funding for other leading causes of mortality and, no surprise, the gun violence funding lagged far behind.

The number of gun deaths and the whole notion of gun violence has been attacked by Gun-nut Nation in two different ways.  First they argue that the number is wholly out of wack because two-thirds of gun mortality consists of suicides and this behavior is prompted by mental illness, it has nothing to do with guns at all.  Let’s end that one right now: the World Health Organization defines ‘violence’ as an attempt to injure yourself or someone else.  Get it? If you don’t get it, you can stop reading right now.

The other argument that gun-nut Nation uses to disparage the idea that gun violence should be studied as a medical problem is the claim that over the last several decades, coincident with the same time-period during which the Dickey Amendment prohibited gun research, in fact mortality from guns has been going down.  The total number of gun deaths today, including suicides, is roughly half what it was in 1994.  So why spend taxpayer money on researching something which seems to be solving itself?

The fact is (there’s that messy word again) that total gun deaths are about half of what they were twenty years ago, except that 95% of that decrease occurred between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2000 the annual number of gun deaths has stayed more or less the same, and if current numbers can be trusted, gun deaths have started climbing again.  Will the numbers climb back up to levels recorded in the mid-90’s?  God only hopes not, but to say that gun violence continues to go down is simply a big, fat lie.

But there’s one more aspect of gun violence which the authors of the JAMA article didn’t take into account, and they didn’t deal with it because they are physicians which means that every injury is a medical event that must be treated as a risk to health. Except that at least one-third of all fatal gun injuries, and this holds true for no other type of injury that causes death, also happen to be criminal events. And it is the criminal nature of more than 11,000 gun homicides and 65,000+ gun assaults each year which helps Gun-nut Nation support the idea that gun violence shouldn’t be the subject of medical research at all.

Because, so the theory goes, if someone picks up a gun and intends to use it to harm someone else, then that someone has made a conscious decision to commit a criminal act. And we don’t need no stinkin’ research to figure out what to do with all those gang-bangers in the ‘hood.  Just lock ‘em up, throw away the key and that’s the end of that.

Now for those of us who understand that crime is a complicated, multifactorial  phenomenon that can’t simply be reduced to a quick and easy solution, that’s fine.  But a lot of people out there would disagree.  And many of those folks own guns and support the NRA.