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

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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.

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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.

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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.

What’s The Difference Between The Victims And Perpetrators Of Gun Violence? Not Much.

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If you hang around the GVP community, you quickly memorize certain numbers: 30,000, which is the number of people killed each year by guns, although the real number is a couple of thousand more; 65,000, which is the number of people who are injured when someone else shoots them with a gun but they survive; 15,000, which is the number (give or take another thousand) who injure themselves each year with a gun; 2,000, which covers the ones who kill themselves or are shot dead by the police. Put it all together and you come up with roughly 115,000 Americans who are the victims of gun violence each and every year.

conference program picI actually think the annual number of gun violence victims is somewhere above 200,000, because as far as I am concerned, the people who aim the gun at someone other than themselves and pull the trigger are victims of gun violence too. We never think of the shooters as victims because, by definition, all of them used their gun to commit at least one crime, namely, aggravated assault or homicide with a gun.  And in our fractured world, if every crime has a victim, there also has to be a perpetrator, hence by definition, the shooter can’t also be a victim.  But in fact, he is.

Why do I say that?  First of all, most gun assaults are committed by people, usually young men, for whom violence, and particularly gun violence, is part and parcel of their daily lives.  Want to know who comes into the ER most frequently with a gun injury?  Someone who was previously arrested on suspicion of using a gun.  Okay. I know, I know, the cops usually arrest the first ‘bad guy’ they find. But if you don’t think that the average street shooter isn’t going after someone who previously went after him, then you don’t know much about the streets or the shootings that take place in the streets.  And when the victim of a shooting happens to be a female, the shooter is almost always some jerk of a boyfriend or husband who has previously belted her around numerous times, and maybe on occasion she defended herself by belting back.

Now we know just about everything there is to know about the victims who get shot with guns.  We know their age, their race, where they live, what they were doing when the gun went off, between the CDC and the FBI there isn’t much that escapes the eye.  And when we come to the shooters, even though many of them don’t get arrested, enough sooner or later wind up in detention so that we can get a pretty good idea about their demographics as well.

But here’s what we don’t know.  We have absolutely no idea why someone picks up a gun, points it at someone else and – boom! – it goes off.  And it doesn’t work to say that so-and-so used a gun because he came from a violent background or had a violent history, because most of the young men with that profile who want to commit a violent act do so without using a gun.  According to the Department of Justice, less than 7% of all serious criminal events involve the use of guns.  So how and why do the other 93% figure out how to commit violence without using a gun?

Those 7% who express anger and violence with a gun may not be victims of gun violence in a legal sense, but in terms of the impact of violence on their lives they are GVP victims just as well.  Because as Konrad Lorenz points out, anger and aggression can and should be used as tools to advance the social good. But those who cannot differentiate between the positive and negative uses of aggression will sooner or later end up alienated and marginalized by the community as a whole. And most will live shorter and more painful lives.

Does A Gun Protect You From Crime? A New Study Says You Should Just Run Away.

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If there is one issue more than any other which divides the two sides in the great gun argument, it’s whether guns are an effective deterrent against crime.  The controversy has been raging since advocacy for and against gun ownership escalated during the debate over the 1994 Brady bill and again when Clinton pushed through his omnibus bill on crime.  Basically the argument came down to what I call the social utility of gun ownership; i.e., do the risks of guns outweigh the benefits or is it the other way around?

The latest entry in this field is a study that analyzes more than 14,000 ‘personal contact’ crimes between 2007 and 2011, meaning that the victim and the perpetrator had some degree of contact during the crime incident itself.  The good news about this study is that it covers a very large number of criminal incidents; the bad news is that like all studies based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, it is based solely on the testimonies of the victims themselves. Which means that the information cannot be corroborated by another source, but at least the respondent is asked to provide a great deal of specific information about what actually took place.

gun crimes                The researchers, David Hemenway and Sara Solnick, have utilized the NCVS data to create what they call an ‘epidemiology’ of gun use, with the intention of trying to figure out the degree to which people used guns to protect themselves from crimes.  This issue of frequency has been the hot-button question in the gun argument over the past twenty years, spurred largely by Gary Kleck’s 1994 defensive gun use (DGU) study which claimed that Americans used guns to thwart crimes upwards of several million times each year. Kleck’s study was based on complete interviews with less than 125 respondents, none of whom were asked to define or describe the alleged criminal event which a gun helped them to forestall.  There was also no attempt to compare the outcome of using a gun to prevent a crime as opposed to other methods that individuals might use to make themselves safe from criminal attack.

This new study, on the other hand, seeks to address the gaps in Kleck’s work and the work of others, and the results, not surprisingly, cast the value of defensive gun use in a very different light. To begin, the number of times that people use guns as opposed to other ways of defending themselves is very slight; less than 1% of the 14,000 respondents used a gun against their attacker, whereas more than 40% defended themselves or their property in some other way. Men were three times more likely to use a gun to defend themselves, they were also more likely than women to get involved in DGUs away from the home, and men used guns more for defense against assaults while women favored using guns to protect their property from being damaged or taken away.

The important finding from the study, it seems to me, is not the relatively low frequency of DGUs as opposed to other self-defense methods, but the degree to which using a gun as a defense against crime reduces the chance of injury to the victim.  Slightly more than 4% of the victims were injured during the criminal incident, the percentage of injuries suffered by victims who used other ways to defend themselves was the same.  The bottom line is that a gun will protect you from crime, but it won’t protect you better than yelling for help, threatening to call police, or just running away.

On the other hand, what public health and other gun-safety advocates need to understand is that even if the data doesn’t support the idea, statistically speaking, that guns can protect us against crime, the fact is that many people believe that a gun is the most effective antidote to their fear of crime, and it’s often what we believe rather than what we know that determines the choices we make.

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