Tom Gabor: It’s The Guns, Stupid

America is an enormous outlier, relative to other high-income countries, both in terms of its gun ownership levels and its rates of gun mortality.  We have about one gun for every man, woman, and child in the US —about 300 million in all.[1]  No other country has a civilian arsenal that approximates this number.  At the same time, we have 25 times the gun homicide rate when compared to the combined (aggregated) rate for 23 other advanced countries.[2]  We are global leaders in women and children murdered with guns, mass shootings, and school shootings.

shows The obvious interpretation for America’s “exceptional” status as a leader in gun homicide and mortality is its exceptionally high level of gun ownership and widespread access of citizens to guns.  However, gun rights advocates take issue with this interpretation and argue that America’s high rates of gun violence and mass shootings are due to its exceptionally high rates of overall violence, mental illness, and even violent videos.  In fact, the US is around average in its overall violence levels and does not stand out with regard to its rates of mental illness.[3]  Countries like Japan, South Korea, and the UK, each of which have a fraction of America’s gun violence death rates, spend more per capita on violent videos.

To illustrate how a segment of society will contort itself to avoid attributing gun violence to the vast civilian arsenal in this country, consider Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Diane Black’s claim that pornography is responsible for America’s “exceptional” level of mass shootings.  This statement is utterly absurd and displays the challenges of trying to have a reasonable, evidence-based discussion on gun policy with some conservatives.  What’s really pornographic is the continuing refusal of many political conservatives to yield an inch on policy in order to prevent the slaughter of children and other residents of this country.

Unintentional (accidental) shootings illustrate how gun violence and mortality are closely linked to the number of guns in an area, state, or country.  Unlike intentional shootings, one cannot plausibly attribute these shootings to a more violent culture, mental illness, or violent videos because they are by definition unintentional.  Nor can one make the argument, as if often made in relation to gun homicide and gun suicide, that in the absence of guns people will merely substitute another method to kill another or oneself.  This argument does not apply where there is no intention to harm others or oneself.

Therefore, the examination of unintentional shootings provides a good test as to the role of gun availability in firearm-related deaths.  If there are more accidental shootings where there are more guns, there are few conclusions one can draw other than the obvious one:  more guns equal more gun deaths.

When we compare Japan and the USA, the impact of the difference in the prevalence of firearms is striking. The US has about two and a half times Japan’s population. However, according

to the most recent data available, the USA has over 120 times Japan’s number of unintentional gun deaths.  Adjusting for population differences, the USA has about 45 times more unintentional gun deaths than does Japan (2.7 vs. .06 deaths per million people). This is an astounding difference. Is this due to the enormous disparity in gun ownership or are Americans just much more accident prone and careless with guns than the Japanese?

The USA has about 88 times the rate of gun owners per million people as Japan. Recent surveys show that in the USA about 22 % of the population are gun owners; whereas, in Japan, there are about 2.5 licensed gun owners for every 1000 people, well under 1 % of the population.  Are Americans more prone to gun accidents due to carelessness or other factors? I calculated the fraction of gun owners who die from a gun accident and found that in Japan there is approximately one fatality for every 42,000 gun owners. In the US, there is an unintentional gun fatality for every 81,000 gun owners, illustrating that the average American gun owner is less likely to die of an accidental shooting than his counterpart in Japan.  Thus, US owners are not more accident prone and the massive gap between the two countries in fatal gun accidents is very likely due simply to the much higher level of gun ownership in the USA. This is the case because the number of these fatalities is far higher—45 times higher adjusting for population differences—in the USA despite the fact that the average Japanese gun owner is about two times as likely to be the victim of a fatal gun accident.

Researchers in the US support the idea that accidental gun deaths are simply a numbers game.  Harvard researchers examined the link between gun availability and state unintentional gun death rates over a 19-year period. For every age group, states with more guns tend to have more accidental gun deaths than states with fewer guns. The death rate was seven times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns.[4]   Douglas Wiebe of UCLA, using national data, found that the relative risk of death by an unintentional gunshot injury was nearly four times greater for subjects living in homes with guns than those living in homes without guns.[5]

In his book Lethal Logic, attorney Dennis Henigan recounts the story from his childhood of a neighbor who was shot accidentally by her husband while he was cleaning his handgun at the kitchen table. It is an obvious truth that people are rarely killed during the cleaning of knives, baseball bats, or other potential weapons.   Henigan explains that, apart from their greater lethality, guns are more susceptible to accidentally injuring the user or others because they are more complex than these other weapons.  For example, accidents often occur because people, often children, are unaware that a gun is real or loaded. In other cases, a gun discharges after it has been dropped. In still other cases, hunting accidents are enabled by the long range of rifles and shotguns as people are mistaken for game.  Henigan notes that Americans are six times more likely to die from an accidental firearm discharge than from an accident involving a knife or other sharp object.  This is the case despite the fact that knives are present in far more homes, are greater in number, and are used more frequently than are guns.

 The most obvious explanation for high levels of gun violence is a high level of gun ownership.  From the gun lobby and gun rights advocates, we get many convoluted alternative explanations as they try to find every conceivable reason for America’s unacceptable levels of gun mortality other than the most obvious one:  we are a nation awash with guns.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D., is a criminologist, sociologist, and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers

[2] https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(15)01030-X/abstract

[3] http://fortune.com/2017/11/07/texas-church-shooting-donald-trump-mental-health/

[4] Miller M, Azrael D, Hemenway D. Firearm availability and unintentional

firearm deaths. Accid Anal Prev. 2001; 33(4): 477–484.

[5] Wiebe D. Firearms in US homes as a risk factor for unintentional gunshot

fatality. Accid Anal Prev. 2003; 35(5): 711–716.

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What’s The Difference Between Accidental And Non-Accidental Shootings? No Difference.

When I entered graduate school in 1967, the very first book I purchased was a big, fat compendium known as the Chicago Manual of Style. It was published by The University of Chicago Press and was considered the non-plus-ultra guide to anything having to do with writing or editing scholarly and non-fiction articles and books. And since I was studying economic history, I was going to be writing lots of academic papers which needed to meet the standard for how to do footnotes, end notes, quotations, references and all that other bothersome stuff which writers of academic works need to pretend they understand.
kids and gunsOf course in 1967 there was no internet, for that matter there were no such things as word processors and I don’t recall even putting my fingers on the keyboard of an IBM Selectric typewriter until 1970 or 1971 (although I had actually seen one a few years prior to that date.) Because I come from the Stone Age in terms of communication technologies and skills, I don’t take for granted the degree to which so much of what I had to do by hand when I first started writing is now done online. And one of those online resources which helps me and countless other writers and bloggers get things done in an efficient and orderly way is the AP Stylebook which is an extremely useful reference work containing definitions, topics, themes and other information to be used when an event or an issue has to be quickly understood and described. I just clicked on the topic – hurricanes – and up came a whole list of definitions for every type of tropical storm, the name and address of various federal agencies that deal with hurricane relief, and so on.

The AP Stylebook stays up to date by giving users an opportunity to suggest either new topics and/or content which should be added or revised. In this way, writers who are covering topical events can feel confident that if they utilize a resource from the Stylebook it will reflect the most recent way in which that issue is described or understood. One of our good GVP friends, Ladd Everitt, has just initiated a campaign through his organization, One Pulse for America, to have the Stylebook revise its definition of an ‘accidental’ shooting because, as Ladd says, “’Accidental’ implies that nothing can be done to prevent such shootings, when nothing is further from the truth.” Most accidental shootings, as Ladd points out, occur either because of negligence (the gun was left unsecured) or the owner was acting like a dope. The AP Stylebook team responded by saying they would consider changing the description of ‘accidental shootings’ when a new edition appears next year.

There is no question that referring to unintentional injuries caused by guns as ‘accidents’ gives a misleading impression about whether or not anyone should be blamed when a gun goes off when it’s not supposed to go off. But I also think that making a clear distinction between accidental, as opposed to non-accidental gun injuries can create its own misleading impression for what gun violence is really all about.
Lester Adelson was the coroner for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) nearly 40 years, during which time he saw thousands of individuals who were killed with guns. In 1992 he published a summary article on gun violence, “The gun and the sanctity of human life; or The bullet as pathogen” which for me, ranks as the single most incisive and profound work ever published on this issue, and you can download it here. Here’s what Adelson says is the most salient feature of gun violence: “With its particular lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

Does it really matter if the gun is used intentionally or not? To quote the novelist Walter Mosley, “If you walk around with a gun it will go off sooner or later.”

Is Gun Violence Endemic Or Epidemic? It’s Both.

So far this year our friends at the Gun Violence Archive are posting 7,821 deaths from guns. Which means that if the rate of gun deaths continues for the remainder of 2017, this year will end up seeing an increase in gun deaths over last year of around 15 percent, and an increase since 2014 of nearly 25 percent.

urban            I thought that gun deaths were going down because all law-abiding citizens are walking around with guns. Or at least they should be walking around with guns if you agree with the NRA. After all, the gun industry has been bragging about the ‘decline’ in violent crime at the same time that so many Americans are buying guns. Since the early 90’s, according to the NSSF, “homicides, other crimes, and accidents involving firearms have decreased dramatically,”

Actually, this dramatic decrease in gun violence more or less ended around 2000, then went up a bit, went down a bit, but now seems to be moving quickly upwards again. And don’t make the mistake of believing that this is just Chicago’s problem, even though the jerk in the White House keeps saying he’s going to send the troops into the Windy City to help Rahm out.  In fact, homicides in Chicago appear to be down by roughly 15% so far this year; too many lives are still being lost but we’ll take every bit of progress we can get.

Cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland rank far ahead of Chicago for murder rates, Newark and Memphis are also more dangerous cities in which to live. Guns and gun violence are so endemic in many locations that the IPO of Shotspotter, whose technology tells the cops where guns are being shot off, jumped 26% as soon as shares went public, a sure sign that the violent use of guns isn’t going to disappear.

What appears to be happening in gun violence is what a brilliant physician and public health researcher, Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, wrote about in 2007 when she analyzed a shift in gun violence from ‘epidemic’ to ‘endemic’ rates. I happen to think that Dr. Christoffel’s article is one of the most important and informative contributions to the public health literature on gun violence and you can download it here. What she argues is that gun violence quickly spiked and then just as quickly declined between the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s because it was perceived as an ‘epidemic’ and treated as an emergency through a combination of local policing and health initiatives, coordination between stakeholding agencies and national legislation (e.g., the Brady bill.)

The result of these efforts, which also paralleled an overall decrease in violent crime, was that gun violence rates fell back to where they had been in the early 1980’s, but have since then remained steady and, in the last several years, started to go back up. But the transition from epidemic to endemic gun violence doesn’t mean that a fundamental ‘cure’ for the problem has been found. To the contrary, the problem with endemic public health conditions, as Dr. Christoffel points out, is that not only do they result in much suffering within the populations where the problem still exists, but they can ‘flare up’ as epidemics from place to place and time to time.

What we are witnessing in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit are exactly the return of an epidemic of gun violence which grows out of an endemic condition that has stabilized nationally but has never really been brought under control. In 1993, there were just under 40,000 gun deaths (homicide, suicide, accidents) which set a national gun-violence rate of 15.4. If the year-to-year increase continues at the recent rate, we could exceed the 1993 gun violence numbers within the next two or three years.

I hate to say it but it needs to be said: A lot more people may have to get killed or injured before something that really reduces gun violence ever gets done.

 

Doctors For Responsible Gun Ownership Show How Irresponsible They Really Are.

Yesterday the medical quacks who run a website called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO) decided to demonize physicians who regard gun ownership as a health risk by descending to the lowest, possible level of pandering to the lowest, intellectual denominator – a style promoted successfully by our soon-to-be President which now serves as the rhetorical burnishing for the thoughts of every jerk, dope and creep climbing out from underneath their rock to bask in the light of the Age of Trump.

docs versus glocks             What I am referring to is a scurrilous attack on an up-and-coming public health researcher, Bindu Kalesan, whose group continues to publish articles on guns and gun violence that really pisses Gun-nut Nation off.  And the reason their work attracts such negative attention from the Jerks and Dopes Brigade is because Dr. Kalesan and her colleagues make no secret of the fact that they are not enamored of guns.  Kalesan even comes down out of the Ivory Tower to serve as the Vice President of a neat GVP organization which attempts to “assist in the funding required to promote mental and emotional healing” of gun victims, something which the medical quacks who slither around the DRGO website know and care absolutely nothing about.

What got the so-called physicians who spearhead the Jerks and Dopes Brigade so hot and bothered was an article published in a peer-reviewed medical research journal that correlated school shootings with such factors as handgun background checks, state-level mental health expenditures, education funding and gun-ownership rates, among others. By the way, the DRGO claims that this is the first of a series of articles that will be produced by the DRGO Publication Review team which consists of ‘medical scientists and statisticians,’ although none of these august individuals is actually identified by name.

And to show you DRGO’s commitment to medicine and science, the first thing that caught my eye was their finding of a major error in Kalesan’s piece, namely, that she neglected to mention a school shooting which occurred in Boston on April 18, 2013.  Now if you want to characterize this event as a ‘school shooting’ you are either delusional or dumb, or both.  Because this happened to have been a shooting of a campus cop at MIT by the two Tsarnaev brothers (the Marathon Bombers) who were trying to evade a citywide manhunt and might have been stopped by the cop after their pictures were broadcast all over the place by the FBI. If this purposeful misuse of evidence constitutes what the DRGO feels represents the work of statisticians and scientists on their behalf, then there’s really no sense in taking them seriously at all.

But the misrepresentation of evidence is not the lowest degree to which this bunch of fools can sink; in fact, they go one step further (or perhaps I should say ‘lower’) in their attempt to guttersnipe at Kalesan’s work and name.  Because they also turn their attention to the journal in which this article was published – Injury Prevention – and note that the editorial staff is “dominated by foreigners unfamiliar with and likely hostile to America’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”  Note the use of the word ‘foreigners,’ and it’s not by accident that this comment is placed in an attack on a researcher who, by dint of her name, might also be part of the horde that’s coming over here to destroy everything about America that’s good and right.

This is what I meant above when I talked about how disgustingly low the DRGO creeps have sunk.  It’s not bad enough that they use their so-called medical credentials to spread absolute falsehoods about the non-risk from guns.  What they are now beginning to do is resort to the same, malicious and dangerous racism and hatreds which infected the Presidential campaign.  In the process they not only demonize evidence-based research upon which all medical knowledge and practice depends, but show themselves to be nothing more than crude hucksters for the gun industry hiding behind medical degrees.

What Do The Gun Violence Numbers Really Tell Us? That Gun Violence Is Much Worse Than We Think.

. Earlier this year our friends at the Violence Policy Center published a report which showed that gun deaths were now outpacing motor vehicle deaths in 14 states, and if the trend continued, gun deaths would soon exceed car deaths throughout the entire United States. I think the comparison of automobile deaths to gun deaths, a basic GVP argument for why we need to curb gun violence, understates the real level of gun violence to a tremendous degree.  And this is because it doesn‘t take into account what Dennis Henigan, in a new book to be published in August, calls “exposure to risk.” Because the truth is that a gun only becomes a risk when it gets into someone’s hands.  And many of the 300 million civilian-owned small arms in America are rarely, if ever picked up at all.

conference-program-pic          Let’s play with some numbers. The average American sits in an automobile roughly 100 minutes every day and will drive 800,000 miles over the course of a life (thanks for the info, JM.)  The “average” American doesn’t actually own a gun, and of those who do, many are used occasionally for hunting or even less occasionally for target and shooting sports.  Gun Nation can jump for joy over the fact that millions of Americans have concealed-carry permits, but I notice that neither the NRA nor the NSSF has ever done a survey to find out how many of those folks with CCW licenses are actually walking around with a gun. For all the talk about how armed citizens are our first line of defense against the ‘bad guys,’ the FBI could find exactly one instance where a civilian armed with a gun actually intervened in an ‘active’ (multiple victims) shooting between 2000 and 2013.

So let’s do the numbers again and put our benchmark for auto deaths and gun deaths at 30,000, even though it’s slightly more for both.  What this turns into when we calculate the rate of motor vehicle fatalities versus gun fatalities is 10 per 100,000 for the cars, 33 per 100,000 for the guns. Of course Gun Nation will immediately scream that the numbers are manipulated (their current favorite ad hominem about Katie Couric’s brilliant documentary) because it’s the ‘bad guys, the ‘street thugs,’ the ‘wackos’ who do all the killing with guns.

But there’s just one little problem with this point of view.  Like just about everything that the pro-gun noise machine says to bolster gun sales, it’s simply not true. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and most, if not nearly all gun homicides involve people who know each other and can’t settle a dispute in more non-violent ways, and this is certainly the case in virtually every instance where a gun is yanked out during a domestic dispute which between 2010 and 2014 killed nearly 23,000 women and teenage girls.

Every single gun that is used to hurt someone, anyone, started out as the property of a legal gun owner.  Maybe they didn’t pull the trigger, but nobody would have been able to pull the trigger if the gun hadn’t gotten into the wrong hands. And that was the fault of the person who initially bought the gun. So I think it’s time for GVP-land to stop being so solicitous of all those legal gun owners who tell you that the problem of gun violence has nothing to do with them.  It has everything to do with them because absent their desire to own guns, the issue of gun violence wouldn’t exist.

And don’t get me wrong.  I went out today and bought a gun and I’m sure that over the next few months I’ll buy a couple more.  But what I won’t do is delude myself into thinking that some 2nd-Amendment, BS ‘right’ is being threatened because Hillary wants me to undergo a background check before I take possession of that little Glock.

Hoping that everyone has a safe and happy holiday.

 

And The Winner For The Dumbest Comment Made (So Far) About Guns Is Rick Santorum.

It’s time for me to issue a challenge to all my GVP friends: Which politician has said the dumbest thing about gun violence?  I don’t want to wait until next November because, frankly, some of these guys say things that are so dumb that if we waited another ten months to announce the results, the list would stretch from here to the moon.  Or at least from here to Fairfax, VA, if you know what I mean.  So what I’m going to do is post a dumbness comment whenever a particularly stupid thing comes out of one of the mouths of the clowns who actually believe they should be elected to lead the Free World, or whatever we are calling ourselves these days.  And the dumbest remark I can come up with right now popped out of the mouth yesterday of Rick Santorum, who is evidently still running for President, at least this is what he claimed he was doing in an interview on MSNBC.

When Santorum ran against Romney for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012, most of his campaign rallies were held at Evangelical churches and other conservative Christian conclaves because he spent his entire Senate career talking about nothing except ‘family values,’ which basically meant being the loudest anti-abortion voice in the U.S. Senate and really nothing else.  Since Trump has been married three times, I guess that Santorum figures the Evangelical, or at least the white Evangelical vote is up for grabs, so why not pitch the family values message again and, in the process, make sure to remind everyone that you are pro-gun?

santorum              Actually, I think the MSNBC co-host, Mika Brzezinski kind of got it wrong when she started off by telling Santorum that she thought he was a ‘smart guy,’ although maybe she was just being polite.  Anyway, she then asked Santorum, who had challenged American Muslims to confront extremism within their own community, how come he wasn’t challenging white men to come forward since it was white men who were ‘wreaking havoc’ with mass killings virtually all the time?

And here came Santorum’s response which I am nominating as the dumbest statement on guns that I have heard this year.  It all gets back to family values, according to Rick, and the fact that most of the crimes involving guns are caused by people who come from broken families headed by single Moms.  I’m paraphrasing slightly, but the bottom line is that what Santorum refers to as the ‘inanimate object,” a.k.a. the gun, has nothing to do with gun violence. It’s all about those kids from broken homes who don’t get proper guidance, a problem that Santorum claims he has been working on for ‘many years.’

Now let’s be honest, Rick.  When you were in the Senate, you didn’t get an A+ from the NRA for the way you voted on gun control because you had any interest at all in curbing deaths and injuries caused by guns.  In fact, according to you, none of the 100,000 gun deaths and injuries had anything to do with guns, it was and is because of the breakdown of the family, something that can only be reversed if we all pledge to adhere to your nostrum of ‘family values,’ whatever that means or doesn’t mean.

What really makes Santorum’s answer so embarrassingly dumb is not the fact that he didn’t answer the question.  It’s the fact that he didn’t answer the question by shifting the discussion to where he feels most comfortable, namely, reminding us that every social problem can be solved if we just had Ozzie and Harriet sitting in every American home.  Santorum continues to pretend that the definition of a ‘family’ can only be based on a concocted fantasy that certainly doesn’t exist today and probably never really existed at all. The truth is that gun violence comes in many different forms and grows out of many different social circumstances but it always starts with a gun.

Want To End Gun Violence? Just Keep Showing The Numbers.

I participated in my first anti-war demonstration in 1964.  Johnson had just announced the first, major troop commitment to Southeast Asia, I thought he was going to drag us into an unwinnable war, so about twenty of us walked around Times Square one day after school handing out leaflets, shouting some slogans and having a good time.  Everyone who walked past us was polite, a few actually took a leaflet, most said they had never heard of Viet Nam.  What happened over the following nine years was that public opinion shifted from not knowing, to not caring, to being concerned and finally, to being against the War.

Know when public opinion really began to shift?  When the television networks ended their nightly news broadcasts with a graphic that showed how many U.S. soldiers had been killed in Nam.  The networks did the same thing again in 1980 when each night’s news broadcast ended with a graphic showing how many days the hostages had been in captivity in Iran.  Remember who won the 1980 election?  It wasn’t the guy who couldn’t get the hostages out of jail.

war dead                The same thing now seems to be happening when it comes to mobilizing people against the violence caused by guns.  And while the major media outlets haven’t yet caught on, the ‘daily count’ has spread throughout the internet, and sooner or later it will be picked up by the networks as well.  Or it won’t matter whether the numbers make CNN or MSNBC because increasingly we depend on ‘alternate’ internet media for our information anyhow.

The granddaddy of in-your-face gun violence calculators is the Gun Violence Archive, which was first mounted in 2013. Mother Jones has presented data and graphics over the years, ditto the Center for American Progress.  Joe Nocera and Jennifer Mascia kept up a running count for The New York Times.  But the Gun Violence Archive was the first attempt to go beyond media anecdotes and try to assemble a comprehensive, real-time analysis of all violence committed with guns.  And this is an important point, because the data from government agencies like the CDC and the FBI is either several years behind, or skewed in ways that don’t give a true picture of the damage caused by guns, or both. What you get from the GVA is a comprehensive picture of the toll of gun violence; no ifs, ands or buts.

The GVA has been joined by a crowd sourced website, the Mass Shooting Tracker, which counts all shootings in which four people are hit by bullets, whether any of them are killed or not.  This is an important element in the gun violence debate, because the FBI only counts mass shootings if four or more people are killed at the same time.  Not only does the FBI definition seriously underestimate the carnage and costs of gun violence, but it also doesn’t count shootings in which one of the victims is the shooter himself.  But this is an absurd and arbitrary way to analyze gun violence, and the MST sets it straight. You can read a good story about GVA and MST by Jennifer Mascia in the current issue of Trace.

Leave it to the pro-gun gang, of course, to try and come up with reasons why the gun-violence calculators are nothing more than “pure propaganda,” as one red-meat story claimed.  It turns out that the MST mistakenly listed 2 shootings out of 498 in 2013 involving pellet guns.  If this is the best example of the MST “padding” its numbers, the pro-gun crowd better look somewhere else.

The biggest problem facing the GVP community is enlisting and mobilizing the ‘average’ person in the debate about guns.  These websites will help turn the tide because numbers really do tell a story that goes beyond words.  When I handed out anti-war leaflets in 1964 I didn’t imagine that CBS would ever run a daily tally on how many U.S. troops had died.  But they did.  And the war came to an end.

 

 

 

Do More Guns Equal Less Crime? The Lone Star State Says ‘No.’

An article has just appeared which may prove to be one of the most significant contributions by public health research to the ongoing debate about gun violence.  Not that there is much of a debate about the fact that guns kill 30,000+ yearly, injure at least 60,000 others, the total costs of which amount to more than $200 billion each year.  But the response of the pro-gun gang to this state of affairs is to deny the negative effects of gun violence when compared to the positive role that guns play in keeping us safe from crime.  And to bolster this rather disingenuous way of getting as far away from the evidence as possible, the gun gang invariably rolls out Kleck’s phony telephone survey which found that gun owners prevented millions of crimes each year, or they listen to John  Lott on some red-meat radio station promoting his discredited thesis that ‘more guns equals less crime.’

Unfortunately, most of the research on whether gun ownership does or doesn’t prevent crime suffers from the admitted failure by public health researchers to construct a research model that can really explain to what degree a coincidence (i.e., concealed-carry licenses going up, crime rates going down) is actually a causality or not. What the research team which published this study did to sharpen the focus of this question was to look at county-level issuances of CCW in 4 states (Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas) and compare this date against county-level arrest data in the same 4 states for, and here’s the important point, ten years following the issuance of CCW, or what is also referred to as CHL.

        Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

Before getting to the results of this study, I should mention one very important distinction between the research team that was responsible for this work, as opposed to public health researchers who have been active in this particular field.  For the most part, the work that has debunked the ‘more guns = less crime’ argument has come out of either elite, Ivy League institutions like Harvard or Yale, or has been the product of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.  And since everybody knows that the anti-gun monster Bloomberg funded the Hopkins School of Public Health, everyone knows that their work is only published when it supports something that is anti-gun.  And if you think I’m overstating the degree to which the pro-gun gang dismisses public health gun violence research through the shabbiest form of academic character assassination, take a look at what Gary Kleck recently said about criticisms of his work.

The group that researched and wrote the referenced article aren’t faculty from Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard or Yale.  They are from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Texas A&M. Whoa!  Texas A&M?  A school located in the state where the previous Governor claims he carries a gun for self-protection against prairie dogs when he’s out for his morning jog? But Texas, on the other hand, is not only the state for guns, but next January the Lone Star State will roll back a 140-year old law and let its good citizens carry guns openly just about anywhere they choose.

That all being said, exactly what did this team of Texans discover about the relationship between concealed-carry and crime?   They discovered that there’s no relationship at all.  Between 1998 and 2010, the personal crime rate in Florida dropped by 9%, it was flat even in Michigan, and went up slightly in Texas and Pennsylvania.  The property crime rate declined in Florida and Texas, murders increased slightly in Pennsylvania and the Sunshine State.  The burglary rate in all 4 states decreased, even though a major portion of Lott’s book was devoted to ‘proving’ that non-personal crimes would increase after CCWs were issued because criminals were afraid that more citizens would have guns.

I’ll end this comment by quoting the researchers themselves: “Is CHL licensing in any way related to crime rates? The results of this research indicate that no such relationships exist.” As my grandmother would say, “and that’s that.”

Want To Learn Nothing About Public health And Guns? Listen To The DRGO.

There are a couple of loud-mouth fools out there masquerading as physicians who run something called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO).  Actually, what they run is a website that is sponsored by the 2nd Amendment Foundation, and these characters have been pandering to the NRA and the gun-nut audience since medical research on guns became verboten thanks to defunding of the CDC.

Their latest screed is an all-out attack on the decision by the major medical societies, along with the American Bar Association, to take a more aggressive stance on gun violence, something which has been defined as a public health issue since 1981.  And by the way, in case you’ve forgotten, the President that year happened to be a fairly-conservative guy named Reagan, not some gun-grabbing liberal like Clinton or you-know-who.

Gun violence was and is considered a public health issue for one simple reason, namely, that shootings result in the deaths and injuries of more than 100,000 human beings each year.  And it doesn’t matter whether these human beings are mostly old, White men living in small towns who impulsively stick a gun in their mouths and pull the trigger, or young, minority males who just as impulsively settle arguments with guns rather than their fists, the bottom line is that much of this damage wouldn’t occur if it wasn’t so easy to get one’s hands on a gun.

emt                I wouldn’t have any argument with the DRGO gang except for the fact that what they claim to be the mission and method of public health is so far removed from the truth.  In fact, not only do they misrepresent public health, they don’t even remotely or accurately convey what the public health community thinks about guns.  Instead, they pretend there’s no difference between the strategies promoted by advocacy groups like Brady or VPC, as opposed to peer-reviewed research conducted by experts in public health.

The fact is that gun-safety advocacy relies on public health research for many of the arguments that they promote in the public domain, but advocacy still drives public opinion, evidence-based or not.  The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts.”  Public health research on any issue is an exercise in fact-building, how those facts are then used or not used by advocacy doesn’t invalidate the research itself. On the other hand, the pro-gun community not only eschews reliance on evidence-based research in forming and promoting their point of view, they often distort or wholly lie about the little bit of research which they claim proves what they say to be true.

And the most flagrant example of such lying is found in the attack on public health by DRGO.  Here’s the DRGO verdict on public health and guns: “Today the phrase ‘public health perspective’ as applied to gun violence only takes into account the harmful results of gunfire. It ignores the variety of reasons guns are valued. Most significantly, it ignores people using guns defensively at least 760,000 times per year (90% of the time not even needing to fire them) and the disincentive for criminality that promotes.”

Even if it were true that guns prevent 760,000 crimes each year, the idea that this transforms the 100,000 gun deaths and injuries each year into something other than a public health issue is absurd, and no physician who takes medicine seriously would advance such a stupid state of affairs.  But worse, the 760,000 figure wasn’t derived from any research at all; it was “estimated” by Gary Kleck in a Politico piece attacking critics of his research not because of what they said, but because their criticism was ‘proof’ they are part of the gun-grabbing cabal.

I’m going to send a note to DRGO that I’m willing to debate them any time, any place, on the issue of public health and guns.  They won’t agree to such a debate because they’re all about denying gun risk, not about truth.  Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath?

 

 

 

If Schools Can Teach Safe Sex, Can’t They Teach Safe Guns?

Sooner or later, probably sooner, the number of Americans who die in car crashes each year will be exceeded by the number of Americans who die because someone put a bullet into their brain, or into their chest, or into some other vital part of their anatomy and the most skilled trauma surgeon on call when they are rushed into the ER won’t be able to put them together again.  I’m not being sarcastic when I talk about the skill of the trauma surgeon, by the way; gun injuries are much more difficult to treat than any other kind of serious trauma and the costs of gun injury to the medical system are two or three times higher than the costs of any other type of injury.

auto                An interesting commentary on the auto trauma – gun trauma issue was recently posted on Huffington written by a pediatrician, Claire McCarthy, who practices at Boston Children’s Hospital.  Dr. McCarthy makes the point that the response to injuries usually involves some kind of safety laws and rules that will limit injuries and therefore reduce risk when the particular product is being used.  In this regard she cites the fact that all states have similar licensing requirements for driving, and that all states require seat belts, particularly when kids are in the car. On the other hand, she notes that licensing for gun ownership varies from state to state if it is required at all, and that when new gun laws are proposed, somehow the argument turns into a disagreement about rights, not about safety.  The way she puts it, and I love this sentence: “I can’t imagine someone framing motor vehicle safety as a personal freedom issue.”

Dear Dr. McCarthy: Let me be the first one to welcome you to the world of guns.  Because in the gun world, particularly the gun world as it has been created and nurtured by the NRA, gun safety has absolutely nothing to do with safety, it only has to do with rights.  And your innocence in this regard (obviously intended, not real) is your comment that “we get that cars are dangerous.”  Which is exactly the point.  For the folks who live in the gun world, guns aren’t dangerous.  In fact, the whole reason for owning a gun is that it protects those of us who inhabit the gun world from things that are really dangerous like robbers, and street thugs, and terror cells which are now, according to the NRA, actively operating in every city.  What do cars protect us from?  Being late to work and getting chewed out by the boss?  Big deal.  That’s hardly a trade-off.  I’ll take the protective value of guns over cars any time.

But seriously Dr. McCarthy, your Huffington op-ed was what we would expect from someone with your background, training and experience.  It was literate, informed, rational and based on evidence-driven facts.  The only problem is that the folks who really need to be persuaded by your enlightened approach to the problem of gun violence don’t think that way at all.  The day after Christmas a young mother was shot to death in a WalMart in Idaho.  She wasn’t shot by a robber or a terrorist – she was shot by her two-year old son who reached into her pocketbook and yanked out her loaded gun.  Now what in God’s name made this poor woman actually think that she needed to defend herself in a WalMart store?  And we’re not talking about some semi-literate living in a trailer park in Tennessee.  The victim was a college graduate who worked at the U.S. Department of Energy lab and I’ll bet she made sure to buckle her kid into that safety seat before she drove off to the store.

Public health approaches to injuries – seat belts, window gates, pool fences – have worked again and again.  What we need in the case of guns is something much more fundamental.  We need education and if schools can teach safe sex and safe eating, why can’t they teach safe guns?