Will National Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Increase Gun Violence?

What would be the result if the national concealed-carry bill being considered by the Senate actually passed and was signed into law? According to the pro-gun gang, this law will allow every American to use a gun for self-defense no matter where he or she goes. The gun-control gang, on the other hand (I’m trying to be as even-handed as possible but don’t expect me to keep it up) says that such a law will unleash a wave of untrained people carrying guns from states that require little or no pre-licensing training to states which require some kind of safety certification before someone can walk around with a gun. Let’s start with the pro-gun argument first.

CCW1             By now everyone is aware of the ‘fact’ that people with guns prevent millions of crimes from being committed each year. This argument first burst out of the brain of Gary Kleck in the early 90’s, and continues to pop up on various sites here and there. Although Kleck doesn’t necessarily go along any more with his own nonsense, the idea that more guns equal less crime is a gun-nut refrain which floats around about as frequently as the idea that Trump and the Russians had nothing to do with each other during the 2016 Presidential campaign. Last month, according to John Lott, armed citizens prevented a whole, big 22 criminal attacks from taking place, which is a whole, big nothing.

Unfortunately, the reverse argument used to support the idea that concealed-carry laws (CCW) will lead to more crime, isn’t a study of CCW at all.  It’s a critique of how Lott analyzed data in his book, More Guns, Less Crime, which isn’t a study of the impact of CCW, no matter what his critics say. The fact that a particular jurisdiction makes it easier to receive a CCW license, or abolishes the CCW licensing process altogether, doesn’t mean that more people are necessarily walking around with guns. And it certainly doesn’t mean they are walking around in neighborhoods where most crime actually occurs.

My friend John Lott has taken it upon himself to track the increase in CCW licenses issued over the last few years, but even he admits that “the main focus from a crime prevention point of view should be whether people actually do carry guns.” Unfortunatrly, neither he nor anyone else can provide data which confirms that more CCW means more people are actually walking around armed. The Pew gun survey found that 40% of gun owners kept a gun within ‘easy reach,’ but only 10% carried one around all the time.

What seems to provoke the greatest degree of concern among advocates opposed to national CCW reciprocity is that someone living in a state which requires little or no training will be able to take a weapon into another state where training is mandated, thus creating a safety risk that would not exist if issuing authorities continued to set the requirements for CCW within their own state.  Last year some of our public health research friends published a survey of gun training, noting that only 60% of gun owners underwent training of any kind, findings that were turned around and immediately ballyhooed by the GVP media, proclaiming that 4 out of 10 self-defense handgun owners received no training at all.

What nobody in either the research team or the GVP media bothered to point out is that the so-called training received by a majority of CCW-holders is about as effective in preparing them to actually use a gun in self-defense as a driving course prepares someone to pilot a rocket module to the moon. The good news is that less than 1% of victims of violent crime actually use a gun in self-defense; the point being that the entire argument over national CCW has little to do with either gun violence or violent crime. A debate about guns not based on reality? No, I don’t believe it.  Can’t be true.

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What Types Of Guns Are The Most Lethal? Depends On How They’re Used.

One of the major gaps in public health gun research has just been filled with an article that details the kinds of guns that are used in gun violence of all kinds, in particular the slightly less than 80,000 who ended up in a hospital emergency room with some type of gun wound. The study was conducted by researchers and surgeons connected to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, and covered a representative national sample of all ER gun-injury admissions from 2006 to 2014.

ER             The importance of knowing what type of gun was used to inflict that violence shouldn’t be underestimated for the simple reason that regulating gun ownership with more than 300 million guns floating around can be a fairly costly dead end.  Right now the guy who walks into my gun shop and buys a bolt-action hunting rifle which holds 4-5 cartridges has to jump through the same legal hoops as the guy who walks in and buys a Glock 17 which holds 16 or 17 high-powered rounds.  And the idea that any gun which changes hands without a background check could be a greater threat to public safety flies in the face of how we usually think about the lethality of guns.  But thanks to the researchers at Hopkins, for the first time we can make the connection between what kinds of guns are involved in different types of gun violence and perhaps craft policies that better reflect what types of guns need to be controlled.

Along with figuring out what types of guns are used for different types of gun violence events, the researchers also put together some interesting data on the demographics of individuals who are injured with a gun. Interestingly, the age cohorts for persons sustaining gun injuries showed a similar pattern for accidents, suicides and assaults; i.e., in all three categories, victims ages 18-29 appeared most frequently, whereas I would have thought that gun suicide attempts were higher as the patient age went up.  We have always known that young men are most vulnerable when it comes to guns and assaults, but their vulnerability to gun violence evidently extends to suicide as well.

The most important takeaway from this research effort, however, is the finding that different types of guns figure prominently in different types of injuries.  When someone ends up in the ER as the result of a handgun wound, there’s better than a 50-50 chance that the shooting was an intentional assault. If the wound was from a shotgun, the chances were 4 out of 10 that it was an assault but intentional injuries from AR-style rifles were 3 out of 10. What was the weapon responsible for most unintentional injuries? A standard hunting rifle, figuring in more than 7 out of 10 accidents, followed by AR rifles at more than 60% of all AR wounds.

But here’s the real issue which needs to be understood.  Of all the patients who came into the ER with a gun wound from which they were suffering but were still alive, only suicide claimed more than 10% of those victims; for everyone else getting to the ER alive with a gun wound meant at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being saved.  What is the type of weapon which suicide victims are more than likely to choose?  Turns out that more suicides are attempted with hunting rifles than with anything else!

This is a very serious finding and one that needs more serious discussion in order to be better understood. Because in thinking about gun violence, we usually consider hunting accidents to be nothing more than the fact that in order to hunt you usually have to use a gun. No different than using a parachute to do skydiving and maybe the chute fails to open up. But if gun suicides are 2/3 of all gun fatalities and the weapon of choice is a bolt-action rifle which only holds 4-5 rounds, is any kind of gun less lethal than any other kind?

Kudos to Ladd Everitt for alerting us to this study.

 

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.”

Physicians Shouldn’t Be Concerned About Gun ‘Rights.’

Now that the Republican Party has decided the Affordable Care Act will simply ‘implode’ without their help, stories are appearing about out how the majority party in both Houses of Congress and also sitting behind the HMS Resolute desk in the Oval Office couldn’t get it done. This morning David Leonhardt, an op-ed writer for The New York Times, penned a piece in which he celebrated the efforts of a wide swath of citizens who were the activists behind the Republican legislative demise. And one of the groups he singled out for praise were physicians, whose professional organizations really stood up and helped lead the fight.

docs versus glocks             The idea of doctors being politically in a partisan way is a relatively new thing. Referring to a public statement by the chief of Mass General Hospital decrying Trump’s attack on transgender military troops, a primary care doctor at Mass General said it like this: “Traditionally, health professionals have not commented so boldly on the actions of politicians.” She then went on to say that, “many of the most critical current threats to our health — including poverty, lack of access to affordable health care, gun violence, the opioid epidemic — cannot be eliminated by individuals, no matter how well-meaning.”

I have no expertise in affordable health care or opioids, but I do know a little something about guns. And I have been watching and helping physicians deal with gun violence on the individual, i.e., clinical level for a number of years. And what concerns me about the medical approach to gun violence is that, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be rooted in the elimination of a public health issue which kills and injures 125,000+ people every year. Rather, the medical response to gun violence views the problem as one that needs better controls, which is not the same thing as getting rid of it altogether – not the same thing at all.

Last year the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Massachusetts Medical Society collaborated on the production of informational resources that physicians could utilize to become better informed on how to talk to patients about guns. Here’s what is suggested as an approach for counseling patients on gun risks:

Meet patients where they are. Where there is a risk, see if you can brainstorm harm-reduction measures with the patient, as opposed to prescribing one specific solution. For example, rather than advising a patient to get rid of a gun, you could suggest that there are a number of different ways to make guns less accessible, ranging from selling/surrendering the gun, to disposing of ammunition, to temporarily storing the gun outside the home.

 

This statement embodies what one of the most noted physician researchers, Dr. Garen Wintemute (along with several colleagues) suggested was the proper way for physicians to engage in gun discussions, based on the idea that “conversations should acknowledge local cultural norms,” with the desired outcome being “firearms are stored unloaded and locked, with ammunition stored separately.”

So the bottom line is that the new-found, public advocacy by physicians about gun violence should occur within certain, self-imposed constraints, the chief one being that doctors, unless there is an immediate and verifiable risk, should find ways to communicate with gun-owning patients which avoids the basic issue, namely, that guns, no matter how safely stored, are a serious risk to health. Period. End of story. Enough is really enough.

We have made remarkable strides in reducing smoking, another clear health risk. According to the CDC, the percentage of adult smokers is now less than 20%, when I was a kid, everyone smoked. This didn’t happen because doctors told patients that perhaps they should smoke less. It happened because no physician would ever dare tell a patient that smoking is anything other than a clear threat to health.

You think guns are any different? If someone wants to be ‘safe’ with their guns, they can always take one of those phony safety courses offered by the NRA. Physicians shouldn’t be promoting the idea that a gun isn’t harmful to health.

 

Are Guns Weapons Of Mass Destruction? Yep – They Sure Are.

The good news out of Florida is that the 2017 NRA legislative agenda for the Gunshine State appears to be dead.  The bills, which would have legalized open carry in most public locations, along with concealed-carry in airports and college campuses, didn’t make the calendar of the State Senate Judiciary Committee, which means they will not be reviewed by the committee during the 2017 session, which means their sponsor, Greg Steube, will have to re-introduce the bills again next year.

florida logo1             Incidentally, if the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would ever give an award to the dumbest, piece of pro-gun legislation introduced in any state legislature each year, Senator Steube would win the contest hands down. Because in addition to the bills mentioned above, he also tried to put in a bill that would allow someone who was shot in a public premise which had a gun-free policy to sue the owner of that location for making the shooting victim vulnerable because he couldn’t protect himself with a gun.

The GVP community and its Congressional allies have been attempting, without success, to pass legislation at the federal level that would take away the PLCAA immunity which gun makers use to avoid being sued when someone is shot with a particular gun maker’s gun. Steube’s dumbness whopper was something of a response to the attacks on PLCAA and had it passed muster in Florida, it would no doubt have begun to spring up in other states. Know how crazy things like Ronald Reagan and Half-and-Half started in California and moved East? When it comes to crazy, pro-gun laws, they start in Florida and then spread everywhere else.

Maybe the rational-minded members of the Florida legislature decided this year, particularly after the massacre at the Pulse and the airport shooting in Orlando that enough is enough. Or maybe the NRA lobbyist, Granny Hammer, has just been a busybody for too long. But whatever the reason(s), this year Florida decided that it was no-go for any extension of gun ‘rights.’ Which brings me to the point of this column, namely, the idea that being able to do whatever in hell you want to do with a gun is considered by Gun-nut Nation to be some kind of ‘right.’

According to the Heller and McDonald decisions, the only ‘right’ contained in the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment is the ‘right’ to keep a loaded, unlocked gun in your home for self-defense.  That’s it. Period. End of story. Pro-gun advocates can twist this one around all they want, and in fact many states and localities have approved laws which go far beyond the 2nd Amendment in terms what gun owners can do with their guns – carry them outside the home, carry them openly, sell them, trade them, whatever they want. But none of those activities represent any kind of Constitutional ‘right.’  And I really wish that the GVP community would react with a louder and more aggressive response whenever the issue of ‘rights’ rears its ugly and completely false head.

Know what I think guns represent? I think they should be considered and explicitly referred to as ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ or would you rather continue to believe that a particular product which causes more than 120,000 serious deaths and injuries each year isn’t a WMD?  Last week credible news reports put the human toll from the gas attack in Syria at 70, with another 100 people treated in hospitals near where the attack took place.  Know how many Americans are killed and wounded by guns every weekend each year?  Try 450 and I’m probably off by a hundred or more.

I really don’t think this kind of violence and loss of human life has anything to do with ‘rights,’ There’s nothing in the Constitution which allows it, and it appears that at least some members of the Florida legislature understand what the Constitution says and doesn’t say.

A New Partnership To Reduce Gun Suicides Which Might Help.

How many people die annually from gun violence?  If you’re a gun-control advocate, you’ll usually say that it’s somewhere around 31,000.  On the other hand, if you’re pro-gun, you’ll say it’s 11,000, give or take a few. The difference is whether or not suicide is considered a type of gun violence, because every year more than 20,000 Americans end their own lives by using a gun.  And if you want to meet your Maker before He wants to meet you, there’s nothing as efficient as pulling out the ol’ firearm, aiming it at yourself and – bam! Gun suicide is effective 90% of the time, no other life-ending behavior is half as good.

gun-suicide            According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence is defined as someone who attempts to injure themselves or someone else.  So from a medical point of view, gun suicide is certainly a type of gun violence.  But the disagreement between pro-gun and anti-gun forces isn’t about medicine, it’s about politics, messaging and whether we need guns around or not.  Which is why until recently, the gun industry has preferred to keep discussions about gun suicide on the back burner, but that’s about to change.

Last year the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s lobbying and trade organization began talking to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in an effort to find some common ground.  And what has emerged from these talks is a four-state, pilot program that will put suicide prevention messaging in gun shops and shooting ranges, a program that will then be widened with the goal of reducing gun suicides 20% nationally by 2025.  The project was officially kicked off with a press conference at this week’s SHOT show, and is publicly displayed on the websites of the AFSP and NSSF.

Predictably, the fringe elements in Gun-nut World were reluctant to jump on board unless this initiative and other similar programs would steer clear of any explicit or implicit attempt to use this activity to regulate guns.  Alan Gottleib, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is really a cover for his very-profitable mail solicitation business, helped craft a bill before the Washington State legislature that establishes a ‘safe homes’ task force that will create messaging and training materials for ‘voluntary’ use by gun dealers. The Task Force membership includes Gottleib and a rep from the NRA. I don’t notice any representation from the groups in Washington State that pushed through an extension of background checks over the vigorous opposition of the NRA and the Gottleib gang.

This is the problem with the new suicide initiative announced by the NSSF and the AFSP, namely, that it’s a voluntary effort, which when it comes to educating about gun violence is where the gun industry always draws the line.  Gun-nut Nation’s phobia about government mandates is about as extreme as the phobia that some people have about immunizing their kids against disease.  And frankly, both phobias come from the same place; i.e., mistrust of government and a total misrepresentation of the facts. Fact: There is absolutely no connection between NICS-background checks and national registration of guns.  Fact: There is absolutely no connection between immunizations and autism, despite what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says.

If you walk into a gun shop today, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a ‘Don’t Lie For The Other Guy’ poster on the wall.  This is a long-standing partnership between the ATF and the NSSF to discourage straw sales at the counter-top, a project that is dear to the hearts of everyone in the GVP community as well.  In fact, displaying this message is mandatory, although ATF agents don’t check to see if the poster is hanging on the wall or not.

Of course we would like gun-suicide prevention programs to have some teeth. Of course we would like Gun-nut Nation to stop opposing sensible laws that would enable family members of at-risk individuals to remove their guns.  Of course, of course, of course.  But the NSSF-AFSP partnership is a good start.

It’s Not Just Keeping Guns Out Of The Wrong Hands, It’s Keeping The Wrong Guns Out Of Everyone’s Hands.

My first introduction to the gun business was 1965 in North Carolina working for my Uncle Ben.  Like all my immigrant relatives, Ben had been in the iron-mongering business back in the Old Country, so when he came to America he opened a junk yard where he traded scrap metal this for scrap metal that. At some point he started manufacturing a small, 22-caliber revolver which he sold to pawn shops for $15 bucks; the pawnbrokers then resold this little piece of junk for $24.95. This gun was a quintessential ‘Saturday Night Special,’ which might fire one or two shots before it broke.

 

            Glock 43

Glock 43

So here we are, fifty years later, and Uncle Ben’s cheap, little piece of junk for $24.95 has been replaced by, among other models, the Glock 43, which retails for somewhere around five hundred bucks.  But the Glock 43, which is actually smaller and more concealable than Uncle Ben’s crummy, little gun, isn’t a 22-caliber revolver with a capacity of six shots.  It’s an extremely-lethal 9mm pistol which holds seven rounds and with a magazine extension the capacity goes up to nine. If you’re not enamored with Glock, other gun companies like Ruger and Kahr make 9mm pistols which are basically the same capacity and size.

What has happened to the gun business over the last half century is the guns have gotten smaller, lighter, more concealable and much more lethal.  When Franklin Zimring did a study of the calibers found in 1,115 gun attacks in Chicago in 1970, he found that gun attacks with 38-caliber weapons were more than twice as fatal as attacks committed with 22-caliber guns.  When the California Department of Justice published a list of calibers that caused gun injuries in 2009, five times as many guns were used in high-powered calibers like 9mm, 40 S&W and 45 acp than guns chambered for the 22.  You simply can’t compare the damage to human tissue caused by a 9mm round as opposed to a 22-caliber shell. The latter can be lethal if, and only if the shooter is either extremely lucky or is a very good shot.  As for a 9mm or a 40 round, if it hits you anywhere except in your earlobe, you’re going down.

Back in 1968 and again 1994, we passed gun-control laws based on the idea that we could reduce gun violence by keeping guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands.  Which meant keeping guns away from people whose background and behavior indicated that they might represent a threat to public safety or themselves if they could get their hands on a gun.  The current effort to extend background checks to secondary sales is an effort to strengthen our ability to identify more ‘wrong’ hands, as are the strategies designed to tighten the regulatory environment in which gun dealers operate so as to keep ‘bad apple’ dealers from selling guns to people with ‘wrong hands.’

I happen to believe that this approach, while necessary, actually doesn’t respond to the primary cause of gun violence, namely, the degree to which most guns sold today are capable of being used to commit a much higher level of gun violence than ever before.  There is a bill before Congress that recognizes the lethality of assault rifles and is an effort to revive the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004.  But while this law reflects concerns about the lethality of the AR-style gun, pro-gun advocates are not wrong when they say that, mass shootings notwithstanding, injuries caused by AR-15’s are relatively few and far between.

Know what causes most of the 115,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries each year? It’s those small but powerful handguns which are increasingly the weapons of choice for most Americans who own guns. So instead of spending all our time, energy and money trying to keep guns out of the wrong hands, shouldn’t we also be trying to figure out how to keep the wrong guns out of everyone’s hands?