Khalil Spencer: It’s Not About Assault Rifles, It’s About Assaults On Decency.

Along with the current discussion about gun control, assault rifle bans, and domestic terrorism, Uncle Sam is working on reinvigorating the nuclear weapons program in New Mexico and South Carolina. Given that a few of us in Northern New Mexico are affiliated with certain large Federal installations involved with making things that can create very large holes in the ground, I see a lot of chatter about both topics. This leaves me uneasy.

Guns and bombs are necessary evils albeit fascinating creations when not employed for their intended purpose. That’s why people enjoy shooting sports, especially with military design rifles, for example, as described here and here. But lethal weapons are solutions of last resort to real problems. Whether someone is kicking down your door or your frontier at o-dark thirty, you need a way to defend yourself. The problem is, when things get to the point of a shooting war, whether in the kitchen or the Ardennes, the less destructive solutions have failed or have been ignored. Cleaning up the blood and lost treasure gets more complicated as weapons become more advanced. During the American Revolution, a few thousand soldiers faced each other and opened fire when they could see the whites of each others eyes. The American Civil War, which bled America white, was the harbinger of WW I with trench warfare and the introduction of modern weapons. Nowadays, advanced heavy weapons and highly lethal infantry weapons (not to mention, nukes) can blow somewhat larger holes in the other side’s strategic interests. High capacity semiauto weapons can drench the neighborhood with a rainsquall of full metal jacket (or jacketed hollow point, I suppose). Or as Bruce Cockburn once sang, “who put that bullet hole in Peggy’s kitchen wall?”. Nowadays, it would be more than one hole. I think Bruce thought up that song when people generally shot at each other with revolvers.

Things won’t get better if we concentrate on more guns and bombs as solutions. There are more of us in the U.S. (and of course on the planet) and here at home, resources are becoming more unequal, leading to rising stress. Our civilization’s reliance on dinosaur juice, methane, and coal to power our cars, homes, and other stuff is on track to double atmospheric CO2 concentrations over Holocene levels by mid-century. This will, by most reputable accounts, lead to global energy retention via the Tyndall effect resulting in heating on the order of 1.5-4 degrees C and the associated climate adjustments that likely are associated with warming (sea level rise, changes in regional precipitation, changes in average temperatures, more extreme weather due to changes in the jet streams, etc). As an aside, note the uncertainties here. We can predict the big picture, but not the details, hence the constant bickering.

If you think forced migration due to climate and political problems is bad now, I suggest a friendly trip in the time machine to see what things will look like in a few decades. For those who are skeptical of forward climate models, we have plenty of historical geochemical records suggesting significant change is likely in the century to come. Even on the regional scale, we see the results on societies of past climate change in the abandoned settlements of the American Southwest and Greenland. I wrote something for the Albuquerque Journal about that here. Far fewer humans lived back then, so there were places to resettle. Where do people resettle in a few years, as their wells run dry and crops wither, now that we live in a No Vacancy world?

Our ability since the Industrial Revolution to change atmospheric chemistry and thus the atmosphere’s ability to retain the sun’s heat, in a nutshell, is why humans can profoundly – at least with respect to our own existence – impact climate.

me, in the Albuquerque Journal


My guess is we will probably deal with climate change using guns and bombs, since that seems to be the historical tradition. Yes, I am increasingly pessimistic. With the world order drifting towards authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, and ethnic/racial extremism and increasingly, with people showing up unannounced at each other’s national doorsteps, I think the stresses will overcome reason. Plus, its been 74 years since we had a world war. Few living today remember what a world war looks like and frankly, I worry that today’s leaders can only see war as an abstraction. Reagan and Gorbachev knew WW II. Putin and Trump do not. My parent’s generation, now pretty much gone, saw it in its smoke, blood, and destruction filled reality.

The bottom line is if we continue to fixate on using Maslow’s Handgun to stave off change rather than hunkering down to fix what is broken, we will kick the underlying problems down the road until a crisis overcomes us and we solve the problems with…guns and bombs. Its the way Homo sapiens has always done it before. Why change now? Because the guns and bombs are too lethal to use? That’s the underlying idea behind deterrence, but it assumes rational actors acting in their best interest. Hmmm. Does anyone see a potential problem with that assumption? Orwell did:

The passage in the Declaration of Independence that starts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” with its references to equality, liberty, and happiness, is literally impossible to translate into Newspeak. “The nearest one could come to doing so,” Orwell wrote, “would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”

Tom Stern, discussing Orwell’s idea of Newspeak.


As Kurt Vonnegut, who himself rode out the WW II Dresden firebombing, ironically enough in a slaughterhouse, would say, “So it goes“. Unless we choose otherwise.

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Why Do We Believe That A Gun Keeps Us Safe?

              Our friends at UC-Davis have just published an article on the connection between increased gun sales and gun-injury rates. The good news about the article is that it is open source, which means you can download it here and read it for free. So I commend Garen Wintemute and his colleagues for giving everyone in Gun-control Nation an opportunity to share their research findings for free.

              That’s the good news. After I summarize their research and what they learned, I’m going to mention the bad news. And the bad news is what Wintemute and his research team didn’t bother to learn. But first, here’s see what they learned.

              The research covers a ‘spike’ in handgun sales in California in California following the 2012 re-election of The Bomber and the Sandy Hook massacre, two events that occurred within a space of five weeks. The authors define a ‘spike’ as a “sharp and short-lived increase in firearm sales.”  From this, the authors then attempt to test the following hypothesis, namely, that “the sudden and unanticipated influx of firearms in a concentrated area such as a city could result in increases in firearm harm.” The research covered injury data from 499 California cities along with a complete run of handgun sales which are recorded individually and kept by the California DOJ.)

              Here’s where I have to raise a small, red flag. The authors claim that they measured the spike in gun sales from the date of Obama’s election until six weeks post-Sandy Hook. But what this analysis fails to consider is whether the spike was only a response to those two events rather than reflecting the release of pent-up demand which developed prior to Obama’s second win.

              I spent the entire Summer and Fall of 2012 sitting by myself in my gun shop because I didn’t know one, single gun nut who thought that Romney wasn’t going to be inaugurated President in 2013. Even Romney believed this fantasy and so did everyone else. Which is why gun sales collapsed during the run-up to that election, because everyone knows that when the White House is occupied by a Republican, the gun business goes into the toilet, prices collapse and why not wait a few months before buying your next gun? After all, it’s not as if anyone needs to buy another gun.

              If the UC-Davis researchers wanted to get a clear picture of the post-election spike, what they should have done was to factor in the trend of gun sales before the cataclysmic event took place. Gun sales always pick up in November and over the next three to four months, but the comparison should be judged not just by looking forward in time, but also by looking back.

              Did the researchers find an ‘association’ between the gun spike in November-December and an increase in gun injuries over the following year? Of course they did, although the percentage of gun injuries (4%) was substantially less than the percentage increase of handguns that were floating around. Again, I am somewhat leery of how the research team computed what they refer to as ‘excess handguns’ (meaning more guns being sold than were usually the case) because of the issue of pent-up demand.

Okay, now here comes the bad news.

We have all kinds of evidence that gun sales spike after mass shootings or other events that might portend new regulations reducing the availability of guns. Much of this research is referenced by the UC-Davis team. But to me, the question that really matters and that nobody in the public health research domain seems interested in understanding is this: Why do some people actually believe that a gun will protect them from the kind of harm represented by what took place at Sandy Hook?

If public health researchers like Wintemute and his colleagues would sit down and try to figure that one out, maybe just maybe we could hold a reasonable discussion with gun owners about the risk of owning those guns.

Is that too much to ask?

Why Do Physicians Continue To Support The NRA?

              In 1927 a Belgian medievalist, Henri Pirenne, created an academic firestorm with the publication of an article which argued that the shift of Western Civilization away from the Mediterranean (Greece – Rome) to its modern locus in Northern Europe was due to the 7th-Century invasion by Islam into North Africa and Spain. His study provoked the publication of endless responses, revisions and refutations that probably accounted for an unknown number of academic promotions, tenures and teaching careers. When the whole controversy finally died down fifty years after it began, the center of Western Civilization was still located alongside the Île de France.

              I am reminded of Pirenne’s thesis whenever yet another pronouncement is issued calling for more research into the violence caused by guns, even though the formative research by Art Kellerman and Fred Rivara linking higher rates of suicide and homicide to guns in the home was published more than twenty-five years ago.

              The demand for more research has grown exponentially since Sandy Hook, just as the whole gun-control movement has spread outward following that terrible event. In April, 2015 eight national medical organizations published a ‘Call for Action,’ which demanded more “research to support strategies for reducing firearm-related injuries and deaths.” You can download this paper right here.

              Pursuant to that manifesto, three of the organizational signatories have produced their own calls for more research, agendas which allegedly reflect the various specialties which they bring to the issue of guns. I refer to pronouncements made by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) in 2016, the American College of Physicians (ACP) in 2018 and the American College of Surgeons (ACS), also in 2018.  You can download all three papers right here: ACEPACPACS.  Feel free to download the Kellerman-Rivara articles here and here.

              According to the ACEP, “high-quality firearm injury prevention research is needed.” Says the ACP, “More research is needed on firearm violence and on intervention and prevention strategies to reduce injuries caused by firearms.” Announces the ACS, “We recommend that research for firearm injury and firearm injury prevention must be federally funded at a level commensurate with the burden of the disease without restriction.”

              So there appears to be a consensus emerging within the medical community that a behavior which results in injuries to more than 125,000 Americans each year is a serious problem and that more research will help develop effective interventions to bring that number down.

              With all due respect to the 39 signatories of these pronouncements who hold MD degrees, what they have published are road maps to help them design and produce more studies to enhance their research careers. Thank you very much.

              The behavior which creates gun injuries is well known – pick up a loaded gun, aim it at yourself or someone else, pull the trigger and an injury occurs. It’s guaranteed to work every, single time. If any one of the 39 medical researchers believes this research to be inadequate, come to my gun shop, we’ll go downstairs to my range, I’ll give you a loaded gun, then you pull the trigger and let’s test the result. Sorry folks, this outcome is validated at least 350 times in America every, single day.

              Incidentally, these three medical groups – ACEP, ACS, ACP – donated nearly $250,000 to the 2016-2018 Congressional campaigns of the worst, most aggressive members of the House GOP caucus whose votes have been primarily responsible for the lack of gun-research funding which these organizations all claim to be their most worrisome concern. Have any of these researchers who are so committed to saving lives said one word about this egregious state of affairs? Not one peep. And these researchers want their concerns about gun violence to be taken seriously by anyone other than themselves? Are they serious? You can download this wall of shame right here. You can also read a new JAMA article which goes in greater detail about medical support for the NRA.

               The research on gun violence is clear: get rid of the guns. I say this as a bone-fide gun nut, not just as some doctor who happens to own or not own a few guns.

Greg Gibson: Survivor Apocalypse – Part I

I – Lord of the Flies

I’m holed up in my shack in a distant corner of the north woods. It’s cold, and quiet, and very still. I have dried and canned foods, jugs of drinking water, solar powered LED lights, and plenty of sweet, dry, apple wood to burn. I’ve set myself the task of composing a “Survivor Apocalypse Manifesto.”  But I am not a survivalist. I’m a survivor of gun violence.

For years I’ve sought new ways of talking and thinking about the problem of gun violence in America, some way to break through the indifference of the American people. I see myself as an anti-Ted Kaczynski, an un-Unabomber engaged in the creation of a subtly explosive document which, by its eloquence, charm, and irrefutable logic, will put an end to gun violence as we know it, much as Jerry Rubin and Ed Sanders levitated and exorcised the Pentagon in 1967. But it’s not going to be that easy this time around, for the simple reason that most non-survivors don’t give a hoot about the problem of gun violence in America. As they’ve demonstrated ad nauseam, the pink-faced white men in power don’t care, and that vast majority of citizens who tell pollsters they favor stronger gun laws don’t care either. If they did, they’d already have voted the pink-faced politicians who don’t care out of office.

Who, then, is left to deal with the eradication of gun violence? The survivors of gun violence, that’s who. And the many more people who are in imminent danger of being personally affected by gun violence. Which includes everyone. Too bad for you if you don’t see the truth in this. The purpose of the “Survivor Apocalypse Manifesto” should therefore be clear.

First, however, I must deal with a fact of woodland life. In the fall, a particular species of fly crawls into every cranny of a place like this to sleep through the winter. When I opened the door this afternoon, for the first time since October, the floor was covered with them, right where they’d dropped when the temperature fell low enough to knock them out. I swept them up and threw them away. Then I lit a fire in the wood stove. To my horror the warmth brought more flies back to life. Many more, crawling out of whatever fly holes they’d been sleeping in. Thousands of them, big and fat. They’re called “cluster flies” because they cluster, and right now they’re clustering on the windowpanes, marring my view of the highlands. It’s disgusting. I’m sorry to say that composition of the “Survivor Apocalypse Manifesto” will be postponed owing to the necessity of initiating a cluster fly holocaust.

No wonder Kacsynski went nuts.

But there’s always something, isn’t there? Some impediment, some fly in the ointment. What does it mean, “well-regulated militia?” What is the definition of an assault rifle? Why don’t we just enforce the laws already on the books? This is not the time for such talk. This is the time for thoughts and prayers.

II – History

In 1978 my sister Wendy died, as we say, by her own hand, which had a revolver in it, which was pointed at her heart when she squeezed the trigger. (Women tend to go for the heart; men the head.) She purchased her gun at a pawn shop the day before her death – an unfortunate impulse shopping decision that would be just as easy today, in many states, as it was in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1978. Most people who survive a suicide attempt never try again. If she’d decided instead to hang herself she would have had only a 60% chance of success. Poison, 40%. Cutting, 2%. With a gun the chances of success rise to 90%. Though it’s not success, is it?

Fourteen years later, in December 1992, my eighteen-year-old son Galen was killed in a school shooting at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts. He was the random victim of a disturbed fellow student who’d bought a used semi-automatic rifle at a local gun shop the afternoon of the shootings. The killer modified his gun to accept thirty-round magazines, which he’d ordered, using his mother’s credit card, along with 180 rounds of ammunition, from a mail order company in South Carolina. Purchases of the gun, the ammunition, and the aftermarket accessories were perfectly legal, and they’d be be just as legal now, in many states, as they were in 1992.

These events have given me the unusual perspective of having spent forty years closely watching nothing happen. Or, watching a lot happen, most of which involves people getting killed by guns and politicians doing nothing about it. Let us observe a moment of silence. Let us attend to the buzzing of flies.

Enough With Being “Reasonable’ About Guns.

              Back in 2016, you may recall that our friends in Fairfax (a.k.a. the NRA) not only endorsed Sleazy Don for President at an unprecedented (for them) early date, but combined this decision with an attack narrative that went far beyond anything they had previously said or done. Remember Dana ‘home-school-queen’ Loesch warning ‘every lying member of the media’ that their ‘time has come?’ Recall how Wayne-o showed up at C-PAC and told the adoring audience that the media ‘wants to make us less free?’

              The problem with lumping their PR strategy together with what Trump was whining about on the campaign trail, is that it never occurred to the leadership of America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ that maybe, just maybe, the whole thing would hit a dead end. And the dead end occurred back in November, when the Democrats handed Trump and the GOP a startling and staggering loss. Despite claims by Sleazebag Don and fathead Limbaugh that the election was a ‘victory’ for the red team, in fact, neither Party has ever gained as many House seats in any election since 1938.

              More important than the size of the victory is the fact that the blue team now has a national leader who cleaned Sleazy Don’s clock this week by responding to his taunts about the ‘radicals’ running the Democratic Party by telling him that as for the State of the Union, he could stay away.  The best example of the collapse of America’s great deal-maker was his comment that he might look for an alternate site for delivering the speech. Why not the Trump International Hotel?  He could walk over from the White House in ten minutes or less.

              So the bottom line is that the world has changed both for our friends in the gun-control movement as well as for our friends who run the NRA.  Between trying to pick up the pieces of their dopey Carry Guard insurance program, defending themselves against allegations of all kinds of nefarious election activities and looking to put together a new list of corporate partners offering discounts to the NRA faithful, there’s not a lot of time left over to promote the agenda of Sleazebag Don. So they have fallen back on what they do best, namely, posturing themselves as being stalwart defenders of our beloved 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ And the most effective way to get that message across is to claim that all those groups advocating ‘reasonable’ gun laws are nothing more than fronts for the continued efforts of Mike Bloomberg to get rid of guns.

              If you were the mayor of a city where shootings were a routine part of life, how could you not want to get rid of guns? Frankly, I never understood why anyone would be either surprised or upset by the fact that a guy like Bloomberg would be against guns. Now maybe if he had been responsible for public safety in a quiet little town somewhere in the Midwest, it would be difficult to imagine him leading an anti-gun crusade. But his views on gun violence happen to align a lot more consistently with his background and experiences than the positions on gun violence taken by that stupid, vulgar, POS-landlord who happens to be sitting in the White House right now.

              Just as Gun-nut Nation was probably unprepared for the strength and depth of November’s blue wave, I also suspect that the outcome of the 2018 election came as something of a shock to my friends in the gun violence prevention movement, a.k.a. the GVP. Which brings me to the real reason for what I want to say today.

              Given the new political realities in DC, I think it’s time for my GVP friends to drop all this nonsense about supporting ‘reasonable’ gun laws and tell it like it is. Either you end gun violence by ending open access to the guns which cause the violence (read: handguns) or you don’t. If Nancy’s willing to tell Sleazebag Don to stick it you know where, why can’t my friends in the gun-control movement say the same thing to the NRA?

How Much Does Gun Violence Cost?

              Our friends at the Giffords Law Center have just published a disquieting study which claims that gun violence in Missouri costs $1.9 billion a year, and that’s a conservative estimate, to say the least. The estimate is based on taking the average number of homicides, suicides, accidental shootings and gun assaults, and then multiplying these numbers using a gun-violence costs analysis developed by researchers who helped Mother Jones produce a study in 2015 which set the national cost of gun violence at $229 billion every year.

              If we were to take the Missouri numbers, which average out to roughly $1 million for every fatal and non-fatal gun injury, the national cost would now be somewhere around $140 billion. Which means that the Mother Jones figure was too high or the Missouri costs o gun-violence calculated by the Giffords Center is too low.

              On the other hand, by taking the Missouri figures and assuming they are representative for the country as a whole might also be an exercise in fake news or at least fake statistics, because we can’t assume that the breakdown between various gun-violence categories (homicide, suicide, etc.) in Missouri is similar to how gun injuries occur in other states. Either way, it’s a lot of dough. The only problem with these numbers, however, is they may not really tell us anything about the financial costs of gun violence owing to the methodology utilized to estimate those costs.

              Most of the costs calculated in the Giffords study to represent the financial toll of gun violence are actually estimates of what the victim would not have lost had he or she not been shot by a gun. In other words, we are asked to believe that from the moment someone is injured they would have made choices about work, family, lifestyles and other social factors which they can no longer make. The estimates for lost income, for example, make assumptions about how much someone’s income will change over the course of their lives from what their income was at the moment the injury occurred. But in the case of gunshot victims, probably at least half of the 85,000 young men assaulted each year with a gun have never actually held a job. How do you reasonably estimate what the lifetime earnings of these victims might be?

              Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig have been looking at the issue of gun-violence costs much longer than anyone else, and they published a good book on this subject in 2000 which, sad to say, is now out of print. The good news is you can still get the book on Amazon in a used edition for a couple of bucks. Where Cook and Ludwig construct a refreshingly and unique definition of costs, is by calculating what people would be willing to pay to avoid gun violence, either 9through higher taxes for better protective services or by simply moving to a neighborhood which is safer than here they currently live.

              The Giffords report actually implies something of the same awareness between safe and unsafe because it notes that more than 60% of all gun violence in Missouri occurs in just two cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, which together count for less than 15% of the population of the ‘Show-Me” state as a whole. And within those two cities, of course, most of the gun violence is confined to specific neighborhoods, the polite term now used is neighborhoods which are ‘underserved.’

              It seems to me that if the state of Missouri is losing $1.9 billion a year because of gun violence, what could the state do with that money if it wasn’t flushed down the gun-violence drain? Could they build some health stations to provide inner-city neighborhoods with better medical care? Could they strengthen technical and vocational education so that young people could qualify for solid, high-paying jobs?

              Let’s not just sit around and bemoan the cost of gun violence. Instead, let’s calculate the value of getting rid of the guns.

Why Do We Suffer From Gun Violence?

              Now that Nancy Pelosi has given Sleazy Don a quick lesson in how to negotiate a deal, everyone in Gun-control Nation believes that some kind of gun bill will emerge from the Democratic-controlled House. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  But if any kind of bill is going to get voted through, the very least we should try to do is craft some kind of measure which will respond to the issue itself. And if the issue is what we call ‘gun violence,’ then we need to make sure we understand what that term really means.

              According to the World Health Organization, violence means an intentional injury committed against yourself or someone else. So gun violence would include suicide, homicide and assault, which reduces the CDC-based number of total gun violence from 124,761 to 106,624 because accidents don’t count. And accidents shouldn’t count in the overall scheme of things unless, of course,Gun-control Nation isn’t telling the truth about its support for 2nd-Amendment‘rights.’

              But of course they are telling the truth. After all,isn’t that why gun-control groups like Everytown only want to pass ‘sensible’ gun laws? Here’s what Everytown says: “Support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people.”  The Giffords group is even more explicit: “we can enact gun safety measures that save thousands of lives and do not threaten Second Amendment rights.”

              Wonderful, just wonderful. Not only does Gun-control Nation want to protect us from gun violence, they also take it upon themselves to protect Constitutional ‘rights.’  Now I’m confused. I thought the NRA was America’s ‘first civil rights organization.’ I thought it was the boys in Fairfax leading the charge to keep gun owners from facing a world without a 2nd-Amendment security blanket.  I mean, why did I give Wayne-o and Chrissie enough money to become a Life Patriot Endowment NRA Member if tree-huggers and Communists like George Soros and Mike Bloomberg are now making sure that we enforce a law which was ratified in 1791? Something’s not right here, something’s really not right.

              I’ll tell you what’s not right.  What’s not right is the attempt by my friends in Gun-control Nation to pretend they are committed to the idea that every ‘responsible’ and ‘reasonable’ American should be able to own a gun.  If there really is a chance to get a new gun law through Congress next year, why don’t we cut the bullsh*t, okay? 

              Would someone from Everytown please explain to me what is ‘responsible’ about walking around with a Glock pistol which holds 16 military-ordnance rounds? And if you don’t know the history of the 9mm cartridge, do me a favor and learn something about guns before lecturing me on your commitment to ‘reasonable’ gun laws.  Because in my state – Massachusetts – if you haven’t been arrested and convicted for some serious offense and you snooze your way through a gun-safety course which doesn’t require you to shoot a gun at all, you have just met all the sensible and reasonable requirements,Constitutional and otherwise, to walk around town with a gun. What are my friends at Everytown and Brady going to say about that?

              I’m really sick and tired of listening to my friends in Gun-control Nation tell me that we can end gun violence by just making sure that the ‘bad guys’ don’t have guns. Gun violence isn’t caused by guys, bad or otherwise. Gun violence is…caused…by…guns. I mean,you just can’t do to someone’s head with a baseball bat what you can do to their head with a gun.  I once accidentally whacked my brother on the side of his head with a Louisville Slugger and he suffered from double vision for a couple of days. He wouldn’t have suffered at all if I had blown his head off with my 1911 Colt pistol – he would have been dead.

              I don’t think it would be so terrible if Gabby Giffords stood up and said that she just doesn’t like guns.Who’s going to blame her for saying that?

Gun Buybacks Work.

Next Saturday, December 15, my friends at Worcester Memorial Hospital and U/Mass Medical School are going to sponsor their 17th annual gun buyback that will run all day in the city of Worcester and many of the surrounding towns. This effort is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Hirsh, the pediatric surgeon at Memorial who first started thinking about gun violence when his classmate in the residency program at Columbia Medical School, John Wood, was gunned down across the street from the hospital in 1981.  You can learn more about the Worcester buyback program here.

The Worcester buyback is a partnership between the hospital and the city’s Police Department, or what Dr. Hirsh calls ‘white coats – blue coats,’ and the pic above shows Worcester DA Joe Early handing Hirsh a nice check.  The same buyback with the same white coat – blue coat effort will take place on the same day at New Haven and Hartford with Yale and U/Conn medical schools/hospitals involved, as well as in Springfield, MA with the involvement of the city’s cops and teaching hospital, and maybe several more sites still to be announced.  The choice of dates is not accidental; the buybacks are always conducted on the weekend closest to the anniversary of Sandy Hook.

When Mike Hirsh did his first buyback in 2002, the concept of giving in unwanted guns for a cash card here and there had been going on for at least forty years, but generally speaking, such activities received a bad press. Some of this negative image came from the work of criminologists, other findings about the limited value of buybacks came out of public health. There has also been a lot of mixed news about the 1996 buyback in Australia, although comparing a government-mandated gun turn-in where owners are fairly compensated for giving up legally-owned property to a community-run, voluntary turn-in effort is like comparing riding to work in a car as opposed to riding to work on a horse.

One of the leading scholars who used to find little value in buybacks is Garen Wintemute, who is quoted in an interview with NPR as saying that the ‘symbolic impact’ of buybacks is ‘important,’ whatever that means. Wintemute published some research on the effect of buybacks held in Milwaukee in 1994-1996, he compared the collected guns to the types of guns connected to gun fatalities and concluded that most of the donated guns were not the types that were used in gun violence; hence, buybacks don’t work. In 2013, Wintemure revisited the issue again and this time decided that buybacks, if coordinated with other initiatives, such as increasing community awareness about gun violence, were an effective tool. 

With all due respect to Wintemute and his research colleagues, the December 15 buyback led by Dr. Hirsh and other clinicians not only meets all the criteria mentioned by public health scholars as making buybacks a credible pathway towards reducing gun violence, but by basing these buybacks on a collaboration with medical centers, they do something much more important as well.

In fact, it was Wintemute himself (and Marian Betz) who published an important essay calling for physicians to become versent in the language and culture that would help them counsel patients on gun violence, in particular patients who appear to be at immediate risk. This article is regularly cited in every professional medical journal which carries articles on physicians and guns.

The reason that Dr. Hirsh and his buyback team focus their attention on participation by medical centers is that their buybacks serve as a practical, hands-on teaching opportunity for medical residents, medical school students and hospital staff. When community residents show up to donate a gun, they are asked to fill out an anonymous form which gives them an opportunity to explain why they decided to get rid of the gun.  The form is IRB-approved, more than 500 have been collected to date, and at some point the entire collection will be analyzed and sent to a peer-reviewed journal to be read by the public at large.  You can download the form here.  

Without going into specific details because the pre-publication analysis is not yet done, I can say that roughly half of the people who have completed the questionnaire to date state that they wanted to get rid of the gun because it represents a risk to themselves and others in the home.  In other words, what the buyback does is give people not just an opportunity to think about gun violence, but to make a decision, without government intervention of any kind, that having a gun around the home is too much of a risk. Now it happens to be the case that a majority of Americans believe the reverse; namely, that a gun is more of a benefit than a risk. Beyond what Mike Hirsh has been doing for the last 17 years, I don’t know a single activity being conducted by anyone in the medical community  which gives gun owners an opportunity to vote the other way.

More important than just the message about gun risk is the fact that at every buyback location you will find physicians and medical students from the cooperating medical centers engaging community residents in discussions about why they showed up to get rid of a gun. It’s all fine and well for public health researchers to state that doctors need to be mindful of ‘cultural values’ when talking to patients about guns, but how many times have these public health researchers stood next to a gun owner and ask why he is turning in a gun?  And by the way, for all the talk about gun buybacks being more successful if the value of the gift cards were increased, in fact, probably half the donors who show up at the Worcester buyback don’t ask for a gift card at all. “I don’t like that store,” one guy said to me last year as he rejected my offer to give him a gift card.

For the first time since the last Ice Age (actually since 1993) Worcester didn’t suffer a single gun homicide in 2017, non-fatal shootings totalled 24. Three years earlier, there were 7 gun homicides, the number of aggravated gun assaults was 38.  This dramatic reduction isn’t a function of the buyback program by any means; the cops now have ShotSpotter technology, they deploy patrol resources in a more effective way, community programs keep the kids busy after school and repeat offenders are taken off the streets.

But the point is that Mike Hirsh’s buyback program has become part of the social fabric of the community, it is also an important activity for educating medical staff, and its value should not be judged in quantitative terms. Seventeen years ago one person decided to do something to help make his community a nicer place in which to live. And year after year, his idea and commitment continues to spread.

Confessions of a Gun Nut.

Over the next several weeks, I am going to serialize and publish a new book – Confessions of a Gun Nut.  I’ll post each chapter on my Medium blog, and when it’s finished, I’ll publish it as an e-book. 

The purpose of this book is to use the more than 50 years that I have been in the gun business (and more than 60 years since I bought my first, real gun) to try and figure out what I know and don’t know about guns. 

Believe it or not, there’s a lot that I don’t know about guns. But I’m not about to kid myself into believing that because I can get my hands on some data, run the data through some statistical model or another and come up with some kind of ‘evidence-based’ conclusion, that I know anything about guns at all. And if I don’t know all that much about guns, the so-called experts on both sides of the argument know a lot less. 

In fact, what I find most interesting about the gun debate is the lack of modesty which seems to infect the pronouncements and publications of the individuals who turn up again and again as the self-identified authorities whose views form the accepted narrative in the gun debate.

If anything, the pompous and self-fulfilling judgements about guns and gun violence emanating from the academic research community tend, if anything, to be further removed from reality than the screeching which erupts from the other side. This is because most of the pro-gun noisemaking comes from the groups and organizations which exist for the purpose of marketing guns. Which means, at the very least, that they have to know something about the people who might actually buy their products.

On the other hand, the anti-gun movement (which is what gun-control people really want – they are against guns) has to operate under greater restraints than the pro-gun folks, most of all because they are committed to making arguments which can or should be supported by facts.  Now the fact that many of these so-called facts are nothing more than what this or that academic researcher claims to be facts – so what? In the greater scope of things what counts is whether your audience believes you or not.

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a kvetch by a pissed-off, former academic who didn’t get tenure and wants to get even with some of his tenured friends. First of all, I had academic tenure, so it’s not as if I’m sitting here all hot, bothered and jealous because gun-control researchers like Hemenway and Webster are inside the academy and I’m out. Second, I’m going to spend just as much time throwing slings and arrows at the pro-gun mob, if only because some of what they say is so dumb that it’s an insult even to their most ardent fans, and if anything, they often get away with it because their critics, being academics, often tend to be too polite.  On the other hand, if the academic gun researchers are too courteous to their opponents, they tie themselves into knots with the degree to which they are deferential to the work conducted by their academic peers on the same side.

Again and again I hear my friends in the anti-gun movement talking about how they want to craft gun-control policies that will be ‘reasonable,’ thus appealing to all those ‘responsible’ gun owners out there who just can’t wait to join them in the ‘middle’ of the gun debate. And along with this mantra comes the continued lament about how the ‘gap’ between the two sides is unbridgeable, and hence, simply resists any fair attempt to narrow the divide.

To the credit of gun owners, most of them will tell you that there’s a simple way to end the gun debate, namely, just stop complaining about guns and accept the fact that anyone and everyone should be able to own a gun, notwithstanding the 125,000 or so deaths and injuries that occur every year. And they should be able to own these guns without going through all this nonsense about background checks, and concealed-carry permits, and safe storage, and all that other Big Government crap.

On the other hand, how come the rest of the industrial world makes do without guns and we can’t?  Because if we agree that 125,000 deaths and injuries from the use of any specific product constitutes a crisis of public health, why should we put up with the continued availability of this product just because the Constitution says you can keep one in your home? The Commerce Clause also gives me the right to buy cigarettes. So what?

So stay tuned.  The chapters to Confessions of a Gun Nut book will shortly start rolling out. And I promise to respond to any and all feedback, at least up to a point.

The Big Scam Known as Gun-Safety Training.

              Yesterday I began to write a series of columns in which I stated some strong opinions about the strategies being promoted by Gun-controlNation to reduce the violence caused by guns. Let me repeat again what I said yesterday, namely, that I have never (read:never) been opposed to any public policy that will reduce gun violence; my role,as I see it, is to raise questions about the research and information used tocraft and justify these policies when/if I see gaps in the research or theinformation which need to be filled.

              That being said, today’s topic covers one of the truly great scams both within and without the gun world, namely, the idea that an activity referred to as ‘safety training’ does anything to reduce gun violence at all. Which groups and organizations support training in the use of guns?  Every group on both sides of the debate. The NRA of course is in favor of training, that’s why America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ was formed. As for the other side, the latest bromide can be found in a recent policy statement from the American College of Physicians: Sales of firearms should be subject to satisfactory completion of a criminal background check and proof of satisfactory completion of an appropriate educational program on firearms safety.”

              The difference between Gun-nut Nation and Gun-control Nation as regards safety training is that the latter groups want such training to be mandated (i.e., required) as a requirement for gun ownership; as far as the former coalition is concerned, nothing involving 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ should be mandated at all. Okay, so the NRA gave in on background checks back inn 1994, but in fact the requirement that gun owners be law-abiding has been in statute since 1968.  If anything, the ability of the NRA to portray its members as the most law-abiding citizens has been a master-stroke in terms of promoting the value and benefit of guns. Back to the issue of training.

              I may have a rather weird view of things, but I always thought that ‘training’ is a process whereby someone learns how to do some kind of activity correctly every single time. And it doesn’t matter whether what you are doing involves driving a car, or working on a computer, or cutting into someone’s chest, either you can always do it the same way, or you can’t. And the way we go about validating someone’s training experience is to test their performance to make sure that when actually engaged in the process for which they have been trained, they won’t make a mistake.

              Now if someone makes a small mistake, like not putting on a turn signal at the intersection or not shutting down the computer while an app is still running, it’s usually no big deal. But if someone makes a mistake with a gun, the result not only can be horrendous, but the odds that one can mitigate the effects of the mistake will often be zero to none.

              There is not one, single jurisdiction anywhere in the United States, even jurisdictions which mandate gun-safety training, where the proficiency validation even remotely begins to show that the person who has received training can be expected to safely use a gun. Sorry, but standing in front of a stationery target and shooting a few rounds downrange doesn’t prove anything at all. A study of live-fire requirements in all 50 states found that some states required a smattering of live-fire for a concealed-carry license, but rarely do any jurisdictions require live fire for simply owning a gun.

              If medical organizations like the American College of Physicians want to announce their support for gun safety education, the least they could do is take the trouble to learn what they are talking about. Ditto Gun-control Nation, which seems to assume that anything which smacks of mandated (government) gun regulations is a good thing. Sorry, government mandates are basically useless if they require activities that have no value at all. Which happens to be the case with gun training today.