A New Attempt To Understand Gun Violence. Will It Work?

              Here we go again. Yet another group concerned with gun violence has discovered that they are dealing with a ‘public health’ problem and are putting together a research agenda that will seek to reduce this threat to community safety and health. In this case the researchers,in King County, WA (that’s Seattle and environs) want to analyze “the relationships between victims, witnesses and perpetrators of gun violence the same way an epidemiologist studies the spread of contagious disease,” the goal is “to find ways to intervene in the lives of the most vulnerable individuals….”  

              The research to be conducted follows from earlier research done by the gun-violence scholar group at the University of Washington led by our friends Ali Rowhani-Rahbar and Frederick Rivara, which found that victims of gun violence came back to the hospital with another gun injury much more frequently than people who were admitted for non injury reasons or the overall population at large.  This study covered the entire state in 2006-2007 and clearly established that the victims of gun violence were involved in a culture of violence which kept repeating itself in terms of future violent events.

              The new study will only cover Kings County, but will engage all 40 law-enforcement agencies operating within the county, hopefully leading to results that could be used to develop a comprehensive intervention strategy.

              Before I raise my usual concerns about this approach, let me make it clear that I have always supported the efforts by researchers to develop coherent explanations for the causes of gun violence leading to remedies for same. My problem with so much of the research, in particular research which is based on a public- health perspective, is that the way in which the research plan is developed often seems to be a case of using accessible data to develop a question which needs to be answered, rather than the other way around. 

              Why do 75,000 individuals, overwhelmingly males between the ages of 16 and 35, choose to inflict a serious injury on someone else by using a gun, when probably 1.5 million or more individuals in the same age cohort decide not to use a gun to engage in the same behavior?  After all, if you smash someone’s head in with a baseball bat, you’ll face the same homicide charge that you’ll face if you put a bullet between their ears. And folks, don’t kid yourself into believing that only 75,000 kids and young men who want to beat the s*it out of someone else can get their hands on a gun.  The friggin’ guns are all over the place, particularly in neighborhoods where violent assaults are frequent events.

              If the King County researchers have granular access to the actual criminal and health data on gun violence, I only hope they can gain access to the same kind of data covering the many more violent attacks where guns aren’t used. Because if we are ever going to figure out how to really make a dent in gun violence, it’s not going to happen by telling someone who bought a gun legally to engage in a 4473 transfer when he wants to sell the gun to someone else. It’s also not going to make much of a difference to lock all the guns away because I never heard of anyone getting shot with a gun that was locked in a safe.

              Know why we don’t know much about gun violence? Because the data on the gun violence which accounts for more than 70% of all gun violence happens to be non-fatal assaults, for which the CDC admits its numbers may be off by as much as 30 percent. Hopefully the data being examined in King County will help us figure out why some people commit violence with guns, but many others don’t. I’m still waiting for the answer to that one.

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We Still Don’t Know What Happened In Vegas. So What?

We are now going on Week Four since the terrible, terrible event in Las Vegas and we don’t know any more about what happened beyond what we knew ten minutes after the shooting stopped, namely, the name of the guy who stuck a gun out of the window and began blasting away. Oh, I forgot, the LVPD is conducting their own ‘internal’ investigation and the management of Mandalay Bay is also trying to figure out how come it took private and public security more than fifteen minutes to get up to the 32nd floor after they were notified that someone was lying in the hall with a bullet in his leg.

LV2             The Connecticut State Police took nearly a year to issue their official report on what happened at Sandy Hook. The Governor’s report about Columbine was released more than two years after Klebold and Harris walked into the high school and began shooting the place up and detonating a few bombs. Have you even heard about the formation of any kind of official group to study and explain what happened on October 1st?

As the continued spiral of mass shootings appears to be swirling in an ever-widening circle (more than one per day so far this year) I notice that the same arguments about how to identify people who might start gunning everyone down are once again restating the same risk factors that we have known for the last twenty or so years. The latest version can be found in a commentary by our friend Garen Wintemute, who says that predictors of gun violence include “abuse of alcohol and controlled substances, acute injury, a history of violence (including a suicide attempt), poorly controlled severe mental illness, an abusive partner, and serious life stressors.”

The problem with Wintemute’s argument, unfortunately, is that those same predictors have been used to identify people at risk for any kind of violent behavior, and since only 7% of the people arrested for aggravated assault used a gun, how come the other 93% weren’t attempting to inflict serious injury in the same way? You can’t tell me that only 75,000 out of one million aggravated assaults occurred with a gun because it’s hard to get your hands on a gun. Give me a break, okay?

On the other hand, it occurs to me that maybe we really shouldn’t worry about learning the facts about Las Vegas and here’s the reasons why. First of all, folks who believe that we should have open access to all the guns we want to own don’t base their arguments on anything which happens to be true. Remember what Trump said the other day when he accused his predecessor of never calling the families of dead service members, an accusation which turned out to be totally untrue? He said, “That’s what I was told.” Know what? If you ask the average member of Gun-nut Nation how he knows that armed citizens prevent millions of crimes every year you’ll get the exact, same response – I was told. If I had a nickel for everybody who has wandered into my gun shop over the last 17 years and begins lamenting our state’s ‘tough’ gun laws by saying, “Someone told me….”

The other reason we really don’t need to know any more facts about what happened in Vegas on October 1st is because not a single fact would change what is the basic takeaway from the event, namely, that someone decided to see how many people he could kill by using what the small-arms industry refers to as a ‘modern sporting gun.’ Now of course the story, not yet actually shown to be true (here we go again with the search for facts) is that by sticking a bump-stock on a semi-auto rifle, Paddock was no longer shooting a ‘modern sporting gun.’

But the truth is he was never shooting a ‘sporting rifle’ because there’s nothing sporting about shooting human beings with any kind of gun.