Want To End Gun Violence? Switch To Knives And Clubs.

Every once in a while, I find myself unable to understand why some of my friends in the public health research community keep doing the same gun research over and over again. The latest example comes from two very distinguished researchers, Anthony Braga and Philip Cook, who spent a good part of last year analyzing gun injuries in Boston which the cops believed were all associated with crimes. After examining all the police reports, as well as coroner reports (for the injuries which turned out to be fatal) covering 592 shootings between 2010 and 2014, the researchers reached an astonishing conclusion: the more powerful the caliber involved in the attack, the better chance that the victim would wind up dead.

small guns             To their credit, Braga and Cook at least admit that they aren’t exactly tilling new ground. The notes cite a number of other studies which say the same thing, beginning with Zimring’s classic study published in 1972. So how is it that 45 years later, Braga and Cook come up with the same results that Zimring previously published, but nevertheless, feel the necessity to say the same thing again? Because over the years since Zimring’s work first appeared, public health gun research is increasingly designed to substantiate the development and/or implementation of more gun regulations, which means that most public health gun studies end up suggesting, supporting or endorsing various gun-control laws.

The reason we suffer from an inordinate amount of gun violence, is because our regulatory system is set up to focus primarily on the behavior of people who own and use guns, rather than on the design and lethality of guns themselves. And what has happened in the nearly 50 years since Zimring first published his seminal article, is that the gun industry has introduced technologies which allow them to manufacture and sell highly-concealable guns which also happen to be extremely lethal because the alloys and polymers now used to make guns can withstand much higher pressures from much more powerful shells.

Guns like the Glock Model 43 or the Sig Model 938 didn’t exist when Zimring did his research.  These guns fire a standard, military round – 9mm – but are no bigger and weigh little more than a droid. The whole point of the gun industry is to make consumers feel that carrying a tiny, but extremely lethal gun will not only protect them from all sorts of bad things, but can be stuck into their pocket and carried around like any other consumer item – no fuss, no mess, no bother at all.

When Zimring conducted his 1972 study, most of the attacks involved .22-caliber guns, with some .32 and .38 calibers, but nowhere did he find many crime guns chambered for 9mm, 40 S&W (which wasn’t even invented in 1972) or 45acp. These are now standard street calibers, and the only reason that .22LR ammunition sells as much as it does is because: a) it’s cheap, and, b) it’s also used in rifles for target shooting and sport.

What conclusion did Braga and Cook come up with once they learned that highly-lethal handgun calibers are now ‘standard issue’ in the street? According to them, their research “suggests that effective regulation of firearms could reduce the homicide rate.”  And what kind of regulation are they talking about? Regulating what kind of guns can be made and sold, because “simply replacing larger-caliber guns with small caliber guns with no change in location or number of wounds would have reduced the gun homicide rate by 39.5%.” To which Braga and Cook add one more remarkable line: “It is plausible that larger reductions would be associated with replacing all types of guns with knives or clubs.”

With all due respect to my friends Braga and Cook, I get the distinct impression that this entire article was written tongue in cheek. I mean, are we reduced to talking about effective gun regulations based on requiring the substitution of knives and clubs? Maybe so.

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A Guide To Gun Lethality.

                See link below for downloading this Guide. mcx

             Last week I uploaded a document that described the basic design and function of handguns, rifles and shotguns, with an eye towards giving GVP advocates some basic information on how guns work. But understanding the design and mechanics of guns is one thing, understanding their lethality is something else.  Because until the 1980s, a combination of manufacturing technologies employed by the gun industry and the perceived consumer market for guns kept most gun models very lethal for use in hunting small and medium-sized game, but were not designed to be highly lethal in situations where human beings were the targets that would be injured or killed.

This traditional approach to gun design and function began to change in the 1980s when Gun-nut Nation discovered that hunting and sport shooting were quickly becoming relics of a distant past; i.e., people who owned guns for hunting or sport were not being replaced as the older gun-owning generations died out.  So Gun-nut Nation came up with a new reason for owning guns, namely, the myth that guns were necessary to protect society from crime.  An in this respect the industry was not so much inventing a fanciful reason for gun ownership as it was responding to an increased and generalized fear that crime and the ‘criminal element’ was out of control.

The public concern about crime also coincided with new technologies, in particular the use of lightweight alloys and polymers that allowed guns to withstand higher pressures from more powerful ammunition while, at the same time, being designed and built on smaller and lighter frames. Polymer and injection-molding manufacturing has enabled all kinds of consumer products to be miniaturized yet made more durable at the same time; this miniaturization has gone hand-in-hand with personalization; i.e., the consumer becomes the ultimate arbiter for determining the design and function of the product itself.

In the gun industry, these two factors – social attitudes, manufacturing technologies – have combined to revolutionize the look, feel and use of guns.  The revolver that I purchased in 1976 looked, felt and weighed the same as the same gun manufactured seventy years before.  I can purchase that same gun today, but I can also purchase a revolver that is half as large and fires ammunition that is twice as powerful. Which means that if I want to get close enough to another person to shoot and hurt them I can now stick a little gun in my pocket, walk right up next to them with my unnoticed gun, and quickly deliver a very shot, whether I have practiced shooting the gun or not.

Taking all these factors into account, I have created a gun lethality scorecard which you can download here.  It contains my best guess for the lethality rating of 95 different kinds of guns.  Like the ‘guns for dummies” document that I posted last week, this document will also shortly be available in published form.

A Little Seminar On Gun Lethality: Let’s Start With Handguns.

What follows is a work in progress so please feel free to respond with ideas, reactions, etc.  Last week I published a New York Times op-ed in which I called for the regulation of guns based on their lethality as a more efficient and logical way to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Because otherwise we run into a dead end when someone like the Orlando shooter acquires gunslegally and then uses them for a bad end.

What I am proposing is that that persons who want to own highly-lethal weapons do more than simply pass a background check.  This is not the Canadian or the European approach, which imposes stiff regulations on just about every kind of gun.  Instead, it borrows a page from the ATF which currently approves applications for importing guns based on whether the particular model is judged to be a safe, ‘sporting’ gun or not.

So what I have done is create four different categories of lethality: concealability, caliber, ammunition capacity and flexibility (e.g., how quickly a gun can be reloaded or made ready to fire), with the guns that score highest total being the most lethal and therefore requiring a greater degree of regulation in order to be bought or owned.  Next week I am going to publish a detailed study covering lethality measurements for every kind of gun, but today I thought I would give you a little preview of how a lethality scorecard might actually work.

For this exercise I chose nine different gun models currently manufactured by Smith & Wesson, including two standard revolvers (586, 67,) one very concealable revolver (351PD,) two target pistols (SW22, 41,) two full-size pistols (M&P 40, 1911SC,) and two very small pistols (Shield, BGA360.)

Here are the pictures and lethality scores for each gun.  Remember, the higher the score, the more lethal the gun:
586

Model 586, 357 magnum revolver, 6″ barrel, LETHALITY – 17

67

 

Model 67, 38 special revolver, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 16

351PD

 

Model 351 PD, 357 magnum revolver, 2” barrel,  LETHALITY – 21

SW22

 

Model 22, 22LR caliber, 5” barrel, LETHALITY – 15

41

 

Model 41, 22LR caliber, 7” barrel,  LETHALITY – 12

M&P40

 

Model M&P 40, 40 S&W caliber, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 23

1911SC

 

Model 1911SC, 45acp caliber, 4” barrel, LETHALITY – 22

M&PShield

 

Model SHIELD, 40 S&W caliber, 3” barrel, LETHALITY –  21

BG380

Model BGA380, 380acp caliber, 2” barrel, LETHALITY – 19

And the winner is – the M&P 40 pistol, which happens to be Smith & Wesson’s standard gun carried by police.  The reason it gets the most lethal score is because it holds more than 15 rounds of a very powerful cartridge; in fact, the only cartridge more powerful in the above list is the 357 magnum, and while the 351PD revolver only holds 5 rounds of this extremely lethal ammunition, the gun scores high on the scale because the ammo is very powerful and the gun is very small. Let’s not forget that lethality is not just a function of the amount of ammo loaded into the gun; it’s also based on how easy it is to carry the gun around.

Notice that the BGA380 gets a score that is not in the range of the bigger guns because while it is very concealable it also loads with only a moderately powerful round.  But Smith & Wesson also markets a version of this gun with an integral laser, which means that you don’t have to aim the gun at all.  Just pull the trigger halfway and the laser lights up; now you’re playing a video game with a real, live gun.  And I have decided to award 3 points to gun with integral lasers, which means the laser model of the tiny BGA380 would almost match the lethality of the full-size M&P.

The lowest lethality score was awarded to the Model 41, which is a beautiful, hand-crafted target gun designed specifically for sport and competitive shooting at the range.  But the barrel length makes it very difficult to conceal, and hence I don’t consider it to be an extremely lethal gun.

Over the next few days I am going to publish similar lethality lists for other handgun manufacturers plus rifles and shotguns as well.  Feel free to offer suggestions or comments so that I can tighten and improve my work.

 

Is Gun Suicide A Form Of Gun Violence? You Betcha.

Gun suicide accounts for 2/3 of fatal gun violence every year.  Until recently I have always been somewhat uncomfortable lumping suicide and homicide together, if only because the nature of the event is so different, the ownership and access to the weapon is so different, hence one assumes that the mitigation strategies should be different. But following discussions with the expert suicide researchers at Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center and a review of peer-reviewed literature, I am persuaded that gun suicide is not only a fundamental gun violence problem, but understanding and responding to it might provide a map for mitigating gun homicides and gun assaults as well.

suicide foto               Gun suicides and gun homicides intersect In two basic ways: the lethality of the weapon and the motives and behavior of the shooter leading up to the incident itself.  As to the former, guns used in suicides result in a success rate of 95%.  No other suicide effort is half as effective in the final result.  As for homicide, obviously the “success” rate is only about 10%, but there is no other serious injury which comes close to generating the costs and trauma that results from being wounded with a gun.

As to behavior, the degree to which impulse governs the actions of everyone who shoots themselves or others with a gun should not be overlooked.  Less than 20% of all homicides occur during the commission of another, serious crime.  Most gun homicides grow out of a history of disputes between individuals who know each other and the incidence of domestic abuse in homicides where the victims are women is virtually 100%.  I recently discussed a report from the Violence Policy Center in which I noted that a random search of gun homicides committed by CCW-holders showed that virtually all of them grew out of arguments and fights, usually aggravated by too much to drink. Is there really a great difference between the guy who gets sick and tired of fighting with himself or sick and tired of arguing with his wife and reaches for his gun?  I don’t think so, and the research on suicide and homicide tends to bear me out.

What about mitigating strategies for both types of fatalities involving guns?  An article on suicide prevention among Israeli soldiers caught my eye because Israel is often touted by the pro-gun community as the model for giving civilians full access to guns with a consequent low rate of violent crime.  But the policy of allowing soldiers to keep their guns with them on weekend leave also resulted in an alarmingly high rate of suicide among these soldiers, which dropped by nearly 40% when soldiers had to leave their guns secured at their base while spending weekends at home.  Anyone who thinks there’s no connection between suicide and gun access needs to look honestly at what happened in Israel before and after access to guns was denied.

The pro-gun folks would like to believe that gun fatalities have nothing to do with guns and are all about crime.  There’s a simple logic to that argument except for the fact that every single gun involved in a criminal event first started out as a legal gun.  For that matter, most of the guns in suicides either were legally owned by the suicide victim or belonged to another family member who legally purchased the gun.

The usual response from the gun-safety community is to push for an expansion of CAP laws, and clearly such laws do have a mitigating effect when it comes to keeping kids away from guns.  But let me break the news to you gently – the big problem with such laws is that the only way that someone can use a gun is to unlock where the gun is stored or unlock the gun itself.  And the problem we face with both gun suicides and gun homicides is figuring out how to spot the impulsive, destructive behavior of certain people before they get their hands on a gun.