Want To Understand Gun Violence? Understand The Guns.

If there’s one issue which breaks the gun-violence debate into two aides, it’s how we explain the connection between gun ownership and violence caused by guns. According to public health researchers like David Hemenway, et. al., the United States suffers from an extraordinarily high rate of gun violence because we have so many guns.  We are the only country with a per-capita ownership rate of nearly 100 percent, thus we have gun violence that is three to seven times higher than any other advanced nation-state. The other side, led by Gary Kleck and John Lott, argues that because we have so many guns, we have a less-than-average rate of violent crime because citizen-protectors keep us all safe and sound.

browning              I have just posted a detailed paper on the Social Science Research Network, which represents the first time that anyone has attempted to look at gun violence by understanding the behavior of the perpetrators or the suffering of the victims, but by the type of the gun-violence instrument itself, namely, the gun. This research was based on a remarkable collection of documents published by our friends at The Trace, who collected inventories 846,353 guns collected by 1,054 police agencies between 2010 and 2016.

What emerges from this research are several discoveries which, speaking bluntly, turns some of the most cherished notions held by Gun-control Nation on their heads. The first notion is the idea that the existence of any and every civilian-owned gun might be a threat to public security and health. After all, that’s the assumption which underlies the idea that more guns results in more gun violence, right?  Wrong.

I did a word search of the entire listing of 846,353 guns using these five words: Remington 700, the Ruger 77, the Winchester 70, the Marlin 1894 and the Savage 11. These five rifles(in their different variations)  probably represent 10 percent of the entire American  gun stock in circulation today, and altogether the words came up exactly five times. Of course we have to assume that the cops sometimes don’t get the names right or other times simply forget to write down the manufacturer’s name at all. But let’s be honest folks – the bottom line is that there’s simply no way that the 160 million or so hunting guns play any role in gun violence at all.

The research also turned up the fact that at least one-third of all ‘crime’ guns have been in the civilian arsenal since long before any information was developed which would allow the ATF or the local cops to conduct anything remotely considered to be a so-called gun ‘trace.’ This is because guns have a funny way of not wearing out and many of these crime guns have been floating around since long before gun makers were required to keep records covering who bought their guns. Ever hear of a 4-shot derringer called the Brownie and manufactured by Mossberg between 1922 and 1930? Of course you haven’t, but 40 of these little bangers were picked up by the Chicago cops in 2014.

I didn’t publish these findings to contradict or devalue the research on gun violence done by public health. To the contrary, their work needs to be read, shared and fully discussed. But what also needs to be considered is that creating a more effective regulatory system for reducing gun violence is simply not possible without developing and implementing policies that regulate the instruments of this violence – the guns.

What this research points up is that every category of gun violence is primarily a function of access to concealable handguns, and we make no distinction whatsoever in how we regulate access to these weapons as opposed to all other types of guns. The guy who walks into my gun shop and buys a broken, old shotgun because he has an extra Jackson in his billfold jumps through the exact, same legal hoops that someone jumps through who buys a Glock 19 with five extra, hi-cap mags.  That’s a regulatory system which is bound to fail.

Advertisements

Tom Gabor: It’s The Guns, Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We Really Know How Many Americans Own Guns?

Everybody knows that the size of the private American gun arsenal is somewhere between 270 and 325 million guns. Because we have never put together any kind of national gun registration, these estimates are based on two data sets: on the one hand, we simply take the total number of guns produced each year and add it to the number of guns we believe were floating around at some point in time; or we run public surveys and ask a ‘representative national sample’ of Americans to state how many guns they actually own.

hoarder             Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made a big splash with a new survey showing that the percentage of American households containing guns was continuing to go down, but the average number of guns in each household was going up. In fact, this study found that roughly 3 percent of American adults own, on average, 17 guns or more, the collections of these ‘super hoarders’ accounting for nearly half of all privately owned guns.

I wonder if a guy in South Carolina named Brent Nicholson was one of the respondents to the Harvard-Northeastern survey, because if he wasn’t, perhaps the authors of the survey might have to amend their remarks.  It turns out that Nicholson amassed perhaps as many as 10,000 guns in various sheds and barns on his property, a stash that filled four, 40-foot trailers that were filled to the brim and then hauled away by the cops to be processed and stored.

The latest survey from Gallup says that 42% of American households contain guns, a number which is somewhat higher than the estimate by our friends at Harvard-Northeastern, as well as being above the latest estimate from the gun research group at the Bloomberg Public Health School. The problem with all these estimates, however, is that they fail to account for one, major category of privately-owned guns, namely, guns whose owners aren’t really allowed under law to own guns. And if you think that the number of households that contain an illegal gun wouldn’t really change the overall numbers of how guns found in U.S. homes, think again. Because the estimates on the number of stolen guns each year ranges from 250,000 to more than half a million, and I don’t think that many of those guns wind up being hoarded by guys like Nicholson who, by the way, sat in a local jail for 14 months awaiting trial, but after pleading to receiving stolen goods he was sentenced to – time served!

Let’s see, if 350,000 guns are stolen each year (I’m cutting the high versus low estimates in half) and each one of them ends up in a different set of hands, then over the last ten years the number of households which contain at least one gun would be maybe 4 or 5 million more than what the estimates claim that number to be. Now the real question remaining unanswered is this: has the percentage of Americans who own guns gone down, or has the real percentage gone up because the last thing someone is going to tell Gallup, Pew, Bloomberg or Harvard-Northeastern is whether they happen to have an illegal gun, right?

Which brings me to the real reason for writing today’s rant, namely, that I have never felt comfortable with either the GVP or the gun-rights gangs being all so enamored about legal guns. The only reason that Wayne-o and the boys from Fairfax always talk about ‘law-abiding’ gun owners is they want you to think that we can solve the gun violence problem by simply locking up all those bad guys who commit crimes with guns. As for my GVP friends, they keep talking about keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ which is just a more polite way of saying that the ‘bad guys’ shouldn’t be allowed to own guns.

Want to prevent a certain product from getting into the market when the market is based on consumer demand?  Stop making the product – there’s no other way.

 

 

 

 

 

The New Yorker Magazine Figures Out Why People Like Guns.

Leave it to The New Yorker magazine, the most liberal of all liberal voices in the media marketplace, to figure out how to come up with a different view on the demonstrations and marches taking place on March 24th. Not that The New Yorker has published a single word about March 24th; but they can depend on the fact that their readership will overwhelmingly support that march to give some added credibility and exposure to a report from Dana Goodyear about how guns are viewed by kids who like being around guns.

skidmore1             The biggest flight from reality in this shabby piece of reportage is the opening statement which concocts a ‘parallel realm’ of young gunnies for whom guns signify “safety, discipline and trust.” And to drive this point home, Goodyear talks about how her photographer – Sharif Hamza – noticed that when he visited some 4-H clubs he noticed the difference in culture from what he observed in Brooklyn where kids play soccer or go off to ski, but never fool around with real guns.

What an amazing discovery!  My God, to think that you won’t find kids shooting guns in Brooklyn (at least not legally-owned guns) but you will find youngsters toting and shooting live guns at a rifle range in some hick town.  Of course, neither Hamza nor Goodyear has ever gone to a gun show in a Boston suburb like Wilmington, or in Kingston, which is less than 50 miles from New York, or in Lebanon, PA which is about 30 miles from Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall. Know who you’ll see wandering around at all these shows? Plenty of New York, Boston and Philly residents, who just don’t happen to live in a place where they can walk out the back door of their homes and shoot off a gun.

Should I be surprised that upper-class, Ivy Leaguers like Dana Goodyear don’t know the first friggin’ thing about guns?  Of course not. But what I am somewhat surprised about is the degree to which a so-called ‘responsible’ journalist writing for a so-called ‘responsible’ journal like The New Yorker would attempt to sensationalize, and in the process, distort something as mundane and inconsequential as the role of guns in small towns. Going into a  town like Lockwood, MO (population: maybe 1,000) and discovering a teenager like Cheyenne Dalton wandering around with her AR-15, is about as unusual as learning that 80% of the voters in Lockwood voted for Donald Trump. Does The New Yorker magazine have a single subscriber who lives in a community where four out of five voters went for Trump?

Lockwood is located roughly 240 miles away from Skidmore, where in 1981 the local bully, Ken McElroy, was shot to death by several town residents while the rest of the townsfolk stood there and watched. Shootings like this take place in inner-city neighborhoods all the time, maybe more than 20 times every single day. But when a shooting occurs in East New York, a Brooklyn neighborhood not far from where Hamza lives, it’s never referred to as a ‘vigilante’ event, even though such assaults are usually witnessed by multiple neighborhood residents who then shut up and go about their normal ways.

The point I’m making is that the reason this piece by Lockwood was published is because The New Yorker editors know they will get some readership mileage by talking about the March 24th demonstrations by not talking about them at all. If they had run an interview with David Hogg or Emma Gonzalez, it would have been no different from how everyone else in the liberal, gun-control media world has covered the events of March 24th.

There’s nothing like the shock value created by taking advantage of the fact that your audience has no earthly connection to what you are talking about. Which means you can say whatever you want, even if you are no less ignorant than the folks who will be surprised by what you want them to believe.

 

Who Owns All The Guns? We Don’t Really Know.

One of the long-standing issues in the gun debate has been to calculate the number of guns actually floating around the United States.  This is an important number, if only because public health researchers have published very credible research which indicates that our elevated gun-violence numbers are directly related to a civilian gun arsenal which may now number more than 300 million guns.

traffic            We have a pretty good idea about the number of guns added to the civilian stash over the last 25 years thanks to the manufacturing reports published by the ATF.  And while this report is based on the number of guns made, not the number which the gun makers actually sell, it’s not necessarily an accurate number, but for purposes of this column it will do.  Since 1998 we also know more or less exactly how many new guns move into private hands thanks to the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI.

The real problem in coming up with a valid number for the total stock of guns is twofold: first, we have no idea how many guns that were manufactured between 1900 and 1990 were actually sold, and we also don’t know how many guns that were sold between 1900 and today are still floating around. Guns last a long time, that’s for sure. But they also break, they get lost, they get thrown away after Grandpa dies and Grandma moves into the nursing home; counting the civilian ‘gun stock’ is an inexact science at best.

Our friends at Harvard and Northeastern have recently come up with a pretty solid number based on the survey they conducted which at some point will be published by Russell Sage. Their current number is 265 million, which they derived by estimating overall totals from answers to their survey, then deducting a percentage for loss, wear and tear. Until some research group comes up with a new approach to figuring out the size of America’s gun arsenal, I’m content to stick with what the Harvard-Northeastern group would like to believe.

On the other hand, believe or not, if we are trying to understand the cause and effect relationship between the number of guns that are privately owned and the 115,000+ deaths and injuries caused by guns every year, I am yet to be persuaded that figuring out the number of guns in civilian hands is the right way to go. Because although 115,000 gun deaths and injuries is a shockingly-high number, it happens to represent a tiny fraction of the number of people who either own guns or put guns to the wrong use. And moreover, at least 80% of those deaths and injuries occur because someone shoots a handgun at themselves or someone else.

In addition to trying to figure out handgun ownership as opposed to ownership of all guns, there’s another problem which makes any attempt to develop public policies based on restricting or diminishing the number of privately-owned guns a risky business at best. At least two-thirds of the gun deaths and injuries that occur every year are criminal events, and even with our elevated gun-suicide rates, if gun crimes didn’t occur, our overall gun-violence rate would be no higher than the rest of the OECD.

How many of these 75,000 or more homicides and aggravated assaults are committed with ‘illegal’ guns? How many people possess a gun even though they cannot, under law, put their hands on a gun?  We have absolutely no idea. The NRA doesn’t miss an opportunity to consign all gun violence to ‘street thugs,’ but the truth is that we have no evidence-based research which necessarily proves the Boys from Fairfax to be wrong.

We have a pretty good idea about how many guns are legally owned – the information is found in all those FBI-NICS forms that everyone who buys a gun from a dealer has to fill out. But if we want to reduce gun violence, shouldn’t we try and learn something about the gun owners who don’t fill out those forms?

 

Is There A Difference Between Cops Who Shoot And Cops Who Get Shot? I’m Not Sure.

Ever since Ferguson, it seems like there’s a nasty story every day about a cop shooting someone who shouldn’t have necessarily ended up in the line of fire and gotten killed.  Actually, according to Harper’s Magazine, an average of 2.6 people have been killed every day this year by police gunfire, which totals almost 600 this year, compared to 461 civilians killed by police in all of 2013.

cop shot                The seriousness of civilians getting shot by cops goes far beyond the numbers.  The perception is growing that it’s not just a lack of training that is reflected by these grim statistics but a surge of racism which has always been the elephant in the living room when it comes to relations between minorities and the police.

We don’t yet have numbers on 2014 police shootings but from 1980 through 2014, the average number of cops killed by civilians was 64 per year.  The 2013 total of 27 was the lowest recorded over that entire span, it jumped back up to 51 in 2014 but the unofficial number of police officers shot this year stands at 20 so far, which at that rate will bring us to a significantly reduced toll in 2015 when compared to last year.  So shootings by police are up by 30% this year and the number of cops shot and killed is down this year by about the same degree.  What’s going on?

It would be tempting to say that the reason for so many more police shootings is that so many bad guys are walking around with guns.  But since the data on police shootings doesn’t reveal whether the victim possessed a gun or was actually using the gun when the incident occurred, we can’t say for sure that police have become more ‘trigger-happy’ because they find themselves facing more guns.  On the other hand, when police are killed in what the FBI refers to as ‘felonious events,’ the perpetrator is almost always found to have carried and used a gun.

Is there a chance that we may be looking at the issue of police shootings in a way which hides more than it reveals?  Just because someone clips a shield onto their shirt, we tend to believe that with training, cops will somehow behave differently from non-cops when it comes to how and when they use their guns.  I’m not so sure.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the FBI report on the 51 cops who were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014. Of that total, 11 were killed while they were answering disturbance calls, another 10 were gunned down during traffic stops, 8 more were ambushed and 6 were investigating ‘suspicious’ persons.  The remainder died during random police activities which turned violent because either a mentally-ill person got out of control or someone being arrested for some charge got angry and one way or another let fly.

If you take the shield away from the officer and look at these incidents as simply two armed persons going up against one another, it would be pretty hard to distinguish between these 51 gun homicides in which the victims were cops and the thousands of gun homicides each year where the only real difference between the victim and the perpetrator is that the perpetrator shot first.  And what makes me feel somewhat sure of what I just said is a new report which shows that cops in states with high levels of gun ownership are three times as likely to be killed in the line of duty as cops who serve in states which have fewer civilian-owned guns.

Despite the NRA-sanctioned nonsense about how good guys with guns protect us from bad guys, the same states that have high levels of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun crime.  When it comes to gun violence, I don’t care if someone’s wearing a shield or not, the evidence is clear: too many goddamn guns, period.  Too many guns.

Gun Trafficking in America - cover

Get it on Amazon.

Has The NRA Convinced Its Supporters That Gun Control Is A Slippery Slope? I’m Not So Sure.

The latest gun survey conducted by Pew was released on Thursday and it deserves to be studied closely by both sides.   The bad news is that the survey relies on one question – protection of gun rights versus more gun regulations – which many feel is too broad and too vague to explain much at all.  The good news, on the other hand, is that the survey has been asking the same question for more than twenty years and the responses are sliced and diced by age, gender, race, political leanings and just about everything else.

pew                The headline is that support for gun ‘rights,’ which was narrowly ahead of gun control, has now slipped slightly backward with 47% believing gun rights to be more important but 52% backing more control over guns.  The previous poll showed those numbers to be reversed but either way it’s more or less a dead heat. And while there’s no question that support for gun ‘rights’ has steadily increased in every demographic over the last twenty years, the only reason that the national argument over gun rights versus gun control splits 50-50 is because of the response to this question by white men above the age of 30 who live in the Midwest and the South.  Once we move to other parts of the country or look at women and minorities, both of whom the gun industry claims to be attracting in droves, support for gun rights becomes thinner and, in some respect, basically dissolves.

Hispanics, for example, were the only racial group that registered more than 75% support for gun control, with Blacks registering 72% and Whites coming in at 40%.  But while Hispanics and Blacks currently account for only 30% of the overall population, Hispanics in particular represent a demographic that is increasing and could soon constitute a majority in all the states that border the Rio Grande.  Currently these states are comfortably pro-gun in terms of culture and state laws, but if their Hispanic populations keep growing, majority support for gun rights in this section of the country will probably disappear.

The most important gap in attitudes towards guns involves gender, with women supporting gun controls 56% to 42%, while men support gun rights over gun controls by 52% to 45%.  These gaps have narrowed from fifteen years ago when women nearly three out of four women were more supportive of gun controls than of gun rights, but it is still a significant measure of difference in a country where women are increasingly heads of households or are making life-style financial decisions without depending on men.

In addition to the keynote rights versus controls question, the Pew survey, which gathered answers from 2,000 adults, also solicited a variety of answers to other questions of which one question in particular caught my eye.  Respondents were asked whether they were in favor of a “federal database to track gun sales,” with 70% answering ‘yes.’  But what surprised me in the responses to this question was not the fact that 85% of the people who claimed to be Democrats were in favor of national gun  registration  (which is exactly what this is) but so were 55% of the folks who claimed to be Republicans as well.

The NRA has been fighting against anything that smacks of a national gun registry since the first federal gun law was passed in 1968, yet a majority of people whom the NRA considers their bread-and-butter political supporters part company with them on this all-important issue. Republicans believe by more than 80% that the political power of the NRA is the right amount whereas 68% of Democrats think that the political power of the NRA is “too much.”  Yet these same Republicans do not believe that a national registry of gun sales constitutes a ‘slippery slope.’

If the gun-sense movement could find a way to communicate with and mobilize Republicans who claim to be unafraid of national gun registration, the NRA’s goose would be cooked.  That’s the real message from the latest Pew survey, make no mistake.

Now We Finally Know Why Those Gun-Grabbing Doctors Ask Patients About Guns.

The Woodward News of Woodward, OK, is now running a series of articles based on the ”research” of their staff writer, Rachel Van Horn, as to why physicians are asking patients about gun ownership.  The problem arose in Woodward when a town resident was asked about gun ownership during a routine intake interview conducted before her physical exam.  Of course in this cattle town of 12,000 people it would be difficult to find someone who didn’t own a gun, nevertheless, the patient felt her privacy had been invaded, thus leading to the effort by the News to figure out what’s going on.

docs versus glocks                The issue of physicians and guns just doesn’t seem to want to go away, largely because physicians are becoming more assertive in voicing their concerns about guns, while the gun industry continues its efforts to convince gun owners that the medical establishment is the implacable foe of 2nd Amendment rights.  It’s now routine that every medical society issues a statement deploring gun violence, while the NRA continues its efforts first realized in Florida, the Gunshine State, to prevent physicians from talking to patients about guns.

Given this background, Ms. Van Horn stepped boldly into the controversy, hoping to discover the actual “origins” of the question of gun ownership which now appears routinely on medical questionnaires from Woodard, OK to Washington, D.C. and back again to Woodward.  First she learned that the question is now listed on the various Electronic Medical Records (EMR) intake forms used by most clinicians in the United States.  But none of the companies that produce EMR software would respond to Ms. Van Horn’s requests for information so that was a dead end.  Then she went after the Medicaid and Medicare folks, figuring this might lead her to the nation’s Number One gun-grabber, a.k.a. Obama, but again she came up with a blank.

But then Van Horn found an important clue, because it turns out that the gun ownership question “appears in nearly the exact same format, regardless of which software company produces the program.”  Which means there must be some gun-grabber hiding under a bed somewhere who’s ultimately responsible for this nefarious and evil attempt to disarm the good people of Woodward and everywhere else.  No guarantees, but our intrepid reporter might have unearthed the source, namely, the American Academy of Pediatrics which, according to her research, published a statement in October, 2012 calling for a question on gun ownership to be included in all patient examinations and histories.  Had she bothered to read the actual report, she might have noticed that the same sentence also advised parents “to prevent access to these guns by children.”

I want to talk about this issue of gun access.  This past weekend, a 3-year old in New Mexico grabbed a handgun out of his mother’s purse and shot her and her husband, neither of whom luckily died from their injuries.  Last month in Idaho a 2-year old pulled a gun out of his mother’s purse and shot her to death.  Now I’ll bet you that both of these mothers wouldn’t ever have put their toddler into a car without buckling up the safety harness.  And I guarantee you that their pediatricians would have asked them about seat-belt use during routine medical examinations, and neither of these women would have considered the question to be offensive or an invasion of their privacy.

So what makes asking whether or not someone locks away their guns different?  I’ll tell you what makes it different.  It’s the fantasy that an unsecured gun, as opposed to an unsecured seatbelt doesn’t represent a risk because we need guns to protect us from God knows who or what.  And the gun industry has been promoting this fantasy for the last twenty years without a shred of credible evidence to back it up.  And guess who just happens to have conducted serious and definitive research that indicates the reverse?

 

What’s The Real Connection Between Violence And Guns? I’m Not Sure.

One of the axioms of the gun control movement, if not the foundation on which the entire movement rests, is the idea that we have a much higher rate of gun violence than other countries because we have a much greater number of privately-owned guns.  This is particularly true in the case of homicide, where other advanced, Western societies often experience the same degree of random violence, but no other country experiences violence that is as deadly as ours.

Over the last several years, our intentional homicide rate has run around 5 per 100,000.  The average rate for other OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, aka, the rich countries) is between 1 and 2 per 100,000. For those numbers I randomly chose Switzerland, Sweden. France, Canada, Austria, New Zealand, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Now let’s look at the per capita private ownership per 100,00 of guns in those same countries:

United States 90,000
Switzerland 45,000
Sweden 31,000
France 31,000
Canada 30,000
Austria 30,000
New Zealand 22,000
Greece 22,000
Berlgium 17,000
Luxembourg 15,000

 

We have twice as many guns as Switzerland but five times as many murders.  We have three times as many guns as Sweden or France but also five times as many murders and so forth.  But what if we turn it around and assume that these other, relatively non-violent countries had as many guns in private hands as we do?  After all, the argument is that our homicide rate is a function of how many guns are in private hands. Which means that we are assuming a causal relationship between gun ownership and intentional deaths.  Wouldn’t this relationship therefore hold true no matter how many guns exist in private hands?

gun homicides                Triple the per capita gun ownership and homicide rates in Sweden, France or Canada, and their homicide rates which are now between 1 and 2 persons per 100,000 would move up to 4 to 6 homicide victims per 100,000, which is higher than the current murder rate in the United States.  If we were to quadruple the per capita gun ownership in Belgium, which would still leave them short of the U.S. ownership rate, wouldn’t we also have to quadruple their homicide rate which would bring Belgium’s murder rate per 100,000 up to slightly less than 10?  That’s twice the current U.S. rate for intentional deaths.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not just playing Peck’s bad boy with the data.  I have been attacking the NRA sans cesse for their “more guns less crime” strategy.  I think it’s based on bogus research, false data and worse, is actually dangerous because it makes people believe that carrying a gun will protect them from crime.  The truth is that it usually ends up escalating an argument into a much worse, even fatal event.  But I must point out to my friends in the gun-control community that perhaps the opposite assumption that more guns equals more violence may not necessarily be true.  Australia is the only advanced country where we can analyze homicide rates before and after government intervention that led to a significant decline in civilian guns, and while the gun buy-back program appears to have made a difference in suicide rates, the evidence on homicide is somewhat mixed.  Not that there hasn’t been a decline in Australian homicide after the gun buyback program in 1996-1997, but that same decline has occurred to an even greater degree in the U.S.A. without any guns being turned over to the police.

Violence is injury and guns are the most harmful way to injure someone else.  We know the epidemiology of violence but somehow when we connect violence to guns, we fall back on arguments about causality that don’t seem to get us past first base.  It’s a fact that Americans own more guns than anyone else and it’s a fact that’s not going to change.  But gun ownership doesn’t make us more violent in and of itself and I’m not sure we yet understand how and why violence here and elsewhere is connected to using a gun.

 

Homicide And Gun Ownership: Update, Comparisons and Strategies

Last week I submitted this article to The Journal of Criminology and they rejected it immediately without comment.  But I thought you would like to read it anyway so here it is.    

In 2011 Erin Richardson and David Hemenway published a painstakingly-researched article based on 2003 data comparing gun violence in OECD countries.1  One of their findings was that the U.S. gun homicide rate was nearly 20 times higher than the overall rate for other high-income countries.   While they did not explicitly link elevated gun homicides in the U.S. to the prevalence of firearms in the civilian population, their findings have been utilized by virtually every gun control advocate to justify additional gun ownership restrictions, particularly in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in December, 2012.The purpose of this article is to update their data with more current information, as well as to determine whether the policy strategies being advanced to diminish gun harm aligns with the relevant data on gun violence.

The chart which follows contains updated (2010) data on national population, the number of guns in civilian hands, per capita civilian gun ownership and the gun homicide rate per 100,000.

Country Population (000’s) Civilian guns (000’s) Per capita % Hom. Rate
Australia 22,065 3,250 14.7 0.11
Austria 8,389 2,500 29.8 0.18
Canada 34,126 9,950 29.1 0.5
Czech Repub. 10,519 136 1.2 0.12
Finland 5,363 2,400 44.7 0.26
France 65,031 19,000 29.2 0.22
Germany 81,776 25,000 30.5 0.2
Hungary 10,000 560 0.05 0.13
Iceland 315 90 28.5 0
Italy 60,463 7,000 11.5 0.36
Japan 127,450 710 0.005 0
Luxembourg 506 70 13.8 0.6
Netherlands 16,615 510 3 0.2
New Zealand 4,367 1,000 22.8 0.26
Norway 4,889 1,320 26.9 0.04
Portugal 10,637 2,600 24.4 0.48
Slovakia 5,430 450 8.2 0.18
Spain 46,070 4,500 9.7 0.15
Sweden 9,378 2,800 29.8 0.19
UK 62,271 4,060 6.5 0.05
TOTAL OECD 585,660 87,906 15 0.17
USA 309,326 270,000 87.2 3.58

 

Notwithstanding changes in some specific values, the 2010 data shows a very similar profile to what Richardson and Hemenway discovered for 2003, namely, a correlation between gun ownership and gun homicide rates on the one hand, and a continued and significant disparity between the United States and other economically-advanced countries on the other.  Gun homicide rates per 100,000 range between null for Japan and Iceland up to .48 for Portugal, with the mean of .24 or above only being experienced by countries with a per capita gun ownership of at least 1 in 5.  There were other countries (Sweden, Norway, Iceland, France) whose per capita ownership also exceeded 1 in 5, but they were still below the mean for gun homicides.  The correlation for gun homicide and median per capita gun ownership, on the other hand, does not appear to be as strong.

Both the OECD and the U.S. gun homicide rate slipped between 2003 and 2010 (15 and 13 percent respectively) but the significant gap in gun homicide between the United States and other OECD countries remained basically unchanged.  To put this differential in a somewhat more graphic context, in the 22 countries above there were 12,070 homicide victims in 2010, of whom 11,078, or 92%, lived in the United States.  This is a remarkable statistic and there is no other form of violent death in which the disparity between the United States and its OECD cohorts displays even a fraction of this difference.3

The consistency of the data from 2003 and 2010 makes it difficult to ignore the connection between gun prevalence and gun homicide in the United States.  But the data, suggestive and comprehensive as it is, does not yield the kind of information that would allow us to align it properly with strategies designed to diminish the harm caused by guns. In particular, the evidence both for the U.S. and elsewhere is either silent or unreliable on defining the type of guns that are used in felony assaults.4  We can estimate this data from FBI-Uniform Crime Reports as well as other sources, and it appears to be the case that handguns (pistols, revolvers), as opposed to long guns (shotguns, rifles) are used in perhaps 90% of gun felony crimes.

If we deduct estimates of long gun ownership from the overall total of guns circulating amongst civilians in the United States, the per capita number for U.S. gun ownership would drop from its current 87 to somewhere below 40, placing us within the “normal” boundaries of gun ownership within the OECD.  What this simple exercise affirms is that we are not the only advanced country to allow its citizens access to small arms, but we are the only country that gives equal opportunity to acquiring both long guns and hand guns. The discussion about guns and homicide should focus on the prevalence of handguns, and not on small arms in general. Strategies to curb gun violence in the U.S. by controlling access to all types of small arms do not really catch the issue which needs to be addressed.

 

REFERENCES

  1.  Erin G. Richardson & David Hemenway, “Homicide, Suicide and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States with other High-Income Countries, 2003,” The Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, Volume 70, No. 1 (January 2011), 238-243.
  2. See, for example, http://www.bradycampaign.org/about-gun-violence and  http://www.vpc.org/studies/moreguns.pdf.
  3. The U.S. auto fatality rate per 100,000 is lower than rates recorded for many OECD countries; cf. http://www.internationaltransportforum.org/irtadpublic/pdf/risk.pdf.
  4. Of the OECD countries compared in this study, less than 20% provide breakdown between long guns and hand gun ownership.  According to the ATF, 2010 was the first year since records have been kept (mid-80’s) when handguns constituted more than 50% of all guns manufactured or imported into the U.S. Cf. Firearms Commerce in the United States, Exhibits 1 and 3.
  5. Reliable estimates for 2010 in: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10shrtbl08.xls. See Table 6.