Here’s Your Opportunity To Study Gun Violence. Don’t Miss It.

              Our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg school have produced and published what I believe is the first attempt to create a comprehensive curriculum on gun violence. This is a very impressive online effort and should be viewed, used and studied by everyone who would like to see gun violence come to an end. In fact, if I were running a group which advocates gun control, I would insist that every member of the group register and go through the course. For that matter, I would post the course on my Facebook page and suggest that other FB admins do it too.  In fact, I’m posting and pinning the course on my FB page right now.

              The good news is that the entire curriculum is video-delivered by members of the Hopkins faculty, all of whom know how to stand up in front of a classroom and deliver lectures in a clear and organized way. The better news is that the website is user-friendly and the lessons can be easily accessed even by users with only a slight degree of digital skills. Finally, the lessons are all on video, but you can also refer to text, and there are reading lists attached for further study, as well as a review quiz at the end of each lesson.

              If you take the program seriously, watch every lecture, read the relevant assignments, do all quiz exercises and give feedback, you are looking at more than 11 hours of study time.  In other words, this is serious stuff and the entire effort is obviously meant to be taken seriously. Incidentally, along with four members of the Hopkins faculty, there are lessons provided by outside experts, including our friends Jeff Swanson and Adam Winkler, and of course the website includes forums so that every student also gets a chance to shoot his or her mouth off. God forbid there would actually be a website out there which doesn’t afford everyone the opportunity to make some noise, right?

              If my last sentence reads in a somewhat sarcastic vein, it’s not by accident. One of the reasons I like this effort is because it is advertised up front as being based on ‘evidence;’ i.e., the content is tied to relevant research in the field. Now that doesn’t mean that all the research is totally correct or that more research needs to be done. But the whole point here, it seems to me, is to inject fact-based knowledge into the gun debate, rather than just creating another digital forum for opinions, a.k.a. hot air. The gun-control movement has come into its own since Sandy Hook; if anything, when it comes to the argument about the role of guns in American society, for the first time gun control appears to have trumped gun ‘rights.’ All the more reason why the discussion needs to proceed on evidence drawn from serious research, not opinions out of thin air. 

              Talking about evidence, I have only one suggestion to make to the faculty that created this course, and it’s a suggestion which obviously flows from my own background when it comes to the issue of guns. If it were possible to revise the curriculum at some point, I would ask the faculty to consider adding a section which explains the meaning of the word ‘gun.’ After all, if we want to learn about a certain kind of violence which is defined by the use of a certain object which we call a ‘gun,’ shouldn’t we make sure that all our learners know how to define that object in terms of how it’s designed, how it’s manufactured, how it works and doesn’t work?. I see too many instances on various gun-control forums, FB pages, and questions directly asked of me which indicate a knowledge deficit on both sides of the gun debate about the product which causes the violence itself.

              That’s a minor quibble.  I hope the Hopkins faculty will take seriously the work they have done and promote its access every chance they get. And when you finish reading this text, go to the website and sign up for the course.

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Can We Reduce Gun Violence With A Public Health Approach?

              Our friends at the Coalition  to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) recently posted an editorial that described gun violence as a ‘public health crisis’ because it has an “adverse impact on community health.” The notion that we can reduce and ultimately eliminate the 40,000 gun deaths suffered each year by taking a public health solution to the problem has become the standard mantra in gun-control circles, not the least of which because of the possibility that CDC research money on gun violence may be coming back into play.

              We love the notion of public health. Maybe we didn’t invent it, but we sure have used the public health approach to deal with serious threats to the human community, most notably and recently AIDS. And since gun violence is certainly widespread enough to be considered a threat to the human community, and since it also tends to impact most severely on certain identifiable groups within the community, obviously we can and should utilize the public health approach to this health threat as well. So say all the public health experts on gun violence.

I’m not a physician. I’m not a public health researcher. I can, if I choose, ask to be introduced as ‘Doctor Weisser,’ but that’s only because I earned a lowly Ph.D.

 On the other hand, I know something about guns. And based on what I know and what all these public health experts don’t know,  I disagree.

I disagree with the ‘public health approach’ to gun violence because the information that we need to evaluate in order to figure out a valid public health response to this particular threat to the human community doesn’t exist. And it won’t exist even if the CDC dumps not just 50 million into gun research, but 500 million or more.

I don’t hear any of the public health experts talking about this problem at all. In fact, these experts go out of their way to deny the importance of even collecting such data, despite saying again and again that any public health strategy must be ‘evidence-based.’

A public health approach requires that first you figure out why certain people get sick. Then you figure out how the sickness spreads from victim to victim, then you figure out how to prevent the spread of the illness either through immunization strategies, public policies or both. In the case of gun violence, we know who gets sick. But we have absolutely no idea how the illness spreads from one person to another because we don’t know anything about the agent who spreads the disease – the shooter – and we don’t know anything about the instrument whose presence creates the disease – the gun.

We don’t know anything about the agent because in the case of self-inflicted fatal injuries the agent is dead. In the case of the agent spreading the disease, he either isn’t identified or if he is, he’s locked up in jail. At which point we aren’t dealing with a public health issue. We’re dealing with a crime. Finally, both groups of agents use the same instrument, a gun, and we don’t know how they got their hands on the gun.

Back in March, three major public health scholars appeared before a House committee and testified about the need to restore CDC gun research funds. When asked, all three esteemed experts denied the necessity to create a national gun registry – not needed at all. A national registry happens to be the only way to figure out the movement and use of the instrument which has to be present in every instance of gun violence. Somehow, this never gets said.

I’m saying it now. Either my friends in the public health community stop promoting the nonsense that whatever they are doing won’t threaten the beloved 2nd Amendment, or they can stop pretending that they can come up with any kind of serious public health solution to the threat posed by guns. It’s simple.  Either – Or.

Do We Need CDC Funding To Understand Gun Violence?

              To paraphrase Jonathan Swift who was paraphrasing either a Greek or Persian proverb, so the mountain shook and out came a mouse. Which is the only way I can describe the Congressional hearing in DC yesterday covering gun-research funding for the CDC. The House Appropriations Committee (actually its subcommittee) heard testimony from four witnesses – Andrew Morral from RAND; Ronald Stewart from the Trauma Committee of the American College of Surgeons; Daniel Webster, who runs the gun research program at Johns Hopkins; and the hated John Lott who, on occasion, is allowed to show up at public-policy meetings to represent the ‘other side.’

               After some rather long-winded remarks by Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) who chaired the hearing and some less-winded remarks by the Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-OK) each of the panelists were given 5 minutes to make an initial statement. I listened very closely to these comments, but by end of the 15 minutes taken by Morral, Stewart and Webster, I found myself having difficulty staying awake. It wasn’t only that they didn’t really explain the connection between the lack of CDC funding and the persistence of gun violence over the past twenty years (although to Webster’s credit, I think he was about to offer such an explanation when his time expired and he was cut off) but they delivered their remarks in a manner which made them all sound somewhat bored and almost reluctant to have shown up.

              On the other hand, when John Lott delivered his opening remarks, whether or not you would agree with anything he said, at least he was animated and sounded excited about the issues that were going to be discussed. You would think that the panelists who were testifying in favor of resuming the CDC funding would have gone out of their way to make the Committee feel that this hearing marked a very important day. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t see Webster, Morral or Stewart stifling yawns.

              Near the end of the hearing, the mouse truly emerged from the mountain when the panelists were asked to list priorities for gun-violence research. Morral wanted more research to determine who was right and who was wrong about such hot-button issues as open carry, gun-free zones and stand your ground. That’s a biggie. Stewart knew that gun violence was caused by ‘hopelessness’ and wanted more research on how to change hopelessness into hope. A very clear agenda, I must say. Webster believed that more work needed to be done to identify ‘bad’ gun dealers although he failed to mention that most felons get their guns from sources other than retail stores.

              Lott then actually stated a fact. It was the only fact mentioned by any of the ‘experts’ on the panel. He said that 50% of all homicides occurred in 2% of American counties and were connected to the drug-selling gangs which operate in those high-violence zones. He suggested that more research was needed on ways to de-incentivize people who commit gun crimes while selling drugs – the one, specific strategy for reducing gun violence that was mentioned during the entire event.

              At one point, things actually got interesting when Andy Harris (R-MD) asked the three proponents of more research dollars whether or not they supported  a national registry of guns. Morral shlumped around in his chair and tried to beg off entirely, stating that he was just a ‘social scientist;’ Stewart said he was against it even though he heads a medical organization which has come out explicitly for just such an idea; Webster dithered a bit and then decided that he also should respond with a ‘no,’ although he has been gung-ho for comprehensive background checks which would eventually create a national list of everyone who owns a gun.

              Why do gun-control researchers and advocates like Morral, Stewart and Webster kid themselves into believing that anyone on the pro-gun side would ever think they have any interest in protecting gun ‘rights?’ If those guys are really interested in finding ‘non-partisan’ solutions to gun violence, it’s time to man up and admit that they don’t like guns. 

So What If Gun Violence Is A National Emergency?

              Somewhat lost in all the fru-fru over Trump’s declaration of a national emergency was a statement by the real President of the United States, Nancy Pelosi, that Trump’s announcement would set a precedent for a Democratic President to declare a national emergency on the ‘epidemic of gun violence.’ Which, when you stop to think about it, is a political strategy that my Gun-control Nation friends need to take seriously over the next several years.

              The good news is that most, of not all of the announced or soon-to-be announced Democratic Presidential candidates are hard left when it come to the issue of guns. And given Trump’s continued effort to maintain a stance based on a combination of racism, far-right nationalism and just plain stupidism, there’s no reason right now why the 2020 Presidential campaign of the Democrats has to find some kind of middle ground on any issue at all. What we see again and again are polls which show that the same independent voters who have deserted Trump believe that guns need to be more tightly controlled. These are the voters who turned the House of Representatives from red to blue last year; these are the same voters who might just send fat-boy Trump to a permanent residence at Mar-a-Lago next year.

              Let’s not kid ourselves. The 2020 vote will get down to the same handful of states whose results determine every national race: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Florida and one or two more. Nothing’s going to change the fact that guns aren’t popular in the Communist Northeast or West Coast states, just as nothing will change the fact that every resident of the dumb states (the South, the West, etc.) owns a gun. Which is exactly why declaring a national gun emergency just might be an important wedge issue in the states whose votes will determine whether Trump succeeds himself or not, assuming that (to quote Lizzie) he doesn’t run his 2020 campaign from jail. It wouldn’t the first time that a guy in jail was on the ballot – try Eugene Debs in 1920 and Lyndon LaRouche in 1992. 

              What could the President do by declaring a national gun emergency? For one thing, (s)he could direct the ATF to issue an emergency ‘stop-work’ order, serve it on Smith & Wesson, Glock, Sig, Beretta, Springfield and Kahr, which would effectively prevent more than 80% of the new handguns from entering the market, while the agency takes its time auditing every company to make sure that not one, single gun they manufacture ends up in the ‘wrong’ hands. The newly-elected President could also prohibit the manufacture of all ammunition on the same basis, and I note, by the way, that in all the talk circulating around right now about gun control, I don’t notice any of my friends in Gun-control Nation saying anything about regulating ammo sales – not one word.

              Under this national emergency, the President could also direct HHS to come up with a plan to require full and complete reporting injuries by every hospital receiving Medicare/Medicaid funds, which basically means every hospital in the United States. And this would quickly put an end to the kvetching on the part of all my gun researcher friends about how the data they use in their research doesn’t represent any kind of valid numbers on gun violence at all. Of course, God forbid the public health research community would stop using those bogus numbers to tell us about how this law and that law will reduce gun violence today.

              I think the answer to reducing gun violence is very simple – get rid of the guns. Notice I didn’t say I would support such an effort because I don’t take sides. What I am saying is that either gun violence is a national emergency or it’s not. And if it is, then let’s stop screwing around with a little of this or a little of that and tell it like it is – make Nancy Pelosi’s statement about a national gun-violence emergency the litmus test for which Presidential candidate deserves your support.

What Causes Gun Violence? It’s The Guns.

              More than a quarter-century ago, two brilliant researchers, Fred Rivard and Art Kellerman, published research which definitively linked gun access to increased risk of suicide and homicide. Frankly, the entire corpus of gun-control research hasn’t really gone beyond what they said, because nothing more needs to be said. Either there’s a gun around or there isn’t, and if there is, to quote Walter Mosley,“it will go off, sooner or later.”

              This research resulted in the elimination of gun-research funds from the CDC budget, with Gun-nut Nation convincing a majority of Congress from the dumb states that this kind of research was being conducted not for science, but for partisan (read: liberal) political ends.

              Now that the House has flipped blue, Gun-control Nation and their medical, public-health allies are beating the drums for a resumption of CDC-funded research. Of course when and if such legislation comes up for a vote, you can bet the other side will argue that studies showing that guns are a risk to health are nothing more than politically-motivated research. The funny thing is, however, that public health research done since CDC funding ended is not only political in terms of topics and goals, but happens to be research that protects the ownership of guns.

              Huh? Am I saying that noted scholars like the folks at Harvard and Hopkins want to keep America awash in guns?  That’s exactly what I’m saying, and if my friends at the NRA home office in Fairfax would come back to their senses, they’ll realize that the best friend they have is a former New York City mayor whom Gun-nut Nation believes to be the devil incarnate when it comes to guns. Before you think that I’ve lost my sense, please read on.

              Here’s the policy statement from the Everytown website: “Support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and other dangerous people.” As if the 2nd Amendment says anything about whether Americans have the ‘right’ to own a small, concealable handgun which holds 18 rounds of military-grade ammunition and happened to be the gun used by Seung-Hui Cho to kill 33 people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007.

              The reason we are the only advanced country which suffers from gun violence is not because we only do background checks at the initial point of sale; it’s not because we have 350 million guns floating around; it’s not because we don’t have PTP licensing; it’s not for any of the reasons that my friends in public health research have decided requires yet another study to figure out how to reduce violence caused by guns.

              The reason is because we let the gun industry determine which guns are safe enough to be sold, while the regulators try to figure out ways to keep the most lethal consumer products imaginable out of the ‘wrong hands.’ And this naïve and foolish view, which pervades virtually every aspect of gun research, flows over into the medical community as well. Doctors are advised to show more ‘respect’ for gun culture, counseling their patients not to get rid of their guns, but to store them in a safe way. Note that the studies by Kellerman and Rivara don’t distinguish between stored and unstored guns.

              I would like to end this column on a hopeful note. I am not trying in any way to denigrate the work of my many public health friends who conduct research on gun injuries and, it goes without saying, would like to see such injuries eliminated or at least reduced. But as long as this research community continues to avoid figuring out why some people deal with their fears by buying guns, telling these folks that guns represent a ‘risk’ is to tell them nothing at all. Either we get rid of the guns that are responsible for gun violence or we don’t. And until/unless  we get rid of those kinds of guns, there will be plenty of gun violence to serve as topics for gun research.   

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.

Do We Really Need More Gun-Violence Research?

Later this week I am scheduled to attend a two-day conference at the Academy of Sciences Health and Medicine Division Institute in Washington, D.C. The conference topic is: “Health Systems Intervention to Prevent Firearm Injuries and Death.”  The purpose of the conference is to update recommendations for additional gun research, a task recommended by President Obama after Sandy Hook. Of course this would mean that the CDC research spigot would be turned back on.  Yea, dream on.

smith manual              I’m not going to the meeting because I do not believe we need any more research on gun violence.  What are we going to find out? That there’s some way to point a gun at yourself or someone else, pull the trigger and not suffer an injury or death? Oh, I forgot. We can always do yet another study which assumes that keeping the gun ‘safely stored’ will reduce gun violence.  Except other than a couple of hundred youngsters who are accidentally shot each year by a dumb parent or older (or younger) child, safe storage doesn’t do squat.

You don’t walk around with a gun safely stored. You walk around with a live gun because you believe it will protect you from someone else who has a gun, or from someone else who wants to steal your money, or from someone like the kid in Corpus Christie this past weekend who got into an argument with another family member “over nothing” (according to a witness) then pulled out a banger and – bang! – four people were dead.

The Urban Institute study indicates that one out of three adolescents and young men in certain Chicago neighborhoods either have or plan to walk around their neighborhood with a gun. These neighborhoods experience killing rates twenty or thirty times higher than the national fatal gun-violence rate. How did that happen?

If one more physician tells me that he or she would like to advise patients to avoid guns but, after all, the Constitution gives the patient the ‘right’ to own a gun, I’m going to suggest that said doctor go back and read the Hippocratic Oath which happens not to mention the Constitution at all. If a patient walked into a clinic and admitted to being a smoker, would a physician dare avoid telling the patient that he shouldn’t smoke? Because in case you didn’t know it, smoking is also a Constitutional ‘right.’  It’s Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 – the Commerce Clause.  I can buy as many cigarettes as I want.  In my state I have to be 21 to buy smokes. But I also have to be 21 to buy a handgun.  How come the doctor insists that I shouldn’t exercise one Constitutional ‘right’ but I should just behave in a ‘reasonable’ way when I want to exercise the other Constitutional ‘right?’

Lester Adelson was Cuyahoga County coroner for almost thirty years. He had plenty of experience with gun violence and wrote a remarkable textbook on forensic homicide which should be read by everyone in the gun-control crowd. In 1980, he published what I believe is still the best and most concise opinion-piece on gun violence, and you can download it from my website here. I quote Adelson apropos of what happened in Corpus Christie: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

Next time you buy a gun (ha ha) open the box and you will find an owner’s manual. If you don’t want to buy a gun, you can read one right here.  Notice right on the first page it says in big, bold, red letters: “FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE WARNINGS MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH TO YOU AND OTHERS.”

If gun makers don’t try to hide the fact that their products are dangerous, why do we need more research to learn the same thing?  Since the medical community hasn’t figured this one out I’ll explain it: you reduce gun risk by getting rid of the risk. Gee, that was a tough one.

 

 

Do Comprehensive Background Checks Reduce Gun Violence? Not So Far.

Last week I posted a detailed paper on the Social Science Research Network in which I examined the arguments made by public health researchers and gun-control advocacy groups about the relationship between gun laws and gun violence; i.e., the stronger and more comprehensive the gun-control laws, the more gun violence goes down.

Figure 2              You can download and read the paper here, but I can save you some time by summarizing what I said. In brief, the point I made about the more gun laws = less gun violence is that the causal relationship between these two factors is vague, at best, and the way in which Brady and Giffords go about defining and judging the efficacy of different laws leaves some pretty big gaps.

The problem with trying to figure out whether any particular law will have any particular effect is that the only way to come up with a reasonably-accurate analysis is to compare the relevant behavior both before and after the law is passed.  But even studies which compare before-and-after behavior on what would appear to be a simple issue like speed limits and accident rates, often cannot take into account all the myriad social factors which affect a certain type of behavior beyond the existence or non-existence of a certain law. And if we know one thing about the behavior which produces gun violence, or any kind of violence for that matter, the origins, incidence and reasons for this behavior are terribly complicated and not given to any kind of simple or single cause.

On the other hand, for the first time we finally can look at the effects of a major change in gun laws, not just in terms of whether the new law made any real difference in gun violence rates, but whether the legal change met the expectations and claims of the advocate community which pushed for the change. I am referring to requiring FBI-NICS background checks for all gun transfers, which is probably Gun-control Nation’s single, most cherished goal, particularly because it happens to be the gun law where even gun owners appear to be falling into line; a recent public health survey found that more than 80% of both gun owners and non-gun owners agreed that comprehensive FBI-NICS checks were a good thing.

According to Brady, only 7 states currently impose comprehensive background checks on all gun sales. But four of these states – Colorado, Delaware, New York, Washington – passed their laws after the unspeakable tragedy at Newtown-Sandy Hook. As of 2014, all four states required that any change in the ownership of any kind of gun had to be validated by the intervention of a gun dealer who would initiate a background check. None of these states had a comprehensive background check law prior to 2014.

And here are the results by state, gun-violence rate and two years prior and two years after passage of a comprehensive background check law:

State 2012 2013 2015 2016
CO 2.22 2.01 2.51 2.91
DE 5.02 4.11 5.61 4.62
NY 2.22 1.93 2.07 1.98
WA 1.84 1.66 2.26 2.00

 

Note that New York was the only state which showed a decline in gun violence after a comprehensive law was passed, but this anomaly is probably explained by the aggressive, anti-gun program of the New York City cops. In Erie County, which includes Buffalo, the 2013 gun-violence rate was 4.1, it then dipped in 2015 to 3.88, but in 2016 went back to 4.1.

In a recent study that attempted to differentiate the impact of comprehensive background checks (CBC), as opposed to CBC which also required specific licensing for each gun sale (permit to purchase or PTP), researchers found “no benefit of a CBC system without a PTP law.”  But what if comprehensive background checks, rather than yielding no result, actually coincide with a significant increase in gun-violence rates? Oops! That’s not what gun-control laws are supposed to do. Not at all.

Does Public Health Research Explain Gun Violence?

Now that the gun-grabbing, liberal elite has decided that the way to reduce gun violence is through a ‘public health’ approach, I thought I would summarize what we know:

  • 74% of all victims of intentional fatal gun injuries committed by one person against another are men and women ages 14 – 30, of whom 40% are African-Americans who account for less than 15% of all Americans within that age group.

public healthThat is what public health research can definitively tell us about gun violence.  The research does state many other things, such as the link between gun laws and gun violence rates; such as the connection between lack of safe gun storage and gun injuries; such as gun homicides increasing when permit-to-purchase procedures are replaced by instant background checks. None of those findings, however, are definitive, and when public health scholars refer to gun violence as embracing an epidemiological approach to the problem, they are surrounding their research with an aura of scientific nomenclature which it doesn’t yet deserve.

Not to worry, I’m not turning into a pro-gun curmudgeon who all of a sudden believes that gun violence prevention (GVP) goals and objectives need to be thrown aside.  To the contrary, thanks to the Parkland kids and the overwhelming revulsion of D.D.D. Trump, his pimp attorney Cohen and the rest of the merry band, there may actually be a chance for some effective and much-needed gun-control strategies to become law of the land. All the more reason why we need to scrutinize what we know and still need to know about gun violence with a fine-tooth comb.

And here is where taking a ‘public health approach’ to gun violence can make things fuzzy rather than clear. The first time an illness appears, it may be due to nothing other than some spontaneous, physiological event. But the moment it appears in more than one person, we need to figure out how it got from Victim A to Victim B – the transmission mechanism – which often requires us to figure out the identity of the carrier, even if that individual never exhibits the symptoms of the germ himself.  It didn’t take long to figure out that AIDS was found overwhelmingly in the gay community and amongst individuals who were addicted to injected drugs. But what was the exact manner in which it spread?

We face exactly the same problem with understanding gun violence because, as opposed to most injuries (cars, falls, etc.) in the case of guns it takes two to tango; the injured party and the person whose behavior resulted in the injury aren’t one and the same. So, while public health research tells us an awful lot about the victim of this medical event, we know next to nothing about why someone else transmits this medical condition by shooting off a gun.

Our friends at the UC-Davis Violence Prevention Research Program have put up a very comprehensive resource to can be used by health-care providers who want to identify gun risk amongst their patients and counsel about same. The website contains a basic checklist of symptoms which indicate risk (violent behavior, abusive parents, substance abuse, et. al.,) behavior which has been validated by endless public health research over the past 25 years.

There’s only one little problem – these symptoms are exhibited by people who commit violence whether or not they use a gun. And less than 5% of the individuals who try to physically injure someone else each year use a gun. How come the other 95% don’t? With 300 million guns floating around, it can’t be because there’s any great difficulty getting their hands on a gun.

Until and unless we focus on the shooters and not just on the victims, I am afraid that the ‘public health approach’ to gun violence will not necessarily provide the answers we seek. And if we don’t fully understand how and why people use guns in inappropriate or illegal ways, how do we craft effective public policies to make those behaviors change?

GVPedia – Good To Go!

Every once in a while, someone comes along with a really bright idea for doing something positive or useful about reducing gun violence. Not that joining an advocacy group or sending an email to your local Congressman isn’t a positive idea, but it’s not very new. On the other hand, there’s a young man sitting, of all places in Oklahoma, who has done something positive and new to reduce gun violence, which is funny given the Oklahoma is probably the most gun-rich state of all.

GVPedia             I’m talking about Devin Hughes and a new website, GVPedia, which had a soft launch last month and now is good to go. The site is basically a reference library containing publications which inform about gun violence, and to his credit, the collection of more than 700 articles includes work on both sides of the gun debate – I suspect this is the only online venue which allows a visitor to access articles written by David Hemenway and John Lott. But if you want to create a credible knowledge source about any topic, then you need to include all points of view.

The website bibliography can be searched either by topic or the usual a to z. There is also a small but growing collection of ‘white papers’ designed to give members of the gun violence prevention (GVP) community some basic information and talking-points if/when they find themselves in a public or private discussion about guns. I understand that plans are afoot to make the site more dynamic, including sponsoring gun-violence research, developing infographics that could be used for online debates – all of these activities and others being directed by Jen Pauliukonis, whose GVP creds are far beyond reproach.

So that’s the good news, and I want to congratulate Devin, his Board members and his major financial supporter (who wishes to remain anonymous but it’s not Mayor Mike) for moving this whole effort forward and getting it online. But that was the easy part, now the heavy lifting begins.

First and foremost (and I’m sure Devin and his crew have been talking about this but it needs to be said publicly nonetheless) even though GVPedia is unique to the discussion about guns, this uniqueness in and of itself doesn’t mean that the site and its associated activities will necessarily get the exposure or public presence which it deserves and needs. As much as I believe that the 1st Amendment should apply to what appears on the web, I find sometimes myself thinking that maybe getting rid of net neutrality isn’t such a bad idea. Because if nothing else, eliminating open access might (but might not) tend to curb some of the excessive digital content which continues to grow every day. I put up my first website, believe it or not, in 1995. And it was easy to build an audience because where else were the early internet surfers going to go?

I have an idea for getting GVPedia noticed, however, by a very wide audience, an idea which may or may not align with the strategies of the website’s managers, but perhaps should be taken into account.  I would run some notices on websites, blogs and Facebook pages not just favored by the GVP, but used by Gun-nut Nation to communicate amongst themselves.  For example, I belong to a bunch of private Facebook groups which promote guns; one of them is devoted to building your own AR-15 and more than 75,000 people have joined. One of the Glock private groups on Facebook enlists more than 30,000 followers – such numbers aren’t unusual on many of the better-known gun blogs.

Donald Trump started a ‘university’ so that he could peddle some drek. By opening GVPedia to researchers from both sides of the gun debate, Devin and his crew have made it very clear that the ultimate value of this effort rests on a search for truth. So why not invite everyone to join the search?

And by the way, GVPedia is a 501(c)(3). Send them a few bucks.