Start Making Plans To Go To Peace Week Delaware, September 17-24, 2017.

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I first got involved in gun violence prevention (GVP) back in 1965, because the gun violence which concerned me was the gun violence that was going on in Viet Nam. Now you might think there’s no connection between shootings in a neighborhood somewhere in the United States and the killing of soldiers (and civilians) on the battlefield, but that’s not really true. Rifles and handguns were first developed for use in warfare, so it’s entirely consistent if you’re against gun violence, to be against gun violence no matter where it occurs.

peace2              One of my real heroes in the anti-War movement was Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who was a major voice in radical and pacifist politics before, during and after the Viet Nam War. So I was struck the other day by the news that another pacifist activist, John Dear, who also started out as a Jesuit, appeared last year at an event called Peace Week Delaware, which will be repeated this year on September 17 – 24.

The point of Peace Week Delaware is to promote the idea of creating sanctuary cities and other locations that will be zones of non-violence and will develop and support ongoing programs to make people and neighborhoods more peaceful and safe. And what could be more important in creating such non-violent spaces than to develop awareness about gun violence and support activities that might help bring gun violence to an end?

And believe me when I tell you that Delaware, particularly the city of Wilmington which is the home base of Peace Week, could certainly use from help when it comes to reducing violence caused by guns. There is no state in America which had as high an increase in homicide rates between 1999 and 2012 as Delaware with the rate per 100,000 jumping from 3 to 7, a time when the national homicide rate declined by half. And most of the shooting (fatal and non-fatal) occurred in Wilmington, which had a per-100K gun incident rate of 181, which is 6 times higher than the national per-100K rate for intentional injuries caused by guns.

When it comes to recent gun violence, don’t think things have gotten terribly better in Delaware, particularly Wilmington.  There were 154 shooting victims in 2013, of whom 18 died.  The following year the number of shooting victims ‘dropped’ to 124 but homicides went up to 23 – the shooters became better shots. In 2015 the carnage went back up to 151 with 26 ending up in the morgue, the 2016 numbers were roughly the same.  This year shootings are 40% higher than in any previous year to this date. In other words, if this continues, sooner or later the gun violence rate will start to drop in Wilmington, because there won’t be anyone around to get shot.

I wish I had room to list all the community-based organizations which supported the first Peace Week Delaware last year. Suffice it to say that the displays, activities, marches and events drew on the energies and interest of a wide cross-section of government, civic, faith-based and community groups, obviously embracing the GVP organizations as well. There were more than 40 events in 2016 and this year there are already more than 30 events being planned.

But let’s forget numbers for a minute and get back to the central issue, which is the connection between GVP and peace.  During the Viet Nam, something known as ‘peace studies’ emerged on college campuses, and students studied peace as a subject matter the same way they studied sociology or chem.  Is it that difficult to imagine that a college or university wouldn’t enhance its curricular offerings with a course on violence and guns?

The good news about Wilmington is that it’s less than a two-hour drive from New York and Washington, D.C.  I’m going to do my darndest to get there for Peace Week 2017 and I strongly urge you to do the same.  And if you want to donate something to help support a worthy cause, just click right here.

Sorry Gun-Nut Nation But Gun Buybacks Do Work.

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To celebrate the fact that Donald Trump has moved from being the presumptive GOP nominee to the actual (how in God’s name did that happen?) I am going to make one change in the nomenclature which I use for talking about guns. Going forward, when a pro-gun noisemaker, individual or organization, spouts a misstatement about gun violence, I am no longer going to say that they are incorrect, or wrong, or anything polite like that.  I am going to say that they are lying because the pro-gun mob has access to the same data and documentation that I read. And if someone (including me) can’t distinguish between facts and factoids, then they should keep their mouths shut.

buyback             One of the most common lies floating around Gun-nut Mob these days is the lie that gun laws won’t work because criminals don’t obey laws.  Now the truth is that there have been gun laws passed here and there which really didn’t work, or didn’t work all that well.  But that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Of course criminals don’t obey laws.  That’s what makes them criminals, duhhh?

On the other hand, there are some gun regulations which, in terms of lowering gun violence, have worked very well.  And chief among those laws, believe it or not, is the idea of gun buybacks, in particular those buybacks which took certain types of highly-lethal firearms out of private hands. The presumptive Democratic candidate, HRC, has been targeted by the Gun-nut Mob because of comments she made about the gun buyback law implemented in Australia in 1996 and 2003.  But in fact, the result of this program, according to researchers, “seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved.” It should be noted, incidentally, that the Australian buyback was directed not at all guns, but primarily at high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles, the absence of which in Australia can be directly linked to the complete disappearance of mass shootings, which have become all too commonplace in the U.S. today.

The problem with using Australia’s buyback experience as a model, however, is that it really wasn’t a typical buyback program (cash for guns) because the government first declared certain types of legally-owned guns to be illegal, and thus had to compensate owners because otherwise it would have been a case of seizing property without compensation, which is something that democratic governments simply don’t do.  But I recently came across a study that analyzed the effects of a major, countrywide buyback program in Argentina that collected more than 100,000 firearms, paid compensation for each gun and guaranteed anonymity for everyone who turned guns in.  If you want to read the study, you can download it from my website here.

What the researchers discovered was that the Argentine buyback program, which occurred in 2007 and 2008, did not really change suicide or homicide rates involving guns, but did lead to a ‘significant’ reduction in unintentional deaths.  Did criminals turn in their guns?  The researchers did not believe they did.  Did the program reduce the civilian-owned gun stock by as much as ten percent which significantly reduced gun accidents?  The positive evidence here was clear.

Which brings us back to the big, fat lie endlessly promoted by the Gun-nut Mob that criminals won’t obey laws that seek to control guns.  The lie in this case is the fact that gun buybacks have anything to do with criminals at all. They don’t.  They are simply a mechanism for getting guns out of circulation which people don’t want or don’t need.  And you know what?  It’s the guns that people don’t want and are happy to give up for some cash that end up being guns that are used carelessly, or are stolen and are then used in crimes.  Because folks who use guns responsibly and safely don’t need to give them up. But there’s nothing in a home more lethal than a gun which is just lying around.

 

How Do We Keep A Law-Abiding Gun Owner From Doing Something Crazy With A Gun?

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In the aftermath of Orlando and Dallas, Gun Violence Prevention advocates find themselves coming face-to-face with the veritable elephant in the living room, namely, how to prevent someone from using a gun who acquired the weapon legally?  Expanding background checks to private transaction, a worthwhile goal, wouldn’t have made any difference in these two tragedies at all. For that matter, instituting a permit-to-purchase requirement for handguns or highly-lethal assault rifles also wouldn’t have prevented either shooter from getting his hands on a gun.

dallas           Of course Gun-nut Nation has a ready-made answer to this problem, consisting of eliminating all ‘gun-free’ zones and convincing every ‘law-abiding’ citizen to walk around with a gun. So even if a law-abiding citizen like the Orlando shooter yanked out his AR and started shooting up a club, there would be a few armed citizens in the crowd who would immediately respond and bring things under control.  If you actually believe that there’s any truth whatsoever in the previous sentence, do me a favor, okay?  Go lay brick.

Now back to reality.  The problem we face in this respect is both very simple and very complicated.  It’s simple because what we are looking at is an aberrant form of behavior which every year costs more than 30,000 Americans their lives and another 60,000+ Americans their health because gun injuries happen to be the most medically devastating injury of all.  That’s the simple part.

The complicated part is that trying to control or (God forbid) change human behavior through imposing new rules or regulations can work, but only if the rules reflect a collaboration of a large and diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom agree that something needs to be done.  Who had to jump on the bandwagon to cut the fatality rate from auto accidents? Try government, manufacturers, insurance companies, school systems, law enforcement, and most of all, the driving public.  Can you imagine a similar conglomeration of stakeholders sitting down to come up with a set of comprehensive mandates to make it more difficult for Mister Average Joe Gun Owner to do something stupid or destructive with his gun?

And even if you could convene these relevant participants, and even if they could produce some new mandates that might alter the current regulatory environment in a positive way, how could such changes create any kind of barrier to a law-abiding individual who wants to own a gun? Which is why I said above that the Gun Violence Prevention community is looking at an elephant in the living room when it comes to figuring out how to prevent an otherwise harmless-looking and harmless-behaving fellow from taking his gun and going to the extreme.

But I also have a suggestion that might actually make a difference in terms of identifying the elephant and bringing him under control.  And it’s a suggestion that doesn’t need any mandates or regulation at all, just the ability of some concerned individuals or organizations to communicate the following idea.

And the idea is based on what appears to be one thing that most law-abiding, mass shooters have in common before they committed their dreadful acts, namely, that in the run up to their destructive behavior, they divulged their plans to at least one other person who then made the conscious decision not to intervene.  This was true of the shooter at Charleston, true for the shooter who walked into The Pulse, certainly true of the shooter at San Bernardino, I suspect it’s true of so many more.

What we really need is messaging which tells people they need to get involved and alert others if they learn that someone is planning to use a gun in a harmful way.  Conversations, Facebook posts, emails, I don’t care how the possible mass shooter announces his plans.  If you know a gun owner who tells others that he’s going to do something ‘big’ with his gun, don’t just dismiss it as a harmless gesture.  Ask yourself whether you want to be around if and when he moves from words to an act.

Is Gun Violence Going Up Or Going Down? A New Technology Gives Us One Answer.

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If you want to fix something, the first thing you have to do is figure out what you are trying to fix. So if you are a GVP activist or supporter, obviously you want to do something about gun violence.  But how do you define ‘gun violence?’  Does it mean when someone uses a gun to hurt someone else?  Does it mean when someone uses a gun to hurt themselves?  How about when the gun was used intentionally?  Or unintentionally?

And even if you decide that ‘gun violence’ includes all those categories, the 110,000+ or so physical injuries that happen each year when the trigger of a gun is pulled may only be the tip of the iceberg.  And it’s a very large iceberg, believe me. To begin, we only count victims by the number of people who end up with a bullet in their bodies.  What about the people who witness the assault? Numerous studies support the idea that witnesses to shootings are often severely traumatized, particularly when these witnesses happen to be kids.  What about people who are threatened with a gun but luckily are able to walk away without getting shot?  This happens many more times each year than the few times that guns are used for self defense.

The problem in trying to figure out the real size of the iceberg is compounded because Gun Nation decided years ago that there’s no iceberg at all.  In fact, the truth is that guns have nothing to do with violence because it’s the people stupid, not the gun.  The gun-nut lobby is so committed to disconnecting the word ‘gun’ from the word ‘violence’ that many of them refer to guns as ‘tools,’ which has got to be about the stupidest, most pandering and meaningless description of any consumer product that has ever been produced anywhere, any time.

But let’s get back to the serious side of the issue which has been raised in an article just published by the Washington Post. The article describes a technology, ShotSpotter, which is now operating in more than 60 locations around the U.S., and basically is used by police departments to figure out how and when to deploy resources in response to spikes of violence measured by the number of guns that go off in the areas where the technology is deployed.

Guess what?  According to the data generated by ShotSpotter, gun violence went down from 2014 to 2015,  The ShotSpotter website contains a very interesting report which compares data from 2014 to 2015 in the 46 cities that deployed the technology both years. And with the exception of cities in the Midwest like Chicago and St. Louis, reports of gunfire are way down in the East and West, and even slightly lower in the South.

My only issue with the report’s methodology is that it generates gunshot rates by comparing the number of gunshots to the geographic area in which the technology is deployed, whereas gun injury rates developed both by the FBI and the CDC compare injury numbers to an area’s population. At this point that we can’t really tell whether the measurement of gun violence by ShotSpotter can really be compared to the usual way that we measure gun violence, namely, by the number of bodies that end up in ER, Trauma, or the morgue. On the other hand, we have to assume that outside of shooting ranges or hunting areas, anywhere that a gun goes off, gun injuries won’t be far behind.

I happen to think that ShotSpotter technology is an effective response to gun violence for the simple reason that the data collected by a ShotSpotter device, if nothing else, tells us where guns are can be found. And despite what Gun Nation would like to believe, it’s the gun, not the person, which causes 31,000+ gun deaths every year. How we find and (yes) grab those guns remains to be figured out.  But ShotSpotter is a good first step.

Think That Suicide Isn’t Gun Violence? Think Again.

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The bad news is that suicides overall are up, the good news is that gun suicides as a percentage of all suicides is down. Well, kinda down.  Fifteen years ago, the CDC counted 29,199 suicides of all types across America; the per-100K rate was 10.48.  In 2014, the overall number was 42,773; the rate had climbed 23 percent to 12.93.  Ouch!  That’s not good.  Gun suicides, on the other hand, claimed 16,599 lives in 1999 for a 100-K rate of 5.96; in 2014 gun suicides were 21,334 resulting in a 100-K rate of 6.34.  So the gun suicide rate only increased by 6 percent.  I guess Gun Nation is doing something right, right?

Actually, wrong. Want the latest and greatest from Gun Nation about suicide and guns?  Take a look at the new, online safety program developed by the NSSF.  It’s a glossy website that gives a roadmap for ‘responsible’ gun ownership based on safe storage, training, communication and all the other things that you should do to be a ‘responsible gun owner.’  The website includes a nice list of safe storage options ‘to fit your lifestyle and home circumstances,’ ranging from a trigger lock to a full-size gun safe, all of which should be used to ‘prevent accidents.’

But what if you don’t want to lock the gun away because you might need to use it to shoot a You-Know-Who breaking down the front door?  After all, isn’t concealed or open carry also a lifestyle?  You betcha, considering that for the last twenty years the gun industry and its media sycophants have been promoting how much safer you’ll be if you own a gun.

But will you be safer?  To my utter astonishment, the NSSF’s safety brochure actually contains a statement about gun risk which is true: “Keeping a firearm to defend your family makes no sense if that same firearm puts family members or visitors to your home at risk.”  What kind of risk? The risk that is never mentioned by the NSSF or anyone else who promotes gun ownership, namely, risk that someone might end their own life with a gun. The NSSF gets about as close to this untouchable issue as they can by noting that gun safety is particularly necessary if “loved ones experience a difficult time.”  Well, at least Gun Nation has found a pleasant euphemism for depression; i.e., a ‘difficult time.’

But let’s drop the euphemism and look at reality: “States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide and overall suicide.  This relationship held for both genders and all age groups.  It remained true after accounting for poverty, urbanization and unemployment.” The link between gun ownership and suicide is particularly evident among teens, according to researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and the fastest-growing age-group prone to suicides are teens. Since 2007, the overall rate of gun suicide has increased by 12%, the gun suicide rate among teens is up by 42%.

Why is Gun Nation so reluctant to mention the word suicide when they talk about gun safety?  Because it’s an unbroken rule among the gun-nut fraternity/sorority that the only people whose lives are lost from the misuse of guns are law-abiding citizens who didn’t use a gun to defend themselves against the You-Know-Who’s.  Think I’m overstating things?  Just listen to Wayne-o or home-school queen Dana Loesch repeat this nonsense in the videos they produce for the NRA.

Don’t think that suicide isn’t gun violence?  Think again.  Here’s how violence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary: “Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Notice it doesn’t say ‘someone else,’ because that’s a crime called aggravated assault.

Violence means damage and there’s nothing out there that can damage someone as effectively or quickly as a gun, particularly when you don’t even have to aim.  As far as I’m concerned, at least when it comes to suicide, maybe the GVP community should just drop the ‘V.’

 

 

How Can We Stop Guns From Getting Into The Wrong Hands? Simple: Just Stop The Guns.

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There’s an elephant sitting largely undisturbed in the GVP living room, and it consists of the 75,000 times each year when someone picks up a gun and uses it to hurt someone else.  In medicine this is referred to as ‘intentional injury/firearm.’  The cops call it an aggravated assault but if the bullet hits a vital spot, then a homicide has occurred.  Either way, these events account for more than two-thirds of all gun injuries, and the number appears to be going up.  For sure it’s going up in places like Chicago and Detroit, where rates have always exceeded national averages for violence caused with guns.

With all due respect to the energy and commitment if GVP activists, I still don’t believe this problem is being addressed at its core.  It’s all well and good to ask the government to expand background checks on private gun sales, or crack down on straw sales, or pass stronger laws against gun trafficking, and I’m not arguing against the utility of such plans; I’m simply saying that none of those strategies attack the root of the problem, and the root is not supply but demand.  Because what all those programs have in common is the belief that if the supply of guns that might end up in the wrong hands is choked off at the point where those guns enter or re-enter the market, this will lead to a smaller number of illegal guns, which will lead to fewer guns getting into the wrong hands, which will lead to less guns being used to inflict injuries on others.

Unfortunately, while we know a lot about the supply side of the argument, we know next to nothing about the demand for guns.  Why do a small percentage of individuals who commit violent acts against others commit these acts by using guns? According to the CDC, there were 2.3 million intentional, violence-related injuries in 2013, of which 78,000, or 3%, were caused by guns. So while we focus our thoughts and concerns on the 3%, the fact is that 97% of people who commit violent acts choose not to use a gun.  And I simply don’t believe that the motives which explain that choice can be assumed to reflect difficulties in getting hold of a gun.  Particularly because in neighborhoods where most gun violence occurs, even the younger kids will tell you that a gun can easily be acquired in 24 hours or less.

The problem with choking off guns at the point of supply is that most such policies would require some change in behavior of law-abiding sellers or buyers of guns.  The movie, Making A Killing, includes a segment about Chuck’s Gun Shop, out of whose inventory comes many guns that end up being used in Chicago crimes.  Know what happened after Chuck’s promised to be more vigilant in checking who was buying their guns?  Gun violence in Chicago went up.  I know, I know.  There are plenty of other gun shops located close enough to the Windy City where the bad guys can get guns.  That’s exactly my point.  As long as guns are legal commerce, don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, the market will find some way to satisfy demand.

Back in the 16th Century, the French monarchy imposed a very strict tariff on salt, the gabelle, in order to raise funds for the always-depleted royal treasury. Know what happened?  Salt smuggling became the #1 non-farming occupation in Southern France. It’s a mistake which we make all the time to differentiate between the ‘legal’ market and the ‘illegal’ or ‘black’ market, because in fact they operate exactly the same way.  A market, legal or illegal, is created whenever there is an exchange of products for money and regulating the former may have little or no impact on the latter.

Of course there’s one infallible way to regulate both markets when it comes to guns.  And we all know what that way is.

If The Democrats Want A Wedge Issue, Gun Control May Work.

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If one thing came out of the first Democratic debate, it’s that the Blue Team isn’t afraid of talking about guns.  Or to be more precise, talking about gun control.  This has been something of a verboten topic among Democrats ever since Bill Clinton blamed Al Gore’s 2000 election loss on the virulent NRA campaign in Tennessee that cost Gore his home state.  Let’s overlook the fact that even with the disappearing Palm Beach County votes, Bush won a whole, big 271 electoral votes – one more than the minimum – and lost the popular vote.  So ascribing Gore’s loss to the ‘power’ of the NRA is something of a stretch, but it’s been accepted without question until now.

hillary2                And now it appears that the Democrats have found their wedge issue, namely, the issue of guns.  Not only was it the first, substantive issue discussed in the debate, but the candidates spent nine minutes trying to outdo one another over who had been given the worst grade by the NRA. All of them came out for expanded background checks, all of them lambasted the NRA, and of the more than 1,200 words uttered about guns by the five candidates, the 2nd Amendment was mentioned exactly once. Even Obama used to regularly mention his support of the 2nd Amendment when he would talk about guns.  That was then, this is now.  When it comes to the Democrats, all of a sudden Constitutional protections for gun ownership have disappeared.

The reason for this shift is very simple: enough is enough.  A mass shooting here, a mass shooting there, no big deal.  We’ve been living with this sort of thing since good ol’ Charlie Whitman climbed to the top of the Texas Tower in 1966 and began mowing people down. But when 11 people are killed and 14 injured in shootings at three college campuses in one week, all the stupid talk from the gun gang about ‘gun-free zones’ and ‘fixing the broken mental health system’ just doesn’t work. Nobody but the looniest among us would deny the accepted notion that government has a ‘compelling interest’ in keeping us safe; ipso facto, the shootings at campuses in Oregon, Arizona and Texas must, in the minds of most people, require some kind of government response.

Now you would think that the pro-gun gang would use these campus shootings to push their ‘armed citizen’ response as far as they can.  And in fact the NRA just posted a new story on their website about how folks with guns protect others from crime.  But since they couldn’t find any examples of armed citizens keeping students safe on college campuses, they fashioned a story around examples of armed response that took place in apartment complexes where “apartment dwellers are far from immune from violent crime.”   But to actually find eight instances where apartment-dwelling citizens used guns in response to crime, the NRA had to go back to 2012; i.e., less than three events per year. Sorry boys, that just doesn’t stack up against three campus shootings in one week.

Hillary and the other Democratic candidates have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by going after the NRA. After all, the NRA has been bashing her and Democrats in general for the last twenty years.  If she were to turn around tomorrow and announce, a la Donald Trump, that she “loves” gun rights, nobody would believe her anyway, at least nobody who supports the NRA.

On the other hand, it’s clear that the percentage of American households containing legal guns keeps going down.  Which means that using ‘gun rights’ to gain an edge on voter turnout becomes increasingly a dead end.  I’m not saying that all those politicians who routinely vote the NRA line are going to roll over and play dead.  What I am saying is that if guns continue to be a wedge issue, it may be a wedge issue for the gun-control side.

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