Khalil Spencer – What We Should Be Saying About Gun Violence.

Someone tell me how this (figure 1) would stop a mass shooter bursting into a church in a surprise attack using an AR, or taking aim at a crowd with a bump stock equipped rifle at 300 yards from the twenty something floor? The best one could hope for would be an armed person who took self defense seriously and trained for a close encounter of the wrong kind, available to exchange fire at relatively close range. And who had some warning rather than being caught flat footed.


Surprise attacks, such as those in Dallas, Sutherland, or Las Vegas, work. Recall that armed to the teeth as it was, we lost most of the Pacific Fleet and air force on 12-7-1941, as it was caught unawares. By the time what little was left of our military got its guns in the air, the Japanese lost 29 airplanes and a minisub in return. Like the recent Sutherland slaughter, this was not exactly a fair exchange.

So any semblance of rational discourse seems to be missing in action as Congress debates H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. I seriously doubt this bill, if passed, will significantly impact crime rates. Sure, if you convince more people to pack, some fraction will be idiots who will mishandle guns. Some guns will be stolen and diverted to crime, or once in a while used in error. But CHL holders per se are not the problem as they are not going to commit crimes; statistically, they are good bets to not do so. Crime is driven by motive and opportunity.

The major problem with firearms availability is that 300-plus million guns in the nation means some are available to disgruntled spouses, fired employees, meth heads, career criminals, and those left MIA by the American Dream who decide on do-it-yourself brain surgery. Last if not least, ARs that are freely available and owned by that occasional law abiding citizen inexplicably turned lunatic. So by convincing more of us that we need guns for self-defense, we ensure that more guns are available to fall into the wrong hands, either because the right hands become the wrong hands or because the right hands leave the little bangers laying around for wrong hands to pick up. As the police are saying in Albuquerque, criminal access to guns means that crime becomes more dangerous. Meanwhile, if that bill becomes law as written, anyone with the price of a pocket cannon and who can pass muster on their 4473 will be encouraged to slip the little banger into their coat pocket and take on God knows what with no training or idea what they are doing. As Charles Clymer says, this is not a good scenerio.

What the Gun Violence Prevention Community needs to do is convince people that society doesn’t need to be armed to the teeth; there has to be a better, more effective way to ensure domestic tranquility. By attacking all gun owners as statistical loose cannons, the GVP rhetoric pisses off gun people and digs that damn rhetorical moat deeper. Conversely, the NRA’s suggesting that strapping one on will make the world safer and more polite is equally devoid of facts. An armed society is…simply…an armed society. And with Dana Loesch acting as spokesperson, the NRA is certainly not creating a polite one. But as long as the thesis that being armed as a rational and effective response to the world is not challenged, some people will want to be armed. Especially after reading that cities like Albuquerque are breaking records in homicides and the police force is understaffed.

One has to convince people that an Edsel is an Edsel and not a Toyota. Or you have lost the argument. Everyone wants a Toyota. Only collectors want an Edsel.


Why Don’t We Talk About The Real Gun-Violence Numbers?

You can’t go to a gun violence prevention (GVP) website without being confronted with the horrific numbers of people killed or injured by guns.  It’s well above 100,000 each year and it’s far beyond anything experienced by any other advanced country, like 20 times as high.  But if you think that such numbers really illustrate how big a problem we have in this country with guns, think again. In fact, the gun-violence numbers bandied about happen to be only a part of a much larger whole.

gun demo              The GVP community relies for its gun-violence victim data on the CDC because in theory, hospitals do a pretty good job of keeping track of their patients, and showing up with a bullet in your stomach or your leg has a way of attracting lots of attention from the medical staff. The only problem with these numbers is that a lot of people who suffer physical injuries from guns don’t show up or aren’t counted – either way, we need to better understand this issue before we can assume that we really know the health toll caused by guns.

The FBI has just issued its 2016 crime report, a document which breaks down crimes in terms of what type of weapon was used.  For 2016 homicides, the feds say that 15,000 people were murdered in 2016, of which 11,000 murders, or 73%, were caused by guns. They also say that 735,000 people were arrested for aggravated assault, in which 190,000 attackers or 25%,  used guns. All fine and well except for one little problem – three out of ten non-fatal gun assaults are never reported to the police.  So to our gun-violence totals, we should probably another 60,000 or so events.

The gun homicide numbers reported by the FBI are close to what we get from the CDC. On the other hand, the FBI numbers on intentional, non-fatal gun injuries bring the overall gun-violence toll close to 200,000, and that’s just a start.  Because if the GVP wants to rely on the medical profession to tell them how many people are gun-violence victims each year, they should use as their calculus the definition of violence that physicians have adopted which comes right out of the World Health Organization (WHO) and goes like this: “the intentional use of physical force, threatened or actual, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death [or] psychological harm….”

You think it’s not harmful to have a live gun pointed at you even if it doesn’t go off? Because that’s what happens to the 125,000 people who are robbed each year at gunpoint, a violent crime whose ‘clearance’ rate is around 30 percent. So let’s add another 150,000 gun-violence victims to the total above and we wind up with what I believe is a realistic number of people who suffer physical or psychological injury from guns of around 350,000 or more. Which happens to be about three times the number of gun-violence victims that is usually pushed out.

Why does GVP only count gun violence victims who are physically injured by guns? Perhaps because we don’t have a precise method to measure the psychological impact of looking down the barrel of a loaded gun.  I’m not sure we have a workable research methodology that can come up with an y kind of legitimate statistical result. So we end up falling back on vague generalizations about the ‘cost’ of violence in a community-wide or society-wide sense, and the specific number of people who suffer from the mental effects of being threatened by guns disappears.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) says that 284,000 Americans were ‘victimized’ but not killed by guns in 2015. Which isn’t far off from the calculation I made above and translates into more than 800 victims of gun violence every day. If the GVP community wants to keep saying that 315 people are killed or injured each day with guns, I only wish the real gun-violence number was that low.

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.’