In States Which Like Gun Violence, They Also Like Trump.

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The map below appeared on the Gallup website at the end of July when Trump’s national job ratings were about where they are right now; i.e., pretty damn bad. But the point of this map was to demonstrate that the Whiner-in-Chief still had significant support in most of the really red states. The darker the state, the higher Trump’s support.

Map 1

            And this map, when all is said and done, isn’t terribly different from how the electoral map played out on November 8, 2016, because even in the ‘swing’ states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan whose shift from blue to red put Trump out in front, his support is still much greater than in the blue corridors on each coast. In other words, as long as the popular vote doesn’t determine who sits in the Oval office, right now (I hate to say it) looking towards 2020, the bully with the world’s most expensive head rug isn’t in such bad shape.

But now I’m going to throw another national map at you and notice that the shadings in this one aren’t all that different from what we see in the map of Trump’s state-by-state support. Again, the darker the state, the higher gun-violence rate.

 

 

Map 2

With a few exceptions, it appears to be the case that the states where Trump is most popular are also the states which have the highest rate of deaths from guns. And while a majority of these deaths are suicides, no matter what Gun-nut Nation tells you, using a gun to commit suicide isn’t just like jumping out a window or falling off a bridge.  Because the fact is that there is no other method you can use to end your own life which is as effective and efficient as using a gun.  And when it comes to calling suicide a form of gun violence, I’m sorry but I’ll rely on the definition of violence adopted by the World Health Organization: “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death….” Get it?  Oneself?

The national gun-violence rate is currently 10.6 per 100,000. With the exception of two states – South Dakota and Nebraska – every other pro-Trump state has a rate of gun homicide/suicide rate (GV) higher than the national average, and in most instances, significantly higher. Alaska leads the entire country with a GV rate of 19.6.  Right behind Alaska is Louisiana (19.1), Alabama (17.8), Wyoming (17.5) and Montana (16.9).  Two of these states have elevated rates because of suicide (WY,MT), the other two states make the top ten list because residents of those states evidently enjoy shooting guns not so much at themselves, but at others.

If we examine gun-violence rates in states where Trump’s numbers are the worst (less than 40% approval rating and compare his polls in those states to gun-violence rates we discover exactly the reverse. Thus, with the exception of New Mexico, where the gun-violence rate is 15.6, there is not one other anti-Trump state with a gun-violence rate above 11 per 100,000, which is just about the national gun-death average, and 10 of those 17 states have a per-100,000 single-digit rate, beginning with Hawaii’s 2.7, followed by Massachusetts at 3.2.

Looking at these numbers forces me to say that Trump’s continued outbursts invoking, justifying and supporting violence of all sorts isn’t just a symptom of some kind of mental derangement but may reflect his awareness of where his political strength really lies. Because if nothing else, the maps above force us to conclude or at least suggest that residents of pro-Trump states have no great concerns about the most violent form of behavior within their own communities; namely, the violence caused by guns. And if that’s true, you can bet that Trump will take pains to make sure that nothing is done to reduce gun violence in places which believe he will make America great again.

The Violence Policy Center Expands An Important Report.

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Our friends at the Violence Policy Center (VPC) have been tracking gun violence committed by gun owners with concealed-carry permits (CCW) and you can view the data on a website that breaks down the numbers on a state-by-state basis since 2007. The information is informative but not definitive, for the simple reason that there is no requirement in any state which makes cops or coroners list whether a shooter was in possession of CCW or not. So we can assume that the 1,082 people who have been killed by CCW-holders in the last 10 years represents a rough estimate, at best, of the actual number of individuals whose lives ended at the hands of someone legally allowed to walk around with a gun.

VPC logo             It should be noted that 37% of the victims (400 of 1,082) of CCW-holders happened to have shot themselves to death, i.e., these were legally-armed individuals who killed themselves with their gun. The VPC has come in for its share of criticism for bunching suicides and homicides together, but the critics might take the trouble to look at the definition of violence used by the WHO, namely, an intentional attempt to injure oneself or someone else. And of course the fact that someone keeps a legally-owned gun in their home only increases the possibility of suicide, but since when did Gun-nut Nation ever care about risk?

The VPC is now expanding their study of CCW-holders who commit gun violence by posting weekly updates on events that highlight the risks posed by walking around with a gun. The first incident occurred in a small town outside of Sheboygan, WI, when two cousins got into an argument over money, one of them pulled out a gun for which he had a concealed-carry permit, got off 13 shots and two men ended up dead. The second incident took place in Allegheny County, PA, where two co-workers got into it during their night-time shift, went out into the parking lot to continue the argument, one pulled out his 9mm banger and that was the end of that.

The NRA is so convinced that we all should be walking around armed that they even have trademarked the phrase, ‘The Armed Citizen,’ and run a website inviting people to send them reports of armed citizens who used their guns to protect themselves and everyone else. Until recently, this website never captured more than 100 such events in any given year, but I notice that the monthly number of defensive gun use (DGU) now seems to be running about 25 per month, a much more aggressive listing process which I suspect is directly tied to the new concealed-carry insurance which the NRA is trying to peddle here and there.

Let’s say for sake of argument that armed citizens protect themselves or others from serious crime 500 times a year, or even 50,000 times. Recent research pegs the annual DGU number at somewhere around 70,000, but this number includes all the times in which the gun was brandished but not actually used.

On the other hand, the 20,000+ people who kill themselves each year with a gun don’t end their lives by waving the gun around. They use the gun very effectively because more than 80% of all gun suicide attempts end with a life being lost; no other kind of suicide attempt is successful more than 60% of the time.

I don’t believe the Violence Policy Center should be at all defensive about drawing attention to the fact that any time a life ends because someone pulled the trigger of a gun, that such an episode should be considered anything other than gun violence event. The fact that we do not possess an effective screening process for determining gun access based on someone’s propensity to hurt themselves doesn’t alter in any way the basic reason for owning a gun. And if you believe that guns were designed to do anything other than cause injury, you might want to camp outside Area 51 and wait for the Martians to land.

 

Want To End Gun Violence? Stop It Before It Occurs.

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I’m an East Coast guy, but the one time I drove through Oregon I made a point of stopping off at the Pendleton factory store because I can’t remember the last time I walked into a sporting goods store anywhere in the United States and didn’t see a rack of Pendleton shirts. And I have always been fascinated by Oregon because the country expanded from ‘sea to shining sea’ when settlers hitched up their wagons and rolled across the Oregon Trail.

suicide             So it came as something of a shock to read an op-ed in The Oregonian about the state’s terrible problem with gun violence because you would think that a state with such a vibrant pioneer tradition would have a pretty good record when it comes to the use of guns.  But in fact the record is bad and getting worse.

Back in 2001, the state recorded a total of 358 gun deaths, for a per-100,000 rate of 10.16. In 2015, the raw number was 486, an increase of 35%, and the death rate had climbed to 11.36.  Between 2011 and 2015 there were 1,862 motor vehicle deaths in Oregon; during the same five-year period gun deaths have totaled 2,308.  That’s not bad, that’s real bad.  Most of the Oregon gun deaths involve suicide, which accounted for 1,894 of the 2,308 deaths between 2011 and 2015. But gun homicides jumped from 68 in 2011 to 105(!) in 2015, so what’s going on?

It used to be a fundamental Gun-nut Nation axiom that the availability of guns had nothing to do with suicide at all. I even received emails from gun nuts who would pompously lecture me on the ‘right’ of persons suffering from severe mental distress to choose the way they wanted to die. But those loony emails have disappeared since the NSSF announced a partnership with the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide which, we hope, will bring gun-suicide rates down.  But they haven’t come down in Oregon; au contraire, they keep going up.

Which brings us back to the op-ed in The Oregonian by Dr. Leigh Dolin, an internist in Portland, who happens to have been President of the Oregon Medical Association and now sits on the OMA Board.  Dr. Dolin has been a tireless advocate of sensible gun laws and his editorial is an effort to raise awareness about two bills before the Oregon Legislature, one of which, Senate Bill 868, would create a lawful process for law enforcement or family members to take guns away from individuals whose access to a gun would probably result in a suicide attempt or a gun assault.

The proposed ‘extreme risk’ law requires that the gun-owner in question be served notice to surrender all guns.  He can request a court hearing to determine whether, in fact, his guns should be taken away.  Before such an order can be issued, law enforcement or family members have to produce evidence that the gun-owner is, in fact, a danger to himself and others, and the order can be ended if the gun-owner presents evidence that he is no longer a threat to himself or anyone else. A similar law was enacted in Connecticut in 1999, and probably saved dozens of lives.

Leave it to the NRA to oppose the new bill because the individual who might be an ‘extreme risk’ will lose his 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ The Oregonian says that Dr. Dolin’s statement is an ‘opinion’ but the only people who believe there’s no link between gun access and gun violence are the same bunch who swear the government’s hiding something at Area 51.

There’s nothing in the 2nd Amendment that says we can’t protect ourselves against gun violence before the violence occurs. And despite what a few people still believe and will tell you every time they get a chance, you just can’t commit gun violence without a gun. If you don’t believe me, make your hand look like a gun, hold it against your head and go – click.

 

 

A New Partnership To Reduce Gun Suicides Which Might Help.

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How many people die annually from gun violence?  If you’re a gun-control advocate, you’ll usually say that it’s somewhere around 31,000.  On the other hand, if you’re pro-gun, you’ll say it’s 11,000, give or take a few. The difference is whether or not suicide is considered a type of gun violence, because every year more than 20,000 Americans end their own lives by using a gun.  And if you want to meet your Maker before He wants to meet you, there’s nothing as efficient as pulling out the ol’ firearm, aiming it at yourself and – bam! Gun suicide is effective 90% of the time, no other life-ending behavior is half as good.

gun-suicide            According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence is defined as someone who attempts to injure themselves or someone else.  So from a medical point of view, gun suicide is certainly a type of gun violence.  But the disagreement between pro-gun and anti-gun forces isn’t about medicine, it’s about politics, messaging and whether we need guns around or not.  Which is why until recently, the gun industry has preferred to keep discussions about gun suicide on the back burner, but that’s about to change.

Last year the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s lobbying and trade organization began talking to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in an effort to find some common ground.  And what has emerged from these talks is a four-state, pilot program that will put suicide prevention messaging in gun shops and shooting ranges, a program that will then be widened with the goal of reducing gun suicides 20% nationally by 2025.  The project was officially kicked off with a press conference at this week’s SHOT show, and is publicly displayed on the websites of the AFSP and NSSF.

Predictably, the fringe elements in Gun-nut World were reluctant to jump on board unless this initiative and other similar programs would steer clear of any explicit or implicit attempt to use this activity to regulate guns.  Alan Gottleib, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is really a cover for his very-profitable mail solicitation business, helped craft a bill before the Washington State legislature that establishes a ‘safe homes’ task force that will create messaging and training materials for ‘voluntary’ use by gun dealers. The Task Force membership includes Gottleib and a rep from the NRA. I don’t notice any representation from the groups in Washington State that pushed through an extension of background checks over the vigorous opposition of the NRA and the Gottleib gang.

This is the problem with the new suicide initiative announced by the NSSF and the AFSP, namely, that it’s a voluntary effort, which when it comes to educating about gun violence is where the gun industry always draws the line.  Gun-nut Nation’s phobia about government mandates is about as extreme as the phobia that some people have about immunizing their kids against disease.  And frankly, both phobias come from the same place; i.e., mistrust of government and a total misrepresentation of the facts. Fact: There is absolutely no connection between NICS-background checks and national registration of guns.  Fact: There is absolutely no connection between immunizations and autism, despite what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says.

If you walk into a gun shop today, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a ‘Don’t Lie For The Other Guy’ poster on the wall.  This is a long-standing partnership between the ATF and the NSSF to discourage straw sales at the counter-top, a project that is dear to the hearts of everyone in the GVP community as well.  In fact, displaying this message is mandatory, although ATF agents don’t check to see if the poster is hanging on the wall or not.

Of course we would like gun-suicide prevention programs to have some teeth. Of course we would like Gun-nut Nation to stop opposing sensible laws that would enable family members of at-risk individuals to remove their guns.  Of course, of course, of course.  But the NSSF-AFSP partnership is a good start.

Mike The Gun Guy’s Greatest Hits: Five Must-Read Articles On Gun Violence

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From time to time I think it’s important to alert Gun-sense Nation to publications that confirm one way or another what we all know, namely, that guns are responsible for the deaths and injuries of more than 100,000 Americans every year.  And while most of us consider gun violence to be both abhorrent and inexcusable, from time to time we encounter folks who don’t share that point of view.  And I’m not talking about card-carrying members of Gun-nut Nation who are today celebrating a jury’s decision to acquit the jerks who spent a week last year eating pizza up at the Malheur National Forest Range – I’m talking about a friend, a neighbor or a co-worker- someone who might profit from a serious discussion about gun violence prevention backed up with reference to research whose findings are incontestably true.
gvp2           So what follows is Mike the Gun Guy’s ‘greatest hits,’ i.e., what I think are recent studies on different aspects of gun violence that can and should be used to bolster the gun violence prevention point of view.  Because let’s not forget that Gun-nut Nation relies on a powerful network of pro-gun promoters who never miss an opportunity to broadcast the idea that guns in the home, on campus, in front of polling places and God knows everywhere else are the only things we can rely on to keep us protected and safe.  Think I’m indulging in a bit of hyperbole?  Take a listen to Wayne-o’s latest rant. Want to have information at your fingertips that can be used to deliver a more reasonable (and rational) point of view?  Here’s the list and you can download them all right here:

—–  Center for American Progress, America Under Fire.  This study matches gun violence data with the degree to which each state experiences gun violence and demonstrates that as gun regulations increase, gun violence goes down.  Gee, what a surprise. But what got this report on my ‘greatest hits’ list was a new approach to the definition of gun violence which aggregates ten different categories of gun violence so that different patterns can be seen in different states. DOWNLOAD

—– Azrael and Miller, “Reducing Suicide Without Affecting Underlying Mental Health.” An authoritative study on the links between suicide and access to lethal means which shows that restricting access to firearms can reduce suicide rates in countries which have free access to guns (read: the USA.) DOWNLOAD

——  Webster, et. al., “Firearms on College Campuses.” This recent study is actually more than what the title suggests, because the authors go after bigger game, namely, the whole question of gun-free zones.  And what they argue and prove is that gun-free zones do not attract shooters, nor are gun-carrying civilians a deterrent to gun-violence events.  DOWNLOAD

——  Hemenway and Solnick, “The epidemiology of self-defense gun use.”  The notion that guns protect us from crime is a centerpiece of Gun-nut Nation’s continuing effort to make Americans believe that it should be normal, natural and indispensable for everyone to walk around with a gun.  This article demolishes that argument – period. DOWNLOAD

——  Lester Adelson, “The gun and the sanctity of human life.” Why would I include an article published in 1980 in a list of recently-published works on gun violence?  Because this is the best, most prescient and profoundly scholarly article ever published on gun violence and if you don’t read it, sorry, but your understanding of gun violence is sadly incomplete. DOWNLOAD

One caveat about my list.  There are many other articles and contributions which I could mention so if you happen to be a gun-violence researcher please don’t feel offended if your article doesn’t appear here.  We all need to educate ourselves on a continuing basis, and I am always willing to alert my readers to any and all research which deserves to see the brightest light of day.  And while you are reading any or all of these articles, don’t forget something you must do on or before November 8th.

Do Guns Make College Campuses Safer? Not At All.

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The Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University has just issued an important report on guns and college campuses which is summarized in a Washington Post op-ed or you can download the entire report here. Basically, the report argues that, Gun-nut Nation’s claims to the contrary, allowing guns on college campuses does not enhance security or safety, but will result in more, not less gun violence in academic environments.

 

      The Texas Tower

The Texas Tower

The Hopkins report follows shortly after the University of Texas ended its ban on campus-carry, which makes it the eighth state to allow people with concealed-carry permits to bring their guns with them to school.  But there are also 24 states which grant colleges and universities a local option to allow guns within their campus domains, which leaves only 18 states whose college campuses are still gun-verein.  Some of the states where guns aren’t allowed in academic environments are heavily regulated states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois.  But there are also some surprises on the no-campus list, including gun-rich states like Missouri, Georgia and the Gun-shine State most of all.  Gun-nut Nation tries year in and year out to open college campuses to guns in Florida, but so far common sense prevails.

In trying to assess whether guns are a risk or benefit to college life, the authors note that they are forced to rely on data which measures this question for society as a whole. But this approach still yields sufficient evidence to make a judgement about one of the cardinal tenets of Gun-nut Nation’s infatuation with campus carry, namely, the notion that educational settings attract the real gun nuts – the mass shooters – because colleges and universities tend to be gun-free zones.

The evidence that gun-free zones attract mass shooters comes from one place and one place only, namely, the alt-right media postings of my good buddy John Lott.  I enjoy following his rants if only because you can always count on John to invent a definition that will justify what he is trying to argue regardless of whether the definition bears any relationship to reality at all.  His latest attempt to promote the idea that gun-free zones attract mass shooters is to define a gun-free zone as any place where residents don’t have easy access to owning guns.  So even though mass shootings have never been a feature of New York City life, as far as John is concerned, the Big Apple is a completely gun-free zone.  Get it?

The real problem with any analysis of mass shootings is that we are forced to infer the motives of mass shooters because most don’t survive the shooting incident itself.  These events are usually, but not always, homicides followed by a suicide, thus our understanding of the how and why of such events is a function of looking for similarities in the circumstances surrounding those shootings, such as where they took place, who were the victims, and so forth. The one mass shooter who has supplied an overwhelming amount of in-person, forensic evidence is Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, but if you want to download, read and try to figure out his motives from the 1,500-page Manifesto he posted online prior to the event, good luck and Godspeed. Even the court-appointed psychiatrists who examined him prior to trial couldn’t figure him out.

While nobody can say for sure why gun violence, particularly mass gun violence, occurs in certain places and not others, the Hopkins report aggregates and summarizes enough research to state (beyond any doubt) that gun assaults and gun suicides occur much more frequently wherever guns are present, regardless of whether concealed-carry is sanctioned or not.  If John Lott didn’t exist, Gun-nut Nation would invent him, because there is simply no research which shows that our society, and particularly our college campuses are safer because civilians are walking around with guns.  But since when did the pro-gun argument have anything to do with facts anyway?

 

 

Taking Guns Away From At-Risk Individuals Does Save Lives.

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When the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) announces that it is teaming with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to reduce gun suicides, you know that something new and different is happening in the gun business.  Because until this moment, the gun industry has never shown the slightest interest in doing anything about the fact that 20,000+ Americans kill themselves each year by using guns, in fact, the party line has always been that guns and suicide have nothing to do with each other at all.

gun-suicideMeanwhile, close on the heels of this announcement comes a study (Dan Friedman has written a good summary in The Trace) by one of our most prolific and respected gun-violence researchers, Jeffrey Swanson, whose team evaluated the results of a Connecticut law which allows individuals and/or law enforcement to petition the courts for temporary removal of guns from someone who is believed would otherwise be at risk to harm himself or someone else.  The law, passed in 1999, has been copied in Indiana and California, and has always been a hot-button issue with Gun-nut Nation, which usually views any attempt to regulate guns for any reason to be an infringement on their beloved 2nd-Amendment rights.

Be that as it may, the fact is that suicide has been increasing of late, and while there has not been any causal link between service in Iraq and Afghanistan and suicide, military veterans of all ages are at greater risk for attempting a life-ending event than for the population as a whole. And everyone from the NRA to Obama to Trump tries to present themselves as the best friend that military vets ever had.

Which brings us back to Swanson’s study, which is the first attempt to look at the results of the Connecticut law in terms of whether or not temporary, court-ordered firearm seizures really do make a difference in preventing life-ending events with the use of a gun.  The CT law was actually passed not so much in response to suicide risk, but as a result of a terrible mass shooting incident where a pissed-off State Lottery employee stabbed and shot four of his bosses after he was denied a salary increase, then killed himself. But of the 762 cases of firearm seizures examined in this study, one-third were initiated out of concerns that the individual might try to harm someone else, while two-thirds of the seizure warrants were issued because it was believed that the affected individual was going to hurt himself.

Swanson’s team not only carefully reviewed the circumstances surrounding the issuance of these firearm-seizure warrants, but also attempted to follow the life paths of individuals who lost their guns.  It turns out that while the number of people who both lost their guns and still committed suicide was much greater than the normal suicide rate, not one of those suicides occurred during the 12 months that these individuals had their guns removed, and the number who later used guns was far below the usual rate for successful suicides using a gun. In other words, laws allowing a court to decide whether someone might harm themselves with a gun can, in fact, save lives.

I do have one major issue which is not intended as a criticism because it goes beyond the parameters of the article itself.  There were 762 firearm seizures ordered in Connecticut between 1999 and 2014.  But how many gun-seizure petitions were denied?  And how many people knew someone who was behaving in a way that made them appear to be a threat and yet decided that it wasn’t their ‘place’ to say anything or didn’t want to ‘get involved?’  There were people in San Bernardino who knew the two shooters were stockpiling weapons; there were people in South Carolina who heard an armed Dylann Roof make racist threats. Have we become so inured to violence that we need law to tell us that someone who exhibits great anger is someone who shouldn’t have access to a gun?

 

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