Tom Gabor: Does Gun Availability Matter In Suicide?

Data from the CDC show that suicide rates in the US have increased by almost 30% since 1999.[1]  Nearly half of the suicides in the country are committed with guns and two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides.  This last figure is often used by opponents of gun regulation to argue that America’s gun violence problem issue in the US has been overblown.  However, the World Health Organization defines suicide as a form of self-directed violence.[2]  In addition, isn’t it desirable to reduce firearm deaths and injuries, whether the harm prevented is directed toward another or self-directed and whether it is intentional or unintentional?   This said, preventive measures will obviously vary, depending on whether the harm being considered is a firearm-related homicide, suicide or accident.

suicide1Many people believe that suicide is the result of a long-standing mental illness and that the individual who takes his or her life has contemplated doing so for a long time.   When asked to estimate how many of the more than 1000 people who had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge would have committed suicide some other way if an effective barrier had been installed on the bridge, over seven out of ten survey respondents answered that the suicide of all or most of the jumpers was inevitable and that limiting access to one suicide method was completely or most likely futile.[3]

According to this view, an individual, at some point, makes an irrevocable decision to end it all, selects a method, and takes the steps necessary to complete the act. If most suicides fit this profile of a rational act by a highly determined individual, it might be logical to argue that if guns were the chosen method, the lack of availability of a firearm would be irrelevant, as an alternative method would be selected with the same result.

In fact, an analysis of suicides over a 17-year period by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicides often occur without warning and that, in over half the cases, there was no known mental health issue. More often, these individuals were experiencing relationship problems, substance abuse, physical health problems, financial problems, or crises of some other form.[4]

Keith Hawton, a psychiatrist who heads Oxford University’s Center for Suicide Research, has written the following in relation to the issue of planning versus impulsivity of this ultimate act of self-harm:

For most people who become suicidal, the period of real risk is relatively brief, lasting in some individuals for even just a few minutes or a few hours. In others it may last days, but rarely longer.  The concept of periods of risk is very important in…that if access to a dangerous means of suicide is restricted at such times, then survival until the end of these periods is more likely.[5]

In 1978, Richard Seiden, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, published a study in which he tracked over 500 people who were prevented from attempting suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971.[6] An average of 26 years after the aborted attempt, 94 % of these individuals were either still alive or had died of natural causes. To Seiden, this finding supported the view that suicidal behavior is crisis oriented and acute in nature. He concluded that if suicidal people can get through this crisis, they would be unlikely to commit suicide later.

A Texas study in the 1980s showed that suicidal thinking can be transient. The study examined the cases of 30 people who were treated for gunshot wounds to the head, chest, or abdomen.[7]  Most, if not all, would have perished had a helicopter service and urban trauma center not been available. These were therefore very serious attempts. Interviews revealed that half of these patients had been drinking within 24 hours of the suicide attempt and 18 of the 30 had experienced a significant interpersonal conflict during that period. Most had no long-standing psychiatric disorders, only two had a history of suicides, and none of the 30 left a suicide note. Half the patients reported having suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours. Many expected to die from their attempt, but indicated that they were glad to have survived. A follow-up two years later indicated that none had attempted suicide up to that point. This study showed that suicidal motivation can be fleeting but very serious at the same time.

Kay R. Jamison, a specialist in mood disorders at Johns Hopkins University, believes that, at most, 10–15 % of suicide cases are characterized by an unwavering determination to die on the part of the victim.[8] For other suicidal people, the risk is transient.

Research shows that availability is an important factor in the selection of a method by suicidal individuals.  In the above-mentioned Texas study of survivors of serious self-inflicted gunshot wounds, the answer most often given by the subjects for selecting a firearm was its availability in their homes.  Another indication of the importance of method availability is the fact that men are more likely to be gun owners and to select guns in suicide attempts than are women.  Yet another indication of the role played by availability of method, is that states with high levels of gun ownership have considerably higher rates of gun suicide than states with lower ownership levels.

Studies consistently show that firearms are the most lethal means of suicide.  Across four major studies I reviewed for my book Confronting Gun Violence in America, the percentage of suicide attempts with a firearm that proved fatal ranged between 83 and 92 %.  Next in line in terms of lethality were suffocation or hanging, with a lethality level ranging between 61 and 83 %, and drowning, ranging between 66 % and 80 %.   The least fatal methods were poisonings/overdoses and cutting/piercing at around 1–2 %. Thus, a suicide attempt involving firearms appears to be about 40 times as likely to end in a fatality as one involving a cutting instrument.

Research shows that we cannot assume that when a lethal suicide method becomes less available, people will simply switch to another method with the same result. If we believed that method substitution is inevitable, reducing access to lethal methods such as guns in order to prevent suicide would appear to be futile. However, a growing number of studies show that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline and, often, suicide rates as a whole decline. In certain regions of Asia and the Pacific Islands, pesticides are among the most common suicide methods.   For example, in Sri Lanka, controlling the availability of highly lethal pesticides, such as paraquat, has brought about dramatic reductions in the overall suicide rate, indicating that large-scale substitution of other lethal methods did not occur.  The fatality rate of attempts using paraquat has been reported to be over 60 %, whereas it may be below 10 % for other pesticides that have replaced paraquat.

Another example of what can be achieved when an accessible and highly lethal means of suicide is eliminated occurred when the domestic gas supply was changed in the UK. Before 1958, domestic gas was toxic, containing over 12 % carbon monoxide. People would commit suicide simply by putting their heads in the oven. In 1958, nontoxic natural gas was introduced region by region, and, by 1974, virtually all the gas supply in the UK was nontoxic.  Prior to the changeover, suicide by gas inhalation was the leading means of suicide in the UK.  Hawton of Oxford notes that as the carbon monoxide content of gas supplies decreased, there was a steady reduction in carbon monoxide suicides in England and Wales. While there was a modest increase in the use of other suicide methods, the overall suicide rate decreased by a third.  Thousands of lives were saved simply by detoxifying the domestic gas supply.

No society has a “built in” level of suicide.  Most people who commit suicide were not “destined” to do so but responded to personal crises and engaged in limited planning.  Suicidal people usually display impulsivity and ambivalence.  For these reasons, the availability of the most lethal methods when people are most at risk can be a critical factor in the outcome of attempts.  There are enormous differences in lethality of methods, with firearms consistently found to be the most lethal.

Gun policies that can prevent suicides include:

  1. Limiting the overall availability of firearms. One way to achieve this is through voluntary gun buybacks.  Research shows that lowering the number of homes with guns will reduce gun suicide by a substantial margin and will also reduce overall suicide as many without access to guns will not substitute some other method to commit suicide.[9]
  2. Imposing waiting periods for obtaining a firearm may prevent an individual from buying a firearm when he or she is most at risk of committing suicide.
  3. Red flag laws that allow families and law enforcement to petition a court to force the surrender of a firearm by someone at risk of self-harm can make a difference. Guns can be returned to these owners when they are no longer viewed as at elevated risk to harm themselves.
  4. Laws requiring safe storage can keep teenagers experiencing a crisis from gaining access to a gun and committing an impulsive suicide.

Thomas Gabor is a Florida-based criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.

[1] Deborah Stone et al., Vital signs: Trends in states suicide rates—United States, 1999-2016 and circumstances contributing to suicide—27 states, 2015.  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report CDC (June 8, 2018).  Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6722a1.htm?s_cid=mm6722a1_w

[2] Linda Dahlberg, World Report on Violence and Health.  Geneva:  World Health Organization, 2002, Chapter 7.

[3] M. Miller, D. Azrael, and D. Hemenway, Belief in the inevitability of suicide: Results from a national survey.  Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 2006, 36: 1-11.

[4] CDC:  US suicide rates have climbed dramatically.  NPR (June 7, 2018).  Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/07/617897261/cdc-u-s-suicide-rates-have-climbed-dramatically

[5] Hawton K. Restriction of access to methods of suicide as a means of suicide prevention. In: Hawton K, editor. Prevention and treatment of suicidal behavior: from science to practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005, P. 284.

[6] Seiden R. Where are they now: a follow up study of suicide attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge. Suicide Life Threat Behavior, 1978; 8(4): 203–216.

[7] Peterson L, Peterson M, O’Shanick G, Swann A. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds: lethality of method versus intent. American Journal of  Psychiatry, 1985; 142(2): 228–231.

[8] Jamison K. Night falls fast: Understanding suicide. New York: Knopf, 1999. P. 47.

[9] D. Wiebe, Homicide and suicide risks associated with firearms in the home: A national case control study.  Annals of Emergency Medicine, 2003, 41: 771-82.

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Dorothy Paugh: Empowering Family Members to Remove Guns from Suicidal Loved Ones.

 

After losing my father Edwin, 51 to suicide by gun in 1965 and my son Peter, 25 the same way in 2012, I have studied to find proven ways to reduce the number of Americans who shoot themselves— currently over 21,000 each year, overwhelmingly white males.  Family members are often the first to see signs their loved one is in crisis.  My Maryland state delegate has agreed to introduce a bill in 2018 to allow concerned family members to seek protective orders for law enforcement to temporarily remove their loved one’s guns.  Right now protective orders can only be sought against those who pose a danger to others.

suicide1The temporary removal of firearms from the home has saved many lives as Connecticut’s 17-year history issuing risk warrants to remove guns from the suicidal has demonstrated.  Indiana has had a similar law since 2006.  California, Washington and Oregon have recently enacted similar laws. But when I asked the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)’s national advocacy office and the state chapter to support the introduction of an Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) or similar measure in Maryland, they declined to take a position.

In 2016, AFSP partnered with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to reach gun sellers, buyers and owners with suicide prevention messages.  Gun violence prevention organizations agree that for those who live with guns, we need to communicate the increased risks of suicide and the simple steps that can reduce those risks.  Guns are extremely lethal, and only one in ten will survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound.   A loaded gun triples the risk of suicide for all who can get their hands on it.

It’s not just small children that parents need to protect, it’s also their older children.  Firearm safety training doesn’t work when the act is intentional.  Most adults know a toddler with a gun is in danger, but fewer can comprehend that their teen might in a rash act end their own life.  Science has shown that keeping guns and ammunition locked away from minors can prevent impulsive youth suicides since most minors who shoot themselves do so with a parent’s gun.  Since 2007, youth suicide by gun has risen 60%.  Each year, nearly 500 American youth under 18 shoot themselves.   Minors should not have access to keys to either the gun lock safe or to the ammunition locked up in a separate container.

I understand what AFSP is trying to do based on the science behind effective communications.  In order for their suicide prevention messages to get through to gun owners, they must be conveyed to that audience by a trusted messenger.  NSSF gets them “in the door.”  But what I don’t see is how supporting a law to temporarily remove guns from a suicidal person would jeopardize their new partnership. There is no question that laws that allow the temporary removal of guns from suicidal adults have prevented many suicides. It’s solid ground, not a slippery slope. Dead men have no rights.

Like AFSP and NSSF, gun safety organizations want gun owners and those that live with them to stay alive and get the help they need.  Surely we don’t have to agree on everything to work together towards the goal of saving the lives of people in crisis.  We should meet, shake hands and walk “Out of the Darkness” as far as we can together towards the common goal of reducing gun suicides, which amount to nearly two thirds of all gun deaths in this country.

 

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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?

 

What’s The Difference Between Homicide & Suicide? Where You Point The Gun.

Our friends at The Trace have just published an article on guns and suicides which shows that states with high per-capita gun ownership also tend to have higher-than-average suicides committed with guns.  Roughly one out of two successful suicides involve a gun, and it is the only type of suicide plan that rarely, if ever, fails.  So having access to a gun when something as impulsive as suicide is involved, becomes a very dangerous state of affairs.

suicide           The idea of a link between gun ownership and suicide is not new.  In fact, two of the true gun-violence research pioneers, Art Kellerman and Frederick Rivara, published research on this point in 1992, for which the NRA did not give them an award at their annual meeting that year or any other year.  In fact, it was this research among other efforts that was cited by the NRA as ‘proof’ that CDC-funded gun research was nothing more than anti-gun advocacy masquerading as science and led to the defunding of said research.

I happen to think that perhaps we should start taking the NRA and its various mouthpieces at their word and suggest that perhaps the medical community should forego any further treatment of NRA members altogether.  I mean, what the hell.  Since they have decided that getting your head shot off isn’t a medical ‘problem,’ obviously no other injury that a person might suffer should qualify as a medical problem either, right?

Now obviously I’m being a bit sarcastic here to make a point, which is that gun violence is gun violence whether you point the gun at yourself or at anyone else.  The difference, and it’s the only difference, is that it’s a lot easier to shoot yourself than to shoot anyone else, particularly if the ‘anyone else’ happens to be moving around.  And the fact that the official line from Gun-nut Nation is that suicide and guns have nothing whatsoever to do with each other only tells you how far from reality that bunch has strayed.  So let’s get back to reality.

Here’s reality: In 2014, the national gun-suicide rate (per 100,000) was 6.34.  The rate for Whites was 8.3, for Blacks it was 2.75.  Where do all these White suicide victims live?  In small towns particularly in Western states.  This is what the Kerry Shaw says in The Trace, this is what everyone says. And while a state like Montana has a gun-suicide rate seven times higher than New York State, comparing suicide rates at the state level can sometimes obscure as much as it explains. For example, Essex County, which is the far Northern chunk of the Adirondacks, has a gun-suicide rate of more than 10, which isn’t up to Montana but it’s not far behind.  The difference is that New York’s statewide population is overwhelmingly urban and suicides, particularly older suicides, tend to take place in small, rural towns, no matter where they are located.

It should also be mentioned that as the suicide-prone population ages, the use of a gun becomes more frequent.  The rate of gun-suicide for White victims above the age of 60 is 13.36, which is 60% higher than the rate for all White suicide deaths.  On the other hand, the gun-suicide rate for Blacks who are 60 and up is the same as the overall gun-suicide rate for African-Americans. Why is it that Blacks seem so resistant to suicide, in particular gun-suicide, whereas suicide and gun-suicide rates for Whites are three times higher and keep going up?  We have absolutely no idea, and it’s an issue which never seems to get discussed within the GVP community.

It should be discussed because it certainly wouldn’t hurt to figure out why gun violence seems to be endemic to certain population groups whereas other groups appear to be resistant to the gun-violence scourge.  After all, it’s not as if there is anyone in this great land of ours who can’t easily and readily put their hands on a gun.