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.

spencer

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.

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Do We Suffer From Gun Violence Or From Violence Itself?

If there is one argument which has carried gun violence prevention (GVP) efforts forward over the last twenty years, it is the idea that the USA is not necessarily more violent than other advanced countries, but that our violence results in a much higher mortality rate because of our access to guns.  The connection between guns and mortality rates was first noticed by Frank Zimring back in the 1970’s, it was validated by our friend David Hemenway in 2004, findings which Hemenway updated in an extensive article published last year.

 

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David Hemenway

Updating the data, Hemenway and the co-author Erin Grinshteyn concluded that, “Violent death is a serious problem in the United States.” Why? Because of our “enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries, with higher rates of homicide and firearm-related suicide.” And these conclusions continue to find their way into the literature, the public-policy strategies and the fundraising campaigns of every GVP organizations, all of whom shape their messaging based on gun-violence research by scholars in public health.

There’s only one little problem, however, and the problem arises from something known as the ‘substitution effect.’ What this means in plain English is that comparing outcomes from different types of violent behavior forces us to assume that if the way in which the violence was committed was the same, the outcomes would be similar as well.  For example, the latest research on guns and suicide states that access to guns increases the suicide rate. Therefore, if 1 out of 10 people who used guns to commit suicides had chosen instead to end their lives by cutting themselves or taking pills, there would have been 1,900 less suicide deaths. But what if suicidal individuals chose hanging or asphyxiation (where successful suicides run above 60%) instead of slashing themselves or swallowing medicines, the latter behaviors being much more a symptom of distress than a determined suicide attempt? Since we cannot answer such a question with any degree of certainty, how can we figure out the real effect on suicide rates if there were no access to guns? In fact, the number of non-firearm suicides in both gun-rich and gun-poor states is exactly the same.

The issue of substituting gun violence for overall violence becomes even more problematic when we consider homicides with or without the use of guns.  Grinshteyn and Hemenway find that the US gun-homicide rate is 3.6 compared to Germany, Hungary and Spain at 0.1, Australia, Austria, France and Netherlands at 0.2 (comparing to the lowest nation-states in the OECD.) But the disparity between the United States and these other countries for non-gun homicides is substantial as well.  The United States rate is 1.7, the average for the former group of OECD countries being 0.8, for the latter being 0.6.  In other words, even without using guns, Americans tend to murder each other at a rate which is two to three times higher than what occurs throughout the OECD.

Would the murder differential between the United States and other Western countries disappear if Americans couldn’t get their hands on guns? To the contrary, the differential would probably be greater precisely because of the ‘substitution effect;’ namely, Americans who tried killing other Americans would find a way to accomplish this act without using guns.

I am not trying to ignore the degree to which open access to guns, particularly handguns, creates issues of public safety and public health in the United States which do not exist in any other country within the OECD. Nor am I trying to dismiss or denigrate the efforts of the GVP community to focus public attention and promote sound public policies that would reduce every category of gun injuries, fatal or not. What concerns me are scholarly attempts to understand our elevated rates of gun violence while ignoring our elevated rate of violence with or without the use of guns. To end on a rather hackneyed note: are gun-violence researchers looking at the forest or the trees?

A Must-Read Poetry Volume About Guns.

I have just finished reading a new and arresting poetry collection, Bullets and Bells, which according to the writer of the book’s Introduction, Colum McCann, is an attempt to use poetry as a vehicle “to start talking to one another, not with a legion of sound bites and statistics but with human texture and longing to at least lessen, if not eradicate, the violence that afflicts us.” The volume will be coming to your favorite bookseller next week.

bullet book             I am certainly no expert when it comes to poetry, so I certainly accept the editors’ judgements that poets like Billy Collins, Patricia Smith, Natalie Diaz, Robert Hass and 50 others represent the best of the best. On the other hand, I applaud the work and advocacy of the activists, public figures and gun-violence survivors who contributed commentaries following each verse. I read the poems as someone who can enjoy such works in a rather simple and emotional way; the commentaries from Shannon Watts, Dan Gross, Donna Dees-Thomases, et. al., are about what I would expect.

I couldn’t agree more that we need to find a way to create some kind of universal language or a set of expressions that will allow everyone to talk about guns and gun violence without the discussion invariably degenerating into a ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’ squabble from which nobody ever emerges with anything beyond their own ideas more strongly reinforced. And to the extent that artistic expression – music, poetry, painting – is universal, maybe there’s some truth to the idea that through something like poetic expressions about guns we might reach a common ground.

But with all due respect to the editors of this volume, I found the poetry collection incomplete. Because if the editors truly believe that a “vast majority of the people in this country feel the exact same way about one thing: they abhor violence,” then how come there isn’t a single poem written by someone who likes guns? It may be difficult for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to believe what I am about to say, but the truth is that, generally speaking, gun owners do not feel any kind of responsibility for the 120,000 deaths and injuries which occur each year with guns. And more to the point, most of them also believe that their gun protects them from the violence committed by others.

Two weekends from now I am going to drive to a local gun show which is held in West Springfield, MA four times a year. The location for this show happens to be about one mile from the neighborhood across the Connecticut River in Springfield which has an incidence of gun violence equal to or above any other neighborhood on Planet Earth. If I were to walk up to someone at the show and ask whether he believed there was a connection between what was going on at this gun show and the people who would get shot in the South End of Springfield over the following several days, the guy would give me the deer-in-the-headlights look; he wouldn’t comprehend the question at all.

So in the interests of helping the editors of this fine, little volume, I have penned a brief series of couplets describing guns from a gun-owner’s perspective, and if the editors of Bullets and Bells decide to publish a second edition, perhaps they will include my verse as well:

Held my first gun when I was six years old, toy gun but I loved it just the same.
Wore it in my little leather holster, knew I was just playing a game.

Got my first real gun when I was twelve, gave a swamp rat in the Florida Glades fifty bucks.
A beautiful, Smith & Wesson K-38 revolver, great-uncle took it away – the memory really sucks.

Once I bought every Colt 1911 pistol model ever made stuck them in a closet, played with them once or twice.
Wanted to buy a bike after my divorce, the Colts more than met the Harley price.

Still have plenty of guns lying around, the wife sometimes looks in a closet and gives out a sigh.
She’ll never understand I’ll be a gun nut until the day I die.

Khalil Spencer – A Few Things I Would Say To An Open-minded Gun Owner.

Like Mike, I find myself straddling the gun violence prevention/gun enthusiast line. Actually, I don’t see this as a line in the sand at all. The battleground, sadly, seems to be between many gun violence prevention folks who want additional controls on guns and gun rights absolutists who see every attempt at the control of gun violence as a slippery slope to loss of gun rights. So here are a few comments I would make to anyone who would ask me how I think about this.

trafficFirst, the matter of firearms themselves. These are intrinsically hazardous objects whose purpose is to shoot holes in things. Firearms evolved as warfighting tools and as sporting arms second. Their main purpose, my Zen-like moments at the range notwithstanding, is to kill, whether it is human beings on opposing sides of a battlefield, an intruder threatening a family, or this winter’s meat. In a civil society that has evolved from a few million people in a rural environment to a largely urban landscape of over three hundred million people, the roles and influence of guns on society has obviously changed. Indeed, although the Second Amendment and historical cultural values have provided Americans a much broader range of gun rights and widespread ownership than in most developed countries, an interest balance between rights and responsibilities, including government oversight of the keeping and bearing of privately owned firearms, is reasonable. There is a wide divergence of opinion on where to draw the line on government oversight, i.e., the notion of what constitutes “infringement” but I’ll leave that elaboration to anyone who wants to read Heller v District of Columbia or Adam Winkler’s compelling read “Gunfight”. Briefly, gun control has always existed in America. Heller provides broad latitude, based on historical analysis as well as the Second Amendment, for it to continue.

Secondly, as arms are by their nature dangerous, if not unusual, government has a compelling interest in their oversight. Historically, we have regulated handguns, especially concealed public carry (see Gunfight), and dangerous and unusual weapons such as sawed off shotguns or fully automatic rifles. Because auto rifles were heavily regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act before everyone and their dog owned one, you rarely hear of full auto rifles being used in crimes. They are relatively rare and owned legally by a few people willing to deal with the BATF’s requirements as enthusiasts. Meanwhile, increasingly lethal arms such as so-called “assault rifles” were sold on an equal basis to more traditional semiauto and manually-operated rifles since the middle of the last century. The argument that these are no different than traditional sporting rifles as far as their risk to society rings hollow as high capacity, rapid firing rifles were introduced to the military because of their superior firepower.  The WW II soldiers carrying full auto weapons such as the BAR were far more likely to use them to control the battlefield than the soldier with even an M-1, or as James Fallows said in a June, 1981 Atlantic, “…The BAR man, by contrast, had the sense that he could dominate a certain area—“hose it down,” in the military slang—and destroy anyone who happens to be there.”

Why the civilian market should have unfettered access to weapons barely different from those designed to “hose down” a battlefield, without rigorous strings attached, is a good question worth public debate. As I have said on my own North Mesa Mutts blog, I think semiauto vs. selective-fire is a distinction without a difference in this discussion. Millions of these weapons are in private hands and most owned safely (including, presumably, my own Mini-14) but if these weapons continue to be used to mow down people in theatres, schools, and public events, some sort of regulation is inevitable on public safety grounds. Perhaps, since so many are out there, some sort of retrospective controls on ownership, midway between full auto rifles and low-capacity rifles, rather than a retroactive ban, could be seen as a compromise. In my world, we think carefully about low frequency, high consequence events. Frankly, mass shootings are becoming high frequency/high consequence events. How many more Sutherland and Las Vegas shootings do we need to endure before we re-think ARs and their handgun bretheren? Just as we wouldn’t really want Homer Simpson as the operator of a nuclear power plant, there are a few people I would prefer not having the power of mass carnage over the public.

For those GVP advocates who think the usual gun control proposals will drastically reduce gun deaths, I say keep dreaming. We heavily control auto use via competency licensing of drivers, registration of vehicles, laws regulating motor vehicle safety (such as air bags and structural crumple zones), and laws regulating traffic operation. We still kill about thirty to forty thousand Americans per year. That’s because with hundreds of millions of Americans driving about three hundred million cars, some small fraction will be mishandled or deliberately misused. I think the same would hold true for guns as long as there are so many out there. As Mike likes to say, if you own a gun, sooner or later it will go bang. If we want to seriously reduce gun deaths and injury, we need to seriously reduce guns. My own quick analysis of the Center for American Progress’s news release a couple years ago was that the most basic correlation was between suicides and gun ownership. Since that is the case, it doesn’t matter what guns we regulate since all it has to do is go bang once. Nonetheless, we need to have gun laws for the same reason we need traffic laws: to provide consensus guidance for safe operation and penalties for misuse.

My two most compelling gun violence prevention laws would be universal background checks (except to people who know each other well and can vouch for each other) and safe storage laws. Selling to a stranger without a background check is rolling the dice. Straw purchases, as recounted in a 15 Nov. Washington Post Story by Peter Hermann, Ann Marimow, and Clarence Williams (“One Illegal Gun: 12 Weeks. A Dozen Criminal Acts. The Rapid Cycle of Gun Violence”), can rapidly result in multiple cases of armed carnage.  Indeed, I think the most compelling hypothesis for the posited link between permissive right to carry and higher gun crime rate recently asserted by Prof. John Donohue et al is not necessarily that more hotheads are obtaining carry permits but that simply more guns are being bought and carried about or stored carelessly and therefore available to be stolen. Ensuring that someone else, whether it be a family member, house guest, or a stranger doesn’t get their hands on your banger is critical. As Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden recently recounted to me, theft is his best estimate of the principle source of guns used in crime in that city.

The bigger picture of violence in America obviously goes far beyond gun ownership and involves drug laws, poverty, income inequality, a disastrous loss of blue collar jobs, and social divisions. But as Philip Cook et al recently stated, most economically developed nations have crime problems. Ours are more lethal since there are far more guns involved. We gun owners certainly are not to blame for the larger social context of violence, except insofar as we may, as individuals, tolerate social injustice. But as firearms owners and enthusiasts we have a moral obligation to do our part to reduce gun violence. Simply saying it is someone else’s problem means that sooner or later, the bigger problems will land on our doorstep, whether in blood spilled or regulation.

Who Owns All The Guns? We Don’t Really Know.

One of the long-standing issues in the gun debate has been to calculate the number of guns actually floating around the United States.  This is an important number, if only because public health researchers have published very credible research which indicates that our elevated gun-violence numbers are directly related to a civilian gun arsenal which may now number more than 300 million guns.

traffic            We have a pretty good idea about the number of guns added to the civilian stash over the last 25 years thanks to the manufacturing reports published by the ATF.  And while this report is based on the number of guns made, not the number which the gun makers actually sell, it’s not necessarily an accurate number, but for purposes of this column it will do.  Since 1998 we also know more or less exactly how many new guns move into private hands thanks to the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI.

The real problem in coming up with a valid number for the total stock of guns is twofold: first, we have no idea how many guns that were manufactured between 1900 and 1990 were actually sold, and we also don’t know how many guns that were sold between 1900 and today are still floating around. Guns last a long time, that’s for sure. But they also break, they get lost, they get thrown away after Grandpa dies and Grandma moves into the nursing home; counting the civilian ‘gun stock’ is an inexact science at best.

Our friends at Harvard and Northeastern have recently come up with a pretty solid number based on the survey they conducted which at some point will be published by Russell Sage. Their current number is 265 million, which they derived by estimating overall totals from answers to their survey, then deducting a percentage for loss, wear and tear. Until some research group comes up with a new approach to figuring out the size of America’s gun arsenal, I’m content to stick with what the Harvard-Northeastern group would like to believe.

On the other hand, believe or not, if we are trying to understand the cause and effect relationship between the number of guns that are privately owned and the 115,000+ deaths and injuries caused by guns every year, I am yet to be persuaded that figuring out the number of guns in civilian hands is the right way to go. Because although 115,000 gun deaths and injuries is a shockingly-high number, it happens to represent a tiny fraction of the number of people who either own guns or put guns to the wrong use. And moreover, at least 80% of those deaths and injuries occur because someone shoots a handgun at themselves or someone else.

In addition to trying to figure out handgun ownership as opposed to ownership of all guns, there’s another problem which makes any attempt to develop public policies based on restricting or diminishing the number of privately-owned guns a risky business at best. At least two-thirds of the gun deaths and injuries that occur every year are criminal events, and even with our elevated gun-suicide rates, if gun crimes didn’t occur, our overall gun-violence rate would be no higher than the rest of the OECD.

How many of these 75,000 or more homicides and aggravated assaults are committed with ‘illegal’ guns? How many people possess a gun even though they cannot, under law, put their hands on a gun?  We have absolutely no idea. The NRA doesn’t miss an opportunity to consign all gun violence to ‘street thugs,’ but the truth is that we have no evidence-based research which necessarily proves the Boys from Fairfax to be wrong.

We have a pretty good idea about how many guns are legally owned – the information is found in all those FBI-NICS forms that everyone who buys a gun from a dealer has to fill out. But if we want to reduce gun violence, shouldn’t we try and learn something about the gun owners who don’t fill out those forms?

 

Thomas Gabor – How Did the Las Vegas Gunman Get His Hands on a Weapon of War?

On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a shooter opened fire on a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort with what appeared to be an assault weapon. This is a devastating tragedy, and one that has unfortunately become a trend in the U.S.: There has been an average of one mass shooting a day in 2017 (defined as four or more people shot, excluding the shooter). This incident has eclipsed all previous mass shootings in U.S. history, as there are already 58 people dead and hundreds wounded.

LVWhat kind of weapon is capable of inflicting so many casualties, from such a distance, in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes? While we don’t know where the gunman got his weapons and precise information on them has not been disclosed, based on reports of the rate of fire, they were likely either semiautomatic or fully automatic assault weapons. Semiautomatic assault weapons (whose trigger must be pulled to fire each round) have a rate of fire of over 100 rounds a minute. These weapons were banned from 1994 to 2004 under what is commonly referred to as the “assault weapon ban,” and are now readily available for sale in all but six states. There are reports that the shooter might have fired an automatic weapon (one just presses the trigger and the weapon keeps firing until it is released), which can fire up to a thousand rounds a minute. These weapons are tightly regulated. Regardless of the rate of fire, many of these weapons can pierce a soldier’s helmet from a distance of 500 yards.

More than half of the deadliest mass shootings since 1949 have occurred in the last decade, I’ve found in my own research. This is despite improved emergency response and better surgical outcomes. The only credible explanation for the increased lethality of these incidents is deadlier weapons and ammunition. Assault-style firearms have been the weapons of choice in many of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history: Orlando, Fla., Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif.

The incident in Las Vegas reveals the fallacy of the tired slogan, “Guns don’t kill, people do.” Yes, we need to address why so many Americans are attempting to kill a maximum of their fellows at random. At the same time, only a weapon designed for war could kill so many people from such a distance. High-capacity magazines capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition only make that danger worse.

These weapons and magazines should never be in civilian hands and should be banned. Obviously, this is a tall order given the influence of the gun lobby on the Trump administration and majority party in Congress. But it’s not impossible. Existing weapons can be bought back from owners at a fair market price and destroyed. Australia melted down up to a third of its gun inventory following its deadliest-ever mass shooting in 1996, and has all but eliminated public mass shootings.

The gun lobby claims to champion freedom. Yet every successive large-scale mass shooting leads to an increasing demand for security and a continuing erosion of Americans’ freedom to use public spaces without fear. Citizens need to sustain their outrage over this incident and demand restrictions on ownership of assault-style weapons.

 

This article originally appeared in Fortune Magazine.

 

 

 

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.