This Report Is A ‘Must Read’ For Understanding Violence Caused By Guns.

Last year the Hope and Heal Fund in California gave some dough to a media research group at Berkeley to look at how gun violence is discussed in the everyday media venues that most people view or read.  With all due respect to my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) public health research community, academic papers, particularly papers filled with data, statistics and charts, don’t get very far out into the average person’s daily life. The immense value of this report, on the other hand, is summed up by the report’s authors themselves who say, “the public’s understanding is significantly influenced by print, broadcast, and social media. Journalists set the agenda for the public debate about any issue by deciding which incidents they report (or don’t report) and how they choose to frame these.”

hope and healTo this end, the report looked at just about every news and opinion piece on gun violence in 41 English and Spanish newspapers published in California between October 15, 2016 and October 14 of the following year. They identified 3,815 articles about gun violence, randomly chose 128 which grouped into articles on guns an community violence (111), guns and domestic violence (64) and guns and suicide (53). You can download the entire report here.          What the Berkeley Media Studies Group found in a review of these articles and op-eds was that media coverage of this topic is most clearly driven by mass shooting events; when the Las Vegas shooting occurred on October 1, 2017 news stories that were running between 50 and 100 each day during the previous month spiked to over 300 stories on October 2nd and remained above 150 per day for the following week.

The second most common driver of media interest in gun violence is not, as you might suspect, the shooting event itself, but “because of an event in the criminal justice system, such as an arrest, a trial, or the discovery of a body by police.” This is a very significant finding because I always assumed that coverage of gun violence reflected the ‘when it bleeds it leads’ cliché which is always banded about. Not true, according to this report, with events in the criminal justice system representing the ‘trigger’ for community violence reports at least 80% of the time.

The researchers also divided an analysis of each article’ content into what they call ‘episodic’ on the one hand, ‘thematic’ on the other; the former representing a clear majority of all gun-violence reportage, the latter substantially less. What this means is that most of the gun-violence stories focus on the specifics of the event itself, whereas thematic (i.e., in-depth background discussions) are few and far between. The lack of context was, if anything, more noticeable in the Spanish-language press, whose stories focused almost entirely on describing specific events with little or no interest in explaining why something like gun violence occurs.

Because the media feels more comfortable talking about the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’ of gun violence, the whole issue of how gun violence affects the broader community beyond the individuals involved in a specific act is rarely discussed or even mentioned as a media concern. Ditto the degree to which the gun industry comes in for any coverage about how its products and marketing may contribute to the illegal and/or inappropriate use of guns.

I have just given you the tip of the iceberg – the report is substantive, important and really needs to be read. The fact that a majority of Americans believe that a gun in the home is more of a benefit than a risk needs to be acknowledged and understood by the people and organizations who would like to see an end to the violence caused by guns.

This paper is an significant and necessary contribution to helping the gun-control community figure out how to effectively frame their narratives about gun violence.  I hope it will be read by all.

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Tom Gabor – Focus on School Security Is Myopic.

While Floridians are understandably focused on the mass shooting in Parkland, American schools now experience one intentional shooting a week on school grounds.  Among G7 countries, the US has experienced 288 school shootings since 2009, whereas none of the other six nations has experienced more than two of these incidents.

santa feWhile enhancing school security is a legitimate short-term measure in keeping students safe, it falls seriously short of a comprehensive approach to the problem.  School attacks were exceedingly rare prior to 1992 and armed security, active shooter drills, and lockdown procedures, routine in public schools today, were unheard of prior to the 1990s. Thus, security vulnerabilities alone cannot account for the surge in school shootings, as schools now adopt far more security measures than in the past.

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has shown that 18-29 year-olds are becoming more disengaged from community life.  Their church attendance, involvement in public meetings and political activities have all declined sharply from the 1970s.  Young people spend more time alone than they did decades ago and more time using electronic devices than they do with family and peers.  Those experiencing some form of crisis are less likely to lean on the family, place of worship, or social organizations as their ties to these institutions are weaker.  Depression among the young has increased dramatically and there has been a 50 percent increase in suicide among 15-24 year-olds from 1999-2014.  This is the age group most at risk to commit school attacks.  There is a significant pool of alienated and depressed young people who may experience despair and act out violently following a precipitating event, such as expulsion from school, loss of a relationship, ostracism by peers, or bullying.

Coinciding with this trend toward increasing social isolation, has been increasing access to weapons designed for combat that can fire highly lethal, high velocity bullets rapidly and that, when equipped with high capacity magazines, can allow a shooter to discharge up to 100 rounds without reloading.  The Parkland (Fla.) shooter obtained his AR-15 legally when he was 18, despite numerous disturbing actions and calls to law enforcement.

The combination of a large pool of at-risk youth and easy access to highly lethal weapons is a recipe for the mass casualty shootings we have seen.  Yet legislators, driven by short-term considerations, are often indifferent to the social factors driving this trend and unwilling to risk the political consequences associated with confronting an intransigent gun lobby that resists even the most popular and modest attempts at gun regulation.  Following Parkland, Floridians are primarily offered enhanced school security on a low budget, along with the option of armed school personnel.

There are numerous “soft” targets for shooters, apart from schools, including theaters, shopping malls, clubs, airports, and stadiums.  Thus, hardening schools alone fails to address the risks to which other citizens are exposed and may place other targets at increased risk as perpetrators seek less fortified  targets.  Many schools around the country already have adopted some basic security measures.  In Florida, after the Parkland mass shooting, just $100 million has been allocated for school security, or about $25,000 per public school–enough to install about a dozen security doors in classrooms.

A serious effort to enhance school security involves access control protocols (screening all who enter a school), surveillance through monitored cameras and patrols, adequate perimeter security, intrusion detection systems, security doors and bullet-resistant windows, adequately trained and properly armed security personnel; emergency communications, and lockdown procedures.  Turning schools into prison-like facilities is prohibitively expensive, creates more fear and disruption for students and teachers, and fundamentally alters the learning environment.

In the unlikely event we went down this path, we would only mitigate risk of one type of soft target–schools.  Until we address the factors that drive school shooters and the easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the promise of a safer society will be unfulfilled.

Thomas Gabor is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This article was originally published in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel

 

A New Survey Which Tells Us What Gun Owners Want To Do About Gun Violence.

I just received a fundraising email from one of the many gun-control organizations that ask me for financial help , and they asked me to help them push forward with the efforts to pass ‘reasonable’ gun regulations which even most gun-owners support. How do they know that gun owners are in favor of comprehensive background checks or a bump-stock ban? Because this is what they hear from surveys conducted by gun-control advocates who want to meet the ‘other side’ on neutral ground.

awb            The only problem with this approach is that it is based on the assumption that both sides define ‘reasonable’ gun regulations the same way. But let me break the news to my friends in the gun-control movement, namely, that for every gun owner who supports background checks, I’ll show you another gun owner who believe that he’s doing his best to reduce gun violence by walking around with a gun. In other words, the same gun owner who favors a ‘reasonable’ gun regulation promoted by Brady, will also support a gun regulation favored by the NRA.  But you won’t find anyone at Brady or Everytown ever saying that the NRA is reasonable about anything at all.

In the hopes to make some sense out of these very conflicting views, I ran a national survey which received 1,557 responses from residents throughout the United States. The survey did not ask them to identify themselves as to whether they were gun owners; that’s a toxic question which will lead to all kinds of data-validation problems, believe me. Instead, I listed twelve gun laws and asked each respondent to answer whether they supported each law or not. Half of these laws are the stock-in-trade of the gun-control movement (comprehensive background checks, assault-weapons ban, etc.,) the other half are measures promoted by the gun-rights gang (national RTC, K-12 gun safety lessons, etc.) This is the first time that a national survey has been published which gives respondents an opportunity to express how they feel about gun regulations favored by both sides. You can download a detailed analysis of the survey here.

Some quick highlights:

  • The fault-line between gun control versus gun rights is gender. For virtually every question, women were less supportive of the gun-rights laws and more supported of laws reflecting a gun-control point of view.
  • Not surprisingly, overall support for pro-gun regulations was strongest in the Southeast and Midwest, weakest in the Northeast and West Coast.

I borrowed from the work conducted by various survey groups and assumed that since this was a nationally-representative survey, that 40% of the respondents either owned guns or lived in a gun household, which meant that 60% did not. The question about comprehensive background checks received an overall positive response of 78%, which meant that half the gun-owning respondents also supported CBC. But here’s the bigger news.

Only 2 of the 6 gun-control questions received more than 60% positive response, which might mean that 4 of 6 gun-control strategies didn’t receive any support from gun owners at all. On the other hand, 4 of the 6 pro-gun strategies received substantial support above 40%, and two of them – handgun ownership at 18 and public school gun safety instruction – received more than 60% positive responses, which means these measures were probably supported by many people who don’t own guns.

If my friends in the gun-control community are serious about seeking legal solutions to reduce gun violence, this survey provides a roadmap for understanding what kinds of gun issues could really be discussed on neutral grounds. After all, would it be so bad to make a deal in which comprehensive background checks are approved along with funding for gun-safety training in public schools? The Florida gun-control law imposed a waiting period but also authorized funding for armed school guards; the former now a state requirement, the latter only an option if a school system applies for the dough.

I hope some of my gun-control advocacy friends will look at what I found and share it around. Either we want to meet gun owners on a level playing field or we don’t.

 

Doctors Selling Products To Respond To Mass Shootings? That’s Nonsense.

Twice in my life I had the good luck and fortune to be able to ask a doctor about a serious medical issue affecting myself or a close family member, and in both instances, I received what turned out to be timely and accurate advice. So, I have always believed that physicians should be judged by a different standard, which is one of the reasons that I go out of my way to write about the necessary role doctors play in dealing with gun violence, which occasionally is not appreciated or understood.

trauma-stop-the-bleed             On the other hand, every once in a while I come across an example of physicians behaving in ways which fill me with dread. And what I mean by that is when they use their intelligence, training and public trust to promote some crazy idea or worse, huckster some product that has no earthly wellness value at all.

There is a group out there who call themselves BleedingControl.org., and their goal is to ‘train every American in bleeding control techniques.’ It started in Connecticut following Sandy Hook and is now connected in some way to the American College of Surgeons and claims to have trained 15,000 instructors and 125,000 individuals in bleeding-control techniques throughout the United States.

Would an organization like this even exist were it not for the anxiety and fear created by mass shootings at Parkland, Las Vegas and Sandy Hook?  After all, we have been fighting the ‘War on Terror’ since 2001, a day hasn’t gone by since the Twin Towers came down that we didn’t hear about some kind of terrorist attack or threat. No, this is clearly a response to mass shootings, and an attempt to market products based on fear.

What products does this group market?  Just go to their website and you can fund a handy-dandy Personal Bleeding Control Kit for $69 bucks, a Portable Bleeding Control Bag for $650 and a wall-mounted Bleeding Control station for $800 bucks.  I guess the wall-mounted kit can go next to the fire extinguisher, right? Of course every kit contains an instruction manual and frankly, I’m surprised that they don’t yet have a CD-ROM. But instead of a disc, you can always buy a t-shirt which contains basic blood-control instructions embedded into the cloth. How thoughtful.

I recall that at some point during a gym class in high school, the school nurse came in and gave us a demonstration of CPR. Now we didn’t do a live drill because that would have required each of us to put our mouths over someone else’s mouth which is something the boys wanted to do to the girls but not for the purpose of saving anyone’s life. I can tell you that if, God forbid, I came upon someone lying in the street today who needed immediate resuscitation, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to do. Because you don’t learn a medical technique by just reading an instructional manual or going to one class. You learn by doing it again and again. Right now, you can attend a free class in ‘bleeding control basics’ which lasts for two hours and meets once. Once.

When the bombs exploded at the 2013 Boston Marathon, more than 260 people were injured but only 3 victims died. This remarkable life-saving effort occurred because the explosions took place at the finish line which happened to have a medical tent, fully staffed by physicians who attended to runners coming to the end of the race and needing some degree of medical support. There are two reports, covering the medical response to the bombing, one online, the other can be downloaded here,  Neither of these reports claim that any degree of life-saving work was done by civilian volunteers.

I’m not saying that a well-trained individual couldn’t save the life of a mass-shooting victim. What I am saying is that physicians shouldn’t be appealing to our fears to sell some products that can only be used by people who are very well trained. After all, doesn’t the NRA promote gun ownership based on fear?

 

 

Why Does Everyone Hate John Lott?

I have just posted a detailed paper on SSRN with the above title and it is available for download right here.  This paper is an attempt not to exonerate Lott for any of his shortcomings, nor to play devil’s advocate for what he says or writes, and certainly not to push some backdoor kind of support for his work. I have previously written about him and by just mentioning his name without adding the usual gun violence prevention (GVP) sobriquet like the ‘discredited’ or ‘dangerous’ John Lott I have been accused not only of being his partner, but also of being a secret mole for the NRA.

People who make comment like that without bothering to read what I actually have said about Lott’s work are doing their best to make sure that no common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners will ever exist. What? Am I saying that the GVP isn’t interested in finding ways to communicate with ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ policies to regulate guns? No. What I’m saying is that the gun-control community never refers to themselves as being ‘responsible;’ it’s always the other side which needs to meet some kind of responsibility test. And funny, when pro-GVP scholars ask gun owners what kinds of ‘reasonable’ public policies they would support, the list always seems to start and end with policies which reflect what GVP advocates feel should be supported, and never policies advocated by the other side.

This may come as a great shock to my GVP friends, but while there is clearly strong support among gun owners for background checks and the like, I’m willing to bet that if you asked the average gun owner what he’s doing to reduce gun violence, there’s a good chance he’ll tell you that he keeps a loaded handgun by his side. It may be kept at home, it may be dangling from his belt, but since more than 60% of Americans believe that a gun makes you safer than not having a gun, then the gun owner who tells you that the best way to protect yourself from violence is by owning a gun isn’t just whistling in the dark. And since guns are apparently found in only 40% of all American homes, this means that a lot of non-gun owners buy the ‘gun makes you safer’ line as well.

Lott’s an easy target because anyone who makes an occasional appearance on Fox or is interviewed by an AM talk-show jock is, by definition, an enemy of the folks who care about reducing the carnage America suffers from guns. But Lott has never (read: never) said anything about the extraordinary cultural shift which has moved us from 60% supporting a total handgun ban in 1960 to the current number which is below 25%. By the time Lott wrote his first paper, only one in three Americans supported a handgun ban, so Lott was able to capitalize on this shift in public opinion, but he didn’t make it up.

What we are looking at is an extraordinary case of cognitive dissonance in which the people who decide they need a gun to protect them, particularly if they want to walk around toting the damn thing, happen to be the people least likely to ever be victims of violent crime. Several years ago I was at a gun show in Lancaster, PA, which is a nice farming town about 60 miles due west of the Liberty Bell. Pennsylvania had just changed their right to carry (RTC) law from ‘may issue’ to ‘shall issue,’ and the sheriff’s office in Lancaster was overwhelmed with folks wanting to apply for their license to carry a gun. I happened to overhear several guys talking who had just spent four hours waiting on line, and when one of them laughed and said, “Well, there’s never any crime out here anyway,” the other responded in a very serious tone, “Yea, but they could come out from  Philly. You never know.”

What my paper really talks about is what we need to understand about this cultural shift in attitudes towards guns and how we need to incorporate this shift into the public narrative promoted by the GVP. Because we can sit around all day and shoot verbal arrows at John Lott but so what? The bottom line is that too many Americans have decided that the only thing between them and mayhem is owning and carrying a gun. The fact that their decision results in more mayhem somehow escapes from being said.

And despite what you may think, you simply can’t blame that attitude on John Lott.

 

What The 2nd Amendment Means And Doesn’t Mean.

For all the talk about the ‘enshrinement’ of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ in the Heller decision, and the fact that America is truly exceptional because of free access to guns, our friends Eric Ruben and Joseph Blocher have just published a detailed article which shows that at both the Federal and state levels, precious little has changed since 2008. In fact, while there has been a plethora of litigation designed to test various local and state laws against what Ruben and Blocher refer to as the ‘sea-change’ of Heller, the success rate of these challenges has been less than 10%.

2A Most of the failures to use the 2nd Amendment’s gun ownership ‘right’ to cover all kinds of other gun ‘rights’ lies in the fact that Scalia’s decision made it absolutely clear that even though Americans now would be Constitutionally protected if they decided to keep a handgun in their home, this in no way constrains the government from regulating gun ownership, as long as the basic idea of personal ownership is not disturbed.

But even the fact that someone can own a gun doesn’t mean the government is unable to define the terms and conditions under which that gun will be owned.  Ruben and Blocher explore this issue in a deft and prescient way, the latter because their article clearly anticipates more 2nd Amendment litigation to come, this article thus becoming a convenient road map both for what has happened to Heller since 2008, as well as what may happen further down the road.

What I find interesting in all the post-Heller litigation and discussions is the extent to which the debate invariably turns on the meaning and application of the words ‘keep’ and ‘bear,’ while virtually no attention is paid at all to the word ‘arms.’ Somehow, a basic distinction made by Scalia in Heller between military arms on the one hand, and arms ‘in common use’ on the other, seems to have disappeared from view. And yet, understanding the role that these allegedly different types of weapons play in the gun violence which causes 125,000 deaths and injuries each year is, for me, the game that really counts.

Gun-nut Nation has spent God knows how much time, money and hot air defending the idea that all guns should be considered to be ‘in common use’ as long as they are not designed to fire in full-auto, which would make them military weapons obviously too lethal to be in civilian hands. They have even invented a new type of gun, the Modern Sporting Rifle, which may look like a weapon of war, but is allegedly no different from any other type of sporting gun that Grandpa carried into the woods. Now the fact that the M4 battle rifle can be set to fire in semi-auto mode; oh well, I guess when a trooper decides that the tactical situation requires that he shoot one round every time he pulls the trigger, obviously he’s now using a sporting gun. Yea, right.

Even though we are shocked and frightened by the mass shootings like Parkland and Las Vegas where the shooter used an AR-15, the reason we have gun violence is because of all those lovely handguns floating around. And believe it or not, most of those guns were first designed and manufactured for military use. Gaston Glock first got into gun manufacturing by making a pistol for the Austrian Army – the current Glock sold in every gun shop hasn’t changed one bit. Ditto the new Sig pistol that has just been adopted as the official U.S. military sidearm, the company celebrated this windfall by making and releasing 50,000 models for commercial sale.

We are the only country which makes no distinction between guns used by the military and guns kept in private homes, yet the difference is clearly acknowledged in the Heller decision, with the latter types considered worthy of Constitutional protection but the former not protected at all.

Want to end gun violence?  Take the 2nd Amendment and what Antonin Scalia said it really means.

 

Khalil Spencer: A Modest Proposal.

As we continue to accomplish very little with regards to solving the problem of gun violence, I have a modest proposal. Well, maybe not so modest. But what the hell.

NRA showFirst. Stop trying to ban categories of guns such as ARs that have long been in circulation, since that creates a battle royal and since most of these guns are owned with little real risk to society in proportion to the political battle that would ensure if we try to ban them.  The lion’s share of shootings, including multiple shootings, are done with handguns. ARs are a convenient political target for the left as a symbol of what they see as America’s Gun Problem.

But as a hedge, and as I suggested in 2015 we can, if necessary to keep Junior from mowing down his school or place of work, modify the 1934 National Firearms Act to regulate ARs and some handguns, i.e., arms more lethal than garden variety hunting rifles, shotguns, and some large unconcealable handguns, in some manner between machine guns and Dad’s Remington 1100. That doesn’t mean people can’t have exotic guns or, “modern sporting rifles”, or whatever you want to call stuff. It just means it will be a little harder to own more lethal guns, there will be a little more screening, and not every bozo who walks into a gun shop can come out armed to the teeth with his Man Card intact. How we decide what would fall into this category should be decided carefully so we don’t run afoul of Heller or intractable political issues. As a point of discussion, how about if owning “modern sporting rifles” and/or being able to carry concealed require a common, higher level of screening than traditional low capacity firearms and hefty handguns more at home in the woods. A “basic” firearms owners identification card (FOID) could be had by anyone who scores 100% on a Form 4473 and one could upgrade if the spirit moved one.

Secondly, stop trying to keep people from owning guns if they have not proven that they should be disqualified. Once we decide on categories of firearms, how about national reciprocity with ownership? Or at minimum, a state-issued FOID card with national reciprocity? Make it shall-issue after jumping through reasonable hoops.  Each gun owner would have an ID card, similar to a driver’s license, that would allow some or all categories of guns to be owned, openly or concealed, analogous to a license that allows individuals to drive just cars vs allowing the person to drive cars, motorcycles, eighteen wheelers, etc. Of course this means red and blue states have to compromise on M.Q.’s but in return, we could stop talking about gun running from so called weak law to strong law states and I could plink at tin cans with my old man’s hand cannons in NYS without fear of being chased down by Andrew Cuomo. State level sensitivities such as not carrying in government buildings could be preserved. What a concept.

Background checks? Easy.  Private sales/transfers between owners would be done by entering a computerized NICS-like system with a pair of FOID numbers, PINs, a gun serial number and description and presto, a private exchange is done between previously cleared people based on their level of screening. You want to be screened to own an M-60 for shits and grins or sell one to your buddy who is equally screened? Sure, why not? Right now there are hundreds of thousands of legally owned machine guns. They are never in the news because you have to be pretty squeaky clean to own one.  Just show you are responsible for the damn thing and God bless ya.  Just make sure you can afford the ammo.

Finally, stop moving the goalposts and messing with people who have never crossed paths with the law. The biggest, and often enough legitimate fear that gun owners have is that the rules are too fluid and often the changes are bewilderingly stupid. Want examples? Start with California. These situations make Molon Labe an understandable, if not a legally defensible response. Plus, these situations result in single issue politics at the polls, which doesn’t help the bigger issue of running the country.  The recent editorial by Santa Fe Mayor Webber, i.e., that he would attempt to circumvent the state constitution’s preemption clause, is yet another example of why gun owners are wary of trusting government. Sure did bug me that this showed up in the Santa Fe New Mexican three months after I moved here. No, I didn’t get a call from Mr. Mayor as a “responsible gun owner”, either.

I think we need to do more to keep guns under control, i.e, from being diverted from the legal to the illegal side of the house and to ensure the irresponsible dofus and clearly identified legal loose cannon is not sending rounds whizzing past my hair do. That means some controls on ownership (i.e., theft prevention and periodic cross-referencing with court records) and transfer (to ensure you don’t sell that semiauto to someone about to blow away his wife after she got a restraining order against her slap-happy hubby). But if the laws are designed to control transfer  and reward lawful ownership rather than prevent ownership by good people (i.e., California et al), maybe we can get past the impasse.

The 2A was written so that a citizen militia (of whoever passed for a citizen back then) could be called on to defend the state and/or nation and to try to prevent the unwarranted amassing of power by a government that no longer represents its people. UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler covered that pretty well in Gunfight and there have been numerous papers written about the evolution of arms and self defense in England and America. Heller’s contribution was explicitly including in the 2A the right to have a usable weapon for self defense in the home. The historical reasoning behind the 2A implies some standards need to be met among the people. For one, it would be wise if we don’t elect assholes who we might genuinely worry about as far as usurping excessive power (hence the ballot box and high school diploma with an A in rhetoric and civics are far more powerful tools than the sword) and two, that we know the limits of being armed and therefore, know muzzle from breech as well as the law of self defense. No American who has thought carefully about the often-used Jefferson quote about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants wants to live in an Anbar Province, no matter how pissed off he gets at Big Gubbmint. Any doubts? Read the history of the Civil War.

Fix the country with a saw and hammer, not with a match and gasoline.

 

Tom Gabor: It’s The Guns, Stupid

America is an enormous outlier, relative to other high-income countries, both in terms of its gun ownership levels and its rates of gun mortality.  We have about one gun for every man, woman, and child in the US —about 300 million in all.[1]  No other country has a civilian arsenal that approximates this number.  At the same time, we have 25 times the gun homicide rate when compared to the combined (aggregated) rate for 23 other advanced countries.[2]  We are global leaders in women and children murdered with guns, mass shootings, and school shootings.

shows The obvious interpretation for America’s “exceptional” status as a leader in gun homicide and mortality is its exceptionally high level of gun ownership and widespread access of citizens to guns.  However, gun rights advocates take issue with this interpretation and argue that America’s high rates of gun violence and mass shootings are due to its exceptionally high rates of overall violence, mental illness, and even violent videos.  In fact, the US is around average in its overall violence levels and does not stand out with regard to its rates of mental illness.[3]  Countries like Japan, South Korea, and the UK, each of which have a fraction of America’s gun violence death rates, spend more per capita on violent videos.

To illustrate how a segment of society will contort itself to avoid attributing gun violence to the vast civilian arsenal in this country, consider Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Diane Black’s claim that pornography is responsible for America’s “exceptional” level of mass shootings.  This statement is utterly absurd and displays the challenges of trying to have a reasonable, evidence-based discussion on gun policy with some conservatives.  What’s really pornographic is the continuing refusal of many political conservatives to yield an inch on policy in order to prevent the slaughter of children and other residents of this country.

Unintentional (accidental) shootings illustrate how gun violence and mortality are closely linked to the number of guns in an area, state, or country.  Unlike intentional shootings, one cannot plausibly attribute these shootings to a more violent culture, mental illness, or violent videos because they are by definition unintentional.  Nor can one make the argument, as if often made in relation to gun homicide and gun suicide, that in the absence of guns people will merely substitute another method to kill another or oneself.  This argument does not apply where there is no intention to harm others or oneself.

Therefore, the examination of unintentional shootings provides a good test as to the role of gun availability in firearm-related deaths.  If there are more accidental shootings where there are more guns, there are few conclusions one can draw other than the obvious one:  more guns equal more gun deaths.

When we compare Japan and the USA, the impact of the difference in the prevalence of firearms is striking. The US has about two and a half times Japan’s population. However, according

to the most recent data available, the USA has over 120 times Japan’s number of unintentional gun deaths.  Adjusting for population differences, the USA has about 45 times more unintentional gun deaths than does Japan (2.7 vs. .06 deaths per million people). This is an astounding difference. Is this due to the enormous disparity in gun ownership or are Americans just much more accident prone and careless with guns than the Japanese?

The USA has about 88 times the rate of gun owners per million people as Japan. Recent surveys show that in the USA about 22 % of the population are gun owners; whereas, in Japan, there are about 2.5 licensed gun owners for every 1000 people, well under 1 % of the population.  Are Americans more prone to gun accidents due to carelessness or other factors? I calculated the fraction of gun owners who die from a gun accident and found that in Japan there is approximately one fatality for every 42,000 gun owners. In the US, there is an unintentional gun fatality for every 81,000 gun owners, illustrating that the average American gun owner is less likely to die of an accidental shooting than his counterpart in Japan.  Thus, US owners are not more accident prone and the massive gap between the two countries in fatal gun accidents is very likely due simply to the much higher level of gun ownership in the USA. This is the case because the number of these fatalities is far higher—45 times higher adjusting for population differences—in the USA despite the fact that the average Japanese gun owner is about two times as likely to be the victim of a fatal gun accident.

Researchers in the US support the idea that accidental gun deaths are simply a numbers game.  Harvard researchers examined the link between gun availability and state unintentional gun death rates over a 19-year period. For every age group, states with more guns tend to have more accidental gun deaths than states with fewer guns. The death rate was seven times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns.[4]   Douglas Wiebe of UCLA, using national data, found that the relative risk of death by an unintentional gunshot injury was nearly four times greater for subjects living in homes with guns than those living in homes without guns.[5]

In his book Lethal Logic, attorney Dennis Henigan recounts the story from his childhood of a neighbor who was shot accidentally by her husband while he was cleaning his handgun at the kitchen table. It is an obvious truth that people are rarely killed during the cleaning of knives, baseball bats, or other potential weapons.   Henigan explains that, apart from their greater lethality, guns are more susceptible to accidentally injuring the user or others because they are more complex than these other weapons.  For example, accidents often occur because people, often children, are unaware that a gun is real or loaded. In other cases, a gun discharges after it has been dropped. In still other cases, hunting accidents are enabled by the long range of rifles and shotguns as people are mistaken for game.  Henigan notes that Americans are six times more likely to die from an accidental firearm discharge than from an accident involving a knife or other sharp object.  This is the case despite the fact that knives are present in far more homes, are greater in number, and are used more frequently than are guns.

 The most obvious explanation for high levels of gun violence is a high level of gun ownership.  From the gun lobby and gun rights advocates, we get many convoluted alternative explanations as they try to find every conceivable reason for America’s unacceptable levels of gun mortality other than the most obvious one:  we are a nation awash with guns.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D., is a criminologist, sociologist, and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers

[2] https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(15)01030-X/abstract

[3] http://fortune.com/2017/11/07/texas-church-shooting-donald-trump-mental-health/

[4] Miller M, Azrael D, Hemenway D. Firearm availability and unintentional

firearm deaths. Accid Anal Prev. 2001; 33(4): 477–484.

[5] Wiebe D. Firearms in US homes as a risk factor for unintentional gunshot

fatality. Accid Anal Prev. 2003; 35(5): 711–716.

The American Medical Association Needs To Be Clear: Guns Are A Risk To Health.

Our friends at The Trace emailed an article yesterday about the decision by the American Medical Association to debate and possibly adopt some gun-control measures when the organization gets together for tor their annual meeting in June. According to the AMA President, David O. Barbe, a family physician out of Missouri, the grand poo bah of all grand medical organization poo bahs will debate a nearly a dozen proposals to reduce gun violence and then put its “considerable lobbying clout behind legislation heading into November’s mid-term elections.”

md-counsel             The AMA is already on record backing such ‘commonsense’ strategies as comprehensive background checks, handgun licensing and waiting periods and ‘mandated penalties’ for gun crimes, whatever ‘mandated’ means. According to Doctor Barbie, this year’s grab-bag of proposals includes banning bump stocks, strengthening the background check system, banning assault rifles and high-cap magazines, and increasing the legal age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. All of these ideas and others stem from a basic notion, says Dr. Barbie, that “gun violence in America today is a public health crisis, one that requires a comprehensive and far-reaching solution.”

I am going to be rather blunt and somewhat descriptive by saying that I think Dr. Barbie and his AMA colleagues are once again reducing the issue of gun violence to just another talking-point which, if debated and adopted at the annual meeting, will accomplish absolutely nothing at all. In other words, it’s a load of crap. God knows we have enough decent, dedicated and devoted gun-control advocates and organizations promoting these same issues all the time. Why should the medical profession, which represents the most objective and science-based approach to how their responsibilities and practices are defined, just get on line behind everyone else who wants to do something about the 125,000 deaths and injuries suffered each year because of guns? What the AMA should be doing is insisting that the issue of gun violence be taken seriously within the practice of medicine itself.

Every medical school curriculum contains teaching modules about violence – how to define it, how to spot it, how to counsel about it and who needs to be contacted if the patient is at immediate risk. Guess what?  You can search all these treatment protocols and you won’t see the word ‘gun’ or the term ‘gun violence’ even once. And gun violence isn’t the same thing as picking up a baseball bat and whacking your younger bother over the head. It’s not the same thing as getting into a fight. It’s a random and highly lethal type of behavior that creates a level of injury which at best requires a significant outlay of medical resources and at worst leaves the victim dead.

What do we get from the medical profession these days when it comes to discussions about what to tell a patient who says that he or she has access to a gun?  We get this nonsensical and ill-advised bromide about safe storage because, after all, we need to ‘understand’ and ‘appreciate’ the culture of patients who believe they are safe if they own a gun.

The studies which show that guns are a risk to safety and health do not distinguish between stored and unstored guns. And as far as I’m concerned, a physician who does not advise patients to get rid of their guns, pari passu, is teetering on the brink of violating the Hippocratic Oath, which does not (read: not) make exceptions for patient ‘culture’ as regards the doctor’s responsibility to reduce harm. Doctors should join and lead the gun-violence discussion by talking about what they know, which is the issue of medical risk. And medical organizations like the AMA should be promoting one very clear message, namely, that guns are a risk to health. This means all guns, no matter how they are stored or how many background checks are required before owning a gun. I know this, and even though I’m also a doctor, I’m just a lowly Ph.D.

 

Do We Need To Invent A Whole New System To Control The Violence Caused By Guns?

I have just finished reading a lively and provocative Medium column by my friend Ladd Everitt, and I feel obliged to respond. Not that I have any real difference with him on the issue of gun violence; rather, I believe hi solution to the problem could be somewhat more nuanced, more realistic and most of all, possibly even coming true.  So I left Ladd a handclap but now I’m going to give him a slightly different point of view.

AR red             Before getting down to the solution, however, I do want to say that his comments about the shenanigans which led to a Brady law that did not include a mandated waiting period are right on. At the time that Brady was passed, I happened to be living in New Jersey, where every purchase of a handgun required a separate application to the county sheriff whose approval process could take maybe a couple of days, maybe a week, maybe longer, who knew?  But I never felt that this was some kind of burden being imposed on me; if anything, it gave me an excuse to go back to the store where I was going to buy the gun (my favorite being a wonderful outdoor sports emporium, Ray’s Outdoors, on Route 22 in Plainfield, the location now being a strip mall or some other nondescript place.)

What made the idea of a national waiting period chancy from the very start was not so much the opposition of the NRA, whose job it is to object to every gun-control bill, but to the requirement that the waiting period would be imposed so that local law enforcement could run a background check. Talk about an unfunded mandate – there was simply nothing in the bill which spoke to how local or state law enforcement agencies would bear the costs of this effort, which was one of the factors which doomed the waiting-period provision from the start.

Ladd’s argument for a national licensing system along the lines of other Western nation-states is made by just about every GVP advocate all the time. But why reinvent the wheel? We already have such a system, which happens to be the licensing procedures established in 1934 with the National Firearms Act, usually referred to as the NFA.  This law, the first attempt by the feds to get into gun regulations big time, enumerated certain types of weapons, in particular, full-auto guns, for which private ownership required a serious background-check process by the feds. You may recall that last year Donald Trump’s idiot son tried to get silencers removed from the NFA list but the idea was buried thanks to what happened in Las Vegas on October 1st.

The fact is that the gun-control systems found in most Western nation-states happen to have been developed before or shortly after World War II and were modeled on our NFA. Why do these countries experience much lower rates of gun violence? Because they put handguns on the list of weapons which require both detailed background checks and an explanation for why the gun is needed at all. The original draft of the NFA also had handguns on the proscribed list, but this provision disappeared before the bill became law.

The problem with Ladd’s idea about national registration is that we would end up with a process which would be cumbersome, costly and complicated because of the millions of guns purchased each year, many of those weapons don’t contribute to the occurrence of gun violence at all. A concealable handgun like a Glock 43 or a Ruger LC9 is the weapon of choice for shooting someone down, ditto an AR-15. But does anyone really believe that a bolt-action hunting rifle like a Remington 700 or a Ruger 77 is a threat to public safety or public health?

We don’t need a whole new gun registration system in order to bring our horrific rate of gun violence down.  We just need to regulate the sale and ownership of the most lethal weapons by listing them with the NFA.