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

Yesterday this website carried an op-ed by one of our Contributing Editors, Greg Gibson, whose son was murdered on the campus of the college he was attending, a terrible story that became a book written by Gibson, Gone Boy, which has become something of a small classic in the literature about violence caused by guns. Greg has gone on to do some important gun-advocacy work, he also has a rather unique perspective on the issues of gun violence and gun control, and his comments about the 2nd Amendment created quite a storm on several Facebook pages where I posted what he wrote.

2A              Basically, Greg was defending the 2nd Amendment based on the assumption that the Framers didn’t intend to give gun rights to the kind of people who shouldn’t have guns:  criminals, nut-cases, or what Gibson refers to as “teenagers with still-developing brains.” Most of the comments about his piece came from activists who, for various reasons, don’t believe that gun owners should get any kind of Constitutional protection at all. Here was a typical comment that I received: “militia means a standing army not right wing nut jobs carrying assault rifles and terrorizing communities.”

The 2008 Heller decision, which said that Americans could keep a handgun in their home for self-defense, was decided by looking at the historic and legal precedents of two words: ‘keep’ and ‘bear,’ as in ‘to keep and bear arms.’ And even though many of the examples advanced on both sides of the SCOTUS debate were only marginally connected to the 2nd Amendment. Scalia was able to cobble together enough instances of early statutes and events to make his case.

What is most interesting about the Heller decision, however, is not what the majority and minority opinions say about the historical and legal meaning of the relevant text, but what isn’t said. And what isn’t said is any discussion about the word ‘arms,’ because Scalia dispensed of this issue in less than 100 words out of his 20,000-word opinion, by noting that Constitutional protection of private gun ownership only covers weapons that are commonly found in the home, and not “unusual” weapons like the kinds of weapons designed for use in war.

There’s only one little problem with Scalia’s formulation however, an argument that was unstintingly accepted by the minority opinions as well. The reason we suffer 125,000 gun injuries each year is because we give ourselves free access to these self-same weapons of war. Americans aren’t killed or wounded in large numbers by the millions of shotguns lying around in basements here and there. The 12 people killed in Chicago last weekend didn’t die because the shooters used several of the millions of hunting rifles manufactured by Remington, Winchester, Ruger or Savage Arms.

We suffer gun violence because legally or illegally, lots of our fellow citizens are walking around with handguns made by Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig, Ruger, Colt, etc., all of which were designed and used as weapons of war. Gaston Glock designed his pistol for the Austrian army; his gun is now carried by armed forces worldwide, including the armed forces of the United States. Sig just landed the contract to supply their pistol to the U.S. Army, and celebrated this financial whirlwind by releasing 50,000 of the guns for civilian sale.

We are the only Western country which has decided that handguns, which are designed for only one purpose (to kill human beings) should be allowed to be purchased and owned with no greater degree of regulation than what we impose on someone who wants to buy and take a  shotgun into the woods.

The issue isn’t whether or not we should keep the 2nd Amendment. The real issue is whether the 2nd Amendment should protect the ownership of guns whose design and lethality has nothing to do with anything other than committing an act of violence in the extreme. You can be an Originalist all you want, but the Framers couldn’t have meant to enshrine murder as a Constitutional ‘right.’



So What If Ghost Guns Make It Impossible To Regulate Guns?

I’d like to congratulate my friends in the gun control movement for getting everyone so riled up over this completely phony issue of 3-D, plastic guns that even the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said he would ‘look into it,’ and the Washington Post published a major editorial saying that by letting Cody Wilson post his 3-D drawings on the internet, ‘carnage’ was a step away.

plastic gun1             Why doesn’t WaPo publish an editorial saying that they have ‘proof’ Martians have landed at Area 51?  It would have the same degree of honesty and credibility as saying that “Ghost guns are already a problem; they are used not just by lone shooters but as part of criminal enterprises.”

In fact, these guns haven’t been used by anybody because they don’t work. Not only don’t they work, but the first thing you have to do after downloading Wilson’s blueprint, is to glue a 6-ounce piece of steel into the receiver which makes the gun detectable by even the most primitive security scanners, a point somehow completely missed by some sheriff who wrote a separate op-ed for WaPo warning everyone about the danger posed by ghost guns.

When it comes to molding public opinion, nobody on either side ever concerns themselves with narratives based on facts. However, this so-called threat to national security has finally given the gun-control gang an issue around which they can mobilize public opinion and win a hot-air battle against the gun-nut bunch. Which brings up a question: To the degree that Cody Wilson’s own rhetorical flourishes about ending government gun regulations of all kinds might actually come true, what would be the effect if the current regulatory environment defined by the Gun Control Act of 1968 went away?

First of all, it would mean that several thousand ATF staffers would be out of work – no great loss. It would also mean that the public health gun researchers at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and elsewhere would have to find some other topic to justify their whining about not having enough research funds to explain why gun laws reduce gun violence – also no great loss. But would the ability of someone to buy a gun with no more legal concerns than what’s involved in buying a Hershey bar lead to total carnage and a national security threat?

Let me begin by breaking the news to my gun-control friends. If I could walk into a gun shop tomorrow  and buy a gun without having to fill out any paperwork at all, it would never occur to me to do anything illegal or inappropriate with that gun. I’m not a law-abiding citizen because I own guns; I’m law-abiding because I just am. And so are just about everyone else in America whether they own guns or not. The U.S. happens to be an extraordinarily law-abiding country and the one category where we do rank above everyone else is automobile theft, which happens to be a function of the fact that just about every one of us owns a car.

You would think the way my friends in the gun-control gang lament gun violence, that everyone who commits a violent act against someone else is someone who has gotten their ‘wrong hands’ on a gun.  In fact, of the more than 1 million arrests made each year for aggravated assault, less than 7 percent try to beat the sh*t out of someone else by using a gun. So how come the other million who really try to hurt another person don’t use a gun? It’s not like they can’t get their hands on a gun, right? Guns are all over the place.

Sooner or later the sturm und drang over ghost guns will die down because nothing stays in the middle of the 24/7 news cycle for more than a week. Which means the gun-control gang will have to find a different way to rile everyone up. Which means they’ll give me a new topic to write about. I can’t wait.

An Open Letter To Ted Nugent.

Hey Bro!  Why don’t you stop appealing to the lowest, common mental denominator and start talking seriously about guns?  Nobody doubts your fervent joy in hunting with a bow or a gun, nobody can argue with the fact that you honestly believe in 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ But the fact that our current President uses profanity and insults to explain his positions on various public policies isn’t a reason that you should do the same. You make a very powerful argument when you tell Andy Parker that the Constitution gives him the freedom to protest your promotion of guns. But other than selling a few more concert tickets, calling him a ‘piece of sh*t’ or a ‘dumb fu*k’ does nothing to explain or justify your beliefs

nugent1If you would take the trouble to actually sit down and think through the issue of the Constitution and guns, you would discover that the most powerful defense of the 2nd Amendment was made not by your buddy Alex Jones, but by a pointy-headed, liberal intellectual named Sandy Levinson, whose 1989 Yale Law Review article first raised the issue of the 2nd Amendment as a ‘civil right.’ Basically, what Levinson argues was that if liberals wanted to be taken seriously in their defense of 1st Amendment guarantees, particularly the protection afforded speech, then they also needed to defend the 2nd Amendment’s protection of guns. Levinson’s liberal defense of private gun ownership, not surprisingly, became part of the argument made by gun-rights advocates in the run-up to the Heller decision in 2008.

Which happens to be the same argument that you are making, Bro, about the 2nd Amendment, with one difference. And the difference happens to be your continued attempt to present yourself as some kind of right-wing, radical noisemaker who won’t accept the slightest degree of compromise when it comes to the issue of guns. And maybe this is your way to keep your name in front of your fans, maybe it’s a way to sell a few more albums, maybe it’s simply something you do because you have nothing better to do except when you’re on a stage strumming your guitar.

But here’s the point, Bro.  There’s a good chance that the Congress may shift from red to blue next year, and if that happens, I guarantee you that a new gun-control law will wind up on 45’s desk. And if you think for one second that your buddy Trump wouldn’t shove the NRA under a bus if, all of a sudden, he has to make some kind of deal with Democrats on the Hill, then you don’t know your ass from your elbow about Donald Trump. Want to know how much he really values the loyalty of his friends? Just ask Mikey ‘I’ll do anything to protect the President’ Cohen – he’ll be glad to fill you in.

As of today, Americans believe two to one that gun laws should be stricter than they are right now. The last time we had numbers like this was 1993, right before we got both Brady and the Assault Weapons Ban. For gun nuts like you and me Bro, those laws are just a pain in the rear end, because neither us nor just about any other legal gun owner needs the government to tell us how to behave properly with our guns.

Which is why someone like you needs to be given a seat at the big table when it gets down to talking about a new gun bill. Not that you have to compromise your views, but what you should do is stop pretending that gun ‘rights’ are the next best thing to Godliness and start talking without indulging in the profanity and vulgarity that some of your fans enjoy, but for the rest of us just mark you down as being a big, dumb jerk.

I want people promoting gun ownership whom I can respect, not because I agree with what they say, but because they say it in a proper and decent way. Maybe you can, but maybe you can’t.


Want To End Gun Violence? It’s The Guns That Count.

I just came across an article in the website of a local CBS affiliate station in Wisconsin – WKBT – concerning a new effort to deal with gun violence in Madison, WI. It’s a brief statement, but evidently Madison has been dealing with a growing crime and gun-violence problem over the last several years, with the Police Chief saying that it’s the worst he’s ever seen in his entire career.

may22Crime in Madison?  Are you serious?  This town of roughly 250,000 people is the location both of the State Capitol and the flagship campus of the University. It’s got great schools, lovely parks, plenty of local theater and arts groups and thanks to the university and the legislature has an unemployment level of somewhere around 4 percent or less. In 2008 Madison was ranked as the least armed and dangerous city in the entire United States.  So what’s going on?

Nobody seems to know, but there will now be a ‘coordinated approach to gun violence with a new program that includes representatives of agencies from the city and Dane County, including nonprofit groups.’ They will meet on a weekly basis at a local church ‘to share updates on incidents and discuss ways to address violence that go beyond police work.’

When it comes to dealing with crime, the term ‘coordinated approach’ happens to be a euphemism usually employed to disguise the fact that the police don’t have enough men and women in uniform to put an officer 24/7 on every corner where crime might otherwise occur. Because, like it or not, individuals who are prone to commit crime, particularly crimes of violence, seem to avoid hanging around with the cops. Think this is just a theory? Take a look at New York City where violent crime has dropped to the lowest levels in more than 60 years, okay?

Now one could argue that the most effective way to reduce violence, particularly gun violence, is to get rid of all the guns. But since owning a gun happens to be a Constitutional ‘right,’ the next best thing, according to my Gun-control Nation friends, is to pass laws which make it more difficult for these Constitutionally-protected items to fall into the ‘wrong hands.’ And according to the Giffords Law Center, Wisconsin sits somewhere in the middle of all 50 states when it comes to laws that regulate guns; the state gets a C- for the effectiveness of its gun-control policies and has a gun-death rate which puts it in the lower third of all states. That being the case, how come things are so much worse in Madison than in the rest of the state?

I’ll tell you why. Because the one piece of data which my dear friends in Gun-control Nation never seem to take into account is strength and activity level of the gun business in any particular state. And that’s because while the NICS checks can be analyzed on a monthly basis for each state, I have yet to see a single piece of research on the reasons or gun violence which takes this data into account.

In 2018, the FBI performed 26,058 background checks for gun transfers in Wisconsin, which works out to a per-100,000 monthly rate of 449.66. Now in California, the FBI conducted 67,661 2018 background checks, for a per-100K monthly rate of 171.  In other words, on a per capita basis, three times as many guns changes hands in Wisconsin as changed hands in the Golden State. And you don’t think this disparity wouldn’t in some way or another impact gun violence in Madison?  In 2014, of the 2,802 ‘crime’ guns whose origins could be traced by the ATF, nearly 85% were guns initially sold within Wisconsin – so much for the impact of gun ‘trafficking’ in this state.

There happens to be a very clear connection between gun violence rates and how many guns float around in a particular state. This isn’t because of weak laws – it’s because guns are legal commerce and the more guns bought and sold, the more guns end up being used the wrong way.

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.

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.

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.