Want To Understand Gun Violence? Try Using Your Gmail Account.

Our friends at the Gun Violence Archive have been tracking gun violence since 2014, and their data is often cited by news agencies, researchers and advocacy groups. The problem with what they publish, however, and it’s not their fault by any means, is that as an open source aggregator, GVA‘s data is more a reflection of how and why the media covers gun violence than as a comprehensive picture of what is going on. 

To begin with, and again this is a problem which the GVA admits to as well, suicides, even suicides committed with guns, rarely make news. Unintentional shootings are also events which never attract any public concern unless it’s when the four-year old grabs the gun and shoots the older sister in the head. Finally, intentional shootings where the victim survives are undercounted by as much as half, again a function of media coverage which open-source aggregators are unable to overcome.

I have created my own little GVA version by simply going into my Gmail account and setting alerts for the following terms: ‘shootings,’ ‘gun violence’ and ‘guns.’ Every day those three alerts generate thirty or more links to internet-based media stories, many of which also end up being sourced by the GVA.  Much in the same way as many people start their mornings off with a cup of coffee and a newspaper or other source for news, I begin my day with coffee and those Gmail alerts.

I would estimate that over the last five years (I started reading the Gmail alerts at some point in 2014) I have read or at least scanned 30,000 media sources related to the violence caused by guns. And if anyone reading this column decides to send me a snarky email about how ‘it’s not the guns that cause the violence, it’s the people using the guns,’ do me a favor and save your time and mine, okay? I made an executive decision last week to stop replying to any email that scores higher than five on what Al Franken calls the dumbness scale, and that message earns a ten.

The reason I read these alerts is because I have always felt uncomfortable whenever my gun-research friends in public health describe what they are doing as creating an ‘epidemiology’ of gun violence. The CDC defines epidemiology as the “study of distribution and determinants of health-related states among specified populations and the application of that study to the control of health problems.” But gun violence is a very special problem because with the exception of gun-suicide and accidental shooting, every other gun injury is caused by someone other than the person who gets hurt. So the fact that our data on gun injuries gives us detailed information about the person who got shot, doesn’t tell us very much about the individual who pulled the trigger and committed the crime. And make no mistake about it, more than 75% of all gun injuries happen to be crimes.

Thanks to  FBI-UCR data, we know where and how these crimes occur, and we also know whether the shooter and the victim had some degree of contact before the event. So we know the what, the who and the where of gun violence, but we don’t know the why. More than one and one-half million violent assaults take place every year but guns are involved in less than one hundred thousand of these events. How come more than 90 percent of the people who want to really hurt someone else do it without using a gun? The answer to that question is what epidemiological research should provide.

My public health researcher friends might consider spending a little less time gathering data and a little more time actually reading descriptions of how people get shot. After all, when it comes to something as complicated as violence, the devil has to be found in the details, right?

Advertisements

When It Comes Gun Violence, Guns Aren’t Cars.

              Way back in February, a ‘summit meeting’ was held in Chicago, bringing together 44 medical associations whose representatives spent a weekend patting each other on the back for how engaged they have all become over the issue of gun violence. If I am sounding somewhat skeptical of this so-called ‘historic’ event, it’s because nearly a half-year has gone by and I am still waiting for any of these groups to actually do something tangible to reduce gun violence.

              If anything, many of these physician-led organizations actually spend time, money and effort to increase gun violence by donating millions of dollars to members of Congress who then go out and vote down each and every effort to pass the most benign and least-restrictive gun laws. In the last three election cycles alone, the American College of Emergency Physicians gave GOP Congressional candidates nearly two million bucks, and this bunch has the nerve to show up at Chicago to help lead the medical effort to respond to injuries caused by guns? Yea, yea, I know. These GOP officeholders may be voting the wrong way on guns, but they deserve financial support from the medical community because they vote the right way on so many other issues, like getting rid of Obama-care, gutting Medicaid, positive things like that.

              I shouldn’t be surprised at how the physicians who met in Chicago and then published a detailed pronouncement on gun violence could be so willing to ignore the egregious behavior of the professional associations to which they belong. Because if you take the trouble to read the high-sounding document which came out of the meeting, you quickly become aware of the fact that the selfsame blindness about political contributions which is endemic to the medical profession infects their views on how physicians should respond programmatically to the issue of gun violence as well. And the blindness appears right at the beginning of this Magna Carta which says that physicians should adopt a public health model “that has been so effective in improving outcomes in traffic-related injury.”

              Ever since I organized the first medical conference on gun violence which awarded CME credits, I have been listening to this nonsense about how we can reduce gun violence by using the public-health template which was developed to reduce injuries on our highways, byways and streets. And the reason that the public health approach to gun violence is nonsense is very simple, namely, that cars are designed to move people from here to there without causing an injury; guns are designed to cause injuries – that’s what guns do. When I hit the brake and my car doesn’t slow down, obviously there’s some kind of defect which needs to be fixed. When I pull out my Glock and shoot me or someone else in the head, my Glock is working exactly the way it was designed to work.

              I have read virtually every single pronouncement by every single medical organization, public health researcher, journalist, advocate and everyone else, and I have yet to see any of them, even one of them mention this obvious and basic fact. So let me state it as simply as I can, okay? Guns aren’t ‘safe.’ That’s not how they work. That’s not what they are designed to do. I have owned guns for more than 60 years. I have sold more than 11,000 guns in my gun shop. I know a little bit more about guns than any of these self-professed medical experts, most of whom have never even put their hands on a gun.

              The physicians who attended the Chicago ‘summit meeting’ will immediately respond by reminding me that there’s something out there called the 2nd Amendment which gives their patients the ‘right’ to own a gun. To which my answer is this: So what? Since when should physicians develop proper responses to medical threats based on whether or not patients have a Constitutional ‘right’ to purchase and own a product which creates that threat?

Want To End Gun Violence? Figure Out Why People Own Guns.

              In  1960, the Gallup organization ran a national survey in which they asked respondents whether they would support a ban on handguns. Not stricter licensing, not PTP, an absolute ban. By a margin of 60 percent, the respondents said ‘yes.’ Had we passed a gun-control law which had reflected this national survey, we would not be dealing with a public health issue known as gun violence today. And the reason that we are the only advanced country which suffers from this public health problem is that we are the only advanced country which gives law-abiding citizens the right to own handguns.

              In 1975, two years before the ‘revolution’ at the NRA meeting in Cincinnati, when a more aggressive leadership began to shift away from supporting sports shooting to pushing armed, self-defense, this same survey found that the percentage of respondents who favored a ban on private handgun ownership had dropped to 41 percent. In 2002, the number was down to 32 percent and in 2016 it hit its lowest point – 23 percent.

              Since I signed a non-disclosure agreement I am enjoined from identifying the gun company involved in this episode; let’s just say it was one of the biggest and certainly best-known gun companies in the United States – then and now.  In 1985, I was part of a team which began putting together an incentive program for gun dealers who carried this company’s products, a strategy that was a response to the ‘invasion’ of European handguns; i.e., Beretta, Glock and Sig.

              Before we designed the program, the company engaged a consulting firm to conduct a survey of potential customers, the first such survey the company had ever done. It turned out that roughly two-thirds of everyone who participated in the survey believed that law-abiding Americans should have the right to own a handgun.  This response cut across every demographic (gender, race, income,) category, every geographic area, every other way in which the respondent population was sliced and diced. And non-gun owners were just as willing to support the idea of law-abiding gun ownership as were the respondents who said they owned guns.

              Anyone who thinks that John Lott created a national ‘movement’ for armed, self-defense with the publication in 1998 of More Guns, Less Crime, needs to spend a little time thinking about the Gallup surveys mentioned above as the results of a national, marketing survey conducted in 1985.  The purpose of this column is not to validate John Lot’s work; in fact, I have published a very clear critique of his argument which can be downloaded here.

              The issue isn’t whether John Lott is a stalking horse for the gun industry’s desire to sell more guns. The issue is whether my friends in the gun-control community really understand or even want to discuss how to deal with the fact that, like it or not, America is truly a gun culture. Our belief in using a gun to commit ‘virtuous violence’ wasn’t invented by the NRA or by John Lott, and sad to say, the idea that guns are more of a benefit than a risk isn’t just a fantasy confined to the lunatic fringe.

              I keep seeing survey after survey which shows that most people now own guns is for self-defense. Are they afraid of being victims of a violent crime when the crime rate has dropped by more than half over the last twenty years? Are they afraid they might be sitting in a hi-rise office building when a 727 controlled by a terrorist slams into the 50th floor? Are they afraid they won’t be able to own a gun?

              I have yet to see a single, gun-control group try to create a narrative that acknowledges these fears. After all, it’s much easier to demonize John Lott and the NRA than to sit down and figure out feelings that are not necessarily based on reality, but are nevertheless strongly resistant to change. This task remains to be done.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Guns.

              Back in February, representatives of more than 40 medical groups got together in Chicago, spent a weekend gabbing and chowing down, and then put together a list of strategies to deal with gun violence: research, safe-storage, universal background checks, more licensing, blah, blah, blah and blah. Then in April,  group of well-meaning gun-control activists got together in Denver, spent a weekend chowing down and gabbing and then basically produced the same list. This week, the Democrats held their first debate for some of the 2020 hopefuls, and taken together, they also said more or less the same thing about gun violence.

              I may be missing something, or maybe I’m just an old, dumb gun nut, but I really don’t understand how one discussion about ending gun violence follows on another without any of them mentioning what really needs to be done. And what really needs to be done, which happens to be what has worked whenever we have regulated any consumer product to reduce injuries suffered from when it is used, is to regulate the industry which makes and sells the product. But somehow, when it comes to dealing with injuries caused by a particular consumer product called a gun, the gun industry always seems to escape any regulation at all.

              You say – wait a minute! We can’t regulate the gun industry; they’re protected by the infamous PLCAA law which keeps gun makers from being sued.  Wrong. The PLCAA law protects gun makers from being sued based on the behavior of people who use their products, which isn’t the same thing as how the products are made and sold. Want to get rid of gun violence? Do what Bill Clinton tried to do back in 1999, come up with a plan that gets rid of the guns.

              I am referring to the plan that was put together by then-HEW Secretary Andy Cuomo which imposed regulations on the industry to monitor and regulate itself at the initial point of sale. Had a few votes not disappeared in Palm Beach County, had Al Gore gone to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue instead of George Bush, this plan would probably have been imposed on every gun maker (it was briefly adopted by Smith & Wesson, resulting in the company’s temporary collapse) and the gun industry would have quickly followed the dodo bird into extinction, just like that.

              This plan required every gun maker to impose and monitor specific sales practices on every retailer who sold just one gun bearing that company’s name. Such dealers would be required to conduct fitness interviews with prospective customers before selling them a gun; install better security equipment, hire more qualified sales personnel, attend classes on gun laws, on and on and on. The gun companies would have to visit every, single dealer selling their products, fill out compliance reports which would then be submitted to some government agency to be reviewed and approved.

              There is not a single gun company which could ever come up with the resources to monitor the more than 5,000 licensed dealers who sell their guns. What the industry would be forced to do is consolidate supply to a few big-box store chains like Cabela’s and Bass Pro, with the result that most of the friendly, local gun shops which sell 90 percent of all guns would disappear.

              The gun industry fought and prevailed against this plan because they knew that if it had been implemented industry-wide, the gun business would come to an end. No gun business, no guns. No guns, no gun violence.  The problem with the plans to reduce gun violence produced by all the gun-control groups, medical associations and Presidential wannabees, is they don’t understand the gun business at all. What they do understand are the emotions and feelings of the people who want an end to gun violence but that’s not the same thing.

              I keep saying it again and again but repetition is the key to good learning so I’ll say it again: Want to get rid of gun violence? Get rid of the guns.  

Are Democrats Afraid Of Gun Control? Not Any More.

              Last night’s Democratic Presidential debate had to register joyous excitement within the ranks of Gun-control Nation because the candidates spent 15 minutes trotting out their various ideas about how to reduce violence caused by guns. Remember when gun control was verboten as a campaign issue on the Democratic side?  Ain’t true no more, that’s for sure.

              Booker rolled out his plan for national gun licensing, Warren admitted to voting for an assault-rifle ban, Castro said he had no problem with some gun buybacks, on and on. Where they all come down on the same side, however, is restoring CDC gun-research funding, an item that has been stripped from the CDC budget every year since 1997, but which this year has been stuck back into the House version of the budget to the tune of $50 mil.

              Before I say what I am about to say, let me make it perfectly clear that I have no problem with research being done on any health issue, particularly an issue which results in more than 125,000 fatal and non-fatal injuries every year. But let me also make it clear that while my Ph.D. research was on economic history, not gun violence, I know a little bit about the requirements for conducting academic research, and certain requirements remain true whether the research covers gun violence or the 16th-century origins of capitalism, which happened to be my field.

              Those requirements include the following: (1). The data used for the research must be valid and must be directly relevant to the topic at hand; (2). The problem being solved must be defined by its importance to the specific field of inquiry, not by whether data exists which can be properly used.  Unfortunately, much of the research which comes out of the public health research community on gun violence doesn’t meet either of those requirements, and this is not because there hasn’t been enough research money to go around.

              Public health gun researchers love to talk about their work as a contribution to the ‘epidemiology’ of gun violence, you can find this nomenclature in the work of leading gun-violence scholars here. Now I always thought that the term ‘epidemiology’ means that one identifies a threat to health, figures out how it spreads from host to host, and then figures out how to immunize or protect the not-yet-infected population from contracting the disease. But in the case of gun violence, the disease doesn’t spread from victim to victim, the disease is caused because someone picks up a gun and shoots themselves or someone else. And we can’t study this population because either they are not about to admit what they have done, or in the case of suicide, they happen to be dead. That’s a big problem with guns. The rate of fatal injury is much higher than what happens if you fall off your bike.

              Virtually all the gun-violence research published since the CDC ban took effect is based either on CDC injury data which covers the victims of gun violence who do not play a primary role in the spread of this disease, or is based on telephone surveys which, by definition, exclude participation by the shooters themselves.  Does it really matter that most gun owners support background checks for secondary gun transfers when these same gun owners have little, if any direct responsibility for the violence caused by guns?   Our friend Philip Cook interviewed an incarcerated population about how and why they carried guns, but he wasn’t about to ask them to explain the circumstances in which they actually used a gun.

              I hope CDC gun research starts up again so that my friends in the gun research community receive the financial resources they deserve. If they do, then they need to figure out how and why less than five percent of the people who commit violent assaults each year use a gun. And that’s not going to change no matter how many laws we pass to regulate the behavior of law-abiding folks who own guns.

Do We Really Need FBI-NICS Background Checks?

              If there is one new gun law which everyone seems to agree we should enact, it’s the law which would require a background check every time that anyone transfers a gun. Right now, according to our friends at Giffords, roughly half the American population resides in states where some kind of background check beyond the initial over-the-counter check takes place. But even in the states where some kind of additional background check occurs after the gun has been sold for the first time, there’s no consistency and the process varies from state to state.

As for states which require no kind of background check when a gun owner sells or transfers his gun to someone else, most of those states happen to be the same states where a majority of the residents own guns.  And don’t think for one minute that it’s only a coincidence that states with lots of gun owners usually have fewer gun laws.

I have no problem with universal background checks for guns if I thought for one second that this procedure might result in less violence caused by guns. After all, right now we Americans own somewhere between 260 and 350 million guns and gun researchers have been telling us forever and ever Amen that we suffer from an extraordinarily-high rate of gun violence, precisely because we have too many guns floating around and they can easily move from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ hands. So if we instituted universal background checks, so the argument goes, we wouldn’t have less guns but at least they wouldn’t so easily end up in the wrong hands.

This sounds like a very logical and reasonable proposition, which is why Gun-control Nation has gotten behind universal background checks (UBC) because the process is, after all, reasonable, which happens to be a favorite gun-control word. And UBC wouldn’t be a threat to 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ because everyone, even the nuttiest of the gun nuts agrees that only law-abiding citizens should be able to own guns.

Mike the Gun Guy doesn’t agree. Mike the Gun Guy™ actually believes that deciding whether or not to institute UBC shouldn’t be considered in terms of reasonableness or 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ at all. In fact, Mike the Gun Guy™ (that’s right, it’s trademarked) would feel much more sanguine about the whole background check issue if his friends in Gun-control Nation would stop proclaiming the virtues of UBC and try to understand what the term ‘universal’ as in Universal Background Checks really means.

What it means is that a lot of time, energy, paperwork and money is going to be spent making sure that a lot of guns which have absolutely nothing to do with gun violence end up being regulated simply because such items meet the legal definition of the word ‘gun.’ When our friends at The Trace published a list of more than 9,000 guns that were confiscated by more than 1,000 police agencies between 2010 and 2016, I ran the entire batch through a word search using the words Remington, Winchester, Savage, Marlin, Browning and H&R to see how many times these words came up. 

These six words happen to be the names of gun companies who together probably manufactured and sold 100 million hunting rifles and shotguns over the past hundred years; most of those guns, believe it or not, are still in private hands. Know how many times these words appeared in the list of more than 9,000 ‘crime’ guns?  Exactly six times and in every, single case, those guns were confiscated because the owner didn’t have a gun license – that was the big, serious crime.

If  we believe that background checks will reduce gun violence, why do most background checks involve guns that aren’t connected to gun violence?  Sorry, but the idea that I have to drive forty miles round trip to a gun shop to run a background check on my son before I give him my old, single-shot Sears Roebuck bird gun just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Do Gun Laws Make Us Safe?

              If I had to quickly name the two most beloved regulatory strategies being promoted by Gun-control Nation, it would be: 1) expanding FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales; and 2) ‘red flag’ laws. Well, maybe safe-storage laws are also up there near the top of the list, as well as permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws.  Taken together, the current narrative is that if you lived in a state where all these laws were on the books, you would be living in a state which would not suffer from gun violence.

              I happen to live in a state – Massachusetts – whose gun-regulatory environment contains all those laws. And the Bay State has another gun-safety law, shared only with California, namely, that no new gun can be sold in the state unless it is certified as having a child-proof safety design. Oh yes, I forgot. You can’t even purchase ammunition in Massachusetts unless you possess a valid gun license issued by the State Police.

              Thanks to all these laws, Massachusetts is currently ranked by Giffords and Brady as the ‘safest’ state.  It also has one of the lowest rates of gun violence of all 50 states, according to the  CDC. Because of its comprehensive gun laws, Massachusetts is so protected from gun violence that even a state resident like David Hemenway, a foremost authority on gun violence, admits to feeling very safe. 

              The safe storage law deserves special mention because Massachusetts is the only state in which you can be charged with a felony if any gun in your home is not either locked away or equipped with a ‘tamper-proof’ device, whether an injury with that gun occurs or not. If the cops come into your home and Grandpa’s old shotgun is sitting over the mantlepiece without a trigger lock, you could spend some time at Concord, and I don’t mean Concord as in Paul Revere’s ride. Concord is the state pen.

              The gun laws in Massachusetts are so strict that not only can’t you own a gun without first taking a safety course, you then have to be interviewed by the police who have discretion as to whether or not to grant you a gun license even if your background check comes up clean. You can’t even walk into a gun shop and put your hands on a gun without first showing your gun license to the dealer before he hands you a gun.

              There’s only one little problem with all these laws which make Massachusetts so safe. The problem is that, in terms of gun violence, Massachusetts was just as safe before all those laws were passed and went into effect. With the exception of the ‘red flag’ law, which Governor Baker signed this year, all the other gun regulations – secondary background checks, childproof design, PTP, ammunition purchase requirements, safe storage, have been on the books since 1999.

              Of course the fact that Massachusetts is such a ‘safe’ state doesn’t necessarily mean anything to someone who lives, for example, in the city of Springfield, which is where I happen to live. Last year, Springfield recorded 14 gun homicides, giving the city a gun-violence rate of 11, almost three times the national rate and five times the overall state rate. My office is located four blocks away from the intersection of Stebbins and Union Streets. This year, two men have been shot within 50 feet of the corner. Isn’t it wonderful that all the state’s gun laws make David Hemenway, who lives in a fancy suburb of Boston, feel so ‘safe?’

              I don’t know why Massachusetts, with all its gun laws, has so little gun violence and neither does anyone else. I also don’t know why some neighborhoods in this ‘safe’ state suffer from extraordinarily-high levels of gun violence, and neither does anyone else.

              But I do know this: every one of those shootings involved the use of a gun. And there’s no law in Massachusetts or anywhere else which does anything to get rid of guns.

How Can You Advocate For Gun Control Unless You Know The Facts? You Can’t.

              The first time I got involved in advocacy was 1958. I was a 14-year old big shot. I got on a bus with a bunch of other kids and some adults, Blacks and Whites, and we ‘sat in’ at a lunch counter in a diner on Route 1 in Towson, MD. That’s right – in those days you could take a ‘freedom ride’ to Maryland.

              Then civil rights morphed into the anti-war movement. And because I went to graduate school in Chicago, I was at the meeting in Lincoln Park with Abby, Jerry, Dave Dellinger, John Froines and Tom Hayden, along with a bunch of undercover cops posing as anti-war protestors, when we planned the demonstrations outside the Democratic Convention in 1968.

              In the 70’s, I was back in New York and stayed active by going to various meetings where speakers like Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem gave stirring speeches about why women had the right to choose, as well as the right to get paid as much as men for doing the same work.

              The advocacy for gender equality then took a slight turn in the 1980’s when folks, including me, began marching for the right to follow one’s own sexual orientation. My greatest Harley experience wasn’t going out to Sturges, it was driving my Low Ryder from Greenwich Village to Times Square alongside the New York City Lesbian Harley Club during the Halloween Night parade.

              All of these advocacy movements shared one thing in common: you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that dropping napalm on a peasant village, or depriving people of the right to vote, or telling a woman that someone other than her would decide whether she should give birth, or making a gay man or woman hide their most precious and personal feelings was – wrong! It was as simple as that. It was wrong. Period. No questions asked. Wrong. Okay? Wrong.

              But this is where the gun-control advocacy movement, of all the advocacy that I have experienced over the last sixty years is different. What makes it different is that the moral issue of ‘right’ versus ‘wrong’ is simply not so clear. What creates a muddle in this respect is the fact that gun violence occurs because people own guns. And most folks who have access to a gun aren’t breaking any laws. In fact, au contraire, they believe that not only do they have a legal ‘right’ to own a gun, but this right is both enshrined in the Constitution and acknowledged to be correct by the same liberal legal scholars who have supported civil, gender and gay rights.

              So how does someone advocate against guns (and please, spare me the nonsense about how you ‘support’ the 2nd Amendment) that can stand up against such a potent argument from the other side?  What you have to do, it seems to me, is take the trouble to learn about guns – how they are sold, why they are sold, what laws exist which regulate guns, which laws need to be improved, you get the drill. The point is that if you get into a discussion with a pro-gun person and you don’t know these facts, you end up in an emotional exchange which goes nowhere very fast.

              Every person concerned about gun violence should sign up for the online study exercise created by our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg school. In fact, Giffords, Everytown, Brady and all the other gun-control groups should insist that their members spend a few hours drilling through the curriculum, taking the self-help tests and sending feedback to the faculty who worked overtime to create this course. Oh, you don’t ‘have time’ to do this self-paced exercise and God forbid replace some of your own feelings with the facts? Give me a break.

              And while you’re at it, let’s not forget to watch this video and send the group in Florida a few bucks. If you have time to read my column, you can’t be that pressed for time or cash.

More Guns = More Gun Crime, Right? I’m Not Sure.

              On December 16, 1993 a United States Senator named Joe Biden gave a speech at the Rotary Club in Wilmington, Delaware.  At the time, ‘Sleepy Joe’ chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, which meant he was a key figure in the spate of gun-control bills (Brady, Assault Weapons Ban) that became law during Bill Clinton’s first term. In speaking about those bills, as well as the more expansive crime bill which nearly doubled the size of incarcerated population, Biden said, “the United States is the most dangerous country in the world. No country in the world has a higher per capita murder rate than the United States.”

              Sound familiar? Add to that the 350 million guns floating around, which gives the U.S. a per capita gun-ownership rate six times higher than any other OECD country, a causal argument that David Hemenway and his public health colleagues have been promoting for the past 20 years, and you now have the standard gun-control mantra trotted out every time Gun-control Nation says what it says about guns.

              There’s only one little problem. And the problem has to do with the fact that the argument which ties gun-violence rates to the number of civilian-owned guns does not correspond in any way to what we know about the number and availability of guns. From 1986 until today, the size of the civilian arsenal probably grew by 50 percent. We don’t know how many guns were in civilian hands in the early 1980’s, but if we take the 1994 estimate of 190 million, then subtract the 50 million guns manufactured between 1980 and 1994, we wind up in 1980 with roughly 140 million civilian-one guns.

              Now let’s look at additions to the civilian arsenal between 1981 and 2017, and the numbers from ATF add up to another 150 million guns, which brings us up to somewhere around the 300 million which is often cited for the total number of guns floating around today. Now here’s where things get interesting, okay?

              The national violent injury death rate (from CDC) averaged 8.83 from 1981 through 1998.  From 1999 through 2017, the rate averaged 5.80, going as low in 2014 as 4.98. From 1981 through 1998, the violent injury death rate involving guns was 5.77, the rate from 1999 through 2017 was 3.95. In other words, over the last thirty-six years, the rates of violence and rates of gun violence both fell by roughly one-third.

From 1981 through 1998, there were 397,912 homicides, of which 260,275 involved the use of guns, or 65 percent. From 1999 through 2017, there were 334,215 homicides involving 227,717 guns, or 68 percent.  So the overall violence rate declined by roughly one-third from 1981 through 2017, but the proportion of murders where a gun was used remained the same. Meanwhile, during this same thirty-six year period, as many as 1,500,000 new guns entered the civilian arsenal. If there is a causal connection between our high rate of homicide and out high ownership rate of guns, how come the use of guns to commit gun violence hasn’t changed?

I’ll tell you why it didn’t change, or better yet, I’ll tell you why we don’t know why it didn’t change. There’s one very simple reason. With a few exceptions that are probably statistically insignificant, the number of gun murders which occur each year are overwhelmingly committed by people who aren’t supposed to own guns.

Most gun murders are committed by individuals who can’t, under law, own a gun. Since these individuals aren’t about to disclose gun access to anyone, how can you make a plausible cause-and-effect argument about the overall number of guns and how they are being used? At best such an argument is just a numbers game, at worst its academic sophistry and should be ignored.

I don’t care whether we own 300 million or 300 billion guns. The numbers alone simply can’t sustain the argument that more guns equals more gun crime.           

The National Cathedral Wears Orange.

              It is now four years since the shooting death of a Chicago teenager, Hadiya Pendleton, led to the emergence of a nationwide response to this and all gun tragedies known as Wear Orange. And this year, it appears that the campaign to bear witness to the scourge of gun violence has reached a new, viral level. Many jurisdictions across the country are planning to issue resolutions designating June 7th as National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and more than 650 public events are scheduled to take place over the weekend from June 7th through June9th

              I’m going to use today’s column to talk about one of those public events which will take place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. But before I get to a discussion about the event itself, I want to say a few words about the Cathedral, which I have always considered to be America’s most hallowed place.

              Now understand that I am not particularly religious so when I use a word like ‘hallowed’ I’m speaking more in  cultural than in religious terms. And the reason I am using that word with reference to the National Cathedral is because I believe that this institution, perhaps more than any institution in the United States, has maintained a commitment to finding solutions to the one issue which still threatens the human community, which is the issue of violence.

              Think about it. We know what to do about global warming. We know what to do about hunger. We know what to do about disease. Now if we choose not to respond to these threats, it’s a function of willpower, not of knowing what we need to do. But this isn’t the case with violence. We don’t know what to do about violence because we don’t know why human beings behave in violent ways. And it doesn’t matter whether the violence takes the form of some kid hitting another kid over the head on the playground, or a B-52 dropping a bomb and wiping an entire city off the map. There is no other living species on this planet which kills simply for the sake of killing – except us.

              Right now the Cathedral actively promotes five initiatives, all of which involve programs that heighten awareness leading to positive, effective change which is always an important response to violence or violent threats. These programs involve helping veterans readjust to civilian life, LGBTQ advocacy, racial issues, religious harmony and of course, gun violence. 

              Regarding gun violence, the Cathedral is going to observe the Wear Orange weekend in its own unique way. On Friday night, June 7th at 8 P.M., the Cathedral is going to be bathed in orange light – a remarkably impressive sight. But then, to add to the majesty and power of this moment, the Cathedral’s Bourdon bell is going to ring 109 times. The Bourdon bell weighs twelve tons, and when it rings (usually just for funerals) the somber tone will envelop you in the deep sense of loss we should all feel when thinking about the 109 lives lost to gun violence every day.

              The picture above doesn’t do the orange lighting of the cathedral justice, and obviously my website doesn’t have sound. So if you want to experience the manner in which the National Cathedral is going to mark the Wear Orange days, you have to come down to Wisconsin Avenue on Friday before 8 P.M.

              I have said again and again that, with all due respect to laws, regulations, blah, blah, blah and blah, the only way we will achieve a real and meaningful preventive response to gun violence will be when we change the culture which promotes and often glorifies guns. The National Cathedral is a religious institution but it also is a repository for our country’s history and culture, given that it is often called the ‘national house of prayer.’

              If you have a chance, go down to the Cathedral on Friday night and help them promote a national culture free from the threat posed by guns.