The Brennan Center Gives Us An Impotant Report On Violent Crime.

1 Comment

The Brennan Center has just released an important and authoritative report on crime trends in the United States, and its discussion of the murder rate in major U.S. cities is particularly significant for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community. This is because guns are the tools of choice for people who commit homicides, and were it not for the use of guns in serious assaults, our homicide rate would not be 2 to 7 times higher than what occurs in the rest of the OECD.

urban             The not so good news about the Brennan Report is that it is based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report whose data is admittedly less than exact. The really good news, on the other hand, is that the report focuses on murder, which is the one serious crime category for which the numbers are usually correct. The report covers 1991 through 2016, a period during which violent crime fell by roughly 50%, although the jury is still out in terms of explaining how and why such a significant drop actually took place. In fact, the best evaluation of the different ‘crime decline’ theories was also published by the Brennan Center in 2015.

The pro-gun community celebrated the crime decline after 1991 because it coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of personally-owned guns, particularly in the years following Obama’s electoral victory in 2008. In particular, the contrast between crime rates and gun-ownership numbers allowed Gun-nut Nation to promote one of its favorite narratives, namely, that more guns equals less crime because the ‘bad guys’ are afraid that anyone they attack might respond with a gun. It’s a clever argument but cannot be supported by data, credible studies or truth.  Gee – what a surprise that pro-gun advocates would advance a theory which has no basis in facts.

The Brennan study, on the other hand, breaks down homicide data in the largest 30 American cities, but I wish the report would have contained an estimate for what percentage of all homicides occurred in these 30 sites, as well as a comparison between homicides which occurred within the cities themselves, as opposed to the relevant Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in which these cities happen to be.  A 2006-2007 CDC study found that for gun homicides, the MSA total was almost twice as high as specific city totals, and I am not sure that the UCR data can be analyzed to give a clear picture of homicide in MSAs.

But that’s a limitation of the FBI data, it’s not a criticism of the Brennan Center report itself.  In fact, what the report clearly shows is that the recent spurt in homicides, which has provoked the usual hysteria from the latest gang of crime-fighters led by Donald Trump, is actually confined to a handful of cities, whereas the overall violent crime numbers in the U.S. keep going down.

The pro-gun gang would like to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to take credit for the continued crime decline by going on about how this trend is because so many people own and carry guns. On the other hand, they don’t miss any opportunity to promote the sale of more guns by reminding everyone that the ‘good guy,’ (a.k.a. the armed citizen) is what keeps the ‘bad guy’ away.  And here is where the new Brennan study is so important, because it points out that the recent spurt in homicides has actually only occurred in three urban sites: Baltimore, Chicago and D.C. As for other major urban centers, murder is up in some, down in others, but there’s certainly no massive, national ‘crime wave’ of the sort that Trump and Sessions would like you to believe.

The Brennan researchers deserve our thanks for analyzing the FBI data in clear and convincing terms. But this still leaves us with the bigger question, namely, what do we do in cities like Baltimore, Chicago and DC? “I’ll send in the feds,” tweets Trump. Yea, right.

How Many Victims Of Gun Violence? A Lot More Than You Think.

2 Comments

Now that we are getting down to crunch time, stories are beginning to appear about how HRC is beginning to look beyond the election and starting to plan how things will work once she gets down to work. So without giving November 8th the evil eye, maybe it’s time for Gun-sense Nation to start thinking along the same lines.  Because if she wins, and if the Senate turns blue, and if enough red seats in the House turn various shades of purple, a real, honest-to-goodness gun bill will wind up on her desk.

pulse            But in order to craft a good bill, the first thing we need to do is define the problem.  And the problem is very simple: too many people get injured with guns. More than 30,000 of these injuries each year are fatal, another 75,000 or so result in serious wounds.  Most of the injuries are intentional, some are accidents, but according to the CDC, the exact figure in 2014 was 114,633.

So if Gun-sense Nation wants to get behind a strategy that will, it is hoped, reduce gun violence, then we need to start with this benchmark figure in order to evaluate whether a new set of regulations will have much effect.  But using a figure like 115,000 gun injuries a year is actually a number that is much lower than the actual injuries caused by guns.  Which doesn’t have to do with the way we count injuries; rather, it reflects the way we define injuries, regardless of whether they are caused by guns or anything else.

When we talk about gun violence, what we really are talking about is violence of a particular type, namely, violence caused by a gun.  But what is violence in and of itself?  I think the best, most comprehensive definition is given by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says that violence is: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”  Note that violence, according to the WHO, goes far beyond the physical injuries sustained when someone is shot with a gun. Because every time that someone is hit by a bullet, someone else sees them lying, bleeding in the street or within their home, someone sticks the victim in a car and drives like crazy towards the ER, and someone is standing there as the trauma surgeon comes out shaking his head.

Would it be wrong to assume that for every one of the 115,000 people who are physically injured with a gun each year that another several hundred thousand are psychologically traumatized and emotionally damaged even though the bullet entered the body of someone else?  And if you think that the psychological impact of seeing one person bleeding to death is horrendous, imagine if you end up witnessing a mass shooting, such as at Aurora, Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook. In 1991, George Hennard drove his truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, shot and killed 23 people, wounded another 27 and then shot himself to death. In the aftermath, a health team interviewed 136 people who were on the scene during the shooting or arrived after it began. Nearly one-third of them had to be treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)  I thought that PTSD was a hazard of military deployment, not something that might break out in a cozy little town like Killeen.

So the bottom line is that we are making a mistake if our benchmark for evaluating how new gun regulations might reduce gun violence is determined by counting only the number of people who get shot. The truth is we don’t have any way of counting the number of people who witness gun violence and suffer extreme emotional pain. And they often bear scars that are just as deep as any physical wound made by a gun.

 

What’s The Difference Between The Victims And Perpetrators Of Gun Violence? Not Much.

1 Comment

If you hang around the GVP community, you quickly memorize certain numbers: 30,000, which is the number of people killed each year by guns, although the real number is a couple of thousand more; 65,000, which is the number of people who are injured when someone else shoots them with a gun but they survive; 15,000, which is the number (give or take another thousand) who injure themselves each year with a gun; 2,000, which covers the ones who kill themselves or are shot dead by the police. Put it all together and you come up with roughly 115,000 Americans who are the victims of gun violence each and every year.

conference program picI actually think the annual number of gun violence victims is somewhere above 200,000, because as far as I am concerned, the people who aim the gun at someone other than themselves and pull the trigger are victims of gun violence too. We never think of the shooters as victims because, by definition, all of them used their gun to commit at least one crime, namely, aggravated assault or homicide with a gun.  And in our fractured world, if every crime has a victim, there also has to be a perpetrator, hence by definition, the shooter can’t also be a victim.  But in fact, he is.

Why do I say that?  First of all, most gun assaults are committed by people, usually young men, for whom violence, and particularly gun violence, is part and parcel of their daily lives.  Want to know who comes into the ER most frequently with a gun injury?  Someone who was previously arrested on suspicion of using a gun.  Okay. I know, I know, the cops usually arrest the first ‘bad guy’ they find. But if you don’t think that the average street shooter isn’t going after someone who previously went after him, then you don’t know much about the streets or the shootings that take place in the streets.  And when the victim of a shooting happens to be a female, the shooter is almost always some jerk of a boyfriend or husband who has previously belted her around numerous times, and maybe on occasion she defended herself by belting back.

Now we know just about everything there is to know about the victims who get shot with guns.  We know their age, their race, where they live, what they were doing when the gun went off, between the CDC and the FBI there isn’t much that escapes the eye.  And when we come to the shooters, even though many of them don’t get arrested, enough sooner or later wind up in detention so that we can get a pretty good idea about their demographics as well.

But here’s what we don’t know.  We have absolutely no idea why someone picks up a gun, points it at someone else and – boom! – it goes off.  And it doesn’t work to say that so-and-so used a gun because he came from a violent background or had a violent history, because most of the young men with that profile who want to commit a violent act do so without using a gun.  According to the Department of Justice, less than 7% of all serious criminal events involve the use of guns.  So how and why do the other 93% figure out how to commit violence without using a gun?

Those 7% who express anger and violence with a gun may not be victims of gun violence in a legal sense, but in terms of the impact of violence on their lives they are GVP victims just as well.  Because as Konrad Lorenz points out, anger and aggression can and should be used as tools to advance the social good. But those who cannot differentiate between the positive and negative uses of aggression will sooner or later end up alienated and marginalized by the community as a whole. And most will live shorter and more painful lives.

A Remarkable GVP Event Is Being Planned And Everyone Should Come!

Leave a comment

The very first time I drove into Boston, probably 1994 or 1995, I came towards the center of the city on the Mass. Pike and as I passed the newly-completed Prudential Center on my left, the light towers of Fenway Park loomed to my right. As I drove towards Fenway I was expecting to see the back of the Green Monster but, all of a sudden what I really saw was the huge billboard with pictures of kids who had been victims of gun violence, along with a caption that read: “15 Kids Killed Every day.”

concert           This remarkable public statement about gun violence, which decorated Fenway Park from 1993 until 2015 (there were actually a series of different, eye-popping murals,) was the handiwork of a Boston resident, John Rosenthal, who makes a nice living developing real estate and, by the way, he’s no Donald Shlump.  He’s an activist in gun violence, environmentalism, homelessness; in other words, he puts his money where it will really do some good.

His latest bright GVP idea is a national Concert Across America to End Gun Violence which will take place on September 25.  The concert will actually be a series of concerts taking place around the country on the same day, but the Boston event will be the anchor for the whole shebang, which is why we need to get out there, shout out there, and make it work.

I know a little bit about gun violence and about trying to prevent gun violence because I have been involved with guns, one way or another, since 1965.  And if I have learned one thing about gun violence prevention over the last fifty years, it hasn’t been an easy sell.  And the basic reason that GVP sometimes has difficulty reaching out to a wider audience is that one of our two major political parties – I’ll let you figure out which one – has decided that 110,000+ gun deaths and injuries each year is a small price to pay for unfettered and unquestioned access to guns.

Think about this for a second.  We had a big argument over whether to mandate seatbelts but nobody would dare stand up in Congress or run for President proclaiming that seat belts were a risk to health!  Yet every single Republican who entered a Presidential primary this year declared, indeed demanded that 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ be left alone.  As if there is such a thing as a 2nd-Amendment ‘right.’ What sheer, unadulterated crap.

But the problem with the GVP community is they really are committed to an honest exchange of ideas.  So not only are they up against liars, panderers and promoters on the other side, their messages calling for safety and restraint are easily and continuously drowned out.

Which is why Rosenthal’s billboard was so different– talk about being in your face.  And now (to paraphrase Arnold) he’s ba-ack with a new GVP venture that should be a home run, because there’s nothing that gets people going, gets them talking, gets them moving like a great, big musical event and, in this case, a whole country full of musical events.

The concert is already sponsored by nearly 50 organizations from sea to shining sea, you can help organize an event if you like, be in the audience at a concert, or just tune in through one of many social media venues that will carry the activities on that special day.  The website is up, artists are committing, the whole thing is moving forward and you should be involved.  This could be another Woodstock and don’t underestimate the impact of that one event on the culture of the times.

Sign up on the website, spread the word, make your organization a sponsor, tune up your old guitar.  In 2007 Congress designated September 25 as a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims and let’s not forget that two-thirds of all those victims are killed each year with guns. Get it?

 

 

 

Should Doctors Treat Gun Violence? A Program At The Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia Shows You How.

Leave a comment

I don’t know how Philadelphia came to be known as the City of Brotherly Love, but I can tell you that the name doesn’t apply to certain sections of the city.  I’m thinking, for example, of the neighborhood known as North Philadelphia/West, which is actually walking distance from the Museum of Art steps that Rocky Balboa climbed back in 1976.  And I’m wondering whether a modern-day Rocky could run down 24th Street today without getting mugged, or robbed, or worse. Because the crime numbers, particularly robberies, assaults and homicides, just don’t seem to be possible except they really are.

For the last 30 days, this neighborhood of slightly less than 60,000 residents reported 60 violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, assault), along with 188 serious property crimes (auto, burglary, theft.)  If this crime rate continues, and it will probably go up as the weather gets warmer, North Philly-West will be running an annual violent crime rate of 100 per 100,000, with a homicide rate alone of 20 – the national homicide rate is under 4.

And by the way, don’t think for one minute that North Philly-West is all that bad.  In fact, when it comes to violent crime rates, there are 13 Philadelphia neighborhoods that are worse. Fairhill, which is just a hop, skip and jump away from North Philly, may end the year with a homicide rate of 160!  That’s simply not possible.  But you know what?  There were two murders over the last 30 days in this neighborhood of 16,000 people, four homicides already this year. As Bill Clinton said in his 2012 speech re-nominating Barack Obama: “Do the arithmetic.”

So Philadelphia has a murder problem, which means it has a shooting problem, which means it has a problem with kids.  Because I don’t care whether we are talking about North Philly, Chicago Heights, East St. Louis or Timbuctoo, when it comes to violence, this problem first shows up in kids, particularly early-teen boys.  By the ages of 12-13 they have guns, by the ages of 15-16, they are using them in the streets, by the ages of 20-21 they are on their way to either going to jail for homicide or going to the morgue.

Which means that effective interventions have to involve behavior modification and getting rid of the guns.  Now let me stop right here and say that I’m not interested in any discussion about 2nd Amendment crap, okay?  Enough is enough with all this nonsense about how any attempt to regulate guns deprives law-abiding Americans of their God-given rights to defend themselves or whatever else God allegedly gives them the right to do. We figured out how to prevent the spread of Ebola, it shouldn’t take rocket science to figure out how to stop the spread of violence committed with guns.

And one place it is being figured out is at CHOP, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a remarkable medical facility that has been pioneering pediatric medicine since its founding in 1855.  In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the hospital developed a program specifically aimed at curbing gun violence among pre-adults in an effort to reduce what had become nearly 1,000 juvenile shooting victims every year.  The program, called Violence Prevention Initiative (VIP), has screened more than 108,000 juveniles who come into the ER with symptoms and histories that might make them at risk for violence.  A small number of these kids are then closely monitored and kids also receive anti-violence lessons in school.

And here’s something to bear in mind.  Asking teenagers about reasons why they are violent often involves discussions about very personal things.  And many young people are reluctant or resistant to have such discussions with cops, or teachers, or even their friends. But the one place that everyone feels secure enough to say anything they want is behind a closed door sitting across from that kindly man or woman who wears a white coat. Which is why doctors always need to be involved in dealing with the violence caused by guns.

Take A Look At Some Interesting Public Health Research About Gun Violence.

1 Comment

               I like it when public health research on gun violence gets in the way of Gun Nation’s continued effort to pretend that the only thing which stands between America and Armageddon is a good guy with a gun.  So I think it’s important now and again to highlight some recent gun violence scholarship, even though by including a handful of important articles I am forced to omit others that are of equal importance to the field.  Feel free to download any of the articles mentioned here.

               Article #1.  “Lethal means access and assessment among suicidal emergency department patients” is a study of more than 1,300 emergency patients across the country who either reported suicide thoughts or actually attempted suicide in the week prior to their ED visit, of whom 11% reported having at least one, if not more than one gun in their home. Of the gun-owning suicidal patients, 22% considered using a gun as their chosen suicidal method, with only medication scoring higher among this group as the preferred way to bring their lives to an end.  Among the emergency population that did not own guns, only 6% reported thoughts about using a gun to end their lives.  Pills have a 5% success rate for suicide, with guns the death rate is 90%. Get it?

               Article #2. “Firearm-related hospitalization and risk for subsequent violent injury, death, or crime perpetration” is a comparison of the frequency of hospitalization for victims of gun violence when compared with the population that is hospitalized for an injury not involving guns.  The study looked at patient outcomes for more than 9,000 violent injuries and 68,000 non-violent injuries, of whom 680 were classified as FRH or firearm-related hospitalizations.  And what was learned from this study, which was the first to look comprehensively at medical histories of patients shot with guns? “Hospitalization for a firearm-related injury is associated with a heightened risk for subsequent violent victimization

or crime perpetration.” Gee, what a surprise.

               Article #3.  “Long-term mortality of patients surviving firearm violence” deals with the degree to which being injured by a gun increases the possibility of early death.  What makes this study significant is that the researchers compared five-year outcomes following hospital discharge of 516 patients who sustained gun wounds, 992 vehicle accident injuries and 695 assaults where no gun was involved. What they found was that five-year, post-discharge mortality rates were significantly higher among gun assault victims and other assault victims as opposed to patients who were injured in accidents involving cars.  But while the 5-year mortality rates for gun and non-gun assaults were similar, a greater proportion of the victims of gun assaults died within one year of their initial hospital release.  Most of these early gun-injury deaths were – you guessed it – gun homicides.  In other words, if someone leaves the hospital after getting shot, they have some unfinished business which usually ends up with them getting shot again.

               Article #4.  “Social networks and the risk of gunshot injury” goes beyond the usual epidemiological data that drives public health research and looks at group behaviors which influence gun violence on a community-wide scale.  For this article the researchers studied two inner-city Boston neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime and utilized data from the Boston PD Field Intelligence Observation unit to construct the social networks linking the population which was most likely to be criminally involved with guns.  What they found was that using standard demographic categories (income, race) to define a population as high-risk for gun violence was not as important as understanding how individuals were situated in social networks where gun violence frequently occurred.

               Four studies, each of which fills important gaps in our knowledge about violence caused by guns. Four studies, which if it were up to Gun Nation would never be funded, would never see the light of day. Four studies, which whether we are talking about suicide, homicide, assault or combinations of all three, remind us again that you don’t protect anyone from anything by walking around with a gun.

                

How Violent Is Gun Violence? More Than You Think.

2 Comments

One of the continuing debates within the GVP community is how to define ‘gun violence.’  On the one hand there are the obvious categories: homicide, assault and robbery with a gun.  Then there is suicide with a gun, which results in death but is certainly a different sort of violence than what happens when a gun is used in a criminal act. And of course we also differentiate between intentional, as opposed to unintentional acts of gun violence; indeed, the latter may not actually be gun violence, even though someone still ends up being injured by a gun.

conference-program-pic              Incidentally, outside the GVP, gun violence doesn’t exist.  As far as I know, the NRA and the NSSF have never used the term ‘gun violence’ in anything they have ever said about guns. The various pro-gun noisemakers (Emily Miller, Dana Loesch, every Republican Presidential candidate, et. al.) prattle on about violent ‘thugs’ who use guns, but it’s people who kill people, remember?  It’s got nothing to do with the gun.  Now back to reality.

Adding up all the categories above, the national gun violence toll in 2013 was 117,894.  At least this is the number published by the CDC. By the agency’s own admission, this number is understated.  Why?  Because when we count nonfatal injuries, any kind of injury, we are estimating the actual number based on reporting from a ‘representative’ group of emergency medical facilities, and sometimes the estimations are close to reality and sometimes they are not. So the death toll is close to accurate but the injury numbers may or may not be exact.  And this is a serious gap in what we know about gun violence because gun injuries are more likely to be significantly more serious than any other type of injury, unless you fall out of a fifth-story window and somehow manage to survive.

My friends at the Gun Violence Archive, by the way, have gun morality numbers which match up pretty close to the CDC.  In 2014 the CDC found 12,265 gun deaths from every type of shooting except suicides.  The GVA number for 2014 was 12,585.  Obviously, the GVA calculation for non-fatal gun injuries is far below the number recorded by the CDC, because most shootings that don’t result in a death aren’t newsworthy enough to get media mention, which is the basic source of information used by the GVA.

Which brings me to the point of this commentary, namely, the fact that by focusing on gun deaths, as opposed to overall injuries, the main issue of gun violence is obscured, if not altogether lost.  The gun violence issue is driven by homicides, particularly when a mass shooting occurs.  But in terms of how many people are seriously affected by shootings, gun mortality is the tip of the iceberg, and we need to understand the totality of the problem if we are going to map mitigating strategies that will really work.

There’s a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvesant, a.k.a., ‘Bed-Stuy, Do or Die.’ Like many Brooklyn neighborhoods, it’s beginning to experience a degree of gentrification, but the area around Fulton and Atlantic Avenues is still the Wild West.  So far this year the neighborhood has experienced 2 murders, which if the carnage continues, the yearly homicide rate per 100,000 will top 20.  But the total number of shooting victims is now 6, which will yield an annual gun violence rate of 60; further down Atlantic Avenue in East New York the GV rate could top 140 by end of year.

Numbers like this don’t describe an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence.  Frankly, I don’t know whether we have invented terminology which accurately describes this state of affairs. But there are neighborhoods all over the United States which experience gun violence at levels equal or above to what goes on in Bed-Stuy; higher even than the violence experienced in Honduras or the Ivory Coast. I’m not even sure that a word like ‘violence’ describes what is really going on.

 

 

 

 

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: