A New PSA From Sandy Hook Promise Which You Should Watch.

This week a PSA was released by Sandy Hook Promise which is a graphic and disturbing effort to draw attention to behavior which might indicate that someone is at-risk for engaging in violence with a gun.  The purpose is to build awareness about gun violence prevention through collaboration, training and group discussions in schools and other public venues.  The group claims to have trained more than 1 million educators, parents, community leaders and students in their “Know The Signs” program, and they must be doing something right because Gun-nut Nation has lost no time in warning their folks that the project is nothing more than another attempt to take away everyone’s guns.

sandy-logo           One part of their website which drew my attention is a downloadable factsheet on gun violence with data divided into daily and annual numbers based on an average for the years 2003 to 2013.  Thanks to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, some of the gun violence numbers, which come from the CDC, have been shown to be pretty far off, particularly true for accidental shooting deaths and even moreso for the number of individuals shot by cops. But the number I found most interesting was the topmost category of the Gun Facts sheet, something called “Acts of Gun Violence” which is a category of gun violence that I have never seen before.  And the number, which is an average of 549,380 each year between 2003 and 2013, is so astonishingly large that I decided to look further and try to figure it out.

The number comes from a DOJ – Bureau of Justice Statistics publication, “Firearm Violence, 1993-2011,” used by the Sandy Hook people to come up with their half-million average gun violence figure by averaging yearly numbers from 2003 to 2011.  What pushes the overall average up to just slightly under 550,000 is a big jump in one year- 627,200 shootings in 2006 – moving the annual average to what otherwise would have been around 475,000 gun assaults each year. I’m not saying that 550,000 criminal gun assaults is something to sneeze at; I’m saying that the ‘annual average’ of just under 550,000 does not accurately represent these stats.

The number that DOJ calls ‘criminal firearm violence’ and Sandy Hook calls ‘acts of gun violence’ comes from the annual survey of criminal victimization known as the National Crime Victimization Survey or NCVS. This annual survey is mandated by Congress because the only other national crime data is generated by the FBI, and their numbers are based on how many people are arrested or crimes are reported, both of which, as we know, are far below the actual number of crimes.  The NCVS numbers are collected from interviews with more than 160,000 people each year and I can tell you from personal experience that the NCVS analysts know how to crunch numbers and crunch them very well.

There’s only one little problem with the NCVS numbers on gun violence. They are based on nothing more than a good guess. Because if you take the trouble to drill down to the actual survey questions from which this data is derived, you discover that respondents are asked whether they were attacked with a knife or a gun but they are not asked to specify which was which.  And since the FBI tells us that for every ten reported assaults, six involve a gun and four involve a knife, I guess this is how the NCVS come up with their number on gun crimes which then are used by BJS which then end up in the factsheet published by Sandy Hook.

Now you would think that for something as serious and costly as gun injuries that we would try to establish some numbers that are even reasonably accurate, never mind simply meeting the test of good, common sense.  But neither accuracy nor common sense will define how government will collect or use data over the next four years. If they bother with data at all.

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Another Terrible Shooting – Another ‘Proof’ That We Should All Carry Guns.

You can count on it.  By tomorrow at the latest, whether or not all the facts are known, Mad Dig Lott or one of the other NRA sycophantic jack-offs will be saying that Alison Ward and Adam Parker of WDBJ are both dead because neither carried  a gun.  Said it after Sandy Hook, said it after Charleston, I guarantee you someone from the NRA stable will say it again.  The NRA has been pitching this BIG LIE for more than twenty years, and the more that gun violence shocks, scares and angers the country, the more opportunities they get to roll it out.

open carry                Why is the notion that armed citizens can protect us against crime a lie?  Because it is.  And it’s a lie for two reasons because neither reason corresponds to the facts.  By facts I don’t mean the private poll conducted by Gary Kleck in 1994 which found that millions of crimes were prevented because of what 221 people claimed may or may not have occurred.  Nor am I referring to the alleged poll by John Lott in 1997 for which all polling data then disappeared.  I’m talking about facts as found in such ‘biased’ sources as the U.S. Census, the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Of course they are biased if any information generated by them supports the notion that guns increase risk.  But the same people who believe the government can never be trusted to tell the truth are the same people who get their real news from Infowars and other conspiracy-minded websites.

Lie #1: Even though violent crime has been dropping, we are all at risk for being attacked at any time the way that Ward and Parker were attacked while doing a fluff piece for the evening news. In fact, unless you are an African-American between the ages of 12 and 39, the odds of you being the victim of a gun homicide are about the same as the odds that you’ll be run over while crossing a street.  Know anyone who was killed that way?  Damn right you don’t, because the odds are about 50,000 to 1.

Lie #2: Millions of crimes are prevented each year because criminals are afraid to attack anyone who might be carrying a gun and the number of armed citizens keeps increasing every year.  A study of more than 14,000 violent criminal incidents from 2007 to 2011 found that in less than 1% of these criminal events did the victim attempt to defend him/herself with a gun.  And when a gun was used in self-defense during the commission of a crime, the odds the victim would suffer an injury were the same (4%) whether the victim had a gun or not.  This study was not based on 221 private telephone survey conversations; it wasn’t based on a survey whose data then disappeared.  It was based on the bi-annual crime victim survey conducted by the Department of Justice whose findings, of course, would never be accepted by President Trump.

The real problem with lying about the benefits of concealed-carry is that its proponents want you to believe that walking around with a self-defense weapon ipso facto means that you are trained and prepared to use it safely and effectively when, in fact, there’s no reason to believe such an assumption at all.  A report just issued by the Police Executive Research Forum on the use of deadly force found that “the training currently provided to new recruits and experienced officers in most departments is inadequate,” and the “United States faces much more severe problems than most other countries, stemming from the widespread availability of inexpensive, high-quality firearms to almost anyone.”

If deadly force training for police is inadequate, what would you call the training provided to civilians who want to walk around with guns?  I’d call it non-existent.  And if you buy the NRA lie that armed, untrained civilians represent any kind of response to the violence that cut down Alison Ward and Adam Parker, you’ll probably believe that Donald Trump will really build a fence.

 

The Florida Campus-Carry Bill Gets Support From A Willing Source.

They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows, but that’s something of an understatement when it comes to the politics of gun violence.  I’m referring to a letter written by Niger Innis, National Spokesman of CORE, supporting a bill that would authorize concealed-carry on Florida college campuses.  The law was stalled in the Florida legislature earlier this year, but appears primed to go forward again. Tallahassee has been called the NRA’s laboratory for developing legislation making it easier for people to own and carry guns, and if the NRA succeeds in pushing through the law allowing guns on college campuses in Florida, no doubt college-CCW statutes will spread to other states as well.

If you honestly believe that the effort to legalize guns on campus is anything more than a cynical attempt by the NRA and its sycophantic noise-makers to promote gun sales among the up-and-coming generation, you should be laying brick.  Either the gun industry figures out how to generate more product enthusiasm among members of the millennial generation, or they’re going to be in for some rough times when all those older, white male gun owners (like me) fade away.

campus                Ditto when it comes to minorities who also show a marked disinclination to get involved with guns.  Hence the letter from Niger Innis, whose father, Roy Innis, is still the National Chairman of CORE and also happens to be a member of the NRA Board.  Roy also chairs something called the NRA Urban Affairs Committee, although I can’t recall any statement ever issued by this committee about urban affairs or anything else.

When Innis became active in CORE, the organization was one of the major civil rights groups, along with NAACP and SCLC, that championed civil rights campaigns in the North and the South.  Initially hewing to the liberal, pro-integration stance of the civil rights movement in general, CORE began to veer rightward after 1968, and under Innis’ control, adopted a mixture of nationalist economic and social positions, along with increasingly embracing conservative political ideas.  The organization today seems largely to be a vehicle for employing Roy and Innis Niger, who spend most of their time appearing before various legislative and political confabs where either law or custom require representation from all sides.

I can’t think of a single other, public individual besides Roy Innis who has lost family members to gun violence and yet promotes the ownership and use of guns.  In fact, two of Innis’ sons were shot to death, the first in 1968 and the second in 1982. Neither crime was ever solved, but the experience evidently transformed Innis into a staunch supporter of guns rights and an advocate of arming the African-American community as a response to crime.

If Innis father and son want to posture as supporters of gun rights, the least they could do is support their arguments with statements that align with facts. Niger’s letter argues that guns on campus would be particularly important as a means for women to defend themselves against sexual assaults, a crime which Innis claims has increased by 50% on college campuses over the last decade.  Actually, what has increased is the reportage of assaults as colleges have struggled to bring this issue into the open.  But then Innis goes on to make the following statement: “Federal studies indicate that where potential rape victims use weapons to resist the rape attempt, the rape is rarely if ever completed.”

The only Federal ‘study’ that I know which deals with how women protect themselves from sexual assaults and crimes in general is the annual report published by the National Crime Victimization Survey. Hemenway and Solnick studied the NCVS data covering 2007-2011 and found that, “there were no reported cases of self-defense gun use in the more than 300 cases of sexual assault.” Way to go, Niger.  There’s nothing like voicing an opinion at total variance with the facts. But who cares about facts when you have a Constitutional right to defend yourself with a gun?

 

 

Is Gun Ownership A Risk Or A Benefit? The VPC Report Says It’s Definitely A Risk.

If there is one issue which continues to define the gun debate, it’s whether the 30,000+ gun deaths and 60,000+ gun injuries that occur each year can be justified because guns also protect us from crime. Not surprisingly, the pro-gun community led by the NRA has not only embraced the notion that armed citizens protect us from crime, but use this notion to explain the decline in violent crime over the past twenty years.

While nobody would argue with the idea that a gun can be used as a protective device, the problem is trying to figure out just exactly how often what is called a Defensive Gun Use, or DGU, actually takes place.  Most of the DGU evidence is purely hypothetical, based on anecdotal accounts which total less than 100 DGU events per year.  For that matter, the DGU survey conducted by Gary Kleck, which claimed that DGU events totaled more than 2 million per year, was based on interviews with 213 respondents, at a time when, according to Kleck, most people with access to a gun that could be used defensively didn’t necessarily have the legal right to own a gun at all.  So if you’re trying to gauge how people behave with an object that they can’t necessarily tell you they actually possess, you have something of a problem validating anything they might say.

conference program pic                The issue of how often guns are used in self-defense is the point of a new study released by the Violence Policy Center, which studied data on DGUs for the period 2007 – 2012.  THE VPC study uses data from two sources to get at the number of DGUs that happen each year.  The first source is the FBI, which tabulates justifiable homicides, defined as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”  In 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides committed with a gun, and over the five-year period beginning in 2008, the yearly average was 221.

The other source for DGUs is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted each year by the Department of Justice, which shows an average of 47,140 DGUs each year.  The NCVS data doesn’t indicate whether a gun that was used in self-defense against a criminal was actually fired, but it does disclose that of all methods used by victims of violent crimes to defend themselves before or during the attack, a gun was the preferred method of defense less than 1% of the time.  What was the most frequent way in which crime victims defended themselves?  What you would expect, namely, by using their mouths to yell, scream or otherwise alerting either their attacker or others that something dangerous was going on.

Not surprisingly, pro-gun advocates have been taking pot-shots at the NVCS and other surveys which show minimal DGUs with guns.  Gary Kleck recently re-surfaced in Politico where he defended his 1994 estimate of 2.5 million yearly gun DGUs without advancing any new data, even though the extension of CCW to all 50 states has rendered his basic thesis (that most people could not admit to carrying a gun outside the home) basically invalid.

I buy the NVCS data about DGUs for one simple reason, namely, that the survey covers a large number of respondents – more than 90,000 households – and is conducted yearly so that trends can be developed and verified over time.  I also buy the FBI data because, when all is said and done, justifiable homicide is an objective definition for DGUs, rather than a subjective opinion about a criminal event that may or may not have taken place. In that regard, by comparing the scant number of gun DGUs to the 90,000+ gun mortalities and morbidities that occur each year, the VPC report represents a positive contribution to the gun debate.  And if the pro-gun folks don’t feel comfortable engaging in a debate using evidence-based data, so what else is new?

Does A Gun Protect You From Crime? A New Study Says You Should Just Run Away.

If there is one issue more than any other which divides the two sides in the great gun argument, it’s whether guns are an effective deterrent against crime.  The controversy has been raging since advocacy for and against gun ownership escalated during the debate over the 1994 Brady bill and again when Clinton pushed through his omnibus bill on crime.  Basically the argument came down to what I call the social utility of gun ownership; i.e., do the risks of guns outweigh the benefits or is it the other way around?

The latest entry in this field is a study that analyzes more than 14,000 ‘personal contact’ crimes between 2007 and 2011, meaning that the victim and the perpetrator had some degree of contact during the crime incident itself.  The good news about this study is that it covers a very large number of criminal incidents; the bad news is that like all studies based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, it is based solely on the testimonies of the victims themselves. Which means that the information cannot be corroborated by another source, but at least the respondent is asked to provide a great deal of specific information about what actually took place.

gun crimes                The researchers, David Hemenway and Sara Solnick, have utilized the NCVS data to create what they call an ‘epidemiology’ of gun use, with the intention of trying to figure out the degree to which people used guns to protect themselves from crimes.  This issue of frequency has been the hot-button question in the gun argument over the past twenty years, spurred largely by Gary Kleck’s 1994 defensive gun use (DGU) study which claimed that Americans used guns to thwart crimes upwards of several million times each year. Kleck’s study was based on complete interviews with less than 125 respondents, none of whom were asked to define or describe the alleged criminal event which a gun helped them to forestall.  There was also no attempt to compare the outcome of using a gun to prevent a crime as opposed to other methods that individuals might use to make themselves safe from criminal attack.

This new study, on the other hand, seeks to address the gaps in Kleck’s work and the work of others, and the results, not surprisingly, cast the value of defensive gun use in a very different light. To begin, the number of times that people use guns as opposed to other ways of defending themselves is very slight; less than 1% of the 14,000 respondents used a gun against their attacker, whereas more than 40% defended themselves or their property in some other way. Men were three times more likely to use a gun to defend themselves, they were also more likely than women to get involved in DGUs away from the home, and men used guns more for defense against assaults while women favored using guns to protect their property from being damaged or taken away.

The important finding from the study, it seems to me, is not the relatively low frequency of DGUs as opposed to other self-defense methods, but the degree to which using a gun as a defense against crime reduces the chance of injury to the victim.  Slightly more than 4% of the victims were injured during the criminal incident, the percentage of injuries suffered by victims who used other ways to defend themselves was the same.  The bottom line is that a gun will protect you from crime, but it won’t protect you better than yelling for help, threatening to call police, or just running away.

On the other hand, what public health and other gun-safety advocates need to understand is that even if the data doesn’t support the idea, statistically speaking, that guns can protect us against crime, the fact is that many people believe that a gun is the most effective antidote to their fear of crime, and it’s often what we believe rather than what we know that determines the choices we make.

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

Over the last twenty years we have been bombarded with endless noise from the NRA about the value of guns because they protect us from crime.  This “social utility” argument is based on the mostly-discredited research of Gary Kleck and John Lott, of whom the latter’s work doesn’t really qualify as research since it basically panders to what he perceives to be the fears and prejudices of his audience.  But for the moment let’s assume that some people do use guns for self-defense, and try to compare those numbers to the numbers of people who are injured or killed by guns.

According to Brady, an average of 100,000 are killed or wounded each year by guns.  This seems to be the standard gun violence number bandied about by gun control groups. I think the number is way too low. The gun violence report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of fatal and non-fatal gun victimizations at 478,000; add the suicides and you’re around one-half million. I think this figure is also way too low.  The number is based almost entirely on data from the National Criminal Victim Survey (NCVS) which is conducted twice each year with respondents from 90,000 households who are asked to describe any criminal incident in which they were victimized over the previous six months. The good news is that the respondents are asked to describe criminal events regardless of whether or not they were reported to the police.  The bad news is that some of the methodological problems attendant to this survey result in substantial underreporting of crime.

gvFor example, the survey only involves individuals who are permanent members of a household at the time that the interviews take place.  This means that the non-permanent population, which has been estimated to be as high as 12% of the entire population, is not captured in the NCVS results.  Another group that is underrepresented are the elderly, particularly those living alone who may or may not be able to respond to visits or calls from representatives of the NCVS. Both of these populations, particularly in inner-city environments, are susceptible to being victims of crime.

Note however, that the discussion above only concerns figuring out how many unreported gun crimes occur each year.  But that’s a very narrow definition of gun violence.  To understand the true dimensions of the problem, we also must try to figure out how many people are affected by either witnessing gun violence or by being exposed to the possibility of gun violence when someone brandished or otherwise made them feel vulnerable because they had a gun.  For all the talk by Kleck and Lott about how many people used guns to thwart what otherwise would have been a crime committed against them, what about all the people who were on the receiving end of an explicit or implicit threat of violence because someone showed them a gun?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not jumping on the anti-CCW bandwagon and accusing or even hinting at the possibility that law-abiding gun owners who carry around a concealed weapon ever use it to intimidate, scare or otherwise threaten family, strangers or friends.  The idea that an expansion of CCW leads to more gun violence on the part of licensees is an old canard that should be put to rest.  What I am saying, however, is that witnessing an actual or even possible act of violence is a traumatizing, and not-easily forgotten event.  And we can assume that most acts of gun violence are witnessed by ancillary, non-participants who are affected acutely and emotionally when they see an act of gun violence or gun threats take place.

If the gun lobby wants to buy the idea that several million crimes are prevented each year because someone protected themselves or others with a gun, I can say with the same logic and certainly more evidence that the real toll of gun violence is just as high. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that something as lethal as a gun isn’t an object whose use can be considered in anything other than the most serious and consequential terms.

When Is A Crime Not A Crime? Beats Hell Outta Me.

Remember the old doggerel about if a tree fell in the forest and nobody heard it, did it really fall? I’m running into the same kind of problem in trying to understand the data on crime.  There are two agencies that publish crime data: the FBI (Uniform Crime Reports) and the BJS (National Crime Victimization Survey.) With one exception, all of this information comes from statements by crime victims who may or may not choose to report the crime. The one exception is homicide because it’s pretty tough to hide a dead body plus, given the severity of the crime, the moment we even think it has taken place, everyone gets into the act.  Otherwise, there isn’t a single category of serious (or non-serious) crime whose occurrence can be counted or even estimated without the cooperation of the victims themselves.

fbi

I have been trying to figure out how many crimes really take place for two reasons. First, the question has become a big political football in the ongoing debate about guns.  The NRA and its allies claim that the drop in violent crime over the last twenty years demonstrates both the futility of more gun laws and the efficacy of concealed-carry permits as a further defense against crime.  The gun control crowd, on the other hand, points to the fact that although the overall rate of serious crime has declined, the homicide rate due to the proliferation of guns, is still much higher than we would like.

The second reason that I have been trying to figure this out lies in the disparity between crime data generated by the FBI as opposed to crime victim data produced by the BJS.  The gap between those two reports has narrowed considerably over the last number of years, but it is still significant enough to make me wonder whether the numbers can be trusted at all.  As a starter, let’s compare crime data for 2012, the most recent year for crime data published by both agencies.  According to the FBI, there were 1,214,462 homicides, forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults committed that year. According to the BJS, there were 2,084700 serious criminal victimizations that same year, and this number does not include the nearly 15,000 homicides reported by the FBI.  Now according to the BJS, virtually all the victmizations covered by their survey are reported to the police, but I since the data for this assertion is presented in terms of rates per 1,000 rather than raw numbers, I can’t really figure out why such a discrepancy between between the two reports exists.

And the discrepancy becomes much greater if we go back to the period when, according to both agencies, there was a lot more crime.  Let’s look at the data for 1996, which is considered the high-water mark for crime levels over the last two decades.  According to the FBI, there were 1,688,540 serious crimes reported in 1996, the number of 1996 victimizations, according to BJS, was 3,371,445 (adding the murders counted by the FBI.) In that year the difference between BJS and FBI numbers was 2:1, again, a discrepancy which neither agency seems able to explain.

But what this might explain are all the public polls which indicate that most people believe that violent crime in on the rise, even when the official numbers keep show that it is going down.  In a survey published last year during the debate over a new gun control law,  Pew found that a majority of Americans (56%) believed that crime was at higher levels than during the 1990’s, and only 12% thought it had gone down.

The difference between the data from the FBI and the BJS can’t just be dismissed as stemming from different definitions of crime or different methods of  data collection or different something else. You can, in fact, read a very detailed statement about the difference between the two sets of data published by the Department of Justice (which oversees both agencies) but it doesn’t offer even the slightest acknowledgement that the disparity in numbers published by the two agencies calls into question the accuracy of either one.