Physicians Need To Be Engaged In Preventing Gun Violence Right From The Start.

In 1969 I was a caseworker for the Cook County Welfare Department, working out of the West Madison office near Garfield Park in Chicago’s West Side.  The neighborhood, then and now, was considered one of the city’s more troubled areas characterized by high levels of crime and low levels of economic opportunity; not quite as bad as some other Chicago neighborhoods but not a place where I would ever feel comfortable or at home.  And when I recently looked at the Chicago Tribune’s crime map, it hardly came as a surprise that East Garfield was still a place where getting shot or shot at is a regular feature of life in that part of town.

Actually, Chicago is right now enjoying a slight respite from the gun violence of the past few years with 2015 shootings running about 20% lower than in 2014.  I’m not sure, however, that the word ‘enjoying’ actually fits what happened this past weekend because so far during the holiday there have been 9 killed and 32 others wounded by gunfire and Memorial Day celebration still has one more day to go. Is it actually possible that a city of 2.7 million could end up with 50 shooting victims in just 3 days?  Last year, New York with twice as many people experienced 10 shootings over the holiday weekend and the media called it a “shooting spree.”  When it comes to gun violence, Chicago is hardly the “Second City,” that’s for sure.

conference program pic                 Of course the crime numbers on Chicago’s West Side are appreciably different from where Barack and Michelle live in the South Side neighborhood known as Hyde Park.  This area surrounding the University of Chicago and counting about the same number of residents as east Garfield recorded only 6 violent crimes in the past month.  I suspect that crime in Hyde Park will drop even further in 2017 when the President comes home to live full-time surrounded by a phalanx of Secret Service agents complete with dogs, anti-crime patrols, choppers, the whole Presidential security bit.

In addition to the Obamas, Hyde Park is also home to the Chicago Crime Lab, a research and think-tank at the University supported by a who’s who of America’s glitterati foundations and various government funding sources.  The Lab has published significant research on gun violence, much of the work conducted by Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig and one of their reports, Gun Violence Among School-Age Youth in Chicago, stands out as a model for public health research of this kind. The report deserves to be read in its entirety, but my self-imposed space limitation requires me to focus on only one major theme, namely, the fact that youth who engage in gun violence can usually be spotted at a very young age.

The report argues that children start to exhibit behavior that pushed them to get their hands on guns by the time they reach middle school years; i.e., the eighth grade.  This report was published in 2009 but America’s foremost criminologist, Marvin Wolfgang, basically made the same argument in his remarkable book, Delinquency in a Birth Cohort, published in 1972. Wolfgang didn’t tie delinquency to gun violence per se, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to assume the connection between repeated delinquency, serial criminality and access to guns.

If, as Cook and Ludwig argue, behavior predictive of gun violence begins to appear at a young age, their call for interventions by school authorities and community programs lacks one vital piece.  Every young child in cities like Chicago is examined by a physician at least once each year.  And who better than physicians are trained to diagnose youth behavior that might create risk? When it comes to children’s health, we need to think of gun violence not just as a socio-economic phenomenon, but as a medical condition whose diagnosis and treatment should be handled by the same medical professionals who make sure that kids are immunized against measles, mumps and the flu.

 

 

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Want To End The Argument Over Guns? Go Green.

Now that Mike Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to pour $50 million bucks into anti-gun campaigns, you can be sure that the argument over guns will heat up pretty fast.  One thing I’ll say for the former Mayor Mike is that he’s no shrinking violet, and if he decides he really wants to go after something, he makes his presence known.  So at the very least, whether he’s successful or not in expanding background checks or whatever other strategies he thinks will curb gun violence, we will hear some pretty angry comments coming from both sides.

I have written over 130 posts on guns, both on my blog and on Huffington Post, and I try to align myself with the words of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” I wish there were more acknowledgement of these wise words in the current debate but there’s not.  No matter which side grabs the microphone, opinions always seem to trump facts.

So I’m wondering if there isn’t a different way to approach the whole issue and look at the question of guns not from emotions, but from the perspective of their real value; i.e., what it is that a gun can really do.  Because the biggest problem in the gun debate, it seems to me, is that both sides justify their attitudes towards guns based on rationalizations that fly in the face of reality and simply aren’t true.  The idea that the 2nd Amendment is a sacrosanct, inalienable, God-given gift that cannot be limited in any way is Csimply not true.  It is enumerated as one of many Constitutional rights, and like every other Constitutional right, can be defined and limited by laws.  Conversely, the idea that America is some kind of weird outlier among Western nations because of its embrace and love of guns is also not true.  In fact, the United States is the only Western country in which hunting (and therefore ownership of guns) was extended to all citizens regardless of social class.  In the rest of the Western world, particularly our mother country, England, hunting (and therefore gun ownership) was limited to the Monarchy and the aristocracy; the common folk could actually be executed if they were found hunting or poaching on private land.

lewisGun ownership in the United States is embedded in the traditions and history through which the country was explored, hunted, settled and farmed.  The government encouraged this process through the 1862 Homestead Act,  but while vast swatches of the western half of the country was being settled by gun-toting folk, we were also creating the greatest industrial economy in the world, fueled by European immigrants who settled in enormous, urban-industrial enclaves like Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York.  Guns weren’t part of the urban landscape back then, and they aren’t part of it now.  And these two very different histories and traditions aren’t acknowledged or even understood by the advocates for either side in the current gun debate.

But I have an idea for how his might change.  Turns out there are now more than 40 million American households that grow at least some of their own food.   This is an increase of 17% in just the last five years.  Now the gun industry has done pretty well over the same period, but that’s because gun owners are buying more guns, not because the percentage of people who own guns is really going up.  So I’m thinking that if so many new people are getting into farming, even if it’s only a tiny farm in their back yards, maybe the ones who aren’t gun owners will begin to appreciate the reason why Americans always had guns.  And this could lead to a recognition that we all have certain things in common, historically and traditionally, that speak to the value of guns. You certainly can’t say that either side understands or is saying this now. So here’s their chance.

 

 

 

What Does New York’s Safe Act Really Mean?

Last week a Federal judge in New York rendered the first decision on New York’s new gun law, the Safe Act,  that was rammed through the Legislature by Andy Cuomo on the heels of the massacre at Sandy Hook.  New York’s new law effectively bans the sale of AR-style rifles to state residents and also set semi-auto magazine limits at a maximum of seven rounds. Judge William Skretny, appointed by Bush 41, is known as a careful, almost scholarly reviewer of legal texts, and in this instance he went to great lengths to analyze the pros and cons of the new law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Basically his decision contained both good news and bad news for gun owners in New York.  The good news is that Judge Skretny invalidated the 7-round magazine capacity as being ‘arbitrary’ and not shown to really protect public safety as New York State claimed. The bad news is that he also found that the ability of the State to deny access to certain types of weapons did not undermine the 2nd Amendment guarantees of self-protection and was consistent with “the state’s important interest in public safety.”

As more and more gun cases pile up in what Judge Skretny calls the “terra incognita” of post-Heller jurisprudence, the trend seems to be moving towards a recognition of the government’s ability to regulate and even ban certain types of weapons (most notably ‘assault’ rifles) as long as such measures do not deny access to other types of weapons that are commonly used for self defense.  Ironically, the claim by the NRA and its friends that high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles afford the greatest degree of self protection is being turned against them by multiple Court decisions which find that the defensive utility of these guns based on their lethality is exactly what justifies their regulation given the public safety responsibilities vested in the state.

The NRA has spent the last thirty years noisily promoting the notion that an armed citizenry is our most effective method of dealing with crime.  And if nothing else, the coincidence of increased gun sales and a decline in violent crime over the past 20 years would seem to bolster their case. The NRA further argues that banning ‘assault’ rifles is a red herring because even though such weapons are used on rare occasions for mass assaults, like Aurora, the overwhelming bulk of shootings involves handguns as the weapon of choice.

Which was exactly the point made by Judge Skretny and other jurists who have been hearing gun cases since Heller was decided in 2008.  The fact that AR-15 rifles are touted by the NRA and the manufacturers as more effective self-defense weapons than handguns is exactly why the government may be able to ban them while leaving 2nd Amendment guarantees intact.  The dangerousness of guns can be played both ways, because the fact that high-capacity, military-style weapons are used in only a few instances of gun violence doesn’t invalidate the government’s right to keep them out of everyone’s hands, particularly if citizens can still own other weapons, like handguns, that provide a reliable means for self defense.

In their raptures over Heller the pro-gun lobby conveniently ignored the majority decision’s explicit statement that the 2nd Amendment was not an unlimited “right.”  Instead, the author of the Heller decision, Antonin Scalia, made it clear that further judicial activity would have to take place in order to more clearly define the degree to which government could limit access to guns.  If the New York and other recent decisions are straws in the wind, nobody at the NRA headquarters should assume that unlimited gun ownership will continue into the future; in fact it may soon become a legal doctrine whose best days have already passed.

Want To Reduce Crime? Try The Bloomberg Approach.

Now that Mike Bloomberg has departed from the scene, we might want to look more closely at his signature achievement, namely, the notion that he turned New York City into a crime-free zone.  There’s been a lot of give and take on this one, particularly because much of the alleged decrease in violent crime was believed to be the product of a too aggressive, stop-and-frisk strategy employed by the NYPD.  But while civil libertarians and criminologists bat that one back and forth, I prefer to spend a little time analyzing the numbers that have been produced by Bloomberg’s administration  to bolster the claims that New York is now a very safe town.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But before I get into the numbers, it’s important to understand that while New York contains more than 8 million people, this immense population lives in five very distinct boroughs which, if we throw them all together and only talk about the city as a whole, we end up with a picture that bears little relation to the circumstances in which most city residents actually live. Because crime is the most potent barometer for judging what’s called “quality of life,” if people feel physically secure they tend to consider themselves better off even if their material circumstances are not what they would like.  On the other hand, when people feel insecure and threatened by their environment, no degree of physical amenities can restore their sense of well-being or mitigate their fears that things just aren’t right.

Enter the Bloomberg numbers machine.  According to his numbers, violent crime continues to decline in New York, with homicides, the most visible of all violent crimes, being reduced to the lowest level in more than thirty years.  The drop has been seen in every category of violent crime, and it has been going on far longer than any expert would ever predict.  Even the noted criminologist Frank Zimring, who recently wrote a book about the decline in NYC crime, recently admitted that the decline was even greater than what he predicted might occur.

But there’s only one little problem.  If you look at crime stats on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, it’s clear that in many parts of the city people aren’t safe at all and worse, the drop in violent crime in some areas, particularly the wealthiest parts of the city, has been so steep that it tends to mask a much more severe problem in other parts of town.  For example, according to the FBI, the national rate for the four crime categories that comprise violent crime stands right now at 386.9 incidents per 100,000 people.  There are neighborhoods in New York City where the violent crime rate is more than three times as high.  The national murder rate in 2012 was 4.7, but in Brooklyn’s Brownsville right now it’s 15.1.  Forcible rape is 26.9 nationally but it’s higher in the Morrissania section of The Bronx and nearly double in Brownsville and “Do or Die’ Bed-Stuy.

Want to live in a crime-free zone?  Buy a two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s West End Avenue complete with cockroaches for only $2.5 million and you’ll live without fear.  The 20th Precinct, which covers the trendy area around Lincoln Center, has a violent crime rate of 123.5, less than one-third the national rate, and has yet to see a single homicide in 2013, unless you want to count the night that I ate dinner at Mort Zuckerman’s  Masa restaurant and got stuck with the check. But seriously, if you take the crime numbers for the West and East Sides of Manhattan, they go a long way to help flatten out ghetto crime numbers from Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.

Much of the criticism about Bloomberg’s tenure centered on the degree to which he lavished attention and concern on Manhattan but never got involved in what happened to areas where his wealthy friends didn’t happen to reside.  There’s no question that crime rates in even the worst NYC neighborhoods nosedived in the 1990’s as they did nationwide.  But to continue hiding behind crime stats for Manhattan simply shortchanges the rest of New York City and everyone, no matter where they live, deserves a life free from crime.

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Want To Get Rid Of Guns? Go Where The Bad Guns Are

Federally-supported gun violence intervention ...

Federally-supported gun violence intervention program (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to gun control, Congress still seems confused about whether more regulation equals better regulation.  I don’t think it necessarily does.  Particularly when a law is passed that only will make a difference if it is rigorously enforced at the level of the neighborhood and the street. And anyone who thinks that guns aren’t a neighborhood and street-level issue doesn’t know much about neighborhoods or guns, for that matter.  Which is why I wasn’t terribly concerned when Manchin-Toomey went down to defeat, because I knew that it would force people who are trying to do something about gun violence to stop looking to Uncle Sam for a quick solution that probably wouldn’t change things at all.

One organization that really seems to understand gun violence where the violence actually occurs is the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, located at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.  The Director of the Center, David Kennedy, has been a researcher, policy expert and program director for more than thirty years, and prior to coming to John Jay, he directed the Safe Guns project in Boston which created a successful model for dealing with gun violence by uniting law enforcement, social service agencies and community groups.

By moving to New York, Kennedy has been able to take his experiences and widen his vision beyond one city to embrace the country as a whole.  The Center offers planning and technical assistance to help cities and towns build safer communities, and is currently engaged in ongoing projects in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, the State of Connecticut, and several Native American reservations.  The Center recently received a million-dollar grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to “develop and sustain its highly-successful crime-reduction strategies” which, BJA noted,  are in “high demand” from communities that want to implement such programs.

There are two things about the Center’s approach that I find exceptional.  The first, as I mentioned earlier, is the focus on prevention not through legislation, but with hands-on, street-level programs that actually work.  And the reason they work is that the Center combines theory with practice through diligent research into the effectiveness of what they are doing and an awareness that not two situations, two neighborhoods, two cities, are exactly alike.  This was proven, for example, in the different approaches to gun violence in New York and Boston; the latter created a tapestry of law enforcement, social service and community groups to deal with the problem while the former sent ‘stop-and-frisk’ police teams into high-crime zones.  Both programs worked at first but results tailed off earlier in Boston, then later in New York.   The Center’s success in its more recent programs shows that they learned from both.

It’s great to see efforts like David Kennedy’s Center for Crime Prevention and Control getting some nice, big funding support from the folks in DC.  But why doesn’t the NRA kick in some dough as well?  After all, the NRA keeps reminding us that they represent law-abiding gun owners who believe that 2nd Amendment guarantees should not stand in the way of getting criminal guns off the street.  Which is exactly what Kennedy and his colleagues are all about.  Want to build a real alliance between gun owners and non-gun owners over the issue of gun control?  Here’s the place to start.

Bloomberg Goes After Gun Traffickers: Does He Know Who He’s Looking For/

bloomMike Bloomberg, soon-to-be former Mayor of New York City, has blanketed the airwaves and the internet since Sandy Hook with his campaign to stop gun trafficking.  Although I can’t find a strict explanation for what constitutes gun trafficking, I guess we can use the one found in H.R. 2554, the bill to prohibit firearms trafficking that was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that never got out of committee.  The text of the bill says that trafficking is the transfer of a firearm to an individual:

whose possession or receipt of the firearm would be unlawful; or who intends to or will use, carry, possess, or dispose of the firearm unlawfully.

If you want to know what this means or doesn’t mean, which is a polite way of asking whether Bloomberg, Maloney, et. al.,  knows what they’re talking about, just read on.

Bloomberg’s gun trafficking “evidence” is presented in two ways: there’s a detailed report and an interactive website.  The website allows the viewer to choose any state and see where guns initially sold in that state were later picked up by the cops, or you can turn it around, choose a state and see where guns picked up in that state were first sold.

Not surprisingly, the states that exported the most guns to other states are also states where there are few, if any legal restrictions on gun sales.  The website lists 10 state gun regulations that help deter illegal gun activity (licensing, straw sales, etc.) and only two of the top-10 exporting states, Virginia and North Carolina, had 4 of these regulations on the books, and nearly all the other high-exporting states had one or none.

It has long been an article of faith held by Bloomberg and other gun control advocates that more gun laws equals less gun crime.  But the evidence isn’t so much causal as coincidental because states that have stricter gun laws also tend to be states with less gun ownership.  And the bigger problem is that it’s simply impossible to take a phenomenon as complicated as crime and try to find a single factor that explains why and when it occurs.

But the real problem with Bloomberg’s search for gun traffickers lies in the fact that if we use the transfer of a firearm to test the definition of gun trafficking, and restrict our data to interstate seizure of crime guns, the data used to rank the exporting states starts to get less than precise.  For example, Georgia ranked 10th in total exports and yet 35% of all their exported guns were found in contiguous states.  Virginia was the 7th-highest export state but 40% of its gun exports were found in DC, Maryland and North Carolina.

I’m not surprised that a majority of the crime guns recovered in New York come from non-contiguous states when you consider that both Massachusetts and Connecticut not only have strict laws but have a per capita gun ownership rate far below the national average.

I could write ten more diaries on the analytical problems involved with understanding gun trafficking but my point is simply this:  If anyone thinks there’s a silver bullet out there that will solve the issue of gun violence, think again. The problem is very complex, it’s simply not amenable to any sort of “quick fix,” and before we change the laws, we better make sure that we really know what’s broken and whether we can fix it.

 

It’s Official! When It Comes To Murders, The Second City Is Now The First City

fbi

 

 

Chicago has always been known as the ‘Second City’ because it can’t seem to compete with New York.  But that’s changed.  The latest report on American crime released annually by the FBI, shows that when it comes to murder, Chicago now leads the list.

Since my diaries on crime seem to generate lots of bickering over the data, I want to make one thing very clear: the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports are estimates because: 1) they are based on partial data; 2) they assume that every reporting department collects and analyzes its crime data in the same way. Nevertheless, the gap between murders in Chicago and everywhere else are so great that we can say with some degree of certainty that the Windy City has really stepped it up in 2012.

According to the FBI, Chicago had 500 murders in 2012, while New York dropped to a paltry 419. Note, incidentally, that New York’s population is three times  higher than Chicago’s (8.7 million to 2.7 million, respectively) which makes Chicago’s murder rate (per 100,000) about four times higher than New York’s rate, 18 to 4.8.

Think Chicago’s an unsafe city? Think again. The 2012  murder rate in Flint, MI was 63! Down the road a bit in Detroit the rate was only 55. Philadelphia’s a veritable garden of tranquility with a homicide rate just slightly over 21.

Altogether there were 15 cities that counted at least 100 murders in 2012: The Big 4 above, plus Los Angeles (299), Baltimore (219), Houston (217), New Orleans (193), Dallas (154), Memphis (133), Oakland (126), Phoenix (124), St. Louis (113), Kansas City (105) and Indianapolis (101).

The total population for these cities is somewhere between 25 and 30 million. Their police departments reported 3,420 homicides in 2012, out of a national reported total of 14,827. Which means that cities that held less than 10% of the US population accounted for almost one-quarter of all murders. Way to go you big cities!

What I find most significant about the FBI data on the geography of homicide is not the cities that made the murder list, but the cities that didn’t. Jacksonville, for example, didn’t make the list. Think there’s no inner-city neighborhoods in Jacksonville? Next time you drive down I-95 on your way to Daytona or Palm Beach, get off at Lem Turner Road and cruise around.

There are lots of cities like Jacksonville filled with crummy neighborhoods whose existence we lament but really don’t do anything to help things change. And many of these cities don’t have double-digit murder rates and yet we don’t know why. Twenty years ago, for example, New York City initiated a community-based policing  system that was credited with steep declines in crime. It was copied by virtually every other metropolitan police department and in some places it worked and in others made no difference at all.

One last point about the 2012 FBI Report: It shows that the average value of the property that was reported stolen in larceny and burglary increased from $1,721 in 2011 to $1,726 in 2012. Maybe the economy is finally recovering.