Where Did The Term ‘Gun Violence’ Come From?

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When we talk about the risk of guns, why do we use the term ‘gun violence’ and where did it come from?  In fact, this whole business started back in 1979 when the CDC decided that violence was a public health issue. Medicine had long since recognized that violent behavior was a threat to health simply because violence creates injuries, and an injury is usually a problem that brings the victim to the attention of the medical community, with more than 37 million people being treated for injuries each year in emergency rooms.

docs versus glocks              But what made violence not just a health issue but a public health issue was the awareness that certain forms of violence, in particular homicide and suicide, were consistently among the 15 leading causes of death in the United States. And in addition to overall numbers, these types of violent deaths were also concentrated in certain environments, as well as increasing dramatically in specific demographics; e.g., a 154% increase in homicide rates of 15 – 19 year-old males from 1985 to 1991. And once medicine decided that we needed to address violence the way we successfully addressed other public health threats such as polio, typhus and tuberculosis, then researchers began looking for causes which would the lead to pro-active measures to reverse and hopefully eliminate violence as a medical condition or disease.

When medicine began to focus on violence as a public health issue, it wasn’t difficult to make the connection between violence and guns, for the simple reason that roughly 60% of all homicides have been committed with guns every year since 1981. Since that date we have experienced 689,000 murders in this country, of which 460,000 have been deaths intentionally caused by guns. During that same 35-year period, England experienced somewhere less than 20,000 homicide deaths – talk about American exceptionalism!

By the way, the CDC didn’t come up with the definition of violence by pulling the veritable rabbit out of the veritable hat.  In fact, their definition comes right from the Magna Carta of medical definitions, a.k.a. the World Health Organization, which defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” And this definition, copied by the CDC, also includes suicide, of which roughly half of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with guns.

Given the above, it’s clear that from a medical point of view, the gun violence prevention (GVP) community stands on pretty firm ground when they invoke the phrase ‘gun violence’ to argue about the risks and dangers represented by guns. The problem arises, however, when GVP goes beyond its own committed band of supporters and uses that kind of terminology when talking with non-advocates about the risks and dangers of guns. Because the NRA has done one heckuva job convincing not their own membership (who don’t need convincing, which is why they’re members of the NRA, duhhhh) but convincing Mr. and Ms. John Q. Public that even if guns are sometimes used in illegal or inappropriate ways, the positives of firearm ownership, in particular protection from crime, far outweigh the negatives in every respect. The idiot who represents the 27th C.D. in New York probably wouldn’t have been so quick to brag about how he’s going to ‘always’ carry a gun if public opinion polls didn’t show that a strong majority believed that having a gun makes you safe.

I’m not saying that GVP should drop the reference to ‘violence’ when they try to reach out beyond their own committed constituencies to discuss what to do about guns. What I am saying is that perhaps we need to make it clear that concerns about ‘gun violence’ aren’t based on value judgements about how people choose to live.  They are based on the same concerns that medicine has raised about violence as a health threat, an issue about which there is no disagreement at all.

All Of A Sudden, Talking Nicely About Gun Violence Is ‘In.’

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If Alex Jones was really the conspiracy expert which he claims to be, instead of just huckstering to the crowd that believes the aliens landed in Area 51, he would take a look at the way in which Gun-nut Nation develops and puts out its messaging, because he would discover that it starts and ends at the same place.  And that place happens to be the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where Donald ‘I could shoot someone in the street’ Trump is trying to change his tune on violence and guns.

nugent             I said last week that Trump’s muted and respectful response to the shooting of Steve Scalise and others represented an awareness that his dwindling base doesn’t provide enough traction to get his political agenda through Congress, never mind keep him from getting burned by Russiagate.  And his foolish attempt to promote himself by posting a tweet about a Rasmussen 50% score, a poll result which went south the very next day, can’t hide the fact that unless he starts appealing to folks outside of his crazy base, he’s all done.

So now it’s almost a week since the ‘good guys’ with guns in Alexandria turned out to be cops instead of civilians, but that didn’t stop John Lott from going on a right-wing noise-making radio show and saying how important it was to have people with guns on the scene. And it really doesn’t matter whether those guns belong to cops who may actually be trained to use lethal defense, or belong to civilians who aren’t required to undergo any training at all.  And if the gun is in the hands of a ‘good guy,’ then everything’s going to be okay. I know, it’s as dumb as you can get.

But when it comes to real dumbness, this week’s award has to go to none other than Ted Nugent, who figured out how to prolong his career by creating a new standard for saying dumb and stupid things about violence and guns. And I don’t mean a high standard because here’s a guy who’s so friggin’ dumb that he posted pictures of gun-control politicians on his Facebook page, all of whom happened to be Jewish, adorned each pic with an Israeli flag, and then claimed he didn’t ‘know’ that something so tasteless would be taken as an anti-Semitic slur.

Anyway, this jackass has now publicly disowned every hateful and nasty remark he ever made, and has promised to tone down his remarks, become ‘more respectful to the other side,’ and if “it gets fiery, if it gets hateful, I’m going away.” What? The man who told Obama to suck his you-know-what is pulling back from the rhetorical venom which Trump imitated again and again during the 2016 campaign?

This can only be happening because the alt-right has realized that since they now own the White House, that their brand of hate won’t sell.  Oh, it will still sell to the ‘make America great again’ crowd that will line up at Trump rallies and buy the hats and other overpriced paraphernalia which generates revenues for the Trump Organization bottom line. But that’s not going to work with the rest of us, and it’s the rest of us who will ultimately determine whether Trump keeps his job or not.

So now we have a report that Chris Collins (R-NY) whose announcement that he will always go around with his gun marks him as one of the dopiest schmucks in the U. S. House, is now crafting a bill to protect lawmakers from getting shot, and he’s doing it with help from the NRA. Perfect, just perfect. The NRA, which wants no restrictions of any kind on concealed-carry, is going to help write legislation that will make it easier for jerks like Rep. Collins to walk around DC with a gun. But this is a ‘responsible’ way to react to a mass shooting, right? And ‘responsible’ is now what Donald Trump is all about.

You Don’t Need A Gun To Protect Yourself From Bonnie & Clyde.

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We had a Bonnie & Clyde moment last week when two convicts murdered two prison guards who were taking them on a bus through Georgia, and over the next three days stole five different vehicles, robbed two homes, tied up and terrorized an elderly couple and led police on a chase where speeds reached 100 mph or more.  The whole deal finally ended up with the two jerks lying face down in the driveway of a home near the small Tennessee town of Christiana, where they were allegedly confronted by the homeowner and a neighbor, both of whom were allegedly wielding guns.

cons             Now you would think that the two brave homeowners would have been immediately flown to NRA headquarters to meet Wayne-o and the boys and, for that matter, brought to the White House for a one-on-one with the Commander in Chief.  But I checked Trump’s Twitter feed this morning and he was too busy whining about how Hillary isn’t being investigated for ‘obstruction’ while he is, I mean, after all, he needs to focus on the real affairs of state. Be that as it may, the news reports out of Tennessee sound and read like an advertisement for the concealed-carry gang, except there’s only one little problem, in subduing the escaped convicts, the two homeowners didn’t use guns at all.

You can view a brief video of the Tennessee State Trooper who reported that the two cons were ‘held at gunpoint’ by the homeowner who then was assisted by a neighbor, the headline on Fox said: “Hero homeowner holds escaped Georgia inmates at gunpoint until arrests,” except that’s not what happened at all.  What really happened is that the homeowner, Patrick Hale, was alerted that the two assholes were running around the neighborhood, he then loaded every gun in his home, called 911, stuffed his daughter into the family car and began to pull away.  At that moment, he saw the two inmates running towards him and waving their shirts as if signaling that they wanted to give themselves up.

Hale believed that the dopes thought he was actually a law enforcement officer because his car looks like a patrol vehicle, but at no time did he actually use his gun.  In fact, in a press conference at the sheriff’s office he said that what saved him was the prayers he offered as he was backing his car into the street. He then added that he didn’t understand why he was being called a ‘hero,’ since all he did was “dial 911 and explaining what happened and just backing up.” As opposed to the ‘real’ news from Fox, the ‘fake’ New York Daily News got it right with a headline which read, “Tennessee man loaded guns and prayed before capture of escaped Georgia inmates.”

We have a real problem these days when it comes to discussing gun violence, because if there’s one topic where the real facts rarely, if ever sees to break through the media noise machine, it’s the topic about violence caused by guns.  Whether they know it or not, just about everyone who considers themselves to be an expert in this area gets it more wrong than right.  And while much, if not most of the errors that pop up are the conscious handiwork of the pro-gun side, the ‘sensible’ gun people and their media allies also sometimes get it wrong.  Last week a noted GVP influencer went on a podcast and talked about the “ninety-three gun murders which occur every day.” Since when is suicide considered homicide? That’s news to me.

I’m the last person to accuse anyone else of making a mistake. We’re all human, we all make mistakes and I just hope that my misstatements don’t wind up as part of the gospel about gun violence or anything else. But some day if we work hard and remain committed, gun violence will be a thing of the past. And then, to quote Justice Felix Frankfurter, “history will also have its claims.”

A Perfect Opportunity To Blame Gun Violence On The Left.

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In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s shooting in Alexandria, VA, there was shock, concern and a rather dignified tone to the public reactions, up to and including the rather out-of-character remarks of the Commander in Chief. After all, here was ‘I could shoot someone down in the street’ Trump saying only that his thoughts and prayers went out to the victims, with Rand Paul thanking the Almighty for the presence of the police even though in his heart of hearts I’m sure he would have preferred if all the Members and their staffs had been armed.

newt2             But give it 24 hours, actually it took less time, and this event becomes just another chance to promote a political narrative which will end up pushing the idea that we all should be walking around with guns.  And who started the ball rolling this time? None other than Newt Gingrich who because he briefly served as Speaker of the House and has then been kept politically alive thanks to the graces of Fox News, is able to shoot his mouth off about anything and everything whenever the occasion might arise.  Here he was last night on a Fox roundtable, saying that the shooting was “part of a pattern, you’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the Left.” He then went on to say, “You’ve had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it’s OK to hate Trump, it’s OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it’s OK to consider assassinating Trump.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle.  Given a Presidential campaign in which one candidate not only energized his audiences with frequent appeals to using violence, but even hinted that his opponent might find herself in the crosshairs of someone who wanted to protect their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ it’s amazing how a blowhard like Gingrich could take the argument used by the alt-right to condemn gun violence and stand it on its head.  And what I’m referring to here is the unequivocal assertion made by every pro-gun and alt-right noisemaker that all mass shootings are the work of ‘nuts, or ‘crazies,’ whose access to lethal weapons should in no way prevent all law-abiding Americans from getting their hands on guns.

Now, for the first time, Gun-nut Nation is changing its tune and blaming this latest episode not on a loony tunes, but on the same people who want to take away the guns, namely, the political elites who openly despise the attempts by #45 to make America great. What we have here is a remarkable argument which justifies the use of guns to ‘protect’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but deplores gun violence when the guns are used to attack people like Steve Scalise who have been in the forefront of the gun ‘rights’ campaign.

But why should I be surprised when mass or high-profile shootings become the stuff with which political narratives are then made?  Our good friend Shaun Dakin just shared with me and others a piece in Esquire where the writer states that “Historically, mass shootings have been used as political opportunities,” and then goes on to mention how the NRA used both Sandy Hook and the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords to promote fewer restrictions on guns. He concludes by saying that, “the NRA politicizes collective grief to advance its narrative to the benefit of those who would commit acts of violence.”

Excuse me but didn’t Obama tried as hard as he could to get a new gun law passed after the rampage at Sandy Hook? And wasn’t it a Republican-controlled House Committee that cancelled a hearing yesterday on a bill that would make it easier for Americans to put silencers on their guns?

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to gun violence, I’m not excusing the NRA or the alt-right (which is my name for the GOP) for appealing to emotions over facts. But the argument over gun violence shouldn’t turn on emotions either way – we just have too many guns.

How Come Trump Is Being So Polite About The Shooting Of Steve Scalise?

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For the very first time since he was inaugurated, Trump’s negatives in the Gallup tracking poll have hit 60 percent and positives are on the way to one-third. No President since Truman has hit such lousy numbers in such a brief period of time, and if there’s one thing that all politicians know how to read, it’s the numbers in the polls.

trump5             Not that Trump seems inclined to depart from his belligerent, showboating stance.  His twitter feed continues to be used as a combination ego-boosting vehicle and insult machine.  Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting which turned into a prayer service was shameless pandering to what remains of his base, and his obsessive effort to promote alt-right media venues as ‘real news’ just demonstrates how true media professionals can’t find anything substantive to report about him at all.

But his reaction and the reaction of other Republican stalwarts to the unfortunate shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and staff members during the warmup for a Congressional baseball game at a ballfield in Alexandria, VA, across the river from DC. Details are still somewhat sketchy, but it appears that some guy opened fire with a rifle, discharged multiple rounds, and wounded Scalise, several Congressional staff members and two law enforcement officers as well.

Scalise is the Majority Whip of the House, represents the 1st C.D. in Louisiana and is considered a staunch conservative when it comes to voting and promoting issues on Capitol Hill. Not surprisingly, he refers to himself as a ‘strong’ supporter of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’  and in that regard submitted a bill in 2012 – HR58 – which would allow  residents from one state to journey to any other state in order to buy guns.  This bill, if enacted, would undo the fundamental foundation of all federal gun-control regulations since 1938, which requires that guns be purchased in the state of residence in order to track the movement of firearms from place to place. It goes without saying that Scalise gets a top rating from the NRA.

Within minutes after the shooting, a former Congressional colleague of Scalise went online and tweeted: “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police- public servants and heroes today and every day.” This was Gaby Giffords,and when it comes to being the victim of gunfire, Gabby knows what she’s talking about, right?  But at exactly the same moment, another tweet came down from someone who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, particularly when it comes to talking about guns.  Here’s the full tweet from the ‘real’ Donald Trump: “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”

Hey – wait a minute!  How come the President didn’t use the opportunity to push the idea that civilians should be walking around with guns?  How come we haven’t heard anything from the usual, pro-gun noisemakers like John Lott about whether the ballfield was or wasn’t a gun-free zone?  Senator Rand Paul, who has been an adamant supporter of gun rights, was just about to take some batting practice when the shooting started, and he later said, “I do believe that without the Capitol Hill police, it would have been a massacre,” he said. “We had no defense at all.”

When a guy walked into the Pulse nightclub in Florida with an assault rifle and murdered 49 people last June, pro-gun advocates, including the not-yet-elected President couldn’t wait to blame the whole thing on the fact that nobody inside the club was carrying a gun.  But all of a sudden, when it comes to how an armed citizen could have stopped the carnage this morning on a ballfield in Alexandria, stillness reigns supreme. And something tells me that part of that stillness is due to those poll numbers which, if nothing else, demonstrate that all of Trump’s pro-gun bluster isn’t paying off at all.

In Florida, School Prayer And Stand Your Ground Is The Same Thing.

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In 1956 I was a 7th-grade student at Public School 29 in New York City and we began every day with a prayer from the New Testament read by our teacher who happened to be a communicant at the Catholic parish across the street. When I refused to fold my hands and bow my head because my family read the Old Testament at home, the teacher made me stand out in the hallway until the prayer was done.

SYG             It’s now more than 50 years since the Supreme Court ruled that public-school officials could not organize prayer services, but many states and localities get around the religion issue by letting the students lead the prayers. Last week the Florida Senate approved a bill (SB 436) that requires all school districts to allow for ‘voluntary’ expressions of religious belief on school property, which basically protects public prayer in the classroom, but does not contain any protections for students who choose not to participate, such as the way I behaved back in 1956.

The bill got a big play last week because it was passed as part of an agreement to pass another bill, SB 128, which makes it easier for Florida residents to use a ‘stand your ground’ defense if they happen to shoot someone besides themselves. This bill basically puts the burden of proof on the prosecution from the moment a defendant appears in Court, which means that if the State isn’t ready to present all relevant evidence at an initial, pre-trial hearing, the guy who did the shooting walks free.

Every Republican in the Florida State Senate voted for the change in SYG, ditto for what is being called a ‘stand for liberty’ by the sponsor of the religious ‘freedom’ bill. This State Senator, Dennis Baxley, represents the 12th District, which covers Marion, Sumter and Lake Counties and delivered between 60% and 70% of their 2016 Presidential votes to our temporary 45th President, a.k.a. Donald Trump. Baxley’s website says he understands that “family, freedom and faith must all flourish to keep our state and nation strong.”  Is he endorsed by the NRA?  Is New York a city?  I mean, family, faith and freedom – give me a break.

              Regarding Senator Baxley’s commitment to freedom, he says “As the father of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Dennis Baxley believes that our Second Amendment rights are the bedrock of our nation’s freedom. He will fight against the erosion of this fundamental freedom.” In other words, Baxley has jumped on the latest lie being promoted by Gun-nut Nation, namely, the idea that the 2nd Amendment is the most important test in the Constitution, because armed citizens are the last defense against the tyranny of the state. And if you don’t believe this to be true, the proponents of this nonsense will also tell you that the Holocaust might not have resulted in the extermination of 6 million human beings if the Nazis had to go up against armed Jews.
              The moment that public officials like Dennis Baxley start waxing eloquent about their commitments to family, freedom and faith I find myself back in my 7th-grade classroom being marched out into the hall by a religiously-minded teacher who simply couldn’t comprehend my lack of religious belief. And I get the same, slightly sinking feeling whenever someone from Gun-nut Nation starts chanting about their God-given ‘rights’ to self-defense with a gun.
              I’m not sure why a fervent belief in gun violence is so often joined to a fervent belief in God, but they often seem to go hand in hand. And if anyone actually believes that SYG or concealed-carry laws help prevent gun violence, then I suggest you take a page from Senator Baxley’s playbook and join him in his support of the NRA. Because we shouldn’t have to justify or explain our belief in the power of the Almighty or the usefulness of a Glock 19.

It’s Time For Some Real Push-Back About Violence Caused By Guns.

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I’m going to make a prediction that my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community won’t like but it needs to be said nonetheless. And my prediction goes like this: Unless and until the advocates for reducing gun violence get it together and start slugging it out toe-to-toe with the pro-gun gang, the possibility that we will see a significant decline in gun violence will remain somewhere between nothing and nil. Let me give you an example.

kim             Last week the boys in Fairfax posted a story about Kim Kardashian’s latest attempt to inject a little reality into the debate about guns. Basically she called for more restrictions on people who are convicted of a misdemeanor, or have been served a temporary restraining order; in other words, closing some of the loopholes which allow an awful lot of dangerous people to legally get their hands on guns.

The NRA referred to Kardashian’s comments as ‘barely-intelligible’ and ‘ignorant’ despite the fact that what she said about legal loopholes wasn’t all that different from what we know to be true. Would her comments pass muster in an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court? Of course not. But when was the last time that any mouthpiece for Gun-nut nation said anything that remotely aligned with the truth?

On the same NRA webpage which carried the attack on Kim, the NRA also linked to a Breitbart posting that calls out Shannon Watts for promoting female political candidates who, once in office, will push more gun-control laws. Of course there’s nothing about Shannon’s views which should surprise because she’s simply a creation of Bloomberg’s big bucks.

In these two stories alone I count at least five errors along with slanted, misleading opinions and a generally nasty attitude towards two women who don’t deserve to be attacked by media organizations which claim to be publishing the latest ‘news.’ But if we have learned anything from the last six months and our sleep-deprived President, it’s that what used to be the line between facts and opinions has disappeared. And nowhere is this more the case than in the so-called ‘debate’ about guns.

But in fact there isn’t any debate about whether the existence of 300 million personally-owned guns gives the United States a level of gun violence that is seven to twenty times higher than gun-violence rates in the rest of the OECD. In a recent column I mentioned that a new study by pediatricians at Mt. Sinai Hospital found that 80% of all gun injuries suffered by children occurred in the 16-19 age group, whereupon a pro-gun advocate told me that these gun-violence victims were all gang members or criminals, hence, they weren’t ‘kids.’ This is the kind of nonsensical thinking that Gun-nut Nation employs every time that any credible research on gun violence appears. Is it different from stating that anything Kim Kardashian or Shannon Watts says is stupid and wrong because they are being promoted by Bloomberg’s big bucks?

Enough is really enough. If James Comey can sit down in front of a Senate Committee and call that schmuck in the Oval Office a ‘liar,’ then it’s high time that GVP took off the gloves and started talking like they mean it as well. With all due respect to my public health friends at Harvard and Hopkins, evidence-based research just won’t do it alone; you also need to push back with the same degree of anger and volume that appears in every comment made by the other side.

When a right-wing ‘think’ tank says that banning assault weapons won’t do anything to curb gun violence, they are lying and they need to be called ‘liars’ in direct and no-nonsense terms. When an organization that is supported by a publicly-granted tax deduction says that guns don’t kill people, only people kill people, they need to be told that what they are saying is a BIG LIE. The problem with GVP is that it’s too polite. And politeness only provokes the other side to behave even worse.

 

 

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