Want To Understand Gun Violence? It’s The Details That Count.

Every day our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) put up the list of people who were killed or injured by guns the day before, something they have been doing since 2014. Their data comes from more than 2,500 open sources, and while it’s not a complete listing of everyone whose life ends because they got hit with a bullet, their efforts give us a remarkable opportunity to understand when, how, where and why shootings take place.

GVA              Mark Bryant and his merry band have come in for their lumps from both camps in the gun debate, gun-control scholars seemingly never satisfied unless every bit of data can be linked to a legitimate, government source; Gun-nut Nation trolls refusing to accept the idea that there’s something called gun violence at all. But the GVA gives us details of each incident, read enough of them and you begin to realize that analyzing gun violence just by using numbers obscures as much as it explains.

Let’s take every gun killing listed in GVA for March 25. There were 18 separate incidents in 10 different states resulting in 22 deaths.  In other words, more than one out of 5 fatal shootings resulted in more than one death. What does this mean? Neither the FBI nor the CDC, the two agencies which gather data on gun violence, publish the actual number of fatal shooting events; they just give us an overall body count, which is not the same thing.

March 25th was a Monday. Are 22 fatal gun shootings what normally occur on the first ‘business’ day of the week?  Again, we have no idea because the studies that look at day-to-day variations in gun killings tend to be localized within a particular city or particular state. Another problem from a quantitative perspective is that the GVA can’t rely on open sources to generate any kind of comprehensive data on gun suicides. If that were the case, generally speaking, a day which registered 22 gun homicides would count only 40 gun suicides, when the actual number is 55 or more. with guns. But one incident described by GVA did stand out in this respect. A man in Harris County, TX caused an accident by driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He came out of his car, observed the incident (nobody was badly hurt) and then went back to his car and shot himself dead. We always think of suicide as a planned, isolated event. Really?

Another interesting bit of information which came out of the listing was that five of the 22 casualties were women, which happens to be roughly twice the usual proportion of female gun homicide victims to victims overall. Two of the women were shot inside their homes alongside a male victim; another woman was pregnant, she survived but the unborn baby did not, another woman sitting in the car was also gunned down.

Finally, two of the shootings took place in situations where liquor was involved, a strip club and a bar. Maybe the shooters were under the influence, maybe not. Alcohol is certainly an extenuating factor in all kinds of violence; that 10% of the March 25 shootings were in or near places serving booze shouldn’t surprise.

I saw the first photographic show mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1958 or 1959.  It featured the photos of Arthur Zellig, aka Weegee, whose pictures of New York homicides were graphic enough to be considered works of art. Taking a Weegee-like approach to gun homicide brings us face-to-face with a type of behavior that no amount of data can necessarily explain. Americans commit more than 2 million serious acts of personal violence each year, so how come only 75,000 are committed with guns? It’s not like the other 1,925,000 people who really try to hurt someone else can’t get their hands on a gun.

Everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should read some of the descriptions of the shooting events listed in the GVA.  It’s a sobering exercise, to say the least, but I guarantee that after you finish, you’ll never think the same way about gun violence again.


An Approach To Gun Violence Which We All Need To See.

When I was 14 or 15 years old, my brother took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to see an exhibition of photographs by an immigrant named Arthur Felig who went by the street name of Weegee, and whose photos showed the gritty side of New York. Using one of those heavy Speed Graphic cameras with the big flash bulbs, Weegee would hang around a police precinct and when a call came in about a murder or some other criminal event, he would often get to the scene before the cops, shoot a picture and sell it to one of the city’s tabloids where it would usually appear the next day.

Weegee’s subjects were everyone and anyone, from the Park Avenue society dowager arriving for a banquet at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to homeless men and women sleeping in Central Park. But if there was one subject which showed up again and again in his work, it was pictures of shooting victims who lying there in the street, often surrounded by the cops who usually followed Weegee to the scene. Here are some of ‘New York’s Finest’ standing around a shooting victim and notice that none of the cops appears to be particularly concerned or upset.


              I was reminded of Weegee last week when I took a look at a website, It Takes Us, which is the handiwork of a professional photographer named Joe Quint. The website is contains a collection of videos, testimonies and what Quint calls the ‘faces of gun violence,’ which are portraits of people who have either been victims or connected to victims shot by guns. If you haven’t yet seen this remarkable portfolio, put me on hold for a minute, click the link above and take a look.

Quint was reared on Long Island, went to Temple University and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and kids. He’s had a camera in his hand since he was four years old, his work clearly demonstrating that he’s a master of his craft. He joined Everytown but then decided to construct this website because as he says, he had reached a ‘tipping point’ in which he could no longer justify his own inaction in the face of the ongoing carnage which claims more than 30,000 lives every year. Along with this venue, Quint has also contributed articles and narratives to NBC, PBS, Huffington Post among others, as well as our friends at The Trace.

The reason I made the connection between Weegee and Joe Quint is, first of all, they are both artists who use a camera rather than a paint and brush. But the ability to convey more than just some pictorial details about their subjects is what sets them apart. In this respect, if you compare the work of both men about the same subject – gun violence – what you come away with his how gun violence has changed.

When Weegee was running around Manhattan taking pics of this gun-violence and that, virtually every one of the individuals lying in their own blood had been shot because they were gangsters and mob guys for whom ending up with a bullet in the head was an occupational hazard, or better said, occupational requirement for the kind of lives these wise guys led. The shootings caught by Weegee weren’t random, they didn’t happen because there were so many guns around, and most of all, they didn’t involve kids.


              Joe Quint’s gallery, on the other hand, should be understood as reflecting how gun violence has changed. Because even though every once in a great while some connected guy is found in the trunk of his car, every day more than 200 people are killed or injured because someone else points a gun at them and goes – bam! – and too many of these victims are simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If today’s gun violence was like the gun violence in Weegee’s time, we’d be way ahead.

When It Comes to Gun Violence Chicago Is Bad But It Ain’t The Worst.

Chicago was ablaze with gunfire again this weekend and as of Sunday morning, five people were dead in a single house and another fifteen were in various hospitals with wounds.  There’s a good chance that the Windy City will rack up more than 800 gun deaths in 2016, almost double the number of gun murders in 2015, which was a 12% increase from the year before.  The city is looking at the newly-issued report of a taskforce that is calling for new measures to deal with the violence; you know, another taskforce, got it?

chicago             Last year I looked at the map of shootings for Chicago that is carried in The Tribune, and noticed that some neighborhoods, particularly parts of the South and West Sides, appeared overwhelmed with gun violence, whereas other areas of the city seemed to have little or no gun violence at all.  But the map for 2016 is different because although gun violence is still concentrated in neighborhoods like Austin in the West and New City in the South, shootings occur in every neighborhood, even in places like Rogers Park.  I lived in Rogers Park in the 1970s and forget about violence or crime, our apartment on Greenleaf Avenue didn’t even have a front-door lock.  This year there have been 25 shootings in Rogers Park, although that’s an improvement because shootings numbered 40 in 2014.

Doing a quick calculation brings the murder rate in Chicago (per 100,000 residents) to just around 30, give or take a few. The national gun homicide rate is around 3.5 per 100,000, in other words, one-tenth of what’s going on in Chicago these days, no wonder the weekend shooting deaths of five people in one house made the national news. Incidentally, I just went back to the browser and the city’s shooting toll since Friday afternoon has been upped to 9 dead and 26 wounded with most of Sunday still to be gotten through.

So what makes this city such a human shooting gallery with no end in sight?  It’s almost like you could walk down any street in the Second City and a bullet might go whizzing overhead.  Except the fact is that Chicago, compared to some other places, isn’t so dangerous after all.  St. Louis this year has a murder rate of 61, New Orleans is 46, Newark is 39.  I don’t know how many of these murders were committed with guns, but if the usual 70% average for guns used in homicides holds true in these towns, then all of them, and some others, rank well ahead of Chicago when it comes to the number of residents who are being gunned down.

If the gun-violence problem in Chicago was just related to Chicago, we could probably come up with some quick and easy reasons why such an exceptional situation existed in only this one place.  But gun violence, more particularly the increase in gun violence, isn’t just a Chicago problem at all. It seems to be occurring in many places, and I am not sure that this generalized increase in gun violence is only found in high-density, inner-city neighborhoods. The FBI says that the murder rate is lowest in cities with less than 100,000 residents, but the town of Mangonia Park, FL (which has a great waterslide) registered two murders in 2015 which gave this place a murder rate per 100,000 of 151!  When a homicide occurs in a place like Mangonia Park it never makes the national news, but there are little towns (what the FBI calls ‘tiny cities’) all over the place and violent crimes, shooting crimes, take place in these spots as well.

Violent crime and, in particular gun violence dropped steeply in the 1990s and 2000s but levelled off but let’s stop patting ourselves on the back and pretending that we’ve got the problem under control. As the accuracy of gun-violence reporting gets more accurate, it’s clear the numbers are moving up.  And they are moving up everywhere, not just in the city on the lake.

Want To Keep Guns Out Of The Wrong Hands? Check The 3rd Grade.

While the gun violence community (GVP) approaches the question of reducing gun violence from many different perspectives, there does seem to be a basic consensus around the idea that the 120,000+ gun injuries (more than 35,000 fatal) suffered each year by Americans can be substantially lessened by keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  This basic approach was embodied in the first, major effort at gun regulation, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68), which stipulated that certain individuals who were felons or fugitives, among other unsavory types, shouldn’t be allowed to get their hands on guns.

voting            Over the years a few more ‘wrong hands’ categories have been added to the list, as well as attempts to make it more difficult for wrong-handed people to get access to guns which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is what was behind the FBI-NICS background check system implemented under the Clinton Administration and has become the great GVP battleground over the extension of background checks to secondary sales.

Despite the stupidities of Gun-nut Nation regarding the uselessness of background checks, I’m willing to bet that the NICS system has probably been somewhat responsible for the more than 50% decrease in gun violence between 1995 and 2005, but while the system has become more efficient over the last ten years and secondary background checks are now conducted in 20 states, the overall rate of gun violence has plateaued over the last ten years and now appears to be edging back up.  So perhaps it’s time to re-examine the entire ‘wrong hands’ approach to dealing with gun violence, if only because more ‘bad hands’ seem to be getting their hands on guns every year.

The basic assumption that lies behind ‘wrong hands’ is the idea that people who behave in violent ways will become even more violent if they get their hands on a gun.  But the problem is that even if we had airtight reporting of all criminal behavior, even if the NICS database contained an absolutely complete and comprehensive list of everyone convicted of a violent crime, particularly crimes related to domestic abuse, these records only reflect the behavior of adults, which is way too late to predict who might be a threat to themselves or others when/if they got their hands on a gun.

The life-cycle of gun access has been studied by some of our most eminent public health and criminology researchers and they all agree: guns start showing up in the ‘wrong hands’ beginning around age twelve.  Because a real gun in the hands of any twelve-year old is, by definition, a gun in the ‘wrong hands,’ but that’s when they start showing up.  And the kid who starts carrying a gun to show off at twelve will be carrying it to use it when he’s sixteen. And he will have used it or had another gun used against him over the next ten years.  The studies that confirm the recidivism of gun violence by perpetrators and victims are conclusive in this respect.

But here’s the problem. By the time the kid with a gun reaches the age of sixteen, he no longer can be found.  And he can’t be found because he dropped out of school at age fourteen.  And now he’s wandering the nabes or the hood and he supports himself by doing things that require carrying or using a gun.  The city of Springfield, MA has a gun-homicide rate more than three times the national rate.  It also has a school drop-out rate of 40%. Who’s watching these kids?  Nobody’s watching these kids.

Youngsters don’t wake up one day in the 9th grade and announce they are quitting school.  These are kids with all kinds of behavioral and learning issues which appear by the 2nd or 3rd grade.  And then, ten or fifteen years later, they get shot or go to jail for shooting someone else.  Want to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands?’ Those hands are attached to someone jumping around in the classroom right down the hall.


Ending Gun Violence Means Understanding Gun Violence And Here’s A Good Start.

So now we have the second report in as many weeks that strongly points to the connection between gun violence and gun laws; i.e., less of the latter produces more of the former.  The first report came from the Center for American Progress (CAP) which found that states with fewer legal restrictions on guns have higher rates of gun violence; now we have another report issued by New York State’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, which shows that states with lax gun regulations also export more crime guns to other states, hence raising gun violence rates in states which often have very strict and comprehensive controls.

gun-violence           So the bottom line is that states that do not view guns as a threat to community safety not only make their own communities less safe but also help to make communities elsewhere dangerous as well.  And if you believe that this is in any way a new discovery, let me take you back the passage of the Federal Firearms Act in 1938.  The FFA38 was actually the second gun bill passed during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the first being the 1934 law that regulated sale and ownership of full-automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns whose use became the staple of Hollywood gangster movies then and now.

The 1938 law moved the Federal government into gun regulation big-time, because it focused not on the control of these somewhat exotic and relatively unusual (and relatively expensive) machine guns, but established the regulation of standard, run-of-the-mill handguns and long guns which could be found in probably a majority of American homes. Moreover, the basic components of the 1938 law, even though much of it was revised by the Gun Control Act of 1968, created the regulatory environment which exists to the present day. To wit:

After 1938, anyone who wanted to be in the business of selling firearms, as opposed to simply collecting and transferring personal guns, had to acquire and operate the business with a federal firearms license issued by the Treasury Department.  Why the Treasury Department?  Because the license cost one buck, and anyone who paid anything to the U.S. Government paid to the U.S. Treasury.  The law also made it illegal if a felon, fugitive, or anyone ‘convicted of a crime of violence’ received a gun and, most important, required that federally-licensed gun dealers only transfer guns to individuals who were residents of the same state in which the dealer sold guns. The law was later revised to exempt long guns from the in-state purchase requirement (hence Lee Harvey Oswald was able to purchase and directly receive a rifle from a sporting-goods dealer in Chicago) but the requirement that handgun sales be limited to in-state transfers remained law from then until now.

Why has the government always required that handgun ownership be more rigorously regulated than long guns?  Because the basic purpose of federal gun regulations is to “provide support to Federal, State and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence.” So says the Gun Control Act of 1968, a law which, incidentally, was supported by the NRA.

Note that neither the 1938 gun law nor the law passed thirty years later or, for that matter, the third big law passed in 1994 attempted to regulate guns per se; all three laws were attempts to break the connection between guns, crime and violence by defining which individuals could acquire guns. But none of these laws defined gun violence for what it really is.

Gun violence is a pathogen and most pathogens spread through human contact, which is certainly the case with the pathogen caused by guns.  We still don’t know exactly how, when or why this human contact takes place, but the reports issued by CAP and New York’s AG provide a good start. They also provide valid methodological templates to be used for further research. In sum, these reports deserve to be read, discussed and their value applauded and understood.



Will Gun Owners Start A Rebellion To Defend Their 2nd-Amendment Rights? Don’t Hold Your Breath.

Notwithstanding  Donald Trump’s jeremiad against the ‘corrupt media,’ I still believe The New York Times adheres to its masthead slogan “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” But perhaps the paper slipped in a story last week about Trump supporters calling for a revolution if Hillary wins. The most aggressive statements about a looming Trumpian apocalypse came from several people who identified themselves as gun owners and predicted armed insurrection if Hillary won the election and then attempted to take away their guns.

times-logo           You would think that two experienced reporters, when confronted with serious threats of armed revolt, (which happens to be a Federal felony) would at least attempt to figure out whether there was even remotely connected to reality before telling their readers that such views represented a ‘dark fear’ about the country heading for a violent political end. But these predictions about armed rebellion were presented without even the slightest effort to determine whether there was anything lurking behind such comments that could possibly translate into an insurrectionary event.

I have sold guns to more than 9,000 gun owners and can count on the fingers of one hand the few who will pull a Clinton-Kaine lever on November 8th.  Know why gun owners are going to vote for Trump?  Not because he’s telling them to ‘take care of Hillary’ if she messes with their 2nd-Amendment rights, not because their guns will protect them from the corruption of the elite, and certainly not because he says we will be a safer country if everyone walks around with a gun. Gun owners are going to vote for Trump for one simple reason: they have always voted for the Republican candidate, no matter what he says. And if they are then asked why they are voting for that candidate, they’ll repeat whatever the candidate said about why they should vote for him.

Want to take a guess as to how many gun owners came into my gun shop during the 2012 election and told me they were voting for Romney because he was on the side of the ‘givers’ and Obama was on the side of the ‘takers?’  Just about every single one.  And the few who didn’t tell me that the country had too many ‘takers’ didn’t say they wanted to make America ‘great’ again, they said they ‘believed’ in America, which just happened to be the Romney campaign slogan since everyone knew that someone born in Kenya couldn’t possibly believe in the U.S.A.

Last week Wayne-o sent an ‘urgent message’ to the NRA membership, warning them of Hillary’s plan to ‘forcibly’ take away their guns which could only be prevented if everyone joined with him, ‘arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder,’ to fight and ‘make America great again.’

Wayne’s exhortation to man the barricades was immediately dismissed by mainstream journalists as an example of an ‘alternate universe,’ but what gun owners hear and then repeat to inquiring reporters is one thing; whether they are willing to put up anything beyond their mouths is something else again. In 2013 a radio shock-jock radio named Adam Kokesh announced that he and a hardy band of supporters were determined to march from Virginia into Washington, D.C. They would carry loaded guns into the Nation’s Capital to initiate what he called the ‘Final American Revolution’ that would dissolve the Federal government and, I guess, install him as King. The revolution, of course, was cancelled when Kokesh realized that all he’d get for his trouble was a quick trip from the bridge in Virginia to a jail in D.C.

Being a law-abiding citizen happens to be a requirement for the legal ownership of a gun.  And NRA members and gun owners in general tend to be a very law-abiding bunch. The good news is that predicting that someone else will engage in armed rebellion happens to be protected by the same Bill of Rights which protects their ownership of guns.  And they’re not about to do anything that might really cause them to lose those guns.


Can We Prevent Gun Accidents With Better Safe-Storage Laws? Maybe Yes, Maybe No.

USA=-Today is carrying a story on accidental gun deaths of children in which the paper discovered that the CDC number for such events is probably undercounted by about half.  The story describes specific accidental gun deaths, one in which a 4-year old shot himself with a handgun found in his grandparents’ home, another when a 6-year old killed his younger brother with a gun that was lying inside a motel room where the two kids and their parents were spending the night.

accident           Undercounting accidental shootings (or intentional shootings, for that matter) by the CDC is hardly new news. Our friends at the Gun Violence Archive deliver data on and invariably the numbers they get from open media sources are higher than what either the CDC or the FBI report in just about every category of gun violence. And while the NRA will tell you that it’s never the gun but always the person who is to blame for someone being injured with a gun, blaming a 4 year-old for shooting himself is something of a stretch.

The way we usually think about gun violence is to analyze it by creating different categories that cover both the type of violence (intentional, unintentional, homicide, suicide, legal ‘intervention,’ etc.) and the identity of the victim (location, gender, race, age, etc.)  We create these categories because we believe this will make it easier to craft sensible solutions to the problem, such as better CAP laws to prevent accidental shootings, temporary removal procedures for persons at-risk for suicide, and so forth.  It turns out, of course, that the states with the highest rate of accidental shootings, according to the USA-Today article, have no mandated safe-storage requirements at all.

What I am about to say may appear heretical to many of my friends in the Gun Violence Prevention community, or what I prefer to call Gun-sense Nation, but I think that the value and efficacy of safe-storage solutions as a response to accidental gun violence needs to be more clearly understood.  Because when I think about the root causes of gun violence, any kind of gun violence, I prefer not to think about the differences in circumstances or the people involved, but the commonalities which virtually every type of gun violence share.  And the single commonality which appears in every, single act of gun violence, is that the person who pulls the trigger has done something impulsive, careless or both.

The number one reason for car accidents isn’t DUI or speeding, it’s carelessness, which is why we mandate wearing harnesses or belts. But you don’t have seatbelts on guns, which means that no matter how many times people are told to lock up or lock away their guns, sooner or later they’ll forget.  And most accidental shootings don’t result in a young child getting hurt, but involve the owner of the gun who took it out to fool with it, show it to friends, clean it without checking whether or not it was loaded, and on and on and on. I personally know (or knew) three guys who shot themselves with their own guns; one died, two survived.  All three were fooling around with their guns.  The guy who died was playing ‘fast-draw’ down in his basement. Yanked the gun out of the holster, hammer snagged on his belt – bang!

I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation should back off from safe storage, or CAP laws or anything else.  What I am saying is that there is simply no other consumer product that you can hold in your hand which is in any way, shape or function as remotely lethal as a gun. And if you believe that this lethality can somehow be mitigated by remaking the human brain so that we will stop being careless, then you go right ahead.  Frankly, I prefer what Walter Mosley says, “Walk around with a gun and it will go off sooner or later.” He’s right.