Dorothy Paugh: Empowering Family Members to Remove Guns from Suicidal Loved Ones.

 

After losing my father Edwin, 51 to suicide by gun in 1965 and my son Peter, 25 the same way in 2012, I have studied to find proven ways to reduce the number of Americans who shoot themselves— currently over 21,000 each year, overwhelmingly white males.  Family members are often the first to see signs their loved one is in crisis.  My Maryland state delegate has agreed to introduce a bill in 2018 to allow concerned family members to seek protective orders for law enforcement to temporarily remove their loved one’s guns.  Right now protective orders can only be sought against those who pose a danger to others.

suicide1The temporary removal of firearms from the home has saved many lives as Connecticut’s 17-year history issuing risk warrants to remove guns from the suicidal has demonstrated.  Indiana has had a similar law since 2006.  California, Washington and Oregon have recently enacted similar laws. But when I asked the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)’s national advocacy office and the state chapter to support the introduction of an Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) or similar measure in Maryland, they declined to take a position.

In 2016, AFSP partnered with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to reach gun sellers, buyers and owners with suicide prevention messages.  Gun violence prevention organizations agree that for those who live with guns, we need to communicate the increased risks of suicide and the simple steps that can reduce those risks.  Guns are extremely lethal, and only one in ten will survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound.   A loaded gun triples the risk of suicide for all who can get their hands on it.

It’s not just small children that parents need to protect, it’s also their older children.  Firearm safety training doesn’t work when the act is intentional.  Most adults know a toddler with a gun is in danger, but fewer can comprehend that their teen might in a rash act end their own life.  Science has shown that keeping guns and ammunition locked away from minors can prevent impulsive youth suicides since most minors who shoot themselves do so with a parent’s gun.  Since 2007, youth suicide by gun has risen 60%.  Each year, nearly 500 American youth under 18 shoot themselves.   Minors should not have access to keys to either the gun lock safe or to the ammunition locked up in a separate container.

I understand what AFSP is trying to do based on the science behind effective communications.  In order for their suicide prevention messages to get through to gun owners, they must be conveyed to that audience by a trusted messenger.  NSSF gets them “in the door.”  But what I don’t see is how supporting a law to temporarily remove guns from a suicidal person would jeopardize their new partnership. There is no question that laws that allow the temporary removal of guns from suicidal adults have prevented many suicides. It’s solid ground, not a slippery slope. Dead men have no rights.

Like AFSP and NSSF, gun safety organizations want gun owners and those that live with them to stay alive and get the help they need.  Surely we don’t have to agree on everything to work together towards the goal of saving the lives of people in crisis.  We should meet, shake hands and walk “Out of the Darkness” as far as we can together towards the common goal of reducing gun suicides, which amount to nearly two thirds of all gun deaths in this country.

 

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A New Partnership To Reduce Gun Suicides Which Might Help.

How many people die annually from gun violence?  If you’re a gun-control advocate, you’ll usually say that it’s somewhere around 31,000.  On the other hand, if you’re pro-gun, you’ll say it’s 11,000, give or take a few. The difference is whether or not suicide is considered a type of gun violence, because every year more than 20,000 Americans end their own lives by using a gun.  And if you want to meet your Maker before He wants to meet you, there’s nothing as efficient as pulling out the ol’ firearm, aiming it at yourself and – bam! Gun suicide is effective 90% of the time, no other life-ending behavior is half as good.

gun-suicide            According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence is defined as someone who attempts to injure themselves or someone else.  So from a medical point of view, gun suicide is certainly a type of gun violence.  But the disagreement between pro-gun and anti-gun forces isn’t about medicine, it’s about politics, messaging and whether we need guns around or not.  Which is why until recently, the gun industry has preferred to keep discussions about gun suicide on the back burner, but that’s about to change.

Last year the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s lobbying and trade organization began talking to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in an effort to find some common ground.  And what has emerged from these talks is a four-state, pilot program that will put suicide prevention messaging in gun shops and shooting ranges, a program that will then be widened with the goal of reducing gun suicides 20% nationally by 2025.  The project was officially kicked off with a press conference at this week’s SHOT show, and is publicly displayed on the websites of the AFSP and NSSF.

Predictably, the fringe elements in Gun-nut World were reluctant to jump on board unless this initiative and other similar programs would steer clear of any explicit or implicit attempt to use this activity to regulate guns.  Alan Gottleib, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is really a cover for his very-profitable mail solicitation business, helped craft a bill before the Washington State legislature that establishes a ‘safe homes’ task force that will create messaging and training materials for ‘voluntary’ use by gun dealers. The Task Force membership includes Gottleib and a rep from the NRA. I don’t notice any representation from the groups in Washington State that pushed through an extension of background checks over the vigorous opposition of the NRA and the Gottleib gang.

This is the problem with the new suicide initiative announced by the NSSF and the AFSP, namely, that it’s a voluntary effort, which when it comes to educating about gun violence is where the gun industry always draws the line.  Gun-nut Nation’s phobia about government mandates is about as extreme as the phobia that some people have about immunizing their kids against disease.  And frankly, both phobias come from the same place; i.e., mistrust of government and a total misrepresentation of the facts. Fact: There is absolutely no connection between NICS-background checks and national registration of guns.  Fact: There is absolutely no connection between immunizations and autism, despite what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says.

If you walk into a gun shop today, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a ‘Don’t Lie For The Other Guy’ poster on the wall.  This is a long-standing partnership between the ATF and the NSSF to discourage straw sales at the counter-top, a project that is dear to the hearts of everyone in the GVP community as well.  In fact, displaying this message is mandatory, although ATF agents don’t check to see if the poster is hanging on the wall or not.

Of course we would like gun-suicide prevention programs to have some teeth. Of course we would like Gun-nut Nation to stop opposing sensible laws that would enable family members of at-risk individuals to remove their guns.  Of course, of course, of course.  But the NSSF-AFSP partnership is a good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Taking Guns Away From At-Risk Individuals Does Save Lives.

When the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) announces that it is teaming with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to reduce gun suicides, you know that something new and different is happening in the gun business.  Because until this moment, the gun industry has never shown the slightest interest in doing anything about the fact that 20,000+ Americans kill themselves each year by using guns, in fact, the party line has always been that guns and suicide have nothing to do with each other at all.

gun-suicideMeanwhile, close on the heels of this announcement comes a study (Dan Friedman has written a good summary in The Trace) by one of our most prolific and respected gun-violence researchers, Jeffrey Swanson, whose team evaluated the results of a Connecticut law which allows individuals and/or law enforcement to petition the courts for temporary removal of guns from someone who is believed would otherwise be at risk to harm himself or someone else.  The law, passed in 1999, has been copied in Indiana and California, and has always been a hot-button issue with Gun-nut Nation, which usually views any attempt to regulate guns for any reason to be an infringement on their beloved 2nd-Amendment rights.

Be that as it may, the fact is that suicide has been increasing of late, and while there has not been any causal link between service in Iraq and Afghanistan and suicide, military veterans of all ages are at greater risk for attempting a life-ending event than for the population as a whole. And everyone from the NRA to Obama to Trump tries to present themselves as the best friend that military vets ever had.

Which brings us back to Swanson’s study, which is the first attempt to look at the results of the Connecticut law in terms of whether or not temporary, court-ordered firearm seizures really do make a difference in preventing life-ending events with the use of a gun.  The CT law was actually passed not so much in response to suicide risk, but as a result of a terrible mass shooting incident where a pissed-off State Lottery employee stabbed and shot four of his bosses after he was denied a salary increase, then killed himself. But of the 762 cases of firearm seizures examined in this study, one-third were initiated out of concerns that the individual might try to harm someone else, while two-thirds of the seizure warrants were issued because it was believed that the affected individual was going to hurt himself.

Swanson’s team not only carefully reviewed the circumstances surrounding the issuance of these firearm-seizure warrants, but also attempted to follow the life paths of individuals who lost their guns.  It turns out that while the number of people who both lost their guns and still committed suicide was much greater than the normal suicide rate, not one of those suicides occurred during the 12 months that these individuals had their guns removed, and the number who later used guns was far below the usual rate for successful suicides using a gun. In other words, laws allowing a court to decide whether someone might harm themselves with a gun can, in fact, save lives.

I do have one major issue which is not intended as a criticism because it goes beyond the parameters of the article itself.  There were 762 firearm seizures ordered in Connecticut between 1999 and 2014.  But how many gun-seizure petitions were denied?  And how many people knew someone who was behaving in a way that made them appear to be a threat and yet decided that it wasn’t their ‘place’ to say anything or didn’t want to ‘get involved?’  There were people in San Bernardino who knew the two shooters were stockpiling weapons; there were people in South Carolina who heard an armed Dylann Roof make racist threats. Have we become so inured to violence that we need law to tell us that someone who exhibits great anger is someone who shouldn’t have access to a gun?

 

What Do The Gun Violence Numbers Really Tell Us? That Gun Violence Is Much Worse Than We Think.

. Earlier this year our friends at the Violence Policy Center published a report which showed that gun deaths were now outpacing motor vehicle deaths in 14 states, and if the trend continued, gun deaths would soon exceed car deaths throughout the entire United States. I think the comparison of automobile deaths to gun deaths, a basic GVP argument for why we need to curb gun violence, understates the real level of gun violence to a tremendous degree.  And this is because it doesn‘t take into account what Dennis Henigan, in a new book to be published in August, calls “exposure to risk.” Because the truth is that a gun only becomes a risk when it gets into someone’s hands.  And many of the 300 million civilian-owned small arms in America are rarely, if ever picked up at all.

conference-program-pic          Let’s play with some numbers. The average American sits in an automobile roughly 100 minutes every day and will drive 800,000 miles over the course of a life (thanks for the info, JM.)  The “average” American doesn’t actually own a gun, and of those who do, many are used occasionally for hunting or even less occasionally for target and shooting sports.  Gun Nation can jump for joy over the fact that millions of Americans have concealed-carry permits, but I notice that neither the NRA nor the NSSF has ever done a survey to find out how many of those folks with CCW licenses are actually walking around with a gun. For all the talk about how armed citizens are our first line of defense against the ‘bad guys,’ the FBI could find exactly one instance where a civilian armed with a gun actually intervened in an ‘active’ (multiple victims) shooting between 2000 and 2013.

So let’s do the numbers again and put our benchmark for auto deaths and gun deaths at 30,000, even though it’s slightly more for both.  What this turns into when we calculate the rate of motor vehicle fatalities versus gun fatalities is 10 per 100,000 for the cars, 33 per 100,000 for the guns. Of course Gun Nation will immediately scream that the numbers are manipulated (their current favorite ad hominem about Katie Couric’s brilliant documentary) because it’s the ‘bad guys, the ‘street thugs,’ the ‘wackos’ who do all the killing with guns.

But there’s just one little problem with this point of view.  Like just about everything that the pro-gun noise machine says to bolster gun sales, it’s simply not true. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and most, if not nearly all gun homicides involve people who know each other and can’t settle a dispute in more non-violent ways, and this is certainly the case in virtually every instance where a gun is yanked out during a domestic dispute which between 2010 and 2014 killed nearly 23,000 women and teenage girls.

Every single gun that is used to hurt someone, anyone, started out as the property of a legal gun owner.  Maybe they didn’t pull the trigger, but nobody would have been able to pull the trigger if the gun hadn’t gotten into the wrong hands. And that was the fault of the person who initially bought the gun. So I think it’s time for GVP-land to stop being so solicitous of all those legal gun owners who tell you that the problem of gun violence has nothing to do with them.  It has everything to do with them because absent their desire to own guns, the issue of gun violence wouldn’t exist.

And don’t get me wrong.  I went out today and bought a gun and I’m sure that over the next few months I’ll buy a couple more.  But what I won’t do is delude myself into thinking that some 2nd-Amendment, BS ‘right’ is being threatened because Hillary wants me to undergo a background check before I take possession of that little Glock.

Hoping that everyone has a safe and happy holiday.

 

Why Don’t We End Gun Violence? Because We Don’t Experience It.

This year roughly 110,000 Americans will be killed or seriously injured with guns. And this is often referred to as an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence for which a solution has yet to be found.  But epidemics, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, have a beginning and an end. In the case of gun violence, to quote the brilliant insight of Dr. Katherine Christoffel, gun violence is “endemic” because it just goes on year after year after year.

How does an otherwise basically law-abiding, civil society let this kind of human carnage go on without being able to develop or even talk about developing a basic consensus on bringing this problem to an end? The usual response is that a small but determined coterie of special-interest groups led by the NRA and the NSSF have managed to stymie any serious efforts at political reforms and without changes in public policy, the overwhelming and continuous human toll from guns will continue without change.

conference program pic           To me, this is a rather facile argument which takes an obvious answer and turns it into an unquestioned formula to be trotted out by every GVP organization and advocate whenever they are asked to explain why their efforts to promote sensible gun regulations come up short.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the NRA and its acolytes in and out of politics don’t deserve their share of the blame. What I am saying, however, is that the failure of this country to respond properly to gun violence goes far deeper than simply assigning blame to the folks who own the guns.

When Black Lives Matter sprung up after the murder of Trayvon Martin, the focus was, and continues to be on “broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.”  As regards gun violence, this conversation focuses on gun violence perpetrated by police against residents of the African-American community, of which there have been far too many instances over the last several years. Left unsaid is the degree to which gun violence committed by civilians against other civilians is also a feature of African-American life, with numbers and rates of gun homicides being seven or eight times higher among blacks then among whites.

Of course the GCP community, including African-American community leadership has an immediate answer to deal with this problem, namely, keep the guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands.  Which takes us right back to where we started, namely, the ability of the NRA camp to prevent sensible public policy reforms aimed at keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  No wonder we get nowhere fast.

Take a look at the racial breakdown for all causes of death for the age brackets 15 – 34.  From a gun-violence perspective, this is the killing zone par excellence, with black gun homicides accounting for two-thirds of all gun deaths whereas blacks are, at best, 15% of the overall population in this age bracket. The number cause of death in this age group is unintentional injuries and the numbers are: whites – 24,211; blacks – 3,488.  Second highest cause of death is suicide: whites 9,811; blacks – 1,111. Next highest is medical neoplasms (cancer): whites – 3,980; blacks – 901. Gun death victims aren’t just overwhelmingly African-American; it is the only cause of death in which the racial breakdown doesn’t more or less match the racial composition of society as a whole.

Want to know the real reason why we continue to put up with this obscene event known as gun violence?  Because more whites don’t get killed.  The Viet-Nam War ended because CBS News started flashing the body count on its national news every night, and those were American bodies and, loose talk to the contrary, most (85%) of those bodies were white. I’m not advocating killing or injuring anyone with guns; I’m saying that most of us don’t experience gun violence at all.

Think That Suicide Isn’t Gun Violence? Think Again.

The bad news is that suicides overall are up, the good news is that gun suicides as a percentage of all suicides is down. Well, kinda down.  Fifteen years ago, the CDC counted 29,199 suicides of all types across America; the per-100K rate was 10.48.  In 2014, the overall number was 42,773; the rate had climbed 23 percent to 12.93.  Ouch!  That’s not good.  Gun suicides, on the other hand, claimed 16,599 lives in 1999 for a 100-K rate of 5.96; in 2014 gun suicides were 21,334 resulting in a 100-K rate of 6.34.  So the gun suicide rate only increased by 6 percent.  I guess Gun Nation is doing something right, right?

Actually, wrong. Want the latest and greatest from Gun Nation about suicide and guns?  Take a look at the new, online safety program developed by the NSSF.  It’s a glossy website that gives a roadmap for ‘responsible’ gun ownership based on safe storage, training, communication and all the other things that you should do to be a ‘responsible gun owner.’  The website includes a nice list of safe storage options ‘to fit your lifestyle and home circumstances,’ ranging from a trigger lock to a full-size gun safe, all of which should be used to ‘prevent accidents.’

But what if you don’t want to lock the gun away because you might need to use it to shoot a You-Know-Who breaking down the front door?  After all, isn’t concealed or open carry also a lifestyle?  You betcha, considering that for the last twenty years the gun industry and its media sycophants have been promoting how much safer you’ll be if you own a gun.

But will you be safer?  To my utter astonishment, the NSSF’s safety brochure actually contains a statement about gun risk which is true: “Keeping a firearm to defend your family makes no sense if that same firearm puts family members or visitors to your home at risk.”  What kind of risk? The risk that is never mentioned by the NSSF or anyone else who promotes gun ownership, namely, risk that someone might end their own life with a gun. The NSSF gets about as close to this untouchable issue as they can by noting that gun safety is particularly necessary if “loved ones experience a difficult time.”  Well, at least Gun Nation has found a pleasant euphemism for depression; i.e., a ‘difficult time.’

But let’s drop the euphemism and look at reality: “States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide and overall suicide.  This relationship held for both genders and all age groups.  It remained true after accounting for poverty, urbanization and unemployment.” The link between gun ownership and suicide is particularly evident among teens, according to researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, and the fastest-growing age-group prone to suicides are teens. Since 2007, the overall rate of gun suicide has increased by 12%, the gun suicide rate among teens is up by 42%.

Why is Gun Nation so reluctant to mention the word suicide when they talk about gun safety?  Because it’s an unbroken rule among the gun-nut fraternity/sorority that the only people whose lives are lost from the misuse of guns are law-abiding citizens who didn’t use a gun to defend themselves against the You-Know-Who’s.  Think I’m overstating things?  Just listen to Wayne-o or home-school queen Dana Loesch repeat this nonsense in the videos they produce for the NRA.

Don’t think that suicide isn’t gun violence?  Think again.  Here’s how violence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary: “Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.” Notice it doesn’t say ‘someone else,’ because that’s a crime called aggravated assault.

Violence means damage and there’s nothing out there that can damage someone as effectively or quickly as a gun, particularly when you don’t even have to aim.  As far as I’m concerned, at least when it comes to suicide, maybe the GVP community should just drop the ‘V.’

 

 

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

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

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

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

or crime perpetration.” Gee, what a surprise.

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

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

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

                

The Gun Violence Numbers Continue To Add Up. And Up. And Up.

Hey folks.  Something really crazy is going on.  I hope I’m wrong but I suspect I’m not.  But if I am, please correct me as quickly as you can.  Okay?  I really mean it.

According to my friends at the Gun Violence Archive, so far in the last 72 hours we have racked up 78 deaths from guns.  So far in 2016 the total gun deaths stands at 1,735.  Overnight there were at least 26 gun homicides, of which 6 were evidently the work of one armed citizen, Jason Dalton, who just drove around Kalamazoo, MI, firing a semi-automatic pistol at whomever happened to come into his sight. That’s more than one killing every hour, which is actually a slightly lower hourly rate than what has been going on since the beginning of the year!

conference-program-picAs Bill Clinton said when he re-nominated Barack Obama in 2012, let’s do the arithmetic.  So far this year we have gone through 51 days plus 9 additional hours on Day 52. This adds up to 1,232 hours since the great ball dropped in Times Square.  Which means that the per-hour gun killing rate is now 1.4.  Which means at this rate we end up with 12,297 homicide deaths by year’s end; let’s add in 1,000 unintentional gun deaths which is probably a decent estimate and then tack on another 22,000 suicides, another reliable estimate, and we wind up with a grand total of more than 35,000 Americans who will be killed by guns in 2016.

There’s only one little problem, and it’s not a problem with my math.  Taken together, January and February are the two lowest murder months of the entire calendar year.  January is actually higher due, of course, to the usual way in which many people celebrate the Holiday Season by getting drunk, getting into a brawl and then, God bless ‘em all, pulling out a gun. But February is the lowest month for all serious crimes because in most parts of the country, it’s just too darn cold.

On the other hand, when we get into the warmer Summer months, what happens in the Winter as regards violent crimes is just a fraction of what takes place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with high-violence cities like Chicago, Detroit and DC racking up twice as many killings in those months as what is usually recorded at the beginning of the year.

This is why I began this blog with a plea for help in the hopes that perhaps the data I am looking at is wrong. But it’s not wrong.  The numbers so far this year reflect what has been happening with gun violence for the last decade, namely, a slow but steady upward climb from 28,685 in 2004 to 32,743 in 2014.  That’s a 14% increase in gun violence during the same years that the pro-gun noise machine has the unmitigated gall to keep telling us that guns are protecting us from violence and crime.  It’s as if the NRA and their media mouthpieces don’t care whether anything they say has even the slightest relationship to reality at all.

Remember this quote from Dickens: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.”  I think these words really describe the gun debate today.  Because if the gun violence numbers so far this year continue and then increase as they surely will during the summer months, we will end 2016 with a body count that will probably crest somewhere above 38,000 or even higher, which takes us back to levels that haven’t been seen since the great crime wave that peaked in 1994.

Is it too much to imagine that yesterday’s shooting in Kalamazoo might provoke folks to consider the possibility that it’s not people who are the problem, it’s the ease with which people can get their hands on guns?  Recall again what Dickens said.

 

John Lott Has A New Gun Survey Which Doesn’t Say What He Would Like It To Say.

Not to ever be considered anything less than a full-fledged member of the academic community, John Lott has just published the results of two surveys he conducted on the views of academic scholars about guns, in particular whether gun ownership makes us more or less safe.  Lott has been hammering away at this issue for more than twenty years, and although his research has been debunked again and again for either being wrong or possibly non-existent, to his credit John slogs on and on.

John’s latest attempt to burnish his academic bone-fides are these surveys, which can either be downloaded in full from SSRN or read in a summary written by John himself.  The bottom line is that his surveys of 74 academics who “published peer-reviewed empirical research on gun issues in criminology and economics journals” shows, not surprisingly, that a slim majority of respondents tended to support Lott’s long-held view that armed citizens decrease the murder rate, and roughly half the respondents did not believe that suicide rates were at all affected by having a gun in the home.

Although Lott doesn’t mention his competition by name, the gold standard for surveys on what academic researchers think about guns belongs to David Hemenway and his Injury Control Research Center at Harvard’s School of Public Health, a group that has conducted 13 separate surveys of published academics, including surveys on both the questions which Lott covered in the study he just released.

Survey question by the Harvard group: “In the United States, having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide.” Answers: 150.  Result: 84% agreed or strongly agreed.

Survey question by the Harvard group: “Carrying a gun on your person outside the home generally reduces the risk of being killed.”  Answers: 113.  Result: 76% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

How is it that two groups of academic scholars could give such different responses to the same questions about guns?  And it should be added that both Lott and Hemenway basically created their survey groups by following the same criteria: published, peer-reviewed studies which excluded book reviews and other, non-academic work.

But if there was any basic difference between the academic backgrounds of the two survey groups, it lies in the fact that Lott and Hemenway chose very different academic disciplines from whom to build their survey lists.  Lott sent surveys to criminologists and economists, who happen to represent the academic fields in which he has published his own work; Hemenway’s surveys went out to individuals who had published relevant articles in peer-reviewed journals devoted to public health, public policy, sociology or criminology.

Given the overlap in disciplines, I think it is not an invalid approach to combine these surveys and see what we get.  On the question of whether guns in the home lead to an increase in suicide, a total of both surveys resulted in 67% saying ‘yes.’  On the question of armed citizens bringing down the murder rate, the two surveys only registered about half saying ‘yes.’

I don’t think these two surveys are any kind of ringing endorsement for the idea that academics, according to John Lott, are all that comfortable with his views on guns.  And even among the two groups of scholars queried by Lott – criminologists and economists – the latter group was much more in line with his thinking than what he got in responses from academics whose major field involves the study of crime. The fact is that Lott could only find a majority of his survey respondents who buy his Koolaid brand by including economists who publish little, if any research directly relevant to guns or crime.

In an interview with The Blaze, John Lott stated that “when The New York Times interviews an academic for a gun-related story, they can’t seem to find one who says that guns make people safer.”  But after carefully reviewing his surveys, I have to admit that I might find it difficult to find such scholars myself.  And unlike John, I haven’t been throwing around this armed citizen nonsense for the last twenty years.