How Violent Is Gun Violence? More Than You Think.

One of the continuing debates within the GVP community is how to define ‘gun violence.’  On the one hand there are the obvious categories: homicide, assault and robbery with a gun.  Then there is suicide with a gun, which results in death but is certainly a different sort of violence than what happens when a gun is used in a criminal act. And of course we also differentiate between intentional, as opposed to unintentional acts of gun violence; indeed, the latter may not actually be gun violence, even though someone still ends up being injured by a gun.

conference-program-pic              Incidentally, outside the GVP, gun violence doesn’t exist.  As far as I know, the NRA and the NSSF have never used the term ‘gun violence’ in anything they have ever said about guns. The various pro-gun noisemakers (Emily Miller, Dana Loesch, every Republican Presidential candidate, et. al.) prattle on about violent ‘thugs’ who use guns, but it’s people who kill people, remember?  It’s got nothing to do with the gun.  Now back to reality.

Adding up all the categories above, the national gun violence toll in 2013 was 117,894.  At least this is the number published by the CDC. By the agency’s own admission, this number is understated.  Why?  Because when we count nonfatal injuries, any kind of injury, we are estimating the actual number based on reporting from a ‘representative’ group of emergency medical facilities, and sometimes the estimations are close to reality and sometimes they are not. So the death toll is close to accurate but the injury numbers may or may not be exact.  And this is a serious gap in what we know about gun violence because gun injuries are more likely to be significantly more serious than any other type of injury, unless you fall out of a fifth-story window and somehow manage to survive.

My friends at the Gun Violence Archive, by the way, have gun morality numbers which match up pretty close to the CDC.  In 2014 the CDC found 12,265 gun deaths from every type of shooting except suicides.  The GVA number for 2014 was 12,585.  Obviously, the GVA calculation for non-fatal gun injuries is far below the number recorded by the CDC, because most shootings that don’t result in a death aren’t newsworthy enough to get media mention, which is the basic source of information used by the GVA.

Which brings me to the point of this commentary, namely, the fact that by focusing on gun deaths, as opposed to overall injuries, the main issue of gun violence is obscured, if not altogether lost.  The gun violence issue is driven by homicides, particularly when a mass shooting occurs.  But in terms of how many people are seriously affected by shootings, gun mortality is the tip of the iceberg, and we need to understand the totality of the problem if we are going to map mitigating strategies that will really work.

There’s a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvesant, a.k.a., ‘Bed-Stuy, Do or Die.’ Like many Brooklyn neighborhoods, it’s beginning to experience a degree of gentrification, but the area around Fulton and Atlantic Avenues is still the Wild West.  So far this year the neighborhood has experienced 2 murders, which if the carnage continues, the yearly homicide rate per 100,000 will top 20.  But the total number of shooting victims is now 6, which will yield an annual gun violence rate of 60; further down Atlantic Avenue in East New York the GV rate could top 140 by end of year.

Numbers like this don’t describe an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence.  Frankly, I don’t know whether we have invented terminology which accurately describes this state of affairs. But there are neighborhoods all over the United States which experience gun violence at levels equal or above to what goes on in Bed-Stuy; higher even than the violence experienced in Honduras or the Ivory Coast. I’m not even sure that a word like ‘violence’ describes what is really going on.






Is Obama Correct When He Calls Gun Violence An ‘Epidemic?’ He Sure Is.

Whenever there’s a terrible, mass shooting, like Umpqua or San Bernardino, leave it to the pro-gun gang to wait 48 hours or so, and then remind us that it’s not such a big deal because: a) mass shootings only account for a tiny fraction of all gun shootings; b) gun homicides continue to decline; and, c) there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, so who really cares? And in case a little more juice is necessary to push the argument away from the problems caused by guns, we can always count on Johnny-boy Lott to pronounce that, once again, a mass shooting took place in a gun-free zone.

white house              But of course if you bother to look at the numbers on gun violence, and you take some time to understand what the numbers really mean, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to quickly figure out that this whole notion that gun violence being on the wane is simply and irretrievably not true.  And anyone who says otherwise either doesn’t know the facts or thinks that if you tell a lie enough times maybe someone will think you are telling the truth. So let’s start with the facts.

Gun violence is falls into five categories, according to the CDC: intentional homicide, unintentional homicide, intentional injury, unintentional injury and suicide.  And I don’t care about the NRA nonsense that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people;’ the fact is that every one of the events which are counted in those five categories occurred because of the presence of a gun.  Now obviously you can kill other people or yourself without using a gun; ditto for injuries suffered by yourself or someone else.  But you can’t kill anyone as quickly as you can when you use a gun, and gun injuries are, medically-speaking, the most damaging and costly injuries of all.  So now let’s really get to the facts.

In 2001, the total body count for the five gun-violence categories was 92,031, of whom 29,821 ended up one way or another in the morgue, and the remainder, 62,210, lived to see another day.  Now the physical and mental condition in which these survivors actually continued their lives has never been calculated in any general sense, but a not atypical example is provided by the experience of Antonius Wiriadjaja who was hit by a stray bullet in Brooklyn, from which he then endured seven months of physical therapy to regain basic functions, along with 18 months of psychiatric treatment to prevent the onset of PTSD. Gun injuries are devastating, the costs of gun morbidity is calculated to be at least 40% higher than the cost of treating any other kind of injury, and Wiriadjaja got off with less post-injury trauma than a lot of other victims of gun wounds.

The pro-gun nation is up in arms (hopefully not literally) because the President keeps referring to gun violence as an ‘epidemic.’  Would the same bunch argue with the notion that we had an outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in 2014? Of course not.  Know how many people died worldwide from Ebola that year?  Roughly 30,000.  Isn’t that roughly the same number that have died from a gun injury in the United States every year over the past 30 years?

Not only do we suffer this carnage year after year, but the numbers keep going up! In 2001 all gun deaths and injuries totaled 92,031.  It was 99,968 in 2005, dropped down to 97,550, then steadily increased to 117,146 in 2013. This 25% increase in the overall number is largely driven by intentional injuries, which since 2001 have exoanded by nearly 50%

Know who benefits from this trend in a rather perverse way?  Trauma surgery residents get more training which means they can save more lives.  It’s their skills that are keeping gun deaths fairly constant while overall gun violence continues to increase.  The President isn’t wrong when he talks about a gun epidemic.  If anything, he’s understating the case.

What The Gun Violence Numbers Tell Us And What They Don’t Tell Us.

This is the first time in my lifetime (and I was born during World War II), that a President has used the bully pulpit to focus on the issue of gun violence.  He’s issued executive orders, he’s held a Town Hall meeting, written an op-ed for The New York Times, and for sure will have plenty more to say when Congress and the American people gather to hear his State of the Union speech.  So in preparation for that event, as well as in response to the veritable torrent of media content that has been flying around the last week, I thought I would publish the data on gun violence that should be used to evaluate what Obama and others are saying about the issue itself.


               Here are the yearly numbers on gun mortality from the CDC.  Note that gun suicides dropped between 1993 and 2000, then were fairly level until 2008, and then have moved upwards again at a fairly rapid rate.  Gun homicides also declined substantially between 1993 and 2000, and have remained somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 over the last thirteen years.

There’s only one little problem with these numbers – they hide as much as they show.  In fact, notwithstanding the increase since 2008, gun suicides as a percentage of all suicides have declined to slightly less than 50%, the lowest percentage since these numbers were first tracked by the CDC.  As for gun homicides, while there was a significant decline until 2000, the number has stayed stubbornly at that level ever since, with minimal variations between this year and that.

On the other hand, the homicide number is a total of both intentional and unintentional gun deaths, and if we break out the latter, we find a remarkable trend over the last 20+ years, namely, that unintentional gun deaths have dropped from 1,521 in 1993 to 586 in 2014, a decline of nearly two-thirds.  Or to look at it another way, when intentional gun deaths dropped by 36% between 1993 and 2000, accidental gun deaths declined by more than 50% during the same period.

The decline in intentional gun homicides after the mid-90s paralleled an overall decline in violent crime and is presumed to be a factor of that latter trend. But while theories abound as to why violence in general and gun violence in particular decreased so dramatically until the early 2000s, I don’t notice anyone talking about the even greater drop in unintentional gun deaths over those years.  And while the intentional death toll from guns has of late levelled off, unintentional gun deaths continue to decline, from 802 in 2001 to 586 last year.

In a New York Times op-ed debate about gun safety, Steve Teret pulls out a 2003 study conducted by some of his Johns Hopkins colleagues which indicates that smart gun technology, if available on all currently-owned firearms, might save upwards of 37% of the people who are killed by accidental shootings each year. That’s an impressive number, and even if it’s slightly overblown (because God knows how long it would take before smart guns are actually purchased by consumers), there’s no question that keeping guns away from kids and other unqualified folks would cut the accidental death toll to some extent.

But rather than trying to come up with a vague number that might or might not represent the saving in human lives from smart-gun technologies, why don’t public health researchers try to figure out the reasons for a two-thirds decline in accidental gun deaths over the last two decades?  One answer I won’t accept is that the decline in gun accidents is due to the NRA or NSSF safety campaigns, for the simple reason that neither has ever been evaluated in honest, no-nonsense terms.  But until a GVP-minded researcher tries to figure out why accidental gun mortality keeps going down, we are forced to sit back and wait for smart guns to hit the shelves.  And wait.


Want To Be In A Movie With Kevin Bacon? Everytown Just Produced One And It’s Great.

I always wanted to be in the movies.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in the movies? And I want a speaking part.  Doesn’t have to be a big part, a few words will do.  And I want to be in a movie with a big star – someone I really like.  Well now my dreams have come true.  I can go to a new website posted by Everytown, download a video cam and say, “We can end gun violence.”  Then I shoot the file up to the website and I’m in the same video as Kevin Bacon.  Kevin Bacon!  I mean we’re not talking about some nobody.  We’re not even talking about President Obama, who also appears in the video.  We’re talking about Kevin Bacon.  Wowee – kazowee.

baconAfter I get done writing this column I’m going to get ready for my cameo appearance: need to put on a different shirt, comb the little hair I still have left, stand in front of the mirror and say the line again and again until I have it right.  Should I emphasize the word ‘we?’  Or put a little juice into the word ‘end?’  Or just run off the whole string but change my expression when I get to the word ‘violence?’  Decision, decisions.  Look, it’s not every day that my family and every friend I have in the whole world can see me and Kevin Bacon go at it, right?

I have spent the last two years waiting and hoping that the GVP community would get into the video environment big time.  Because this is the way that an increasing number of people get their information, particularly the up-and-coming generation whose decisions about what to buy and how to behave will set the tone in the years ahead.  And it seemed to me that until I saw this new video, that the pro-gun gang seemed to understand this issue much better than the other side.

Take a look at the NRA website.  It’s all about video – a message from Wayne-o that tells you why the 2nd Amendment can protect you from anything and everything; a video of Colion prancing around saying something I can’t understand, some men and women sitting in front of a Sig-Sauer logo with this one guy lamenting that kids don’t learn about the ‘real’ American history; i.e., the value of guns.  I can’t imagine anyone actually sitting all the way through any of these insipid, boring commentaries, most of all because they are completely contrived.  The scripts come right out of the NRA marketing department even though there’s an announcement that tries to make you believe that you’re getting some kind of personal opinion from the spokesperson him or herself. But if you are an NRA member, every time they post a video you receive an email linking you to the latest missive which all have one thing in common, namely, that guns are a food thing.

Well maybe they are and maybe they’re not, but I’ll tell you this.  When the NRA says that “guns don’t kill people, it’s people who kill people,” what they conveniently forget is that the easiest and most efficient way for one person to kill or injure another is to use a gun. And if you take the guns away, there would still be plenty of violence, there would still be plenty of crime, there would still be plenty of people who would want to end things without waiting for nature to take its course. But the annual death and serious injury toll in this country would be minus 100,000 because that number represents what happens with guns.

What makes this new Everytown effort so powerful and so different from the video contrivances posted by the NRA is that these are real people, many related to someone who was shot with a gun, and their message is so simple and so direct that there’s nothing more that needs to be said.  Don’t want to end gun violence?  Kevin Bacon’s got plenty of other co-stars.


The Epidemiologists May Need To Dig Deeper To Understand The Problem Of Gun Violence.

If we want to advance some meaningful responses to gun violence, we need to figure out the what, who and where of the problem or, as public health researchers would say, the epidemiology of gun violence. A good start in this respect is a recent publication by one of our most prolific public health gun scholars, Garen Wintemute, whose summary of gun-violence data covering 2003-2012 appears in a symposium devoted to strategies to prevent gun violence in the Annual Review of Public Health.

Wintemute introduces the problem by noting that 313,045 Americans died from firearm-related injuries, a larger number than all the troops killed in World War II.  But on a White House gun violence website, the number for gun mortality between 2001 and 2013 is given as 150,000. How come there’s such a big difference?

conference program pic               Because to the public health community, gun violence means every kind of injury caused by gunfire, whether the gun is pointed at the user or at someone else.  The fact is that a majority of gun killings are suicides, not homicides, and among certain populations, such as elderly White men in certain Western states, suicides account for virtually all gun mortalities, with homicides contributing nothing to total gun mortality at all.  This is not the time or place to engage in a discussion about the causal/responsive differences between gun suicides and gun homicides; suffice it to say that Wintemute and other public health researchers clearly acknowledge that homicide and suicide are subsets of a generic problem – access to guns – each of which needs to be understood on its own terms.

Where Wintemute’s careful and thorough analysis of CDC violent mortality data bumps up against a serious limitation (which he acknowledges) is not in terms of defining gun violence to include both homicide and suicide, but in the fact that he is forced to create an epidemiology of gun violence without being able to utilize data on non-fatal gun injuries, the incidence of which is at least twice as high each year as the number of people getting killed with guns.

Not only is the non-fatal gun injury rate twice as high as the gun mortality rate (suicide and homicide), but while the overall gun mortality rate has been fairly steady over the years covered by Wintemute’s research, the non-fatal gun injury rate has shown a remarkable annual rise, from 14.11 per 100,000 in 2001 to 19.68 in 2013, an increase of nearly 40 percent!  Part of this increase is due to innovations in trauma surgery, also to the speed at which seriously-injured victims get moved from the incident site to a trauma unit and the fact that most of the jerks who use guns probably can’t shoot very straight.  Or is this increase simply due to the fact that more guns are where they shouldn’t be?  We don’t know.

Make no mistake. The costs of gun violence cannot be understood if we don’t factor in what happens when someone is shot but not killed with a gun.  Direct medical costs of treating non-fatal gun injuries are 30-40% higher than the costs of dealing with any other serious injury; these numbers don’t include the frequent, long-term costs of post-discharge therapies, as well as the excessive loss of wages that often are the result of the physical and mental damage resulting from guns. A recent estimate of the total annual cost of all gun violence – mortality and morbidity – as being around $229 billion, may be an underestimate by far.

One other point which emerges from Wintemute’s work deserves comment here.   Of the fourteen states that rank highest in suicides and homicides, eleven are located in the South.  Some of these states, like Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, experience gun violence similar to Panama and South Africa, not yet Honduras, but not far behind. If we construct an epidemiology to help us figure out gun violence, the answers and strategies for some may not be sufficient for all.

Sarah Palin Believes That God And Guns Go Together But She Might Look At Her Home State.

Now that Sarah Palin has decided America is the Home of the Free and Land of the Brave because of its devotion to God and the 2nd Amendment, I thought I would do a bit of research about gun violence in her own state.  According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Sister Sarah’s home state ranks 44th out of the 50 states in terms of the having the most lax gun laws, and is also the 4th highest gun-exporting state, with a gun-export average twice the national state average, notwithstanding that to take a gun from Alaska down to the lower 48 is really quite a trip.

Not only does Alaska impose no state requirements on gun ownership, it doesn’t even require gun dealers to be licensed by the state.  Get yourself an FFL and you’re good to go.  When I was a gun wholesaler in New York back in the 1980s, we had a customer in Fairbanks who ordered loads of Ruger hunting rifles from us all the time, but this reflected the fact that hunting was and is a major source of tourist dollars in Alaska; I doubt if many of these guns came back to the Lower 48 to be picked up as crime guns.

palin On the other hand, Alaska’s violent crime rate is remarkably high in and of itself, the rate of aggravated assault twice the rate for the country as a whole, the homicide rate also above the national rate.  But yet on the other hand, both the aggravated assault and homicide involving guns is well below the national stats, so maybe Sister Sarah’s on the right track by exhorting us in Jesus’ name to get out there and buy more guns.  Except that when it comes to gun violence there’s an elephant in the living room that I haven’t yet mentioned, and that’s the violence which occurs when someone picks up a gun and aims it at themselves.

I will shortly be reviewing a remarkable new book on guns and mental illness that blazes important paths on issues gun-related suicide, so I’m not going to get into that whole issue just yet.  But I do want to make it clear that anyone who believes that gun violence and gun suicide should be treated as autonomous and unconnected issues is just trying to find a reason why the public health risks from guns should be ignored.  You simply can’t kill yourself as quickly and efficiently any other way; and the moment you contemplate some other method to end it once and for all, you are increasing the possibility that an intervention will occur that will save your life.

And this is where the data from Alaska makes a mockery of Palin’s cynical nonsense about how God’s plan includes ownership of guns.  Because of all the 50 states, Alaska has a suicide rate and, in particular, a suicide rate among Alaskan Indians and, even more particularly, a gun-suicide rate among Alaskan Indians that’s a wonder to behold.

The Western states lead the country in suicide with an overall regional rate of 14.13 per 100,000, well above the national rate of 13.02 and far above the Northeast which comes in at 10.38.  The highest suicide state is Montana, with 23.94, but right behind it is Alaska at 23.26. But only 60% of the suicides in Montana are committed using a gun, while nearly 70% of suicide victims in Alaska pull out the ol’ firearm when they decide that enough is enough.  But here’s the real number to contemplate: Alaska’s Indian population has a suicide rate twice the state’s rate as a whole, and these unfortunate folks have no trouble getting their hands on guns.

Palin’s message is pure crap and she should be ashamed of herself for pandering to the lowest mental denominator she can find.  There’s simply no excuse for someone from a state with such horrific gun violence numbers to be promoting God and guns.

Suicide And Guns: A New Brady Report Spells It Out.

I want to commend the Brady Center for their newly-issued report on suicide and guns.  It’s available on the Brady website and should, no must be required reading for everyone involved with gun violence at any level: advocates, researchers, caregivers and the general public.  I downloaded it earlier this evening and read it without stopping from end to end.  Then I read it again.  Bravo Brady for a job very well done.

The report was issued for National Suicide Week and I wish I could say that suicides as a public health issue have been brought under control.  Unfortunately, that’s not true. According to the CDC, the suicide rate per 100,000 was 10.44 in 2000, it was 12.57 in 2013 (the last year for which we have validated numbers.)  These rates translate into 29,350 suicide deaths in 2000 and more than 41,000 in 2013.  Worse, it appears that this increase is directly associated with the use of guns, with the gun suicide rate increasing by 13% over the past seven years.

brady2                Wouldn’t you just know it, but the NRA has a a history of being concerned with guns and suicide, except in the case of America’s oldest civil rights organization, their concern takes the form of preventing efforts to identify individuals who might be at risk to use a gun to take their own lives.  The best example of their concern in his regard is the Florida gag order (Docs vs. Glocks) that prohibits physicians from talking to patients about their ownership of guns.  The law makes an exception in cases where the patient might be an ‘imminent’ threat to himself or someone else, but as the Brady report makes clear, most suicides are impulsive, last-minute affairs and it often takes lots of sensitive sifting of verbal cues by a caregiver before the potential victim acknowledges that suicide is on his mind.

Where the NRA really shows its true concerns about suicide is their efforts to keep any discussion about gun suicide in the military completely out of bounds.  Military suicides have nearly doubled over the past ten years and the military suicide rate per 100,000 is nearly 40% higher than the rate for non-military folks.  In 2011 a provision was quietly tacked onto the annual Military Authorization Bill that prevented any soldier from being asked if he kept a gun in an off-base home.  Meanwhile a study done in Israel (and mentioned in the Brady report) showed a 40% drop in at-home suicides by soldiers when they were no longer allowed to take their guns with them when they went home on a weekend pass.

One of the most pernicious strategies employed of late by the NRA is guns on college campuses, traditionally gun-free zones.  The latest battleground  – where else? –  is Florida, where NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer has the troops all set and ready to march into the State House and promote a campus-carry bill again.  The fact that college dormitories are the most popular sites for mass, binge-drinking activities doesn’t faze crazy Granny Hammer one bit.  But here’s one little piece of data from the Brady report that might give some of the Florida legislators pause.  A recent study found that college students had substantially lower suicide rates than kids in the same age bracket who weren’t in school, a difference partly attributed to a ninefold decrease in gun availability on campus as opposed to guns in private homes.

The truth is the NRA couldn’t care less about what’s in the Brady report. I can just hear it in the next couple of days, ‘It’s not gun violence, it’s mental health.’  They’ve been getting away with this nonsense because mental health has always been a touchy issue and suicide, in particular, is something we’d rather not face.  But the Brady report makes it clear that suicide moves more quickly move from potential to actual when there’s a gun around.  In case you haven’t yet figured it out, It’s the gun stupid, it’s the gun.

The Be Smart Video On Sets A New Standard On Gun Safety.

This week a new gun safety campaign was launched by Everytown and Moms Demand Action called Be Smart, and you can usually judge the value of such efforts by the degree to which the pro-gun media weighs in on the other side.  They weighed in right away with multiple blogs and, as always, the infantile Breitbart response.  And one of the pro-gun bloggers got it right when she wrote that “allowing the anti-gun side to control the gun safety message is a big mistake.”

Until recently, the pro-gun gallery has owned the issue of gun safety, which they mostly define as keeping guns out of the ‘wrong’ hands, i.e., crooks, creeps and other undesirables who want access to guns for no other reason than to inflict harm.  The NRA has given a new hip-and-cool look to their Eddie Eagle program which has allegedly distributed millions of flyers although it’s unclear whether this effort has had any real impact at all. The NSSF gives away cable locks and has been running a public service campaign with the ATF about the danger of “straw” sales.  They also promote a competitive shooter with instructions for talking about gun safety with children, as if being a competitive shooter gives you the slightest credibility when it comes to knowing how to communicate with kids.

melissa                Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against any of the gun industry’s safety programs.  But opposing background checks for private gun transfers makes it pretty hard to argue that you’re all that worried about criminals and other disqualified individuals getting their hands on guns. The new Be Smart campaign, on the other hand,  goes beyond the usual arguments about gun safety that you get from both sides, and this is what makes it such an interesting and potentially effective effort which the gun folks better not simply deride or ignore.

The centerpiece of the program is a video narrated by Melissa Joan Hart, which for no other reason than she votes Republican makes it difficult for the pro-gun chorus to simply brand her as another liberal, gun-grabbing, Hollywood star.  But aside from the image, what we get are serious comments about issues the gun industry would rather you and I forget.  For example, there’s a very sober message about teen suicide and how much easier it is to commit suicide with a gun. For another, Melissa actually uses the phrase ‘risk factors’ when talking about gun-owning families where there is evidence of mental illness or substance abuse.  The most important comment, however, is when she notes that “kids are naturally curious,” and that a gun is therefore a risk unless it is locked up “one hundred percent of the time.”

I’m really happy to see these issues injected into the gun safety debate and let me break it to you gently:  Melissa’s being perfunctory when she mentions her concern about the 1.7 million kids living in homes where guns are loaded and unlocked.  It’s children living in every home where there is a gun who are at risk, because sooner or later every one of those guns will be left around. If you haven’t figured it out yet, let me break it to you gently:  We are human. We are careless. We forget.

The industry’s approach to gun safety is that they want it both ways.  People should own guns to defend themselves, but the reason guns are touted as the best defense against crime is because of their lethality and nothing else.  Sooner or later, if you are a gun-owner who believes that owning a gun makes you safe, that gun is going to be left out, unsecured and unlocked, which poses a risk to the kids.

I have a suggestion for trigger-heads who  get nervous giving up space in the gun-safety debate to folks who aren’t particularly enamored of guns.  Start talking about gun safety in a realistic way. Stop pretending that guns aren’t a risk just because we “always” lock them up or lock them away.  There’s still only one way to guarantee that you can’t have an accident with a gun.


Is Gun Suicide A Form Of Gun Violence? You Betcha.

Gun suicide accounts for 2/3 of fatal gun violence every year.  Until recently I have always been somewhat uncomfortable lumping suicide and homicide together, if only because the nature of the event is so different, the ownership and access to the weapon is so different, hence one assumes that the mitigation strategies should be different. But following discussions with the expert suicide researchers at Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center and a review of peer-reviewed literature, I am persuaded that gun suicide is not only a fundamental gun violence problem, but understanding and responding to it might provide a map for mitigating gun homicides and gun assaults as well.

suicide foto               Gun suicides and gun homicides intersect In two basic ways: the lethality of the weapon and the motives and behavior of the shooter leading up to the incident itself.  As to the former, guns used in suicides result in a success rate of 95%.  No other suicide effort is half as effective in the final result.  As for homicide, obviously the “success” rate is only about 10%, but there is no other serious injury which comes close to generating the costs and trauma that results from being wounded with a gun.

As to behavior, the degree to which impulse governs the actions of everyone who shoots themselves or others with a gun should not be overlooked.  Less than 20% of all homicides occur during the commission of another, serious crime.  Most gun homicides grow out of a history of disputes between individuals who know each other and the incidence of domestic abuse in homicides where the victims are women is virtually 100%.  I recently discussed a report from the Violence Policy Center in which I noted that a random search of gun homicides committed by CCW-holders showed that virtually all of them grew out of arguments and fights, usually aggravated by too much to drink. Is there really a great difference between the guy who gets sick and tired of fighting with himself or sick and tired of arguing with his wife and reaches for his gun?  I don’t think so, and the research on suicide and homicide tends to bear me out.

What about mitigating strategies for both types of fatalities involving guns?  An article on suicide prevention among Israeli soldiers caught my eye because Israel is often touted by the pro-gun community as the model for giving civilians full access to guns with a consequent low rate of violent crime.  But the policy of allowing soldiers to keep their guns with them on weekend leave also resulted in an alarmingly high rate of suicide among these soldiers, which dropped by nearly 40% when soldiers had to leave their guns secured at their base while spending weekends at home.  Anyone who thinks there’s no connection between suicide and gun access needs to look honestly at what happened in Israel before and after access to guns was denied.

The pro-gun folks would like to believe that gun fatalities have nothing to do with guns and are all about crime.  There’s a simple logic to that argument except for the fact that every single gun involved in a criminal event first started out as a legal gun.  For that matter, most of the guns in suicides either were legally owned by the suicide victim or belonged to another family member who legally purchased the gun.

The usual response from the gun-safety community is to push for an expansion of CAP laws, and clearly such laws do have a mitigating effect when it comes to keeping kids away from guns.  But let me break the news to you gently – the big problem with such laws is that the only way that someone can use a gun is to unlock where the gun is stored or unlock the gun itself.  And the problem we face with both gun suicides and gun homicides is figuring out how to spot the impulsive, destructive behavior of certain people before they get their hands on a gun.


Everytown Starts Their Own ‘March Madness’ Campaign And May All The Teams Lose.

Leave it to Shannon and the chicks (as in women, not in birds) to come up with a new twist on America’s national bash known as ‘March Madness’ by starting their own campaign to prevent colleges from becoming the latest venue where anyone and everyone can carry a gun.  The Everytown group has just posted a new graphic identifying the states where bills have been introduced that would allow guns on campus, of which four such attempts have gone down the tubes but twelve more remain to be finished up.  The campaign has gotten a boost from Bryant Gumbel, whose commitment to reducing gun violence is so pronounced that he’s been attacked by Ted Nugent, who might do himself a favor and stick to strumming his guitar.

Most of the folks who honestly believe that guns would make campuses safer are reacting to a recent spate of news stories regarding campus rape.  And while nobody wants to walk around a college campus in fear of being attacked, the question which needs to be addressed is whether carrying a gun would really make anyone on campus more safe.  The truth is that college campuses, particularly the larger schools with residential populations, happen to be places where certain types of behaviors are unfortunately all too common, and such behaviors are guaranteed to make students much less safe when combined with access to guns.

march                I am referring to two issues that are generic to campus life: alcohol and suicide.  According to the NIH, four out of five college students consume alcohol and half of those student drinkers admit to binge drinking as well.  More than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related injuries, and nearly 700,000 students report being assaulted by another student who had been drinking prior to the attack.  Nearly 600,000 students each year end up in the campus health station because they injured themselves while under the influence of alcohol, and nearly 100,000 reported that they were sexually abused by someone who was under the influence during the attack.

Proponents of campus guns will tell you that these statistics prove the necessity of getting rid of gun-free college zones, but what they don’t want to do is look at the possible use of guns by the students who drink and then assault someone else.  Even the average gun nut (myself included) will admit that guns and alcohol don’t mix, and it’s to Everytown’s credit that the announcement of their March Madness campaign focused specifically on the degree to which alcohol impairs judgement, particularly the mental stability required to behave safely around guns. As for suicide, it happens to be the second leading cause of death for college students, and if anyone tells you that a suicidal person is less prone to end their life because they have access to a gun, you’re not talking to someone who possesses even a shred of intelligence, never mind common sense.

Last week the debate on campus guns got particularly loud in Florida, due largely to the energy and effort of the gun-totin’ Grandma, a.k.a. Marion Hammer, the Gunshine State’s lobbyist for the NRA.  She sent out a call to all the gunnies in Florida, telling them that their constitutional “rights” were being violated if they couldn’t bring their guns into classrooms and dorms. This is a rather odd view of the 2nd Amendment, given the fact that the Supreme Court in the landmark Heller decision, specifically noted that Constitutional protections of gun ownership did not preclude the government from banning guns in “sensitive” places such as schools.  But leave it to the NRA and Grandma Hammer to explain the Constitution whichever way they can.

Most proponents of colleges as gun-free zones cite the degree to which campuses are also usually crime-free zones.  What I like about the Everytown campaign is that it brings us squarely back to the real issue, namely, that someone walking around with a gun is a greater risk to himself and others than when the gun was left at home.  Let’s see how Everytown’s tournament plays itself out.

Amazon has it.

Gun Trafficking in America - cover