Is There A Link Between Guns And Crime? It’s Not What The NRA Thinks It Is

When I was a kid growing up in New York City we kept our eyes on a neighborhood gang whose older members, when it came to violence and lawlessness, put the feared Westies from Hell’s Kitchen to shame.  In fact, the Westies contracted out their hits to this bunch on my block, whose SOP was to haul the victim up to the roof of one of the neighborhood housing projects and that was that.  Five guys go up to the roof, four guys walk back down.

As tough and brutal as they were, the members of this crew never carried guns.  Why not?  Because whenever anything went down in the neighborhood, the cops would come around, line them up against the wall, administer the Miranda warning by kicking them in the ass or punching them in the face, and then pat them all down for guns.  If the cops found a gun, that guy was slammed into the back of the patrol car and wasn’t seen for a long time.  Don’t think for one second that aggressive, in-your-face street patrols used by Giuliani and Bloomberg to drive down gun crime in New York City is such a new idea.

gang boys chap 1                The NRA and the gun industry wants us to take a giant leap of faith by going along with their idea that the most effective way to curb gun violence is to cut down on crime. But the data on gun violence published by the FBI doesn’t support this, not at all.  Of course there are criminals out there who use guns to commit crimes.  Of course we need to do everything possible to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  But the connection of guns to gun violence is more complicated than just the simple idea that more guns in the “wrong hands” equals more crime.

According to the FBI, from 2000 to 2012 there were slightly more than 200,000 homicide victims of which slightly more than two-thirds were killed with guns. This is an average of 10,400 gun homicides each year, a remarkably-stable number over the past thirteen years. Of these gun killings, slightly more than 15% involved women as victims, or roughly 21,000 over the same span of years.  When women are homicide victims, most if not virtually all of these shootings grow out of some sort of IPV.  Let’s not forget, incidentally, that men are also shot to death by women an average of 700 times per year.  Taken together, domestic violence probably claimed more than 2,200 victims annually between 2000 and 2012, or one-fifth of all gun fatalities during those years.

The degree to which homicide grows out of personal disputes is shown by the fact that of the total murders committed in 2012, only slightly more than 20% took place during the commission of other crimes.  The rest happened because people who knew each other, and in most cases knew each other on a long-term, continuous basis, got into an argument about money, or who dissed who, or who was sleeping with someone else, or some other dumb thing.  And many times they were drunk or high on drugs, but no matter what, like Walter Mosley says, “sooner or later” the gun goes off.

Here’s the bottom line on gun violence and crime. Every year 20,000+ shoot themselves intentionally, which is suicide.  Another thousand, give or take a hundred, kill themselves accidentally with a gun. Then another 10,000 use a gun to kill someone else, but 8,000 of those shootings have nothing to do with other violent crimes.  If we define gun violence as using a gun to end a human life, the FBI is telling us that less than 10% of those fatalities would be eliminated if we got rid of all violent crime. The NRA can try to convince its membership that the reason for gun violence is that there’s too much crime, but the data from the FBI clearly indicates that the reason for gun violence is that there are too many guns.

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Do Guns Make Us More Or Less Safe? The NRA Seems To Be Winning The Argument

In 1993 Art Kellerman, Frederick Rivara and several other colleagues published an article which found that guns in the home increased the risk of homicide in the home.  I recall reading this article a year after it was published and wondered how something so incontrovertible; i.e., guns are lethal, needed to be validated in a peer-reviewed medical journal.  I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now.  Of course there are lots of ways that you can kill someone, but a gun really doesn’t have any other purpose.  It’s not like a knife which you can also use to cut a slice of steak.

Nevertheless, within a year after this article appeared, the gun folks produced a contrary argument about guns, in their case an alleged national survey conducted by Gary Kleck, who claimed on the basis of an alleged 213 telephone interviews that Americans used guns each year to prevent more than 2 million crimes.  Did his publication appear in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal?  No.  Did he attempt to validate in any way the reports of respondents who said they used a gun to prevent a crime? No.  But Kleck’s argument became the basic selling-point for justifying gun ownership and it remains the war-cry of the pro-gun movement to this day.  After all, even if Kellerman was right and guns lying around the home resulted in higher levels of injury and death, what’s 30,000 deaths from guns when compared to 2 million crimes that didn’t take place?

cdc logo     Meanwhile, within two years after Kellerman’s article appeared, the NRA successfully moved to cut off funding by the CDC of all gun violence research, citing Kellerman’s work among others as promoting a negative view of guns, gun ownership and gun owners, not necessarily in that order.  The debate between pro-gun and anti-gun advocates continued and went over the top again after Sandy Hook, with the two sides basically holding to the positions taken by Kellerman and Kleck.  According to groups like the Violence Policy Center and others who want more controls over guns, the greater number of guns floating around, the more violence will take place.  The NRA counters this argument by saying that every law-abiding citizen should be walking around with a gun because it’s all those good guys carrying guns that will stop the bad guys before any harm is done.

In 2011 David Hemenway published a review of the literature on this argument (through 2007) and found that the published studies confirming the idea that more guns equals more violence outpaced the published studies that argued the reverse by something like 20 to 1.  In other words, despite the fact that public health research on guns had not been funded by the CDC for more than ten years, when it came to the written word on this subject, the folks who said that guns constituted a social risk as opposed to a social benefit were way out in front.

There was only one little problem.  In the place where the argument really counts, the arena of public opinion, the folks who believe that guns are a risk have fallen far behind. This week the Gallup Organization published a poll on whether Americans feel safer around guns, the fourth time they have conducted this poll in the last 14 years.  In 2000, the poll showed that 35% of respondents thought the house with a gun safer and 51% thought it was less safe.  This year, more than 60% thought a house with a gun was safer and only 30% believed it to be less safe.

Why is there such a clear disconnect between the consensus among health researchers and the general public regarding the safety of guns.  Somehow, the results of an awful lot of research doesn’t seem to be getting through.  I’ve been a gun guy all my life and if anyone tries to convince me that guns aren’t lethally dangerous, it’s a discussion that will come to a quick end. But it’s not a discussion that seems to be happening between gun scholars and anyone else.

Do The CDC Numbers On Gun Violence Tell Us What We Think They Tell Us? I’m Not So Sure.

The gun control community takes as a given the idea that there’s a correlation between more gun control laws and lower rates of gun violence.  And while we all assume that most people obey laws, and therefore if we pass a law prohibiting or controlling a particular kind of behavior (such as how people use guns), the law will have its desired effect.  Except in the case of gun violence I’m not so sure that this is correct, nor am I sure that the data which is proffered up to justify this argument says what the gun control folks believe it says.  Case in point:  a new report issued by the Violence Policy Center that finds higher rates of gun violence in states with fewer gun control laws.

The report, actually a press release, is based on the 2012 mortality data issued by the CDC and available for viewing/analysis online.  The CDC breaks down injuries by how they occurred, on both a regional and a state-by-state basis.  Which means you can see how many guns were used in homicides, suicides and plain old accidents, divide these numbers by each state or region’s population and – voila! – you have the data used by the VPC.

cdc logoWhen I used the CDC data to calculate gun violence, the raw numbers agreed with the numbers published by the VPC, but I found myself  asking questions that simply don’t fit into the neat more laws = less gun violence paradigm that the VPC and other gun control advocates firmly believe.  For example, the VPC correctly notes that overall gun deaths increased from 2011 to 2012.  But gun accidents declined a tiny bit, while homicides and suicides both moved slightly up.  The more alarming news is that gun suicides account for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths, a percentage that has been steadily climbing each year as, until recently, gun homicides have come down.

One of the major reasons for the great distance between the two sides in the gun violence debate is that one side, the NRA side, refuses to admit that suicide has anything to do with gun violence at all.  Suicide is never mentioned in the phony safety campaigns they run in conjunction with the NSSF, and they are hard at work trying to gag physicians who want to talk to their patients about guns, even when patients exhibit obvious symptoms of mental distress.  But the reason why states like Wyoming and Montana rank in the top 6 states for gun violence has nothing to do with homicide, it’s a function of elevated suicide rates which are acts of gun violence that have little, if anything to do with gun control laws at all.  Does the fact that gun suicide rates in the Northeast are lowest of any region reflect stricter legal controls over guns?  Or does it say something about disparities in mental health treatment between various sections of the United States?

I’m also not sure that using state-level gun violence rates and then tying these rates to strict or lax gun laws gets us to where we want to be, namely, a society which experiences less gun violence.  For example, my state – Massachusetts – has the lowest rate of gun violence of all 50 states, and it is known as a state with fairly strong gun control laws.  But the city of Springfield recently recorded its 14th gun homicide for 2014, and if the killing continues at that pace for the remainder of the year, the city will end up with an annual gun homicide rate of about 16 per 100,000, higher than 44 of the 50 states.

Don’t get me wrong.  I support the efforts of the VPC and other like-minded folks to find ways to curb the awful carnage created by guns.  But if we are going to look for lawful solutions to this or any other problem we have to be sure that we really understand the problem that the law will try to correct.  In the case of gun violence, the problem is not as simple or obvious as it seems.

What’s The Real Connection Between Violence And Guns? I’m Not Sure.

One of the axioms of the gun control movement, if not the foundation on which the entire movement rests, is the idea that we have a much higher rate of gun violence than other countries because we have a much greater number of privately-owned guns.  This is particularly true in the case of homicide, where other advanced, Western societies often experience the same degree of random violence, but no other country experiences violence that is as deadly as ours.

Over the last several years, our intentional homicide rate has run around 5 per 100,000.  The average rate for other OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, aka, the rich countries) is between 1 and 2 per 100,000. For those numbers I randomly chose Switzerland, Sweden. France, Canada, Austria, New Zealand, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Now let’s look at the per capita private ownership per 100,00 of guns in those same countries:

United States 90,000
Switzerland 45,000
Sweden 31,000
France 31,000
Canada 30,000
Austria 30,000
New Zealand 22,000
Greece 22,000
Berlgium 17,000
Luxembourg 15,000

 

We have twice as many guns as Switzerland but five times as many murders.  We have three times as many guns as Sweden or France but also five times as many murders and so forth.  But what if we turn it around and assume that these other, relatively non-violent countries had as many guns in private hands as we do?  After all, the argument is that our homicide rate is a function of how many guns are in private hands. Which means that we are assuming a causal relationship between gun ownership and intentional deaths.  Wouldn’t this relationship therefore hold true no matter how many guns exist in private hands?

gun homicides                Triple the per capita gun ownership and homicide rates in Sweden, France or Canada, and their homicide rates which are now between 1 and 2 persons per 100,000 would move up to 4 to 6 homicide victims per 100,000, which is higher than the current murder rate in the United States.  If we were to quadruple the per capita gun ownership in Belgium, which would still leave them short of the U.S. ownership rate, wouldn’t we also have to quadruple their homicide rate which would bring Belgium’s murder rate per 100,000 up to slightly less than 10?  That’s twice the current U.S. rate for intentional deaths.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not just playing Peck’s bad boy with the data.  I have been attacking the NRA sans cesse for their “more guns less crime” strategy.  I think it’s based on bogus research, false data and worse, is actually dangerous because it makes people believe that carrying a gun will protect them from crime.  The truth is that it usually ends up escalating an argument into a much worse, even fatal event.  But I must point out to my friends in the gun-control community that perhaps the opposite assumption that more guns equals more violence may not necessarily be true.  Australia is the only advanced country where we can analyze homicide rates before and after government intervention that led to a significant decline in civilian guns, and while the gun buy-back program appears to have made a difference in suicide rates, the evidence on homicide is somewhat mixed.  Not that there hasn’t been a decline in Australian homicide after the gun buyback program in 1996-1997, but that same decline has occurred to an even greater degree in the U.S.A. without any guns being turned over to the police.

Violence is injury and guns are the most harmful way to injure someone else.  We know the epidemiology of violence but somehow when we connect violence to guns, we fall back on arguments about causality that don’t seem to get us past first base.  It’s a fact that Americans own more guns than anyone else and it’s a fact that’s not going to change.  But gun ownership doesn’t make us more violent in and of itself and I’m not sure we yet understand how and why violence here and elsewhere is connected to using a gun.

 

Is Gun Violence Committed By Bad Guys? I’m Not Sure

Will more gun control reduce gun violence? This may sound like a stupid question but I feel compelled to ask after reading a very good article about Shannon Watts and Everytown in the current issue of Mother Jones.  Entitled, “Mothers in Arms,” Mark Follman perceptively explains why the Moms constitute a threat to the hegemony of the NRA, given the extent to which the Everytown message resonates both with gun and non-gun owners who together may be looking for an alternative to the stridency and combativeness of Wayne LaPierre and his friends.

So let’s play a little parlor game and assume that Shannon is able to muscle aside the NRA and actually get some “meaningful” gun control laws passed, like expanded background checks, tightened licensing procedures, “safe” guns and so forth.  In other words, making it more difficult for the ‘bad guys’ to get their hands on guns.

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There’s only one little problem.  How do we know that gun violence is committed by people who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns?  After all, we agree that the 2nd Amendment allows law-abiding Americans to own guns. We also agree, more or less, on the legal definition of ‘law-abiding.’  That being the case, how do we know that most of those 31,000 deaths and 60,000-70,000 injuries attributed to guns each year are committed by people who don’t meet the legal requirements for owning or possessing a gun?

We don’t have any data on how many of the 20,000 people kill themselves with guns actually have the legal right to own the gun in question, but I’m willing to bet that most victims of gun suicides, even teen suicides, used a gun that was either legally owned by themselves or by another family member or close friend.  And don’t delude yourselves into thinking for one second that someone, even a kid who wants to commit suicide can’t break open one of those crummy, ten-dollar gun locks or learn the combination of the family safe.

As for the 11,000 gun homicides, it’s easy just to assume they are all ‘bad guys’ who shouldn’t have been able to get their hands on a gun, but that’s a judgement made after the fact and frankly, distorts the whole question of how and why guns are used to commit capital crimes.  More than three-quarters of all homicides arise out of circumstances that are not necessarily criminal in nature at all.  This includes all kinds of domestic situations, like children killed by babysitters, as well as the run-of-the-mill household arguments, disputes between friends, spousal and non-spousal IPV and the like.  Only 20% of all homicides occur between perpetrators and victims who don’t know each other, whereas in 4 out of 5 cases they involve family members, neighbors, friends, and even an occasional employee and boss.

Not only do homicides involve a familiarity between perpetrator and victim more frequently than any other type of violent crime including rape, but the fact that someone pulls out a gun and shoots someone else doesn’t automatically mean that the perpetrator is a criminal (a ‘bad guy’) whereas the person who gets shot (a ‘good guy’) is simply the victim of a crime.  The most eminent American criminologist, Marvin Wolfgang, once wrote, “In many cases, especially in criminal homicide, the victim is often a major contributor to the criminal act.”  And while aggravated assaults with weapons involve two strangers roughly half the time, there’s no reason to believe that in the other 50% of cases Wolfgang’s admonition to look beyond traditional penal categories wouldn’t hold true as well.

Both pro-gun and anti-gun advocates subscribe to the idea that it’s those ‘bad guys’ who commit violence with guns.  But how many of those bad guys are simply people who use guns stupidly or impulsively but otherwise have every legal right to own a gun?  I’m all in favor of reasonable measures for reducing gun violence, but I hope we understand that the issue can’t just be reduced to good and bad, right and wrong. Things just aren’t that simple.

 

Massachusetts Gets A Gun Bill That’s Not About Guns

Last week the Massachusetts Assembly voted a gun bill that was initially submitted to the Legislature last year by Governor Deval Patrick following Sandy Hook.  The bill was debated at a half-dozen public forums attended by advocates on both sides, went through any number of iterations and finally appears to be making its way for final passage and approval before this year’s legislative ends on July 31st.

In fact, the bill doesn’t contain a single change in the current law covering how state residents purchase or transfer guns.  The only change that has any application to gun ownership clarifies the manner in which town police chiefs, who are the ‘issuing authority’ for gun licenses, can determine how and when an applicant for a gun license could be denied either the license itself or the CCW privilege even if they meet the legal requirements for the basic license or, as it is known, the LTC-A.

deval                So the changes in current gun law as it impacts gun owners are benign and slight.  But the changes were very significant in areas that have never been the focus of gun bills before; namely, in issues relating to safe schools, mental health and, most of all, suicide and guns.  The law requires every school district to create a plan to deal with in-school emergency events;  to develop a “safe and supportive school” plan to help identify and treat troubled student  who might become risks to themselves or others; and to hire a resource office to help implement safety and security in the schools.

But the most important part of the bill has to do with the issue of suicide.  Guns are the method of choice for 50% of all suicides, a percentage which is growing particularly in suicides committed by teens and young adults.  Nobody is saying that someone who wants to commit suicide wouldn’t do it if a gun wasn’t around; our national suicide rate is roughly similar to other Western countries where there are very few guns.  But anything that can be done to keep mentally-distraught people from impulsively grabbing a gun and using it to end their lives is an important goal, and along with requiring gun dealers to post suicide warnings in their shops and mandating suicide prevention programs in schools, this bill contains a provision that is, without doubt, the most innovative and significant response to suicide that has ever been tried.

The bill creates a task force to consider ways to create ‘safe harbors’ that can be used by families and friends of “distressed individuals” to remove and store their guns temporarily – and informally – until the mental crisis is considered as having passed.  The whole point here is to give loved ones, family members and close friends a way to prevent a depressed father, sibling or child from having access to guns while not invoking or involving formal contacts with the courts or the police. Maybe it would be another town resident, or perhaps some storage space could be set aside in a local church, but here is a law that will empower individuals to deal with controlling guns precisely so that the government doesn’t have to get involved.

For the very first time a gun control issue will be determined not by the government, but by the people themselves.  This is a remarkable precedent, and it has gone unnoticed in all the pro and con reactions to the bill.  In typical fashion, the NRA wasted no time trying to gin up its membership to oppose the whole thing, stating shortly after its passage that the bill “still contains provisions which will directly and adversely affect your constitutional right to keep and bear arms.” The fact that the bill gives us the responsibility to protect people from using a gun to hurt themselves is something that the NRA wouldn’t even understand, even though “We The People” is emblazoned on virtually every NRA poster that you can find.

 

There’s Plenty Of Gun Research That We Can Do Without Anyone Losing Their Guns

The New York Times just called for a resumption of public health research on guns, noting that Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA), whose sub-committee holds the research purse-strings,  continues to oppose such funding for the CDC.  Kingston, like many members of the GOP, has been facing political opposition from the right and now, while running for the Senate, is facing some serious problems about the source of some campaign cash, so the last thing he’s about to stack more problems on his plate, particularly any backlash from the NRA.  But I think there may be a way to package gun research that would meet the current agendas of both sides, and move beyond the name-calling and vitriol that erupts whenever gun issues are the subject of public debate.

U.S. Rep Jack Kingston

U.S. Rep Jack Kingston

For example, let’s look at the question of mental illness and guns.  The NRA believes that we need to “fix” the mental health system in order to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  They are never very specific about what such a fix would entail, as long as it doesn’t in any way impede the ability of “normal” folks to acquire or use guns.  The gun control side will tell you that serious mental illness is not really linked to violent behavior, which means we don’t need to control the people, we need to control the guns.

Here is where some more research needs to be done that really shouldn’t upset either side. For example, more than 50% of all suicides in the United States are committed with guns, a percentage that climbs to 80% among suicide victims above the age of 65.  Back in 1992, Arthur Kellerman led a team that did some research which appeared to indicate that people who lived in homes with firearms had a higher rate of suicide than people who residences were gun-free.  But Kellerman only counted suicides that took place in the home, whereas people who committed suicide away from their homes also had an elevated suicide rate if they used a gun. Wouldn’t it be helpful to conduct a study of gun suicides outside the home to see when and where the gun was used?  Wouldn’t such a study help us to better understand the degree to which the immediate impulse to commit suicide is helped or not by access to a gun?

Here’s another example.  Garen Wintemute recently published some data which showed that in California, felons who pleaded down to a misdemeanor which still allowed them to purchase a gun had a much higher rate of gun violence subsequent to their conviction than people whose sentence kept them in a prohibited category and thus unable to legally acquire a gun.  The NRA keeps talking about the fact that gun violence is only committed by bad guys with guns. But if someone were to extend Wintemute’s findings to a representative sample for the country as a whole, couldn’t such research then be used to revise the category of prohibited persons for gun ownership not to just include felons but to include persons convicted of certain misdemeanors as well?

I’m not a public health scholar, but it seems to me that just within the two examples cited above, there’s plenty of research to do.  And it’s research that would in no way negatively impact the 2nd Amendment rights of anyone to own or acquire a gun. If the House Committee chaired by Congressman Kingston can tell the CDC what kind of research they can’t fund, there’s no reason why they can’t tell them what they should try to fund. Unless, of course, the real agenda is to keep evidence-based discussions outside the purview of guns, because just yelling back and forth is a guarantee that nothing will ever get done.

Gun Violence: Homicide, Suicide or Both?

Now that Harry Reid has mentioned the possibility of a new attempt to pass gun control legislation, the gun debate will probably begin to heat up again.  And while most of the argument usually focuses on keeping guns away from people like Elliot Rodger, who display clear symptoms of mental distress, the larger issue of mental illness and guns, i.e., suicide, is usually left out of the debate. This is not only because the NRA and its allies define gun violence in strictly criminal terms (homicide, assault, etc.,) but because the number of suicides, particularly suicides involving guns, have of late been going up, while the number of gun homicides keeps going down.  And since our overall suicide rate is still within the range of many industrialized countries which have much tighter control over guns, it becomes somewhat difficult for the gun-control folks to create much traction over the issue of suicide and guns.

But while our national suicide rate is within average limits for many Western countries, the picture changes dramatically when we compare the numbers from state to state.  And the comparison is available in a remarkable data series published by the Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.  The data, which covers the years 1999 to 2006, is current enough to be considered valid for any discussion about the relationship of suicide to guns, and if viewed objectively, leaves no doubt that we can’t just pretend, a la the NRA, that guns and suicide have no connection at all.  The data is strikingly ominous when we examine the data for suicides of persons under the age of 18.

suicideAccording to the ICRC, the national gun suicide rate for young people is 0.83 per 100,000.  But in the four Western states (South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho) plus Alaska that have the highest per capita gun ownership of all 50 states, the gun suicide rate ranges from 2 per 100,000 in Idaho up to 4.56 in Alaska, with the other three states in between. But while guns are a clear risk factor for suicide in these states, the disconcerting evidence is somewhat obscured by the fact that these same states have very low levels of gun homicide for the youth population, with every state except Alaska falling well below the national rate of 1.77 per 100,000.

The whole issue of guns and suicide becomes more difficult to untangle when one factors in the profile of gun ownership in those states, namely, that they have the highest per-capita gun ownership of all 50 states, the survey data for this information also borne out by rates of NICS background checks.  So while these states, from the perspective of suicide and guns are very unsafe, living in these states poses minimal risk for being the victim of intentional shootings by others, and this profile holds true not just for the youth population, but the adult population as well.

The problem with trying to unite everyone behind more effective measures to curb gun suicides is that, as opposed to gun crimes, it is assumed that most guns used in suicides are owned or were acquired legally.  And since the NRA is steadfastly opposed to any legal restrictions on law-abiding gun owners, the organization is not about to consider that suicide with a gun is another form of gun violence that, like homicides or assaults, needs to be regulated or controlled.

So I have an idea.  Let’s change the terminology and, for example, call gun suicide not an act of violence, but an act of despair – gun despair.  The gun folks can continue to promote the idea that guns are only violent when used by the ‘bad’ guys, and the public health folks can focus on dealing with mental health without riling up the NRA.  I, for one, don’t really care how we solve the issue of gun violence, just as long as we get it done.

 

 

School Shootings: Whose Numbers Do You Want To Believe?

Last week, the NRA’s favorite academic stooge, John Lott, exceeded even my expectations for the shabbiness of his research by publishing yet another screed on his favorite topic concerning the necessity to arm ourselves in order to protect each other from crime.  In this case he was talking about guns in schools and he took aim at a new report from Bloomberg which claimed that there was an average of 3 gun shootings a month since the 2013 carnage at Sandy Hook.  Here’s Lott’s criticism of the Bloomberg report:

 “their statistics are not what they seem. Included in the numbers are suicides. Also included are late night shootings taking place in school parking lots, on their grounds or even off school property, often involving gangs. As “shootings,” they also include any incident where shots were fired, even when nobody was injured.”

This comment doesn’t tell us what Lott figured out about Bloomie’s report.  It’s exactly what the report itself says.  And it says it right up front.  It says that it counted every time a gun went off in a school, whether someone was injured or not.  It says that it included suicides as well as homicides.  It says that it counted when shots were fired on school property even if the school-day had come to an end.  Lott isn’t telling his readers anything they can’t find out by simply reading the first page (actually mostly the first paragraph) of the report itself.

free schoolBut why bother to read the report?  After all, Lott has read it for you.  And he’s now told you that the report is “misleading” because it includes suicides, after-school shootings and shootings where nobody was hurt.  Now that would be “misleading” if the report simply announced that there had been 44 school shootings since Sandy Hook and Lott had actually done some real research to determine that what the report said was misleading or untrue. But Lott didn’t do any research at all.  Like me, he just read the first page of the report.

But Lott can’t just regurgitate what the Bloomberg report says and pretend he’s figured this out; he then has to throw in some of his own “research” to make his readers believe that he, as opposed to gun-grabbers like Bloomberg, has the inside track on the truth: “Contrary to what many people believe, high school shootings have been falling over the last two decades.”  Well, that may or may not be true, if only because Lott’s source for this information, the National School Safety Center, uses the same newspaper and media sources (not law enforcement) that Bloomberg used for his report.  And both the NSSC and Bloomberg admit that such data, by definition, is probably incomplete.

But notice that Lott wants you to believe that school shootings have declined even though he’s only counting shootings in high schools. nor do his numbers take suicides or shootings in elementary schools into account.  So he takes a slice of what Bloomberg counted, comes up with a smaller number and announces that his number is less!   And this isn’t shabby research?  This isn’t pandering to the NRA crowd?

I’d love to get John Lott on a stage and have a serious and public debate with him about guns.  For that matter, I’m willing to take on Lott and Mike Bloomberg at the same time.  Because both of them are playing to audiences that aren’t interested in what the other side wants to hear. And both use limited and often misleading data to score points in what never seems to be a genuinely honest debate.

Let me tell you the real problem we have with school gun violence and you won’t hear this from Mike Bloomberg or John Lott or anyone else except me.  The real problem is the number of kids who bring real guns into school but thank God they are taken away before a shot goes off. Ask any school safety administrator (as I have) when this pattern begins to appear and you’ll be told that it starts in middle school!  That’s right:  twelve-year-olds start bringing live guns into classrooms and showing them around. Twelve-year-olds.  Think about that.

 

 

What To Do About Guns? Let’s Start With The Facts

Every time gun debate breaks out, the two sides take positions that are simply Alice in Wonderland-like in how far they are divorced from real facts. The NRA argues that the more guns are owned and carried by civilians, the safer we become.  It’s errant nonsense, and the same people who believe it and who publish “research” to prove it will also tell you that they can prove that elements in the U.S. government helped bin Laden blow up Towers One and Two. Not to be outdone in terms of flights from reality, the gun control crowd insists that banning semi-automatic rifles that look like AR-15 military weapons will have a significant impact on gun violence, despite the fact that of the 11,000+ people killed each year with guns, less than 300 deaths can be blamed on rifles of all types, let alone the so-called “assault” guns with their high-capacity mags. By the way, since the overwhelming majority of shootings occur with the discharge of only one round, I have never understood the fetish that exists among the gun control advocates to ban hi-cap mags.

crime2I agree that it’s time to get serious about gun violence but the only way I know to get serious about anything is to start with the facts.  And here is what we really and truly know:

  • Most (90%) people who use guns in criminal ways have a prior history of criminal behavior.
  • Most (80%) individuals who use guns to commit suicide had contact with a medical professional and expressed their feelings of mental distress within 30 days or less of when they killed themselves.
  • Most (70%+) of all gun homicides take place in inner-city, minority neighborhoods.

So there you have it or, as Jack Friday used to say, just the facts ma’am, just the facts.  Yea, yea, yea, I know all about the importance of gun safety, but if every single gun in the United States were locked up every single night, the overall deaths from accidental shootings would decline by a whopping 3 percent!  As for expanding background checks to be sure that guns only moved from good guys to other good guys; people who acquired a gun legally aren’t disposed to give it to a bad guy and someone who acquired a gun “off paper” isn’t about to walk into a gun shop and fill out a Form 4473.

But there are some sensible things we can do to respond to the facts stated above.  The cops could stop spending so much time issuing summonses for jaywalking or rousting young teens for hanging out on street corners and instead get in the face of every known felon and ask them if they are carrying a gun.  It seems to be working in New York, why shouldn’t it be adopted everywhere else? As for people with mental issues, the NRA should drop its cynical and stupid opposition to the right of physicians to inquire and report on gun ownership in instances where the patient displays a “clear and obvious” threat to himself or others. And what could be a more obvious threat than someone reporting thoughts of suicide who also happens to own a gun? Finally, the gun control folks need to drop their politically-correct attitude towards the individuals and groups who commit most of the felony gun violence and figure out what to do to keep guns out of their hands.  It’s just too bad if most of these people belong to certain specific, minority groups since we are always constrained to discuss or even describe things in racial terms. But the victims of these killers come from the self-same minority populations and we certainly shouldn’t be afraid to speak up in their stead.