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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb, Dumber And Dumbest: The NRA Responds To The FBI Report.

I used to think that the dumbest pro-gun writer was Emily Miller of The Washington Times, with John Lott running a close second.  But I think top honors should now go to the NRA staffer who wrote the organization’s response to the new FBI report on “active shootings,”  which covers 160 multiple-shooting incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013.  What the report shows is that the annual number of such shootings has doubled in the last seven years, and the number of victims injured in such shootings has tripled over the same period.

Actually, the NRA response wasn’t directed at the FBI per se, because the last thing the NRA is going to do is challenge the findings of a law-enforcement agency which also is responsible for approving every gun purchased by all federally-licensed gun dealers.  Rather, the NRA went after the manner in which The New York Times commented on the report because, after all, you can always rile up NRA members by mentioning The New York Times.

NYT                And what did The Times report say?  It said what the FBI said, namely, that the number and impact of multiple shootings has increased dramatically over the last seven years.  And how did the NRA respond to this information?  The writer did what NRA writers usually do when someone, anyone, makes a statement that doesn’t conform to their point of view.  The writer simply said things that are not true.  I’m not saying the writer lied; I’m saying he’s probably too dumb to know the difference between fact and non-fact.  For example.

The NRA response claims that the FBI’s numbers are inflated because “active shootings” involved three or more persons who died from their wounds, whereas the more traditional (and lower) “mass shootings” always involved at least four deaths.  But the FBI report specifically stated that the victim count in “active shootings” did not include instances in which the shooter also took his/her own life, which basically accounts for the overall difference in shootings.

The NRA, desperate to show that this report doesn’t contain any bad news for the gun community, also cited a report in USA Today which claimed that between 2006 and 2013 there were 61 mass murders claiming 286 victims in which the perpetrator used a knife, a club or some weapon other than a gun, whereas the FBI claimed that there were only 34 “mass murders” (minimum of four victims, including the shooter) in which the killer used a gun.  But the USA Today report defined a mass murder as any criminal event in which four or more persons were killed, even if these killings took place over several days or even weeks at a time.  The whole point of the FBI report was to examine episodes during which the events that took place were continuous because the whole point was to determine the correct response that should be made by law enforcement and civilians while the murders were taking place.

In other words, the NRA used a definition of multiple murders that simply can’t be compared to the definition used by the FBI in their new report.  And the reason that the NRA deliberately twisted the evidence was to obscure the most important finding of the report, namely, that in 160 multiple shootings, nearly all of which took place in public space, the number of such episodes that ended with an armed civilian using a gun was exactly – one!  The idea that good guys stop bad guys with guns is simply not true and the FBI report shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not true.  No wonder the NRA would publish such a dumb response to this report.

But here’s the real problem.  The gun control community will discuss this report at length but the discussion will remain largely among themselves.  The dishonest statements by the NRA were sent to me and to the other 4-5 million members of the NRA.  How do you reach that group with much-needed correctives for what the NRA wants them to believe is the truth?  That problem remains to be solved.