Will CAP Laws And Safe Storage Keep Guns Safe? I’m Not So Sure.

Yesterday comes the news out of Michigan that a 12-year old, mentally-impaired boy, who took a shotgun out of his grandfather’s gun safe, pulled the trigger and killed a pregnant, 28-year old woman sleeping in a different room in the same house, will now be charged with careless discharge of a firearm.  The sentence could involve fines and/or placement in a juvenile facility. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Michigan is one of 23 states that does not have a child access prevention law (CAP), which means that a kid who had no idea what he was doing gets charged in this death and grandpa, who owned the gun, gets off scot free.

gun safe                Every week or so the media seems to carry another story about a youngster who somehow manages to grab a gun and kill or wound someone else.  Probably the recent episode that garnered the most media attention was the shooting of Veronica Rutledge by her 2-year old son in an Idaho Wal Mart; Mom had a pistol in her handbag, turned away for a sec and – bam!  Rutledge was alleged to be a trained shooter who carried a gun for self-defense.  Some self-defense.

In 2013, the CDC estimates that 538 kids under 14 were unintentionally injured by guns and another 69 are estimated to have lost their lives because someone accidentally shot off a gun.  THE CDC also reports that 625 kids 14 years or younger died from drowning and 1,345 youngsters lost their lives in accidents involving trucks or cars. I’m not saying the deaths of 69 children for any reason should be ignored; I’m just trying to put it into perspective as regards the issue of safe guns.

Even though we don’t have exact data on how many children kill or maim themselves or others with guns, every time it happens we get the chorus about locking up or locking away the guns. The issue of gun safety needs to be understood beyond the degree to which young children are injured or killed because when we look at total unintentional firearm mortality and morbidity for all ages, the numbers dramatically change. Accidental gun deaths jump to 505; for non-fatal gun injuries the toll is 16,864. This latter figure, to quote one of my street friends, is serious sh*t.  And it would be a lot more serious were it not for skilled trauma surgeons who somehow manage to bring many shooting victims back from the dead.

The problem with relying on CAP laws and safe storage is that most unintentional shootings occur not because a little kid grabs a gun, but because the owner or one of his friends does something impulsive or dumb while the gun is being used in a lawful and legal way. In 2013, there were 2,590 unintentional gun injury victims ages 15 to 19, but nearly 2,000 of these victims were 18 years old, which meant that they were lawfully able to use a gun.  The gun accident rate for the 18-19 age group was 22.74, drops to 9.38 for ages 20-35, to 7.82 for ages 35-44 and down to 3.16 for ages 45-54.  This decrease in gun accident rates moving up the age scale is exactly what we find in rates by age bracket for accidents involving cars.

Everyone is in favor of using guns safely; the NRA talks about it all the time. What nobody wants to face, however, is the simple fact that when you have 300 million dangerous weapons floating around, a certain number are going to be used every day in stupid and senseless ways.  If CAP laws and safe storage prevented every unintentional gun injury to children, the overall deaths and injuries would drop by 3 percent.  CAP laws and gun locks are necessary, but they don’t really respond to the fact that 300 million extremely lethal weapons are owned by humans, and at some time or another every one of us will be careless or forget.

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What’s The Best Way To Defend Yourself? A Gun Or An Iphone.

This morning’s email feed from The Trace contained a link to an article in the online Forbes Magazine about the sale of a new iPhone case that looks like a gun.  The article wasn’t particularly positive about the product; in fact, it was downright negative, listing 15 different reasons why something could go “very, very wrong” for anyone who paid $51 for what appears to be something made in Japan or at least shipped from Japan.  The Gun Grip Case as it’s called is evidently no longer for sale on this particular website, which features all kinds of products from Japan, but a competitive product for $24.99 has already appeared in another online store.

gun-grip-case-iphone-5-cover-1                God Bless America – if there’s something out there – anything – which costs money, you’ll find someone in our great country who’s willing to buy it. But aside from our desire to shop until we drop, I found the content and tone of the article somewhat disquieting because why should an organization like Forbes which is committed hook, line and sinker to free enterprise look so negatively at someone’s attempt to make a legal buck?

And the reason may lie in the fact that the Forbes reporter, Tara Haelle, spends most of the story interviewing an attorney named Emanuel Kapelsohn, who is identified as the Vice President of something called the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors, which is sponsored by just about every major gun and ammunition manufacturer around.  Kapelsohn is quoted as saying that the Gun Grip Case is a “stupid, stupid, stupid product that should never be sold,” and the article then goes on to list no less than 15 reasons to support Kapelsohn’s point of view.  Here’s a couple of real doozies right off the list:

  1. Someone could mistake the iPhone for a real gun.  Huh? They could?  It sure as hell doesn’t look like a gun to me.  Actually it looks like exactly what it is: an iPhone stuck on a plastic gun.
  2. A cop could shoot someone waving it around or pulling it out of their pocket or purse. I thought that cops had to be able to pass a vision test in order to be a cop.
  3. A cop could injure or kill a bystander in attempting to address the perceived threat. See # 2 just above.

And in case these reasons aren’t enough to keep this product off the market, Kapelsohn who is also an attorney is quoted as saying that the company making this product will “absolutely be sued out of existence.”  Has Kopelsohn ever gone into Wal Mart and noticed all the air-soft guns that look a lot more like a real gun than anything that this Japanese company is trying to sell?  For that matter, how come gun companies haven’t been sued out of existence in states that allow residents to walk round with real guns that aren’t concealed?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that Kopelsohn’s concerns aren’t genuine or real.  What I am saying is that the problem isn’t whether or not someone can walk around with a droid or any other kind of gadget that looks like a gun.  The problem is that people are walking around with the real thing in their pocket and if somebody pulled one of those out and waved it around, Kopelsohn would no doubt have the same concerns.

Or would he?  One of the corporate sponsors of his training organization is an outfit called Team One.  And they run training classes for all kinds of shooting skills, including one course called “Concealed Carry Instructor Workshop,” which is described as a course that “is designed to merge combative handgun techniques with everyday carry and concealment of the personal handgun.”

I love the idea that Kopelsohn’s organization is sponsored by a training company like Team One. Frankly, I’d rather be sitting next to someone whose iPad is attached to a plastic gun than someone with the real thing in their pocket just waiting to engage in ‘combative handgun techniques.’

What Was Different About The Shooting in Hayden? A Lot.

If you are concerned about gun violence, then sooner or later you’ll have to spend some time looking at the extraordinary data collected by the CDC and housed in an online repository known as the National Violent Death Reporting System, aka the NVDRS. The data only covers reports from 32 states, many of them recently added, but it is so rich and so comprehensive as regards gun mortality and morbidity that it simply cannot be neglected by anyone who wants to go beyond the headlines of the gun debate and understand the issues from an objective point of view.

You can save yourself a lot of time and energy (as well as cutting through the bureaucratic red-tape that is often required to get access to the raw data) by simply accessing the relevant Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) published by the CDC based on information from the NVDRS.  The data in the NVDRS is valuable because it is drawn largely from coroner’s reports, which are not only extremely detailed as regards the circumstances of the injury, but also tend to be comprehensive because coroners must report to state health departments which then report directly to the CDC.  I am constantly surprised at how much critical information, like national incomes, population and employment are based on estimates, rather than comprehensive numbers.  The NVDRS, on the other hand, is the real McCoy.

hayden                Following the bizarre incident in the Hayden, ID Wal-Mart, where a two-year old evidently discharged his mother’s concealed handgun, instantly killing her, I decided to look at this not from the vague media reports coming from the scene, not based on a few, online messages from grieving relatives and friends, and certainly not from the pronouncements that will now follow about ‘responsibility,’ ‘safety,’ ‘a learning moment,’ or any of the other bromides that have already begun to circulate about an event which we have witnessed many times before and will no doubt witness many times again. Rather, I want to see what I can learn about the death of Veronica Rutledge by comparing what I know and don’t know about her demise to the data on such events collected by the NVDRS and published by the CDC.

The last MMWR on unintentional gun deaths covers 16 states who reported data in 2010. Two of the states, like Idaho, were Western states (Utah and Colorado), several others were Mid-western states (Michigan and Ohio), five were Southeastern states, in other words, a good mix.  Unintentional firearm deaths were less than 1% of all gun mortality (97% were suicides and homicides) which would be about par if we had data for all 50 states.  An unintentional firearm death is defined as “a death that results from a penetrating injury or gunshot wound from a weapon that uses a powder charge to fire a projectile and for which a preponderance of evidence indicates that the shooting was not directed intentionally at the decedent.” Now I’m sorry if this is all very dry and somewhat obtuse but again, that’s what research into gun violence is all about. And it’s clear from the little bit that we know from Hayden, at least we can assume that the shooter in this case did not intentionally discharge the gun.

Here are some additional comparisons between Hayden and the unintentional gun deaths analyzed for 16 states in 2010.  December was the lowest month for these incidents which makes the event in Hayden somewhat rare.  In 2010 there was not a single, unintentional gun death in a public store, with two-thirds taking place in homes.  More than 60% of the incidents involved handguns and three-quarters of the victims were White, but only 15% were women. Three-quarters of the shootings occurred because the gun went off “accidentally” or some other “mechanical” event took place.

To sum up:  Accidental shootings don’t usually take place in December, they don’t involve women as victims and they don’t occur in public space.  So what was a woman doing walking through WalMart during the Christmas holidays with a loaded gun?

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