Should Doctors Talk to Patients About Guns?


Dear Readers:

              Let me warn you that today’s column is longer than my usual 600-700 words. So, I hope you will set aside a bit of time to read the entire thing and spend a moment reflecting on what it says.

              Before I get into the specifics, I want to say that on at least two occasions, I had the great fortune to be able to talk candidly and completely with skilled and responsive physicians about disquieting medical symptoms which were affecting me and one of my kids. I couldn’t have gotten this kind of advice and foreknowledge from anyone else, and I will never (read: never) join with any of those shitheads, including a former President, who rant and rave about the ‘fraud’ of modern medicine or how immunizations should all be banned.

              However, I also believe that if doctors are going to deliver remedies to medical risks, then they need to understand what those risks really involve, and in the case of gun risk, doctors don’t know enough about guns to promote themselves as the professionals whose beliefs and treatments should be accepted in that regard.

              I refer to an article which just appeared in a medical journal, “Firearm Screening and Counseling in General Medicine Primary Care Clinics at an Academic Medical Center” and can be downloaded here.  The article’s authors asked 109 medical providers in 10 Michigan clinic sites to answer questions about counseling patients on gun risk and found “a generalized resistance from patients and providers alike to discuss firearm safety,” which is similar to other, similar studies on gun counseling conducted over the past years.

              For guidance in creating this survey, these researchers cite an article published by one of the gurus of gun violence prevention, Garen Wintemute, along with several other alleged gun  violence experts, an article which has become the non plus ultra resource for helping doctors learn how to talk about guns, and you can download that article here.

              How do Wintemute and his colleagues advise physicians to counsel patients about guns? First, they present an ‘epidemiology’ of gun risk, which is totally based on the demographics of people who are shot with guns. Now I’m not an M.D., I’m only a lowly Ph.D., but I always thought that epidemiology is a method which is used to help determine how a threat to health moves from one victim to another, which when it comes to gun violence, you won’t get even the slightest hint if your data only covers information about the people who get shot.

              The WHO defines violence as any conscious attempt to injure yourself or someone else. But when it comes to gun violence, less than 20% of all shootings involve the victim also being the person who shoots the gun. So, if you do research on gun violence and only look at the demographic profile of people who get shot with guns, you happen to be missing at least 80% of all gun violence events.

              The Wintemute group then goes on to tell us about why people own guns, the idea being that if you are going to counsel gun owners about gun risk, you need to deal with their interests, concerns and fears which made them go out and buy a gun. And what data is used to figure this problem out? The same data which has been used in virtually every research done on guns over the past twenty years that shows a majority of gun owners buy a gun in order to protect themselves.

              The next sentence is the single, most important sentence in this entire column, so please read it slowly, perhaps read it several times and spend a few moments thinking about what the sentence says, okay?

              There has never been one, single study produced by public health, physicians or medical caregivers about guns which asks gun owners to describe the type of gun which they own. Not one. Not one, single study.

              And unless you know what kind of gun(s) you are talking about, getting into a discussion with a patient about gun risk is a total and complete waste of time. Because even though all guns represent some degree of health risk once they are loaded with ammunition that really works, the difference in lethality of different kinds of guns can be extreme.

              You don’t buy a Glock 17 with a hi-cap magazine which holds 16 rounds of tactical ammunition (the word ‘tactical’ is a polite way of saying that someone might get killed) to knock a birdie out of the tree. You also don’t buy a 22-caliber, bolt action, single-shot rifle to walk around the neighborhood carrying a gun.

              Gun owners are very sensitive to this issue and love to walk into a gun shop and talk on and on with anyone else in the shop about the design and use of different kinds of guns. I know this because I have sold guns to somewhere around ten-thousand-gun owners in the gun shops I have operated in three states.

              Physicians admit in survey after survey that their reluctance to counsel patients on gun violence often stems from their lack of knowledge about different types of guns. Does Wintemute’s article or the study out of Michigan even raise this point or God forbid advise doctors to spend some time learning about the different types of guns? Of course not.

              There must be a couple of hundred books on gun design listed on Amazon. There are also YouTube videos, including this very informative, hour-long video by a clever, young man which could easily be converted into a one-credit CME online course, if one of the so-called medical gun experts would even mention anything about why doctors should learn at least a few specifics about the guns which create the risk about which they are so concerned.

              And what is the remedy for gun violence that these medical and public health experts promote clinicians to advance? Store those guns safely – that will do the trick. Now the fact that there has never been one, single study showing any change in gun violence rates after a control group of patients reports they are paying more attention to gun safety than before, big deal, right?

              Probably the most detailed study of how and why Americans own guns was published by the Harvard gun-research group in 2015. You can download that article right here. This piece goes into great detail about how many Americans own guns, what kinds of guns do they own, when was the last time they purchased a gun and when was the last time they sold or gave one of their guns to someone else.

              This article made all kinds of noise in the media because it identified a group of ‘super owners,’ representing just three percent of the adult population who together own half the country’s guns, for an average of 17 guns apiece.

              There was only one little problem with this article, a problem which basically renders the research totally meaningless for understanding or counseling on the risk of guns. Men and women who are legal gun owners by and large rarely commit violence of any kind with their guns. Maybe once in a great while some gun owner and his wife get into a brawl, and he decides to finally get the old lady out of his hair by popping her with a gun.

              But the reality of guns as representing a threat to health happens to be when someone who is unable to legally own a gun gets their hands on a gun. Who are these individuals and what kinds of questions do they need to be asked in order to determine whether they represent any degree of gun risk? You won’t find one, single word about this problem in any published research from the medical community which allegedly explains to clinicians how they should talk to patients about guns.

              Last point. I don’t see in any of the advisories about how health professionals should discuss gun risk any mention simply to get rid of the guns. Which, by the way, happens to be the one, guaranteed strategy that will reduce gun violence.

              Oh, I forgot.  My bad. Americans have a Constitutional ‘right’ to own guns. Know what? Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution also gives Americans the ‘right’ to buy and smoke cigarettes. It’s called the ‘commerce clause.’

              So how come physicians have no trouble telling their patients who smoke to get rid of the cigarettes?

Should physicians talk to their patients about guns? Maybe they should first take the trouble to learn something about what they want to say.

Does Either Side in the Gun Debate Know What They Are Talking About?

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              Back in 1992 and 1993, Fred Rivara and Art Kellerman published two articles which found a clear link between suicides and homicides when a gun was present in someone’s home. These two articles inaugurated a thirty-year argument about gun risk which is still going on.

              The respondents to Rivara and Kellerman were Gary Kleck in 1995 and John Lott in 1998, the former finding that several million Americans prevented serious crimes by dint of carrying a gun, the latter finding a link between the issuance of concealed-carry permits and a decline in violent crime.

              I refer to this debate as an argument about the social utility of guns. Do we need guns for self-protection, or should they only be used for hunting and sport? The United States happens to be the only country which regulates gun ownership but also allows law-abiding individuals to purchase and own guns for both purposes; in the other countries which have gun-control laws, owning a gun designed for self-defense is either a no-no or very tightly controlled.

              This issue of social utility happens to be the most important argument between the two sides when it comes to talking about guns. But there’s only one, little problem with how the debate plays out, namely, neither side is saying anything which is at all realistic when it comes to understanding how and why 120,000+ Americans are fatally or non-fatally injured each year with guns.

              We have all the data about who winds up being treated for a gun injury. We also have plenty of data on who gets arrested and charged for injuring someone else with a gun. But what we do not have, nor can I find a single bit of research on this issue from either side, is an attempt to figure out how many guns are out there in the hands of individuals who have no legal right to own or have access to a gun.

              The only research I have seen which skirts around this issue is an article published by Gary Kleck the year before he published his national survey of guns being used for self-protection, which is an article that seeks to tie the rate of gun violence to what he refers to as the ‘prevalence’ of guns. But this article makes no attempt to differentiate between legal versus illegal guns, which happens to be typical of the research by David Hemenway that ties our high rate of gun violence to the civilian ownership of some 300 million or more guns.

              Until and unless someone sits down and tries to figure out how many guns are owned by individuals who cannot under current law own a gun, then the whole debate about the social utility of guns means nothing at all. Someone who can pass a background check before buying a gun isn’t then going to turn around and stick up the local bank or the minimart.

If we know one thing about criminality, thanks to Marvin Wolfgang’s work published fifty years ago, we know that violent criminals show serious and continuous misbehavior in their early teens. Occasionally, domestic violence breaks out in a relationship which ends in serious injury or death, but that behavior rarely occurs in families which haven’t been engaged in some degree of physical brutality up to that point in time.

There has also never been a serious study on the number of gun crimes which occur with someone using a legally acquired gun versus an illegal gun. Given the lack of that information, how anyone thinks they can make any valid assumptions about whether gun-control laws make a difference to rates of gun violence (an assumption which is made in virtually every piece of research conducted by the gun-control crowd) is beyond me. 

For that matter, for all the talk by the pro-gun crowd about how giving out concealed-carry licenses reduces violent crime, the fact that someone can legally carry a gun doesn’t mean that someone who is illegally carrying a gun will necessarily worry about whether the guy who just yanked some bills out of an ATM machine will defend himself with armed force instead of handing over the cash.

Both of these arguments are carried out by scholars and advocates who actually believe that regression analysis can explain causation, when in fact saying that an ‘association’ exists between two trends, which is what the gun researchers say all the time, is saying nothing at all.

When the country was being ravaged by Covid-19 and gun violence rates shot upward, everyone in the cottage industry known as ‘good guys with guns versus bad guys with guns’ knew for a fact that the Pandemic was causing a level of stress and street-level anxiety which caused more injuries and deaths from guns.

So now we are reporting a level of Covid-19 infections which just makes this virus another quasi-normal pathogen floating around, meanwhile gun violence appears to be at an all-time high.

So much for that evidence-based theory, right?

Did Hunter Biden Break the Law When He Bought a Gun?


              Frankly, I can’t blame the GOP for going after Hunter Biden with this cocked up story about how he went out and bought an illegal gun. After all, with an unemployment rate under 4% and our national security readiness being in the hands of a couple of F-35’s flying up and down the East Coast, what else do the Republic(ans) have to talk about particularly when Trump-o’s is now facing 91 felony charges with perhaps more to come?

              Now I’m not an attorney but I know a few things about laws covering the purchase of guns, because I was a licensed, federal firearms dealer for more than 40 years beginning in 1973 and during that period of time I probably sold at least 10,000 rifles, pistols, and shotguns in the gun shops I owned in three different states.

              And from what I have read about the indictment for illegal gun purchasing being ready to be brought against Hunter Biden in this case, if his lawyers can’t get him off the hook, then he’s hired lawyers who are even dumber than the bunch that have been pushing the election ‘fraud’ nonsense for Donald Trump.

              Here’s how the whole gun thing works, or at least is supposed to work.

              The United States is the only country in the entire world which regulates the private ownership of small arms based on the character, temperament, background, and legal history of every individual who wants to own a gun. In every other country which has created a regulatory infrastructure for private gun ownership, the primary consideration is based on the dangerousness of the gun.

              So, for example, we are the only country which allows private individuals to own full-auto machine guns, like the type that the guys who worked for Al Capone used to carry around. The licensing process is somewhat more detailed, and the license costs a few bucks more, but the bottom line is that anyone 21 years or older who can answer a bunch of questions that were developed by the ATF back in 1968, can walk into a gun shop and a few minutes later walk out with whatever type of gun he or she wants to own.

              The questions which the purchaser must answer are on Form 4473, and if you answer any of these questions except the first question positively, you won’t be allowed to purchase a gun. The first question asks if the person filling out the form is the same person who will win d up with the gun. Obviously, the proper answer to that question has to be ‘yes.’

              The fifth question reads like this: “Are you an unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?” If you answer that question with a ‘yes,’ the dealer can’t sell you a gun because under federal law, a drug addict is considered too dangerous to own a gun.

              Evidently, when Hunter Biden went into a gun shop in California in 2019 to buy a gun, he was ‘struggling’ with narcotics, whatever that means. He hadn’t been arrested for a crime related to his narcotics problem, he also wasn’t being investigated by the cops for selling drugs. So, he answered the question with a ‘no’ and after all his answers were verified by the FBI, he became the legal owner of a gun.

              At some point later on, a friend or a relative took the gun, threw it into a dumpster and that was the end of Hunter’s gun-owning career. And this sequence of events, as I have described it, is being considered as the basis of a federal indictment with a penalty of – ready? – ten years in jail?

              I have a sneaky feeling, and maybe I’m wrong, that Merrick Garland is letting this incredibly stupid case go forward for two reasons. Reason #1: He doesn’t need someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene demanding his impeachment because he’s covering up this serious crime. Reason #2: He knows that if the case does wind up in court, that no jury will convict Hunter of anything involving the purchase of a gun.

              Back in 2014, the Supreme Court heard a case in where a guy bought a gun which he then legally transferred to his uncle but said on the 4473 that he was buying the gun for himself. The Court decided that the initial buyer, a guy named Abramski, had violated the law because even though he made sure that his uncle was entitled to own the gun, he lied when he answered the initial 4473 question with a ‘yes.’

              So here we have an entire regulatory system designed to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ and yet the regulations are so screwed up that nobody really knows what’s right and what’s wrong. Each year, federal prosecutors receive roughly 500 referrals of instances when someone lied on a 4473 form. The DOJ says that roughly 300 cases are filed, but they don’t even bother to keep records on how many of those cases actually wind up in court.

              In other words, what we have here is bullshit from end to end, and if the GOP believes that the case against Hunter Biden can be used to replace the noise being made about when and for how long El Trump-o may go to jail, they better come up with another headline pretty quick.

When Will Gun Violence Research Get Serious About Their Field?


              I have just finished the remarkable book by Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which has been reissued in a 25th Anniversary edition. What Rhodes brilliantly describes is how scientists in various countries began developing a new branch of science – physics – in order to understand the behavior and structure of the atom, thus yielding a better insight into how our world and the universe functions around our world.

              Before World War I, these scientists lived and worked in Germany, France, the United States, and several other industrialized countries, but they kept track of advances in this new scientific field by coming together in public conferences where new research was discussed, criticized, and revised before any new consensus on an issue was accepted and then used to move the field forward as a whole.

              In that regard, I believe the scientific field known as gun violence research first got started with articles published by Philip Cook beginning in the late 1970’s and by Fred Rivara and Art Kellerman in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1992-93.

              Notwithstanding the absence of government funding for gun research from 1997 until 2019, the field has continued to grow, with research groups operating at numerous universities and private foundations throughout the United States. The academic collaborative website, ResearchGate, which is hardly an exhaustive listing, counts more than 50 articles and chapters on gun violence published this year.

              Yet with this newfound flurry of research into gun violence, one thing is still completely missing from the efforts of this scientific community to figure out what to do about a problem which kills and injures more than 125,000 Americans every year. As far as I know, and please correct me if I’m wrong, there is still no commitment on the part of this group to come together on a regular basis, present their research to others who are qualified in the same field, and to use the results of such discussions to invigorate and widen the knowledge within their own discipline and the scientific understanding of this issue.

              There are plenty of public meetings and events held each year which bring people together to think and talk about gun violence and what we should do to reduce the horrific human cost. But these meetings are not where the type of cross-fertilization and informed critiques occur that could create a more robust research field. In the main, they are events which advocacy organizations utilize to build more support for their cause.

              That’s fine for what it’s worth. But those meetings do not provide a suitable venue for public health, medical and other scientific disciplines to discuss critically and substantially the research which might ultimately provide us with the answers to solving gun violence which we still need.

              Back in 2020 and 2021, gun violence spiked at the same time the Pandemic was tearing through the land. I don’t have enough fingers on my two hands to enumerate all the statements that were made about how Covid-19 was creating a social environment which was conducive to more gun violence events.

              Sounded logical, right? A quick and easy answer was all very nice and well, but that’s all it was. Here we are in 2023, the Covid-19 virus is still around but is no longer considered a widespread threat, yet gun violence continues to occur on a level we have never seen before.

How did that happen? WTFK.

              I’m not pleased with writing about gun violence these days with having only the slightest understanding of what’s going on. But until and unless the gun violence researchers start coming together to exchange ideas, theories, and findings in an unrestrained, critical way, I’m going to keep reading and hearing the same old, same old about gun violence which has basically moved the field no further along than it was thirty years ago.

              And just to make it clear that I consider this issue to be as serious as the deaths and injuries caused by guns, I am willing to contribute $10,000 to any group of bone fide researchers who would be willing to organize and sustain such a commitment to their field on a regular basis. 

A New Book on Guns – By Me!

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              I am pleased to tell you that today I published my 17th book on guns, which is available on Amazon both in print and electronic editions right here. The book is brief, 80 pages, but it deals with what has become a very significant issue in the whole discussion about guns, which is the issue of Stand Your Ground (SYG.)

              Except my book is not an examination of this issue from a legal point of view. Nor is it an attempt to explain how or why SYG laws, passed first in Florida in 2005, have now spread to at least 35 states.  And it is also not a discussion about how the gun industry has promoted SYG as a way to sell more guns, in particular the types of handguns which Americans sooner or later will be able to carry from state to state.

              My book considers SYG to be a type of behavior which has always been a way in which the black community first tried to protect themselves from the worst depredations of slavery, then as physical challenges to their free status by the Klan, and then as the fundamental strategy to achieve full civil rights as developed by Martin Luther King.

              The basic point I attempt to share with my readers is the idea that SYG has always been a method by which people who are legally and socially considered to be inferior can redress that unequal status against others who believe themselves to be more superior.

And in the United States, even with all the recent legal activity which is attempting to bring everyone to an equal par with everyone else, the basic fault line on who is better and who is worse, is still a line defined primarily with reference to race.

The United States is the only country in the entire world which created and enforced a racially based slave system in which there were no manumission practices at all. The last slave ship arrived here from Africa in 1808, but when the WPA team went out 130 years later and interviewed more than two thousand former slaves in seventeen states (and I use some of these interviews as references in my book) they could not find one black man or woman who was born on the other side.

The fact that we ‘gave’ freedom to our black population has always been an important, and frankly adverse factor in how whites think and talk about blacks, because this also presumes that the ‘better’ members of our society finally realized that there were other members of our society who had it worse.

But the whole point about SYG behavior and culture is that black slaves who then became black Americans knew the difference between what they were given as opposed to what they really deserved.

I hope you read and enjoy my latest book.

One City Deals With Gun Violence.


              Earlier this week, the city of Springfield, MA recorded its 25th gun murder of the year. Given that there are still 4 more months in 2023, there’s a good chance that at least 30 fatal shootings will occur before we reach 2024.

              Springfield has 150,000 residents, which means that as of today, the city’s gun-homicide rate is 16.67, more or less the same rate as countries like El Salvador or South Sudan, places like that.

              Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts not only has the lowest gun homicide rate of all 50 states, but it’s also rated as a very safe state because it has all of the laws which are considered necessary to protect the public against gun violence – universal background checks, ERPO, required safe storage, childproof gun design.

              The last time the Giffords Law Center rated the strength of state gun laws, which was 2022, Massachusetts ranked 6th strongest of all 50 states and had a statewide gun-death rate of 3.4.  So, Springfield’s gun-homicide rate is only 4 times higher than the overall state number – what’s so bad about that?

              To celebrate Springfield’s new record for annual shootings in a year which still has four months to go, the city convened a meeting of its gun violence ‘task force’ to review the situation and come up with some new ideas on what to do.

              The task force consists of the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the county prosecutor, several community ‘leaders,’ and of course a couple of representatives from the various ‘faiths,’ one who started the meeting off with a request to the Almighty that he bless everyone in attendance who would contribute something to this important task.

              The only person missing from the meeting was a family member of someone who had been killed in a gunfight and would deliver an emotional plea to the assemblage to ‘honor the memory’ of their beloved brother or father or mother or whichever member of their family was now lying on a gurney in the coroner’s office with a quarter-ounce piece of lead in their head.

              The meeting started right off with a report from the Police Chief which indicated that progress has been made in one area relevant to the task force’s work, namely, that the project to install shot-spotter monitors at all the city’s ‘hot spots’ is now complete. These devices will allow the cops to know the moment a gun goes off at any public space in the town, which is all fine and well except that three of the last four shootings occurred inside someone’s home.

              In fact, last month a resident of the Brightwood section of the city noticed that he hadn’t seen the old man who lived alone next door for a couple of days. So, he knocked on the neighbor’s door and when there was no answer he opened the door and let himself in. The neighbor, in fact, was in his house, lying in a dried pool of blood on the kitchen floor.

              How long had the old man been on his back in the kitchen with two bullet holes in his chest?  The coroner estimated maybe three, maybe four days.

              One of the liveliest discussions during the meeting involved a plan, not yet completed nor implemented, to promote the idea that giving the cops some idea about who committed the actual shooting isn’t such a bad thing. In Springfield, the guy who pops the other guy is usually identified as “I didn’t see nuttin,” even if the shooting took place in broad daylight in front of a bunch of folks who just happened to be standing around.

              Midway through the conclave, two uniformed officers joined the group who were identified as being from the State Police. They were part of a team which now patrols the sidewalks around the MGM casino in downtown Springfield, which opened three years ago and a week or so after the opening, someone was gunned down when two casino patrons got into an argument over a parking space.

              I happen to do a lot of my writing in an office adjacent to Union Street, which is the main thoroughfare through the city’s South End neighborhood where at least one fatal shooting occurs every month. If you walk six blocks from Union Street you come to where the city ends, and the suburb of Longmeadow begins.

              Longmeadow is the 3rd or 4th wealthiest zip code in the entire state. There hasn’t been a single incident of gun violence in Longmeadow, fatal or non-fatal, for as long as anyone can recall.

              So how come nobody at the task force meeting proposed the idea that Springfield could get rid of gun violence by simply turning itself into another Longmeadow? After all, we rebuilt whole cities in Europe after World War II.

There’s Something Missing in the Public Health Discussion About Gun Violence.


              I have just finished rereading the remarkable book by Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake, which was published in 1972 and correctly predicted our Vietnam collapse the following year. Fitzgerald’s thesis is that we failed in Vietnam because we tried to take our definition for government and apply it to a country whose political culture was not only wholly different but had been developed and solidified over several thousand (not hundred) years.

              I believe that a variation on Fitzgerald’s argument happens to explain our inability to do anything tangible to reduce what has become an endemic condition called gun violence which has cost us between 30,000 and 40,000 lives each year for the past thirty or more years.

              And it also should be noted that since we have no idea how many people each year survive a gunshot wound but in many cases then experience a shortened lifespan, our understanding of the true dimensions of this problem is what Grandpa would call ‘nisht tachlis’ (read: not understood.)

              One of the few things we do know about gun violence is that blacks are victims of fatal shootings ten times more frequently than whites. In fact, for all the talk about how the United States has a violent crime rate which is 7 to 20 times higher than any other OECD nation-state, the death rate for whites is around 2.5, whereas the rate for blacks is 23.5.

              The average homicide rate in the entire OECD is 2.6, which happens to be the homicide rate for whites in the U.S. But let’s remember that the white population in the United States has somewhere between 300 million and 400 million guns sitting around within easy reach. In terms of per capita gun ownership, no other OECD country has a civilian arsenal even a fraction of that size.

              On the other hand, we have absolutely no idea how many guns could be found in the households of American blacks, for the simple reason that legal black ownership of guns has always been a no-no with the cops. When one of those researchers does a telephone survey of gun owners and asks whoever picks up the phone whether there are any guns around their home, what do you think the response from most blacks is going to be?

              No matter how you shake it or bake it, the problem of gun violence in the United States is a problem in the black community because fatal and non-fatal assaults are intra, not inter-racial affairs. But this problem doesn’t spread around like a viral infection, it’s a type of behavior which is taught or learned.

              Where does this teaching and learning first occur? Where do you think it occurs?

              The biggest problem facing my friends who do gun research in the stated hopes of coming up with a new or better way to reduce gun violence is that they focus virtually all their attention on new or revised regulations that can be imposed on gun owners by government agencies, particularly the courts and the cops.

              Someone walking around the neighborhood waving a gun? Call the cops. Some depressed, lonely old man sitting in his living room holding a gun? Go into court to ask for an ERPO order to take the gun away.

              That’s all well and good except for one, little thing. Why should black Americans trust either the courts or the cops? You think the black community doesn’t remember how the U.S. Public Health Service conducted experiments at the Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, GA by secretly injecting black men with syphilis over the course of 40 years?

              In 1997, Bill Clinton signed an official apology about this study and some money was coughed up by the government to pay off the subjects and families of a public health experiment that was right out of Doctor Mengele’s playbook before and during World War II.

              Big friggin’ deal, okay? Not one medical researcher who was engaged in this horrific deceit saw the inside of a jail cell. Not one.

              I would be a little more charitable towards my friends who do public health research on gun violence if I could see the slightest interest or intention for getting the results of their work into the consciousness of the community which needs to understand gun risk most of all.

              Like you’ll find a copy of The New England Journal of Medicine lying around the barber shop where members of the black community convene on Sunday afternoon to shoot the sh*t about whatever needs to be shot.

Same Old Public Health Discussion About Gun Violence.


              Yet another article has just appeared which tells us for the umpteenth time that guns represent a threat to public health.  This particular article focuses on gun deaths in the pediatric and adolescent population and finds that gun violence continues to increase even in the wake of a disappearance of Covid-19.

              So, what else is new? Pardon me if I sound a bit cynical or just plain worn out from reading the same thing again and again and again. But what makes me really unable to find any real value in this research is, that typical of virtually all the work on gun violence published by the public health and medicine crowd, the single, most important issue for understanding gun violence is left completely unsaid.

              For all the talk by yet another group of experts based on discussions by even a larger group of experts, there is not one, single word in either this article or the reports and data on which it is based which mentions any attempt or even awareness of approaching gun violence from a perspective which cannot be ignored, namely, an analysis of what we mean when we use the word ‘gun.’

              Oops! The authors of this article wouldn’t feel comfortable using the word ‘gun’ because it’s just not educated or sophisticated enough to fit into the nomenclature of this highly educated group.  They prefer to use the term ‘firearm,’ as if this has some kind of scientific validity which the word ‘gun’ doesn’t have.

              Over the past 40 or so years since I opened my first retail gun shop in 1979, I have sold probably in excess of 12,000 guns to buyers who walked into my gun shops which were located first in South Carolina, then New York, then Massachusetts. Many of these buyers purchased more than one gun, so maybe I had direct contact with 8,000 different individuals to whom I sold at least one gun.

              I do not recall one, single person who ever walked into one of my shops and told me that he or she was looking to purchase a ‘firearm.’ Not one. And while you might think that I’m just making a silly and incidental point, to the contrary, the same ‘experts’ who feel comfortable using the term ‘firearm’ are also the same ‘experts’ who will always tell you they can’t seem to get all those gun owners to understand what they are trying to say.

              Aside from nomenclature, I also have an issue with the authors of this article who are conducting research on the health threats represented by guns but have decided that the threat can be fully understood with reference to less than 30% of all gun injuries. This selective vision occurs because the CDC has given up trying to figure out how many non-fatal gun injuries occur every year.

              The only difference, let me repeat that with emphasis, okay? The only difference between a fatal and non-fatal gun wound is that in the latter case, the shooter didn’t shoot straight. There is no other difference whatsoever in terms of who does the shooting, why they do the shooting, how and why they got their hands on a gun in the first place, or anything else related to this event.

              If the public health and medical researchers who claim to be studying guns – oops! – I mean firearm violence want to continue indulging the CDC in its annual publication of data which is so incomplete that it shouldn’t be published at all, the least these researchers could do is maybe just stick a little footnote at the end of their text advising the reader about this massive data gap.

              Anyway, getting back to the gun issue. This article draws heavily from a series of meetings by a panel of ‘experts’ convened by the NORC organization in Chicago with the idea of creating a ‘nonpartisan firearms database’ which will enable researchers “to consider the lack of basic firearms data and how to overcome this severe factual deficit so that all sides in the debate can find common ground.”

          First of all, the phrase ‘common ground’ is code used by public health gun researchers to pretend that no matter what they decide needs to be done, that all those crazy gun owners out there won’t feel their so-called 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ are being taken away. Like there’s a single gun owner in the United States who could be talked into believing that a panel which includes faculty from a public health program funded by Mike Bloomberg can be trusted to worry about whether they can keep their guns. Yea, right.

              But what is even more relevant to my concern about the work of this expert panel is the fact that in no less than five detailed reports, again there is not one, single mention of figuring out what to do about gun violence based on the types of guns which are used to commit that type of violence.

              Several years ago, The Trace gun magazine published a database consisting of some 9,000 guns picked up by various police agencies in 2014. The data gave the gun’s manufacturer, its caliber and the violation, crime, or reason that the gun was now in police custody. As far as I know, I am the only person who took the trouble to analyze this data and produce an article which can be downloaded here: Understanding Guns and Gun Violence by Michael Weisser :: SSRN.

              What I learned from this data, among other things, was the following:

  1. A large majority of the guns were types which never appear in reports about intentional gun injuries, i.e., hunting rifles, rear-loading shotguns, antique handguns.
  2. A substantial number of these 9,000 guns were at least 30 years old, which means that even if we were to impose a ban on sale of the types of guns which are used in gun assaults, we would still need to find a way to collect all the killer guns that are out there.

If the experts who conduct gun research would actually learn something about the guns which create the problem they are studying, perhaps they might begin to develop valid and effective strategies to respond to what the late Katherine Christoffel calls the ‘endemic’ problem of gun violence, or firearm violence, or whatever they want to call it.

As long as the researchers who are attempting to find a solution to gun violence continue to avoid discussing or understanding how and why certain individuals gain access to certain types of guns which are designed solely for the purpose of killing human beings, we will continue to get articles which earn a publishing credit for the authors but otherwise tell us what we already know and have known for many years.

Does Public Health Explain Gun Violence?

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              I have often told my friends who do public health research on gun violence that they are engaged in a sacred task. The reason I say this is because violence is first mentioned in Chapter 4, Verse 8 of the Old Testament: “and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” (King James.)

              Over the centuries since the first human history was written, we have learned how to deal with every other type of threat to the human community: disease, lack of food, weather. We may not have the political will to respond to every threat, but with the exception of violence, we know what to do.

              Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to violence, and I believe that our failure to understand and respond to this problem has become worse ever since a consensus has developed which defines violence, particularly gun violence, as a problem that can and should be addressed by public health. 

              Public health researchers like David Hemenway at Harvard have been researching this issue for the past thirty years or so, but until very recently, public health gun research was stymied by a provision in the CDC budget which prohibited funding this particular public health problem.

              Now that the CDC funding spigot has been turned back on for research on gun violence, everyone’s expecting that some new answers to this age-old problem will emerge, a belief which first became mainstream when the idea of public health once again taking the lead in gun violence research was promoted by Nick Kristof and The New York Times back in 2015.

              I told Nick back then that I didn’t agree with his call for public health taking the lead in doing gun violence research, and what I told him then is what I’m going to discuss today.

              As I understand it, public health endeavors to figure out how to define and then protect the community from threats to public health, i.e., threats which affect a wide swath of population defined either by gender, or race, or behavior, or some other characteristic shared throughout the population.

              Obviously, something like violence, which creates 100,000+ deaths and injuries in the United States every year when the violence is committed with the use a gun, should be considered a public health threat. But using a public health research approach to understanding this problem is insufficient because it isn’t possible to create a valid epidemiological analysis of gun violence.

How do you explain why only certain individuals commit gun violence when if they commit the violence against themselves, they are overwhelmingly dead and if they commit the violence against someone else they either aren’t caught or if they are arrested, they are incarcerated and can’t talk?

Back in 1992-93, two medical researchers, Art Kellerman and Fred Rivara, published studies which found a causal link between homicide and suicide to guns in the home. But what their studies could not determine was the fact that even if homicide and suicide rates were higher in homes with guns, how come most homes occupied by gun owners didn’t experience any kind of gun violence at all?

What we get from public health gun research instead of epidemiology is a typical ‘profile’ of individuals who commit gun violence against themselves (depression, addiction, etc.) or against someone else (violent upbringing, addiction, etc.) But again, these studies don’t explain why most gun owners who exhibit such backgrounds or family histories do not use guns to shoot themselves or shoot someone else.

So, the result of this scattershot analysis of gun violence is the promotion by public health of various legal sanctions (background checks, safe storage, extreme risk protections) which may or may not have any impact on gun violence as long as we’re talking about gun violence that otherwise might be committed by gun owners who, generally speaking, obey the law.

Guess what? We have known since Marvin Wolfgang began publishing his studies on violence and crime in the 1960’s that most of the individuals who wind up committing violent crimes by the time they reach their 20’s, first started engaging in anti-social and delinquent behavior when they were twelve years old. And thanks to research by Al Lizotte, boys start getting interested in guns at the same age.

When and if my friends in public health gun research figure out a way to use their great skills and aptitudes to create an epidemiological approach to the study of gun violence, perhaps we will begin to develop a response to this problem which is often referred to as an epidemic in American society, but has certainly become what Kathy Christoffel calls endemic to our way of life.

What Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ Really Mean?


              Several years ago, I spent some time with Eric Adams, who then was Borough President of Brooklyn at the time. While Eric was a cop in New York City, he finished college, did law school, and then went into politics, ending up as Mayor of New York. I asked Eric how; policing had changed from what it was like when he first went on the job, and he immediately said, “Today, nobody backs down!”

              I began thinking about Eric’s comment because the whole issue of backing down or not backing down has become a very big deal in the gun debate, namely, what we think and say about Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws.

              The United States is the only country in the entire world which gives statutory protection to someone who refuses to first back off when faced with a threat. These SYG laws are an outgrowth of laws known as ‘Castle Doctrine’ which allow individuals to protect themselves with deadly force if the threat occurs inside their home, but SYG also can be used as a defense against violence which occurs in the street.

              The first SYG law was passed by Florida in 2005, and SYG laws now exist in 27 other states. The NRA did heavy lobbying in the Gunshine State before and during the law’s initial passage, and Gun-nut Nation continues to promote SYG because the law also lends itself to be a legal defense for carrying and using a gun.

              Probably the clearest definition of what SYG means and how it is used can be found in a statement by the National Conference of State Legislatures and can be accessed here. The statement notes that Florida took the concept of ‘Castle Doctrine’ and expanded it to cover armed response to a threat by anyone who was in a lawful location, whether this location was inside their home or not. The same groups which have promoted SYG laws have also promoted the elimination of gun-free zones.

              In its exhaustive study of gun research, RAND found that SYG laws may increase violent crime, but do not appear to have any positive or negative affect on defensive gun use, which is what Gun-nut Nation has been touting as the positive impact of SYG. The RAND group also could not find any connection between SYG laws and mass shootings or gun suicides.

              In a very detailed study (Stand Your Ground, A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense), Caroline Light argues that this legal sanction for armed, self-defense reflected a society which was first organized and controlled by white, property-owning males who held a monopoly on using lethal violence and is still very much the way our legal system addresses this issue today.

              To deny that today’s cultural ‘war’ and the woke debates are contemporary manifestations of socio-cultural attitudes reflecting challenges to this long-standing tradition of armed supremacy by white males would be to deny reality and ignore what is happening today. Because of nothing else, the MAGA attitudes that were shouted all over the place during the January 6th riot are manifestations of the idea that when attacked, you can and should stay in place.

              All that being said and accepted, I have decided to write a book on SYG, which will approach the issue from a very different perspective which needs to be acknowledged and understood.

              I believe that legal doctrines to the contrary, SYG behavior has its origins not in the supremacy of armed, white males, but rather as a way that blacks responded first to slavery and then post-slavery racism in the United States.

              The slave system, particularly in the lower South where slavery was the laboring mechanism which engendered the plantation economy, rested on the application of corporal punishment as the chief incentive for getting the work done, particularly because plantation products (tobacco, cotton) had brief periods when the crops had to be harvested and brought in.

              The numerous testimonies of slave life collected by the WPA and housed at the Library of Congress, contain endless references to how slaves would find ways to avoid suffering physical assaults by overseers in the fields, as well as how newly-freed, former slaves figured out how to resist the physical threats and actions of the Klan.

              In both situations, standing in place was often the way that blacks chose to protect themselves from threats and assaults by whites, a tradition which then became emblematic of the basic strategy developed by the civil rights movement and promoted by D. Martin Luther King.

              After all, when Rosa Parks wouldn’t go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, AL in 1955, wasn’t she standing her ground, even if she was sitting down?

              If the United States is the only country whose legal system embodies a Stand Your Ground defense, at least we should appreciate how and why this tradition came to be. Because even if SYG has become a short-hand method for justifying the alt-right drift of the GOP, its origins happen to embody some of the most important and noble behavior of the black race, behavior which deserves its rightful place in the history of the United States.

              And as Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter once observed, ‘history also has its place.’

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