Will Universal Background Checks Solve The Problem Of Gun Violence? It’s A Start.


According to rumor, the White House will shortly close a legal loophole that currently lets a large number of guns move from one set of hands to another without a background check.  Evidently Obama will issue an EO that redefines what it means to be a gun dealer by substantially reducing the number of private transfers that can be made, thereby forcing gun owners to acquire a federal license which will effectively require that every gun transfer beyond a minimum number go through a NICS-background check.

Which brings up the ultimate question, namely, if we had universal background checks, what would this mean in terms of reducing gun violence overall?  Right now the CDC tells us there are 30,000+ intentional gun deaths and 65,000 intentional gun injuries every year.  There are also 17,000+ unintentional gun injuries, fatal and non-fatal, each year.  We can probably discount most, if not nearly all unintentional injuries because they usually involve the legal owner of a gun and/or his/her children or friends.  We can also discount the 20,000+ suicides, which leaves somewhere around 75,000 acts of gun violence each year for which, in theory, universal background checks should help reduce the toll.  But by how much?

In fairness to the researchers who are concerned with this problem, they were not trying to figure out the impact of universal background checks per se.  Webster and Wintemute have come up with a very comprehensive summary of research on the effects of policies designed to “keep firearms from high-risk individuals” published between 1999 and 2014. This article covers more than 60 peer-reviewed works and looks both at policies designed to regulate the supply of guns to high-risk individuals (i.e., dealer practices) and policies designed to make it more difficult for high-risk individuals to get their hands on guns (i.e., background checks and other licensing practices.)

I’ll leave a discussion about dealer practices for another time, insofar as our concern here is the issue of universal background checks. As for that question, W&W argue that the prohibited persons categories defined by GCA68 and used as the basis for disqualifying transactions through NICS “would not disqualify the majority of individuals who commit gun violence.”  What does seem to have a significant impact on gun violence is where states have gone beyond the federal definitions of prohibited persons and passed laws that make it easier to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

conference program pic              The most rigorous licensing in this regard is known as Permit to Purchase (PTP), which requires that the purchase of every gun, in particular handguns, be approved following an application to acquire the specific gun.  This is, in fact, the procedure in New York City since the 1911 implementation of the Sullivan Law, but there is virtually no connection between how this law has been administered over the past century and changes in the rates of violent crime.  On the other hand, W&W cite numerous studies, including Webster’s study of the effect of abolishing PTP in Missouri, which indicate that when states strengthen the licensing process beyond NICS-background checks, gun-violence rates tend to go down.

The evidence to date does not appear to support the notion that universal background checks will have a substantial impact on gun-violence rates unless it is accompanied by more rigorous gun-control policies at the state level.  Which is not an argument against universal checks, just a warning about setting expectations too high. What I find frustrating in the whole ‘guns in the wrong hands’ discussion, however, is the continued lack of interest or concern about stolen guns.  Webster and colleagues studied the source of 250+ crime guns used by prison inmates in 13 states and as many as 85% of those guns could have entered the illegal market through theft.  This situation won’t change because we strengthen the licensing process for acquisition of new guns; it just requires diligence for the guns we already own.

The Washington Post Does A Story About Gun Violence And Gets It Wrong Again.

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This is not a column that I am going to enjoy writing but what follows still needs to be said. And although I am going to appear to be very critical of law enforcement in the commentary that follows, please take my word for it when I say that I am extremely pro-cop.  And the reason I am very supportive of the men and women in blue is that I have witnessed on numerous occasions their willingness to be the first ones who rush into a location when God knows what is behind that closed door.  But nevertheless I still believe that what follows needs to be said.

postActually, I’m not going to be critical of law enforcement so much as I am going to say some pretty unkind words about a long article about police shootings that has just appeared in The Washington Post. The article claims to be a very detailed study of almost 1,000 police shootings that have occurred this year.  Turns out that the FBI’s annual report on what they call justifiable law enforcement shootings is like everything else that is published in the UCR, namely, a best-guess estimate based on what local law enforcement wants to report (or not report) to their federal friends in DC.  But the fact that the given by the Post is twice as high as what we get each year from the FBI makes me wonder about the credibility of any crime data published in the UCR.

Be that as it may, the very first headline of the Post’s story is that only 4% of all police killings resulted in the deaths of “unarmed” Black men shot by White cops.  The Post should be ashamed of itself for writing something so basically divisive, stupid, and in terms of its implication, simply wrong.  Because the report immediately linked this number to the protests that have sprung up about cops shooting blacks in many communities, the most notable of course being the shooting of Michael Brown. The report then goes on to say that although Black men represent only 6% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by the cops in 2015.  So the takeaway from all of this is that if there’s a racial problem in the issue of police homicides, it’s not so much that cops shoot unarmed Blacks so much as there is a disparity between Black males as a percentage of the overall population and the numbers of ‘armed’ Black men who are shot dead.

There’s only one little problem with this analysis and it makes me wonder whether the staff that created this report for the Post even took the trouble to look at the data on which the report is based.  Because when I started to read the details of the actual shootings themselves, what jumped out at me was the extent to which the definitions of what constitutes ‘armed’ versus ‘unarmed’ victims, Black or White, doesn’t add up to the same thing at all.

There were, according to the article, 70 police homicides in December, of which the victim in 47 cases had a gun.  There were also 15 shootings in which the victim had a knife and 9 instances in which the victim wielded some other kind of weapon, including a baseball bat, a “metal stick” and a brick.  Now don’t get me wrong.  If someone came at me with a brick I would certainly feel that I was being threatened with serious bodily harm.  But in fact the victim threw the brick at an officer, he didn’t actually hit him with anything at all.

Again, I’m not in any way attempting to impugn the dedication and hard work of our men and women in blue.  If anything, my concern here is with the obvious attempt by The Post to create a sensational story out of some buts of thin air.  But when it comes to stories involving guns, The Post usually gets it wrong.

Texans Will Make A Big Decision On January 1st. Do They Want A Burrito Or A Gun?


Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans the Constitutional right to keep a loaded, unlocked handgun in their homes to use for self-defense, the pro-gun nation has been trying to push the notion of armed, self-defense beyond the home and into the street.  This strategy has taken two paths; on the one hand promoting concealed-carry licensing, on the other, bringing weapons into gun-free zones.  There’s nothing but anecdotal evidence supporting the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime, but there’s plenty of serious research which shows the opposite to be true.

open               The latest effort to widen the scope of armed defense is about to be unveiled in Texas with the law allowing open carry to take effect on January 1st.  This law was the brainchild of a former Army Master Sergeant, C.J. Grisham, who parlayed an argument with a cop over how he was openly carrying a gun into a statewide movement which even made him briefly consider a run for the State Legislature until his campaign ran out of dough. Bottom line is that even though an earlier attempt to promote open carry in Texas was condemned by the NRA, those fearless advocates for gun rights in Fairfax, VA, eventually saw the light and lined up behind the bill that Governor Abbott signed into law.

Believe it or not, I’m really happy to see the open carry law go into effect in Texas, because I think the result is going to be exactly the reverse of what the pro-gun nation hopes to achieve.  First of all, the law has an opt-out procedure known as 30.07, which allows merchants to post signs at the entrance to their establishments stating that only shoppers who carry their guns concealed will be allowed on the premises after January 1st.  And I am frankly astonished at the extent to which major merchandisers in Texas have announced that they will not welcome folks openly carrying guns into their stores.

Take, for example, a company like Simon’s, which operates malls and discount outlets in 39 states.  They run 35 major shopping destinations in Texas, including such flagship locations as the Gateway in Austin, The Galleria in Houston (which includes the first Webster boutique outside of Florida), and the Shops at Clearfork in Fort Worth.  Simon’s is opting out of open carry, and so are major food chains, like H-E-B, which has supermarkets in 150 towns, and national chains like Safeway and Whole Foods.  Opting out of open carry is also now spreading through the religious community, with the Catholic Diocese in Lubbock, Dallas and other areas posting notices that guns aren’t welcome on hallowed ground.

The public discussion over this new law has also given GVP advocates like Moms Demand Action an opportunity to engage store owners and other operators of public venues with their unique message about gun violence, as well as providing 30.07 signage and instructions for opting out of the new law.  Anyone who thinks that Shannon Watts and her ladies aren’t playing a visible role in promoting 30.07 at the grassroots level will be in for something of a surprise as more signage denying access to open carry continues to appear.

I believe that wearing a gun in a public venue does nothing to promote public safety.   And the merchants who have opted out of open carry evidently agree, with most citing concerns about guns endangering rather than protecting their customers, particularly in places where alcohol is served. In that regard I am particularly interested in the fact that Gringo’s Mexican Chicken and Jimmy Changas, two of Houston’s most popular Tex-Mex restaurant chains, will be going 30.07, because if gun folks like to do anything more than argue about the 2nd Amendment, they love to eat. And when all is said and done, I predict that consuming a burrito will turn out to be more important than wearing a gun.



Do You Really Think The NRA Supports The 2nd Amendment To Keep Us Free? Think Again.

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One of the reasons often advanced to explain the success of the NRA in promoting pro-gun attitudes and laws is something known as the “intensity gap.”  According to this argument, the NRA wins because their supporters are more committed, more dedicated and more fiercely loyal to the organization and its goals, as opposed to the GVP movement whose supporters are only driven to express their support for more gun control after a mass shooting or other high-profile violence involving guns.

The latest iteration of this argument is the handiwork of Professor Gary Gutting, whose op-ed appeared today in The New York Times.  Gutting, who teaches philosophy at Notre Dame, claims that the GVP movement should borrow the energies and viewpoints of recent anti-racist efforts like Black Lives Matter who have successfully enlisted black and white support by pointing out the basically racist nature of police (and civilian) shootings of inner-city blacks.  He further argues that white antipathy towards racism would counteract the intensity that gun owners exhibit whenever they feel that the 2nd Amendment is being attacked, an intensity based on America’s fear of ‘tyranny’ which explains the strong support for 2-A rights.

Gutting may or may not be correct in asserting that Black Lives Matter has tapped into a concern held by white liberals about violence and racism directed at blacks, but his attempt to build a case for the NRA’s anti-tyranny argument through support of the 2nd Amendment is just dead wrong.  The NRA doesn’t promote itself as an anti-tyranny organization pari passu, it promotes the anti-government position only when the government is in the hands of what Fox News calls ‘the Left.’ Ever hear Dana Loesch, Sarah Palin, Wayne LaPierre or any other pro-gun noisemaker talk about the gun-control law that Governor Ronald Reagan signed that mandated, among other things, a fifteen-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns in the Golden State?

Know which members of Congress voted against GCA68?  Virtually the same southern federal office-holders who voted against GCA68 also voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  And they voted the same way for the same reason: both were instances in which Northern liberals passed laws to teach Southern whites how to behave.  If anyone believes that the current opposition to gun control is anything other than a reprise of the conservative-liberal battle over states’ rights as it originally played out during the struggle over civil rights, think again. The NRA can tell you that gun control today leads to gun confiscation tomorrow, but from 1939 (Miller v. United States) until 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) we had plenty of liberals running the federal government and passing gun-control laws. Meanwhile, not a single gun was ever confiscated from a law-abiding gun owner.  Not once.

2A             I’m also confused, frankly, by Gutting’s pronouncement that the GVP movement lacks the intensity that’s found among followers of the NRA.  That’s a rather shop warn view of things lately owing largely to a bunch of street-wise, energetic and savvy woman both in leadership and grass-roots positions who have levelled the advocacy playing field to a degree not previously seen.  If there’s an intensity gap about gun violence nowadays, I perceive it more as a gender gap within the GVP movement itself.  But as in so many other things, the men (like myself) tend to sit back, watch the sports on a widescreen, pop a few tops and let the women do the work.

What moved America on civil rights were pictures of blacks being hosed, beaten or worse when they sat at segregated lunch counters, enrolled in all-white schools or stood fast against Sheriff Connor at the Selma Bridge.  What has moved Americans to rally against gun violence is the carnage at San Bernardino, Umpqua and Sandy Hook. Racism and gun violence are cut from the same cloth. There’s no reason why we need to borrow the outrage against one to be outraged at the other.


When It Comes To Reaching Hearts & Minds About Gun Violence, The NRA Doesn’t Stand A Chance.

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This morning I sat down and watched the NBA-Everytown gun ads again.  They really get a message across.  And it’s a very simple message; if a gun gets into the wrong hands, someone’s going to get hurt.  And of course it’s not just the message, but the messengers.  I mean, is anyone going to accuse Carmelo Anthony of being a shill for Mike Bloomberg when his salary tops $22 million a year?

carmelo              On the other hand, sooner or later I’m expecting to see the NRA’s Number One shill, the so-called Colion Noir, prancing around with his AR-15 on a basketball court in Dallas, telling all those folks who pretend to be his camp followers about the value of their 2nd-Amendment rights.  In fact, his latest attempt to promote Mossberg, FN and the other gun companies who sponsor his amateurish digital nonsense has him lecturing four African-American brothers who, like eeny-meeny-miny-moe, sit around mouthing various nothings while Colion explains the dangers of gun control because “as soon as they get their hands on the plastic stuff, they’ll be after the wooden stuff next.”

It might come as something of a surprise to Colion or whatever his name is that for forty-nine years before the 2008 Heller decision, which extended 2nd Amendment protections to private ownership of guns, the only thing that the 2nd Amendment actually protected were guns kept at home by Americans who used them for what we call the ‘common defense;’ i.e., service in military units like the National Guard.  And do you know how many guns all those liberals confiscated from law-abiding Americans between United States v. Miller in 1939 and District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008?  None.  Not one.

This is one of the two biggest falsehoods that the NRA and gun-loving sycophants like Colion Noir repeat all the time.  And Colion is allegedly a lawyer so he knows that what he is saying just isn’t true.  The other big falsehood which Colion also repeats again and again is that without access to guns we would all be the victims of violent crime.  The last time I checked, there were on average 250 justifiable homicides each year and between 2007 and 2011 less than 1% of all violent crimes resulted in someone protecting themselves with a gun.  Occasional anecdotes aside, the chances that a card-carrying member of the NRA would find himself in a situation where he needed to protect himself with a gun are about the same as that individual walking out of his home and being run over by a rhinoceros.  Walking around with a gun to protect yourself may sound good, may feel good, may provide Colion with some footage for one of his video rants, but it’s got nothing to do with the reality of guns.

I’m going to say something that’s probably going to get me into hot water with my gun-nut friends but I really don’t care. I happen to think that this whole notion of guns as being necessary for self-protection is a case of arrested development and nothing else. If, according to the Police Foundation, cops on the job aren’t adequately trained to deliver lethal force, then how in the world can all these CCW civilians believe they have the training and experience to defend themselves with a gun?  Has Colion Noir ever used a gun in self-defense?  Of course not.

Colion gives the whole thing away when he talks about “taking back the narrative for a new generation of gun enthusiasts.”  Want to listen to the new narrative?  Listen to NBA star Carmelo Anthony when he introduces a national PSA on gun violence with, “the gun should never be an option.”  Now who is the next generation going to listen to?  Colion Noir who says that guns are the most important option for self defense?  Or Carmelo Anthony who doesn’t have to get your attention by proving anything at all?

In The GVP-NRA Contest, GVP Will Win.


I have been involved in the gun business since 1965, which is longer than most of the people have been alive who follow me here and on Huffington Post.  And that is because in 1965 I went down to North Carolina to work for my great-Uncle Ben who owned something called the Imperial Metal Products Co., where he manufactured a little 22-caliber revolver called the IMP.  The gun held five rounds but the effective capacity was far less, because by the third shot either the 2-inch barrel would fall off or the cylinder would crack in half.  This Saturday Night Special sold for about thirty bucks in pawn shops all over the South, and when GCA68 ended Ben’s life as a gun maker he became the Smith & Wesson law enforcement distributor for North Carolina and sold plenty of better-made revolvers to the cops.

gun free              So there’s very little about guns and the gun business that I don’t know, and in that regard when I say that the GVP movement is soon going to eclipse the NRA, it’s not a feeling based just on hope or whimsy, it reflects what I have seen and heard over the past fifty years. The truth is that when it comes to guns as an issue of public safety, until the last couple of years the NRA had the playing field all to itself.  Every once in a great while there would be a little public dust-up, like after good ol’ Charlie Whitman climbed the Texas Tower in 1966 and killed or wounded more than 45 people in a 90-minute spree.  Or again in 1969 when the cops and the Black Panthers in Los Angeles exchanged several thousand rounds of gunfire from which, unbelievably, no one was killed. But the deliberations leading up to GCA68 hardly, if ever made front-page news, and even the gun bills passed by Clinton in 1994 were hardly front-page stories except perhaps on the day of the votes.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that the NRA is a paper tiger that will roll over and play dead every time a new GVP initiative comes down the line.  To the contrary, since the mid-90’s the gun gang has scored some notable victories, in particular a rewriting of CCW laws in nearly every state, a law gagging doctors in Florida and three other states, and a public mood shift towards more support for 2nd Amendment rights.  And of course let’s not forget the biggest victory of all, namely the 2008 Heller decision by gun-nut Scalia which says that the 2nd Amendment protects private ownership of guns once and for all.

Notwithstanding the above, I still believe that the GVP’s time has come.  First, anyone who pretends that GVP is not a strong, widespread and growing grassroots movement is either a pro-gun sycophantic noisemaker paid to say otherwise, or is blind, deaf and dumb. And let’s not forget that much of the GVP organizational activity has only been spurred since the massacre at Sandy Hook. Second, for the first time in all time we have a national Presidential candidate who is not only calling for a national GVP movement, but promises to lead it if she is elected in 2016.  And let’s not forget the remarkable GVP ads that ran yesterday during NBA games.  Nothing the NRA will ever push out on its silly video channel will ever achieve even a fraction of the audience that heard Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul.

Last week the NRA put out a statement reminding its members that Obama, Hillary, The New York Times and every other liberal politician and publication is basically anti-gun.  They have been running this same message for the last twenty years.  But often there hasn’t been much of a response from the other side.  For the first time in my 50 years of watching the gun industry, the GVP message is loud, continuous and clear.  And it’s going to get louder, of that I’m sure.


Women Are Getting Into Shooting, But Not In The Way That Keli Goff Wants You To Believe.


Whether she knows it or not, feature writer for The Beast, Keli Goff, has just published an article about the alleged increase of women in the shooting sport which reads right out of the NRA-NSSF playbook on how to win friends and influence people about guns without knowing anything about guns.  Keli has unquestioned liberal credentials and a piece she did last year on guns and ghetto crime said all the right things from a GVP perspective, but this time she seems to have gone into the deep water and I’m not sure that her life-jacket can keep her afloat.

loesch              Keli begins by noting what we all know, namely, that recent surveys show that the popular mood has shifted from gun control to gun rights, and since women have historically been more supportive of gun control than men, Keli uses the shift from gun control to gun rights as proof that women are increasingly interested in guns.

Of course making assumptions about the relationship between public opinion surveys and buying habits is one thing; proving a connection is something else.  But having obviously done well in Journalism 101, Keli knows that she needs to come up with some real numbers in order to prove her point.  And since the FBI doesn’t track or aggregate gender data from the NICS checks (I know, because I asked the FBI for this data) and at least 40% of all gun transactions occur without any background check at all (I believe this figure to be correct), Keli has no choice but to support her argument by going to what she hopes will be a credible, second-hand source.

And what source does she use?  The NRA, which is about as reliable a source for valid information about the gun business as Exxon would be a valid source for the effects of global warming.  So it should come as no surprise to the readers of Keli’s column that the NRA claimed that between 2004 and 2011 there had been a 77% increase in the number of women who own guns.  Now even if this number is true, all it really reflects is that before 2004 the participation of women in the shooting sports was virtually nil.

It would be wrong to assume there hasn’t been an uptick in female ownership of guns. After all, more than 40% of all households now count women as the primary earner and traditional male-female gender roles continue to blur or disappear.  If there has been any slight increase in lady shooters, however, it is largely due to the unending attempt by the gun industry to use right-wing noisemakers like Dana Loesch and the slightly over-the-hill Sarah Palin to promote female ownership of guns.

Know what’s really changed as regards women and guns? It’s the degree to which women have moved to the forefront of the effort to limit, not expand gun ownership, a subject that Keli Goff handles in a rather disjointed and unfair way.  To be sure she was careful to grab a few quotes from two female GVP activists, Donna Dees Thomases and Colette Martin, but she then contrasts the alleged growth of female gun owners to a “lack of momentum” in the gun-control movement of today.

Let me break the news to you gently, Ms. Goff.  I have been involved with guns since 1965 and I have never seen a GVP movement as determined, widespread and active as what I now see.  And whether it’s Colette, Donna, Shannon and so many others, what stands out in the current GVP environment is the energy, activity and public presence of women who want to see gun violence come to an end.

Keli – your story is not just short on facts, it’s a slap in the face to women whose efforts have levelled the playing field with the NRA. Your article represents quickie, digital journalism at its worst, and other than wishing you a Merry Christmas, there’s nothing more to say.

The NBA Takes On The NRA And I’ll Take The Short Odds On The NBA.

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You may recall that before he was appointed Attorney General that Eric Holder gave an interview in which he said that the way to deal with gun violence was to tell kids that guns “weren’t cool.”  That statement a storm of acrimony from the NRA and its various noisemaking minions, all of whom were committed to a strategy that promoted guns to millennials and other non-traditional gun-owning demographics on the basis that they were cool.

spike              Probably the most outrageous attempt to sell this nonsense has been the video antics of an African-American lawyer who calls himself Colion Noir, who has been prancing around on the NRA video channel coming up with all kinds of hip and cool reasons why we should all own and carry guns.  The folks who write his scripts have come up with some kind of concocted blather about using guns for self-defense, but what’s really going on here is an effort by the NRA to capture the hearts and minds of younger minority folks, most of whom don’t appear to be all that interested in guns.

Of course the truth is that Colion Noir and the NRA in general have about as much to do with defining “cool” as the veritable man in the moon.  Most NRA members are older, White men who listen to country music and live in Southern states and smaller, Midwestern towns.  They represent a demographic that’s about as far away from anything hip and cool as could ever be imagined; getting this audience to respond to an inner-city, jive-talking Black dude would be tantamount to bringing back the Miles Davis Quintet to play the weekly barn dance at Grand Old Opry in Tennessee.

Which is why I sat up and really took notice yesterday when a group of NBA players announced that they were joining with Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown to run ads on messages about gun violence that will appear during a series of marquee games that will air on Christmas Day. The ads will feature NBA players like the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Clippers’ Steve Paul, along with testimonies from survivors of shootings and relatives of folks killed by guns.

I knew something was when I noticed that Spike Lee was becoming very visible on the gun violence issue, particularly when he and Al Sharpton announced a gun violence initiative following the premiere of Spike’s new movie, Chi-Raq, which is all about gun violence on Chicago’s South Side.  At that press conference, Spike and the Reverend Al pledged to hold a series of summit meeting in various cities, but you can’t begin to compare the impact of such meetings to the power and force of the ads that will appear on national tv.

These ads represent a level of interest and concern that could be (pardon my pun) a real game-changer when it comes to the national discussion abut guns. Because the people featured on these ads don’t represent cynical politicians scurrying around for votes by lamenting the loss of our ‘freedoms,’ they don’t represent noisemakers for the manufacturers who want to sell guns, and they certainly don’t represent some amateur-hour video huckster who wants you to think he’s a real dude because his skin color happens to be something other than white.

I never thought that gun violence was about race, or poverty, or inner-city life or anything of that sort.  I always thought that gun violence was about one thing and one thing only: guns.  And the remarkable thing about this effort is that every person who appears in these ads says something about guns and what guns have done to their lives and to the lives of people they love and used to love.

I’m going to catch these ads on Christmas because I want the ratings of these games to reflect how I feel about gun violence. And I don’t think it would be a bad idea if someone (hint, hint) would let us all know when future ads will appear.


Does Gun Violence = American Exceptionalism? Sure Does, Particularly In The South.

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If you find yourself in a discussion with someone who doesn’t think that gun violence is a problem, just refer them to Jennifer Mascia’s great article in The Trace where she aggregates the data for 2015.  Or better yet, memorize some of her statistics and repeat them to the person with whom you are talking and if he doesn’t admit that we do have a gun violence problem, he can go lay brick.  Because along with some very nifty graphics, Jennifer really does look at a variety of data points that clearly illustrate how far we still have to go to change a gun violence trend that shows little, if any signs of ending soon.

traceBottom line according to Ms. Mascia: 2015 is going to be a “bloody year.” And it’s not ‘mass shootings’ or domestic terrorist attacks that account for all that blood being spilled; it’s the day in, day out random shootings that claim two children every day, fifteen black men every day and more than 50 suicides every day.  No wonder Trump and the other Republican clowns don’t want any more gun laws.  After all, if you make it more difficult for people to get their hands on guns, thus making it more difficult for them to shoot themselves or someone else, you can kiss this particular form of American exceptionalism goodbye, right?

But in looking at the numbers, I’m not so sure that our affinity for gun violence is necessarily an American problem. Because like so many other things, there are some remarkable regional variations in gun violence rates, and when you break the problem down on a regional basis, just as the numbers begin to change, so maybe the discussion about gun violence needs to change as well.

In 2005, according to the CDC, 30,694 Americans were killed by guns.  This number covers every type of gun violence – homicide, suicide, unintentional injury – and it’s probably somewhat less than the real total but the CDC is as close as we can get (although the numbers from the CDC-Wonder database are slightly more accurate).  In 2014 the total was 33,599 and estimates from the GVA folks point towards another increase this year.  In 2005, the Southern census region accounted for 44% of all gun deaths; in 2014 the South accounted for 46%.  The South, incidentally, is the only part of the country in which the percentage of gun deaths is higher than the percentage of the country’s population as a whole.  Further, while the gun violence rate between 2005 and 2014 fell in the Northeast and the West and stayed just about even in the Midwest, in the South it rose by 4%. If gun violence is an exceptional American phenomenon, it’s particularly exceptional in the South.

There is one other category of gun violence which is remarkably exceptional in the South, and that’s when the shooter points the gun at himself.  We can be gender-specific here because 90% of gun suicides are committed by men. And where do most of these events occur?  In the South.  In 2005, the South accounted for 44% of all gun suicides, it rose to 46% in 2014.  Meanwhile, the percentage of gun suicides in every other region has not changed over the last ten years, even though on an overall basis, gun suicides now account for 65% of all suicides, whereas they were 40% of suicides in 2005.

I’m not sure why the South has such a love affair with gun violence, but if the Southern numbers on gun violence were similar to the rest of the country, America’s most exceptional social phenomenon would look very different indeed.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the South’s exceptionalism just reflects the disparity in gun violence between Blacks and Whites.  What is the only region of the country where the percentage of Whites killed by guns is higher than the percentage of Americans living in that region as a whole?  Where else?


The 11th Circuit Creates A Fiction To Justify Gagging Florida Doctors Who Talk About Guns.

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Nobody in the GVP or medical communities (except Rand Paul) is happy with the decision by the 11th Circuit to continue upholding the Docs-Glock statute enacted in the Gunshine State.  But there was a comment in the latest decision which may, in the long run, make the argument in support of the law null and void. But before I explain why I think there may be a silver lining, I should spend a few words discussing where the case stands right now.

docs versus glocks              As you probably know, the original law was enacted in 2011 and similar statutes have been introduced but not voted in at least 12 other states.  Basically the law prohibits physicians from asking patients about gun ownership unless the physician believes that access to guns poses an immediate health risk. But by asking physicians to limit inquiries about any matter unless they have already decided that such inquiries might reveal a medical risk is to stand the entire methodology for assessing patient health on its head.

The pro-gun bunch has been trying to push medicine out of the gun debate ever since physicians first began talking about guns as risk to health.  The gun industry continues to pretend that we should ignore endless studies which show that gun ownership is linked to increases in both homicide and suicide rates; in fact, they promote the fiction that guns are a positive social element because it’s an armed citizenry that protects us from violence and crime.

Much of the latest decision upholding the Florida law simply repeats the rather dubious claims about 2nd Amendment rights that littered the original 11th Circuit majority decision handed down last year.  In that decision, the two-to-one majority hearing the case decided that asking a patient whether he or she owned a gun put the physician in the position of deciding whether that particular patient should have guns at all; hence, a restriction on the Constitutional right to own a gun.

This seems to me and to most scholars who have examined the decision to be a stretch.  And not just a little bit.  After all, Florida law doesn’t prohibit doctors from asking patients if they engage in sex, even though sexual activity is protected under the Constitutional rights to privacy that were enunciated in Roe versus Wade. But the reason that the doctor’s 1st Amendment right to ask any and all questions is trumped by the 2nd Amendment is really based on the fact that “the balance of power between doctor and patient will often make a patient feel as if he has no choice but to listen and answer a doctor’s questions.” Hence the 11th Circuit is protecting the patient who otherwise might feel vulnerable or threatened in asserting his 2nd Amendment rights.

Judge Gerald Tojflat (who wrote the majority decision) was fresh out of law school in 1963 when the Nobel prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow published a paper in which he claimed that health care could not be understood as just another form of market economics because of the special relationship that existed between the seller (doctor) and purchaser (patient) of health products, procedures and advice.  Basically Arrow argued that patients could not exercise market decisions when choosing a doctor because of the physician’s superior knowledge and special skills.

That was 1963.  This is almost 2016. I don’t know which planet Judge Gerald Tjoflat inhabits, but he’s simply out of step with modern times. The idea that the average patient walks into a doctor’s office believing that he can’t or won’t speak up at every possible moment during a medical exam may have been typical of the doctor-patient relationship when Tjoflat was just starting his legal career, but it sure as hell isn’t true today.

Between the internet, alternative medicine, patient-centered care, patient’s bill of rights, and HIPAA, Judge Tjoflat’s notion that today’s patient feels vulnerable and helpless in relation to his physician is a relic of the distant past.  But he also probably believes that guns protect us from crime.


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