Grover Norquist Might Like To Think That Women Are Into Guns But That’s Not The Case At All.

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As a dedicated GVP advocate, it’s hardly a challenge to take on an intellectual middleweight like John Lott or respond to the dopey antics of Colion Noir or Dana Loesch.  But when someone like Grover Norquist decides to get into the gun debate, responding gets you in the deep water, because Norquist is nobody’s fool and he’s respected by both sides among the groups whose views really count.

Norquist’s venture into the gun issue can be found in an open forum blog whose contributions are surprisingly eclectic and politically diverse.  And if Grover is writing about guns at the behest of the NRA, on whose Board of Directors he sits, then he’s chosen a forum that would be hard-pressed to produce another NRA member besides him.  Actually, medium.com now has at least two members because I just joined.

hillary               The point of Norquist’s column is to argue that Hillary is probably making a big mistake by coming out against guns.  And the reason she is going down the wrong road is because political ‘swing’ states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin have shown significant increases in the recent issuance of concealed-carry permits, in particular CCW issued to women.  Norquist states that more than 1.5 million concealed-carry permits have gone out over the last twelve months, the “majority” to female applicants. To quote Grover: “The demographics of the gun issue have shifted significantly under Hillary’s feet in the past 20 years.”

They have?  Well I guess it’s probably true if you want to believe the marketing bromides of the gun industry.  But there is not a single, reliable source that can be used to confirm such claims, and pardon me if I don’t accept the unsubstantiated claims made by the NSSF or the NRA.  If anything, women always poll more strongly than men when asked if they favor gun control over gun rights, and minority groups remain, for the most part, overwhelmingly resistant to guns.

Hillary’s plunge into the middle of the gun debate, pace Grover Norquist, is a very smart move. For one thing, it covers a very important flank vis-à-vis Bernie, whose voting record on gun issues, to be polite, is somewhat mixed.  It also helps increase her stature with millennials, who appear to be anti-gun.  Ditto with new immigrants and particularly ditto with minorities whose voting numbers for Obama better be duplicated by whichever Democrat sits atop the ticket later this year.  Republicans face a real battle garnering a majority of any of those groups, and while Grover might want to believe that, as he puts it, “voters today carry their guns in their purses, not their pickup trucks,” he better hope that most of those purses are being carried by older, white men, because that’s still the gun-owning demographic bar none.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a political analyst and I certainly wouldn’t for one minute pretend that I possess one iota of Grover’s political experience or smarts.  But I have taught the safety course that my state requires for CCW to more than 5,000 men and women over the last ten years, and when I first started teaching the course, almost all the students were men.  Now I would say, on average, that women count for one out of three bodies that fill the seats.  So there has been a change in the gender composition of the folks who apply for CCW in my state.  But the change in numbers doesn’t explain the story at all.

Overwhelmingly, the women who apply for CCW are doing it because a husband or boyfriend brings them along. The real change that has occurred is a change in how couples now share activities rather than go their separate ways.  And not only do they share activities but increasingly women make the decisions for how household money will be spent.  Which means that the guy who wants to buy a gun asks her for the dough. But he’s still buying the gun.

Do Doctors Know What To Say To Patients About Guns? Not If You Believe That Guns Aren’t A Health Risk.

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Since the health care industry now racks up revenues in excess of $1.6 trillion each year, there are plenty of online publications and other venues which are used to promote (i.e., advertise) the services and products driving this economic juggernaut.  And one such venture, an online publication called MD Magazine, caught my eye because it published a survey of subscriber attitudes towards guns and counseling patients about guns – a hot-button topic in the medical profession ever since Florida passed a gag order prohibiting doctors to talk to patients about guns.

conference-program-pic              While the Florida law didn’t absolutely prohibit doctor-patient gun discussions, it just relegated such discussions to situations in which the physician had reason to believe that the health of the patient was at imminent risk.  Of course since we are talking about behavior, it’s virtually impossible for a physician, or anyone else for that matter, to accurately predict imminent risk, which is precisely why doctors need the widest possible latitude in patient contacts, which is why doctor-patient relationships are circumscribed in every respect by the tightest degree of confidentiality, which is why the attempt to push the medical profession out of the discussion about guns is nothing more than pandering to the lowest, common intellectual denominator.  But what the hell, if you can build an entire Presidential campaign around your ‘love’ of the 2nd Amendment, why not demonize doctors into the bargain?

The good news about Docs-Glocks, however, is that it did result in the beginnings of a recognition on the part of physicians that they will only get back into the gun game if they bestir themselves and begin to argue for that role. Last April all the major medical associations issued a ‘Call To Acton,’ which not only endorsed the usual menu of gun-control options (background checks, assault-rifle ban, etc.,) but also made a commitment to be “part” of the solution to gun violence.  Which means that, like it or not, physicians must continue to advocate for the widest possible freedom in talking to patients about guns.

The problem with this more activist approach is that if physicians are going to engage in  unfettered, candid discussions with patients about guns, they have to know how to frame the discussions in ways that are both understandable and meaningful to their patients.  After all, the fact that the medical profession has decided that gun violence constitutes a serious medical issue does not, ipso facto, mean that doctors know how to explain the medical risks of gun ownership.  Knowing that guns are the instrument used in 31,000 fatalities and 70,000 injuries each year is one thing; knowing how to use that information medically is something else.

This is the context in which the survey in MD Magazine needs to be understood because the results indicate that many doctors do not currently engage in gun counseling, nor do they consider gun ownership a proper issue about which they should be concerned.  The survey, conducted online, was answered by 928 subscribers to the magazine.  When asked if doctors should “play a role in curbing in gun violence,” 43% said ‘no,’ 40% said ‘yes.’  When asked if they had ever asked patients about gun ownership, 60% said ‘no,’ and 40% said ‘yes.’ It also turned out that 60% of the survey responders claimed to be gun owners which is a rather remarkable statistic for physicians, assuming that this magazine’s readership is at all representative of the medical profession as a whole.

If nothing else, this survey reflects the fact that, until now, medicine has not developed a clear and coherent medical response to gun violence at the level where it is needed most; namely, in discussions between care-givers and patients, which is ultimately where all medical responses to any kind of medical risk needs to start and end.  The MD Magazine survey didn’t ask whether the survey respondents actually agreed that gun violence was a health issue.  Maybe the magazine’s subscribers practice medicine on Mars.


When It Comes To Assault Rifles, The Gun Industry Has A New Friend: The New York Times.


There’s a video floating around that shows Rupert Neate, a reporter from The Guardian, being heaved out of the Shot Show because he walked up to the Smith & Wesson display and began asking a company employee about an assault rifle ban.  This conversation took place as a member of Smith & Wesson’s marketing team happily placed an assault rifle in Neate’s hands and kept referring to it as a “modern sporting rifle,” although to be fair the gun, known as the AR-15 Sporter, fires only an itty-bitty 22-caliber cartridge, as opposed to the more lethal 5.56 or .223 military calibers that most so-called modern sporting rifles use.

ar              This nonsense about how a remarkably-lethal weapon used by our armed forces has been transmogrified into a ‘sporting’ gun by the gun industry for the last twenty years has been going on since the imposition of the 10-year assault weapons ban back in 1994.  The gun industry first reacted to the ban by claiming that ‘assault’ weapons were fully-automatic guns used only by the military; hence, any semi-automatic rifle deserved to be sold in the civilian market regardless of its design. And when the ban was not renewed in 2004, the industry went whole hog in trying to convince everyone that an AR-15 gun, as long as it didn’t fire more than one shot with each pull of the trigger, was no different from Grandpa’s old Remington or Winchester hunting rifle except it had a more modern look.

In arguing against any new attempt to impose a new assault weapons ban, the gun industry has cited again and again the Koper study, published as the ban was expiring, which could not, according to the author, definitively determine the effects of the ban on rates of gun crime.  But this study, commissioned by the Department of Justice, has also been cited by proponents of a ban as showing that changing the design of assault rifles and limiting the capacity of all semi-automatic gun magazines did, in fact, result in a reduction of gun crime. So once again it’s the old story in the gun debate: pro-gun advocates saying that government regulation doesn’t work, gun-control advocates saying it does.

Out of the woodwork we now have a major gun-control voice joining up with Gun Nation to proclaim that the assault weapons ban was a dud. And the voice belongs to none other than The New York Times, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning editorialist, Nicholas Kristof, has decided to share this “inconvenient truth” with his liberal colleagues in an evident attempt to get the GVP community to be  more realistic and honest in its approach to guns.  To quote Kristof, the gun debate should be driven by “evidence of what works,” and what didn’t work, was the assault weapons ban. To quote Kristof again, the law was “poorly drafted” and didn’t reduce gun crimes during the ten years it was in effect.

Far be it from me to challenge the ability of a Harvard and Oxford-educated journalist to read his sources clearly, but I have read the Koper report several times and Kristof’s attempt to align its contents with the views of the pro-gun mob just doesn’t work. First and foremost, the report compared only a few years of data before and after the ban when nearly all of the pre-ban guns were still in circulation and a majority of pistols were equipped with hi-cap mags. Furthermore, very few police jurisdictions collected data on magazine capacity of guns picked up at crime scenes, and the vaunted tracing data of the vaunted ATF turned out to be useless at best.

If Koper’s report says anything, it says that attempting to evaluate the impact of a weapons ban which expired before sufficient data even existed was an exercise that simply could not succeed.  Which is much different from concluding that the ban didn’t work. Kristof is correct in asking for evidence, not opinions, to shape the gun debate. He might show the way by doing it himself.

One More Gun-Free Zone Gives In To The Idea That Guns Protect Us From Crime.


This morning’s news contained an op-ed in the Daily Camera out of Boulder, CO, concerning the decision of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to relax its rules on CCW and allow armed visitors to stroll through the museum’s halls.  The decision, according to the Museum, was made to bring the DMNS into compliance with Colorado’s concealed-carry law, passed in 2003, which gives state residents the right to take their personal weapons into most public spaces, although CCW is not allowed in schools.

denver              Want to know the most bizarre statement of all coming out of this mess?  According to the op-ed, authored by three leaders of Colorado GVP groups, a spokesperson for the Museum, Maureen O’Neal, defended the new policy by stating that a ‘deciding factor” was the desire of the Museum to keep its visitors “safe during the holiday season.” Does this woman have any idea how dumb she is?  Does the Museum have any idea that someone so stupid is actually speaking on behalf of an institution where education takes place?

And make no mistake about it – the Denver Museum, like all natural history museums, is first and foremost an educational institution, not just in terms of how exhibits are developed and displayed, but by the character and numbers of their visitors who, more often than not, are children from surrounding schools.  My children were all educated in New York City public schools and they all made frequent class trips to the Museum of Natural History (founded by Teddy Roosevelt’s father) located on Manhattan’s Central Park West.  I know about these trips because I often accompanied my kid’s class as a parent-chaperone, and not a single visit occurred without the children spending time in the educational area being given a lesson by a member of the Museum’s education staff.

Think it’s any different at the Denver Museum?  Take a look at their education website, which contains all kinds of resources for teachers and students, and note the 2014 Annual Report which claims that the Museum served as a resource that year for 299,000 teachers and kids.  Total attendance in 2014 was 1.4 million, which means that the educational component of the operation served the needs of more than one-fifth of the total number of visitors who walked through the Museum’s doors.

So when we talk about this museum and its role in the educational environment of Denver and surrounding communities, we’re not talking about Old Macdonald’s Farm. We’re talking about an institution that provides a needed educational component for school-age kids.  The fact is that when schoolchildren and teachers walk into that museum to study the exhibits and listen to a staff member explain what’s going on, they are as much in a classroom as they would be if they were sitting in their own school.

All that is needed is to classify the museum as constituting part of a school which is engaging in distance learning but is offering educational resources that kids receive when they are in class. Obviously, the Colorado legislators who voted for CCW did not believe that armed civilians enhanced school security – so let’s just slightly enlarge the definition of what constitutes a ‘school.’

By creating a gun-free zone, the particular institution is saying that bringing a gun into the area does not enhance safety or security at all. And despite the contrary statement by the Museum’s spokeswoman, there is absolutely no credible evidence pointing to an enhancement of public safety in areas where civilians can walk around armed. The claim that armed citizens protect us from millions of crimes each year is nonsense, and anecdotal evidence simply cannot overcome the fact that virtually all gun homicides occur in places where people own or have access to guns. The NRA is determined to root out gun-free zones because this makes gun ownership more accepted as a normal state of affairs. And right now the Denver Museum is going along with their plan.


Smith & Wesson Goes Fishing For A Big Fish. Will It Work?

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I visited Smith & Wesson for the first time in 1978, came up to show my face and get the sporting goods VP, a nice gentleman named Del Shorb, to increase our wholesale allotment for the following year.  S&W was riding high back then, couldn’t ship enough 44-magnum ‘Dirty Harry’ revolvers, the newly-developed stainless steel guns were in demand, and everything appeared to be rosy for the iconic gun-maker whose brand name was probably as well-known as Coke.

smith              This was before the American gun market was invaded by European pistols, in particular Beretta, Glock and Sig, and literally overnight the fortunes of S&W began to ebb.  Things went from bad to worse when the company was purchased by a British investment group, Tompkins, who then entered into a disastrous agreement with the Clinton Administration, which led to a boycott which almost led to the company’s demise.  Eventually it all got sorted sorted out, the Clinton deal disappeared, a new ownership/management team took over and the company’s fortunes began to move forward again.

Yet despite the run-up in sales during the Age of Obama, gun companies like S&W know that tough times could lie ahead.  For one thing, every national election poses a risk that a pro-gun person will be sitting in the White House, which means that the fever to acquire guns before they are all ‘confiscated’ will die down.  For another, try as they might, gun companies find themselves selling most of their guns to people who already guns, and at a certain point even the most diehard gun enthusiast decides enough is enough. Which means that to maintain market presence and profits, publicly-owned gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson need to think about selling something other than guns.

If you want to know what S&W is thinking, take a look at their new investor presentation that was distributed at SHOT.  It’s a glossy, 45-page catalog which may or may not presage an offering of new stock, but what caught my eye was the basic strategy statement which says the company intends to “expand organically and inorganically into adjacent and complementary markets.”  Which means either buy other companies or develop new products from within companies that you already own.

The possibility that S&W might acquire another gun company, Savage Arms, was the subject of an article in the Wall Street Journal this week.  Savage is part of Vista Outdoor, a collection of companies created by ATK, a major defense contractor who cobbled together guns, ammunition and outdoor sporting accessories with annual sales above $2 billion which is now on the block.

If S&W were to buy Vista, the company would immediately expand into all kids of adjacent and complimentary markets, because in addition to Savage, a leading manufacturer of long guns, the deal would also catapult S&W into a premier position in ammunition products, since Vista’s major holding is Federal Ammunition, whose presence and branding in the ammo market is huge.

The only problem in this strategy, however, is that none of these products will be able to sustain the performance of the last several years if something happens to slow or reverse the upward trend in gun sales. Few of the Vista brands can stand on their own outside the gun market, and shooting accessories only move off the shelves when consumers buy a gun.

What is most interesting about the investor’s presentation are several glossy pages devoted to new products from Smith & Wesson itself.  Except not a single new gun product is actually new. The 22-caliber shooter has been around for fifty years, the AR rifles have new accessory rails, the concealable Shield pistol has a ported barrel which makes no difference to performance at all.

The big run-up in gun company revenues doesn’t reflect new products or new customers. It reflects what has always driven gun sales – fears that guns will be taken away.  Try to build a multi-billion consumer-product company based on consumer fears?

Did Martin Luther King, Jr., Preach Against Gun Violence? In A Very Big Way.


Exactly one year before he was shot to death, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out publicly against the Viet Nam War.  He did this in disagreement with many of his civil rights contemporaries, who were afraid he would fracture what was becoming a tenuous alliance with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding the fact that Viet Nam was a Democratic war.

king              King’s opposition to the war was entirely consistent with his lifelong adherence to non-violence; simply put, he believed that using violence as a response to the social or economic ills that plagued mankind only produced more violence and could never be justified as the necessary means to achieve a desirable end.  I was at New York’s Riverside Church when King made his first anti-Viet Nam speech, and I recall how the emotions in that hall jumped as King accused his own country of using the same violence to quell the revolution in Southeast Asia as had been used to deny civil rights to African-Americans at home.

How much has changed in the nearly 50 years since Dr. King delivered that speech? I’d like to think that when it comes to the use of violence in response to social and economic problems, perhaps we have moved ahead.  But I’m not sure this is the case, and I’m certainly not about to say that we have learned how to separate the use of violence from the use of guns.

A day doesn’t go by without some pro-gun mouthpiece reminding us that guns protect us from crime.  And basically what they are all saying is that violence can and should be used against violence, except they don’t call it gun violence, they call it self-protection, freedom, and 2nd-Amendment rights. But make no mistake about it, when the NRA promotes CCW or Stand Your Ground laws, they are not only saying that violence is and should be a response to violence, they are asking for legal immunity for anyone taking that path. Now that most states have legalized unconditional CCW when it did not exist as a doctrine during Dr. King’s lifetime, shouldn’t we say that violence has become more, rather than less of an accepted social norm since his death?

Not only is violence sanctioned in the American legal fabric, but when efforts are made to curb violence through lawful means, the gun lobby and its sycophants in and out of the media resist such efforts on a continuous and usually successful basis.  Only 28 states have CAP laws which, by definition, would curb the unintended violence caused by accidental shootings, often committed by young children.  And if this isn’t bad enough, we have the disgraceful attempt by the NRA and several of its loony medical partners to demonize physicians for asking patients about access to guns, as if gun violence, as opposed to other forms of violence, lie outside the accepted purview of medical care.

We could blame this socially-acceptable diffusion of violence on the rhetorical excesses of the NRA, but Dr. King would be the first to object to such a facile explanation. Because in his 1967 speech, King was clear that we would not be able to reduce or eliminate violence at home if we did not find ways to reduce our use of organized, state-sanctioned violence abroad. And while I would like to say that we have learned this lesson from the debacle of Viet Nam, in fact it appears that each succeeding generation needs to re-learn this lesson again.  The $600 billion that we spent on the Pentagon in 2015 represents nearly 40% of military expenditures worldwide, and American military personnel are based in more than 100 countries that do not fly our flag.

Let’s not forget on Dr. King’s Day: the same President who signed the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965 signed the Gun Control Act in 1968.  In between those two dates, he sent half a million young men to Viet Nam.

Why Do I Own Guns? Because I Like To Own Guns.


I bought my first real gun in Florida when I was 12 years old.  A beautiful Smith & Wesson 38. Got it in a flea market somewhere on Highway 441.  Owned that gun for about 30 minutes until my Uncle Nat took it away from me and probably hocked it the next day.  He was right.  What the hell was a twelve-year old kid doing walking around with a gun?


              Star 30-M

Star 30-M

This purchase began a life-long addiction to guns which continues to this day.  Or at least until yesterday, when I walked into Dave’s Gun Shop and bought a Star Model 30M, a heavy, all-steel pistol that holds 15 rounds.  Why did I buy the gun?  Because I wanted to buy a gun.  Why does my wife buy shoes?  Because she likes shoes.

If I were a typical gun guy, I would tell you that I bought this gun because it’s good for self-defense.  I don’t often, if ever, carry a gun. Guns are lying around the house but none are close enough to be grabbed up if an intruder were to suddenly burst through the door, but I know that owning a gun makes me safer, which is why I bought the gun.

Actually, that’s not true.  I didn’t go into a gun shop yesterday because I was thinking about my personal safety. I didn’t walk up to the counter, take one look at that Star pistol and decide that this gun would protect me from crime. I certainly didn’t for one second imagine that buying that gun would somehow make me ‘free.’  I bought the gun because I wanted to buy a gun.

This may have been the third time I owned this gun.  I had a Star 30M back in the mid-90’s; sold it to some guy in my gun shop who then sold it back because he needed a set of tires for his truck; sold it later to another guy who probably at some point traded it at Dave’s shop where it was sitting when I made it mine.  You don’t see a Star 30M all that often, and it’s not as if the gun, or any gun for that matter, ever wears out. If this gun had been picked up at a crime scene instead of being sold to me, the ATF trace would show that the gun went into private hands somewhere around 1995.  But it went into private hands and then back into an FFL inventory at least two more times over the intervening twenty years.  So much for the value of ATF traces and as well as the nonsensical discussions about Time to Crime.

On the NRA website, Wayne LaPierre tells the NRA membership that “nothing would make us more vulnerable to generations of suffering and slaughter than the destruction of our 2nd Amendment.”  There’s about as much reality behind this statement as the idea that I bought that Star pistol to protect myself from crime.  I live in a White, middle class neighborhood – if anyone ever tried to break into my house it would probably be my drunk neighbor who thought he had come home and forgot his keys.

I have personally owned, bought and sold, probably 500 guns over the course of my lifetime, and I can say that in all those transactions going back to 1956, I never once asked myself why I needed any particular gun. But if someone were to ask me why I bought and sold all those guns, I might rattle off something about crime, or terrorism, or my Constitutional ‘rights.’ After all, I have to come up with some kind of answer, and it’s not as if people who don’t like guns can offer me a clue.

In crafting sensible solutions to gun violence, my friends in the GVP community have to understand that any new law will force me to somehow change this impulsive habit.  And when was the last time you stayed on that low carbs diet?





What You Hear Is What You Get – The NRA Response To Obama.

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It didn’t take Wayne-o 48 hours to respond to Obama’s remarkable SOTU speech, and his response really points up both the success of the GVP movement to date, along with the challenge faced by GVP going forward. The fact that LaPierre felt compelled to call the President a ‘liar,’ ‘narcissist,’ ‘dishonest,’ ‘long-winded,’ ‘gas bag’ and basically a shill for the Hillary campaign, reveals the degree to which Gun Nation and Trump-ist political rhetoric have merged; i.e., if you insult your opponent enough times, you can avoid any serious talk.  What’s the difference between Trump bellowing ‘Make America Great Again’ and LaPierre saying that Obama has “laid waste to the America we remember?”  No difference.  And that’s a good thing.

lapierre              It’s a good thing because the GVP strategy shouldn’t be based on trying to convince 2nd-Amendment nihilists that there are sensible solutions to the problems caused by guns.  Obama’s attempt to push a small percentage of gun transfers into the ATF-FBI-NICS framework by requiring individuals who make a ‘continuous’ profit from gun sales is hardly an attack on gun-owning rights, and LaPierre’s totally false description of this effort obliterates even the slightest possibility that his video message was an attempt to engage in an honest exchange.

We like to say that Obama has been the gun industry’s best salesman because gun revenues have soared over the past seven years.  But he’s also been a magnet for the NRA’s attempts to expand its own ranks.  According to Advertising Age, the circulation of the American Rifleman magazine surged by nearly 30% from 2012 to 2013, although the total circulation of all NRA membership magazines still doesn’t nearly add up to the 5 million members that the NRA now claims to represent. But numbers are one thing, the message going out is something else.  If you take the time to watch Wayne-o’s video (quoting don Corleone, “Keep your friends close but your enemies….”) you’ll quickly realize that the organization which claims to speak for America’s gun owners has abandoned even the slightest pretense for anything remotely connected to reality, facts or common sense.

Take the alleged ‘failure’ of the Obama Administration to prosecute gun crimes. According to LaPierre, the President could simply pick up the phone and direct his Justice Department to mount a scorched-earth campaign to rid Chicago of every drug dealer, violent felon and gangbanger currently prowling the Windy City’s streets.  This statement, incidentally, is made less than one minute after Wayne-o accused Obama of using his executive authority to destroy the Constitution, as if one can find anywhere in the Constitution the legal grounds for using a federal agency to deal with local crime.

You may recall that back in 1995, Wayne-o sent out a fundraising letter referring to ATF agents as ‘jack-booted thugs’ who were the shock troops in the “final assault to eliminate firearms ownership forever,” rhetoric that caused President George H. W. Bush to resign from the NRA. Now he’s at it again, claiming in this video that Obama is creating a ‘federal gun force’ that will be four times larger than the number of Special Forces currently leading operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  I don’t think that combat against ISIS has cost the lives of more than a handful of our beloved and heroic troops but gun violence kills more than 80 Americans every day.  More resources to respond to domestic gun violence as opposed to overseas terror attacks?  Doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me.

Watch the entire video because Wayne-o saves the best for last.  After referring to the President in the most indecorous and insulting terms, he then flips and obsequiously asks Obama to engage in a one-on-one debate.  I can see it now – Wayne LaPierre in the Oval Office lecturing the President on the 2nd Amendment and why Michelle should be walking around with a gun.  If the NRA thinks that such amateurish grandstanding appeals to anyone beyond their most devoted members, they better think again.

Is Obama Correct When He Calls Gun Violence An ‘Epidemic?’ He Sure Is.

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Whenever there’s a terrible, mass shooting, like Umpqua or San Bernardino, leave it to the pro-gun gang to wait 48 hours or so, and then remind us that it’s not such a big deal because: a) mass shootings only account for a tiny fraction of all gun shootings; b) gun homicides continue to decline; and, c) there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, so who really cares? And in case a little more juice is necessary to push the argument away from the problems caused by guns, we can always count on Johnny-boy Lott to pronounce that, once again, a mass shooting took place in a gun-free zone.

white house              But of course if you bother to look at the numbers on gun violence, and you take some time to understand what the numbers really mean, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to quickly figure out that this whole notion that gun violence being on the wane is simply and irretrievably not true.  And anyone who says otherwise either doesn’t know the facts or thinks that if you tell a lie enough times maybe someone will think you are telling the truth. So let’s start with the facts.

Gun violence is falls into five categories, according to the CDC: intentional homicide, unintentional homicide, intentional injury, unintentional injury and suicide.  And I don’t care about the NRA nonsense that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people;’ the fact is that every one of the events which are counted in those five categories occurred because of the presence of a gun.  Now obviously you can kill other people or yourself without using a gun; ditto for injuries suffered by yourself or someone else.  But you can’t kill anyone as quickly as you can when you use a gun, and gun injuries are, medically-speaking, the most damaging and costly injuries of all.  So now let’s really get to the facts.

In 2001, the total body count for the five gun-violence categories was 92,031, of whom 29,821 ended up one way or another in the morgue, and the remainder, 62,210, lived to see another day.  Now the physical and mental condition in which these survivors actually continued their lives has never been calculated in any general sense, but a not atypical example is provided by the experience of Antonius Wiriadjaja who was hit by a stray bullet in Brooklyn, from which he then endured seven months of physical therapy to regain basic functions, along with 18 months of psychiatric treatment to prevent the onset of PTSD. Gun injuries are devastating, the costs of gun morbidity is calculated to be at least 40% higher than the cost of treating any other kind of injury, and Wiriadjaja got off with less post-injury trauma than a lot of other victims of gun wounds.

The pro-gun nation is up in arms (hopefully not literally) because the President keeps referring to gun violence as an ‘epidemic.’  Would the same bunch argue with the notion that we had an outbreak of the Ebola epidemic in 2014? Of course not.  Know how many people died worldwide from Ebola that year?  Roughly 30,000.  Isn’t that roughly the same number that have died from a gun injury in the United States every year over the past 30 years?

Not only do we suffer this carnage year after year, but the numbers keep going up! In 2001 all gun deaths and injuries totaled 92,031.  It was 99,968 in 2005, dropped down to 97,550, then steadily increased to 117,146 in 2013. This 25% increase in the overall number is largely driven by intentional injuries, which since 2001 have exoanded by nearly 50%

Know who benefits from this trend in a rather perverse way?  Trauma surgery residents get more training which means they can save more lives.  It’s their skills that are keeping gun deaths fairly constant while overall gun violence continues to increase.  The President isn’t wrong when he talks about a gun epidemic.  If anything, he’s understating the case.

What The Gun Violence Numbers Tell Us And What They Don’t Tell Us.

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This is the first time in my lifetime (and I was born during World War II), that a President has used the bully pulpit to focus on the issue of gun violence.  He’s issued executive orders, he’s held a Town Hall meeting, written an op-ed for The New York Times, and for sure will have plenty more to say when Congress and the American people gather to hear his State of the Union speech.  So in preparation for that event, as well as in response to the veritable torrent of media content that has been flying around the last week, I thought I would publish the data on gun violence that should be used to evaluate what Obama and others are saying about the issue itself.


               Here are the yearly numbers on gun mortality from the CDC.  Note that gun suicides dropped between 1993 and 2000, then were fairly level until 2008, and then have moved upwards again at a fairly rapid rate.  Gun homicides also declined substantially between 1993 and 2000, and have remained somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 over the last thirteen years.

There’s only one little problem with these numbers – they hide as much as they show.  In fact, notwithstanding the increase since 2008, gun suicides as a percentage of all suicides have declined to slightly less than 50%, the lowest percentage since these numbers were first tracked by the CDC.  As for gun homicides, while there was a significant decline until 2000, the number has stayed stubbornly at that level ever since, with minimal variations between this year and that.

On the other hand, the homicide number is a total of both intentional and unintentional gun deaths, and if we break out the latter, we find a remarkable trend over the last 20+ years, namely, that unintentional gun deaths have dropped from 1,521 in 1993 to 586 in 2014, a decline of nearly two-thirds.  Or to look at it another way, when intentional gun deaths dropped by 36% between 1993 and 2000, accidental gun deaths declined by more than 50% during the same period.

The decline in intentional gun homicides after the mid-90s paralleled an overall decline in violent crime and is presumed to be a factor of that latter trend. But while theories abound as to why violence in general and gun violence in particular decreased so dramatically until the early 2000s, I don’t notice anyone talking about the even greater drop in unintentional gun deaths over those years.  And while the intentional death toll from guns has of late levelled off, unintentional gun deaths continue to decline, from 802 in 2001 to 586 last year.

In a New York Times op-ed debate about gun safety, Steve Teret pulls out a 2003 study conducted by some of his Johns Hopkins colleagues which indicates that smart gun technology, if available on all currently-owned firearms, might save upwards of 37% of the people who are killed by accidental shootings each year. That’s an impressive number, and even if it’s slightly overblown (because God knows how long it would take before smart guns are actually purchased by consumers), there’s no question that keeping guns away from kids and other unqualified folks would cut the accidental death toll to some extent.

But rather than trying to come up with a vague number that might or might not represent the saving in human lives from smart-gun technologies, why don’t public health researchers try to figure out the reasons for a two-thirds decline in accidental gun deaths over the last two decades?  One answer I won’t accept is that the decline in gun accidents is due to the NRA or NSSF safety campaigns, for the simple reason that neither has ever been evaluated in honest, no-nonsense terms.  But until a GVP-minded researcher tries to figure out why accidental gun mortality keeps going down, we are forced to sit back and wait for smart guns to hit the shelves.  And wait.


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