The American Medical Association Needs To Be Clear: Guns Are A Risk To Health.


Our friends at The Trace emailed an article yesterday about the decision by the American Medical Association to debate and possibly adopt some gun-control measures when the organization gets together for tor their annual meeting in June. According to the AMA President, David O. Barbe, a family physician out of Missouri, the grand poo bah of all grand medical organization poo bahs will debate a nearly a dozen proposals to reduce gun violence and then put its “considerable lobbying clout behind legislation heading into November’s mid-term elections.”

md-counsel             The AMA is already on record backing such ‘commonsense’ strategies as comprehensive background checks, handgun licensing and waiting periods and ‘mandated penalties’ for gun crimes, whatever ‘mandated’ means. According to Doctor Barbie, this year’s grab-bag of proposals includes banning bump stocks, strengthening the background check system, banning assault rifles and high-cap magazines, and increasing the legal age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. All of these ideas and others stem from a basic notion, says Dr. Barbie, that “gun violence in America today is a public health crisis, one that requires a comprehensive and far-reaching solution.”

I am going to be rather blunt and somewhat descriptive by saying that I think Dr. Barbie and his AMA colleagues are once again reducing the issue of gun violence to just another talking-point which, if debated and adopted at the annual meeting, will accomplish absolutely nothing at all. In other words, it’s a load of crap. God knows we have enough decent, dedicated and devoted gun-control advocates and organizations promoting these same issues all the time. Why should the medical profession, which represents the most objective and science-based approach to how their responsibilities and practices are defined, just get on line behind everyone else who wants to do something about the 125,000 deaths and injuries suffered each year because of guns? What the AMA should be doing is insisting that the issue of gun violence be taken seriously within the practice of medicine itself.

Every medical school curriculum contains teaching modules about violence – how to define it, how to spot it, how to counsel about it and who needs to be contacted if the patient is at immediate risk. Guess what?  You can search all these treatment protocols and you won’t see the word ‘gun’ or the term ‘gun violence’ even once. And gun violence isn’t the same thing as picking up a baseball bat and whacking your younger bother over the head. It’s not the same thing as getting into a fight. It’s a random and highly lethal type of behavior that creates a level of injury which at best requires a significant outlay of medical resources and at worst leaves the victim dead.

What do we get from the medical profession these days when it comes to discussions about what to tell a patient who says that he or she has access to a gun?  We get this nonsensical and ill-advised bromide about safe storage because, after all, we need to ‘understand’ and ‘appreciate’ the culture of patients who believe they are safe if they own a gun.

The studies which show that guns are a risk to safety and health do not distinguish between stored and unstored guns. And as far as I’m concerned, a physician who does not advise patients to get rid of their guns, pari passu, is teetering on the brink of violating the Hippocratic Oath, which does not (read: not) make exceptions for patient ‘culture’ as regards the doctor’s responsibility to reduce harm. Doctors should join and lead the gun-violence discussion by talking about what they know, which is the issue of medical risk. And medical organizations like the AMA should be promoting one very clear message, namely, that guns are a risk to health. This means all guns, no matter how they are stored or how many background checks are required before owning a gun. I know this, and even though I’m also a doctor, I’m just a lowly Ph.D.


Do We Need To Invent A Whole New System To Control The Violence Caused By Guns?

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I have just finished reading a lively and provocative Medium column by my friend Ladd Everitt, and I feel obliged to respond. Not that I have any real difference with him on the issue of gun violence; rather, I believe hi solution to the problem could be somewhat more nuanced, more realistic and most of all, possibly even coming true.  So I left Ladd a handclap but now I’m going to give him a slightly different point of view.

AR red             Before getting down to the solution, however, I do want to say that his comments about the shenanigans which led to a Brady law that did not include a mandated waiting period are right on. At the time that Brady was passed, I happened to be living in New Jersey, where every purchase of a handgun required a separate application to the county sheriff whose approval process could take maybe a couple of days, maybe a week, maybe longer, who knew?  But I never felt that this was some kind of burden being imposed on me; if anything, it gave me an excuse to go back to the store where I was going to buy the gun (my favorite being a wonderful outdoor sports emporium, Ray’s Outdoors, on Route 22 in Plainfield, the location now being a strip mall or some other nondescript place.)

What made the idea of a national waiting period chancy from the very start was not so much the opposition of the NRA, whose job it is to object to every gun-control bill, but to the requirement that the waiting period would be imposed so that local law enforcement could run a background check. Talk about an unfunded mandate – there was simply nothing in the bill which spoke to how local or state law enforcement agencies would bear the costs of this effort, which was one of the factors which doomed the waiting-period provision from the start.

Ladd’s argument for a national licensing system along the lines of other Western nation-states is made by just about every GVP advocate all the time. But why reinvent the wheel? We already have such a system, which happens to be the licensing procedures established in 1934 with the National Firearms Act, usually referred to as the NFA.  This law, the first attempt by the feds to get into gun regulations big time, enumerated certain types of weapons, in particular, full-auto guns, for which private ownership required a serious background-check process by the feds. You may recall that last year Donald Trump’s idiot son tried to get silencers removed from the NFA list but the idea was buried thanks to what happened in Las Vegas on October 1st.

The fact is that the gun-control systems found in most Western nation-states happen to have been developed before or shortly after World War II and were modeled on our NFA. Why do these countries experience much lower rates of gun violence? Because they put handguns on the list of weapons which require both detailed background checks and an explanation for why the gun is needed at all. The original draft of the NFA also had handguns on the proscribed list, but this provision disappeared before the bill became law.

The problem with Ladd’s idea about national registration is that we would end up with a process which would be cumbersome, costly and complicated because of the millions of guns purchased each year, many of those weapons don’t contribute to the occurrence of gun violence at all. A concealable handgun like a Glock 43 or a Ruger LC9 is the weapon of choice for shooting someone down, ditto an AR-15. But does anyone really believe that a bolt-action hunting rifle like a Remington 700 or a Ruger 77 is a threat to public safety or public health?

We don’t need a whole new gun registration system in order to bring our horrific rate of gun violence down.  We just need to regulate the sale and ownership of the most lethal weapons by listing them with the NFA.


Do We Really Know How Many Americans Own Guns?

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Everybody knows that the size of the private American gun arsenal is somewhere between 270 and 325 million guns. Because we have never put together any kind of national gun registration, these estimates are based on two data sets: on the one hand, we simply take the total number of guns produced each year and add it to the number of guns we believe were floating around at some point in time; or we run public surveys and ask a ‘representative national sample’ of Americans to state how many guns they actually own.

hoarder             Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made a big splash with a new survey showing that the percentage of American households containing guns was continuing to go down, but the average number of guns in each household was going up. In fact, this study found that roughly 3 percent of American adults own, on average, 17 guns or more, the collections of these ‘super hoarders’ accounting for nearly half of all privately owned guns.

I wonder if a guy in South Carolina named Brent Nicholson was one of the respondents to the Harvard-Northeastern survey, because if he wasn’t, perhaps the authors of the survey might have to amend their remarks.  It turns out that Nicholson amassed perhaps as many as 10,000 guns in various sheds and barns on his property, a stash that filled four, 40-foot trailers that were filled to the brim and then hauled away by the cops to be processed and stored.

The latest survey from Gallup says that 42% of American households contain guns, a number which is somewhat higher than the estimate by our friends at Harvard-Northeastern, as well as being above the latest estimate from the gun research group at the Bloomberg Public Health School. The problem with all these estimates, however, is that they fail to account for one, major category of privately-owned guns, namely, guns whose owners aren’t really allowed under law to own guns. And if you think that the number of households that contain an illegal gun wouldn’t really change the overall numbers of how guns found in U.S. homes, think again. Because the estimates on the number of stolen guns each year ranges from 250,000 to more than half a million, and I don’t think that many of those guns wind up being hoarded by guys like Nicholson who, by the way, sat in a local jail for 14 months awaiting trial, but after pleading to receiving stolen goods he was sentenced to – time served!

Let’s see, if 350,000 guns are stolen each year (I’m cutting the high versus low estimates in half) and each one of them ends up in a different set of hands, then over the last ten years the number of households which contain at least one gun would be maybe 4 or 5 million more than what the estimates claim that number to be. Now the real question remaining unanswered is this: has the percentage of Americans who own guns gone down, or has the real percentage gone up because the last thing someone is going to tell Gallup, Pew, Bloomberg or Harvard-Northeastern is whether they happen to have an illegal gun, right?

Which brings me to the real reason for writing today’s rant, namely, that I have never felt comfortable with either the GVP or the gun-rights gangs being all so enamored about legal guns. The only reason that Wayne-o and the boys from Fairfax always talk about ‘law-abiding’ gun owners is they want you to think that we can solve the gun violence problem by simply locking up all those bad guys who commit crimes with guns. As for my GVP friends, they keep talking about keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ which is just a more polite way of saying that the ‘bad guys’ shouldn’t be allowed to own guns.

Want to prevent a certain product from getting into the market when the market is based on consumer demand?  Stop making the product – there’s no other way.






The Lawsuit Against Alex Jones Injects Reality Into The Gun Debate.


Every time a gun-control law is upheld, our friends in the gun-control movement (I think the idea of trying to convince Gun-nut Nation that we don’t want to ‘control’ guns is absurd) exult and rightly so. But the lawsuits filed against Alex Jones by a group of Sandy Hook parents has more significance than any particular legal statute could ever have. What the Sandies are saying is that they have suffered threats, harassment, public humiliation and invasions of their privacy because Jones keeps blaming them for what happened at the elementary school. Which is what conspiracy theory is all about: identify a vulnerable victim and then pile on.

jones   Ultimately, the argument over gun violence is going to get down to how the average person thinks about guns, and the influence of someone like Jones over the public gun debate has been an important factor in the way the argument has gone along until now. The problem in this case isn’t the issue of determining what happened at Newtown, it’s the way that folks who are shocked and dismayed by these kinds of events react by getting involved in activities which might prevent such horrendous massacres from happening again.

I guarantee you that if the Sandy Hook parents had just suffered their silent grief and decided, individually and collectively to stay out of public view, that the conspiracy theories which ramped up immediately after December 14, 2012 would have quickly gone away. But the Sandies formed an organization devoted to promoting alternatives to violence in schools; they journeyed as a group to D.C. to help Obama with his attempt to get a new gun law;  they continue to advocate for restrictions on guns; and worst of all, the sued the gunmaker who manufactured the AR-15 which was used to kill 20 little kids and 6 adults in a five-minute rampage inside the school. Oh, that AR-15 isn’t too lethal for civilian sale.  It’s just a sporting rifle, right?  Yea, right.

The reason that Jones continues driving down the conspiracy path with Newtown, he’s claimed the same thing about the Aurora massacre, by the way, is because much of his audience happens to come out of the gun-owning fringe who feel that even the NRA is too tame to represent their beliefs. Think I’m kidding?  Take a look at his interview of Ted Nugent, whose high-intensity slurs and insults against the liberal ‘menace’ often put Jones to shame.

Jones says that he first got turned onto his political world view because his father was a member of the John Birch Society – remember them?  The Birchers were the first group that created an entire political belief-system around conspiracy theories, in particular the notion that there was a worldwide conspiracy of Communists, liberals, and other enemies of freedom which unless we were all endlessly vigilant, would rear its ugly head. They group has become somewhat more respectable over the last few years, their website is simply another imitation of Breitbart which, thanks to DD Trump has determined that ‘illegal aliens’ are now the big threat.

What makes the legal actions against Jones so compelling is that it forces people to confront the fact that gun violence, which kills and injures an average of 340 people every day, is something that actually takes place.  Let’s say, for example, that a particular locality suffers from a high degree of gun violence and decides to enact a new gun-control law.  What’s to stop someone like Alex Jones from saying that the 24 gun murders which occurred in a certain city so far this year weren’t just staged?

When the NRA says that it’s not the gun that kills people, it’s people who kill people, they are promoting a false narrative which is no different than Alex Jones claiming that Sandy Hook never took place. It’s high time that such cynically-proffered delusions get challenged not just in the law courts, but in the court of public opinion as well.


Will Gun Shows Go The Way Of The DoDo Bird? They Just Might.


I have lived most of my 73-plus years on the East Coast, but whenever I go out to the West Coast, as a confirmed gun nut I try to schedule my trips when a Crossroads of the West gun show is being held in the city where I’m going to be. I can’t purchase a gun at these shows unless I’m willing to wait 10 days for the dealer to ship the piece back to a dealer back home, and my rule of thumb is that if I see a gun I really like, I want to walk out with it right then and there.

shows             Notwithstanding this serious limitation, I like the Crossroads shows because there are lots of guns, lots of good food concessions and the atmosphere is enjoyable, homey and nice. If I have to choose between the stuffy, pretentious San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where if you speak above a whisper someone immediately tells you to shut-up, versus going up and down the aisles at the Cow Palace looking at endless piles of guns and sharing a joke with another gun nut or an ATF agent, it’s no contest at all.

But the world, even the gun world, does change, and right now it appears that the Crossroads of the West gun show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace may be going the way of the Passenger Pigeon, the Dodo Bird and the dial phone.  The next show is scheduled for June and it will go on as planned, but if several state legislators have their way, these events will come to an end in 2019. A bill has just been introduced that would end gun shows at the Gun Palace in 2020, and while the last such effort was vetoed by Jerry Brown in 2013, I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollar on these shows continuing given the new, post-Parkland attitude about guns.

When the Governor Abbott of Texas – Texasannounces that he will convene a roundtable on gun violence that will include school officials, victims and relatives of victims, gun rights and gun control advocates; when he says, and I quote, “We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” there’s something new and different going on. And it turns out that California now has their own version of Parkland’s Emma Gonzalez in the form of Erica Mendoza, a 16-year old who led the Parkland walkout at Jefferson High School, a building which just happens to be located 2 miles from where the Cow Palace gun show takes place.

If the proposed gun show ban becomes law, the biggest, single loser will be a nice guy named Bob Templeton, who started Crossroads in 1975, and now operates more than 50 shows each year in all the Western states. Bob just published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, his basic argument being “the closure of the show will not prevent criminals from obtaining guns from the sources where they have always obtained them.” And just so you don’t think that Bob is some kind of red-neck entrepreneur with blood on his hands, his column approvingly quotes none other than the sainted, gun researcher Garen Wintemute, whose criteria for how a gun show should be operated is not only met but exceeded by procedures followed at all Crossroads shows.

It should be admitted that Templeton’s article does indulge in a bit of both historic and analytical whimsy because his statement that there have been “no known incidents of gun violence resulting from activities at the show” is kind of true but only in a very narrow sense. In fact, a show visitor accidentally shot his friend at a 2015 Crossroads show in Phoenix, and there is simply no way to determine how many guns purchased at any Crossroads event eventually wind up in the wrong hands.

If California passes a law banning gun shows, I guarantee you it will spread. After all, let’s not forget that what has ruined gazillions of cups of coffee – half & half – also started in the Golden State.

A New Survey Doesn’t Tell Us What Gun Owners Think About Gun Violence.


In the endless quest to locate ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ gun restrictions, Gun-control Nation has just been given a new road map courtesy of the gun-control research group at Johns Hopkins, who have released their third national survey comparing the attitudes of gun owners to non-gun owners regarding different laws and policies for regulating guns. I notice in all these surveys, by the way, that gun-control advocates and organizations never find it necessary to look for ‘responsible’ folks on their side of the argument, the assumption being that anyone who wants to reduce gun violence is, by definition, a responsible and reasonable sort.

may22             That being said, the Hopkins survey asked the two groups of respondents how they felt about 24 different gun-control policies, setting as an agreement – disagreement baseline between the two groups of 10% or more.  In other words, if 75% of Gun-control Nation supports a certain policy but only 65% of Gun-nut Nation supports the same idea, the survey authors pronounce such a gap to mean that the two sides don’t agree. Fair enough.

The publication of this survey was greeted by huzzahs on the gun-control side because universal background checks, Gun-control Nation’s most endearing policy change, was supported by both groups to the tune of 85.3 percent for gun owners versus 88.7 for non-gun owners, basically a dead heat. There were also significant and high rates of agreement for yanking licenses from ‘bad apple’ dealers, mandated proficiency testing prior to issuance of a concealed-carry license and tightening up reportage to NICS of individuals who are nut jobs either because they have been stuck away in a loony bin or some judge said they don’t know their right minds.

What I found most interesting about this survey was that of the 24 policies which respondents were asked to support or not support, only one of these policies was something that Gun-nut Nation has been trying to achieve; i.e., allowing legally armed citizens to bring a concealed weapon (CCW) into a public school. Not surprisingly, at least not to my surprise, this was the one policy in which the gun owners showed themselves to be more strongly supportive than non-gun owners, the gap being 42% to 20%.

The survey is described as an effort to determine public support for ‘gun violence prevention policies,’ but excepting the policy that would allow CCW access in schools, every one of the other 23 policies happen to be policies that will reduce gun violence as defined not by the general public, but by a slice of the general public, otherwise known as the advocates and researchers in favor of gun control.

This may come as a great shock to my friends at Johns Hopkins and other academic centers where gun violence is studied as a public health risk, but there happens to be large numbers of Americans who do not necessarily subscribe to the ideas proposed by Gun-control Nation to reduce the carnage caused by guns. The fact is that a majority of Americans, contrary to the standard mantra of the gun-control movement, actually believe that a gun around the home is a benefit rather than a risk. And I guarantee you that if a ‘nationally representative’ survey asked gun owners and non-gun owners how they feel about such gun-violence reduction strategies as a national, concealed-carry license or ‘constitutional’ carry, the gun-owning respondents would support these ideas with the same degree of fervor and unquestioned belief that gun-control advocates embrace comprehensive background checks.

A survey which tests attitudes of gun owners and non-gun owners based almost entirely on gun-control policies dreamed up by one side in the debate is a survey whose results are nothing more than whole cloth. And worse, such a survey creates false expectations about the degree to which gun-control advocates will be joined by a broad swath of ‘responsible’ gun owners in the effort to strengthen gun-control laws.

There may be some gun-control scholars who define their role as shaping false beliefs. This scholar, for one, doesn’t agree.



How Do We Define A Mass Shooting? Not The Way We Should.

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It’s official! The influencers and decision-makers who want to do something to reduce gun violence have decided that the definition of a ‘mass shooting’ is four or more people ending up dead, in many instances the toll including the shooter as well. This definition is central to a major analysis of mass shootings published last week by The Washington Post, which claims there have been 152 such events since Gary Gilmore began blasting away from the top of the Texas Tower in August, 1966.

mass             These numbers works out to less than 3 mass shootings per year, which WaPo says is a ‘small slice’ of gun violence, and doesn’t include shootings that took place within a private residence or were street shootings involving gangs. To invent a definition which arbitrarily defines ‘mass’ shootings as only involving events where a certain number of people are killed, while ignoring non-fatal gun injuries, is to feed into a public discussion about gun violence which not only makes no sense, but completely distorts what gun violence is really all about. But right now, let’s stick with what WaPo has to say.

Since DD Trump was inaugurated, there have been 12 mass shootings, resulting in 142 deaths and another 482 individuals wounded or injured but still alive. In the two final years of the Obama regime, there were also 12 mass shootings, with the final toll coming to 115 dead and 100 surviving injuries or wounds. Were it not for the ability of one mass shooter to barricade himself in a hotel room far above an enormous group of potential targets and another who charged into a densely-packed nightclub, right now we would be bumping along with every mass shooting claiming, on average, roughly 7 fatalities and 5 non-fatal assaults.

What I don’t understand in all the ongoing discussion about mass shootings is the obsession we seem to have with defining these events in a way which allows us to keep track of the number of deaths and injuries with a degree of certainty that we never, ever impose on any other attempt to analyze or understand gun violence. By drawing a red line between shootings which occur in public spaces but don’t involve public streets where so-called ‘gang’ shootings occur, we are not only accepting an arbitrary definition of this totally fanciful phenomena known as ‘gang violence,’ but along with drawing another red line between shootings which occur in private spaces (i.e., residences) we are probably reducing the real number of shootings that claim multiple victims by as much as half.

When the cops arrive at a murder scene and nobody saw nuttin’ except the body lying in the street, they describe the event as ‘gang violence.’ That’s the end of that. When the pissed-off ex-husband walks into a family party to which he was disinvited and begins blasting away, he’s not putting a bullet into as many bodies as possible because it’s a private space; he kills everyone he can because that’s where they all happened to be at the same time.

The real reason the FBI narrows its definition of ‘mass shootings’ is because if the agency were to use a definition that took all shootings with multiple deaths into account, or defined a ‘shooting’ as involving multiple victims whether they died or not, all of a sudden their accurate numbers on mass shootings quoted by WaPo and every other mainstream media outlet would disappear.

According to our friends at the Gun Violence Archive, who define a mass shooting as any incident in which 4 people are killed or wounded, there have been 102 such events this year alone, with 130 fatal victims and another 413 who were wounded but survived. The WaPo says there have been 152 mass shootings since 1966. Using the GVA’s much more realistic definition, we’ll get there this year by mid-July. And that’s what mass shootings in the United States are really all about.


You Don’t Need An Assault Weapon To Kill Lots Of People – Any Old Gun Will Do.


Not that facts make any difference in the argument between the two sides about gun violence, but the Santa Fe shooting was somewhat different from other mass shootings in two respects. First, the shooter killed and wounded 20 people not with an assault weapon like an AR-15, but with a pump shotgun and a 38-caliber revolver, types of guns that have been around forever and don’t usually figure in any discussion about banning this type or that type of gun to prevent mass shooting events. Second, not only was there an armed citizen on the premises, but he happened to be a full-time cop who was seriously wounded during the assault.

santa fe             After nearly 30 minutes, during which time the 17-year old shooter exchanged gun fire with two other cops, the terrible slaughter came to an end. It didn’t end because the shooter committed suicide, which often is the way these things go down. It didn’t end because an ‘armed citizen’ or law-enforcement officer wounded or killed the man who killed 10 people and wounded 10 more. It ended because the kid gave himself up.

As I said above, facts often don’t matter in the gun-violence debate.  Gun-nut Nation will continue to rant about how and why guns are essential to protect our God-given ‘rights.’ One pro-gun idiot even showed up at the high school wearing a MAGA hat and a pistol on his hip, claiming that he was just there to “offer support.” He got himself interviewed and then drove away. No doubt this jerk will probably be invited to attend next year’s NRA meeting to receive some kind of ‘armed citizen’ award.

We can safely ignore or dismiss such stupidities because when the gun-control community talks about gun violence, after all, we rely on evidence-based facts. An example of this concern for shaping the gun-violence narrative on hard data, as opposed to fanciful nonsense promoted by Donald Trump and Fox News, is a new initiative on the part of researchers and activists called ‘A Call For Action To Prevent Gun Violence In The United States Of America,’ which has now been signed onto by more than 200 mental health groups and 2,300 individual experts in the weeks since the Parkland massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High. Members of this group have attended conferences, testified at public hearings and published an 8-Point Plan. I can just imagine the thousands of emails which zinged back and forth in the process of devising this plan.

The plan’s eight points address school violence in various ways, first and foremost creating and maintaining positive school environments “that protect all students and adults from bullying, discrimination, harassment and assault.” The plan sets as a second priority “a ban on assault-style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips, and products that modify semi-automatic firearms to enable them to function like automatic firearms.”

I didn’t notice that the kid who walked into Santa Fe High School yesterday had an assault weapon. I also don’t think he had any high-capacity ammunition mags because the two guns he used to kill and wound 20 people don’t take gun magazines of any kind. The shotgun he carried probably contained eight rounds or less, the revolver could only be shot 6 times before it would have to be reloaded again.

Now that more school students have been shot this year than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in both combat and non-combat roles, I really believe it’s high time for the gun-control movement to stop competing with Gun-nut Nation over concerns for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ If folks who signed onto that 8-point pledge actually believe that you can call for gun regulations but still support private ownership of guns, I suggest that such experts hold their next conference at Area 51. You never know – maybe the Martians have figured out a way to reduce gun violence on their planet because we sure don’t seem to have a clue.



How Do We Define Mass Shootings? Let Me Count The Ways.

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If I had a nickel for every different definition of ‘mass shooting’ that’s floating around out there, I could go back to sleep this morning instead of getting dressed to go to work. Last time I counted, there are at least four different ‘mass shooting’ definitions appearing in the media based on how many people get killed, how many people get shot whether they die or not, where the event takes place, and whether or not to include ‘domestic’ acts of violence, aa if anyone has a definition of ‘domestic’ that fits every case.

LV2             The issue of mass shootings has taken on a certain importance not just because of Parkland, but because the organizational response of the gun-control movement has been to push one of their favorite ideas, namely, a new assault weapons ban (AWB.) The idea, of course, is being vigorously contested by the other side, whose chief ally in this regard is DD Trump, who seems to have a peculiar affection for getting rid of gun-free zones. And since Trump is now tying mass shootings to gun-free zones, all the more reason why the #resist movement would try to get more traction for a new AWB.

Let’s get back to the definition of a ‘mass shooting,’ because here is where the rubber meets the road.  Earlier this month our friend Lott published a critique of what is an important book on mass shootings, Rampage Nation, in which the author, Lewis Klaveras, argues that mass shootings declined during the 1995-2004 AWB, despite the fact that the number of mass shootings involving the use of an ‘assault weapon’ was: a) quite small; and, b) didn’t change during the years covered by the ban.

Klarevas has responded to Lott’s criticism by saying that the latter’s definition of ‘mass shootings’ is “arbitrary,” when, in fact, it is the definition employed by Klarevas himself (6 or more deaths) which has never been used by Lott or any other gun researcher, including the folks who write the reports on mass shootings for the FBI. Lott uses the FBI definition which sets the number of deaths at four and excludes shooting events that are either gang-related or occur within a domestic situation, a definition with which I wholeheartedly agree.

What makes mass shootings such terrifying events is not just the loss of life; it’s the randomness of the event and the anonymity of the victims who are injured or killed. Steve Paddock didn’t know the name of anyone attending the rock concert in Vegas when he opened fire on October 1st. Nikolas Cruz had been a student at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, but he didn’t go to the school to hunt down a specific kid or kids. With all due respect to my many GVP friends, John Lott is absolutely correct when he says that mass shootings are unique events in which the motives of the shooter can’t be simply explained because someone holds a grudge against someone else.

I am beginning to believe that gun-violence arguments based on numbers are a dead end. I say this, first of all, because in other columns and studies I have addressed the fact that most of the data we use to create numerics about gun violence are at best rough estimates, at worst simply made up out of whole cloth. And if we can’t even agree on the numerical definition of mass shootings, how could we ever come up with a rational strategy to deal with mass shooting events at all?

So I’m going to go out on a limb and offer a definition of a mass shooting which at least might get us beyond the useless arguments being engaged in today. A mass shooting is when someone points a gun at someone else, pulls the trigger and keeps firing until he’s out of ammo and has to reload. I like this definition because it gets around behavior or motive and simply acknowledges a basic truth: Guns aimed at human beings will kill them faster than any other device that we know.


And Now Trump Becomes An Expert on Gun-Free Zones.


One of the problems with talking about mass shootings is that everyone seems to have a different definition of what the term ‘mass shooting’ really means.  What is really interesting about this subject is the fact that the U.S. has so many shootings that we can create different categories of what constitutes mass shooting and what does not. How many people have to get killed at one time? Some say four, others say five. Others go so far as to say that it doesn’t really matter how many get killed; it’s the number of people who get shot by the same guy whether they live or die.

mass attacks                                  There’s also an argument about where a shooting resulting in multiple victims takes place. Some of the mass-shooting compilers say it doesn’t matter where it occurs, others ignore shootings that occur during other criminal events, or inside someone’s house or maybe yes or maybe no when it comes to a shooting in a school

Then there’s the big issue of whether or not mass shooters focus their activity on gun-free zones. If a public venue posts a sign prohibiting guns on the premises, does this serve as an invitation for a mass shooter to grab his trusty AR-15 and enter that zone?

All of these questions have been swirling around not just because of what happened at Parkland, but because that idiot in the White House has to open his yap and say something stupid about how mass shooters are attracted to gun-free zones.  In fact, at the NRA meeting Trump-o said that 98 percent of all mass shootings since 1950 occurred in gun-free zones. This statement provoked the Washington Post to do a little digging and they turned up some data from John Lott who came out with the 98% figure in 2013, then revised it downward last week to 97.3%. His latest research is an attempt to correct what he considers to be the misleading report  published by Everytown, which set mass shootings in gun-free zones between 2009 and 2016 at roughly 10 percent.  Lott’s data for the same period says the number was 86 percent.

How could Lott and Everytown come up with numbers that are so wildly different in terms of the percentage of mass shootings that take place in gun-free zones?  It gets down to the fact that Lott and the Everytown researchers define a mass shooting very differently depending on where it takes place. Lott’s data excludes private residences, as well as shootings that were part and parcel of an ongoing criminal event. Nearly two-thirds of the mass shootings counted by Everytown occurred in private homes, the victims usually belonging to the same family group.

I happen to agree with Lott that someone who walks into a family party and starts blasting away represents a horse of a very different color than the guy who walks into a movie theater or a school and just tries to kill as many people as possible, even though he probably doesn’t know the identity of a single person who gets caught in his sights. Where I find myself unable to go along with Lott’s research is his assumption that a mass shooter is motivated to attack a particular location because he knows it is a gun-free zone.

The U.S. Secret Service has just published a very detailed study of 28 mass shootings which occurred in public spaces in 2017. You can download it here. They found that of the 23 attackers who used guns, at least 10 possessed the weapons illegally at the time of the attack. A more significant finding is that every attack in a public space that was motivated by some kind of domestic issue resulted in injuries both to targeted as well as random individuals. In only two of the attacks was the shooter prevented from greater violence because of the intervention of another individual, in neither case with the use of a gun.

Let’s face it folks. The problem isn’t gun-free zones. The problem is someone getting pissed off and grabbing a gun.




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