Khalil Spencer: Gun Violence Is More Than Gun Deep.

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I just finished reading Mike Weisser’s latest post on why we are not reacting more strongly to the constant string of mass shootings. Mike, as usual, makes a lot of excellent points on this subject and discusses how the GVP community needs to develop a voice that will pull  Americans into common cause to reflect on our addiction to Sam Colt’s Hammer. That said, my concern is that this is not an issue as shallow as those guns themselves.

spencer1Here in New Mexico, we are going through the latest shock and horror over the latest incident of domestic violence in our midst. Thirteen year old Jeremiah Valencia was apparently systematically abused and kept locked in a dog cage for prolonged periods. He was tortured and beaten so savagely, according to reports in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Albuquerque Journal, that he sometimes needed a cane or wheelchair to get around. He was finally beaten severely, put in the dog cage to die, and buried in a shallow grave. Maybe that was the only form of relief from torture that this little boy could hope to find. Sadly, these stories, like mass shootings, keep happening. Like mass shootings, they are here and then gone from public consciousness as we go about our everyday lives. Not to mention, these incidents often occur, as JC said in Matthew, to “the least of thee”. Easy to overlook until you read the details.

The bottom line is that in New Mexico we have a fair amount of gun violence. But at its heart we have a lot of domestic violence, drug abuse, poverty, and illiteracy (roughly one third of our kids don’t graduate high school).  The gun violence is far from random but correlated with these underlying problems. The GVP community is correct that we need to disarm domestic violence perpetrators and others who are documented risks to the public. Unfortunately, our governor vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have done just that during the 2017 legislative session. But Jeremiah’s tormentor didn’t need a gun.

It would be the height of hypocrisy to only worry about mass shootings because unlike everyday low level violence that happens in those other places, these incidents of mass carnage can happen in nice communities such as ours: Santa Fe, Los Alamos, or the town where GVP crusader Shannon Watts lives. We need to focus more efforts on why our society has this cancer within it because if we don’t do so, we will breed more monsters. As the Ghost of Christmas Present said to Scrooge about the two ragged children within his robes,

them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,
for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the
writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
And abide the end.’
The gun violence certainly makes the social violence more toxic, but is only the surface manifestation of the metastases within this country. We can try to regulate guns, but we can’t build enough prisons and workhouses to escape the cancer within.


A Gun Safety Device Which Really Works.

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Now that school shootings appear to be happening on a day-to-day basis, we seem to be a lot more concerned about figuring out our real estate tax bill than about keeping our schoolchildren safe, but there is a new company out there which has come out with what appears to be a gun-safety device which really works.  The company is called Simtek, it’s the brainchild of an engineer named Brady Simpson, and they are launching a product, Duo, which is designed to prevent shootings by telling a gun owner if and when someone else gets their hands on one of his guns.

duo             Basically the device is a sensor that detects the movement of any piece of equipment in the space where the sensor is deployed – a file cabinet, desk drawer, gun safe – and then sends an instant text alert to the individual who now knows that a secure space has been breached. Motion detectors are hardly a new technology, but combining the detector with a digital messaging system represents a significant step forward in terms of alerting someone to the possibility that a gun might be grabbed by the wrong hands.

When I say ‘wrong hands,’ I’m talking about the hands connected to the bodies of kids. Anyone who believes that a gun in the home doesn’t represent a risk if there are children in the home doesn’t know anything about guns or kids. With all due respect to the gun industry which has been promoting safety programs aimed at children for God knows how long, telling kids not to touch a gun is an absolute guarantee that the kids will, if anything, get more interested in picking up the gun.

Not only are children unable to understand the notion of risk, they are also naturally inquisitive and instinctively try to discover anything and everything hidden around the house. Want to read an eye-opening study about how kids behave around guns? Try this study, which found that four out of ten gun-owning adults believed their guns were successfully hidden away and didn’t know that the kids had found the location of the guns. And the idea that children can be taught to ‘respect’ a gun is about as stupid and self-deceiving as the idea that I can eat every potato chip in sight and still lose weight.

The company has posted a clever video on Youtube which shows a young child finding the combination to a gun safe and then opening the door but Dad got the alert and arrives in the nick of time. Obviously what Simtek is trying to promote is the idea that the Duo device will provide an extra level of protection even for those gun-owning parents who have already taken precautions to keep the kids away from guns. But the truth is that for every family that locks up or locks away their guns, there’s at least one other home where guns are lying around unsecured.

What I really like about this product is its portability; in other words, if the gun is going to be transported from one place to another in a suitcase, an attache case or some other carry-all device, you can easily stick the Duo inside the same case and then get an alert if someone opens the rucksack or handbag and now has access to the gun. There have been recent media stories linking the increase in concealed-carry to a significant uptick in the number of stolen guns. These thefts don’t take place inside the home; they occur when the gun is taken away from the residence by the lawful owner who then forgets and leaves it lying around.

The good news is that Simtek has tested and certified their Duo device. The not-so-good news is they need to raise a little more dough to get the product into production and out the factory door. Pre-order a device (it’s not very expensive) and give this new company a quick start. Duo is a smart idea.

Why Do Kids Like Guns? Because They Do.


In 1972 a brilliant scholar, Marvin Wolfgang, published Delinquency in a Birth Cohort, which tracked the lives of 10,000 males born in inner-city Philadelphia in 1945, and through a combination of school records and social service data, he was able to account for the whereabouts of nearly all his research subjects between their 10th and 18th birthdays. Wolfgang was looking for patterns which might be predictive of delinquency among juveniles and serious crime among adults.  What he found was roughly one-third of his sample had some contact with juvenile authorities with half of them coming to the attention of police or social service only one time, while less than 5% of the 10,000 male teens ended up as ‘serial’ delinquents who were also the group which committed the most violent crimes.

kids              What Wolfgang did not consider (because it was beyond the scope of his work) was that most of these youthful, serial offenders were exhibiting anti-social behavior by the ages of five or six and becoming delinquents by ages seven or eight. Study after study has demonstrated that the earlier a child is referred for delinquent behavior, the greater the chance that this behavior will become chronic and lead to serious crime.

These kids become what we used to call ‘troublemakers’ in the early grades, by the 3rd or 4th grade they are often pushed into a separate class or isolated group, by the 6th or 7th grade they are considered violence-prone and spend more time in detention than learning how to read or write and by 9th grade they have effectively dropped out of school.  Marvin Wolfgang began studying the adolescent years of these kids; by that time the damage was already done.

These are also the kids who start getting their hands on guns, according to Alan Lizotte’s superb work, when they are 12 years old.  By the time they are 14-15, the gun has become a tool of their trade.  In 2014 I interviewed 61 adolescent inmates at a youth jail who were all confined for serious crimes (read: drugs and possession of guns.) Inside they were as clean and law-abiding as you could imagine, they all said they would return to ‘the life’ when they got back outside. I asked them two questions: (1). How did they get a gun? (2). Did they believe that having a gun increased risk? The answer to the first question was: ‘they around;’ to the second they all believed that their risk was much greater if they didn’t have a gun.

Of the 115,000+ fatal and non-fatal gun injuries that occur each year, young men ages 15-25, disproportionately non-white, account for two-thirds of the total, and if you subtract hunting accidents and gun suicides that are rational, life-ending decisions for the very old set, we end up with more than 75% of all gun violence being committed by a population whose propensity for violent behavior was being exhibited and witnessed before they were ten years old. If some way could be found to isolate this population from access to the most efficient consumer item which can be used to injure someone else, our gun-violence rate would fall somewhere right in the middle of the OECD.

Unfortunately, the discussion about this issue, which should be held within the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, is currently owned by whomever writes advertising copy for the NRA.  Every time a pandering idiot like Dana Loesch talks about the God-given ‘right’ to protect yourself from ‘street thugs,’ she reinforces a false narrative that has promoted gun sales for the past twenty years.

When it comes to reducing gun violence where we have failed most tragically is not keeping guns out of the ‘wrong hands’ per se, but not intervening in the lives of children who exhibit delinquent behavior at an early age, then end up in the street, then end up working for the local dope dealer, then end up at the wrong end of a gun. And for such kids, either end of the gun is the wrong end.

Want To Help Reduce Gun Violence? Support The Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance.

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A new gun violence prevention organization has just popped up and their goals are worthy of mention here and elsewhere.  The organization is called the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance (CFSA) representing a coalition of physicians, law enforcement, prosecutors, lawmakers and gun violence prevention (GVP) advocates, and its goal is to reduce gun violence committed by or against kids.

cfsa          You may recall that back in 2011, Granny Hammer got a bunch of her ass-backward Florida legislators to pass a bill that basically made it a felony for physicians to counsel patients about guns.  The case is still awaiting a final appellate decision and there are several other dumb states that have enacted similar ‘gag’ laws.  Until Docs vs. Glocks was enacted, the medical community had been fairly reticent to speak out about gun violence beyond the obvious policy pronouncements about the dangers of guns.  But one thing that always seems to happen when it comes to any kind of public policy – push hard in one direction and someone will push back.  Which is exactly what has happened when it comes to physicians and guns.

Last year eight of the most important medical associations, along with the American Bar Association, published a manifesto which declared that gun violence was a serious public health problem that required the medical community to get involved.  And many of the national and state-level organizations followed by issuing their own statements of concern, as well as supporting and sponsoring educational programs to bring the issue of gun violence to the fore.

The CFSA represents another important step towards the involvement of the medical community in efforts to reduce gun violence, because although it is a physician-led organization, its membership embraces all of the major stakeholders who have an interest in GVP. According to the CFSA website, its mission is: “To reduce senseless child unintentional deaths and injuries in every state by advancing legislation holding adult gun owners responsible and educating the public how to keep children safe if a gun is in the home.” And to that end, their intention is to advocate for stronger and more comprehensive child access prevention (CAP) laws, of which there are no laws at all in more than 20 twenty states.

Of course the response of the Gun-nut Nation noise machine to physicians getting involved in gun safety is that such activity should not be within the scope of medical activities because most doctors don’t know anything about guns.  This is the argument made by a handful of dopey doctors who run a website called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, which happens to be supported by the 2nd Amendment Foundation, get my point?

But the fact is (note use of the word ‘fact’) that physicians have played a leading role in campaigns to protect children from all kinds of injuries and unintentional harm, including efforts to mandate harnesses and seat belts, safety barriers around in-ground pools, removing lead from paint and toys, and child-resistant bottle caps to guard against the ingestion of toxic substances and meds.  I don’t hear anyone stating that doctors need to get certified as automobile mechanics before they remind parents to buckle in the kids.  Nor for that matter do they need to become lifeguards in order to ask whether there’s a fence around that pool which just got installed in a patient’s backyard.  But guns?  Nobody except a licensed gunsmith should be allowed to voice an opinion about safety and guns, right?

I am pleased to be able to spread the word about the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance and I urge you to give them your full support. Yea, yea, I know you just have to send Hillary a few more bucks this week but as regards the CFSA, you might also consider sending a donation their way.  And just in case you missed their website address up above, don’t bother to scroll up because here it is again.  Click here, check out their website and sign up for a great cause.


A New Gun PSA And A New Gun Website: You Should See Them Both.

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Let’s begin with the PSA – both funny then shocking at the very end.  It shows a young boy running into the kitchen, trying to grab a box of cereal and grabs a box of rat poison instead; then a baby lurches towards the stairs and the gate has barbed wire on top; a young infant crawls towards a fearsome-looking animal trap, and as a young girl is almost attacked by a crazed dog the voice-over says, “You wouldn’t allow any of these other risks in your home,” while a young boy opens up a drawer and yanks out a pistol, “why allow an unlocked gun?”

truths           The artfully-produced PSA is featured on a new website from the Brady Campaign which is built around the idea that a gun that isn’t safely stored in the home is a serious risk.  And the risks of letting kids get their hands on guns are explained in a series of basic statements – 15 Truths About Kids and Guns – each of which can be easily tweeted or pushed onto your Facebook page. The statements cover such topics as the link between lack of safe storage and gun injuries, high rates of gun ownership and high rates of child gun deaths, none of these or other statements being new news.  But what is new is that at the bottom of this page you can download a very detailed discussion of each of these issues, a document that is comprehensive and detailed both in content and scope.  Well done, Brady, well done.

The website is robust, full of content, works exceptionally well and can be shared to your personal social media platform for friends and a wider digital audience.  There’s also a section of Fast Facts of which I want to mention one in particular, and that’s the pages devoted to the most difficult of all subjects to discuss, namely, the issue of suicide and how to create a suicide-proof home. This page links to another web initiative from Brady that is a partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Health.

If I had a nickel for every time that a pro-gun advocate objected to the idea that using a gun to commit suicide is an act of gun violence, I’d be out on the first tee every day instead of only once or twice a week.  So let’s end this stupid argument right here and now by quoting a pretty good authority on the definition of violence, which happens to be the WHO.  The World Health Organization defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community,” which pretty much sums it up for me.  And in 2014 the intentional use of force against oneself in which the type of force was a gun claimed 21,334 lives, of whom nearly 1,000 were kids under the age of 18.

I can understand why Brady would want to launch a gun safety initiative that focuses on kids, and this site brings together just about all the credible data on gun injuries involving children and teens.  The site is aimed at parents, giving them specific information on safe storage devices, counseling options, communicating with other parents and the like.  The tone and content is also very even-handed, seeking not to preach but to inform, raising awareness by assigning responsibility free from guilt.

I do have one hope for this initiative which is in no way a criticism of what has been accomplished so far, namely, that Brady will consider expanding this effort to cover gun safety issues as they apply to adults as well.  Because all of the shocking numbers on child/teen mortality and morbidity are much more shocking when we look at the data on gun deaths and injuries for people who are no longer kids.

This site is an important step forward for Gun Violence Prevention.  Use it – link it – tweet it – get it out to as many people as fast as you can.

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