How Violent Is Gun Violence? More Than You Think.


One of the continuing debates within the GVP community is how to define ‘gun violence.’  On the one hand there are the obvious categories: homicide, assault and robbery with a gun.  Then there is suicide with a gun, which results in death but is certainly a different sort of violence than what happens when a gun is used in a criminal act. And of course we also differentiate between intentional, as opposed to unintentional acts of gun violence; indeed, the latter may not actually be gun violence, even though someone still ends up being injured by a gun.

conference-program-pic              Incidentally, outside the GVP, gun violence doesn’t exist.  As far as I know, the NRA and the NSSF have never used the term ‘gun violence’ in anything they have ever said about guns. The various pro-gun noisemakers (Emily Miller, Dana Loesch, every Republican Presidential candidate, et. al.) prattle on about violent ‘thugs’ who use guns, but it’s people who kill people, remember?  It’s got nothing to do with the gun.  Now back to reality.

Adding up all the categories above, the national gun violence toll in 2013 was 117,894.  At least this is the number published by the CDC. By the agency’s own admission, this number is understated.  Why?  Because when we count nonfatal injuries, any kind of injury, we are estimating the actual number based on reporting from a ‘representative’ group of emergency medical facilities, and sometimes the estimations are close to reality and sometimes they are not. So the death toll is close to accurate but the injury numbers may or may not be exact.  And this is a serious gap in what we know about gun violence because gun injuries are more likely to be significantly more serious than any other type of injury, unless you fall out of a fifth-story window and somehow manage to survive.

My friends at the Gun Violence Archive, by the way, have gun morality numbers which match up pretty close to the CDC.  In 2014 the CDC found 12,265 gun deaths from every type of shooting except suicides.  The GVA number for 2014 was 12,585.  Obviously, the GVA calculation for non-fatal gun injuries is far below the number recorded by the CDC, because most shootings that don’t result in a death aren’t newsworthy enough to get media mention, which is the basic source of information used by the GVA.

Which brings me to the point of this commentary, namely, the fact that by focusing on gun deaths, as opposed to overall injuries, the main issue of gun violence is obscured, if not altogether lost.  The gun violence issue is driven by homicides, particularly when a mass shooting occurs.  But in terms of how many people are seriously affected by shootings, gun mortality is the tip of the iceberg, and we need to understand the totality of the problem if we are going to map mitigating strategies that will really work.

There’s a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvesant, a.k.a., ‘Bed-Stuy, Do or Die.’ Like many Brooklyn neighborhoods, it’s beginning to experience a degree of gentrification, but the area around Fulton and Atlantic Avenues is still the Wild West.  So far this year the neighborhood has experienced 2 murders, which if the carnage continues, the yearly homicide rate per 100,000 will top 20.  But the total number of shooting victims is now 6, which will yield an annual gun violence rate of 60; further down Atlantic Avenue in East New York the GV rate could top 140 by end of year.

Numbers like this don’t describe an ‘epidemic’ of gun violence.  Frankly, I don’t know whether we have invented terminology which accurately describes this state of affairs. But there are neighborhoods all over the United States which experience gun violence at levels equal or above to what goes on in Bed-Stuy; higher even than the violence experienced in Honduras or the Ivory Coast. I’m not even sure that a word like ‘violence’ describes what is really going on.





A New Book Says That Gun Control In America Is Just As American As Guns

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There’s a reporter for the Washington Star named Emily Miller who tried last year to get a gun license in Washington, D.C., and then wrote a book about her experience which was splashed over every right-wing blog and media outlet imaginable.  She became, no slight intended, the darling of the pro-gun movement.  Around the same time a professor at SUNY-Cortland applied for a gun license in upstate New York following the passage of Andy’s SAFE Act, and he also wrote about his experience in a chapter of a new book, and nobody noticed the chapter or the book at all.

But I got news for you.  In terms of advancing and/or illuminating the current argument about guns, the book written by Miller is a dud.  It’s nothing more than an over-hyped, stupidly obvious attempt to promote the gun industry’s obsession with concealed-carry licensing, with the usual anti-Obama, anti-liberal asides thrown in as well.  About what you would expect from the Washington Times.  On the other hand, Robert Spitzer’s book, Guns Across America, is not only an important addition to the gun debate, but contains many small gems and nuggets of information that cannot be found elsewhere.

spitzer                The basic thesis of the book is that the attempt to justify the current movement towards more relaxed gun laws, supposedly based on long-standing traditions of gun ownership recognized well prior to the 2nd Amendment, is actually an exercise in standing history on its head.  According to Spitzer, who presents meticulously-researched documentation to back up his argument, if there’s anything exceptional about America and its guns, it can be found in the degree to which the ownership and use of firearms was the subject of numerous laws and regulations from the earliest times.  Moreover, the notion that keeping a gun in the home for personal defense, had little, if any basis either in practice or laws, notwithstanding the effort by Antonin Scalia to legitimize this so-called ‘tradition’ in the majority opinion written for the landmark Heller decision in 2008.

How far back on the North American Continent did gun control go?  In fact, the first gun-control ordinance appeared in 1619, when the very first General Assembly met at Jamestown, twelve years after the colony was established, deliberated for five days and produced a series of statutes including one that punished by death anyone who supplied the Indians with a gun. Virtually every colony passed some kind of ordinance regulating guns during the colonial period, including five colonies that severely restricted or outlawed  carrying of weapons on the person.  If keeping a gun at home for self defense, particularly a handgun is, according to Justice Scalia, an American ‘tradition,’  then the legal precedents that should serve to justify that tradition simply aren’t there.

Spitzer is at pains to create a balanced picture of the issues surrounding the gun debate, and in many instances describes how the gun-control community has often fostered as many mistaken notions about gun use for which the pro-gun movement is often blamed. But one place where he digs up some really choice nuggets is the discussion about the assault weapons ban.  He notes there is nothing intrinsically unsafe about AR or AK-style weapons, even though they appear to be frequently used in mass shootings and attempts to kill police.  On the other hand, he also references gun industry advertisements which clearly illustrate the degree to which it was the industry, not the anti-gun liberals, who first began promoting the nomenclature of ‘assault weapons’ in order to spur sales of guns.

Spitzer ultimately argues that, in fact, there are two traditions in America involving guns; a tradition of ownership and also a tradition of regulating guns.  He doesn’t see any contradiction between these two traditions because even the New York SAFE law didn’t prevent him from owning a gun.  In sum, Guns Across America is a really good book and you should read I when you get a chance.

Dumb, Dumber And Dumbest: The NRA Responds To The FBI Report.

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I used to think that the dumbest pro-gun writer was Emily Miller of The Washington Times, with John Lott running a close second.  But I think top honors should now go to the NRA staffer who wrote the organization’s response to the new FBI report on “active shootings,”  which covers 160 multiple-shooting incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013.  What the report shows is that the annual number of such shootings has doubled in the last seven years, and the number of victims injured in such shootings has tripled over the same period.

Actually, the NRA response wasn’t directed at the FBI per se, because the last thing the NRA is going to do is challenge the findings of a law-enforcement agency which also is responsible for approving every gun purchased by all federally-licensed gun dealers.  Rather, the NRA went after the manner in which The New York Times commented on the report because, after all, you can always rile up NRA members by mentioning The New York Times.

NYT                And what did The Times report say?  It said what the FBI said, namely, that the number and impact of multiple shootings has increased dramatically over the last seven years.  And how did the NRA respond to this information?  The writer did what NRA writers usually do when someone, anyone, makes a statement that doesn’t conform to their point of view.  The writer simply said things that are not true.  I’m not saying the writer lied; I’m saying he’s probably too dumb to know the difference between fact and non-fact.  For example.

The NRA response claims that the FBI’s numbers are inflated because “active shootings” involved three or more persons who died from their wounds, whereas the more traditional (and lower) “mass shootings” always involved at least four deaths.  But the FBI report specifically stated that the victim count in “active shootings” did not include instances in which the shooter also took his/her own life, which basically accounts for the overall difference in shootings.

The NRA, desperate to show that this report doesn’t contain any bad news for the gun community, also cited a report in USA Today which claimed that between 2006 and 2013 there were 61 mass murders claiming 286 victims in which the perpetrator used a knife, a club or some weapon other than a gun, whereas the FBI claimed that there were only 34 “mass murders” (minimum of four victims, including the shooter) in which the killer used a gun.  But the USA Today report defined a mass murder as any criminal event in which four or more persons were killed, even if these killings took place over several days or even weeks at a time.  The whole point of the FBI report was to examine episodes during which the events that took place were continuous because the whole point was to determine the correct response that should be made by law enforcement and civilians while the murders were taking place.

In other words, the NRA used a definition of multiple murders that simply can’t be compared to the definition used by the FBI in their new report.  And the reason that the NRA deliberately twisted the evidence was to obscure the most important finding of the report, namely, that in 160 multiple shootings, nearly all of which took place in public space, the number of such episodes that ended with an armed civilian using a gun was exactly – one!  The idea that good guys stop bad guys with guns is simply not true and the FBI report shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not true.  No wonder the NRA would publish such a dumb response to this report.

But here’s the real problem.  The gun control community will discuss this report at length but the discussion will remain largely among themselves.  The dishonest statements by the NRA were sent to me and to the other 4-5 million members of the NRA.  How do you reach that group with much-needed correctives for what the NRA wants them to believe is the truth?  That problem remains to be solved.


Emily Got Her Gun And Lost Her Mind

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Emily Miller

Emily Miller

So now I’ve had a chance to read Emily Gets Her Gun.  It’s actually based on columns that Emily Miller has written over the last several years for the Washington Star.  The book deals with three separate themes:


1.  The usual collection of NRA-based bromides on Obama’s not-so-secret plan to disarm America with an assist from Mike Bloomberg and other anti-gun enemies and/or liberals (which is the same thing.)  I’ve shot enough slings and arrows at the NRA that I don’t need to do it here.


2.  Interviews with various personalities who have lit up the gun world over the last few years, including politicians, persons wrongly accused of firearm violations, gun shop owners, etc.


3.  Miller’s personal odyssey through the bureaucracy that now exists for the purpose of buying and owning a gun in Washington, DC. It’s the last theme that I want to talk about in this blog, because on the one hand it’s pretty well written, on the other, it really exemplifies what’s both wrong and dangerous about the NRA approach to guns.


Miller claims that she decided to own a handgun because she was the “victim” of a “home invasion.”  That’s not true.  In fact, she admits that she was outside the house, returning from walking a dog to find a young man “coming from the house.”  A ‘home invasion’ is an event in which someone is within their residence when another person enters the home without permission with the intention of committing a crime.  Emily’s case was a simple B&E (breaking and entering) except there wasn’t even a break-in because Emily left the door unlocked when she took the dog out for a walk.


Following this untoward and admittedly scary event, Emily decided to exercise her 2nd Amendment right to purchase and own a gun.  Except she wanted to do more than that because she also wanted to exercise her “Constitutional” right to carry the gun outside her home.  I gave up counting the number of times that Miller categorically states that the Constitution gives her the “right” to carry a concealed weapon outside her home, but she is so adamant about the existence of this “right” that it must be true.


But it’s not true.  And why do I have audacity, the temerity to challenge a noted legal scholar like Emily Miller on this fundamental point of constitutional law?  Because there’s a real constitutional scholar out there named Antonin Scalia who also says it’s not true.  And where does he say it’s not true?  In the same District of Columbia vs. Heller decision that gave Emily her right to buy and own a gun in the first place: “Nothing [quoting the decision] in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places.”  In the same section, Scalia states that the 2nd Amendment does not confer unlimited rights, including the right of concealed carry.


So for the moment, like it or not, poor Emily is stuck with only being able to protect herself with her gun if an invasion of her home actually takes place.  She better hope that DC doesn’t pass a law prohibiting her from keeping a guard dog in her residence because she’ll be a lot safer with the dog around than with her new gun.  Because what’s missing from her book, given how much it’s being promoted by the NRA, is any indication that she’s planning to engage in any self-defense training at all.  She took a course in gun safety in order to qualify to own a gun, but the truth is that had the course not been required by the DC Police, she wouldn’t have bothered at all.

Less than a quarter of the 50 states require safety courses prior to the first purchase of a gun.  Not a single of the 50 states that now grant concealed-carry privileges requires self-defense firearm training.  Does Emily Miller really believe that with one trip to a shooting range in which she fired 50 rounds that she is ready to confront a home invader or a criminal out in the street with her gun?  If she is, then she’s gotten her gun but he’s lost her mind.



The Dumbest Thing Ever Said About Gun Violence – 1st Of Many.

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Emily Miller

Emily Miller

I’m going to start giving out an award for the dumbest comment about gun violence.  I’m not yet sure how often I’m going to select a winner and I haven’t yet figured out a prize.  In fact, I invite all the readers of this blog to take the poll following the text to send me their ideas.  In the meantime, the first candidate for our Dumb Award is Emily Miller, a so-called “opinion writer” for the Washington News.  She gets on our list of possible award-winners for her column last week about mass shootings, in which she accused the President of  exploiting the fear of mass shootings to push his gun-control agenda, and noted that mass shooting deaths in America are a “rarity,” accounting for no more than 18 deaths each year.

Where does she get such crazy numbers?  Miller claims she got them from the Congressional Research Service although her link only goes to other Washington Times stories that mention the CRS.  But there is another source for this data, namely, the FBI which publishes something called Supplementary Homicide Reports each year.  Like most crime data, the reports are several years behind, the most recent covering 2011.  So our good friends in Mike Bloomberg’s shop took the FBI data covering 2009 – 2011 and added newspaper accounts covering 2012 and what’s happened so far in 2013.   If I saw a copy of the report then so did Emily Miller.  But you don’t ever mention the name ‘Bloomberg’ in the Washington Times other than to remind your readers that he’s a big clown.  Clown or not, here’s what the Bloomberg report says.

Between January 2009 and the Navy Yard massacre last week, there have been 93 mass shootings, defined by the FBI as events in which 4 or more people were killed.  In calculating the number of victims, incidentally, the FBI did not include the shooters who turned the gun on themselves, nor did they include shooters who were killed by responding police.  I included both categories because, frankly, I don’t see how you could leave them out.  And the grand total of dead people three months short of five years?  498.  Now according to Miller, the total should be slightly less than 90.  It’s not.  It’s 498, which is more than 5 victims per mass shooting.

Of the more than 100 shooters involved in these events (in some mass shootings there were also multiple perpetrators,) there were 25 who took their own lives.  Deducting this number from the overall victim count still leaves more than 470, or more than 90 per year.  And there’s no reason to exclude the 8 mass shooters killed by police because they wouldn’t have been shot if they hadn’t committed a mass murder in the first place.  And here’s the big news: for Emily Miller and the entire NRA gang who go around touting the preposterous idea that an “armed citizenry” will protect us against gun violence, there was not a single mass shooting since 2009 that was thwarted or responded to by a civilian carrying a gun.  Not one.

One other important point needs to be mentioned about mass shootings.  Despite the NRA’s contention that “gun-free zones” (like schools) increase the possibility of shootings, the overwhelming number of mass shootings took place exactly where most gun violence occurs, in or near the home of the victim.  This is true in two-thirds of the mass shootings, and for overall gun violence the percentage is about the same.  And a common thread appears in many of these domestic tragedies; i.e., they happened during holiday celebrations – Thanksgiving, Christmas – which is when lots of people are gathered in the same place.

Know what?  I really wish that Emily Miller wasn’t such an idiot.  I wish her numbers were correct.  If we only suffered 18 mass shooting deaths each year that would probably mean the overall number of deaths from shootings would also be substantially lower than the 11,000 that now occur.   Now

take the poll.