Will We Ever Learn Who’s Doing All That Shooting?

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              Last week there were two legal decisions involving guns, and each side got one win. Gun-nut Nation was given a gift by a Federal judge in West Virginia, who ruled that a law prohibiting persons under 21 from buying a handgun was a violation of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ In California, the state Court of Appeals said that a law giving personal information about individuals who bought guns could be shared with qualified gun researchers.

              No doubt, both decisions will be appealed but I’m not convinced that either of the laws that are the subjects of these rulings have any real relevance or value to the one gun issue which remains to be solved, and the issue is: what do we do to reduce gun violence which results in more than 100,000 deaths and serious injuries every year?

              The last year for which we have any data – 2021 – gives us 26,000 suicides and 21,000 homicides involving guns (I’m slightly rounding off.) We don’t have a number for aggravated assaults, i.e., non-fatal, intentional gun injuries, but this number was probably somewhere around another 70,000, give or take a thousand here or a thousand there.

              So, altogether we probably had 115,000 injuries and deaths from guns, and we only have any data on the shooters who were suicide victims, which means we don’t really know anything about how and why the other 80% of the gun-violence events occurred. It’s all fine and well to talk about the socio-economic-ethnic status of the victims of gun violence, but to refer to such information as an epidemiology of the problem is to use nomenclature which is simply not true.

              Garen Wintemute, the leading gun researcher in California who says that the ability to use personal information about gun owner represents “an important victory for science,” describes gun violence from an epidemiological perspective in published research, but what he tells us about the types of individuals who do the shooting, as opposed to the individuals who get shot, hardly qualifies his work as an exercise in epidemiological research.

              The problem is that all those intentional fatal and non-fatal injuries where someone shoots someone else happen not only to be instances of violence but are also crimes. So, first you have to catch the shooter, which happens in about half the murders and maybe one-quarter of the aggravated assaults, but then you are dealing with incarcerated individuals who aren’t about to talk to anyone except a legal representative if they talk to anyone at all.

              How do you craft laws to prevent certain behaviors when you don’t know anything about the background, the motives or the circumstances surrounding a particular type of behavior which results in the commission of a violent crime?

              We do know one thing about individuals who commit aggravated assault with a gun, which is that every one of those shootings would have resulted in a murder if the shooter knew how to shoot straight. People who want to use a gun violently don’t aim at their victim’s knee. In fact, the reason that most shootings occur with the use of hi-capacity handguns and rifles is because the shooters usually just blast away, or what the cops refer to as ‘spray and pray.’

              I have never understood why so much ink is spilled on arguing about whether a ‘mass shooting’ should be defined just by the number of people killed or should be defined by the number of individuals both wounded and killed. As far as I’m concerned, a mass shooting should be defined by the number of shots that were fired at the scene. At least such an approach would give us some idea about what was going on in the head of the shooter when he yanked out his gun.

              If my research friends in Gun-control Nation would tell the powers that be about the need to access data not just on the victims of gun violence but the perpetrators as well, perhaps we might be able to figure out some new regulations that would finally bring the awful rate of gun violence down to where it should really be.

              Last month I was involved in a collision with another vehicle, the cop showed up and interviewed for the accident report. How come we can create such data for cars but not for guns?

Want to End Gun Violence? Deal with Gun Risk.

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I have just stopped watching today’s hearing on a new gun bill that may come out of the Massachusetts legislature this year and will no doubt be signed by the Governor. Massachusetts happens to have the lowest rate of gun violence of all 50 states and also has the most comprehensive gun-control legal environment of all 50 states.

That being the case, why is a Joint Commission on Public Safety and Homeland Security holding a five-hour public hearing on a new gun bill? For two reasons. Reason Number 1: The last gun-control law was enacted in 1999 and certain developments, in particular a new ban on assault rifles and the appearance of ‘ghost guns’ are issues which need to be incorporated into laws; Reason Number 2: The Massachusetts Legislature is overwhelmingly a bunch of liberal Democrats who have no fear that a vote on gun control will hurt them in next year’s election.

The usual suspects showed up for their three minutes of testimony – this means the gun-control groups like Moms Demand Action and The Coalition to End Gun Violence, and the pro-gun advocacy group, Gun Owners Advocacy League, which claims to have 19,000 members but they must be counting everyone who ever was a member of the group.

In 2021, according to the CDC, Massachusetts suffered 247 gun deaths, of which 136 were suicides and 99 were homicides. In other words, the so-called ‘gun problem’ is really a mental health access problem, although some of the gun suicides may not have occurred if the poor victim had to figure out a more complicated way to kill himself than simply pulling the old firearm out and – bang!

As for homicides, there were also 465 deaths in 2021 from accidents involving motor vehicles, including motorcycles, but I don’t see anyone in the Legislature asking for a public hearing to talk about how the state could lower a death rate from car accidents which is 5 times higher than the homicide rate involving guns. I also don’t notice (and here’s a bit of my own editorializing) anyone on Beacon Hill saying anything about a state gasoline tax which is so goddamn low that the state has the absolutely worst, shittiest roads anywhere. Anyway, back to guns.

Even though the Massachusetts gun violence rate is lower than every other state, in certain respects the gun violence we have is no different from what exists everywhere else, namely, that gun assaults begin to appear in the late-teen, male population, which is when boys first get interested in guns.

The reason I think we see this profile everywhere in this country is because guns are accessible and younger males aren’t particularly risk-averse. That  being the case, I found it interesting that not one single legislator or speaker mentioned using the way we teach kids to be risk-averse when it comes to drugs or unprotected sex.

Both issues are taught in every public school in Massachusetts, but when it comes to violence, the approved curriculum deals only with bullying – the issue of gun risk is never raised, at least not in any formal way.

Meanwhile, teens are overwhelmed with media which glorifies gun violence – hip-hop, video, movies – which if anything, cuts down aversion to gun risk even more. And let’s not forget that video games are overwhelmingly shooting games which eliminate the gun-risk issue even more.

I once asked my son when he was a teenager how many times he had seen someone shot to death on movies or TV.

Answer: “Thousands of times.” And this conversation occurred when my son was in his 20’s, he’s now 43 years old.

I simply don’t understand how our elected officials can describe gun violence as a ‘public health issue’ and yet ignore the way we deal with other public health issues in the Bay State.

Maybe I just don’t understand what all these legislative experts understand about guns.

How Come Gun Violence Keeps Going Up?

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              I live in a tiny hamlet called Pelham, MA but I do most of my writing in an office space in Springfield. Yesterday about a mile from where I work, four people were gunned down in the street, and so far, one of them has died. It goes without saying that when the cops showed up, ‘nobody saw nuttin.’

              This shooting marks the 29th homicide in Springfield this year, which sets a new record, and so far gives the city an annual per-100K homicide rate of 18.23. 

              In 2021, the last year for which we have state-by-state homicide numbers courtesy of the CDC, the statewide rate for Massachusetts was 2.29, with only Idaho being slightly less at 2.16.  Of that statewide number of 160 homicides, 99 were caused with the use of a gun, which means that gun violence in Massachusetts was only 60% of all fatal violence, as compared to the national average which is around 70%.

              Either way, my friends in Gun-control Nation, both the advocates and the public health researchers, always point to Massachusetts as an example of how more restrictive gun laws results is less gun violence.

              What the numbers above really demonstrate, however, is that calculating gun violence based on statewide numbers simply creates an illusion as to what gun violence in the United States is really all about and how we should go about trying to reduce or (God forbid) eliminate the toll.

              The shootings in Springfield this week took place in a neighborhood known as the North End. How many people live in that neighborhood? Probably around 4,000, give or take a few. So, if you take a walk in that neighborhood, you are walking down streets where the gun-violence rate is around 600, because in fact, the North End isn’t as violent a neighborhood as the South End, which is where my office space happens to be.

              In 2020, El Salvador had the highest murder rate of any country in the world (or at least any country which attempts to count its annual homicides) with a per-100K rate of 61.8. Is it possible that there’s a neighborhood in any American city which experiences ten times the annual murders which occur in El Salvador?

              Not only is it possible, but I’ll bet that if I were to calculate the murder rate in the ten cities with the highest murder numbers in the United States, each of these cities would have at least one neighborhood which experienced homicides and gun violence with numbers that are no different from what goes on in Springfield every year.

              Why does a state like Massachusetts have the lowest rate of violence of all 50 states and yet has a city with a neighborhood which is more violent than the worst, most violent countries in the world?

              I’ll tell you why. Because one has nothing to do with the other.

              If I walk south from Springfield’s South End I can be in the adjacent town of Longmeadow which has a population of somewhere around 16,000. How many homicides have occurred in Longmeadow over the last five years? The same number as the number of homicides which have happened in Longmeadow in the last ten years, or maybe the last twenty years, i.e., none, as in zero, okay?

              Actually in 2022, someone was killed in Longmeadow in connection with a crime. The crime was reckless homicide, and the criminal was a local kid who was completely drunk, smashed a car into a tree and a female passenger in the car had her head smashed to bits.

              This is the kind of violence which occurs in towns like Longmeadow where the teenage kids drive around in new cars, smoke a doobie or two and then take their hands off the steering wheel to open a can of beer.

              Do we have very strict laws on DUI? Yep, we sure do. Does Massachusetts have the strictest gun control law in the United States? Yep, it sure does.

              And by the way, when gun violence shot up during the Pandemic, all the experts knew that the increase was caused by all the stressors of that disease, and such social pressures – unemployment, family violence – were much worse in ‘underserved’ neighborhoods which is why shootings kept happening at an accelerated rate.

              So, now there’s no Pandemic but gun violence rates are even worse. Oh well, oh well.

Will The New ATF Regulation Reduce Gun Violence?

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              Now that the gun-control community has been blessed by Joe Biden, which means he expects every, single member of that community to  vote for him next year, I’m going to take it upon myself to pay close attention to what Gun-control Nation says about gun violence which continues unabated even though the last explanation for the 125,000 fatal and non-fatal gun injuries which occur every year – Covid-19 – seems to be fading away.

              So, today I received the email from Everytown asking me for some dough (which I give them every year, btw) and I notice that the ATF has evidently proposed a new standard for defining when someone who sells a gun is actually behaving like a gun dealer and therefore needs to possess a federal gun license and run a background check every time he or she wants to sell a gun.

              It used to be that someone had to register as a gun dealer depending on the number of guns sold over a given period of time – usually one year. As proposed by the ATF, the new rule would scrap any definition based on the number of gun sales and simply define a gun dealer as anyone who makes a profit by selling a gun. It doesn’t matter where you sell the gun – your house, a flea market, a gun show, the Walmart parking lot.  If you sell a gun with the intent to making a profit, you are a gun dealer and need to acquire and use a federally issued gun dealer license, a.k.a., an FFL.

          I have actually taken the trouble to read every, single word of the 108-page ATF filing which describes the new rule. I happen to know something about being a gun dealer because I have operated licensed, retail gun shops in three states (SC, NY, MA) and over some forty years have probably sold more than 10,000 guns to 7,500 retail customers and have also exhibited and sold guns at many local, regional, and national gun shows.

              Now don’t get me wrong when I say what I’m next going to say, because I happen to support any and all reasonable and workable efforts to reduce gun violence and I also send annual contributions to all the major gun-control groups. Be that as it may, if you believe these changes in gun regulations proposed by the ATF will do anything other than increase the revenue which the ATF receives for issuing dealer licenses, then you don’t know anything about the gun business and you have little or no contact with any law-abiding individual who owns guns.

              And before I explain what I mean by what I just said, please do me a favor and to quote Grandpa, don’t ‘hock mir en chinik’ (read: argue with me) about the 2nd Amendment, because there’s absolutely nothing in this ATF proposal which has anything to do with gun ‘rights,’ okay?

              On the other hand, there’s also nothing in this new regulation that will do anything to reduce the endemic gun violence condition which claims more than 100,000 fatally and non-fatally injured Americans every year.

As long as the United States continues to be the only country which allows residents to own guns which are designed solely for the purpose of ending human life, I’m talking about the semi-automatic, bottom loading pistols made by Glock, Sig, Ruger, Smith, etc., enough of them will get stolen every year to keep a plentiful supply in the wrong hands.

              The FBI estimates that somewhere around 200,000 guns are stolen every year, and there is no federal law or regulation which requires any individual or police agency to report stolen guns to the ATF.  Some do and some don’t. But the bottom line is that these are the guns which are being used to commit gun violence, not the crummy old shotgun I sold at the local gun show for fifty bucks.

Go to a local gun show and you’ll see a bunch of people walking around who also walk around at the model train show or the computer show or any other place where they can get together with other folks who enjoy the same hobby which they enjoy and shoot the shit, have a donut and coffee, and maybe spend a few bucks.

If Everytown, Brady and other advocacy groups want to support a new gun-control regulation that will really make a difference, why don’t they start thinking and talking about a regulation to restrict the ownership of certain kinds of ‘killer’ guns rather than a regulation which imposes more useless paperwork on people who just like to buy, own, and play around with guns?

Did Hunter Biden Break the Law When He Bought a Gun?


              Frankly, I can’t blame the GOP for going after Hunter Biden with this cocked up story about how he went out and bought an illegal gun. After all, with an unemployment rate under 4% and our national security readiness being in the hands of a couple of F-35’s flying up and down the East Coast, what else do the Republic(ans) have to talk about particularly when Trump-o’s is now facing 91 felony charges with perhaps more to come?

              Now I’m not an attorney but I know a few things about laws covering the purchase of guns, because I was a licensed, federal firearms dealer for more than 40 years beginning in 1973 and during that period of time I probably sold at least 10,000 rifles, pistols, and shotguns in the gun shops I owned in three different states.

              And from what I have read about the indictment for illegal gun purchasing being ready to be brought against Hunter Biden in this case, if his lawyers can’t get him off the hook, then he’s hired lawyers who are even dumber than the bunch that have been pushing the election ‘fraud’ nonsense for Donald Trump.

              Here’s how the whole gun thing works, or at least is supposed to work.

              The United States is the only country in the entire world which regulates the private ownership of small arms based on the character, temperament, background, and legal history of every individual who wants to own a gun. In every other country which has created a regulatory infrastructure for private gun ownership, the primary consideration is based on the dangerousness of the gun.

              So, for example, we are the only country which allows private individuals to own full-auto machine guns, like the type that the guys who worked for Al Capone used to carry around. The licensing process is somewhat more detailed, and the license costs a few bucks more, but the bottom line is that anyone 21 years or older who can answer a bunch of questions that were developed by the ATF back in 1968, can walk into a gun shop and a few minutes later walk out with whatever type of gun he or she wants to own.

              The questions which the purchaser must answer are on Form 4473, and if you answer any of these questions except the first question positively, you won’t be allowed to purchase a gun. The first question asks if the person filling out the form is the same person who will win d up with the gun. Obviously, the proper answer to that question has to be ‘yes.’

              The fifth question reads like this: “Are you an unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?” If you answer that question with a ‘yes,’ the dealer can’t sell you a gun because under federal law, a drug addict is considered too dangerous to own a gun.

              Evidently, when Hunter Biden went into a gun shop in California in 2019 to buy a gun, he was ‘struggling’ with narcotics, whatever that means. He hadn’t been arrested for a crime related to his narcotics problem, he also wasn’t being investigated by the cops for selling drugs. So, he answered the question with a ‘no’ and after all his answers were verified by the FBI, he became the legal owner of a gun.

              At some point later on, a friend or a relative took the gun, threw it into a dumpster and that was the end of Hunter’s gun-owning career. And this sequence of events, as I have described it, is being considered as the basis of a federal indictment with a penalty of – ready? – ten years in jail?

              I have a sneaky feeling, and maybe I’m wrong, that Merrick Garland is letting this incredibly stupid case go forward for two reasons. Reason #1: He doesn’t need someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene demanding his impeachment because he’s covering up this serious crime. Reason #2: He knows that if the case does wind up in court, that no jury will convict Hunter of anything involving the purchase of a gun.

              Back in 2014, the Supreme Court heard a case in where a guy bought a gun which he then legally transferred to his uncle but said on the 4473 that he was buying the gun for himself. The Court decided that the initial buyer, a guy named Abramski, had violated the law because even though he made sure that his uncle was entitled to own the gun, he lied when he answered the initial 4473 question with a ‘yes.’

              So here we have an entire regulatory system designed to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ and yet the regulations are so screwed up that nobody really knows what’s right and what’s wrong. Each year, federal prosecutors receive roughly 500 referrals of instances when someone lied on a 4473 form. The DOJ says that roughly 300 cases are filed, but they don’t even bother to keep records on how many of those cases actually wind up in court.

              In other words, what we have here is bullshit from end to end, and if the GOP believes that the case against Hunter Biden can be used to replace the noise being made about when and for how long El Trump-o may go to jail, they better come up with another headline pretty quick.

Everytown Takes on the ATF and Gets It Wrong.


              When the Pandemic began its relentless spread in 2020-21, there was also a serious uptick in shootings. Of course, everyone knew ‘for a fact’ that the two trends were in some way or another related. 

              And the assumption that there was a link between Covid-19 and gun violence was obvious: more and more people were buying guns.

              Now the fact that there was never one, single study which attempted to figure out the provenance of all those guns that were used in shootings during the months when the Pandemic raged, didn’t in any way make any of the experts mention the possibility that maybe, just maybe we were looking at coincidence without any connection between illness and gun violence based on cause.

              That was then, this is now. And now we find that even as the Pandemic appears to be fading, gun violence, particularly multiple shootings in the same place at the same time seem to be going along at full speed.

              So now who do we blame? We get the answer from the people who do research for Everytown, and have just published their findings right here. And what they have found, or at least they believe they have found, is that the nonending cycle of gun violence can be connected to what goes on inside the retail stores where guns are sold.

              Everytown sums it up like this: “Dealers play an important role in stopping the flow of guns from legal to illegal markets. Understanding who is licensed to manufacture and sell guns is vital to ensuring licensed gun dealers play their part in building safe communities.”

              That’s all fine and well except for one little thing, which is nowhere in this entire article do we learn the connection between all those gun dealers and all the guns which wind up being used improperly or illegally in the street. Since every gun first moves into the hands of someone who can pass a background check, obviously something is going on inside those 78,000-gun shops which is making it easier for the ‘bad guys’ to get their hands on guns.

              In fact, there aren’t 78,000 locations which are selling guns. The federal firearms license simply allows the license-holder to receive guns from other federal licensees. In order to resell those guns to any Tom, Dick or Harry who wants to buy a gun, the federal dealer must at the very least have the federal license approved by the CLEO (chief law enforcement officer) in his jurisdiction, and he must also meet whatever licensing requirements are imposed in his location to operate any kind of retail establishment.

              I operated a retail gun shop in Massachusetts from 2001 until 2015. Not only did I need to secure a federal firearms license, but I also needed to be issued a state dealer’s license, along with a town license to operate a retail store, and an approval both from the police chief and the town government which issued zoning permits.

              Now Massachusetts happens to be a state which imposes all kinds of regulations on every aspect of commercial behavior. When you get down South or out to the Mountain States, the attitude towards small retailers and guns is more laissez-faire. But I am still waiting for the first attempt by any of the so-called gun research groups to try and figure out what that awesome number of 78,000 federal licenses really means.

              The fact is that most guys who hold a federal license are collectors and hobbyists who like to buy, own, and play with guns. The same gun that would cost me $500 in a retail shop will run me about $350 or even less if I used my license to buy that gun direct from a wholesaler or from the factory where the gun was made.

              The gun industry doesn’t like me using words like ‘hobbyist’ to describe the people who buy their products, because the industry is heavily invested in promoting the idea that everyone should keep a gun handy under the pillow because you never know when some ‘bad guy’ will try to crash through your back door.

              But I can tell you from my own experience selling more than 15,000 guns to customers over the 25 years I owned retail shops in three states, that most of the buyers bought guns simply because they liked guns.

              Why do you think that women buy shoes? They like shoes. Men like guns, okay?

              Which brings me to another issue, one of many, which the Everytown researchers just don’t get. In this respect I’m talking about the vaunted time to crime data assiduously collected by the ATF, which is then utilized to figure out which dealers are selling guns, as we say in the trade, out the back door.

              What the article says is that “the shorter the time to crime, the more likely it is that the gun was purchased with the intent of being used in a crime.”

              But the ATF calculates time to crime (TTC) from the date that the gun is first sold to the date that the ATF receives a tracing request on a gun picked up by the cops. And since most gun shops have an inventory which is comprised of 50% used guns, the TTC calculation made by the ATF has no relationship to reality at all.

              One more issue and then I’ll sum up. The researchers claim that more than 10,000 guns disappear from gun shops every year. The result? “This amounts to a rate of 28 guns per day likely moving from legal to illegal markets where they can be trafficked to be used in crimes.”

              Now in fact, there is absolutely no data which can be accessed to connect guns which are solen or lost from gun shops to guns that are used in crimes. But the fact that the Everytown researchers assume that guns which are ‘lost’ end up in the street, tells you how much these researchers know about how the ATF operates and how it regulates the commerce in guns.

              When a dealer is inspected by the ATF, he must supply full and complete paperwork to show the movement of every single gun in and out of his shop – where the gun came from, to whom it was then sold. If the dealer is unable to produce the requisite paperwork, he must call the lady in ATF’s Atlanta office who runs the ‘missing-stolen’ list and report the guns.

              When I was inspected in 2014, I could not produce the paperwork on 3 guns which were no longer in my shop. Were these guns stolen? Had I sold them to ‘persons unknown?’ Not a chance. I simply couldn’t dig up the requisite 4473 background-check forms (out of the several thousand that were inspected by the ATF inspection team), and I had forgotten to list the transfers in my Acquisition-Disposition book. Big, friggin’ deal.

              Talking about paperwork, when my inspection was concluded, I received a notice that the inspectors had found more than 800 mistakes in my documentation, which meant that I was facing a permanent suspension of my dealer’s license. Under the GCA68 law, which created the current regulatory authority of the ATF, each of those mistakes constituted – ready? – a felony for which I could be given serious jail time.

              Know why the ATF found more than 800 mistakes in my paperwork?  Because every week we received 20- 30 guns from the same wholesaler who had been in business for 50 years and had been inspected numerous times by the ATF. So, when the guns came into my shop, I abbreviated the name of the wholesaler to save some time because otherwise I would have spent all day filling out the stupid A&D form instead of selling guns.

              The ATF didn’t bother to discipline me for my serious failure to follow the rules, because they knew that if I showed up in court to be sentenced for my egregious failure to obey the law, that the judge would shut the case down even before it would begin.

              How does Everytown want you to understand the lack of regulatory energy represented by the slipshod methods of the ATF? Here it is: “In sum, the frequency of violations and the rarity of inspections allow the possibility that thousands of dealers are violating federal gun regulations each year without any corrective action by the ATF.”

              To quote Aesop – the mountain roars and out comes a mouse.

              Much of the Everytown report appears to be based on research that was done and published by the ATF back in January and February of this year. Back in 2015, the Center for American Progress released a 200-page report which proposed that the ATF become a division under the FBI. Many of the recommendations in that report can be found in this new Everytown iteration as well.

What I find interesting about both of these documents is that in neither instance did the individuals involved in preparing these reports bother to interview one single gun dealer. Not one.

How do you conduct a detailed study about the activities of a regulatory agency without spending one second talking to the people whose business activities are the sole subject of what that agency exists to regulate and control?

If the SEC conducted a detailed study on how the financial industry conducts its business affairs, it would never dare publish such a work without first asking representatives of various financial institutions to review what they were going to say.

But this is the gun business, and it is standard operating procedure for this particular industry to be studied and discussed by so-called research experts who know absolutely nothing about the gun business at all.

Should Doctors Talk to Patients About Guns? Depends What They Say.


              Because of the importance of this issue, this comment is twice as long as my usual column posted on this page. Please give yourself a few extra minutes to read the entire column and responses eagerly expected and will be published as they come in (anonymously if you prefer.)

Back in 2011, the NRA got a law passed in the Gunshine State (Florida) which had the potential to criminalize doctors who warned patients about the risk of owning guns. The law sent shockwaves through the medical profession because the law potentially allowed non-doctors to set the terms for how physicians discussed medical issues with their patients, a practice which medicine fought long and hard to abolish more than one hundred years or so ago.

              The truth is that most physicians rarely raised the gun issue with their patients and the NRA’s promotion of this challenge to medical practice and authority was nothing more than a clever campaign to increase their public following and raise a few more bucks.

              That’s what you do when you’re a non-profit operation, which has been the status of America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ since the NRA was founded in 1871. You look for clever ways to increase public awareness about your existence, no matter whether that awareness has anything to do with reality or is just a clever advertising campaign.

              As the Florida gag law, a.k.a., Docs versus Glocks, made it way through the court system until it was finally thrown out in 2017, it also gave birth to a movement within medicine to promote more discussions and counseling between doctors and patients about the risks of guns. This took the form either of various medical societies issuing pronouncements about gun violence or attempts by medical groups to develop narratives which could be used in discussions about guns with patients, or both.

              Declaring gun violence to be a ‘public health problem’ was all fine and well, but in advancing strategies to respond to the problem, the various medical societies found themselves promoting all the usual gun-control laws (safe storage, universal background checks, etc.,) as if having an M.D. degree somehow gave them more or better license to pronounce on legal responses to reduce gun violence, which it does not.

              The role of the physician is to identify threats to health, figure out a medical response to the problem, and then get this response accepted and utilized by society at large. This is what every physician pledges to do before practicing medicine, a pledge which happens to be stated in the Hippocratic Oath.

              So, having decided that the proper response to gun violence was the adoption of certain legal procedures and regulations which have nothing to do with medicine at all, the medical profession then began to instruct itself on the best ways to persuade their patients to follow gun-control laws.

              Unfortunately, when doctors began to ramp up concerns about talking to their patients about guns, particularly after the Florida prohibition on medical gun counseling was thrown out, they discovered that most of their colleagues were reluctant and/or unable to conduct such clinical discussions, because they didn’t know much of anything about guns.

              Here’s an example of a recent attempt to educate doctors on guns, a curriculum developed by physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to teach new physicians – medical residents – what they need to know about guns and how to discuss risks to health with patients who own guns.

              The curriculum used in this training exercise is built around a series of ‘discussions’ between clinicians and a patient, Chris, who is a 35-year old married to Sam, and together they have a 4-year old son. They have two shotguns and a handgun in their home.

              The clinical encounters require that the clinician ask a series of questions about guns, including whether or not the guns are locked or safely stored, whether anyone in the home is suffering from depression, and whether the patient is aware of various laws which exist to help reduce gun risk, in particular laws which allow individuals to seek court orders for the removal of guns, known as ERPO (Extreme Risk Protection Orders) or ‘red flag’ laws.

              The treatment scenarios present the medical learners with narratives that can be used to discuss the various issues, along with taking care to always address the problem in non-judgmental ways, and how to respond if the patient exhibits any degree of anger or resistance when asked to talk about guns.

              Obviously, it is too early to determine whether such clinical encounters will have a positive impact on gun violence in the patient community which MGH serves. Nevertheless, I find these scenarios not only to be entirely insufficient when it comes to the medical reaction to gun risk, but the scenarios do not even follow from the most significant evidence-based research on gun risk, a protocol which physicians are supposed to follow in developing treatment practices to any medical risk or disease.

              The medical risk represented by guns was definitively stated in two articles published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found a significant health risk from guns in the home. The articles did not qualify guns as to whether they were safely stored, or what types of guns were found in the home. The research simply stated unequivocally that guns represent a significant medical risk (homicide and suicide) and no serious medical researcher has ever denied the validity of this work.

              In the subsequent years since those articles appeared, there has not been one evidence-based study which shows any change in gun violence rates either through safe storage, or the other gun-control laws which have appeared on the books. Indeed, the studies which argue that states with more gun laws experience less gun violence do not, as a rule, compare violence rates before and after the laws were passed, because if they did, it would turn out that for every state which experienced a decline in gun violence after a gun-control law was passed, another state experienced an increase in gun-violence rates following the passage of a new law.

              The United States is the only country in the entire world which allows its residents to own and carry guns which are designed solely for tactical purposes (‘tactical’ being a polite way of describing the shooting of one person by another) and it is the existence of these guns –bottom-loading, hi-capacity, semi-automatic pistols chambered for military-grade ammunition – which is the reason we suffer from a gun-violence rate not found in any other advanced nation-state.

              If the medical community knew anything about guns – which they don’t (MGH teaching curriculum notwithstanding) they would address this threat to public health in the only way which it should be addressed, i.e., restrict the use and ownership of those highly-lethal, tactical guns.

              There is precedent for such a strategy by the way, which has been lawful procedure since the first federal gun law was promulgated in 1934. This law defined full-auto guns as too dangerous for commercial sale unless the buyer underwent a serious and prolonged review by both local and federal cops. A prospective buyer also could only purchase such a gun from a dealer who received clearance to sell such weapons, and there could be no personal transfer of such guns.

              Know the last time someone was killed in an assault where the attacker used a full-auto gun? Try 1947 or 1948.

              When the 1934 law was first proposed, the Attorney General, Homer Cummings, wanted handguns to be regulated in the same manner as machine guns were treated under this new law. The law was eventually passed without defining handguns as too great a risk for normal commerce and trade, but what’s stopping us from promoting this strategy again?

              And by the way, the fact that a ban on tactical handguns might be difficult, if not impossible to achieve, should not be the defining criteria for determining what physicians say and don’t say to patients about guns. Since when should physicians define health risks based on the vagaries of regulations and laws?

              If anything, the fact that our laws permit access to health threats of various kinds (e.g., tobacco) is all the more reason why physicians need to be particularly aware of how and what should be said to patients about the risk of legally acquired guns.

              Frankly, I am sick and tired of all these well-meaning physicians and public health professionals who honestly want to see this country no longer suffer the wholesale slaughter of our population with the use of guns but can’t bring themselves to promote or even mention the one, basic strategy that would bring gun violence to an end.

              And that strategy is to get rid of the guns whose use is responsible for most of the gun violence, or at least make the ownership of such weapons as highly regulated and controlled as we did with full-auto guns in 1934.

              To that end I am shortly going to announce the formation of a national organization which will first attempt to ban or tightly regulate semi-automatic handguns in various states, and as this effort gains traction, to begin pushing for a mandatory national buyback of such guns.

              I estimate that such a buyback would cost a minimum of $15 billion, or maybe $20-$25 billion at most. It is currently estimated that the bill for gun violence is currently around $300 billion every year.

              A one-shot payment of $20 billion to save 40,000 lives every year is chump change – wouldn’t you agree?

The Best Gun Message – Both Ways!

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              I have been connected to the gun business in one way or another for sixty years. And during that time, I have read or heard just about everything and anything which has been written or spoken about guns.

              But when it comes to a narrative which can be used better by both sides in the gun debate, the hat pictured above takes the cake.

              Think about the wording and images on that hat for a minute, okay? Think about how we have Donald Trump connected to God and guns as a way of promoting his 2024 Presidential campaign.

              But then turn it around and think about how even the most conservative religious leaders can’t find anything positive about mass shootings committed by using AR-15 guns.

              As we get into the 2024 political season, which gets heated up around Labor Day, it’ll be interesting to see how the gun issue plays out.

              On the one hand we have Joe saying something about an assault weapons ban in just about every speech.  On the other hand, all the GOP candidates, both the two or three real candidates plus all the fakes, aren’t about to say anything about guns which doesn’t embrace the Godly blessing and Constitutional ‘right’ to armed, self-defense.

              I know the previous paragraph sounds like it came right out of a standard Eisenhower (‘on the one hand this, on the other hand that’) response to every question asked in a press conference, but I don’t know how else to describe the argument between Gun-nut Nation and Gun-control Nation when it comes to what we should or shouldn’t do about guns.

              Now that the Supreme Court has legitimized the idea that anyone with a clean record should be able to walk around the neighborhood with a Glock or a Sig hooked onto their belt, the basic argument from the pro-gun side of the table boils down to ‘let’s leave well enough alone.’ The other side of the table, the gun-control side, wants to see more laws passed to regulate guns, even though, btw, laws regulating how law-abiding gun owners use their guns has never been shown (public health so-called ‘evidence-based’ research) to have any real impact on gun violence rates at all.

              But it occurs to me that the Trump hat could actually be used to spread a powerful message by my friends in Gun-control Nation, assuming they are really looking for a way to promote a gun-control strategy that could actually work.

              What my friends in Gun-control Nation need to do is post a picture of that hat all over the place to remind everyone that a vote for Trump is also a vote for mass shootings and an unacceptable among of gun deaths.

              The picture should not only be posted on the websites of gun-control groups like Brady and Everytown but should be adopted by the Democat(ic) National Committee to be used for lawn signs and banners all over the place.

              Trump wants to sell himself as a big, tough guy who believes in God and guns? I can’t see how that narrative will get him a single vote more than the votes he already has.

              Which means he needs to find votes from voters who may not be thinking about mass shootings when they cast their ballots on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.

              This picture is exactly the reminder they will need.

Why Do (Some) Americans Buy Guns?

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              I have never understood how my friends in public health do research on gun violence when they don’t know anything about guns.  None of them are gun owners, none of them hang out with gun nuts, none of them are members of the gun industry’s trade group, NASGW, none of them go to the big gun shows, or the little shows, for that matter.

              Meanwhile, every time that a public health researcher publishes some research on gun violence, there is also a footnote about how the work is being done to help develop more effective approaches to dealing with guns.

              Would the SEC publish a new regulation covering the stock market without first passing it by Merrill-Lynch?  They wouldn’t dare.  Would the FDIC send out a new notice about banking rules without first consulting Bank of America or Chase?  Ditto.

              The most incisive analysis that public health and other gun-control researchers give us to explain how and why 300 million or 400 million guns are floating around America in private hands is the answer to the question asked in every, single survey conducted by Pew, RAND, Harvard, Hopkins, and everyone else: Why do you own a gun? 

              The survey respondents, if they are gun owners, are asked to choose between the following answers: (1). self-defense, (2). hunting (3). sport shooting.

              And the headline for these surveys is that Americans are increasingly buying and owning guns to protect themselves from whatever they believe might be a threat to them.

              Whereupon the researchers always note that violent crime has declined by half over the last twenty or so years, which only goes to prove that when gun owners tell you why they buy guns, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

              So, if you are trying to figure out how to talk to gun owners about the risks represented by their guns, how do you come up with an effective message when the population you are trying to reach doesn’t even know the real reasons why they like guns? 

              You don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t apply to the CDC or the Joyce Foundation for another research grant that will enable you to conduct the same survey in another couple of years.

              That all being said, and I have chastised my public health friends many times for their lack of knowledge about the industry which they want to regulate in more effective ways, I have just finished reading a remarkable study which sheds what I consider to be the most penetrating and profound insights into the contemporary gun-owning mentality, and you can download a copy of this research right here.

              The article is the handiwork of three faculty members at Oregon State’s College of Business, who conduct research into a mental and marketing mode known as ‘consumer responsibilization,’ which their discipline defines as “a moralizing, neoliberal governance process that leverages market logic—free choice, rationality, and individual responsibility—to shift responsibility for addressing social problems from the state to the individual, and, in so doing, create a responsible consumer.”

              Now if that hasn’t been the basic marketing strategy adopted and promoted by the gun industry for the past forty or so years, I don’t know a better way to describe why and how this industry has managed to compensate for the decline in hunting over the same period of time. In 1975, Americans bought 14 million hunting licenses. In 2015, Americans again bought 14 million licenses which allow them to go out in a field and take a whack at Bambi’s rear end.

              The population of the United States in 1975 was 214 million. In 2015, the number was 325 million.  The same number of hunting licenses were sold to a national population which has grown by 50 percent(!) over those forty years.

              Meanwhile, anyone who wants to see how the gun industry has reacted to the shift in gun owning culture and consumer preference doesn’t need to conduct an expensive, national survey on the internet or by phone. All you have to do is take a look at the annual report covering gun manufacturing published by the ATF and you’ll see the shift from hunting to armed, self-defense right there.

               I’m not going to analyze this repot from Oregon State University in detail, except to say that what it captures in brilliant clarity is the degree to which the decision by a consumer to purchase a consumer product known as a ‘gun,’ has many nuanced, variables attached to that decision which go far beyond whether the gun is being purchased for self-defense or sport.

              Someone who walks into a gun shop to buy a gun is no different than someone who walks into a boutique to buy some jewelry or an extra pair of shoes. Our economy is the world’s largest because so much of what represents economic activity results from the purchase of goods and services that we really don’t need.

              You don’t need to carry a gun in order to get to work. You need a car. You don’t need a gun in order to make the little brat a lunch for school. You need bread, some peanut butter, and some jam.

              If Gun-control Nation is ever going to convince the other side that guns first and foremost represent a risk rather than a benefit, they need to understand why gun owners buy guns and that understanding can be gained in this masterly piece of research.

Does ‘Safe Storage’ Reduce Gun Violence?

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              So, yesterday the wife and I were taking a drive in the country, and we passed the billboard pictured above on Route 22 just outside of Pittsfield, MA. The number of daily suicides committed by using a gun is actually somewhat above 70 such events this past year, but I think you get the point.

              Because Route 22 in this area is a long-time favorite for hunting deer, plus the towns tend to be rural villages where lots of residents engage in outdoor sports, this billboard is on a road which gets a lot of traffic from people who own guns.

              The billboard is sponsored by a Brady in a partnership with the Ad Council, and is described in a website called End Family Fire, which covers what is referred to as “a shooting caused by someone having access to a gun from the home when they shouldn’t have it.”

              The website is basically a promotion for what is referred to as ‘safe storage,’ which means that all guns located in a home should be locked or locked away. This idea of safely storing guns has become the nonplus ultra narrative for the gun-control movement, the idea being that getting rid of guns is a violation of the 2nd Amendment but keeping guns away from kids or people suffering from mental distress will help bring gun violence numbers down.

              This whole idea of gun owners being more ‘responsible’ or behaving in a ‘safer’ way with their guns is about as stupid and devoid of reality as any idea the gun-control movement has ever come up with to deal with the 125,000 injuries and deaths suffered every year by Americans who shoot themselves or get shot by someone else with a gun.

              One way or another, I have been involved in the gun business for more than 60 years. During that time, I have probably met and talked to more than one-thousand-gun owners, and that’s a minimal number by far. I have also owned retail gun shops in South Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts, so my knowledge of how gun owners think about their guns and how they behave with their guns is pretty deep and wide.

              I have never met a single gun owner who didn’t understand that bringing a gun into their home represented a serious risk. But for all kinds of reasons, having a gun handy is a risk that gun owners are willing to accept.

              Does the acceptance of gun risk make these gun owners behave in an unsafe way? No. It simply reflects the degree to which most of us accept all kinds of risks in our daily lives. When was the last time I stopped for a yellow light? When was the last time I stayed on my diet for more than two consecutive days?

              Do I know that by walking out of my house and leaving a loaded gun in the top drawer of my clothing chest or my desk that I am creating the possibility that someone will ultimately end up doing something terrible with that gun? Of course, I know that, and I try my damnedest to always lock all my guns away.

              But I’m human. Sometimes I’m careless. Sometimes I forget. So, telling me that I should always lock my guns away is preaching to the converted. Except sometimes, even the most ardent converts don’t listen to the sermon, okay?

              Incidentally, of all the advanced (OECD) countries, the United States ranks about the same as five or six other countries in terms of the overall suicide rate. None of these other countries, places like Sweden, Belgium, Austria) have anywhere near the number of privately-owned guns that we possess, and Japan, with a suicide rate almost exactly the same rate as our rate, has a civilian population which is totally and complete unarmed.

              There is only one way to reduce gun violence to an acceptable (read: zero) level, which is to get rid of the types of guns which are used in most of the intentional shootings that occur every year. Yesterday, 23 people were shot and one killed when gunfire erupted at a Juneteenth celebration held at a strip mall in Willowbrook, IL.

              Think this wouldn’t have happened if the guns that were shot off had been safely stored?

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