It’s Time To Figure Out Why Shootings Like Fort Hood Really Occur

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Every time there’s a mass shooting we get the usual calls from the pro-gun and anti-gun groups about what we need to do to keep Americans from killing one another.  The pro-gun folks say that everyone should be walking around with a gun, the anti-gun groups say that we need tighter controls.  I don’t notice that either side can produce a shred of evidence to support their position, by the way, but that doesn’t stop them from always repeating their bromides every time a terrible shooting incident takes place.

I have a different view of the situation.  First, shootings like the one that took place at Fort Hood have the potential to be much worse if the shooter was a better shot.  At the end of his rampage Spc. Lopez was confronted by an armed MP whose presence may have made him decide to end his own life before more damage could be done.  But the reason that only three people were killed and 16 were shot but evidently will live is because Lopez wasn’t really such an expert with the Smith & Wesson pistol that he brought onto the base.  The fact is that a 45-caliber weapon is very lethal; the Army should know, it used a 45-caliber pistol as its basic service handgun for more than 60 years.  “One shot, one kill” is the way that soldiers trained with that gun.  The toll at Fort Hood could have been much worse whether everyone was walking around with a gun or not.

hoodWe also learn, however, that by the time Lopez purchased the gun on March 1st, he had already come under medical attention at the base, was being treated for depression and while he was stocking up on a sleeping pill known as Ambien, he was also stocking up on ammunition for his gun.  But according to the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, he gave “no sign” during a recent psychiatric exam that he might become violent.

So everybody’s off the hook.  President Obama and Governor Perry finally find an issue to agree about – they both want to get to “the bottom” of the problem and fix things so it won’t happen again. The Army medics did an exam and couldn’t find anything wrong.  And let’s not forget the poor gun shop owner in Killeen who probably saw his shop invaded and turned upside down by a regiment of ATF agents who were hoping they could come up with something he did wrong.

I’m beginning to wonder whether we have any idea what goes on in the brain of someone who seemingly out of nowhere pulls out a gun and tries to shoot everyone in plain sight.  Connecticut authorities spent a year trying to figure out Adam Lanza and came up with zilch. The Navy Yard shooter liked to play video games – gee, what a telltale symptom that must be. The guy who shot Gabby Giffords still hasn’t authored his best-selling book.  Come to think of it, America’s best-known mass shooter, David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam, is still sitting in an upstate correctional facility telling reporters that people shouldn’t be allowed to walk around with guns.

I suspect that as many as 50% of the people who commit gun violence each year had contact with a medical professional within the last few months before the event.  In the case of suicides, which account for two-thirds of the victims of gun violence each year, the figure is probably closer to 90%. In the case of homicides we know that more than 80% of such killings grow out of ongoing arguments and disputes that, in many cases, landed one or both of the combatants in an ER or other medical facility getting treatment for an injury that will later provoke a response with a gun.

I think it’s time for physicians and other medical professionals to create and use better tools to identify, diagnose and treat patients at risk for the improper use of guns.  There is no law that requires physicians to maintain confidentiality if a patient presents evidence that he is an immediate danger to himself or others, and what could be more immediate than someone exhibiting symptoms of depression or anger who also has access to a gun?  Let’s put aside the endless arguments about the 2nd Amendment and agree that important scientific work in this area still needs to be done.

Don’t Lie For The Other Guy – The Campaign Takes A New Twist

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dont lieThe National Shooting Sports Foundation has been running an anti-gun trafficking campaign for many years called, Don’t Lie For the Other Guy. The campaign reminds gun owners that it’s a federal crime to go into a gun shop, lie on the background check form and then give the gun you’ve purchased to someone else who can’t purchase the gun themselves.  Most gun shop owners proudly display a campaign poster like the one in this blog, and just about every gun shop owner does a good job in supporting the campaign.

But in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting this campaign has taken on a new twist because one after another, NRA sympathizers and NRA-based pundits are lying like hell for the other guy, in this case, the NRA.  What are they lying about?  The alleged cause-and-effect between shootings and the existence of “gun free” zones.  This first became the NRA mantra after Newtown, when LaPierre called for a replacement of gun-free zones in schools with armed guards, a statement he repeated after the Navy Yard.  Now we have the same nonsense being promoted in the wake of Navy Yard shooting that took place on a military installation which was “de-gunned” by an Executive Order issued by President Clinton in 1993 (although the policy had been in force at many military bases unofficially under George Bush I.)

The latest version of the lie was produced last week by none other than John Lott, whose book on gun violence was based on data that he couldn’t actually produce, so I guess we can say that he probably doesn’t know when he’s lying or not.  In any case, he went on a TV talk show and said the following about mass shootings in ‘gun-free’ zones: “With few exceptions,  they’ve occurred where guns have been banned.”  He repeated the same comments in a Fox News blog.

He’s wrong.  The FBI data on mass shootings (4 or more victims) clearly shows that two-thirds of all mass shootings occur exactly the same place where all homicides occur – at or directly nearby the home of the victim.  What a surprise, that the location of mass shootings is basically the same as the location of all shootings.  But since most gun homicides start off as drug-related crimes or domestic arguments, where else are they going to take place?  In a school?

Maybe John Lott’s not lying for the NRA.  Maybe he hasn’t looked at the Uniform Crime Reports.  After all, he only touts himself as a leading expert on gun violence.  And once you’re a self-declared expert you don’t need to look at anything.  All you have to do is keep shooting your mouth off (pardon the pun.) But if Lott doesn’t know this data he doesn’t even deserve amateur status in the argument about guns.  if he does know the data, then he’s just lying for the other guy.


When It Comes To Mental Illness & Guns, The NRA May Be Crazy Too

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In the wake of the Navy Yard massacre, the argument about gun control has shifted away from background checks and now has landed on fixing the mental health system.  This is my second blog on mental illness and gun violence and I’m going to write several more.  But here’s my latest thoughts on the subject so follow my drift.

I am an NRA-certified trainer and, as such, spent the weekend with a group of NRA trainers qualifying in a new training certification recently developed by the NRA.  Two things impressed me about the training. First was the character and caliber of the other trainers.  Many are active law enforcement or military personnel, all are ‘first responders’ and would think nothing of charging into a burning building to rescue me. Second, the NRA training course, like all NRA courses, mentions gun safety and gun responsibility on every page. Anyone out there who thinks that the “average” gun owner doesn’t know and understand the basic rules of gun responsibility doesn’t know any average gun owners and certainly hasn’t been paying attention to the endless calls for gun safety voiced by the NRA.

But when it comes to moving from rhetoric to reality, in particular the issue of mental health and gun safety, the NRA’s behavior is so at odds with their own rhetoric that they seem to be suffering from a new form of organizational schizophrenia that may only be found in the gun business and perhaps Wayne LaPierre can become an expert on this type of mental illness as well. He certainly seems to be an expert on mental health issues that lead to mass shootings, at least he never misses the opportunity to call for “fixing” the mental health system as a way to eliminate the kind of tragedy that just occurred at the Navy Yard in DC.

But here’s where the schizoid behavior of the NRA sets in, because at the same time that they call for more effective ways to identify and treat the mentally ill, they’re also try to make it impossible for medical professionals to figure out whether a patient who reports mental illness symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, is a threat to engage in gun violence at all.  Why?  Because the NRA, believe it or not, wants to prevent physicians and other medical professionals from responding to the earliest warnings about gun violence provoked by mental illness by criminalizing any attempt to discern whether a depressed or anxious patient has access to a gun.

In 2011 the NRA backed a law passed in Florida that made it a felony for any physician to inquire about the existence of guns in the home even if the patient reported symptoms of mental distress.  The rationale behind this stupidity was that such a question (not that a patient ever has to answer any question during a consultation) was an invasion of the patient’s right to privacy under the 2nd Amendment, as if the 2nd Amendment says anything about privacy at all.  In the arguments before Federal Judge Marcia Cooke, the NRA-backed attorneys rolled out their ‘slippery slope’ defense which basically says that any kind of gun regulations will eventually lead to total confiscation.  How do we know this is will happen?  Because the NRA says it will happen.

The good news is that Judge Cooke permanently blocked the legislation, but the NRA claims it will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit Court.   But while the issue meanders through the appeals process, physicians and mental health professionals in Florida and elsewhere (similar bills sat in various state legislatures waiting to see what would happen to the Florida law) will actually have the opportunity to notify both the mental health system and the requisite law enforcement authorities when and if they learn that a gun-owning patient might do harm to himself or someone else because he exhibits or admits to mental distress.  Isn’t that how we should begin to “fix” the mental health system?  Sounds fairly logical to me even though mental health expert Wayne LaPierre will probably disagree.

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