Category Archives: Violence and Guns

Who shot first?

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No, this is not about that.

I believe it is true that for decades, shooters and politically violent people (two overlapping categories) in the US were right wingers, almost always. Case in point: the white supremacists who have now all been handed (a little bit of) jail time for emptying a pistol into a crowd of protesters at a #BLM rally outside a police station in Minneapolis (and yes, they were white supremacists).

I’ve also always believed that one of the reasons the right wing has the privileged luxury of hating any kind of sensible gun law and regulation reform is because they know this. They know that they are the ones with the guns, and the libtards are unarmed.

I have no opinion on what happened today in Alexandria, Virginia, where someone opened fire on a group of Republican members of Congress playing softball. I don’t know if this was personal, political, or just “well, he was mentally ill” (I’ll leave it to the anti-ableist language mavens to rewrite that sentence and take it out of quotation marks).

But, now, suddenly, things are a little different, no matter what happened in Alexandria.

Killers with guns intent on mass slaughter are no longer just killing elementary school children. They are also killing Republicans in Congress! Yay! Maybe now Republicans in Congress will realize how the rest of us are feeling, and do something about it!

Sorry the guy got shot, though. At least he will make a rapid recovery, according to a Tweet by Fearfull Leader. The ideal scenario would have been if the shooter was a really bad shot and only hit inanimate objects.

A letter from the organization “States United To Prevent Gun Violence“:

States United to Prevent Gun Violence and our 32 state affiliates are deeply saddened that our elected officials, their staff and Capitol Police detail experienced the horrific mass shooting this morning – joining the unfortunate class of 33,000 Americans who die and 81,000 Americans injured by gun violence every year. This shooting targeting our respected elected officials is a resounding reminder that even a setting filled with the most highly trained and alert “good guys with guns” is no match the lethal and overwhelming firepower of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the hands of a mass shooter – the same weapons of war used in 28 mass shootings since the massacre of 26 children and school teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School 4 years ago.

It is unacceptable that law enforcement are forced to confront weapons of war in the hand of civilians in their line of duty. It is worrisome that Congress is, today, considering passing a bill that will deregulate silencers – the very instruments that hinder police from identifying locations of shooters – a federal regulation that was designed to prevent ambushing of police. Our Congress needs to stand up to the gun lobby once and for all and ban sales of weapons of war to civilians and say no to deregulating silencers.

Sincerely,

Julia Wyman


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What YOU can do about gun violence

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Why you have to do something about guns

This message is primarily for those living in the United States. In the US, we have an outdated Constitutional amendment that has been interpreted by many, including the courts, in a way that hampers effective legislation to address what is clearly a major problem with the proliferation and use of firearms in inappropriate ways. We are frequently reminded of this by the regular occurrence of mass killings such as the recent event in Oregon. But really, that is a small part of the problem, numerically. I lay out some of the numbers below, and address some of the arguments that regulation of guns should be absent or minimal. We have another problem as well, one that is paralleled in many other areas of policy. Special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, through pressure and campaign financing, control much of the Congress.

Other countries have addressed their gun violence problem effectively. We can too. But in order for that to happen, this has to happen:

1) The specious arguments against gun regulation have to be called out for what they are, and ultimately, ignored.

2) Citizen pressure on our elected representatives has to be increased significantly.

3) Organized efforts against the gun industry and the gun lobby have to be supported.

Your role as a citizen is critical. There are three steps you can take. Here, I’m asking you to take one of them, the one that requires the least effort and would likely have the largest impact. First, the other two. You can learn more about the gun problem, by reading this post to the end, and reading other material. After that, don’t let the gun supporters off easy when they pull out their arguments. Tell them they are wrong, and why. I understand and respect the fact that most of you are not going to do this, but some of you may be inclined to do so, and I thank you for that. Another idea is to check your investments (like your 401k) to see if you are supporting the gun industry. If so, see if you can fix that. You can find information about that here.

The easy step you can take, and likely the most effective, is to send a note right now to your representative in Congress. I’m told (see this) that a written letter delivered by the US Post Office has a significantly larger impact when it arrives on the desk of your Congressperson than an email (or tweet or a signature on a petition), so do please spend the stamp and do that if you can. But an email is good too, and if that is all you have time for, please do it.

Write your own note, but here are a few suggestions.

Write your Senators.

You have two US Senators. Find out who they are and get their contact details here. Usually there is a form to fill out. I suggest you say something like this:

Dear Senator,

I am a voter living in your state, and you represent me in the US Senate.

Firearms have become one of the most significant sources of injury and death in the United States. Yet Congress has done little to address this problem. We have made cars and toasters safer with sensible regulation, but have not done so with firearms.

I am writing you to urge you to take action to address this problem. Also, please tell me what you have done so far and what you plan to do in the immediate future.

Sincerely,

your name here

Write your representative in Congress

You have one representative in the US House. Find out who that is here. Send that person a note as well. An example:

Dear Congressperson,

I am a voter living in your district, and you represent me in the House of Representatives.

I am writing to ask what actions you have taken to reduce gun violence and deploy sensible regulations of firearms. Also, what actions do you plan to take in the near future?

Gun violence has become one of the most serious problems we face in this country, including massive numbers of youth suicide. Yet, Congress has failed to act effectively to address this problem. I urge you to to do so.

Sincerely,

your name here

Read the rest of my post if you want more background before writing the notes. Or, just do it if you don’t feel the need to do so. Ask your friends and relatives to write their reps. Ask your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and your buddies on Instagram and Pinterest to help out.

Gun morbidity and mortality rivals other sources

When people talk, especially in social media, about this or that alleged dangerous thing (pesticides, nuclear radiation wafting from Fukushima to California, failure to purge, vaccination) it is very rare that Godwin’s Law comes into play (the mention of the Nazis or Holocaust to eventually come up). But quite often someone will make the comparison between the deadly issue of concern and car deaths. “More people die in their cars than by eating GMO corn,” someone will say.

Indeed, we see reference to automobile deaths as a misleading rhetorical device to diminish the importance of firearm fatalities. I’ll quote from Briebart: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) final report on death statistics for 2013 shows there were 35,369 deaths from motor vehicle accidents versus 505 deaths from the accidental discharge of firearms. That is not a typo—35,369 versus 505. Americans are 70 times more likely to die in a vehicle accident than by the accidental discharge of a firearm.”

The truth is that the average annual rate of death by firearms is currently about 32,529. About 67,000 people are injured annually by firearms in the US. So, while you were not looking, cars got safer. The annual rate of death by car has declined steadily in recent decades owing to increases safety standards, even as the rate of cars per person on the road has increased. It is about half as dangerous to ride around in a car these days than it was before aggressive implementation of safety laws, and for some groups this number has declined even more (i.e., children).

It is also true that gun related deaths and injuries have declined over time, but not by much (in recent decades) and the rates are now going back up. The reasons for the decline about 20 years ago are not entirely clear, but probably have to do with changes in crime related violent deaths. In the late 1980s and 1990s, there were major changes in the nature and character of the illegal drug trade, and major efforts to clamp down on drug production and distribution caused a significant increase in violence followed by a decrease in many communities. Murder cities (often with special names like Murderapolis for Minneapolis) emerged temporarily around that time as organized gangs changed territories and tactics. From one study:

Previous research points to several potential contributing factors including the cycling up and down of youth firearm homicides (more so than adult homicides), changes in markets for illegal drugs (particularly the crack cocaine market which swept across urban cities in the 1980s and crested about 1990), changes in juvenile arrest policies and penalties for drug-related crime in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, improved economic conditions, and an increase in community-based policing strategies and primary prevention strategies for youth, families, schools and communities

So the current situation, 67,000 injuries and over 32,000 deaths annually, being one of the major non-disease causes of morbidity and mortality in the US, especially for youth, is a mild improvement from a period of chaos a few decades ago, and the rate of injury and death is staring to climb again.

Most gun deaths are suicide (20,000 a year), followed by homicide (11,000 a year) and accident (under 600 a year). Despite the obvious importance of rampage killings such those over the last few years in Roseburg (10 dead), Charlestown (9 dead), Ila Vista (7 dead), Fort Hood II (3 dead), Washington DC (13 dead), Santa Monica (5 dead), Newtown (27 dead), Brookfield (3 dead), Minneapolis (6 dead), Oak Creek (6 dead), Aurora (12 dead), Oakalnd (7 dead), Seal Beach (8 dead), Tucson (6 dead), Manchester (8 dead), Huntsville (3 dead), Fort Hood I (13 dead), Binghamton (13 dead), most of the homicides are not random mass killings. But, since the victims of rampage killings are entirely innocent, and the killings are sudden, unexpected, shocking, and often target children, they constitute a significant part of the problem.

Anatomy of a suicide

Let’s talk about the single most important gun related problem for a moment: suicide.

Sensible gun laws can prevent thousands of gun related deaths a year. When people talk about suicide, gun owners often bring up the idea that suicide is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. Well, yes, suicide is a mental health issue, but it is abysmally incorrect to say that it is not a gun issue. Here is why.

The majority of firearms related deaths in the US are due to suicide. A recent study showed that about 20,000 people in the US die of suicide using a firearm. This is the largest single cause of firearms related death.

If a person attempts suicide by poison, their success rate is about 2.5%. Cutting and stabbing has a success rate of less than 1%. Jumping has a success rate of just under 20%.

The total amount of time from choosing to commit suicide and carrying out an attempt at doing so, on average, is incredibly short, measured in minutes. (There is obviously a large spread for this number.)

When a person attempts suicide and lives, the chances that they will attempt suicide again is very low. The rate of trying an additional attempt is about 10%. A large proportion of those who do attempt suicide change their minds and seek medical attention, or others find out what is going on and intervene, saving the person’s life.

The rate of success of suicide by firearm is about 85%. When a firearm is used there is little chance to reconsider. A large percentage of those who attempt suicide and do so with a gun probably would have gotten past this period in their lives had they used a different method. I don’t have data on this, but I suspect this is more true for younger people. Also, one could argue that people should be allowed to kill themselves. I’ve seen gun owners make this argument. However, while that may be true for some individuals, especially older ones, it is a rather cynical answer to the suicide problem and certainly does not apply to adolescence or young people.

It is probably the case that a large number of people who kill themselves with guns obtain the guns simply because they are easy to obtain. Given the short span of time between choosing to take one’s own life and carrying out such an act, it is likely that most of these guns were already in the household. It is likely that many young people who kill themselves with guns obtain a gun owned by the adults in the household, a gun that is kept unlocked with ammunition readily available, perhaps the gun already loaded.

Among those who make the strongest statements against any kind of gun regulation, based on numerous conversations I’ve had, seem to be many who prefer to keep a firearm loaded and at the ready, in a nightstand drawer or some other convenient location. In a household with younger kids, this is extraordinarily irresponsible. While it might be difficult to imagine how laws or regulations could change this extremely dangerous and selfish behavior, having such laws would allow for vigorous prosecution after the fact, and may lead to more thoughtful and safe behavior by such individuals in the long run.

But what about guns as self protection?

The most vehement and vitriolic verbiage spewed to support unfettered ownership of guns seems to come from those who live in fear of home invasions or other attacks, and feel that they require a readily available firearm to protect themselves. It is quite possible that this honestly does apply to a very small number of individuals, but that is a special case that we should find a way to handle as a society. Most people who have this view are not such special cases. Also, when one has the view that enemies can enter the home at any moment and kill you, and thus you must be protected, then one must also believe that one’s personal gun must be loaded and ready, not locked up or secured, at all times. And that is unconscionable behavior, and should not be legal.

A gun kept in your home is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in an unintentional shooting, a suicide, or by a criminal who has taken it, then to be used in effective self defense (see this. A gun can be used to intimidate an attacker, but it is not clear that this is a strategy that is more effective than other non-gun related strategies (see study below). Many call for more widespread gun ownership in order to “take down” criminals involved in random violent acts out in public spaces. But there is about one gun in the US per person, a lot of people claim to carry them around, yet these self-defense guns are almost never actually used. This is probably because criminals are non-random in their behavior, and individuals armed with legal (or illegal) firearms are rarely in just the right place at the right time. Also, when people do pull out guns and start firing them, it is not uncommon for the outcome to be something other than the bad guy being “neutralized” with no one else injured.

Claims that guns are used defensively millions times every year have been widely discredited. Using a gun in self-defense is no more likely to reduce the chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action. At least one study has found that carrying a firearm significantly increases a person’s risk of being shot in an assault; research published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that, even after adjusting for confounding factors, individuals who were in possession of a gun were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. (source)

A recent study looked at the use of firearms for self protection.

The data for the study come from information on personal contact crimes from the National Crime Victimization Survey for 2007 through 2011. They looked at cases where an offender intended to steal property.

Among 14,000+ cases just under 1% involved the use of a gun in self defense. When the incident was over, on average, 4.2% of the victims were injured regardless of how it went down, 4.1% were injured when a gun was used in self defense. In the case of an attempt to steal property, 55.9 percent of the time the property was taken overall, with a slight reduction to 38.5% when the victim used a gun, and if the victim used a self defense weapon other than a gun, 34.9% of the time the property was lost.

So, you can stop a robbery with a gun, a little. But any weapon at all has a similar success rate. And you have a good chance of being injured.

An interesting result of that study is from the literature review. The researchers found almost no good studies that would inform of the basic question that many assume the answer to: Can you really protect yourself with a gun? The assumption that we should have lax gun laws so one can defend oneself, with the cost of tens of thousands dead each year, is a rather bold and unfounded one. The study is a bit nuanced and complex, and the researchers admit that the data are insufficient to examine many important questions. From the conclusion:

…the data provide little evidence that using a gun in self-defense reduces injury. Slightly more than 4% of victims were injured during or after a self-defense gun use—the same percentage as were injured during or after taking all other protective actions. Some self-protective actions were associated with higher probabilities of subsequent injury. The reader must be warned, however, that the sample of those injured after using a gun (5/127) is really too small to warrant strong conclusions. The large majority of crime victims who are injured are injured before they take any action.

The evidence suggests that using a weapon in self-defense may reduce the likelihood of losing property during the commission of crime. However, it is not clear that using a gun is better or worse than using other weapons…

Gun culture

Having such lax laws, and a loud minority in favor of keeping those laws lax, and of course other factors, probably contribute to a sort of gun fetish among those sometimes referred to as “gun nuts.” How do you know if you are a gun nut? If you keep a loaded gun in your house, if you keep guns and ammo unlocked, if you are just a regular person with no special security requirements but have a concealed carry permit, or if you think 20,000 suicides by gun per year is not a problem related to gun regulation, then you are probably a gun nut. On occasion a gun owner sets up a trap in their home, luring burglars or home invaders known to be working in the neighborhood so they can be shot “legally.” That is of course, very rare. But if you think that is OK you are probably a gun nut. For that matter, if you think it is OK when a teenage boy, on a dare, enters a home thought to be vacant and is shot dead for it, you might be a gun nut. These are all self-justifying excuses to argue against sensible regulation of guns.

Our society as a whole pays a huge cost, greater than the costs of international or domestic terrorism, so that individuals who have this gun fetish can do more or less what they want. The benefit for this lackadaisical and protectionist view of firearms is virtually non-existent. Those who suffer from the nearly unregulated presence of so many guns are accommodating the desires of individuals who want unfettered access to toys they happen to find enjoyable, at best. At worse, our society is accommodating monsters, people who believe that carnage counted in the tens of thousands is necessary so they can be wrong about safety and wrong about security.

With our current gun laws, we are paying a very high price to support unjustified ignorance and madness.


Arthur L. Kellerman et al., Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home, 45 J. Trauma 263, 263, 266 (1998).

Branas, Charles et al. 2009. Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, 99 Am. J. Pub. Health 2034.

Fowler, Katherine ,Linda L. Dahlberg, Tadesse Haileyesus, Joseph L. Annest. 2015. Firearm injuries in the United States. Special Issue on the Epidemiology and Prevention of Gun Violence. Volume 79.

Hemenway, David, Sara Solnick. 2014. The epidemiology of self-defense gun use: Evidence from the National Crime Victimization Surveys 2007–2011. Special Issue on the Epidemiology and Prevention of Gun Violence. Volume 79.

Hemenway, David. 2004. Private Guns. Public Health 78

ADDED because it is relevant to some of the discussion below:

wholechart (1)

Hat tip

Added because it is interesting with respect to specific policies that might be implemented:


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What Does The George Zimmerman Not Guilty Verdict Mean?

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First, I want to say this to George Zimmerman and his lawyer. Stop whining. You are the one who chose to kill someone, and did so, then got away with it. It is not you who lost or who has had your life torn apart or taken away or anything like that. So stop being the damn victim. No one is going to hunt you down and kill you. That’s you, George. That’s you who hunts down and kills people. Other people, generally, don’t do that. No one is going to hunt you down and kill you or in any other way bother you. Having said that, it is true that much of the part of humanity that is aware of your existence will view you as a dangerous monster for the rest of your life, but I’m thinking that you view this as a good thing because you are the guy who hunts down and kills people. I think that is all I want to say to whiny George Zimmerman and hid Whiny Lawyer.

The big concern now is this: Black will riot in cities across the land and/or mainly whitish vigilantes will flood the streets and shoot anything with a hoodie.

For the most part neither of these things will happen. If there is one thing we’ve learned from the last few decades of changes in gun laws, sudden and dramatic events related to firearm use and abuse, etc. is that a) the brownish people never really go to the streets to kill all the whitish people and b) the gun nuts never really change what they do or the rate at which they do it. And, I’ll add c) criminals and miscreants don’t pay much attention to any of this stuff. Nothing is going to happen.

I’m not saying that there isn’t going to be change. The Zimmerman trial outcome has actually helped to galvanize the anti-gun lobby a little bit, and that lobby was already in action. If anything, this event may bring into the fold a few groups that were not already as engaged. It turns out that the youth are at constant risk of being killed or maimed in this country by older males with firearms, and that this risk applies across levels of privilege, variations in skin tone, regions of the country, urban vs. rural, and all of that.

For young people in the United States, your chance of being killed by a firearm-wielding adult male, in a fire arms accident, or by a self inflicted gunshot, is much higher than the chance of dying of any disease. Guns are the new polio. Guns are the new small pox. Guns are the new plague.

Two things are starting to dawn on the American population. First, we are realizing that the possession of handguns as a constitutionally protected right to stave off an oppressive government is a failed fantasy. Imagine having the right to free speech but everyone’s larynx is removed routinely at birth. Imagine having the right to free assembly and due process but we are locked in separate cages at the age of ten forever. Absurd ideas, aren’t they? We are guaranteed the right to stave off an oppressive government by having a right to own firearms. That worked great with the Patriot Act. The NSA … they never considered spying on American citizens because HANDGUNS. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies will never use Drones on US soil because …. hey, wait a minute …

The second thing we’ve come to realize is that guns are actually very very dangerous. For a couple of generations we’ve grown up with “bang bang you’re dead” style entertainment on TV and in movies, and I think a lot of people don’t realize what really happens when someone pulls the trigger. People don’t experience the temporary (or not) loss of hearing from the sound (especially in a closed space), the smell of the explosion that happens inside the gun, the smell of the blood that spills of the floor. When you ears start to hear again after the shots, there is the sound of the screaming or moaning or incredulous ranting (“You shot me, you shot me, I can’t believe you shot me”) followed by some sort of silence, the silence of a severely wounded person, the silence of a brooding son or daughter with a minor injury to the flesh but a permanent injury to their psyche having just been shot at by daddy, or the silence a person makes when they lie unconscious and bleeding out, or the silence of a corpse.

But now we have soldiers, many more soldiers, among us who know that guns are real and “bang band you’re dead” is not. We have an increasing awareness of an increasing number of incidents in which all the people in a school or all the people who went to see a movie or all the people who visited their candidate for Congress or some other thing suddenly experience the terror of the blasting, the smells, the screaming, the different kinds of deathly silence, and in many cases, personally experience the tearing and exploding flesh, with the lucky ones perhaps being those who are killed quickly by some guy who has expressed his constitutional right to bear arms by firing as many bullets as possible into a crowd.

The Zimmerman verdict moves us measurably closer to effective gun control. This is not the way we should be moving away from the Middle Ages and towards a Civilized World, but it is in fact the only way we seem to be moving. There will be more stand-your-ground shootings, more archaic laws, more unjust verdicts, more mass shootings, all against the background of something close to 3,000 firearm assisted youth suicides and a somewhat larger number of deadly gunshot wounds during crime and street fighting, and no effect on what the government or big corporations do to repress or exploit the average person and no invasions from Canada or Mexico that could only be stopped by a “well regulated militia.” And every now and then some truly good guy will shoot a truly bad guy, stopping the bad guy from doing something truly bad, and people will notice that a handful of such cases against thousands and thousands of gun related deaths a year is not worth it.

Above all, and please never lose sight of this, guns are toys. We are talking about the preservation of the right to play with specific toys, and the right to extend that play into the street and to involve people who did not want to play with these toys to begin with. Stand your ground is a game, it is boys with their toys playing cops and robbers. Boys with their toys build forts in their homes and protect them from invasion. Boys with their toys get together in groups and go out on the street to play army. Boys with their toys collect toys and take them apart and put them together and clean them until they are shiny. Boys with their toys go to big meetings with other boys and trade and sell and exchange and show off. Boys with their toys go to galleries where they can practice and raise their scores.

George Zimmerman was a boy with his toy, and he played cops and robbers, and Treyvon Martin died because he did not follow Zimmerman’s instructions to stand down. Half this country thinks it is OK for a boy like George to take his toy into the street and make other people play and kill them when they do not. The other half is appalled. That second half, it’s growing.


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All kinds of stuff about guns and gun control

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For starters, I’ve put a bunch of videos including a must see by Jon Steward and another must see by Melissa Harris-Perry HERE. Following is a veritable carnival of topical and timely posts, stories, and sites:

Warning shot: Gun violence lands US lowest life expectancy among rich nations

Widespread gun ownership and lax firearms controls were deemed major reasons for the US topping a list of violent deaths in wealthy nations. The study comes amid a fiery gun control debate, triggered by the fatal school shooting at Sandy Elementary.

The 378-page survey by a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, listed unintentional injuries, quite often caused by guns, among reasons why people in America die young more often than in other countries.

The Hitler gun control lie: Gun rights activists who cite the dictator as a reason against gun control have their history dangerously wrong

This week, people were shocked when the Drudge Report posted a giant picture of Hitler over a headline speculating that the White House will proceed with executive orders to limit access to firearms. The proposed orders are exceedingly tame, but Drudge’s reaction is actually a common conservative response to any invocation of gun control.

The NRA, Fox News, Fox News (again), Alex Jones, email chains, Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, Gun Owners of America, etc., all agree that gun control was critical to Hitler’s rise to power. Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (“America’s most aggressive defender of firearms ownership”) is built almost exclusively around this notion, popularizing posters of Hitler giving the Nazi salute next to the text: “All in favor of ‘gun control’ raise your right hand.”

In his 1994 book, NRA head Wayne LaPierre dwelled on the Hitler meme at length, writing: “In Germany, Jewish extermination began with the Nazi Weapon Law of 1938, signed by Adolf Hitler.”

Nine Media Myths About Proposals To Strengthen Gun Laws

Is any attempt to regulate firearms a violation of the Second Amendment?

Is it true that weaker gun laws lead to lower crime rates?

Does the public support gun violence prevention measures?

Does the NRA have the ability to remove from office politicians who support stronger gun laws?

Have any proposals been put forward which would result in federal gun confiscation?

Are guns that are commonly called assault weapons more dangerous than other firearms?

Are sellers at gun shows required to perform a background check on buyers?

Would closing the private sales loophole prevent private citizens from selling firearms?

Has the Obama administration proposed using an executive order to outlaw certain firearms?

EXCLUSIVE: Unmasking the NRA’s Inner Circle

The resurgent debate over gun control has put a spotlight on the hardline leaders of the National Rifle Association. In the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, executive vice president Wayne LaPierre delivered a full-throated rejection of gun control and called for more firearms in schools, while David Keene, the group’s president, predicted the failure of any new assault weapons ban introduced in Congress. The two NRA figureheads purported to speak for more than 4 million American gun owners, though the group’s membership may in fact be smaller.

Local Gun Control Advocate Talks About Meeting At White House

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The National Rifle Association and Wal-Mart, the largest gun retailer in the country, are set to meet with Vice President Biden today at the White House; all part of his gun violence task force. This comes a day after the Vice President met with gun control advocates.

Shira Goodman, Executive Director of CeasefirePA, along with the others from around the country brought some common ideas and hopes at the White House.

“There was a focus not just on the general idea of background checks on all guns, but making sure all states share their mental health records with the federal database.”

Where Congress Stands on Guns

In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, President Obama on Wednesday announced new national gun control measures. He has already urged members of Congress to do the same. Here is our comprehensive look at where lawmakers stand on guns, as well as political spending and voting history. Explore and share what you think Congress should do about guns in this country.

A message to the Republicans about gun background checks

The message to Republicans and some Democrats who are still walking the walk and talking the talk of the gun rights extremists came from an unlikely source today. Frank Luntz, Republican pollster, wrote in the Washington Post today about how wrong the Republicans have been about their messaging and their extreme language. Here is what Luntz had to say about the language regarding guns and gun policy:

“Beyond fiscal policy, Republicans need to revamp their messaging on other issues. For example, the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., offered Republicans a chance to discuss public safety — a more personal issue than “crime” — on a human level. That hasn’t happened, but it still can. Most people agree that there is a middle ground between gun-control hard-liners, who see every crime as an excuse to enact new laws, and the National Rifle Association, which sees every crime as an excuse to sell more guns. The Second Amendment deserves defending, but do Republicans truly believe that anyone should be able to buy any gun, anywhere, at any time? If yes, they’re on the side of less than 10 percent of America. If not, they need to say so.”

Luntz’s question is an important one and one raised on my blog often….

Letter to Eric Cantor. Gun-Related Deaths in US Children: Government Complicity

Dear Representative Cantor:

I direct this correspondence to you due to your leadership position in the House, your record on ‘gun rights’ legislation that has earned you an A rating by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and because your party this past election cycle received 89% of the political contributions issued by the NRA – this nation’s leading ‘gun rights’ lobbying organization. You are listed as the 4th leading recipient of such contributions in the House.

I write you not only as a concerned citizen and parent regarding the issue of gun violence in America, but as an individual whose career involved responsibility for assessing and reporting product safety in a federally regulated industry (pharmaceuticals). I have held senior executive positions, consulted for corporations, and have been before government regulators on numerous occasions. Unlike most (if not all) consumer products, guns remain unregulated for health and safety. In the industry where I worked, federal law required us to not only assure the safety of our products, but that we take steps to reduce risk, finding an optimal balance between benefit and risk….

Newtown-Based Gun Industry Trade Association Begins Celebration of Guns This Week in Vegas

While America continues to grieve over the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and begins looking for answers, for Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s multi-million dollar trade association, it’s back to business as usual.

Faced, in its own hometown, with the real-world horror that can be inflicted with the military-style weapons it helps market and has tried to euphemistically “rebrand” as “modern sporting rifles,” NSSF took a page out of the National Rifle Association’s post-tragedy playbook. It issued a short notice of sympathy and then refused to talk to the press, hoping, as has happened all too many times before, that public anguish and anger would fade as time passed.

In Wake of Newtown, It’s Time for America to Meet the NRA

This week, America has been taken aback by the National Rifle Association’s ad politicizing President Obama’s daughters. With this latest episode, it’s become patently obvious that unhinged attacks are the NRA leadership’s calling card. As pundits cover the obstructionism and handwringing of high-profile NRA executives like David Keene, it’s important to take a look at lesser-known NRA leaders and understand just how far to the fringe the organization has moved in recent decades.

New investigative reporting by Frank Smyth in Mother Jones — that complements my organization’s Meet the NRA website — reveals the NRA’s eerie connection to the Newtown tragedy. Smyth discovered that the NRA nominating committee that plays a key role in deciding who is on the NRA’s board is run by Newtown resident Patricia Clark, and also includes George K. Kollitides II, the chief executive of the company that made the AR-15 used in the shooting.

Gun Appreciation Day Isn’t Shared By The Victims Of Around 370 Thousand Gun Crimes A Year

Sunday, our President, Barack Obama, gave the oath of office of President of the United States in the Oval Office, officially beginning his second term in that role, by the will of the American people.

Today, Monday the 21st of January, he gives his inaugural speech, on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

But back on Saturday, when the rest of America was gearing up for this momentous occasion, the gun lobbies had a different agenda. They, instead, chose to make up a new day, which they called “Gun Appreciation Day.” A day made up by a White Supremacist Group. From the article:


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23 Steps Toward Reducing Gun Violence

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President Barack Obama has signed 23 Executive Orders intended to reduce gun violence in the United States. This alone will not be sufficient–Congress must pass new laws to address this problem as well, and the citizens of the united states have to make some cultural adjustments–but it is a start.

Republican Tea Party Congressman Steve Stockman of, where else, Texas, plans to file articles of impeachment against the president in an effort to maintain our current level of gun violence because, I suppose, he likes it when six year old children are gunned down in cold blood. The people of Stockman’s Congressional District should hang their collective heads in shame for what they have done.

The Executive Orders are summarized in the following list:

  1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant
    data available to the federal background check system.

  2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance
    Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making
    information available to the background check system.

  3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check
    system.

  4. Direct the attorney general to review categories of individuals prohibited from
    having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

  5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background
    check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

  6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on
    how to run background checks for private sellers.

  7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

  8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety
    Commission).

  9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns
    recovered in criminal investigations.

  10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it
    widely available to law enforcement.

  11. Nominate an ATF director.

  12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper
    training for active shooter situations.

  13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

  14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to
    research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

  15. Direct the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective
    use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop
    innovative technologies.

  16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients
    about guns in their homes.

  17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits
    them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

  18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

  19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and
    institutions of higher education.

  20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health
    services that Medicaid plans must cover.

  21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements
    within ACA exchanges.

  22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.

  23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental
    health.


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Guns Ownership and Control: Newtown is one more last straw in a series of many

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I have been writing about this topic for years. Lately, I have been ignoring it. Last few massacres, I didn’t say or do anything. I think Gabby Gifford’s shooting was a last straw for me; I became too disgusted with our situation and I became too disheartened with the number of people who require that we Americans remain an utterly unique society in that we shoot each other at record rates. Somehow, it seems, that makes us good. Others claim that because there are problems in the world with higher body counts, this problem of guns in the US should not be addressed at all. That is utterly stupid, of course. If a person’s leg was being chewed on by a dog, and that person also happen to have cancer, would we require that the person not complain about the dog? Same logic.

Anyway, I will write something about Newtown. The timing strikes a bit close to home for me, as someone not affected at all, in ways that are true for many others. I’ve got kids in school or going soon enough. My daughter lost a classmate a number of months ago to gun violence, and my wife lost a student this week in the same way; A few years ago, a few blocks away a gun nut killed a teenager in what was essentially an ambush, and a few weeks ago, another gun nut a couple of towns over executed two teenagers in a similar situation. (The former was lauded as a hero, the latter will go on trial for murder.)

But even that amounts to nothing compared to what many people face every day. We are a heavily armed society and we resort to guns too easily.

At this point, I just wanted to point out two sets of prior blog posts on gun ownership and related issues, one here and one on the X Blog:

Scienceblogs posts on firearms

X Blog posts on firearms

My opinion about guns has not changed, but my preferred strategy to deal with the problem has. That’s been coming for a while. Newtown is just one more last straw in a series of many.


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Correlation and Causation: Single Mothers and Violent Crime

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The phrase “Correlation does not imply causation” has developed in to a Falsehood, as I discuss here. This is in part because people often use the phrase to argue that a particular correlation has no meaning, which is a false argument. It is, of course, true that a correlation does not in and of itself prove a causal link between two things. And, as pointed out in a few places, but I’ll refer you to this Mother Jones piece for background, the relationship between single mothers and homicide and other crime is … well … interesting. Continue reading Correlation and Causation: Single Mothers and Violent Crime


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Mentally Ill, Criminals, Obama, Olivia, Guns

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I am uncomfortable discussing ableism and related topics linked to mental illness for several reasons. One is that I don’t know enough about it to ask people to pay a lot of attention to what I have to say. Despite the whingings of my many detractors, I actually do tend to know a fair amount about the stuff I do talk about, such as race and racism, issues of gender related to both biology and politics, evolutionary biology, human foragers, and climate change. Indeed, I wrote my theses on these things. Well, some of them. But when it comes to mental illness outside of issues related to interesting things the brain does (I know something about brains) and certain cultural aspects (I’ve looked into so-called “culture bound mental illness”) I’m out of my league.

So why am I writing about it now? I’m not, as you’ll see. This post started, as so many things have lately, with a post over on the Future of Skeptics venue, Teen Skeptics. There, Olivia took issue with a certain thing a certain person said (we’ll get back to that) and from that starting point provided an important discussion about the equation of mental illness with criminality, or more exactly perhaps, the equation of mentally ill persons and criminals. Continue reading Mentally Ill, Criminals, Obama, Olivia, Guns


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