Category Archives: Gun Issues

Corporate Interests, Consumer Safety?

banker 2 Columnist Steve Sebelius has an article posted which is high on DB’s Must Read List: “Heck opposes ‘junk lawsuits’ ? Since When?”  It’s hoped that after reading this you’ll come back for more information on the Republican assault on your rights in the Courthouse.  Medical malpractice litigation is only one of several categories in which the Republican Party is ready and ever-so-willing to restrict the rights of ordinary citizens to have their day in court.  Failing that, there’s always the option to force litigation on those least able to afford it.

Your Body vs. Health Insurance Corporations

It’s time to remember that one of the very few specific proposals incorporated into the GOP version of health care insurance reform was “litigation reform.”  One of the more recent comes from a Louisiana Congressman:

“Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is one of several Republicans pushing for the proposed legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, place new restrictions on medical malpractice suits and provide more access to health savings accounts.”  [LFC]

The standard line from Republicans is that malpractice litigation creates “runaway health care spending increases” because medical professionals order unnecessary tests, and if damages are limited fewer people will have any incentive to file law suits.  However, we’ve known since 2009 that some physicians have ordered extra testing merely to increase their billings, [TNY] and after Texas legislature capped damages costs still hadn’t dropped in the area highlighted as the poster child for escalating health care costs (McAllen, TX). [Wire]  A Florida law restricting medical malpractice suits was declared unconstitutional – after the Florida Supreme Court found that only the health insurance corporations benefited from the restraints. [Wire] And what was achieved by restraining the ability of ordinary citizens damaged by medical malpractice?

Not much:

“Defensive medicine includes tests and procedures ordered by physicians principally to reduce perceived threats of medical malpractice liability. The practice is commonly assumed to increase health care costs. The results of studies of the costs of defensive medicine have been inconsistent. We found that estimated savings resulting from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums would be less than 1 percent of total medical care costs in every specialty. These savings are lower than most previous estimates, and they suggest that the presumed impact of tort reform on health care costs may be overstated.” [HA.org, National Cancer Inst] (emphasis added)

May be overstated?” They are being overstated. And, they are being overstated in the pursuit of policies which are blatantly aligned with the interests of the health insurance corporations.   Might any Nevadan oppose litigation seeking to hold accountable those responsible for the Hepatitis C outbreak from the Shadow Lane Clinic? [LVRJ/Sebelius]  Would Floridians oppose the efforts of the family of Michelle McCall to hold a medical facility accountable for her death – the result of a case of preeclampsia being handled about as poorly as might be imagined in a nightmare. [FSC 2014 pdf]

Who in Missouri would castigate the efforts of the Schneider family in the wake of a stroke suffered by Jeffrey Schneider, an IT specialists with the Federal Reserve, which caused damage to his speech, the right side of his body, and loss of short term memory – and which was preventable had the physician paid attention to his own notes going back to 1996. [STLpd] Also left un-noted in the hyperbole about Runaway Costs from Irresponsible Juries – the fact that medical malpractice suits are extremely difficult to win.

The physicians and medical facilities usually win in most cases. In one study of 10,000 malpractice cases between 2002 and 2005, just a bit over half (55%) ended up in an actual lawsuit. Of that 55% more than half were dismissed by the court. When all the winnowing was final, less than 5% of the cases ended up being decided by a trial verdict – and 80% of the verdicts were in favor of the physicians. [reuters]  For this, we are being asked by Representatives Heck, Scalise, and others, to voluntarily abrogate our rights as citizens to have our day in court.

Your Body vs. Gun Manufacturers and the NRA

On October 20, 2005 Congress passed a law protecting gun manufacturers and dealers from any liability.  The NRA was positively elated. [NYT]  The vote on S. 397 was 283-144 [roll call 534] The law is a gun manufacturer’s delight, it:

Prohibits a qualified civil liability action from being brought in any state or federal court against a manufacturer or seller of a firearm, ammunition, or a component of a firearm that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or against a trade association of such manufacturers or sellers, for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, penalties, or other relief resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm. Requires pending actions to be dismissed. [Thomas]

Did we notice the damage might have resulted from “the criminal or unlawful misuse of a firearm?”  P.L.109-92 protects gun manufacturers and dealers like no other sector of our economy.  Did the safety fail? You have no case. Did the gun malfunction because of a preventable engineering flaw causing an injury or loss of life? You have no case. Did the Saturday Night Special shatter when fired? You have no case.  If your complaint is with a firearms manufacturing corporation – you will not have your day in court.

There are also moves afoot to make being a consumer in this consumer economy a matter of a perverted form of survival of the fittest – or the wealthiest at least.  In this regard the advocates of corporate interests want to remove the very agencies which provide administrative options to litigation.  Instead of eliminating your day in court, the massive corporations would like very much to make you challenge them in court – if you dare.

Your Wallet vs. The Financial Institutions and Big Banks

Nothing so alarmed the bankers and other participants in the Great Mortgage Disaster of 2007-2008 as the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  In fact, a small community bank in (where else?) Texas along with two conservative groups,  were moved in 2012 to file a lawsuit saying the appointment of CFPB director Richard Cordray was unconstitutional and the agency was without “checks and balances.” The bankers also didn’t like the Financial Stability Oversight Council – the one that studies risk in the financial sector. [Reuters]  In September 2012 some Republican state attorneys general were planning “non-cooperation” with the CFPB, following along the talking points made in the litigation. [Bloomberg]  Nothing would please these folks more than the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act, so that the wheels of the Wall Street Casino could be free to spin again.

And what subjects does the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau review? Student Loans, Manufactured Home financing,  Bank Overdraft and other fees… As of June 2014 the CFPB reviewed (pdf) complaints in a variety of financial transaction categories – 34% concerned mortgages, 20% concerned debt collection activities, 14% were about credit cards, 12% about banking accounts and services, 3% were about consumer loans, 3% about student loans, and payday loans 1%.  In other words, disputes about loans and other services common, ordinary, everyday, citizens of the U.S. might be involved in.  

The legal system usually demands that all administrative options be finished before litigation is initiated.  If there is no CFPB then there is one less way for disputes to be resolved at the administrative level – and the individual citizen (the one in the mobile home, in the student apartment, in the apartment house complex…) is left with no option except the expense of litigation.  If the big banks had their way – you’d get your day in court – at your expense, and there would be no agency tasked with protecting you before you faced the battalion of legal forces arrayed against you.

Your Life vs. Manufacturing Interests

Calls for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission are nothing new, they’ve been around since at least 1980. [Sanders]  The Libertarian Party is pleased to offer the following vision:

We oppose all so-called “consumer protection” legislation which infringes upon voluntary trade, and call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We advocate the repeal of all laws banning or restricting the advertising of prices, products, or services. We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.

Does someone “voluntarily” purchase a crib for an infant which has features potentially lethal for a baby?  Who “voluntarily” buys a four wheeler where the components of the front gear case can fail causing a loss of control and crash hazard?  Or a lawn mower in which the welding on the drive axle can fail, again causing a loss of control and crash hazard?  Would you “voluntarily” purchase a bicycle helmet which fails in cold temperatures?  Would you “voluntarily” buy a scarf which doesn’t meet federal flammability standards? Or a infant’s “hoodie” the drawstring of which creates a strangulation hazard? Or a riding lawn mower wherein the ignition fails to ground and tends to overheat and melt? [CPSC]

What is the response when the four-wheeler’s front gear case fails, the vehicle goes out of control, and the resulting crash causes injury or death? You should have had a degree in Mechanical Engineering before you purchased the rig?  Or, is it if enough people are injured or die in crashes consumers won’t purchase the vehicle? How many have to die?

Again, without the Consumer Products Safety Commission not only is the likelihood of death or injury made more commonplace, but there is no administrative remedy intermediate to litigation.  Worse still, the “pro-business” Republicans don’t even want the public to know which products have been the subjects of complaints.   When the CPSC allowed the publication of its consumer database, the Republicans went off the deep end.

They said: “…that the database “wastes taxpayer money, confuses and misleads consumers, raises prices, kills jobs, and damages the reputations of safe and responsible manufacturers.” Testifying last month before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, Wayne Morris, a vice president for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, complained, “It is wrong for the federal government to allow companies and their brands to be unfairly characterized, even slandered.” The National Association of Manufacturers said the database’s “credibility” and “usefulness to consumers” is “severely damaged.” In response to such criticism (and possibly also in response to Koch Industries, which showered an improbable $79,500 on his campaign), Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, a Tea Party freshman, sponsored an amendment zeroing out funding for the database that cleared the House, 234-187. The CPSC database, Pompeo said, “will drive jobs overseas.” [Slate]

There’s “voluntarism” for us – not only should manufacturers be able to slap together unsafe products and sell them to American consumers, but those potential consumers should be prevented from finding out that other consumers have had problems with the products.  We should remember that then Representative Dean Heller (R-NV) was one of the 234 House Republicans who voted in favor of Pompeo’s amendment cutting the funding for the CPSC database. [roll call 137]

The Ties That Bind

There is a common thread to all of this.  In the instances of medical malpractice and gun manufacturing and sales, it is assumed by the Republicans that the consumer – the average American – must be prevented from challenging the major corporations who provide the goods and services; or at least their dismal chances of successful litigation must be further curtailed.

In the examples of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Consumer Product Safety Commission the notion that some administrative option prior to expensive litigation must be removed for the sake of the manufacturers and dealers. Only those with the financial wherewithal to take on interminable legal battles should be able to challenge the desire of manufacturers to cut corners (“increase shareholder value”) and thereby produce and distribute potentially lethal products.

Nowhere in any portion of these Republican challenges to consumer safety and security will we find any true concern for the average American consumer, patient, or victim. Unfortunately, for the GOP it’s  all about the corporate Benjamins.

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, consumers, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heck, Heller

Please Excuse Me If I Don’t Panic

ebola isis If It Bleeds It Leads – and I am getting really tired of cable and network news blathering on about The Next Great Scary Bacteria/Virus.   First, let’s get some perspective – there are an estimated 316,148,990 people in the United States. [Census]

Remember the West Nile Virus?  If memory serves, the media served up mosquito pictures on television screens and print versions ad nauseam not so many years ago.  The largest number of cases occurred in 2003, at 9,862. There were a grand total of 39,557 cases of which only 1,668 were fatal, between 1999 and 2013.    [CDC pdf] Do the arithmetic.  Divide 39,557 by 316,148,990 on your handy plastic calculator.  (Ans: 1.2521 e-4)

Remember SARS?  The coronavirus showed up in 2003.  Lord knows how many “travel alerts” there were, and how many were reported as major news stories.  By April 2003 there were 115 suspected SARS cases in the U.S. reported from 29 states, there were no deaths reported.  By the end of the year the World Health Organization reported 8,096 cases globally, leading to 774 deaths. In the United States there were 8 SARS infections documented by laboratory testing and an additional 19 probable cases. [CDC]  Again, play with the arithmetic problem: Divide 115 by 316,148,990. What are the odds someone will contract SARS?

Now it’s Ebola! A virus which is relatively difficult to contract, but whose photograph graces the pages and screens, along with breathless speculation about how control this “ISIS of Viral Evil.”  Thus far we have 1, repeat ONE, case reported in the United States.  One case, one fatality. And that of a man who sought treatment, was turned away from a hospital in Dallas, TX – which has some explaining to do to his family – and so far that’s IT.

Yes, this is a nasty virus. It is also primarily running rampant in west Africa, a region generally ignored by the U.S. media even when uncivil wars are decimating the populations,  but there’s a reason the medical professionals in the U.S. aren’t panicking like, say CNN, for Faux News, or some  “billionaire with bad hair:”

“It’s important for us to remember here in the US that the likelihood of an outbreak due to bringing back two patients with Ebola virus disease is incredibly small, and that conditions here in the US and other developed nations are such that it is unlikely that such an outbreak, even in the unlikely event that it happened, would spread very far, given the differences in medical care, availability of resources, and differences in funeral practices. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be vigilant, but there is really nothing particularly unusual about Ebola virus other than the rapid onset and severity of the disease it causes.” [SciBMed]

Now, breathe.

Meanwhile —  The CDC reports 11,068 firearm homicides, with a death per 100K of 3.6 [CDC]  The last CDC report showed 39,518 suicides, of which 19,990 were completed with firearms; death per 100K at 12.7. [CDC] Now, if a virus had killed 31,058 people in a single year – that would be a story.  However, we can’t consider the epidemic of gun violence as a public health problem because the GOP controlled House of Representatives refuses a meager $10 million for funding gun violence prevention research. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics begged for the research funding, but Republicans and the NRA said we simply need to “prosecute more people, not carry out more studies.”   [ProPublica]

Meanwhile – Heart disease will kill 596,577 people in the United States, and another 73,831 will die from Diabetes.  So, faced with this obvious public health problem, what did the U.S. Congress do?  Republicans sponsored a bill to roll back school nutrition standards. [MMA] The implications are obvious, Republicans are favoring the food manufacturing interests over the advice of professional nutrition experts.  Oh, and did we remember that the “School Nutrition Assoc.” receives most of its funding from companies which sell food to schools?

Meanwhile – What are we doing to cut the numbers of stroke victims (128,932)? Cancer victims (576,691)? Chronic respiratory disease victims (142,943)? Alzheimer’s victims (84,974)? Flu and Pneunomia (53,862)? Nephritis (45,591)?   We cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control.

“The agency’s budget in 2014 is $5.9 billion, compared to the $6.5 billion allotted in 2010.  Last year’s budget deal delayed the across-the-board sequester cuts until fiscal 2016, but the law required the CDC to cut 5 percent, or more than $285 million, from its fiscal 2013 budget, the agency said.” [TheHill]

And while the right wing is screaming about how we’re not being kept safe from Ebola and ISIS, or Ebola and ISIS, or Ebola with ISIS, or ISIS with Ebola,  what did the GOP House do to the funding for the agency tasked with securing public health?

The sequester resulted in a $195 million cut in 2013 to the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, which aims to prevent illness and death by a wide variety of infectious diseases, according to the CDC. A CDC report from earlier this year also noted its funding for public health preparedness and response activities was $1 billion lower in fiscal 2013 than in 2002.  [TheHill]

However, all the statistics in the world won’t be as entertaining as Jon Stewart’s rendition of the Million Ways to Die in the U.S.   DO click and enjoy!

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Filed under Gun Issues, health, Health Care

Violence Leaves Home: Active Shooting Incidents and Domestic Violence

The report (pdf) from a joint FBI/Texas State University doesn’t have much good news for the absolutists of the National Rifle Association.  The study analyzed shooting incidents in the United States over the past 13 years and reported the following resolutions to the incidents.

The Violence

In 37 (23.1%) of the 160 active shooting incidents the shooter committed suicide at the scene before police arrived.  In 21 (13.1%) of the incidents an unarmed citizen successfully restrained the shooter.  In 2 of the incidents (1.3%) armed off-duty law enforcement personnel ended the threat.  In 5 of the incidents armed non-law enforcement citizens ended the shootings in which 3 shooters were killed, 1 committed suicide, and 1 was wounded.  For all the noise about arming everyone to the gunwales, only 5 of the 160 incidents ended because of armed citizen intervention.  No doubt the NRA ammosexuals would argue that if More Citizens were Armed, then More Incidents would have been resolved at the scene by a Citizen Shooter.  This conclusion is actually counter-intuitive.

More people firing more rounds in an active shooter situation doesn’t make anyone safer.  The NRA logic requires that we ignore a crucial part of the equation – the bystanders.  The fantasy that our Citizen Shooter will “take out the bad guy” requires that the scene be something out of the OK Corral mythology during which bystanders fled to safety, or possibly that the Citizen Shooter is so marvelously competent that no bystander or witness will be in peril of flying rounds of ammo.  Nor does the Citizen Shooter image crack through the actual numbers – in 13.1% of the incidents an unarmed citizen was successful and in only 3.1% was an armed citizen successful.

The Domestic Violence

However, there’s more to this analysis than the augmentation of what we already know – more guns doesn’t solve the problems – there’s a link between active shooting incidents and domestic violence. From the report:

“Of note, male shooters also acted violently against women with whom they had or once had a romantic relationship. In 16 (10.0%) of the 160 incidents, the shooters targeted current, estranged, or former wives as well as current or former girlfriends. In 12 incidents, the women were killed; in 3 incidents, the women sustained significant injuries but survived; and in 1 incident, the shooter could not find the woman.  While perpetrating this violence, an additional 42 people were killed and another 28 were wounded.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but 42 people died and 28 suffered gunshot wounds because the ‘domestic violence’ got out of the house.

Here’s the point at which NRS 33 (Injunctions) kicks in.  Nevada statutes allow for an emergency restraining order or a  temporary restraining order, with courts available 24/7 to issue emergency orders barring the ‘adverse party’ from threatening the victim or victims, being in the victim’s residence, and doing any harm to pets.  [NRS 33.020]  But, the TRO doesn’t get the guns out of the house. The TRO doesn’t take the guns away from the ‘adverse party,’ and if the aforementioned ‘adverse party’ is of a mind to participate in something like the 16 incidents in the FBI report, then there is nothing in the law to stop him.

It is only when an extended order of protection is sought that anyone starts paying attention to the firearms.  NRS 33.031-033 offers the ‘adverse party’ potential shooter some protection for his firearms.  Here’s the catch:

“ A temporary order can last up to 30 days.  However, if you file for an extended order at the same time that you file for the temporary order (or at any time while the temporary order is in effect), the temporary order will last until the date of your hearing for an extended order (which could be up to 45 days from the date you file for the extended order).*1 [WLOrg]

That’s up to 45 days for our hypothetical ‘adverse party’ to retain the firearms, and perhaps decide to use them.  This gives the ‘adverse party’ his day in court to protect his ‘gun rights,’ but on the other hand it gives him possession of lethal weapons for up to 45 days.  In a much safer world the firearms would leave his hands during the imposition of the emergency restraining period.  The ammosexuals would no doubt start sputtering.

But, but, but “I have a Constitutional Right to my Gun?”  “You can’t take it away from me before I have my day in court!”  The Day In Court Argument is logically fragile.  I have a Constitutional Right to my own religious practices, however if I decide to become a practicing Aztec and select victims for sacrifice to the Sun – there’s little doubt the state would make every effort to stop me well before my court date.

In a safer world the guns would be gone during the period  specified by the temporary restraining order.   There’s no requirement that the ‘adverse party’ show up at the TRO hearing, but there’s nothing to prevent it either?  In our not-quite-so-safe world those guns can be in ‘adverse party’ hands for up to 45 days.  There are at least 70 casualties mentioned in the FBI report which might have been prevented by tougher injunctions, and more vigorous enforcement of those orders?

There is a compromise position which the Legislature might consider.  How might domestic violence in Nevada be mitigated if we agreed that if the domestic violence incident included shooting or threats of shooting, then the emergency protection order could include the dispossession of firearms? Or, if the ‘adverse party’ was the perpetrator of previous acts of violence then the firearms would be handed over to law enforcement for storage pending further actions by the court?   It would seem logical to take the escalation factor into account when dealing with those who tend toward assault and battery.

Nevada’s laws aren’t the worst in the nation, but they could be better, and more focused on preventing active shooter violence – something for the next session of the Legislature to consider?

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Filed under domestic abuse, Gun Issues, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

Dunce of the Day: Open Carry At High School

Embody There’s dumb, and then there’s dumber.  Leonard Embody, from the Nashville area, likes to pack his gun around so everyone can see it.  He’s a registered nurse, a licensed firearms dealer, and an avowed ammosexual.  Leonard has been actively flashing his gun since at least 2009 when he decided his 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ allowed him to pack heat in a state park. [ExCLS]  And now Leonard is unapologetic for scaring the bejeezus out of parents at Hillsboro High School.  [WSMV] [TPM]

“Witnesses say Embody was pacing Hillsboro Road, dressed much like a soldier, and it had a lot of people nervous. So nervous that 911 dispatchers had their hands full.

“He had a rifle across his back, and a Go Pro attached to his chest. I just thought that was kind of peculiar,” one caller said.” [WSMV]

Now what could possibly have alarmed those witnesses? Armed man? Dressed sort of  like a soldier? Rifle on his back? High School?  Columbine? Sandy Hook? Aurora?  Ready to film his adventures with his Go Pro? 

One parent interviewed by the television station was equally adamant:

“However, mothers like Telisha Cobb say doing this in front of a school is crossing the line.

“That man may not be worried about the epidemic of school shootings in our country, but moms and dads are, and we won’t tolerate this behavior,” Cobb said.” [WSMV]

And then the scary part continues as Embody explains himself:

Embody said he’ll continue making the rounds, defending the Second Amendment, no matter who it offends.

“I don’t think I look terrifying. Other people may think I look terrifying, but that’s in their own minds and that’s something they should deal with … with maybe a psychologist,” Embody said.

Metro school officials said their resource officers were aware of Embody’s demonstration, and had he set foot on campus, they would have arrested him. [WSMV]

Little wonder Mrs. Cobb is disturbed, as long as Leonard stays a step off campus he’s perfectly free to terrify anyone he likes, children and adults alike, because Tennessee is an Open Carry state.  He’s quite free to acclimatize children to the sight of a person carrying a firearm close to a school building, and equally free to ignore the possible consequences of doing so.  What happens when it’s NOT Leonard out there on the sidewalks?

Leonard Embody – Our Dunce of the Day!

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Filed under Gun Issues

Militarized Middle Schools?

M16 Perhaps someone can explain to me why the Washoe County School District (Reno/Sparks, NV) needs eight M16 semi-automatic rifles? [RGJ]  I’d prefer an explanation which does not incorporate references to the tragic October 21, 2013 shooting at Sparks Middle School.  A middle school teacher lost his life, and another student was injured when a disturbed 12 year old brought a gun to school, fired shots on the playground, and then turned the gun on himself.  Adding more semi-automatic fire to the semi-automatic fire coming from the shooter doesn’t seem like a productive strategy for minimizing casualties.

And, that’s the point – isn’t it? To minimize casualties in school shootings. The M16, as I understand it, is designed for either single shot or three round bursts, and has a maximum effective range of 550 meters.  The rifle uses 5.56x45mm ammunition, and is capable of a sustained rate of fire of  12-15 rounds per minute; the magazine capacity is 30 rounds.  That seems to be a rather remarkable amount of fire power for a school setting.

But, but, but What If The Shooter Has An AR 15???  Yes.  And, then what if the shooter has an Anzio 20mm sniper cannon? The possibilities for escalation are endless in this illogical loop.  Keep this up long enough and we’re talking about calling in aerial bombardment and a unit from Special Forces.

But, but, but most members of the Armed Forces are trained to use some version of the M16, and if the school district officer is a veteran he’d be trained with this weapon?  Yes, again. But the question still remains, under what protocol would be weapon be used?  Does it really require an M16 to stop a shooter?  And, if the school district officer isn’t a veteran?

But, but, but we want schools to be safe, and why not equip our school police with the necessary weapons?  Yes, safety is part of the mission statement of the Washoe County school police force:

“The Mission of the Washoe County School District Police Department is to provide a safe and secure learning environment, which promotes an atmosphere of trust between the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school community and the police department. Working hand in hand with local, county, state and federal agencies, the Washoe County School District Police Department is committed to minimizing its schools from violence, weapons, substance abuse, vandalism, and other hazards.”

Does is really engender “trust” when students witness school police armed with M-16’s? What does that say to members of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school community?  There already seem to have been some trust issues leading to litigation, and the firing of a former School Police Chief. [2News]  Is there some basis for fearing the Washoe County School District might be called upon to assert the force of an M-16 to combat crime?

If we take 100 as the ‘national average rate’ and compare the rates for neighborhoods in the WCSD, the area looks reasonably safe.  The total crime risk is reported at 75, well below the national average. Personal crime risk is 83, murder at 95, rape at 78, robbery at 81, assault at 91, property crime at 78, larceny risk at 89, auto theft at 98, indeed the only risk rate higher than the national average is burglary at 101. [P2Homes]

The homes from which the students come seem to be in a region not known for advanced levels of violent crime, so what about the infractions which lead to suspensions or expulsions in the school district? The last accountability report (pdf) from the District show 1,302 incidents to ‘violence to students’ (read fight), 25 violence to staff, 78 weapons infractions (type not specified), 19 incidents of distributing controlled substances, 392 incidents of possession of controlled substances, 134 alcohol related incidents, and 188 infractions related to bullying, intimidation, or harassment.  If fighting on school grounds is the number one way to get sent home, possessing contraband drugs is number two, bullying etc. is number three, and possession or use of alcohol is number four, then why would the school district need eight M-16 rifles to keep order?

Granted one might break up a playground fight quickly with a few rounds from an M-16, but there are other time tested ways to do this without armament.

However, in the Power Up atmosphere of law (and now school policy) enforcement school districts are collecting military gear, and its not just Washoe County – which at least didn’t ask for an MRAP as did the LA Unified District.  [AP]  The atmosphere in question is on display in the comments from a Florida school district:

“In Florida, Rick Stelljes, the chief of Pinellas County schools police, said Wednesday that the county has 28 semi-automatic M16 rifles. They have never been used, and he hopes they are never needed. But, he said, they are “something we need given the current situation we face in our nation. This is about preparing for the worst-case scenario.” [AP]

Given WHAT current situation we face in our nation? There are some in the Wet-Pants Crowd who perceive threats constantly – ISIS is coming! The New World Order is Coming… with Blue Helmets and Black Helicopters! The Feds are Coming!  Most citizens recognize these threats for what they are… fear mongering and conspiracy shilling.  And, there’s the parent’s nightmare of a mass school shooting amid the mix.  Numbers offer some solace.  As of 2011 there were 98,817 public schools in this country, to which we can add another 33,366 private ones [DoEd] for a total of 132,183 elementary and secondary schools nationwide.

If we look at the number of school shootings from 2013 to 2014 there are 35 incidents in which students in public or private schools were involved.  Of those 35 incidents 5 were single victim suicides.  Only one, the August 20, 2013 incident at the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, resembled the horror of Newtown, CT.  During that confrontation unarmed school employee Antoinette Tuff called authorities and talked the gunman down.

For some perspective, consider that there were 35 incidents during 2013-2014  (or 30 if we exclude the single victim suicides) in 132,183 schools nationwide.  A total of 16 individuals, adults and children, lost their lives in 2013-14 school shootings, and one more of those must be classed as a suicide.  32 people, children and adults, have been injured.  As of the Fall 2013 there were 15,874,000 youngsters enrolled in public and private schools in this country.   Pull out the handy plastic brains, divide 30 by 132,183 and watch the exponent laden result: 2.2695e-4.  A similar thing happens when we take the number of fatalities (16) and divide by the number of students (15,874,000) and the result is 1.0079e-6.  Those numbers suggest that the odds of being involved in a lethal incident in a public or private school in the U.S. are really rather small.

Somehow these numbers, with their attendant scientific notation,  don’t offer much substance to the argument that in “these troubled times” school districts need MRAP vehicles and M-16 rifles.

Instead of arming school district police to the teeth, perhaps we could better focus our attention and resources on (1) removing guns from places where youngsters can get easy access? Or, (2) redoubling our efforts to reduce gang membership? Or, (3) provide adequate counseling services for troubled students? Or, (4) improving communication about the health and safety risks associated with gun ownership?  The Washoe County School District shows no inclination to return the 8 M-16s, and it assuredly doesn’t want to use them,  but if the actual risks are so small and the damage to the district’s image in the community could be so large – why did they participate in the militarization of their own school police force?

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Filed under education, Gun Issues

The Price Tag Plus $32: The economic cost of guns in America

Guns $32.00 – according to the author of a NIJ study on gun fire casualties that’s the direct societal cost per gun in the United States.   When the costs for drunk driving and gun related injuries were compared in 1994 the drunk driving costs were characterized as substantially higher.  Now that has reversed.  In 1992 medical care for a fatal shooting averaged $14,500. By 2010 the number was $28,700. [USAT]  More recent figures put the annual cost to American society at $214 billion, or $693 per person. [LeadersEdge] Where does this number come from?

“…societal cost figure includes medical costs incurred from firearms violence and the lost earnings of the victims—either the survivors of a firearms injury or costs to loved ones left behind in case of a fatal shooting. And it includes an estimated $11.9 billion in costs to government for such things as Medicare and Medicaid payments to victims. It also includes $1.5 billion in medical and mental health treatment, public services, adjudication, sanctioning and productivity losses for the perpetrator.”  [LEdge]

On the other side of the ledger, the firearms industry supports about 120,310 jobs in “supplier and ancillary industries,” and the manufacture and sale of firearms generates $33.3 billion to the economy.  This would include $10.4 billion in wages, $4.6 billion in federal and state business taxes, $460 million in excise taxes, and about $2.1 billion in federal and state taxes paid by the firearms industry and its employees.  [LE NSSF]  In short, we’re losing about $180.7 billion on this deal?

Other elements not under discussion are the secondary effects of gun violence, such as the loss of real estate value in neighborhoods which experience high levels of gun fatalities and injuries.  Nor are we taking into economic consideration the unwillingness of commercial and manufacturing firms to expand or site operations in neighborhoods which have high gun violence numbers.

Every instance of a gun related accident or homicide adds to the economic costs of relatively unregulated firearms in American society.  The logic is fairly simple:

“We have supported research for more than 20 years to better understand the problems of gun violence, the risk factors of gun violence and the policies that can prevent it,” says Nina Vinik, the gun violence prevention program director for the Joyce Foundation in Chicago. “One thing consistent in the research over the decades is the finding that where guns are more available, more readily accessible, there is a corresponding increase in levels of gun violence and injuries, in homicides, in suicides and in accidents.” [LEdge]

Arguments about the United States being a “violent society” stray from the essential point – it’s not that we’re necessarily more criminally inclined, but that the easy availability of firearms tends to make our adventures with guns more lethal – and more expensive. [HarvardMag]

Another point, about which we probably ought to be having more conversation is that the proliferation of firearms in this country is costing us more than their economic value in the total economy.  Capitalism works – but only if the market decisions made are rational.

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Filed under Economy, Gun Issues

Justified, Necessary, or Both?

The police action in Sparks, NV might be controversial, but the Washoe County District Attorney has ruled the officers were justified in shooting, and killing, an armed 45 year old woman with a blood alcohol level of 0.127 in October, 2013. [RGJ]  The wounding of the woman’s daughter may generate more controversy, but the incident illustrates some of the major issues surrounding the use of lethal force by police officers.

The woman in question was threatening suicide.  There may be no more frightening situation for law enforcement personnel than facing someone who feels there is nothing left to lose. Individuals have been reported as deliberately assaulting officers while unarmed or while brandishing a variety of lethal and non lethal weapons. Some, perhaps up to 100 per year are intent upon having the police officer assist a suicide. [PSMag] Whatever the woman’s intent, let’s avoid using the catch-phrase “suicide by cop,” because it’s an undefined, unclear, categorization into which altogether too many incidents can be inserted which may or may not resemble one another in detail. [Slate]

What is reasonably clear from the report is that the woman was pointing her gun at her own head at one point in the confrontation, and threatening to end her life.  Suicidal ideation is one symptom of mental illness, and in entirely too many cases we are asking the police to serve as mental health professionals, a task for which they aren’t trained.

The fatal shooting of a homeless, mentally ill, man by the Albuquerque, NM police generated criticism of the officers’ use of lethal force last March, but it also highlighted the growing number of instances in which mentally ill individuals – lacking adequate local mental health services – are coming into contact with police agencies. [NYT]

There are training programs available for police officers, such as the NAMI Crisis Intervention Team model.    The Las Vegas Metro PD is working with NAMI-Southern Nevada to develop a collaborative pre-arrest diversion program based on the CIT model. [NAMI-SN] The Reno Police Department also has such a program. [UMemphis]  Smaller, more rural, Nevada counties may or may not have a CIT program in place. [UMemMap]

There is research indicating that the training works.  CIT trained responders were more likely to be engaged in “referral or transport” than in an arrest, and only 12% of the encounters in the study escalated to the level of physical force, and CIT trained personnel “were significantly more likely to report verbal engagement or negotiation as the highest level of force used.” [AJP pdf]

However, it would be remiss not to ask: How much effort is being put into alleviating the necessity of having expansive CIT programs? How many resources does the community provide for the mentally ill?

We also know the unfortunate woman had a blood alcohol concentration level well above Nevada’s general 0.08% limit.  We don’t know whether in this specific case alcohol was a constant or a periodic problem, and it really doesn’t matter individually, but collectively speaking it does raise the question of how well resourced and available alcohol treatment programs  are in the area?  Are they plentiful and affordable? Are they convenient in terms of access or are there long waiting lists and limited treatment facilities?

This case in Sparks, NV also requires some reflection on several other issues. For example, is the “suicide by cop” categorization appropriate, or not?  Are we adopting and implementing consistent training programs throughout Nevada cities and counties which might reduce the escalation of incidents into lethal territory?  Are we asking police departments and law enforcement agencies to assume too much of the burden of initial interaction with mentally ill or suicidal individuals?

As with all such tragic incidents, we’re always left with more questions than answers.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Health Care, Mental Health, Nevada politics