Tag Archives: gun safety

Law Abiding Citizens and Their Lethality

I’m getting weary of the Republican refrain that the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens must be protected — presumably to own lethal weapons of war like the AR 15 and MCX.

We need to remember after each mass shooting that the “gun owner” was, as the almost cliched statement goes, “a law abiding citizen” until he wasn’t.  What the AR 15 and MCX rifles do is increase the lethality of mass shootings.   Not sure about this? Here’s a report from a hospital radiologist:

“In a typical handgun injury, which I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ such as the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, gray bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the mass-shooting victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, and was bleeding extensively. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?” [Atlantic]

The Atlantic article is difficult to read, and the examples cited by the author on the effects of high velocity bullets going through the bodies of adults and teenagers are disturbing.  Imagine for a moment the effect on those 6  year old children at Sandy Hook?  Exit wounds the “size of an orange.”  Children unidentifiable except for their clothing?  What I have yet to hear from the “Gun Club” is why civilians should possess weapons capable of such lethality.  And, we’ve known what kind of damage these guns do since 1977.

“Wounds inflicted by high velocity, center-fire rifles firing hunting ammunition are radically different from wounds caused by handguns or .22 rim-fire rifles. Injuries from pistol or .22 rim-fire bullets are confined to tissue and organs directly in the wound track. In contrast, high velocity rifle bullets can injure structures without actually contacting them. This is due to the temporary cavity produced by such missiles with the resultant shock waves having pressures of up to 200 atmospheres (20 MPa). Organs struck by such high velocity rifle bullets may undergo partial or complete disintegration.”  [NCBI January 1977]

41 years after the NCBI report a radiologist in Florida must remind us what these weapons do to human bodies.  However, the “Gun Club” will not admit that weapons like the AR 15 and MCX are more that mere “hunting rifles.”   It’s obvious a center fired high velocity firearm with a high capacity magazine is far more lethal than a criminal shooting a 9mm semi-automatic hand gun such as in the Fort Lauderdale example.

Not to make too fine a point to it, but what the NRA is saying to the American public is “law abiding citizens” should have the “right” to possess and use weapons which are designed for military use and which are capable of creating mass LETHAL casualties when used in public spaces. 

The Las Vegas shooter was a “law abiding” citizen until October 1, 2017 when he killed 59 people and injured 527 others.  He started shooting at 10:05 and ended the barrage at 10:15 PDT.  Again, 59 killed, 527 injured in 10 minutes.

The shooter at the the Sunderland, Texas, First Baptist Church killed 26 people and injuring 20 more on November 5, 2017.  He should never have had any firearm in the first place, his history as a domestic abuser was a matter of record.  However, records aside — what he purchased and used was a Ruger AR 556.

The shooter in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, used a SIG Sauer MCX and a Glock 17 9mm handgun on June 11, 2016 to kill 50 people, 38 of whom died at the scene.  Police reports indicated he had fired at least 110 rounds.

Variations on an Old Theme

Most of the “Gun Club” apologists are simply playing variations on the same old tune: “We can’t do anything about this.”  (Read: We don’t want to do anything about this because the military style rifles are popular)

Variation OneWhat we need to do is get these guns out of the hands of disturbed people.   And, so what do you propose?  Are these voices advocating mental health evaluations for every buyer of a center fire high velocity firearm with large magazine capacities?  This variation includes it’s very own instant objection.  No one would advocate the invasion of personal privacy required to perform these mental evaluations on every applicant for these weapons; ergo — we can’t do anything about this.

Variation Two: We can’t punish law abiding citizens for the sins of the few who misuse these weapons of war.   Punish?  I am not being “punished” because I cannot purchase an RPG 7 (rocket propelled grenade launcher.) Nor am I being “punished” because owning a Russian-Jordanian RPG 32 anti-tank grenade launcher is forbidden to me. I am being protected from those who would do me and fellow citizens harm if they use these things.

Variation ThreeWe must protect the 2nd Amendment.  Yes, why not.  However, as I’ve said time and again, no right is absolute.  At the risk of redundancy, I can’t “yell fire in a crowded theater,” there are limits to my freedom of speech; nor can I create a mob and call it “freedom” of assembly,” nor can I speak slander and print libel and call it protected by the 1st Amendment.

Until the gun manufacturers and their lobbyists come to the humane conclusion that weapons of war have no place in civilian society, we will continue to have very lethal “law abiding” people among us.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Politics

Trump’s Next Stupid Idea: Arms Adept Teachers

The flow continues. One idiotic idea after another. Flowing freely from the Oval Office, billowing forth from the West Wing. The next evermore moronic than its predecessor.  And now — armed teachers. Yes, we’re back to the old NRA recipe for carnage:  Expand the number of guns in public spaces.  Churches, concerts, schools, streets…

Bring In The Cavalry?

The occupant of the Oval Office appears to believe that the teaching ranks are filled with military veterans, and further that these veterans want to have guns in their classrooms.  First off, there aren’t that many.  In a 2013 USA Today article we find that Teach for America, which prioritized recruiting teachers from the ranks of military veterans had a “cadre of 100” veterans.  The number may now be approximately 320. [Vox]  Thus far it’s been difficult to find statistics tracking the number of military veterans who are currently teaching in our public and private schools.  The US has about 14,000 school districts. [Census]

Secondly, the argument assumes that veterans advocate having firearms in their classrooms.  This premise is also questionable.  Three veterans spoke to this issue in this Esquire article.  None seemed to see the proposal in a positive light, and their insights into situations, training, and human reactions are enlightening. Veterans interviewed by Buzzfeed described the idea as a tactical disaster.  The “tactical disaster” argument is further buttressed by the combat veteran who spoke with Charlotte 5.   There seems to be a vast gap between the advocates of the armaments escalation and the veterans with actual combat experience.  I’m betting the combat veterans can provide more practical guidance on this issue.

Comic Book Characters

The notion that some Hero-Teacher armed with a Glock will leap from the shadows of a chaotic hall way and mow down an intruder firing an AR-15 is straight out of some comic book/Hollywood rendition of fantasy fiction.  As the veterans cited above remark, there is no way to predict with 100% certainty how anyone will react under fire, and this is with 52 week per year training.  At this point our Comic Book Hero has to embody the Hollywood concept that the hero always hits the target, and the villain always misses.

Even the US military doesn’t require that standard.   We should remember that in Phase One of military weapons training the trainee doesn’t even fire the weapon, it’s all understanding the mechanical and operational characteristics of the gun.  It isn’t until Phase Two that the trainee pulls the trigger.  Qualification is another matter:  “In order to qualify, you must hit at least 23 out of 40 pop-up targets at ranges varying from 5 meters to 300 meters (approximately 80 to 327 yards).”  That calculates to a 57.5% accuracy rate.

Speed and accuracy are not a good mix.  The speed of firing reduces the accuracy.  The classic study done by the RAND Corporation in 2008 for the New York City Police Department should be consulted for additional information and for the conclusions it drew which remain valid.

“The NYPD reports hit-rate statistics both for officers involved in a gunfight and for officers who shoot at subjects who do not return fire. Between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate was 18 percent for gunfights. Between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate in situations in which fire was not returned was 30 percent. 

Accuracy improves at close range, with officers hitting their targets 37 percent of the time at distances of seven yards or less; at longer ranges, hit rates fall off sharply, to 23 percent.  [AJC]

Only by assuming the Comic Book Hero with a Hollywood Level of Fictional Accuracy, can a person argue that arming civilians is a viable option for protecting children.

What Should Be The Last Word

From a combat veteran:

My goal here is to bring the reality of the situation to the forefront. Politicians who are blasé about the complexity and rigorous training required for these types of engagements and who underestimate the physical, physiological and psychological toll a combat environment brings to those involved, should be forced to place themselves in these types of simulations.

Ultimately, I’m saddened by the fact that we’ve reached a point where people in this country want teachers to arm themselves as moonlight deputies. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m confident that arming teachers isn’t the answer—now or ever.


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Filed under Gun Issues, Politics

Nevada, Mild Wild West: Laxalt and the Background Checks Initiative

Nevada’s getting some unwanted publicity with commentary like “wild west” in regard to the Silver State’s gun laws.  It’s not that the state’s residents haven’t tried:

“Last year, voters in the state narrowly passed Question 1, an initiative that required most private buyers and sellers of guns to conduct a background check through a licensed dealer. Millions of dollars from national groups supporting and opposing the law poured into the state.

The initiative, which passed by 50.4% to 49.5%, mandated that private-party gun sales — with a few exceptions, such as transfers between family members  — be subject to a federal background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is administered by the FBI.”  [LATimes]

Then came the December letter from the FBI saying it could not comply with the state’s requirements, and the Attorney General Adam Laxalt — not a fan of the initiative — announced that the state wouldn’t prosecute any violations of the act until the FBI changed its position.  Not only did Laxalt oppose the initiative, he bragged about blocking implementation, and was duly patted on the head by the leadership of the gun manufacturers’ interest group, the NRA:

“The attorney general who made the decision, Adam Paul Laxalt, spoke at the NRA’s annual meeting this year, where he was hailed by the NRA’s chief lobbyist for ensuring that Nevada’s new background check legislation for private sales was still not the law of the land. Laxalt had publicly opposed the background check measure before it passed, a mark of opposition the NRA had publicized in its fight against the measure.” [Guardian]

Lost in the messaging melee, any reference to the FBI’s statement that the state records could also be used to run background checks to implement the new statute.  Thus, the wrangle remains between gun background check advocates, anti-regulation interest groups, public safety officials, and an Attorney General’s office which has no interest whatsoever in implementing gun safety regulations.

Indeed, Laxalt sees himself as some version of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus at the bridge:

“In fact, Laxalt, who is running to replace Sandoval, boasted of his role in opposing the measure. In an April 28 speech at the NRA’s annual convention, he cited his criticism of the initiative as an example of his record of supporting gun rights. “Attorneys General,” he said, served as “the last line of defense against the Obama Administration” on gun policy.”  [MJ]

A stance he will maintain in his campaign for the governorship.  He will no doubt adhere to the talking points established by the National Rifle Association, i.e. we can’t stop evil; we can’t legislate away 2nd Amendment rights; suggested legislation would not have stopped the last current outrageous tragedy. Worse still, there’s the canard about “it’s not the ‘right’ time to discuss firearm regulations.”

Perhaps the best we can hope for at the moment is that House Republican leadership will withdraw HR 367, the NRA bill to allow more sales of silencers (noise suppressors), a position in opposition to law enforcement leadership who say silencers make officers’ jobs more dangerous.  In a better world, the Congress and the states would move to:

Require universal background checks.  While this addition may not have prevented the Las Vegas disaster, but it could stop some of the other 33,000 annual gun deaths in this country.

Ban the sale of high capacity magazines.  Truth is, if I haven’t hit the target in the first ten rounds, odds are good I’m not going to — the only result may well be my attempts to explain to my insurance agent why I blew out the south end of my house trying to hit the burglar who was after a $179.95 television set.  The arguments in favor of high capacity magazines range from the bizarre to the totally unpersuasive.  If, as reported, most of the carnage in Las Vegas happened in the first five minutes, then limiting the capacity of the murderer’s guns could have at least reduced the number of dead and injured.

Ban the sale of kits designed to modify semi-automatic guns to automatics.  Allowing the sale of devices to make legal firearms illegal makes no sense whatsoever.

In a still better world we would:

Require safe storage for all firearms. We’re losing 1,300 children every year to gun related injuries. [CNN] [Pediatrics] Some of these are suicides, some are accidental, others are intentional…all are to be deplored and the issues addressed, if for no other reason than this is the equivalent of about 22 Las Vegas shootings per year.

In order to have rational discussions about how to more effectively keep concert goers, night club celebrants, movie theater patrons, and school children safe it’s going to be necessary to filter out the NRA noise — incomprehensible noises about Slippery Slopes, Gun Confiscations, and Law Abiding Folk.  Requiring insurance hasn’t deterred people from buying cars, requiring licenses hasn’t stopped people from taking bar exams and getting certified for positions in the trades and professions, and arguing that law breakers will ignore the law invites the rejoinder that if this is the case then why not legalize bank robbery if the robbers persist in going where the money is?

Some little sanity would go a long way.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics

#Enough Thoughts and Prayers, rights aren’t necessarily conveniences

Mass Shooting Victims

The photos of the victims of mass killings in this country show the faces of America. White, black, brown, gay, straight, men, and women. From the very young to the elderly.  And they all died too soon at the hands of those who could arm themselves with lethal weapons without any inconvenience.

The 2nd Amendment says we all have the right to keep and bear arms … there is NO mention in the Amendment that purchasing firearms has to be “convenient.”

The gun fetishists among us cry that their “rights are infringed” if they are to be inconvenienced in any way when purchasing or procuring lethal weapons. They cite their imaginary well greased slippery slope to full tilt gun control.

And, lo! cry the fetishists and their allies, any imposition of a burden of responsibility is a denial of our civil liberties.  But, wait a minute. It is inconvenient to register to vote – however, that’s the inconvenience we accept to prevent voter impersonation.  It’s inconvenient to edit and fact check news articles – but that’s the inconvenience we accept as part of the freedom of the press to avoid charges of libel.

It is inconvenient for government officials to get search warrants, but that’s the balance we have to prevent unlawful searches and seizures.  It’s inconvenient for the judicial system that a person may not be compelled to testify against himself – but that’s the inconvenience we accept to make the system work under constitutional principles.

How easy it appears to be to have advocates of the implementation of the Patriot Act speaking of national surveillance, and justifying those National Security Letters, while bemoaning the restrictions on those included on the terrorist watch list who seek to purchase lethal weapons.

If we didn’t infer “convenience” in the 2nd Amendment, then might we have fewer suicides, fewer murders, fewer mass shootings and killings.  Fewer funerals, fewer remembrances, fewer tragedies, and a much safer society?


Filed under Congress, conservatism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Hate Crimes, Senate, terrorism

GOP’s State of Confusion: Anti-LBGT or Anti-Muslim or Both


OK, I am officially confused. Which is it, does the GOP want to be seen as the champion of conservative religious tenets which hold homosexuality as sin and corruption; or, does the GOP want to be thanked as the protector of homosexuals from the evil-doing nasty folks of IS/Daesh?

Invisible Victims

No matter how hard some conservatives may try to avoid saying LGBT, the attack in Orlando, Florida was made on a GAY nightclub.  As noted previously Representative Dina Titus (D-NV1) was capable of observing this fact; while, on the GOP side of the aisle Representative Cresent Hardy (R-NV4) just couldn’t quite resist the temptation to generalize the victims.  Somehow, Representative Hardy’s lights couldn’t illuminated the fact that the victims were in a GAY nightclub.  He’s not alone.

The Republican National Committee’s first response mentioned “lifestyles,” but even that was edited out of their second edition – now the terror attack was made on “any American.”  Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX)  publically denied Pulse was a GAY nightclub immediately before blocking attempts to provide LGBT protections in a bill before his committee. [TP]

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was blunt: “This body should not be engaged in political games,” Cruz said. “We should be focused on the threat and keeping America safe and defeating radical Islamic terrorism.” [BusIns] Against whom?  Once again, the victims of the horrendous attack were invisible.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was just as vague in remarks made on the Senate floor yesterday — “This week in Orlando, Americans were targeted deliberately and taken  forever from their families by a terrorist ISIL has claimed is “one of  the soldiers of the caliphate.” It is clear from his behavior that this was not a random act of  violence. This was a calculated act of terror.” [LoC pdf]  Scrolling down the entirety of the  Majority Leader’s comments yields exactly Zero references to the victims of the Orlando attacks – patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Yes, it was obviously calculated, and yes, it was an act of terrorism – against the patrons of a GAY nightclub.

Squirrel Logic

But wait, after making the victims of the assault on the Pulse nightclub almost perfectly invisible in their comments about the attack, the GOP would now have us believe they champion GAY rights? Excuse my confusion – I would have thought these people were invisible to you but…

Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) appears on the scene with this bit of baffling political analysis:  “Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)” [TPM]

And, far be it from Mr. Trump to pass up an opportunity to stick his oar in the muddied waters:

Donald Trump, in his first major speech after the weekend’s tragedy suggested that Hillary Clinton “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community.”  “She can’t have it both ways,” Trump said. “She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress them.” Ask yourself, who really is the friend of women and the LBGT community: Donald Trump with his actions or Hillary Clinton with her words?” [TPM]

There seems to be more than a little political semantic gamesmanship here.  The message to the heretofore invisible LGBT community seems to be either you are anti-Islam or you have to be anti-LGBT, there is no middle ground.  This conflation of all practitioners of Islam as anti-gay is as inaccurate as it is distasteful divisive rhetoric.   Those unsure of this might want to consider the following comments by an Islamic scholar in the Dallas Morning News:

“As Muslims we believe there’s no compulsion in religion. That’s actually a Quranic verse. Everyone adheres to their own set of values, their own set of morals. But that should not lead to the oppression of another person or to harming another individual. The way that we talk about that is the way that we talk about anything in the Quran or in the prophetic tradition.

Yes, you’re going to find Muslims that would offer revised interpretations of the Quran. But I think one thing that’s important to stress is that conservative is not the same thing as radical. If a person has conservative views that they uphold within their own family life, so long as that does not lead to denying, belittling, or dehumanizing someone else, then I don’t think that’s particularly problematic.”

Thus much for the lack of middle ground.  Doing a quick inventory – Islam is not a compulsive religion (check), Islam has conservative followers (check), Islam teaches that one’s beliefs may not “deny, belittle, or dehumanize” someone else. (check) Conservatives are not necessarily radicals. (check) Only in the most bigoted way imaginable could a person decide that all members of the Islamic faith are radicals. Only in the most prejudicial manner could a person proclaim that all followers of Islam are necessarily so anti-gay that they could excuse or rejoice in the killing of their fellow citizens.

There may be a second message in the dog whistling coming from these Republican remarks.  It’s  message to their own base.  If the actual victims of the massacre are invisible, and if they can be generalized out of the picture, then it’s possible to believe that all Muslims are radical, and it’s acceptable to “monitor, screen, place them under surveillance, and restrict their freedom and liberty” in the name of public safety for “all Americans” (except the ones we won’t name.)

A third screech from the dog whistle may be aimed at a more general audience.  By creating an artificial “either/or” proposition the GOP can seek to associate Democrats with Muslims.  The inference is that Muslims are dangerous, Democrats support Muslims, ergo Democrats are dangerous.  Their’s is a simple but demonstrably false syllogism which depends on the acceptance of the initial false proposition that ALL Muslims are dangerous. I’m fond of calling this Squirrel Logic: Squirrels have hair on their heads. That man has hair on his head. Therefore, that man is a squirrel.

A Broader Perspective

While the GOP may wish to fixate on the terrorism facet of the attack on the GAY nightclub, what happened seems far more complex.  The horrific massacre had more than one element – it had a very disturbed radicalized young American man wielding military weaponry with a high lethality rate, in a GAY nightclub, who intended to kill GAY people.  It really isn’t hard to unpack the elements.  A marginalized person (self or otherwise?) who attached himself to a radicalized version of a religion, and who had easy access to a military weapon and enough ammunition to launch a killing spree in a GAY nightclub, the victims in which have themselves been marginalized in anti-LGBT rhetoric. 

Taking any one of the elements out of the toxic equation shouldn’t lead us to conclude that there is any single policy change that would have prevented the tragedy.  However, removing at least one certainly wouldn’t hurt and might help avoid subsequent attacks.

It would help if we could tone down the anti-LGBT rhetoric. Just as it is no longer socially acceptable to make a joke of someone’s ethnicity, wouldn’t it be nice if the mocking, demeaning, and dismissal of a person’s sexual orientation were no longer acceptable in polite society.  This isn’t “political correctness,” it’s merely fine old fashioned good manners.  It would be even more helpful if we could enact statutes protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community and being as concerned about their rights as we are our own.

It would help if we toned down the anti-Islam barrage.  Those whose image of Muslims, and especially of Muslim Americans, is composed of TV footage of Daesh outrages, or foreign cultural practices commonly abhorred, should take note of the many resources available for better understanding their Muslim neighbors.  They should consider the following statements from Muslim community leaders:

Dawud Walid the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan says Mateen doesn’t represent Muslims in the U.S. His message to the public; Muslims are American and as all other Americans, they are loyal to their country even if they disagree with certain issues.The rule of American Muslims is to abide by the laws of the land and to be peaceful and this recent extremist act that took place this morning, is the rare exception and in no way embodies our morals or our values as Americans citizens who just happen to be Muslims,” said Walid. [CBS Detroit]

Or, this:

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” [CAIR]

A little more mutual understanding should certainly help more than vilifying the American Muslim community.

It would help if we made it less likely that a disturbed or deranged individual could  get access to a military style weapon of war, which were never designed for civilian use.   There are listings of weapons by lethality. The AK-47 style; the M-16 (AR-15) “family”; the M240 machine gun; the PK machine gun; the QBZ 95 assault rifle.  It would seem reasonable that if a gun is listed as one of the five most lethal weapons in the world that common sense implies its ownership should be restricted.  Perhaps restricting the magazine capacity would assist in diminishing the lethality of these weapons when they are misused by civilians? That, too, sounds like common sense.

It would help if we de-stigmatized those who are harboring feelings which are anti-social and the antithesis of stability.  Who missed the signals that the Orlando shooter was demonstrating troubling personal behavior? Were the signals and warnings acted upon appropriately? Who could have warned authorities that the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter was exhibiting disturbing behavior – do we need to emphasize the necessity of giving local authorities a warning about those who combine disturbed thinking with fixations on violence?  Who might have warned authorities about the intentions of the Colorado Springs PPA facility shooter?  We are fond of saying “If you see something, say something,” why not practice what we’re preaching? And, why not support the funding and increased resources of our mental health services?

If we persist in seeing only those elements of mass shootings which conform to our pre-existing ideologies then we’ll miss the opportunities available to diminish the likelihood of further mass tragedies. A broader perspective is required to reach better horizons.

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Filed under anti-terrorism, gay issues, Gun Issues, Islam, Mental Health, Nevada politics, public safety, terrorism

Sometimes Numbers Aren’t the Point: Children and Guns

Gun Child

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Research Institute, reports that one in three handguns in the United States is kept loaded and unlocked, and most children know where their parents keep their guns. [CHPRI]  Think about that for a second or two, then add the happy note that only about 1 in 3 households in the United States is “armed.” [NPR] In fact the number of households with a gun has dropped from 47% in 1973 to 31% in 2014. [NORC pdf] So, of the 1/3rd of the households that have guns in the U.S., 1/3rd of the hand guns are likely loaded and unlocked, and most of the youngsters know where those hand guns are located.  That’s a problem.  The first and most obvious problem is that guns kill quickly and efficiently – leading to fatal suicide attempts and homicides among the young.

Gun advocates often point to the fact that suicides are included in gun death reports, and opine that this is to “inflate the figures.”  No inflation is necessary.  Whether another person holds the gun or the victim holds the gun doesn’t alter the fact that the firearm was the proximate cause of death.  If we’re looking for ways to diminish the prospect of youth suicides and homicides then gun safety regulations are a point to consider.  Why?

“Homicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24, and 82% of the homicides are firearm related. As a nation, the United States has a higher firearm mortality rate among children and youth than the next highest 25 industrialized nations of the world combined.” [JHSPH pdf]

[…] one third of all firearms deaths among adolescents are the result of suicide. Between 1994 and 2006, teen suicide rates have dropped from 11.1 per 100,000 to 6.9 per 100,000. Although adolescent females are more likely to attempt suicide than males, males are four times more likely to die from suicide.  As a result, roughly 83% of suicide deaths were males.” [JHSPH pdf]

These figures support the findings of the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital reports

  • “In 2013, 1,670 children (age 0 to 18 years) died by gunshot and an additional 9,718 were injured.
  • Among children, the majority of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent’s absence.
  • 73 percent of children under age 10 know where their parents keep their firearms and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports. 
  • More than 75 percent of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were kept in the home of the victim, a relative, or a friend.”

However, there are times the statistics aren’t enough.  We can calculate the medical expenses of a homicide victim. We can figure out approximately what the average funeral expenses will be for a suicide victim. We can collate statistics on gun ownership, gun access, and gun availability.  What we can’t calculate, collate, or figure out is the incalculable grief brought to any and all families as a result of firearm use and misuse.

What calculation is possible when a two year old child dies as a result of shooting himself with a hand gun he found in his mother’s purse? [Indianapolis April 20, 2016]  When a 26 year old mother dies because a child in the back seat of a car got hold of a gun? [Milwaukee April 27, 2016]  When a five year old girl kills herself with her father’s gun? [LaPlace, LA May 22, 2016]  In one week in April 2016, four toddlers shot and killed themselves. [NYT]

What method categorizes the grief when an 18 year old youngster with learning disabilities commits suicide, and a community has to deal with two youth suicides in the same month? [Livingston MT February 2016]  How does a school deal with an adolescent murder/suicide? [Glendale AZ, February 2016] There are lawsuits, but what are the lasting damages for a young girl bullied so viciously that she, too, commits suicide on December 11, 2014, in Fairfield, Ohio?  Reporters agonize over how to cover teen suicides, such as the one in Maine, July 2004.  Does one “minimize it” in order to avoid copy-cat results among other unstable teens; or, “report it” seeking to highlight the nature of the problems felt by adolescents and encourage more preventative measures?

What we cannot do is to remove the firearms from the discussion.  “Suicides are unstable, and this is a mental health problem?”  Yes, it’s a mental health problem – a mentally unhealthy youngster got a gun.  “It’s an inner city problem.”  Not really.   If by “inner city” the speaker is talking about African Americans, then the general numbers don’t support the isolation of the subject.  The numbers for U.S homicide murder victims by race for 2009 (2013 report) show White victims at 654 and Black victims at 639.  Under 22? White 1,381 and Black 1,813.  In fact, if we look at the numbers for victims under the age of 13, then White victims less than 1 year old – 106; Black victims 72; 1-4 years of age White 159, Black 129. And, 9-12 years old 43 White, 23 Black. It’s only in the 17-24 age range that there’s an observable disparity.  It’s too many young people who have too little judgment having access to too many guns:

“By age group, 69% of gun homicide victims are ages 18 to 40, a proportion that has changed little since 1993. These groups also have the highest homicide rates: In 2010, there were 10.7 gun homicides per 100,000 people ages 18 to 24, compared with 6.7 among those ages 25 to 40, the next highest rate.” [PewRes]

Good news and Bad news.  For good news we can look to numbers indicating a decline in gun ownership by household.  Fewer households with guns probably means fewer tragic family accidents, fewer youngsters with access to guns, and fewer opportunities for a younger person to take his or her own life.  We can also look to the decline in the overall homicide rates. Fewer people are doing fewer truly stupid things with guns.

On the counter side, only 11 states out of 50 have laws concerning firearm locking devices. Massachusetts is the only state that generally requires all firearms be stored with a lock in place. Only 5 states set standards for the design of locking devices.  This seems an unwarranted situation given that we know that about 1/3rd of accidental firearms deaths can be prevented by the use of a child proof lock and a device that indicates if a firearm is loaded. [SGL]

If we are truly concerned about our children and grandchildren, and we know that “73 percent of children under age 10 know where their parents keep their firearms and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports,” then requiring Safe Storage is a rational way to regulate the storage of firearms without impinging on a person’s right to ownership.

If we are truly concerned about our children and grandchildren, and we know that “More than 75 percent of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were kept in the home of the victim, a relative, or a friend,” then Safe Storage laws would be a sane way to restrict access to legally possessed firearms such that fewer young people might decide to take their lives in the wake of burgeoning personal problems.

If we are truly concerned about our children and grandchildren, then we’ll take a more rational perspective on the storage and access to firearms in the United States, so that the numbers will no longer matter all that much and we can concentrate on the quality of life we wish for those children.

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One Great Distraction: Guns, GOP, and Mental Health

blood money The GOP response to gun violence in America is getting tiresome, and no diversion or distraction more so than when its members cite “mental health” as a topic for discussion.

The Republican Party really shouldn’t get anywhere near this distraction, not with their record on making mental health care available to American citizens. [AmerBlg]   It doesn’t do to blather on about Guns and Mental Health in one breath and then take 50+ votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the next.

Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act about 1/3rd of those who did have health insurance in the individual market had no coverage for substance use disorder to services, and 1/5th had no coverage for mental health services, including outpatient therapy, and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization.  Additionally, even when a person did have coverage there was no guarantee mental health services would be covered comparably to medical and surgical care.   The situation in the small group market was a bit better, coverage for substance abuse and mental health services was more common, but many states did not have “parity” laws requiring comparable coverage with medical and surgical treatment.  Then, there were those 47.5 million Americans who didn’t have any health insurance, and the 25% of uninsured adults who have a mental health condition, a substance abuse problem, or both. [ASPE]

After the passage of the Affordable Care Act mental health and substance abuse are categories covered as part of the package of Essential Health Benefits.  With the finalization of rules as of January 1, 2014 consumers buying health insurance policies can be confident that the health plan will cover mental health services, and importantly, that there will be parity for mental health and substance abuse treatment coverage. [ASPE]

And what was the Republican reaction?  “Repeal.. Repeal.. Repeal…” at least 50+ times. [WaPo]  

January 8, 2011:  There was a mass shooting in Tucson, AZ  six were killed, eleven others wounded including a member of Congress, Rep. Gabby Giffords.   January 19, 2011: The House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  On February 19, 2011 the House passed an FY 2011 continuing appropriations bill with several amendments to “severely limit” the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The measure passed with no Democratic support.  Further votes were taken to carve up and diminish the provisions of the Affordable Care Act on March 3, 2011, April 13, 2011, and April 14, 2011.  On April 14, 2011 a House resolution advised the Senate to defund all mandatory and discretionary spending associated with the Affordable Care Act.  April 15, 2011 the Republican controlled House passed its version of the budget repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act.  During the four months after the Tucson Shooting the Republican controlled Congress spent much of its time trying to defund, limit, or outright repeal the law requiring health insurance companies to include mental health services as an “Essential Benefit” and on par with coverage for medical and surgical treatment.  And, they weren’t finished.  Republicans tried to gut the Affordable Care Act provisions on May 3, 2011; May 4, 2011May 24, 2011; and on August 1, 2011 the Budget Control Act cut some mandatory and discretionary funding tied to the Affordable Care Act.

October 12, 2011:  Eight people were killed and another critically wounded by a shooter in Seal Beach, California.  Ironically, on October 13, 2011 the House passed the “Protect Life Act” preventing any funding from be applied to abortion procedures.  More Congressional incursions were made on the Affordable Care Act on November 16, 2011, December 13, 2011, and December 16, 2011.  On February 1, 2012 Congress voted to repeal a long term care insurance program (CLASS).  February 17, 2012 the House voted to cut funding for Louisiana’s Medicaid program by $2.5 billion, and cut $11.6 billion including $5 billion from the Public Prevention and Health Fund.  The cut to the Medicaid program was significant because Medicaid is the insurance provider for low income people, some of whom might be in need of substance abuse or mental health care treatment.  On March 29, 2012 the House version of the FY 2013 budget called for repealing and defunding the Affordable Care Act.

April 2, 2012:  A former student at Oakland’s Oikos University opened fire in a classroom, seven were killed and three wounded.  The House attacked the Affordable Care Act again on April 27, 2012, and more significantly voted on May 10, 2012 to replace the automatic budget cuts to the Defense Department by defunding and repealing portions of the Affordable Care Act. June 7, 2012 the House voted to repeal the medical device tax, and limit the reimbursements for over the counter medications.  On July 11, 2012 the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

July 20, 2012: 12 people were killed and another 58 were injured in the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater.  Yet again, opponents of gun safety regulations noted that the shooting was the result of mental illness.

August 8, 2012: A shooter gunned down six people and injured three others at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI.

September 28, 2012: Six were killed and two injured in a workplace shooting in Minneapolis, MN.

October 21, 2012:  Three died and four were injured in a shooting in Brookfield, WI.

December 14, 2012:  Newtown, CT; 27 died including 20 first grade children. On December 20, 2012 the House voted once more to replace discretionary spending cuts enacted as part of sequestration by defunding and repealing several provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  On January 1, 2013 the “fiscal cliff deal” passed the House including the repeal of the CLASS Act and cutting funds for the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan. 

On May 16, 2013 the House voted to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. 

June 7, 2013: Five people were killed in a shooting incident in Santa Monica, CA which ended on the campus of Santa Monica College.  On July 17, 2013 the House voted to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for employers by one year.  Also on July 17, 2013, the House voted to delay the implementation of the individual mandate.  On August 2, 2013 the House voted to prevent the IRS from implementing or enforcing any portion of the Affordable Care Act.

September 16, 2013:  12 were killed and 3 injured in a shooting at the Washington, DC Naval Yard.  On September 20, 2013 the House voted to approve a short term FY 2014 continuing resolution in which the Affordable Care Act was fully defunded, including the prohibition of all discretionary and mandatory spending, and rescinding all of its unobligated balances.  On September 29, 2013 the House voted again to repeal the medical device tax, and to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by another year.  September 30, 2013, the House voted to delay the individual mandate, an action which would effectively render the law inoperable.

Votes were taken in the House on October 17, 2013; November 15, 2013; January 10, 2014; January 16, 2014, March 5, 2014 to weaken the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.  More such votes were taken on March 11, 2014; March 12, 2014; and, March 14, 2014. [LAT]

April 2, 2014: Three were killed, sixteen injured in Fort Hood, TX, scene of a previous shooting in 2009.

On January 28, 2015 Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) introduced H.R 596, a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The measure passed the House on February 3, 2015. [RC 58]*

May 23, 2015: Six dead, seven wounded in Isla Vista, CA. June 18, 2015: Nine dead at the Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC.  October 1, 2015: Nine dead, nine injured in Roseburg, OR.   Meanwhile, the Huffington Post asked Senators what might be done about the carnage:

“If there’s one issue that these senators wanted to talk about when asked about gun violence, it was the mental health component. Nearly all of those who were interviewed said their attention is on that aspect of the problem, instead of on gun laws.

“What I’ve been focused on, and I think it very much relates to, unfortunately, too many of these mass shootings, is improving our early intervention mental health system,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “Hopefully we can take some immediate action and find common ground.” [HuffPo]

Improving our “early intervention mental health system?”   What appears to be more than slightly inane (if not outright insane)  is to believe that repealing the Affordable Care Act — such that we cannot assure health insurance coverage for substance abuse and mental health problems, on par with coverage for medical and surgical treatment – is going to augment our attempts at “early intervention,” – or for that matter, for intervention at any stage.

Unless, and until, the Republicans are willing to stop trying to repeal the law that requires mental health treatment coverage as part of an Essential Benefit package, and stop attempting to repeal the provisions saying that the coverage must be on par with other medical and surgical treatment benefits, the noise about “doing something about mental health” is just that – a distracting noise.

Unless, and until, the Republicans are willing to put legislation into the hopper (and bring it to the floor for a vote) increasing (1) federal support for mental health care services, and (2)  increasing the number of low income people in the Medicaid program who have access to expanded coverage, then they’ll have to pardon those who say the “mental health” rhetoric is a hollow, shallow, attempt to distract the nation from any serious and substantive discussion of gun violence as a public health issue.

References: Congressional Research Service, “Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act, July 8, 2015. (pdf) Los Angeles Times, Deadliest Shooting Rampages, October 1, 2015.  Washington Post, House has voted 54 times in four years on Obamacare,” March 21, 2014.  AmericaBlog, “Republicans are using mental health as an excuse to do nothing about gun violence.” October 6, 2015.  International Business Times, “Republicans’ Mass Shooting Response Focuses Not On Gun Control But On Mental Health Reform,: October 5, 2015.  Huffington Post, “Despite Mass shootings, Republicans won’t touch gun laws,” October 6, 2015.

*Nevada Representatives Amodei, Hardy, and Heck, voted in favor of H.R. 596.  Representative Titus voted no.

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Filed under H.R. 1591, Mental Health, Nevada politics, Politics, public health