Tag Archives: gun violence

Guns

I don’t post often about America’s insane gun culture, because the lines have been drawn for a very long time, and the combatants’ feet are firmly in cement.

I could share innumerable facts: how many people die by gun each year, the margin by which the thousands domestic gun deaths exceed deaths in war, how guns facilitate suicide…on and on. It wouldn’t matter to the relative minority of gun owners who stockpile weapons and foam at the mouth at any suggestion that we withhold firearms from wife-beaters, crazy people or people on the terrorist watch-list.

Unfortunately, the foaming-mouth folks can rely upon the congressional GOP to ignore any and all facts, and block efforts to fund research into gun violence.

Research does exist, however, and rational people will find it persuasive. The Guardian recently reported on data from an experiment in the Bay Area.

For each new millionaire household the San Francisco Bay Area has produced, there are at least four new people living below the poverty level. San Francisco’s property crime rate has spiked to the highest in the nation. Many people – tech newcomers and longtime residents alike – complain of feeling unsafe.

At the same time, with little fanfare, the Bay Area has seen a dramatic drop in its homicide rate, driven by a considerable decrease in deadly shootings.
Across the region, the overall gun homicide rate has dropped 30% in the past decade, a Guardian investigation of homicide data across more than 100 cities has found.

The study analyzed homicide data across California’s Bay Area from 2007 to 2017. During that time, gun homicide rates fell across all racial groups, but the decrease was largest for black residents.

What was particularly striking about these findings was that the dramatic drop came at the same time as criminal justice reforms in California reduced the number of people in the state’s jails and prisons.

The reduction came as cities like Oakland and Richmond did what a number of scholars have recommended: they changed their approach to the problem, investing tens of millions of dollars in public health approaches to gun violence.

The study considered–and dismissed–the possibility that gentrification was the reason violence subsided.

Three cities that are undergoing intense gentrification saw the biggest drops in gun homicides. But outlying suburbs – the towns where many residents forced out by gentrification have moved – did not see a corresponding increase in violence…

The Bay Area still sees nearly 300 gun homicides each year. But these changes are profound. The majority of America’s gun homicide victims are black, killed in everyday shootings in segregated, economically struggling neighborhoods in cities such as Oakland and Richmond. It’s this everyday toll of violence, not mass shooting casualties, that drives America’s gun homicide rate 25 times higher than those of other wealthy countries.

The article noted that cities that once ranked among the nation’s deadliest have seen enormous decreases, and emphasized that these decreases spanned a decade– they weren’t single-year drops. The declines persisted over the years.

California has the strongest gun laws in the country, and it has enacted more than 30 new gun control laws since 2009 alone. The Guardian credited those constraints, together with the change in approach to violence prevention, for the reduction in gun homicides.

There’s early evidence that local violence prevention strategies – including a refocused, more community-driven “Ceasefire” policing strategy, and intensive support programs that do not involve law enforcement at all – were a “key change” contributing to these huge decreases.

As the article concedes, there are still plenty of problems in the Bay Area. (Police shootings haven’t declined, for example.) But there is a lesson here.

Of course, lessons are lost on people determined not to learn them.

Picture This

There’s an old saying arguing that one picture is worth a thousand words. An activist named Joe Quint is testing that thesis.

The promotional postcard reproduced below describes the project, sponsored by the “Faith, Justice and the Arts” program of St. Paul’s church.

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On the website giving additional information about the project, Quint explains what motivated him to produce graphic representations of the consequences of gun violence.

It was mid-2014 – right after the University of California at Santa Barbara shooting – and I happened to glance at that weeks’ issue of PEOPLE magazine. The cover story was about some Kardashian wedding and there was a little blurb in the upper right corner about the shooting… with a subhead saying ‘How could this happen – again?’. Setting aside the disproportionality in importance of these two stories, I was struck by both the naivety and irresponsiblity of that copy….

I became increasingly frustrated by inaction – my own and the inaction of my country. I could no longer pay lip service to the importance of reducing the over 36,000 senseless and preventable deaths that take place every year. I could no longer just sign petitions or – worse – scratch my head in amazement every time there was a national tragedy and wonder what it was going to take to change society for the better.

The result of his frustration was It Takes Us, a long-term documentary project about the impact of gun violence on the survivors, their family members , and on witnesses to these horrific acts.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the turmoil generated by Trump and his administration is the sheer number of important issues competing for our attention. Gun violence and our need to address its causes must compete with assaults on women’s equality, efforts to undo environmental protections, defund public education, eviscerate the ACA…the list goes on. But as the teenage survivors of Parkland have reminded us, America’s gun culture can no longer be ignored.

If you live in or around Indianapolis, or another venue listed on the website, go see the exhibit.

Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts!

Just how depressing have America’s policy debates become? What is the extent to which emotion and ideology have replaced reliance on facts, evidence and data–and what are the consequences of our refusal to confront unpleasant realities?

Permit me to offer just two examples.

In Florida, as you have probably heard, state workers are not permitted to use the phrase “climate change.” As the Guardian wryly noted,

You might have missed it, but Florida has solved climate change. Our state, with 1,300 miles of coastline and a mean elevation of 100 feet, did not, however, limit greenhouse emissions. Instead, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), under Republican governor Rick Scott, forbade employees from using terms like “climate change,” “global warming” or “sea-level rise”. They’re all gone now. You’re welcome, by the way.

It’s pointless to call linguistic distortions of reality like this Orwellian: people tune you out when you use that word and, besides, Big Brother at least had wit. These are just the foot-stamping insistent lies of intellectual toddlers on the grift. It is “nuh-uh” as public policy. This is an elected official saying, “I put a bag over your head, so that means now I’m invisible” and then going out looting.

It isn’t only Florida; Scott Walker’s Wisconsin has a similar rule.

North Carolina went them one better:

In North Carolina, the legislature passed a ruling after the state’s Coastal Resources Commission released an estimate predicting the sea will rise 39 inches along the state’s coast in a century, ABC News reported.

The estimation alarmed developers and seaside residents. If the state was to take action, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said ABC. North Carolina would need to draw new flood zones, build waste-treatment plants and elevate roads, and several permits of planned development projects would be in jeopardy.

So the state’s legislature promptly addressed the problem–with a bill banning the actual measurement of sea levels; henceforth, sea-level rise “may be predicted based only on historical data.”

It isn’t only climate change. For a number of years, Congress has banned federal research by the CDC on gun violence–a ban it extended in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston church shooting that left 9 people dead.

The ban began with the 1996 Dickey Amendment, which barred the CDC from involvement in any research that could be interpreted as advocating tougher gun laws. Jack Dickey, a Republican Congressman from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who was then a junior member of the House Appropriations Committee, authored a rider to a spending bill that also slashed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget— the precise amount that the organization had dedicated to studying gun violence the year before.

Ever since, CDC studies on guns and public health have been virtually non-existent. Dickey has since expressed regret over sponsoring the measure.

Every single day, 89 Americans die from gun violence, and yet we refuse to support research on the causes, effects and consequences of those deaths.

Representative David Price, vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, recently argued that

“Regardless of where we stand in the debate over gun violence, we should all be able to agree that this debate should be informed by objective data and robust scientific research.”

Representative Price is wrong. There is nothing that ideologues and interest groups fear more than “objective data and robust scientific research.” Their most fervent hope is that public policy debates continue to be conducted in the absence of evidence. Their motto is: don’t confuse me with science or fact.

Problem is, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson is fond of noting, science is true whether or not you believe in it. Facts exist whether we accept them or not.

Ignoring reality is ultimately unsustainable.

Guns and Externalities

In economics, an externality is defined as the effect of a decision by one set of parties on other parties who did not have a choice and whose interests were not taken into account.

The classic example of a negative externality is the widget manufacturer who pollutes a local waterway rather than properly disposing of his toxic byproducts. This saves the manufacturer money, advantaging him in the marketplace because he doesn’t have to factor the cost of disposal into the price of his widgets. Local taxpayers pay to clean up the waterway, effectively subsidizing his profits.

The discussion on this blog yesterday triggered (I know, bad pun) a consideration of the externalities created by our current permissive gun laws.

The Shorenstein Center at Harvard has an interesting and relevant analysis. It begins with the raw numbers:

More than 30,000 people a year in the United States die from gunshot wounds, whether intentional or accidental. What we don’t hear as much about are the tens of thousands more who are hurt by bullets but survive. In 2013, five people suffered non-fatal firearm injuries for every two who died, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 2003 to 2013, 799,760 people sustained non-fatal injuries — nearly 23 percent of which were accidental. This 10-year total includes 82,325 children age 17 and younger.

A recent, 18 state study focused on individuals who had been treated for a firearm injury in 2010 and discharged alive. The research team assessed the strictness of gun legislation in those states using scorecards created by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Among the research findings:

There were, on average, 19 non-fatal firearm injuries per 100,000 people in 2010. Of the states included in the study, Hawaii had the fewest injuries — 3.3 non-fatal gun injuries per 100,000 people. South Carolina had the most with 36.6 per 100,000 people…..

States with strict laws regulating background checks and gun purchases had lower rates of non-fatal injury. Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws also were associated with lower rates of non-fatal injury. When researchers analyzed legislation and the records of patients who were 19 years old and younger, they found that states with strict child-access laws had fewer children and teenagers with self-inflicted and accidental firearm injuries compared to states with “non-strict” laws.

Here’s the kicker–or, in economic terms, the externality.

Recent estimates have suggested that the societal cost of nonfatal firearm injuries in 2010 approached $20 billion …

And guess who pays most of that $20 billion?

Most of this economic burden falls on taxpayers via costs directed toward Medicare, Medicaid, and the uninsured.

Yesterday, in the comments, Red George suggested requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance. A great idea, but I’m sure the NRA would argue that making gun owners assume responsibility for the damage they cause would violate the Second Amendment.

And we know who writes the laws….