Archive for the ‘Gun Violence’ Category

What’s The Truth About Violent Crime In America?

Friday, February 3rd, 2023

Let me ask you a question. In the last 30 years, has the rate of violent crime in America:

  1. Increased (by a little, by a lot, doesn’t matter);
  2. Stayed about the same; or,
  3. Declined?

I’m going to suggest that you, like 63% of Americans surveyed by Gallup, picked number 1.

But you all would be wrong. Not wrong by a little, but wrong by a lot. The rate of violent crime in America has declined precipitously since 1991. How precipitously? By nearly 50%, from 758 reported incidents per 100,000 persons in 1991 to 403 in 2021, according to the Department of Justice. Our rate of violent crime today is the same as it was in 1970.*

Reported violent crime in the US from 1990 to 2021

But it hasn’t always been like this. Here is another chart showing violent crime levels since 1960.

Putting aside the steep rise from 1960 to 1991, we’re faced with two more questions:

Why do so many Americans believe violent crime hasn’t dropped?

Gallup has surveyed Americans perceptions about violent crime since 1994. In that year, 80% of us believed violent crime was on the upswing, and the second chart would bear that out. Since then, however, the rate of violent crime has dropped like a brick off a table, but 63% still believe crime is on the rise. Interestingly, they see their own environs as fairly safe and stable; it’s everywhere else that’s seeing violent crime rise.

It seems to me there is one overarching explanation for this faulty perception, and it is the way local, national and social media present news to us every day. Tune in to your evening news, either locally or nationally, and I guarantee you will see and hear about at least one violent crime that has happened that day, usually a murder or two, maybe more. Social media only amplifies the bombardment of the blood and gore. And when we’re faced with a mass shooting or an instance of police brutality the media guns start blazing even more.

Super fast and broad-based technology has enabled us to learn of all the bad things that happen in the world as they are happening, and Twitter, Facebook, et al, keep it front and center all the time. We can be forgiven for thinking we’re heading decidedly in the wrong direction. This perception is also constantly reinforced on cable news channels, especially Fox, although it is interesting to note that immediately following the recent midterm elections Fox’s focus on violent crime nearly disappeared.

Why does our media lead with the bleed? Well, there’s a lot of money to be made in selling bad news.

Why and how has the drop in violent crime happened?

There is no single, simple answer to this question, which is why it is so complicated. There are a lot of things that have, in their own ways, helped to drive down the rate of violent crime. Trouble is, people crave simple, wrapped-tight-in-a-sound-bite, answers, and the simple sound bite most often tossed out concerns incarceration.

The lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key crowd point to our imprisonment rate as the prime mover in the drop of violent crime.

As we have experienced our three decade decline in violent crime, we have seen a concomitant growth in our prison population. It’s tempting to view this as a cause and effect phenomenon, an assumption having some validity, but not as much as you might expect.

Although the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. As of 2022, there were 2.2 million people in prisons and jails in this country. With an incarceration rate of 710 inmates per 100,000 people, which is more than six times the average rate in the 38-country OECD, the United States trails only the Seychelles in the frequency with which it deprives its residents of liberty, and vastly outpaces that of Iran, Zimbabwe, and even notoriously punitive Singapore. Here is our incarceration diving board.

While it might be intuitive to latch onto the idea that locking up all the usual suspects led directly to the decline in violent crime, we should go gently down that road. Reasonable as it might sound, the research shows this to be far less conclusive. A panel from the National Academy of Sciences looked at the existing research for its landmark 2012 report on the American prison system. They concluded that “on balance,” higher incarceration rates had a “modest” effect on the decline. But they also cautioned that a lack of clear evidence means any benefits were “unlikely to have been large.” The researchers conclude “the United States has gone far past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits and has reached a level where these high rates of incarceration themselves constitute a source of injustice and social harm.”

Moreover, a 2022, 3-year study from the Brennan Center For Justice, examined data from 1.56 million prisoners (The Center could not get access to the data for the nation’s other 640,000 incarcerated people, because most were in jails around the country, which made data accumulation difficult). The study underscores the National Academy of Science’s work taking care to validate our rate of incarceration is only minimally responsible for the drop in the rate of  violent crime. Yes, there is a relationship between the two, but it’s tenuous at best. According to the Brennan Center’s study:

Rigorous social science research based on decades of data shows that increased incarceration played an extremely limited role in the crime decline. It finds that social and economic factors, and to some extent policing, drove this drop. Though this truth is counterintuitive, it is real.

Studies from the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project and the National Academy of Sciences corroborate findings from the Brennan Center and leading economists: “When the incarceration rate is high, the marginal crime reduction gains from further increases tend to be lower, because the offender on the margin between incarceration and an alternative sanction tends to be less serious. In other words, the crime fighting benefits of incarceration diminish with the scale of the prison population.” Although there is some relationship between increased incarceration and lower crime, at a certain point, locking up additional people is not an effective crime control method, especially when imprisoning one person costs $31,000 a year.

An editorial comment about our incarcerated population: It is hugely and disproportionately comprised of people of color, primarily blacks. According to the Pew Research Center, “In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners. And while Hispanics represented 16% of the adult population, they accounted for 23% of inmates.” If this is not an example of racism run amuck, institutional racism, I don’t know what is.

In addition to imprisonment, what else could account for the drop in violent crime? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Law enforcement and better policing – In 2015, the Brennan Center found a “modest, downward effect on crime in the 1990s, likely 0 to 10 percent” from increased hiring of police officers.
  • Income growth – Some researchers theorize that greater opportunity for legal income reduces the need for illegal sources of it. The Brennan Center’s analysis attributed about 5 to 10 percent of the 1990s decline to it, a relatively modest amount. However, following the Great Recession of 2008 when unemployment soared and income declined, violent crime did not go up; it continued its downward trajectory.
  • A drop in alcohol consumption – How closely related are alcohol and crime? The National Bureau of Economic Research found correlations between its consumption and aggravated assault, rape, and some types of theft, but not murder and burglary. Since assault is the most common violent crime, it’s logical that increased alcohol use leads to higher crime rates. Americans only drank slightly less beer, the most common form of alcohol consumption at that time, between 1990 and 2000. But it was enough for the Brennan Center to attribute to it a 7.5 percent drop in crime during the 1990s.
  • Roe v. Wade – In a 2019 paper, the economist Steven Levitt and fellow economist John Donohue argued that the 1973 ruling reduced the number of children born in unwanted circumstances, thereby reducing the number of children predisposed to violent crime later in life. Overall, they estimated this 20-year-lag effect might account for as much as half of the crime decline in the ’90s. However, The Guttmacher Institute estimates between 700,000 and 800,000 women terminated a pregnancy each year in the decades preceding Roe. If large numbers of women prevented unwanted births prior to the ruling, the sudden availability of legal abortion might not have radically changed the overall number.

For years, scholars have been trying to understand why our violent crime rate has dropped since the 1990s as steeply as it rose in the prior three decades. Personally, I see a constellation of efforts from many disparate sources that, taken together, have somehow brought about this desirable result. Yet, although we’re heading in the right direction, we’re still an outlier, and a distant one at that, when compared to our OECD peers. Clearly, we need to do more.

Addendum

Jonah Goldberg is a conservative columnist whose writing I admire but whose political policies I tend to differ with. He’s the co-founder of The Dispatch, a daily publication liberals would find thought-provoking and interesting. He’s what I call a “thoughtful conservative” who recoils at the very name of the creature who used to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue until being disgorged, unwillingly, in early 2021.

In addition to his other duties at The Dispatch, Goldberg writes a rather long form weekly piece on whatever is taking up space in his capacious brain at the time. Yesterday’s was entitled The Race to Racism.

I’m not going to comment here on his thoughts about racism, but I am going to comment on his thoughts on violent crime, specifically intentional homicide. In his post, Jonah Goldberg wrote:

Whenever you hear people talk about America as uniquely or exceptionally flawed—or superior!—the first question you should ask is, “compared to whom?”

For instance, we hear a lot about how America has a murder problem. And it does!  But you know where America ranks internationally on homicides?

64.

Now, in one sense America could be No. 1 or No. 195 on the international intentional homicide rate charts and it really wouldn’t matter much. Because by definition, one murder is too many. But it’s worth knowing if we’re doing much worse—or better—than other countries for all sorts of practical reasons. Maybe some country had success or failure trying X or Y? That’s worth finding out for policy reasons.

Mr. Goldberg snuck that number 64 into his argument as if to say, “Hey, we’re pretty good. There are 63 countries more ‘flawed’ than we are. We should feel a bit better.”

Trouble is, of the 172 countries in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s International Homicide Statistics database quoted by Jonah, the only OECD country with a worse intentional homicide rate than the US is Mexico, and in certain parts of Mexico, murder is king.

At number 64 in the rankings, the rate of intentional homicide in the US is 4.96 per 100,000 people. Putting Mexico aside, the next OECD country in the rankings is Chile with a rate of 4.4, followed by Turkey, at 2.59. Countries that are more our peers, the UK, France, Canada and Germany, all have rates of intentional homicide well below 2.0.

Jonah Goldberg wasn’t saying, “Think how lucky we are.” But he was saying, “Hey, things could be a lot worse.”

Which is a scary thought.

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*Before complimenting ourselves too strenuously, we should remember our homicide rate is still three times that of the OECD average.

 

Gun Violence: A Uniquely American Disease Devouring Our Soul

Thursday, January 26th, 2023

America suffered through 647 mass shootings in 2022, which is just a little better than the worst year on record, 2021, a year in which we saw 692 of them. In the last nine days, three mass shootings happened in California, killing 18 people. Thus far, in the first 26 days of 2023 there have been 40, which is more than any other January on record.

The 40 mass shootings in the the first 26 days of January resulted in 86 deaths. Although any death from gun violence is tragic, deaths from mass shootings make up a small percentage of all gun violence deaths. In 2022, there were more than 44,000 of them, 20,138 if you exclude suicides.  Through the first 26 days of January, there have already been 3,030 gun violence deaths nationally.   Here’s a map from the Gun Violence Archive* showing where all those deaths happened. Remember: It’s only 26 days.

If you extrapolate this for the full year, you’ll project more than 45,000 deaths. Now, mass shootings are not proxies for overall gun violence, but it could be instructive (and scary) to realize January is an historically low mass shooting month (relatively speaking).

How does America react to this continuing carnage? It yawns.

Oh, we hear from the politicians with their “thoughts and prayers” routine and go through the required few hours of television coverage (TV’s Mantra: “If it bleeds, it leads”), but after that we slip back into our desensitized cocoons. Most of the mass shootings go unnoticed. At 1.77 per day, who can keep up?

Beginning in 1959, and as it has every year since, the Gallup organization polled Americans with this question: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?”  When Gallup asked that question in 1959, 60% of Americans said “Yes, there should be such a law.” Thirty-two years later, in 1991, the “Yes” group had decreased to 43%, and thirty years after that, in 2021, only 19% of Americans were still saying “Yes.” A whopping 80% now said “No.” Credit the NRA. It has done a magnificent marketing job.

Since 1959, when Gallup also reported 78% of Americans believed laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, the decline in support for banning guns has been inversely proportional to the 63-year steady, linear rise in gun ownership and violence. The result is what we have today. Forty-five percent of all households now own at least one handgun. US gun owners possess 393.3 million weapons, according to a 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization. That is at least 60 million more guns than there are people. It is no surprise gun deaths routinely exceed the number of deaths due to auto accidents.

And it only got worse after Americans went on a gun buying spree beginning in 2020. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which the FBI collects, is a significant indicator of firearms purchases. It is noteworthy that background checks jumped 40% in 2020 from the previous year to 39.7 million checks. The frenzy only cooled slightly to 38.9 million checks in 2021.

Where do all those guns come from? Why, from the 71,600 federally licensed gun dealers operating nationwide, of course. That’s more than 1,400 per state.

It may interest you to know that the proposition reflected in Gallup’s question precisely mirrors the law in the UK. No one is allowed to own a gun except “police and other authorized persons.” Exceptions are made for hunting and target shooting, but these are highly regulated and controlled by government. There is very little handgun violence in the UK. To this, you may say, “Without guns, people will just find another way to kill.” To which I reply, “I’d rather try to outrun a knife than a bullet.”

I, like many others smarter than I, have written about this often. It almost seems as if it’s an annual requirement in which we fulfill Albert Einstein’s (possibly misattributed) definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

A University of Washington 2015 study found three million Americans carried a loaded handgun daily; nine million did so at least once a month. Since then, 19 states have passed permitless carry laws, which allow residents to carry concealed handguns in public without a license. There are now 25 states that allow this. If all this weren’t bad enough, only 18 states require “live-fire training” for people carrying concealed firearms.

Is gun violence evenly distributed around the country? Actually, no. It is far more prevalent in red states. These are the states with “stand your ground” statutes and permitless concealed carry laws. Once again, Mississippi leads the way with 28.6 gun violence deaths per 100,000 persons.

Firearm Mortality by State

Compared to the rest of the developed world, every one of our firearm statistics are staggeringly out of whack. As I reported in May of 2022, the US dwarfs the 28 most economically developed countries in the 38-member OECD** in deaths by firearms. Not only is our firearm death rate nearly 25 times higher than our OECD companions, our total homicide rate is eight times higher. Can’t get away from it. We are a violent society.

It’s not much, but there is one ever so tiny glimmer of light invading the darkness of firearm carnage in America. That would be the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed into law by President Biden in June, 2022. This is the first major gun reform law in three decades. It includes $750 million in funding for states to improve or enact red flag laws and other crisis intervention programs, $250 million for community-based violence intervention initiatives, and $200 million for improving the national background check system. Millions more will go to school safety, police, and mental health programs.

Gun violence is a cancer eating away the heart and soul of America. It is amazing to realize that, despite the never-ending bloodbath, the country has managed to survive, prosper, thrive, and lead the world in so many areas.

Amazing, indeed.

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*The Gun Violence Archive is a nonprofit research group that tracks shootings and their characteristics in the United States. It defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people, excluding the perpetrator(s), are shot in one location at roughly the same time.

**The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, founded by the US and it allies shortly after the close of the Second World War. Its members are the most economically developed countries.

Do Right To Carry Laws Make Us Safer?

Monday, August 15th, 2022

America is awash in guns.

According to a 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization, Americans in that year had in their possession 393.3 million weapons, which is 16% more than the country’s population of about 330 million people. And since that year, especially beginning in 2020, we  have been on a gun buying spree. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which the FBI collects and is widely used as a proxy for firearms purchases, jumped 40% in 2020 from 2019 to 39.7 million background checks. The frenzy only cooled slightly to 38.9 million checks in 2021.

With all those guns, it is only natural that people want to be able to take them with them when they leave their homes. Enter Right To Carry laws, RTCs.

In January of 2023, Alabama will become the 25th state that won’t require permits to carry a gun in public. In recent years, more and more states have enacted similar legislation. Indiana, Georgia and Ohio, did so this year. The change in Indiana made headlines as it happened just two weeks before a deadly mass shooting at a mall in an Indianapolis suburb, where a gunman killed three and wounded two more before being shot dead by a bystander who also carried a gun.

The rationale for RTC laws is always the same: They will keep us safer, because people will be able to defend themselves and their families from bad people with guns, a la the Indianapolis situation. But is that even remotely true?

To find out, John J. Donohue, Samuel V. Cai, Matthew V. Bondy, and Philip J. Cook, writing in the National Bureau of Economic Research Paper Series, in June of this year published their study, More Guns, More Unintended Consequences: The Effects Of Right To Carry On Criminal Behavior And Policing In US Cities.

The conclusion of their heavily researched, 36 page paper? “The rate of firearm violent crimes rises by 29 percent due to RTC, with the largest increases shown in firearm robberies.”

Consider this chart, which compares the incidence of violent crime in major cities in the year before  passage of Right To Carry laws and the year after.

From the Report:

The statistically significant estimates that RTC laws increase overall firearm violent crime as well as the component crimes of firearm robbery and firearm aggravated assault by remarkably large amounts with an attendant finding of no sign of any benefit from RTC laws represent a remarkable indictment of permissive gun carrying laws. Perhaps the most noteworthy and novel result is the finding that RTC laws increase firearm robbery by a striking 32 percent.

This study shoots a great big hole through the idea that Right To Carry laws keep us safer. In fact, the reverse is true.

Another consequence of RTC laws is the effect they have on the capacity and ability of police to solve crimes. That is, they cause crime to go up so much that police turn into the Ed Sullivan Plate Spinner.

 

The increasing firearm violence that RTC laws perpetuate is facilitated by a massive 35 percent increase in gun theft (p = 0.06), with further crime stimulus flowing from diminished police effectiveness, as reflected in a 13 percent decline in violent crime clearance rates.

The study authors say RTC laws may generate a host of demands on police time and resources that reduces the amount of time they have to fight crime. Processing complaints about the increased gun thefts, accidental discharges and injuries, processing RTC permit applications, and taking time to check for permit validity by those carrying guns will all encumber police resources.

For example, if the police only have the ability to solve 40 out of 100 crimes, and if crime rises by 20 percent and they still can only solve 40 crimes, the clearance rate would fall from 40 percent to 33 percent (40 out of 120).

Nonetheless, it appears we are stuck with at least half the states falling in love with Right To Carry laws. We are also stuck with the horrid consequences.

Gun Violence In America Is An Example Of The Worst Form Of Insanity

Tuesday, May 31st, 2022

Beginning in 1959, and as it has every year since, the Gallup organization polled Americans with this question: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?”  When Gallup asked that question in 1959, 60% of Americans said “Yes.” Thirty-two years later, in 1991, the “Yes” group had decreased to 43%, and thirty years after that, in 2021, only 19% of Americans were still saying “Yes.” A whopping 80% now said “No.”

Since 1959, when Gallup also reported 78% of American saying laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, the decline in support for banning guns has been inversely proportional to the 63-year steady, linear rise in gun violence. The result is what we have today. Gun violence has become a cancer eating away the heart and soul of our society.

It may interest you to know that the proposition reflected in Gallup’s question precisely mirrors the law in the UK. No one is allowed to own a gun except “police and other authorized persons.” Exceptions are made for hunting and target shooting, but these are highly regulated and controlled by government. There is very little handgun violence in the UK. To this, you may say, “Without guns, people will just find another way to kill.” To which I reply, “I’d rather try to outrun a knife than a bullet.”

Last week, immediately following the massacre of 19 little children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a British reporter asked Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz why the US suffers a seemingly intractable and growing slaughter of innocents through mass shootings. The reporter pointed out America is the only highly developed country in the world where this occurs. So, why America? Rather than attempting to address, much less answer, the question, Cruz launched into platitudes about what a great country America is. When the reporter continually pressed him for an answer (US reporters should take this as a learning experience), the Senator, after trying the platitude thing again, simply avoided the reporter and hurriedly left the area.

I viewed this exchange as an important one. It highlighted the societal dichotomy we face. The US dwarfs the 28 most economically developed countries in the 38-member OECD* in deaths by firearms. In our country, 98 people die by firearms every single day. In those other 28 OECD countries, with a combined population more than twice that of America (712 million vs. 331 million), that number is 19.

Thinking about the British reporter’s question to Senator Cruz, I decided to dive into the actual statistics to compare our gun violence experience with that of the 28 OECD countries cited above as a whole. The year I’m using as a benchmark is 2015, because a number of peer reviewed and credible studies were done that year. I assure you, as I will note below, the situation has only gotten worse in the succeeding six+ years.

2015 (Rates per 100,000 persons)

All Homicides
US – 5.6
Other 28 countries – 0.7

Homicides by firearm
US – 4.1
Other 28 countries – 0.2

Non-firearm homicide
US – 1.5
Other 28 countries – 0.6

Accidental firearm death
US – 0.2
Other 28 countries – 0.0

Firearm death rate
US – 11.2
Other 28 countries – 1.0

Total deaths by firearm
US – 35,769
Other 28 countries – 6,965

Population
US – 331 Million
Other 28 countries – 712.3 Million

Not only is our firearm death rate nearly 25 times higher than our OECD companions, our total homicide rate is eight times higher. We are a violent country.

And what about the mass shootings that, like a knife to the heart, horrify us every time one happens?

The FBI found an increase in active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2020. There were three such incidents in 2000; by 2020, that figure had increased to 40. There have been 27 thus far in 2022.

In 2020, the FBI reports, 513 people died in mass shooting incidents. In that year, according to the CDC, 45,222 of our neighbors died by firearms. Note how that is nearly 6,000 more than we reported above for 2015.

The number of deaths from mass shootings is paltry compared to the number of total deaths by firearms nationally (0.011%).

So, now, in the face of all this mayhem, we hear that our elected legislators may be willing to take some action at an unknown time in the future regarding gun control. We know Americans support this.

Politico/Morning Consult poll published last Wednesday showed “huge support” for gun regulations in that 88% of voters strongly or somewhat strongly support background checks on all gun sales, while only 8% strongly or somewhat strongly oppose such checks. That’s a net approval of +80.

Preventing gun sales to people who have been reported to police as dangerous by a mental health provider is supported by 84% of voters while only 9% oppose it, a net approval of +75. I’m forced to wonder about those 9%ers.

A national database for gun sales gets 75% approval and 18% disapproval, a net approval rate of +57.

Banning assault style weapons like the AR-15 has an approval rate of 67% while only 25% disapprove. That’s a net approval of +42.

And fifty-four percent of voters approve of arming teachers with concealed weapons, while only 34% oppose it, a net approval of +20. Wait—armed teachers. Think about that for a moment. I can just see Sister Mary Stellan, my 2nd grade teacher, packing heat.

These numbers may lead to some kind of legislation. However, as long as we have more guns (393.1 million) in this country than there are people (331 million), do you really believe things will improve significantly?

Among US states, the rate of firearm deaths varies widely. In 2020, Mississippi had the highest firearm death rate in the nation, 28.6 per 100,000 Mississippians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as opposed to 0.2 in our OECD comparison (I continue to ask, “What goes on in Mississippi?”). New England states fared better, and Massachusetts, where I live, had the second-lowest rate of gun deaths in 2020 at 3.7 per 100,000, trailing only Hawaii at 3.4. However, the Massachusetts rate was still 5.3 times higher than the combined rate of gun deaths in the other 28 countries.

To put a period on this: At less than half the population, the US has 83.7% of all the deaths by firearms in the 29 most highly developed OECD member countries. If our firearm death rate mirrored that of just an average OECD country, deaths by firearm in America would drop 96%. At 45,222 deaths in 2020, that would be 43,413 folks who would still be with us.

I can only conclude that what the NRA paid-in-full Congress is thinking about doing maybe at some point in the possible near term is nothing more than nibbling at the edges of a monstrous problem, and they’re nibbling in ever so tiny bites.

This is insane.

 

*The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, founded by the US and it allies shortly after the close of the Second World War. Its members are the most economically developed countries.

 

It’s Time For Some Morality In Leadership

Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Nineteen young children and three adults including the 18-year-old shooter. Slaughter on a grand scale, American style.

What can one say that hasn’t been said before and is being said again right now? Nothing. We have run out of new words.

Gun law advocates will say are saying, have said — we need tighter gun control laws. Second Amendment obsessives will say are saying, have said— No, we don’t; it’s not the guns. It’s the demented people using them.

These positions are not mutually exclusive, but that is how we treat them. Result? Nothing ever gets done, and the killing goes on.

I wrote about this back in 2019, and, because not a thing has changed since then, I thought I couldn’t do better than to share a portion of that column.

September, 1970

Let me tell you a story.

We call it “going back to the world.” Home in the USA. And I’ve arrived in one piece. For the last couple of years I’ve been running around the jungles of Vietnam. My new orders direct me to report to the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I know the place well. It’s where I was trained and Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Then on to Airborne and Ranger schools. Now a Captain, the job is to train the next bunch of happy warriors. My wife and I settle into the house at 3660 Plantation Road in the fine city of Columbus. It’s a nice neighborhood.

A few months after moving in a new civilian worker shows up at my office in the Infantry School. His name’s Bob. He’s a GS12 research analyst and I have no idea why he’s here, but he has a disability that makes it hard for him to walk or move even moderately weighted stuff. He’s rented a house in Columbus and is trying to figure out how to move his junk in. My wife and I offer to help.

So, on a sunny Saturday morning in the deep south we get into Marilyn’s red Corvair Corsa with its turbocharged engine and dual carburetors, show up at Bob’s new place, and find a UHaul truck in his driveway packed with everything he owns. We get to work toting box after box into the house and putting it all where Bob wants it to go. It’s taken us all morning, but around noon we’re done and we sit down on Bob’s new furniture to celebrate the end of Bob’s beginning. Marilyn’s never met Bob, whom I’ve charitably described as being “a little strange.”  So, being a curious person she nicely asks about his life. This goes on for a while until the big moment.

The big moment is when Bob says to Marilyn, “Wanna see my hair-trigger Colt 45s?”

It’s like an E. F. Hutton commercial. Everything stops. I freeze for a second and then say, “Bob, do you really have hair-trigger Colt 45s?” He says, “Sure do. Two of ’em. They’re pearl-handled, too. Want to see?”

He’s asking a guy who’s just finished two years dodging bullets and other bad things in a spot where serious people really wanted to kill him and his men. To say I have developed a healthy respect for any kind of gun is not giving that phrase the value it needs. Having seen up close what they can do, the accidents that can happen, actually did happen, makes me scared to death of them. I’m not scared when they’re in my hands, but in somebody else’s who probably doesn’t know what he’s doing? I’m not scared yet, though, because Bob has yet to produce the firepower, but my tension level rises like a Goddard Rocket.

I look Bob dead in the eye and say, “Bob, please don’t get the 45s. Leave em’ right where they are. Marilyn and I have to be going. Hope you like your new place.” And with that, we leave.

We get back into the red Corvair Corsa with the turbocharged engine and dual carburetors and drive home. When we get to the house on Plantation Road I pay the babysitter and look at the two-year-old daughter I’m just getting to know. And I think about the pearl-handled, hair-trigger Colt 45s in Bob’s house.

May, 2022

A University of Washington 2017 study found that three million Americans carry a loaded handgun daily; nine million do so at least once a month. According to the recently completed U.S. Census, there are somewhere around 390 million guns in the hands of civilians in America. According to the CDC, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) U.S. murders in 2020 19,384 out of 24,576 involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records.

Unfortunately, all the CDC can do is report the numbers. Why? Because a 1996 appropriations act contained something that has come to be known as the Dickey Amendment. That amendment is interpreted to prohibit the CDC from doing any research into gun violence. The amendment says federal funding could not be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”  Since more than 38,000 people die by gun violence per year (murder and suicide), is it too much to ask that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spend a few million of its $5 billion budget to research and analyze gun violence. Seems a modest proposal to me.

The Houston Chronicle reports the shooter in yesterday’s massacre bought his AR-15 rifle the day after he turned 18. That would be par for the course, because in mass public shootings, the weapon of choice is the assault rifle. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has estimated that approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles exist in the U.S. Regarding assault rifles, I know a thing or two. And I can say with complete certainty and a good deal of experiential credibility that there is not a single reason on God’s lovely earth why anyone other than police and my military brothers and sisters should have one, especially one with automatic fire capability. Anybody who tells you differently is chock full up to their eyeballs with what makes the grass grow green and tall.

We all know that this country is not going to take firearms from its citizenry. However, there are sensible things we can do now —  sensible things that most Americans support. For instance, weapons need to be better controlled through age restrictions, permit-to-purchase licensinguniversal background checkssafe storage campaigns and red-flag laws — measures that help control firearm access for vulnerable individuals or people in crisis.

No one in their right mind commits a mass shooting, but people not in their right minds seem to manage it, and carnage results. And we do nothing. It is a terrible thing to say, but I can only conclude that a majority of our legislative leaders have been bought and paid for by gun lobbyists. No other explanation for inaction seems plausible after the year after year after year slaughter of innocents.

It is high time to force our leaders to ditch the “thoughts and prayers” and find the spot somewhere in their hypocritical, opportunistic, power-hungry being where they have hidden their sense of decency, their morality, presuming they ever had any.

Gun Deaths in America: An Unending Tragedy

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

September, 1970

Let me tell you a story.

We call it “going back to the world.” Home in the USA. And I’ve arrived in one piece. For the last couple of years I’ve been running around the jungles of Vietnam. My new orders direct me to report to the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I know the place well. It’s where I was trained and Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Then on to Airborne and Ranger schools. Now a Captain, the job is to train the next bunch of happy warriors. My wife and I settle into the house at 3660 Plantation Road in the fine city of Columbus. It’s a nice neighborhood.

A few months after moving in a new civilian worker shows up at my office in the Infantry School. His name’s Bob. He’s a GS12 research analyst and I have no idea why he’s here, but he has a disability that makes it hard for him to walk or move even moderately weighted stuff. He’s rented a house in Columbus and is trying to figure out how to move his junk in. My wife and I offer to help.

So, on a sunny Saturday morning in the deep south we get into Marilyn’s red Corvair Corsa with turbocharged engine and dual carburetors, show up at Bob’s new place, and find a UHaul truck in his driveway packed with everything he owns. We get to work toting box after box into the house and putting it all where Bob wants it to go. It’s taken us all morning, but around noon we’re done and we sit down on Bob’s new furniture to celebrate the end of Bob’s beginning. Marilyn’s never met Bob, whom I’ve charitably described as being “a little strange.”  So, being a curious person she nicely asks about his life. This goes on for a while until the big moment.

The big moment is when Bob says to Marilyn, “Wanna see my hair-trigger Colt 45s?”

It’s like an E. F. Hutton commercial. Everything stops. I freeze for a second and then say, “Bob, do you really have hair-trigger Colt 45s?” He says, “Sure do. Two of ’em. They’re pearl-handled, too. Want to see?”

He’s asking a guy who’s just finished two years dodging bullets and other bad things in a spot where serious people really wanted to kill him and his men. To say I have developed a healthy respect for any kind of gun is not giving that phrase the value it needs. Having seen up close what they can do, the accidents that can happen, actually did happen, makes me scared to death of them. I’m not scared when they’re in my hands, but in somebody else’s who probably doesn’t know what he’s doing? I’m not scared yet, though, because Bob has yet to produce the firepower, but my tension level rises like a Goddard Rocket.

I look Bob dead in the eye and say, “Bob, please don’t get the 45s. Leave em’ right where they are. Marilyn and I have to be going. Hope you like your new place.” And with that, we leave.

We get back into the red Corvair Corsa with turbocharged engine and dual carburetors and drive home. When we get to the house on Plantation Road I pay the babysitter and look at the two-year-old daughter I’m just getting to know. And I think about the pearl-handled, hair-trigger Colt 45s in Bob’s house.

September, 2019 

Back in 1970 slightly more than 50% of Americans, mostly men, owned a firearm. Since then, although the population has grown, the percentage ownership has declined to 22.4%. Nonetheless, Harvard and Northeastern University researchers conclude there are about 265 million  handguns and rifles in the country now. Three percent of gun owners, super owners, own more than 50% of all firearms in the country. For the other 97%, average ownership is three firearms, mostly handguns.

Femicide, abusive men killing their intimate partners, is five times more likely if the abuser has a handgun and lives with the victim. Research shows the number one contributing factor to femicide is unemployment. Potential femicide victims who do not live with the abuser and own a handgun are significantly less likely to be killed by their abuser.

In 70% of workplace shooting deaths, the perpetrator used a handgun. Workplace shootings have declined significantly since the 1990s, but the 70% figure still holds. In the last 50 years there have been 50 workplace mass shootings with an average death count of six per event. According to Jillian Peterson and James Densley, who study mass shootings for a project funded by the National Institute of Justice: 

The perpetrators were almost exclusively men (94 percent) with an average age of 38 (the youngest was 19, the oldest was 66). More than three-quarters (77 percent) were blue-collar workers, and 53 percent had experienced a recent or traumatic change in work status before the shooting.

A University of Washington 2017 study found that three million Americans carry a loaded handgun daily; nine million do so at least once a month.

The National Center for Health Statistics, a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annually publishes National Vital Statistics Reports. One of those reports is about how we die. In Deaths: Final Data for 2017 (most recent data collection year), we note 38,396 deaths caused by firearms. Of those deaths, 23,854 were by suicide, 14,542 by homicide. Despite comprising 12.1% of the US population, non-hispanic blacks were homicide victims in 57% of the cases. Unfortunately, all CDC can do is report the numbers? Why? Because a 1996 appropriations act contained something that has come to be known as the Dickey Amendment. That amendment is interpreted to prohibit the CDC from doing any research into gun violence. The amendment says federal funding could not be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”  Since more than 38,000 people die by gun violence per year, is it too much to ask that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spend a few million of its $5 billion budget to research and analyze gun violence. Seems a modest proposal to me.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of a mass shooting, the Congressional Research Service defines a “mass shooting” as one in which four or more people are killed, not including the shooter. Using that definition, there have been 164 such events from 1966 through August, 2019. But they are increasing in frequency and deadliness. If the definition were expanded to include the death of the shooter, the raw numbers would rise substantially. Even so, mass public shootings represent only 0.5% of all homicides by firearms annually. But they are the incidents that garner all the attention, which the mass shooter is craving in most cases. And bigger body counts mean bigger headlines. One recently thwarted shooter posted that, “A good 100 kills would be nice,” and another wanted to “break a world record.”

In mass public shootings, the weapon du jour is the assault rifle. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has estimated that approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles exist in the U.S. Regarding assault rifles, I know a thing or two. And I can say with complete certainty and a good deal of experiential credibility that there is not a single reason on God’s lovely earth why anyone other than police and my military brothers should have one, especially one with automatic fire capability. Anybody who tells you differently is chock full up to their eyeballs with what makes the grass grow green and tall.

Now, I would not be an unhappy guy to wake up one morning to discover that all firearms in the hands of civilians have gone *poof* in the night. We all know that will never happen. But as Peterson and Densley argue:

One step needs to be depriving potential shooters of the means to carry out their plans. Potential shooting sites can be made less accessible with visible security measures such as metal detectors and police officers. And weapons need to be better controlled, through age restrictions, permit-to-purchase licensinguniversal background checkssafe storage campaigns and red-flag laws — measures that help control firearm access for vulnerable individuals or people in crisis.

Regarding Bob and his pearl-handled, hair-trigger Colt 45s? One evening in 1975 a bullet from one of them went straight through his head. Police classified it an accident, but I didn’t buy that for one minute.