U.S. gun murders 10 times higher than other countries

A day before the four-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Journal of the American Medical Association published its most recent findings on firearms: U.S. gun murders are more than 10 times higher than those in the next four wealthiest countries combined.

Among the top five wealthiest countries in the world, deaths by firearm assaults in the United States were more than 10 times higher than the combined number of such fatalities in China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. Within the U.S., assault by firearms death rates in 2015 for both men and women combined peaked among Americans in the 20-to-29 age group. The firearms data exclude self-harm and accidental deaths.

We’ve heard it over and over: The mass gun violence seen in the U.S. doesn’t occur in other advanced countries with the daily and weekly frequency that Americans witness. “We are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or [who] want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” former-President Barack Obama said in October 2015.

The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2102, in which the gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators after killing his own mother at home, happened less than a month after Americans elected Obama to his second term. Wednesday marked four years since that tragedy at the school in Newtown.

Not much has changed since then in terms of gun regulation on the federal level. Gun control advocates see progress in some states, many of which have their own gun laws. In this year’s presidential election—the first since the massacre in Newtown — the gun-safety movement scored victories in Nevada, Washington state and California, where residents voted on measures that sought to strengthen gun laws. But they lost on the state level when Maine residents voted against a ballot initiative to expand background checks to private gun sales and transfers, and on the federal level when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Many in the movement backed Clinton and expected her to become what they called the first gun-sense president.

Despite the losses, advocates promise to continue their fight for stronger gun laws around the country — to fight against President Trump’s agenda to abolish gun-free zones at schools and on military bases and to get rid of bans on certain types of firearms.

Meanwhile, some of the families affected by the Sandy Hook shooting are suing the gun manufacturer and sellers for furnishing the general public the military-style assault rifle that the gunman used to kill the 26 victims in less than five minutes at the school. A judge dismissed their case in November, but the Connecticut Supreme Court has decided to hear their appeal. The court accepted the families’ argument that the meaning of certain language in the state law must be determined by the high court.

– edited from an article by Michele Gorman in Newsweek, December 14, 2016
PeaceMeal, March/April 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Police without guns protect London amid terror fears

LONDON — Seconds after his police radio crackles into life, Inspector James Beattie kicks the squad car into gear, triggers its siren, and roars the wrong way down a busy road. Beattie and his partner, Constable Jill Simpson, are wearing stab-proof vests and carrying batons, canisters of mace and handcuffs. But like the vast majority of London police, neither of them has a gun.

“I’ve never, ever felt the need to have a firearm,” Beattie said. “Our prime tool for defusing any situation or conflict is always talking to someone. If I deal with any confrontation, I’m not reaching for my belt. I’m talking to them to see if I can disengage the situation.”

Simpson said that in her decade-and-a-half with the Met she has never had a gun pointed at her and never seen shots fired during active duty. “I’ve used my [mace] spray twice and I think I’ve used my baton twice — in 15 years,” she said.

Arriving at their destination, they discovered reports of a disturbance at a medical center were nothing more than an irate patient. But even during their most challenging calls, their relaxed attitude about being unarmed is the norm for London police.

While America’s police have become increasingly militarized, the British tradition of unarmed “bobbies-on-the-beat” has endured. And despite top officials warning that a terrorist attack in the U.K. is “highly likely,” 91 percent of the Metropolitan Police officers tasked with protecting the city’s 8.5-million residents do not carry guns.

“The British policing way … is that we’re part of the public,” the force’s Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said. “A firearm ... puts a barrier between people and the police.”

The statistics surrounding police shootings in the U.K. are startling when compared to the United States. Officers in England and Wales fired just seven bullets between March 2015 and this March (not including accidental shots, shooting out tires, or putting down dangerous or injured animals).

During that period, just five people were shot dead by police in England and Wales, according to British charity Inquest, which helps families after police-related deaths. Police Scotland — tasked with guarding 5.3 million people in an area the size of Maine — reports only one officer-involved shooting since the national force was created in 2013. In London, the Metropolitan Police has fatally shot just 10 people in the past 10 years.

U.S. law enforcement officers this year alone have killed more than 1,000 people and counting, according to figures compiled by the killedbypolice.net website.

This chasm between the U.S. and U.K. comes with the caveat that American police are far more likely to encounter armed criminals. Around one-third of Americans own a firearm or live with someone who does, and there are more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the United States every year, according to GunPolicy.org. In contrast, just 144 people were killed by guns in Britain in 2013, the latest year the site holds records for Britain.

Gun laws in the United Kingdom are among the toughest in the world. Brits who apply for a license are subject to extensive background checks, and police can interview their friends, family and even their doctors when evaluating their applications. Handguns and assault rifles — or any weapon capable of automatic fire — are banned outright.

The stringent controls were imposed after Scotland’s Dunblane massacre of March 1996, when former Scout leader Thomas Hamilton entered a school and fatally shot 16 children and a teacher. The killings — carried out with four handguns that were legal at the time — shocked politicians into action in a way America’s mass shootings have not.

The U.K. has another advantage in that it’s a relatively small island — not even the size of Michigan — with no land borders. That makes it difficult to smuggle illegal guns into the country.

Most of the recent high-profile attacks in London have involved assailants using bladed weapons, and, in most of those incidents, police chose to use stun guns to subdue the attackers.

In recent years, the British capital has been spared the ISIS-linked violence that traumatized Paris and Brussels. But many Londoners fear they may be next. The U.K.’s national threat level has been considered “severe” since 2014. The government says “an attack is highly likely,” and Commissioner Hogan-Howe admitted “it is a case of when, not if” London is hit.

British intelligence services worry about the 800-or-so Brits who traveled to join ISIS or other extremist groups in Iraq and Syria. Around half of these so-called “foreign fighters” have returned to Britain, and officials say some of them pose a security threat. In an attempt to counter this perceived danger, more police wielding long rifles are being posted to potential targets such as busy tourist attractions.

Metropolitan Police officers are only given guns if they volunteer, and even then “they still have to go through quite a rigorous selection process,” according to Chief Superintendent Martin Hendy. This approach is not without its critics. Calls to arm Britain’s police peaked in 2012 when two unarmed officers, Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, were killed in a gun-and-grenade attack in Manchester.

Norman Brennan, who served for 31 years with the British Transport Police and now campaigns to arm his former colleagues, claims officers without guns are “sitting ducks” when facing armed criminals and terrorists. “We are now living in a war zone where terrorists have infiltrated Europe … the least we can do is give our police the tools they need.”

British officials point out that police with guns haven’t prevented terrorists from striking other countries. In most of the recent incidents across the U.S. and Europe, bodies were already on the ground when officers arrived.

A poll this year by the Police Federation, which represents officers in the U.K., said that 40 percent of them fear being attacked at work — but just half that number were willing to be armed. According to another recent poll, members of the public are evenly split on the issue.

There appears to be little chance British authorities will ditch their current methods and arm every officer like in the U.S.

“I think there’d be a lot of police officers that might consider leaving the service or wouldn’t have wanted to join ... had carrying a firearm been part of our routine work,” Beattie said. He added, “There’s no gun envy.”

– edited from an article by Alexander Smith and Michele Neubert, NBC News, August 22, 2016
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2016)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Last four Surgeons General call on CDC to resume gun violence studies

A ban on federal funding for gun violence research was criticized April 14 by a group of four former U.S. Surgeons General, including a President George W. Bush appointee. The former public health leaders called on Congress to end the controversial 20-year-old ban, joining a growing number of doctors and elected officials who object to the 1996 federal budget amendment that essentially prohibits the Centers for Disease Control and Preven-tion from investigating shootings as a public health problem.

The ban, long a sore spot in the medical community, jumped into the national spotlight after the 2014 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. President Obama ordered the CDC to get back to studying the causes of gun violence, but the agency didn’t act because of the 1996 budget language that has been re-authorized every year by Congress.

“It is only through research that we can begin to address this menace to our nation’s public health,” wrote the three former Surgeons General appointed by a Democrat, Drs. Regina Benjamin, Joycelyn Elders and David Satcher. The lone appointee by a Republican, Dr. Richard Carmona, penned his own letter to Congress with the same message. Carmona also noted that without appropriate research “we really have no idea what policies and/or regulation may be needed in order to ensure the public’s safety.”

Most major medical societies — including the American Aca-demy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and National Association of Medical Examiners — want the ban reversed.

Last year, a group of 110 Democratic U.S. representatives also made a public call for the resumption of federal funding. Even the man who wrote the original 1996 amendment, former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), has called on Congress to allow the CDC to study gun violence. He acknowledged that his amendment was a mistake. But Congress has been unmoved.

Many Republican members, with the support of the National Rifle Association, accuse the CDC of wanting to use public health research to advocate for gun control.

Current Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has not publicly addressed the topic since he assumed his current position in December 2014, although he has described gun violence as a health epidemic.

– edited from The Washington Post, April 14, 2016
PeaceMeal, May/June 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Guns are now killing as many people as cars in the U.S.

For the first time in more than 60 years, firearms and automobiles are killing Americans at an identical rate, according to new mortality data released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2014, the age-adjusted death rate for both firearms (including homicides, suicides and accidental deaths) and motor vehicle events (car crashes, collisions between cars and pedestrians, etc) stood at 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

Gun & motor vehicle deaths graph.png (134125 bytes)

The convergence of the trend lines above is driven primarily by a sharp drop in the rate of motor vehicle fatalities since 1950. In the late 1960s, for instance, there were well over 25 motor vehicle deaths for every 100,000 people in the United States. Since then, that rate has fallen by more than half.

Over the same period, gun deaths rose, but by a considerably smaller amount. Gun homicide rates have actually fallen in recent years, but those gains have been offset by rising gun suicide rates. Today, suicides account for roughly two-thirds of gun deaths.

One way of illustrating the shift in gun and auto deaths is to look at state-level data. In 2005, gun deaths outnumbered vehicle deaths in just two states, Alaska and Maryland, plus the District of Columbia. By 2014, gun deaths were greater in 21 states plus D.C.

Gun & car deaths by state.png (117134 bytes)

Medical ailments, such as cancer and heart attacks, kill considerably more people each year than either guns or automobiles, according to the CDC. But firearms and motor vehicles are among the leading non-medical causes of mortality in the United States. They kill more people than falls do each year, and considerably more people than alcohol.

The steady decline in motor vehicle deaths over the past 65 years can be attributed to a combination of improved technology and smarter regulation. The federal government mandated the presence of seat belts in the 1960s. The ‘70s brought anti-lock brakes. The ‘80s brought an increased focus on drunk driving and mandatory seat belt use. Airbags came along in the ‘90s. More recent years have seen mandates on electronic stability systems and increased penalties for distracted driving. The result has been safer cars, safer roads, better drivers and a decades-long decline in motor vehicle fatalities.

By contrast, the history of American gun control regulation has been more erratic. Restrictions passed in earlier eras, such as the assault weapons ban, have been undone recently. During the George W. Bush administration, Congress passed laws that prohibited law enforcement from publicizing data showing where criminals obtained their guns and granted gunmakers immunity from some civil lawsuits.

Technological advances, like smart-gun technology that prevents people other than the owner from firing a gun, have been stymied by opposition from the National Rifle Association and from many gun owners. Modest regulatory changes, including universal background checks, enjoy overwhelming support from gun owners and the American public. But those, too, have been thwarted under pressure from gun-rights advocates and the NRA.

The result? A gun mortality rate that’s slightly higher than where it stood 50 years ago. Particularly vexing is that there may be ways to improve gun safety and reduce firearm deaths, particularly suicides, that haven’t even been thought of yet. But innovations in gun safety are hard to come by, in large part because of Congress’s longstanding ban on many types of federal gun research.

The ban has a chilling effect not only on federal agencies like the CDC but also on academic researchers. One well-known researcher, Garen Wintemute of the University of California at Davis, had to donate $1 million of his own money to keep his research going.

We spend billions of dollars tackling terrorism, which killed 229 Americans worldwide from 2005-14, according to the State Department. In the same 10 years, some 310,000 Americans died from guns.

Just since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than all the Americans who died in wars going back to the American Revolution (about 1.45 million vs. 1.40 million). Now it amounts to 92 bodies a day.

Gun deaths and vehicle deaths are in many ways two different problems. Gun deaths are typically intentional; motor vehicle deaths, by contrast, are usually accidental. And cars are much more complicated machines than guns, with a lot more components and systems to iterate and improve upon.

Still, we’ve been able to make driving much safer, thanks to a combination of smart regulation technological innovation. We could potentially do the same with guns.

– edited from an article by Christopher Ingraham in The Washington Post, December 17, 2015
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)


Lessons from the Virginia shooting

Nicholas_Kristof.jpg (2627 bytes)Nicholas Kristof

The slaying of two journalists on August 26 as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons. The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

• More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

• More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

• American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped the killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages of regulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.

– The New York Times, August 26, 2015
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)