Report tallies the human and economic toll of gun violence

Dartunorro Clark
NBC News, September 18, 2019

Gun violence hits America's youth and rural states the hardest and has reached the highest levels in decades, a report released September 18 by Democrats on the congressional Joint Economic Committee has found. U.S. teens and young adults, ages 15-24, are 50 times more likely to die by gun violence than they are in other economically advanced countries, according to the 50-state breakdown.

In 2017 — the year of a mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 and injured hundreds — nearly 40,000 people died from gun-related injuries, including 2,500 school children, the report said, noting that six in 10 gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides. That year marked the first time firearms killed more people than motor vehicle accidents. Suicides by young Americans have trended upward over the last decade.

Rural states, meanwhile, have the highest rates of gun deaths and bear the largest costs as a share of their economies. Nationally, the cost of gun violence in the U.S. runs $229 billion a year, or 1.4 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the report.

“The human cost is beyond our ability to comprehend; it is tragic, it is sickening, and it is a crisis,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the vice-chair of the committee, said in a news conference. “The gun violence needs to stop, and we need to make it happen.”

There is also a substantial economic cost, the report said, with directly measurable costs that include “lost income and spending, employer costs, police and criminal justice responses, and health care treatment” and indirect costs that include “reduced quality of life due to pain and suffering.”

“Gun homicides are also associated with fewer jobs, lost businesses and lower home values in local economies and communities across the nation.”

The report noted, however, that the economic toll of gun violence is difficult to measure because of a decades-old federal prohibition on funding for research into the problem. Since 1996, Congress has added a little-known amendment to spending legislation that prohibits the use of federal funds to advocate or promote gun control. While lawmakers clarified the provision in a spending package last year, stating that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can conduct research on the causes of gun violence, no money was allocated for such research.

There have been 301 mass shootings in America in 2019 so far, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks gun-related deaths and injuries based on official records. In the wake of the mass shootings, gun control advocates and a growing number of Democrats have been calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to take up legislation to combat the problem. But Congress remains at an impasse over gun-control legislation — in part because President Donald Trump has not yet made clear what measures he would be willing to back.

McConnell said that he is awaiting “guidance from the White House” about what the president, who previously expressed some interest in expanding gun background checks, is “comfortable signing.” While a bipartisan background check bill passed the Democrat-controlled House in February, Trump has threatened to veto it.

The report found that states with high rates of gun ownership — Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming — have the highest rates of gun suicide. And for every 10 percent increase in household gun ownership, the youth suicide rate increases by more than 25 percent, it found.

It also found economically deprived areas outside of rural America are also hit hard. About 7,500 African Americans die from gun violence every year, the report said — making it 20 times more likely that a young black male will die by a firearm homicide than a white peer.

(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.)

Mayors conference calls for more gun control

The U.S. Conference of Mayors on June 12 passed resolutions calling for more gun control, including limits on the number of guns a person may purchase in a single transaction. The conference, a bipartisan organization of mayors representing cities with more than 30,000 people, passed the resolutions at their annual meeting in Boston.

The mayors called for a ban on military-style assault weapons, such as AK-47s, and large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices. They also called for comprehensive background checks and bans on bump stocks sales.

The age to purchase a gun should also be raised to 21, the mayors said, and juveniles should be banned from possessing semiautomatic assault rifles. They also urged Congress to pass legislation that would allow family members and law enforcement to seek court permission to remove guns from a person in crisis.

They also opposed proposals to arm teachers and other non-law enforcement officials, which has been pushed by President Trump. Trump said after the Parkland shooting that he would push for comprehensive background checks and a ban on bump stocks, but those proposals have seen little action.

The resolution cited the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a semiautomatic rifle was used by a teenager on February 14 to kill 17 people. “The U.S. Conference of Mayors stands with the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all other young people and adults committed to seeing reasonable gun safety policies and to reducing gun violence in our cities,” the mayors said.

– edited from The Hill, June 12, 2018
PeaceMeal, July/August 2018

(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.)

Federal judge says assault weapons ban doesn’t violate 2nd Amendment

BOSTON — Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment, a federal judge said in a ruling on April 6 upholding Massachusetts’ ban on the weapons. U.S. District Judge William Young dismissed a lawsuit challenging the 20-year-old ban, saying assault weapons are military firearms that fall beyond the reach of the constitutional right to “bear arms.” Regulation of the weapons is a matter of policy, not for the courts, he said.

State Attorney General Maura Healey said the ruling “vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war.” Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement, “Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools. Families across the country should take heart in this victory.”

The Gun Owners Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts and other groups that filed the lawsuit argued that the AR-15 cannot be considered a “military weapon” because it cannot fire in fully automatic mode. But Young dismissed that argument, noting that the semi-automatic AR-15’s design is based on guns “that were first manufactured for military purposes” and that the AR-15 is “common and well-known in the military.”

“The AR-15 and its analogs, along with large capacity magazines, are simply not weapons within the original meaning of the individual constitutional right to ‘bear arms,’ ” Young wrote. Young also upheld Healey’s 2016 enforcement notice to gun sellers and manufacturers clarifying what constitutes a “copy” or “duplicate” weapon under the state’s 1998 assault weapon ban, including copies of the Colt AR-15 and the Kalashnikov AK-47.

Healey’s stepped-up enforcement followed the shooting rampage at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 patrons. She said at the time that gun manufacturers were circumventing Massachusetts’ ban by selling copycat versions of the weapons they claimed complied with the law.

The Massachusetts assault weapons ban mirrors the federal ban that expired in 2004. It prohibits the sale of specific and name-brand weapons and explicitly bans copies or duplicates of those weapons.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows Americans to have guns in their homes for self-defense, blocking local governments from banning handguns. But the court last year turned away an appeal from Maryland gun owners who challenged the state’s ban on assault weapons.

– edited from The Associated Press, April 6, 2018
PeaceMeal, May/June 2018

(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.)

Texas school shooting is 16th this year

Early the morning of April 18, 10 people were shot and killed and 13 more wounded at Santa Fe High School near Galveston, Texas. Of those killed, eight were students and two were teachers.

The incident was the second school shooting in the United States that week and the 16th this year, according to a Washington Post database of school shootings. After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., student activists vowed “never again.” The Santa Fe shooting was the 10th school shooting in the three months since then.

The shooter, 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, was a student at the school described as a loner who had experienced bullying. He was armed with a shotgun and a revolver that belonged to his father. He had no criminal record and confessed to the shooting.

The Washington Post’s database has tallied 220 school shootings since the April 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The Post’s database includes every discharge of firearms at a primary or secondary school during school hours. As such, its overall tally is lower than some other counts of school shootings, which include events that happen after school hours.

2018 is shaping up to be the worst year for school shootings in The Post’s database. The 16 shootings that have occurred this year tie 2018 with 2014 for the largest number of shootings in a given year, and it is only May.

– edited from The Washington Post, May 18, 2018
PeaceMeal, May/June 2018

(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.)

What the U.S. can learn from 4 countries that have nearly eliminated gun deaths

Chris Weller
Business Insider, February 15, 2018

On February 14, a 19-year-old allegedly shot dozens of his former classmates at a Florida high school, leaving 17 of them dead.

In November, a gunman went on a shooting spree at the Rancho Tehama reserve in Northern California, killing five people and injuring three children.

A week before that, a man in Sutherland Springs, Texas, stormed a church with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 26 people and injuring 20.

A month before that, a gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas shot and killed 59 nearby concertgoers and injured more than 500.

As mass shootings like these seem to escalate in the United States, so do questions about gun control. Americans who fear their town or city could host the next attack wonder what strategies, if any, the U.S. could take to reduce rates of gun violence.

Several countries around the world have taken steps that worked for them. Here are their insights:

Australia paid citizens to sell their guns to the government

Following a deadly 1980s and '90s, culminating in a 1996 gun-driven massacre that left 35 dead, Australian Prime Minister John Howard convened an assembly to devise gun-control strategies.

The group landed on a massive buyback program, costing roughly $500 million, that bought and destroyed more than 600,000 automatic and semiautomatic weapons and pump-action shotguns.

Almost overnight, gun death totals got cut in half. Firearm suicides dropped from 2.2 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.8 in 2006. Firearm homicides dropped from 0.37 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.15 in 2006.

A U.S. buyback would mean destroying 40 million guns, but on a statewide level the undertaking might not be so massive.

Japan puts citizens through a rigorous set of tests

Japan seldom has more than 10 shooting deaths a year in a population of 127 million people, due to its strict laws for obtaining firearms.

If Japanese people want to own a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written test, and achieve at least 95 percent accuracy during a shooting-range test. Then they have to pass a mental-health evaluation, which takes place at a hospital, and pass a background check, in which the government digs into their criminal record and interviews friends and family. Finally, they can only buy shotguns and air rifles — no handguns — and every three years they must retake the class and initial exam. Unlike the Second Amendment in the United States, Japanese law began from the point of outlawing guns, with amendments gradually loosening that ban. Still, the wisdom from Japan seems to be that tighter regulations keep guns confined only to those fit to use them.

Norway exemplifies the power of social cohesion and trust

Despite having roughly a third of the guns as the U.S., Norway has about a tenth of the gun deaths. Sociologists who study the Nordic model have found social cohesion, between citizens and between citizens and their government, goes a long way toward ensuring a (mostly) peaceful society.

In Norway, for example, police officers fatally shoot people fewer times in nine years than U.S. police do in a day. Gummi Oddsson, a cross-cultural sociologist from Northern Michigan University, has found that Nordic governments go to great lengths to build trust in local communities.

He told Business Insider that U.S. states could look to strengthen their own sense of trust through measures like community policing. People may begin to feel more safe around the police, and the police will have a better grasp of the neighborhood's makeup.

The U.K. took a multi-pronged approach

The U.K. has taken an approach that combines elements of the other three countries. Around the time Australia passed its gun regulation, Parliament passed legislation banning private handgun ownership in Britain and banned semi-automatic and pump-action firearms throughout the entire U.K. It also required shotgun owners to register their weapons.A $200-million buyback program led to the purchase and destruction of 162,000 guns and 700 tons of ammunition. Today, there are roughly 6.5 guns per 100 people. The U.S., meanwhile, has 88 guns per 100 people.

The result has been a country of 56 million that has roughly 50 to 60 gun deaths each year. Compare that to the U.S., a country six times as large, but with 160 times as many gun-related homicides.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2018

(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.)

More people killed by guns since 1968 than in all U.S. wars

US gun deaths vs war deaths.jpg (28035 bytes)More Americans have died from gunshots in the last 50 years than in all of the wars in American history. Since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died in gun-related incidents, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, approximately 1.2 million service members have been killed in every war in U.S. history, according to estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs and, a website that maintains an ongoing database of casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The June 2016 shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people, is now the second deadliest attack, followed by the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, which killed 26 people, most of them children.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, a tearful President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions aimed at curbing violence in America. The orders included a measure to overturn a 20-year-old amendment that prevented the CDC from conducting federally funded research into how gun violence affects Americans.

But despite the elimination of the ban, the agency has remained hesitant to comprehensively research one of the most divisive issues in America. Many activists blame the influence that the NRA and other powerful pro-gun lobbies seem to have on some members of Congress, and the agency’s fear that its funding could be reduced or revoked.

– edited from NBC News, October 4, 2017
PeaceMeal, Nov.December 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.)

Gun-related injuries put 20,000 children a year in emergency rooms

Gunfire killed about 4,500 U.S. children and adolescents in 2015, and it sends about 20,000 to the emergency room each year, according to a new study by Children’s National Health System. Adolescents aged 12 to 19 make up 90 percent of those ER visits.

The study, published in Hospital Pediatrics, shows firearm- related mortality is one of the top four causes of death among American youth. Each day, about 20 Americans under age 21 are hospitalized for firearm-related injuries. Of those who are hospitalized, about 50 percent are discharged with a disability. The yearly cost of medical treatment for gun-related injuries suffered by those adolescents exceeds $330 million, according to 2010 data.

The data show that children are more likely than adults to be victims of unintentional injuries, the majority of which occur in the home, and adolescents are more likely to suffer intentional injuries because of either assault or suicide attempts. One-third of pediatric gun injuries treated in ERs or at ambulatory care centers from 2001 to 2010 were related to attempted homicide or suicide, but the majority were unintentional or accidental injuries.

Dr. Kavita Parikh, associate professor of pediatrics at Children’s National Health System and an author of the study, said the team sought to raise awareness about the public health issue of gun violence. “When we think about the numbers of children who die from firearm injuries … I think that it highlights the tragedy on so many levels for us,” she said.

The pediatricians discussed their role in empowering parents to ask questions if their children are going to a friend’s house or even another family member’s home. Firearms are common in U.S. households with children. Among urban and suburban households with guns, less than 50 percent of families reported storing firearms safely by using such methods as locked storage safes or locking up ammunition.

Some studies have shown that gun safety in the home can improve after parents are counseled. The authors of the new study encourage other doctors to ask patients and their families about access to guns, encourage safe storage, support firearm-related injury prevention research, and educate trainees about gun violence.

A study presented at the 2017 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies found that regions of the country with the strictest gun laws have the fewest pediatric emergency room visits for firearm-related injuries. The authors of the study found that, overall, firearm-related visits to the emer-gency room varied significantly by geographic region: The Northeast had the lowest rate, at 40 per 100,000 visits, while the South had the highest, at 71 per 100,000 visits.

Several states have enacted legislation limiting how and when doctors can ask patients about gun ownership or how much they are allowed to document in the medical record. But earlier this year, in a decision gun-safety advocates viewed as a victory, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2011 Florida gag order that prohibited doctors from talking with their patients about guns.

Critics of the measure said the law unjustly punished medical professionals for discussing responsible gun owner-ship and firearm safety with patients, while supporters argued such medical discussions would infringe upon an individual’s right to bear arms and push an anti-gun agenda.

Meanwhile, universal background checks have decreased firearm homicides across all ages, and child safety laws have been shown to decrease unintentional firearm deaths and suicide deaths in youth, according to the study.

“We just want to fundamentally make sure that children can live in safe environments,” Parikh says. “Seeing these numbers made us want to spotlight this worrisome issue.”

– edited from Newsweek, May 25, 2017
PeaceMeal, May/June 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.)

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 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 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.)