Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Research and facts about guns and gun violence tell the true story

We all know that there is a lack of research and facts concerning gun violence. President Obama ordered that the Centers for Disease Control start doing some research to address the causes and effects of gun violence in the U.S. after the Sandy Hook shooting. But other groups have proceeded with their own research, some of which I will highlight and quote in this post. Clearly organizations interested in the prevention of gun violence in our communities have spoken out in favor of more study of the issue. But we do need to understand how and why the lack of research came about. This article gives a good history of how the NRA lobbyists influence Congress to essentially stop funding for research by the federal government into gun violence. The cynical and self-serving agenda of the corporate gun lobby should be alarming to us all and most particularly to law makers. But too many have bought into the gun lobbyists false talking points. Why? Many dare not challenge the corporate gun lobby for fear of repercussions. In what kind of country are we living? Do we care about our kids? Do we care about keeping them safe? Do we care about the devastation from gun violence in our communities?

It's hard to pick out what is the most important ideas from the linked article above but here are just a few of the highlights:
In 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published an article by Arthur Kellerman and colleagues, “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home,” which presented the results of research funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. The article concluded that rather than confer protection, guns kept in the home are associated with an increase in the risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance. Kellerman was affiliated at the time with the department of internal medicine at the University of Tennessee. He went on to positions at Emory University, and he currently holds the Paul O’Neill Alcoa Chair in Policy Analysis at the RAND Corporation.
The 1993 NEJM article received considerable media attention, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. The center itself survived, but Congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill (PDF, 2.4MB) for Fiscal Year 1997 that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”  Referred to as the Dickey amendment after its author, former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget — the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year — and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Kellerman stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency's funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up.” (...)
A report released in January 2013 by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (PDF, 2MB), founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, found that since 1996 the CDC’s funding for firearm injury prevention has fallen 96 percent and is now just $100,000 of the agency’s $5.6 billion budget. The CDC’s online guide for grants funded by the agency’s Injury Control Research Centers currently includes a section titled Prohibition of Use of CDC Funds for Certain Gun Control Activities, which states that “In addition to the restrictions in the Anti-Lobbying Act, CDC interprets the language in the CDC's Appropriations Act to mean that CDC's funds may not be spent on political action or other activities designed to affect the passage of specific Federal, State, or local legislation intended to restrict or control the purchase or use of firearms.” 
Following the January 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz., (in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was injured), the New York Timespublished an article reporting that the CDC went so far as to “ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the NRA as a courtesy.” In response to this report, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence sent a letter (PDF, 647) in March 2011 to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius expressing concern that the agency was giving the NRA a “preferred position,” and urging that the NRA not be given the opportunity to exercise special influence over CDC’s firearms-related research.
In December 2011, Congress added language equivalent to the Dickey amendment to fiscal year 2012 appropriations legislation that funded the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (PDF, 1.3MB), stating that “none of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” The NRA’s advocacy efforts that lead to this amendment are thought to be a response to a 2009 American Journal of Public Health article by Branas et al., titled “Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault,” presenting the results of research that was funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mark Rosenberg, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, has been vocal about what essentially has amounted to a ban on federal funding for gun violence research, claiming that “The scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA.” In July 2012, former Representative Dickey co-authored a Washington Post op-ed with Rosenberg, announcing that his views had reversed since he introduced the Dickey amendment in 1996. Wrote Dickey and Rosenberg, “We were on opposite sides of the heated battle 16 years ago, but we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners. The same evidence-based approach that is saving millions of lives from motor-vehicle crashes, as well as from smoking, cancer and HIV/AIDS, can help reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from gun violence.” 
For a Scientist to say that "the scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA" is a bold statement. We have all been terrorized by the NRA. Shameful. But after the Sandy Hook shooting President Obama decided that research will proceed. More from the above article:
On Jan. 16, President Barack Obama released his national plan for addressing gun violence. Highlighted on the first page the executive summary (PDF, 332KB) is the initiative to “end the freeze on gun violence research.” (...)
APA released a statement the next day expressing strong support for key components of the president’s plan, including the following stance on federal gun violence research:
APA endorses the provision to end the freeze on federal gun violence research. This ban has significantly hampered psychological scientists’ ability to systematically assess the risk of assault and other weapons to the public, and to determine the effectiveness of various preventive measures. APA supports increased federal funding for research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including attention to violence in media, to jump start this field after so many years of neglect. 
 Another article agrees with the American Psychological Association. From Slate.com:
After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, calls for gun-control legislation have begun. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on NBC's Meet the Press that she plans to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons. Even West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who calls himself a gun supporter, says he sees no reason for these types of weapons.
But as Congress considers new laws, the scientific research we need to craft the best policies is in short supply. This is by design.
In the 1990s, politicians backed by the NRA attacked researchers for publishing data on firearm research. For good measure, they also went after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for funding the research. According to the NRA, such science is not “legitimate.” To make sure federal agencies got the message, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) sponsored an amendment that stripped $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget, the exact amount it had spent on firearms research the previous year.
But last summer, Dickey recanted. No longer in office, he wrote an editorial stating that “scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries and that ways to prevent firearm deaths can be found without encroaching on the rights of legitimate gun owners.”
You know, I would like to feel grateful that former Representative Dickey has recanted his ludicrous and cynical insistence that funds be frozen for research about gun violence. What he did then has led to a lack of research about one of our nation's largest public health and safety problems. Now that he is no longer under the thumb of the corporate gun lobby he is free to speak his conscience. The fact that he didn't in 1996 is inexcusable.

But more research is coming. It's too late for some, since research may have pointed us in the direction of common sense gun laws that would have saved some lives. National Public Radio has done a story about research into the numbers of gun owners relating to the number of gun deaths:
The United States had the highest rate of civilian gun ownership, at almost 90 guns per 100 people. The next two countries on the list were Switzerland and Finland, with about 45 guns per 100 people. Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom had the lowest gun numbers, ranging from less than one gun per 100 in Japan to six in the U.K.
The countries with more civilian guns also had the highest rates of firearms deaths, with the United States leading the list at 10 deaths per 100,000, based on an international mortality database.
Gun ownership was strongly associated with firearms deaths. The only outlier was South Africa, which had 13 guns per 100 people, but a firearms death rate almost as high as in the U.S.
Mental illness also correlated with firearms deaths, but the connection was much weaker than for gun ownership. The association pretty much disappeared depending on how the researchers crunched the numbers.
There was no overall association between gun ownership or mental illness and the overall crime rate in the 27 countries. The researchers say this questions the premise that people arm themselves to protect themselves from crime.
Facts matter. I often write about how the U.S. compares to other countries when it comes to gun deaths and gun ownership. As we continue to look at this comparison I don't believe we can escape the fact that guns and the American gun culture have a negative impact on our public safety. We need facts in order to make informed and intelligent, unemotional decisions about public safety.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns has compiled this report about the availability of guns to felons in on-line sales through Armslist.com. Their conclusions:
The investigation reached these conclusions by analyzing a unique data set: the contact information prospective gun buyers voluntarily provided in ‘want-to-buy’ ads they placed on Armslist in search of gun sellers. We examined 13,000 listings posted between February and May 2013, matched contact information to criminal records, and found that at least 1 in 30 would-be gun-buyers had felony or domestic abuse records that barred them from purchasing or possessing guns. And this does not include those prohibited due to serious mental illness, drug abuse, immigration status or other non-criminal prohibiting criteria, which accounted for 25 percent of the sales blocked by a federal NICS check in 2012.
In addition, the report concluded:
Alarming as this snapshot is, it badly understates the true scope of the problem. Only 5 percent of the postings on Armslist are want-to-buy ads: the vast majority of buyers — prohibited and otherwise — respond to ‘for-sale’ ads, and therefore remain completely anonymous. By focusing on want-to-buy ads, the investigation necessarily examined a small slice of the online market that criminals may be least likely to occupy, because doing so requires posting a public ad and entails a degree of exposure. Furthermore, the investigation examined only the 5 percent of want-to-buy ads in which the poster disclosed a contact phone number or email, thereby dropping the cloak of anonymity. There are twenty times this number of want-to-buy ads on the website — and a thousand times more ads in total. And Armslist is only one of the thousands of sites on which guns are sold every day.
These findings underscore the urgent need to close the private sale loophole. In April 2013, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted to do so by requiring background checks for all private sales in commercial settings, including online. But a minority of senators blocked the bill, and the U.S. House has yet to consider companion legislation.
You can read a lot more in the linked report as well as view the graphs showing the difference in gun deaths for states that require background checks on all gun sales with states that don't. There is ample evidence in this report pointing to the importance of passing a law to require background checks for on-line gun sales and for other private sellers. This report and the research contained in the report, should be key to legislators when determining their vote in favor of stronger background checks. For without research, we operate in a vacuum of innuendo and false assertions.

A study by Professor Michael Siegel of Boston University and two co-authors reveals the effects of gun ownership on homicides and suicides. This, too, is a very well researched and big study in regards to its' findings. From the article:
With all this preliminary work in hand, the authors ran a series of regressions to see what effect the overall national decline in firearm ownership from 1981 to 2010 had on gun homicides. The result was staggering: “for each 1 percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership,” Siegel et al. found, “firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9″ percent. A one standard deviation change in firearm ownership shifted gun murders by a staggering 12.9 percent.
To put this in perspective, take the state of Mississippi. “All other factors being equal,” the authors write, “our model would predict that if the FS/S in Mississippi were 57.7% (the average for all states) instead of 76.8% (the highest of all states), its firearm homicide rate would be 17% lower.” Since 475 people were murdered with a gun in Mississippi in 2010, that drop in gun ownership would translate to 80 lives saved in that year alone.
Of course, the authors don’t find that rates of gun ownership explain all of America’s gun violence epidemic: race, economic inequality and generally violent areas all contribute to an area’s propensity for gun deaths, suggesting that broader social inequality, not gun ownership alone, contributes to the gun violence epidemic. Nevertheless, the fact that gun ownership mattered even when race and poverty were accounted for suggests that we can’t avoid talking about America’s fascination with guns when debating what to do about the roughly 11,000 Americans who are yearly murdered by gunfire.
This bears repeating:
"....we can't avoid talking about America's fascination with guns when debating what to do about roughly 11,000 Americans who are yearly murdered by gunfire." 
We have been avoiding this important research in lieu of the fear and paranoia of the corporate gun lobby. Because the research sometimes comes from gun violence prevention groups or those considered to be "anti-gun" by the gun rights advocates, it is summarily dismissed by them as biased. The facts are the facts whether or not we like them. None of the research is suggesting banning guns or gun confiscation. Rather it is pointing to the fact that if people choose to own guns and have them in their homes or carry them in public, there are real risks to that choice. We are not dealing with just any consumer product here. We are dealing with deadly weapons designed to kill. Understanding the risks may lead to fewer people wanting to buy a gun in the first place. Or it may lead to better and safer gun storage. Or it may lead to stopping people who shouldn't have guns from getting them anyway by requiring background checks on all sales. Or it may lead to stronger gun trafficking laws and tightening regulations on "bad apple" gun dealers who sometimes sell guns knowingly in straw purchases or to someone that shouldn't have a gun. And it may lead to all of the above. Knowledge is power. We have the power to change our current culture, unique to America, of out of control gun violence.

Putting aside irrational fears in order to save lives should be the next step. As more research emerges it is inevitable that our elected leaders will decide that it is time to do the right thing in the name of common sense. That will require a very serious national discussion, facts in hand, and the desire to do the right thing to stop the senseless carnage affecting America's communities. We know that we have a problem. We need a solution. All of this research should lead to logical solutions. It's time to demand that solution from our elected leaders. Let's get to work.

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