Friday, October 7, 2016

Understanding Case-Control Studies of Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor

Understanding Case-Control Studies of Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor

Posted on

Takeaway Point: Investigation of the studies underlying claims such as “people who keep guns in homes are almost 3 times more likely to be murdered” (Brady Campaign) and “females living with a gun in the home were 2.7 times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun at home” (New York Times) reveal these assertions to be highly problematic. These simple statistics are not to be taken at face value, for reasons I discuss in this blog entry.In fact, according to the same study cited by the Brady Campaign (Kellermann), people in the case sample were 62 times more likely to be killed in circumstances other than in their own home with a gun they kept there.We are better off distinguishing between homicides involving firearms and suicides involving firearms, since the dynamics of these two acts (notably the effect of gun ownership on the outcomes) are quite different. With respect to the former (homicides), we should focus on the dynamics of gun violence among high-risk individuals, especially those involved in criminal activity and those with a history of non-lethal violence (both of which include but are not limited to domestic violence).More research needs to be done in these areas, especially by individuals less ideologically invested in opposition to guns. Also, those who are ideologically pro-gun might be less reluctant about federal funding of this research if the researchers themselves were more modest about what their findings actually say rather than using oversimplifications to press for political agendas with respect to guns.

go read the whole thing if you follow this stuff --kjs

Friday, September 23, 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Don't Live The Stereotype

LGBT students question their safety on Texas college campuses

Greg nails it. Perceptions are important, and so is our need to reach out and connect to those who are absolutely foreign to firearms but who share our penchant for being marginalized, or those who believe in defending those rights that our forefathers struggled to define during the Age of Reason. Too often, potential allies have to be prodded to remember the Bill of Rights had ten original amendments, not nine. As a board member of my state bicycling advocacy group, I have reminded bicycling advocates of how powerful the NRA is and wondered why we cannot motivate cyclists to protect cycling interests as we firearms enthusiasts mobilize to protect our own rights.

Pink Pistols
 “I can’t stand up for my transgender friends, because if I do and someone gets pissed off all they have to do is pull out a gun.”--from U. of Houston student Robyn Foley in the Buzzfeed link. But really. The person you have to worry about is not someone who goes through the hoops to get a CCW permit, which implies a certain amount of maturity (I hope). Its the person with a chip on his shoulder big enough to build a deck and who is carrying anyway. College shooters don't stand on ceremony when going off the rails. People need to choose between the chip or the gun, but should not have both.

But too often, those active in protecting the 2A paint themselves into a corner and too often, those on the left drink the kool-aid and are convinced that we in the gun community have horns growing out of our heads and indeed, are trigger happy. Sometimes we help each other out with the stereotypes. Some commenters responding to Greg's essay, for example. But recall, if you will, that one of the firearm community's most powerful friends during the recent attempts to add the secretive Terror Watch List/No Fly List to the NICS instant background check process was that bastion of liberalism, the ACLU.

I don't know Greg except for his blog, a whole bunch of Tweets, and a couple of emails, but wonder how many of his students know him in a form other than as an English professor and how many know him as a writer for his blog. No one in his classes would have to worry about rhetoric being decided by doses of atomic number 82. In my own case when I was on a university faculty as a research geoscientist, a lot of my colleagues and friends knew me as pretty liberal, as a vegetarian, and as a pretty lousy bicycle racer, but fewer knew me for my range membership or ability to put 45 ACP rounds in the the black part of the target. Some were quite taken aback when I was made an honorary member of the Hawaii Rifle Association after some of my 2A writings were published in the Honolulu press. We are, after all, complex creatures. I stood for gay rights and gun rights.

Convincing others (and ourselves) that we, and they, are more than the stereotypes that we are often painted is a good starting point for rational discussion and disarming the fears that drive some of the more egregious anti-gun and Maslow's Gun agendas and fears. Its in our interest to break down those barriers rather than fling anti-gun folks the rhetorical bird. Sure, sometimes it means we go away frustrated and mad. But we can go away with pride in our ability to speak powerfully for our interests--and trying to make a positive difference.

None of this should be interpreted as saying that the answer to violence is more guns. You don't let your house become a firetrap and solve the problem by adding fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers are supposed to gather dust and the same should be true for self defense firearms. Instead, you clean up the mess. The firetrap that is the US needs to solve this problem by addressing decades of festering decay resulting from the flight of labor type jobs overseas, the failed war on drugs, rising income inequality and its culture of greed, and divisions based on notions such as racism, religious intolerance, and hatred of the LGBT community. Adding more guns to this mix as a solution to social violence would be like putting out a house fire with streams of gasoline. Sure, the fire will eventually go out, once the house is consumed. Guns are tools. So is education and jobs. Use the right tool for the job.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hazard Control Plans

Post left on MiketheGunGuy's blog, embellished here.

I wish we could get as many Moms and Mayors interested in traffic violence as are interested in firearms violence. We kill and injure about as many people with vehicles as with guns and the estimated annual cost of traffic crashes is similar to that of gun violence, i.e., is in the hundreds of billions. Those are just obvious costs; indirect costs vs. benefits are hard to calculate and beyond my level of patience. But the standard retort is “cars are not designed to kill and besides, we need cars”. So those traffic deaths are um, justified?

I harp on this not to deflect from gun violence (I routinely work with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, although we sometimes have serious disagreements but hey, that's what civil discourse is for), but because as a bicycling advocate and board member of my statewide bicycle advocacy organization and as chair of my county’s transportation advisory board, its my job to worry about such things. For those worried about the arrogance of "Gun Nut Nation", as Mike the Gun Guy calls Second Amendment hard liners, the arrogance of motorists, when combining their cell phone addiction, nine mph over the speed limit, and one for the road mentality with their cars, means the use of cars is statistically just as dangerous as use of guns.  There is even a National Motorist Association that fights common sense traffic laws. Look it up. Plus, with road designs that stress moving cars (vehicle level of service) over safety (vision zero), the carnage has official sanction.

Americans die on the roads at twice the rate of Europeans. Against all rich countries the U.S. doesn't fare much better. The World Health Organization calculates an average of 8.7 fatalities per 100,000 people in high income countries compared with 11.4 in the U.S. and only 5.5 in the European Union. Subpar road safety in the U.S. shows up in other measures too, such as deaths per car or deaths per mile driven. --Newsweek

If anyone reading this has ever been hit by a car, which when misused, is just another high energy projectile that can cause massive tissue damage, permanent injury, mental trauma, and death, you don’t have to be convinced. I sure don’t. I lost a year of grad school and had to change my Ph.D. project after I was run down by a guy in a VW making a mad dash for an opening in one of those mile long gas lines on Long Island in 1979. Unfortunately, me and my bicycle were in the way. Traumatic brain injury.

So say, let’s worry about both. Senseless death or injury is always bad. Guns and cars are potential hazards. Going to my scientific geek-speech for a minute, and with due respect to Constitutional protections for firearms ownership and de facto political protections for car operation, both need to be controlled by good hazard control plans in order to reduce public risk.

What these hazard controls look like is a political as well as a practical consideration. Back in my geochemistry lab, we used a lot of concentrated hydrofluoric acid (HF) as it is essential to dissolving rocks and measuring their chemistry and isotopic compositions. With small exposures, it can dissolve your bones or fingernails as the HF diffuses right through your skin. Expose 10-20 percent of your body and it is a potent neurotoxin. The flourine anion complexes with calcium in your nerve synapses and shuts down critical neurologically controlled functions like breathing and pulse. You die quickly. So protection, such as training, using enclosures to separate you from HF, and protective clothing, are all requirements for handing HF safely. Similarly, we want to protect the public from misuse of cars and guns. Politics (cars) and Constitutional guarantees (guns) have limited what we could do, but that doesn't eliminate the risks.

More importantly, the public has to take BOTH cars and guns seriously, just as a geochemist has to take HF seriously. As far as acids, most probably have no idea what I am talking about. I think most of the public takes guns seriously, either out of fear of them or because they are members of a firearms culture. Gun crime is deliberate and "hazard control" involves law enforcement and keeping guns out of the wrong hands. Too bad the same cannot be said for cars, whose operations are taken for granted; that lax attitude towards both operation and enforcement results in senseless risk–its a matter of reverse cultural myopia.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Loophole, Schmoophole....where do bad guys get guns?

The "gun show loophole" is largely a myth, at least as far as applying to gun shows. As a study of state prison inmates suggest, crooks don't go to gun shows to acquire their firearms. Even Harris and Kleibold didn't buy at a gun show--they got a friend to do a gun show straw purchase for them as they were underage. They bought a second firearm from a buddy who knew they were prohibited persons (underage) but sold it anyway. These two gun providers were champions of civic responsibility, eh?

This doesn't mean we don't have a problem with ne'er-do-wells acquiring firearms illicitly. The real question regarding the erroneously-named "gun show loophole" is whether the entire secondary market of sales between individuals leads to gun violence, and whether significant numbers of crimes are committed because folks bought guns without a background check. That is a good question.

As a recent study, yet to be released (read, take this with a grain of salt) indicates, that old "40% of guns are transferred without a background check" number might have merit. Undoubtedly most of these unreviewed sales are to legitimate people, but to decide if the number of bad actors is enough of a problem to spend policy and resources on it, we need numbers; some examples of horror stories are here. This also means we need to address how prohibited people really get guns and how to deter them or their sources from engaging in unlawful transfers. As far as where crooks get guns, in the table below are some numbers from a published source.

But mandating universal background checks (UBCs) is begging the question on how to track and enforce such a requirement.  Tracking and enforcing UBCs for gun transfers in the private market would, in many states, be based on an honor system (or fear of BATF sting operations) since there is no universal registration and tracking of guns to owners, no idea of who owns what in many states (and likely will never be universal registration as long as the anti-gun folks cannot be trusted to avoid Aussie solutions) and as we know, there is no honor among thieves.

Source for Table: Office of Justice Programs Bureau of JusticeStatistics, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011, Michael Planty, Ph.D., and Jennifer L. Truman, Ph.D., BJS Statisticians

Table 14 Source of firearms possessed by state prison inmates at time of offense, 1997 and 2004

Percent of state prison inmates 1997
Percent of state prison inmates 2004
Source of firearm

Purchased or traded from
Retail Store
Flea Market
Gun Show

Family or friend
Purchased or traded
Rented or borrowed

Street or illegal source
Theft or burglary
Drug deal/off street
Fence/black market


Note from original source: Includes only inmates with a current conviction. Estimates may differ from previously published BJS reports. To account for differences in the 1997 and 2004 inmate survey questionnaires, the analytical methodology used in 1997 was revised to ensure comparability with the 2004 survey.  Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 1997 and 2004.

Reference: Office of Justice Programs Bureau of JusticeStatistics, Firearm Violence, 1993-2011, Michael Planty, Ph.D., and Jennifer L. Truman, Ph.D., BJS Statisticians

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Why have rifles and shotguns in gun safes at the schools?

"Nice try kid, but I think you just brought a knife. To a gunfight." --From Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

There have been several letters (example) sent to the Post questioning why the lack of public input into placing secure firearm storage in the schools; some have objected to such placement. Perhaps a public hearing for the purposes of educating the public and soliciting public input is a good idea. But this suggestion is based on extensive police tactical thinking that has grown out of past mass shootings.

The carnage of Columbine drastically changed police tactics when responding to a school shooter. Traditional police tactics at the time of Columbine involved first responding officers securing a perimeter and waiting for a SWAT team to arrive. But Columbine was not a traditional hostage situation but a mass shooting; this tactic simply gave the shooters more time to kill people. Presently, many police forces stress that first responding officers actively engage and eliminate the threat as soon as possible in order to save lives.

This, of course, puts the first responders at tremendous risk. A 2014 study, “The Police Response to Active Shooter Incidents”, put together by the Police Executive Research Forum indicates that when a solo officer enters an active shooting situation while the shooter is still firing, in three quarters of the situations the officer directly engages the shooter and in one third of those situations the first responding officer is shot.

In the case of Columbine, the first officer on the scene, a school resource officer, attempted to engage Harris and Kleibold with a sidearm (note that our SRO's have sidearms, so there are already police carrying guns in the schools) while they responded with rifle fire. This is not surprising; the 2014 study indicates that roughly a quarter of shooters have rifles (think Newtown, Dallas, TX and Orlando, FL) and some have multiple weapons (Virginia Tech). If a responding officer cannot rapidly and safely obtain adequate firepower, the officer and trapped victims are at even greater risk. One police training guide written for a large police organization specifically calls out that first responding officers to an active shooter situation should, at a minimum, be equipped with a rifle (AR-15, Mini-14, etc.) or shotgun with slug rounds.

As far as likelihood? While school shootings are still rare, they are becoming more frequent and occur where you would not expect them: Newtown and Columbine are examples. That Los Alamos resembles Lake Wobegon does not immunize us. Indeed, it has not been that long since a local youth went on a burglary rampage and was in possession of multiple assault style rifles and handguns (for those who worry about guns being stolen from a school safe, there are obviously much softer targets around). He was later arrested when he violated his release conditions and entered school grounds. Thankfully, he did not do so for homicidal purposes.

Stolen guns found by police in a local youth's bedroom.
Daily Post photo, with permission
While a school shooting is unlikely, it is not out of the question; this attempt by police to securely cache weapons has been proposed so first responders can be prepared for a worst case scenario. But having tactical weapons is the last line of defense here. While school personnel and police must train and be familiar with how to respond to specific active shooter situations, the real work is in avoiding them. We in this community must understand these events and dedicate the emotional and mental health resources needed to ensure that none of us, and none of our children, ever take on the distorted point of view of an active shooter.

Let’s make sure these weapons are truly secure and responders properly trained in emergency response. But let's not get too myopic and only think about the pros and cons of gun safes. There are a lot of other considerations we need to address in order to ensure those safes merely collect dust.