Friday, January 22, 2016

Hands Up, Don't Poison The Water

massively revised and sent to the New Mexican, 2/7/16


"...The newly released emails show that members of Mr. Snyder’s administration consistently mocked and belittled the complaints of Flint residents and the evidence gathered by independent researchers..."--NY Times Editorial

Usually, we hear about acute lead poisoning in the form of bullets when it comes to blacks, minorities, and poor whites and especially with those in our failing cities. Trymaine Lee reminded us of that once again in the weekend New Mexican. As Charles Blow recently told us in the New York Times, over eighty percent of black gun deaths are homicides while almost eighty percent of white gun deaths are suicides. Small wonder we keep dropping the ball on the gun violence problem, since so many in the gun debate are talking past each other, unwilling to help others, or too busy guarding their own turf.

In the case of Flint, Michigan, lead poisoning has been the slow, chronic kind. The City of Flint, MI, under state receivership due to bankruptcy, had been fumbling and bumbling its way towards an ill-advised short term goal: finding nominally cheaper municipal water.  It created a toxic brew of lead-tainted water along the way, which was fed to the public.

Abandoning more expensive Detroit municipal water in favor of a cheaper system of its own led to a project to use Flint River water.  But Flint River water chemistry is corrosive to pipes and other metal surfaces; no one tested or treated the new source of water for its corrosive behavior. That would have cost money. What followed, inevitably, was the water attacking the ancient municipal distribution pipes and leaching out lead. There is a jarring video on the Times site of brown water coming out of a tap. Children now have high blood lead. Such high levels lead to brain damage. Apologies by the Governor and EPA and after the fact fixes will not help those kids.

There are roots to the gun violence in our cities that go beyond guns. The cynical poisoning of Flint residents by an indifferent and incompetent bureaucracy, focused only on the tax burden's short term bottom line, is only one of many examples. Getting guns out of the hands of gang youth and others intent on malevolence may keep people from shooting each other. It will not keep people from being slowly and systematically poisoned by government and societal indifference, incompetence, greed, and racism. Plus, short term savings on the Flint water system will now result in staggering long term costs to fix the infrastructure and cope with human damage. Indeed, the failed or failing cities within the US pose the same risks to our nation as failed states elsewhere.

Until we stop pitting people against each other on hot button issues (including gun control), and ask that we work together to solve each other's problems rather than circle the wagons, we will neither solve the problems nor end the violence. Thinking that gun control will make the US a vastly better place is a tad optimistic--ask the folks in Flint. As far as gun violence, we should make our existing laws more effective; two examples are obtaining state compliance with the Lautenberg Amendment (that disarms those with permanent domestic violence restraining orders) and making background checks universally available when making private sales; there are other examples. But we have to fix what is broken: those problems that drive people to pull the trigger in the first place. That means offering a helping hand rather than a pointed finger.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Its Not About Gun Violence, But Drug, Cultural, and Poverty Caused Violence

 Of Course, Adding Guns To These Other Things Guarantees Carnage...

We are entering another legislative session and at least one gun control bill will be introduced. Such bills will treat the symptoms, gun violence, rather than the diseases. Gun violence is driven by deeper issues, namely our failed wars on drugs and poverty and our addiction to a culture of violence.

As many analysts have told us (e.g., a recent NPR piece) gun control laws are oversold. For example, a tiny fraction of guns traced to crime are purchased at gun shows. Most are trafficked through straw purchases, obtained from acquaintances, or stolen. Often, (e.g., Chicago), penalties for illegal gun possession, itself a precursor to more serious crimes, are minor, hence sending the message that illegal possession is not taken seriously.

Some suggestions are nonetheless worth trying.  The “gun show loophole” bill (by Rep. Miguel Garcia) has a reasonable cost-benefit since gun shows are populated with licensed gun vendors; asking a private seller to work with a licensed one is probably worth the price, considering it may stop some prohibited purchases. I think we should concentrate on making background checks universally available rather than arguing over making them a requirement.

We must ask why there is so much gun crime irrespective of gun laws. Places with high levels of gun crime are highly correlated with poverty and drugs.  A recent study showed that the best predictor of becoming a homicide victim is the actions of one's social network. Meanwhile, areas with lax gun laws often have low gun homicide and  low overall homicide rates because they (Vermont, Wyoming, or closer to home, Los Alamos, NM) are relatively free of serious drug or poverty problems, many of which are connected to mental health problems.  If one has few options other than crime or the drug trade (which we have willfully handed over to organized crime), gun crime is a foreseeable option because there are so few others.

The War on Guns, therefore, is misdirected.  One of its casualties is getting the political left and right to reformulate the way we treat drug offenses (as public health issues), and to directly address the economic and social conditions that have left many cities as poverty and drug infested war zones. Instead of treating both our drug and poverty problems as principally law enforcement issues, we need to treat these as public health and economic growth issues.

Finally, we see an increasing acculturation to violence. Someone created a video showing movie stars demanding an end to gun violence. Interspersed with their pleas were clips of these same people starring in gun violence drenched roles.Many people practice being mass shooters on their computer screens. Given that we have 300 million guns, it is not surprising that some act out in real life. As gun regulators remind the gun industry, one cannot both profit from violence and condemn it.

Rather than fight a war on guns that promises stalemate (2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme), we should be solving the drug, poverty, and systemic violence problems that sustain gun violence.  We should vigorously prosecute and penalize the misuse of guns, including theft, straw purchase, and crimes committed with guns. We should promote gun safety in the home and make purposeful efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands. But let's stop being shocked when there is gun violence in predictable locations, as we have failed to solve the problems that drive the violence in the first place.

Published in the LA Daily Post and the New Mexican 

5 Problems With The Connecticut Study (

Mention "gun politics", and this happens.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Biker Day at the Roundhouse: Saturday, 13 Feb. Save the Date

I'm trying to see if one of the local bike shops will agree to be a staging area for bicyclists. Stay tuned.