Sunday, April 3, 2016

It May Be a Spiffy Bomber to Us, But It Was Hell on the Marshallese

Sent to the Albuquerque Journal.


 In the Sunday Journal, Charles Brundt tells us about the need to raise funds to repaint a B-52B bomber that will be exhibited at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Brundt elaborates on the history of this aircraft, including that it was heavily involved in "...Operation Redwing Cherokee, a series of 17 nuclear test detonations from May 4 through July 21, 1956, at the Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Pacific." Indeed, the U.S. conducted some 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands.

For whatever security this testing may or may not have provided Americans, its legacy continues to haunt the Marshall Islanders, where many areas have been too contaminated for habitation and where many people were directly subject to high levels of fallout and long term radioactive contamination. Imagine if New Mexico, rather than having experienced one small test of a nuclear device at Trinity Site, was used as a target for dozens of very large thermonuclear weapons.

Perhaps in addition to raising funds for re-painting that B-52, we should not be whitewashing the effects our testing program had on its unwilling participants living on those Pacific Islands. How much paint does it take to undo the equivalent of a nuclear war on someone's island home?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

More Gun Laws Don't Make You Safer

That is, when you ignore everything else...

Yet another article in the New Mexican about Albuquerque residents shooting each other. Albuquerque has about twice the violent crime rate as the U.S. while New Mexico the 2nd most violent by state. Like Avis, we try #1, but unlike Avis, to be at the top of every wrong list. Note: The Journal based its rankings on FBI data.

Just for laughs I thought I would look up the five states that the Albuquerque Journal article says are the five least violent states based on FBI data and compare these to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rankings as states with tough gun laws. Here it is, in order of the safest state, Vermont, followed by the four runners up, and their Law Center gun law rankings in parentheses. Note--a failing grade means the Law Center thinks there are not enough gun laws. Vermont (F), Maine (F), Virginia (D), Wyoming (F) and Kentucky (F). New Mexico and Alaska, the most violent states, likewise have grades of F.  Note that the FBI rankings only include violent crime. In the Politifact link below, the metric includes accidents and suicides as well as crime. The politifact article is a good read, as it discusses the issue in depth and interviews some scholars on the subject.

Safety and harm reduction is not all about passing strict gun laws. While the Law Center highlights violent states that have "weak" gun laws, it is mute about safe states with few gun laws.  Lax laws regulating gun sales may grease the wheels of gun trafficking into violent places like Chicago and D.C.. We need to bite the bullet and solve that problem with policies aimed at deterring trafficking and promoting crime control (and state level gun controls focused on crime) rather than pushing laws aimed at gun ownership in general. The lack of strict gun laws doesn't seem to pose a danger in itself, at least for the residents of those safe states. Unless you are suicidal or gun-accident prone.

"...Earlier this year, Santa Fe residents gathered to discuss ways to reduce gun violence in our community. The town hall meeting is another sign that activists are going to seek to reduce the harm caused by guns, no matter the political pushback. Even more encouraging, they are seeking to change the conversation so that fewer people die...."

In a departure from its usual "round up the usual suspects" editorial view, Saturday's New Mexican tells us we need to concentrate on suicide and harm reduction rather than gun control, in part, because two-thirds of American gunshot deaths are suicides. But that statistic ignores the elephant in the room. Talk with Charles Blow of the NY Times or Father Michael Pfleger at St. Sabina's Parish in south Chicago, aka Chi-Raq. Blow has told us that about three quarters of white Americans gun deaths are suicide while about four fifths of black gun deaths are homicides. I suspect that editorial would likewise leave Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden rolling his eyes, given the gun violence in his city. Black lives do matter, and non-Hispanic black deaths due to homicide are close to an order of magnitude higher than non-Hispanic whites.

Gun violence needs to be looked at in microcosm and solved in macrocosm, as both guns and policy flow seamlessly across borders.  National and state policies that influence income inequality, job exportation, chronic unemployment, drug addition treatment, taxation policy, and social services spending, to name a few, influence communities (and their crime and suicide rates) in different ways. Probably more profoundly than gun laws. But the quote above goes to the core of the problem: rather than demonizing each other across the Gun Control Divide, we need to ask each other's help and build alliances instead of grooming adversaries in order to reduce violence.

I agree with the New Mexican's Editorial Board that we ought to tackle the problems rather than concentrate entirely on the implements. Why are white (and other) folks putting a gun to their own heads? Why are urban blacks shooting each other in Chicago? Maybe its time to give people options other than bullets. As I've said before, our nation's "Maslow's Gun" approach to problem-solving is killing us.

As far as suicides? Unlike the New Mexican's editorial board, I am not sure what gun shop employees and shooting range officers can do to prevent suicides, but its worth a try. Guns are incredibly effective suicide mechanisms not because people go to a gun shop to buy a suicide gun, but because the gun is already readily available in the home, thus can be loaded and used immediately upon impulse. Drugs, gas, or driving to a bridge take time, and thus may result in reflection and "oh, never mind" or calling out for help. Once used on impulse, guns rarely fail at delivering. That is a good reason to lock them up and keep them away from suicide-prone teens or relatives. It may also be a good reason to NOT have guns around if you're not planning on being part of an active firearms culture (if you don't practice regularly, chances are, you will fail at using a gun in self-defense). Certainly our local gun shop owners can give us advice but so can priests, ministers, friends, and medical practitioners. On that last note, idiotic and misguided pro-gun based legal prohibitions on medical personnel discussing gun issues don't help and are an example of a "gun law" that doesn't make us safer. In terms of the bigger picture, we need to solve social problems in order to get people out of their suicidal or homicidal ruts, rather than focus on passing more gun control laws.

New Mexico Truth: Stunning Vistas and Child Poverty.

For starters, this Huffington story and the figure from it, below, are worth a look. I imagine this is not the only correlation between violent death and social ills that one can quickly find.