The Shock of Ordinary Gun Violence


CreditArianna Vairo

Only in America: A computer algorithm about guns has been created to predict who is most likely to be shot soon, or to shoot someone.

The Chicago Police Department, desperate to reduce gun violence by street gangs, authorized this unusual tool three years ago and has been using it to track and caution the most likely offenders.

It is a remarkable state of affairs that local governments must resort to such an approach to deal with the reality of gun mayhem. Yet it is sadly understandable, too, as a timid Congress cowed by the gun lobby fails to enact stronger gun-control laws for a nation increasingly flooded with high-powered weapons.

As a rule, a public anesthetized by gun abuse tends to pay attention to the ubiquity of guns in this country when massacres seize the headlines, like the San Bernardino terrorist attack that left 14 dead, or the shooting of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut. But the full problem is far more widespread, deadly and almost routine, according to a survey by a team of reporters from The Times reviewing a year of these multiple shootings.

Tracking 358 armed encounters last year in which four or more people were killed or wounded, including attackers, the team counted 462 dead and 1,330 wounded, some scarred for life.

These brief, lethal outbursts of gunfire stirred no national concern. As a sum, they register like a dispatch from a secret war zone. They were sparked by minor, often drunken grievances — forgettable if guns had not been at hand. And the victims in these shootings are just a subset of the nearly 11,000 Americans killed by guns and the estimated 60,000 wounded each year in single homicides and assaults.

This is a public health challenge of critical proportions deserving a thorough debate from the presidential candidates. Yet Donald Trump, in his march toward the Republican nomination, has made a befuddling series of corkscrew turns on guns, depending on his audience.

He went for full-throated Second Amendment pandering before the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him, last Friday. But two days later, talking to an interviewer on national TV, not gun zealots at a convention, he backed away from his vow earlier this year to ban all gun-free zones in schools on Day 1 in the White House. In his latest molting, Mr. Trump wants guns allowed only “in some cases” where teachers can be armed and trained.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate, has for months been proposing a consistent agenda of gun controls. Mr. Trump previously favored a ban on assault weapons, but he dropped that once he was running as a Republican.

Mr. Trump’s supporters should be asking where in all his tweets and thunder there is believable concern for the nation’s gun victims instead of adolescent fantasies that they would have been better off armed for a “shootout.”

How many guns are in America? A web of state secrecy means no one knows

A majority of states actively restrict access to information on gun permits, the FBI must destroy background checks and Congress bans funding for research

 People look at handguns at a gun show in Chantilly, Virginia, earlier this month. Nationwide the number of guns is literally countless. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

People look at handguns at a gun show in Chantilly, Virginia, earlier this month. Nationwide the number of guns is literally countless. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

The American Public Health Association will join the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in a national summit in Washington DC to tackle gun violence. They describe the issue as “one of the biggest public health issues facing America”.

But you wouldn’t know it from looking at the state of gun research.

Ask one of the dozen or so active firearms researchers in the United States, and they won’t be able to answer the fundamental question: how many guns are in America?

In addition to a 1996 ban on federal funding for firearms research that is cited as one of the most onerous obstacles to treating gun violence as a public health issue, states have passed dozens of laws in just the past five years that make once-public data on gun ownership confidential.

The best available data comes from a private survey by the University of Chicago, not the federal government, and that is still an estimate, finding that 79 million US households have guns. Other surveys have estimated there are between 270 and 310m guns.

“There are lots of holes in actually having any data on the number of guns in our communities,” said Fred Rivara, head of pediatrics at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital and a firearms researcher for almost three decades. “You look at, well, are people with mental health problems more likely to have guns, or are people with past problems more likely to have guns, we don’t know because we don’t have that data.”

States have not made the job easier.

From Florida to Maine to West Virginia to Wyoming, a variety of provisions have exempted concealed-carry permit data from public disclosure or stopped permitting altogether. For researchers, these provisions make it impossible to study guns within a given zip code or cohorts of owners who might have run-ins with the law.

“The fact of the matter is we know how many people own cars, we know the identity of every car in the United States … Yet we don’t know who owns guns, and we don’t know how many guns there are in the United States,” said Rivara.

“When I first started in gun research back in 1987, we could actually go down to the state capitol in Olympia [Washington] and identify through state records at that point who owns guns,” said Rivara. “That ability was subsequently removed.”

As of 2013, 28 states, including Washington, don’t allow access to gun permit records. Some states, such as Vermont, Wyoming and Kansas, removed permitting requirements.Iowa has worked for years to make gun permit data more secretive. Two counties in the state lent the legislature a hand by destroying all permit applications. New York tightened public access to gun permits after a newspaper north of New York City published a map of permit holders’ names and addresses. In the past five years dozens of laws have exempted concealed-carry permits and applications and gun licenses from public disclosure or made them confidential.

Take one state as an example: Louisiana.

Louisiana has the second-worst firearms death rate in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, topped only by Alaska. In 2013, 19.3 people per 100,000 died because of a firearms-related injury for every 100,000 people in the state. That rate is equivalent to 14.7 people dying at a single New Orleans Saints football game (where the stadium seats roughly 76,000).

The same year, in addition to repealing state bans on machine guns, legislators made concealed-carry permit records confidential and allowed for issuance of lifetime concealed-carry permits. At its most basic level, that means researchers will never know how many concealed-carry permit holders, including those licensed for life, there are in the state.

But that wasn’t far enough for legislators in the state. Louisiana lawmakers also made it a misdemeanor criminal offense to release information about concealed-carry permit holders – levying a $500 fine and up to six months in jail for any department of public safety and corrections employee who releases such records, and a $10,000 fine and six months in jail for anyone else who releases that information.

Firearms dealers in Louisiana are alsonot required to retain background checks or sales records, meaning that if a dealer chooses not to record such transactions there is no way for researchers (or anyone else) to trace guns or oversee the efficacy of background checks.

Some federal data has also disappeared. A firearms trace databaseoperated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives once used to publicly shame gun retailers who sold to criminals was made confidential in the early 2000s. And the FBI is required to destroy all background checks.

These state and federal restrictions have compounded challenges for the already-barren field of gun research, which has been barred from federal funding.

In 2013, following the massacre of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, Barack Obama signed an executive order that was supposed to lift the ban on firearms research. Congress, however, turned down the president’s request to fund the research.

In firearms violence research, this has been the state of affairs since 1996. At a time when gun violence was among the highest in American history, Congress defunded firearms research and passed a provision many researchers believe had a deep, chilling effect on the pursuit of answers.

At the time, a series of papers funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became a hot-button issue after scientists began to view gun violence as a public health issue.

One such paper was co-authored by Rivara in 1993. Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and found that gun owners were more likely to be the victims of homicide, than protected from it. This research drew particular ire in Congress.

“We have here an attempt by the CDC, through the [National Center for Injury Prevention and Control] a disease control agency of the federal government [trying] to bring about gun control advocacy all over the United States,” Arkansas Republican representative Jay Dickey told colleagues during a hearing on his namesake amendment.

The rider, stipulating that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the [CDC] may be used to advocate or promote gun control”, would stop research into gun violence for the next two decades.

The CDC, Dickey argued, was trying “to raise emotional sympathy for those people who are for gun control”. Congress also yanked $2.6m in funding from the CDC, even as 1.1 million Americans fell victim to gun crime that year alone (In 2011, 439,100 were victims).

Even Democrats acquiesced to Dickey’s amendment. Lobbying colleagues to restore funding, New York DemocratNita Lowey told House colleagues: “Our amendment preserves language in the bill which prohibits the CDC from advocating or promoting gun control.”

“The NRA opposes the CDC injury control research because it wants to suppress the awful truth about gun violence. The NRA simply does not want the facts getting out. It is no more than censorship. It must be stopped,” Lowey said.

Despite her efforts, Dickey’s amendment passed, and firearms research ground to a halt. Nineteen years later, in the wake of a mass shooting inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Lowey lobbied for the removal of the same rider she had once been willing to live with to restore funding.

“Preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly,” she said at a hearing, before Congress re-upped (again) the requirement that the CDC not lobby for gun control.

Now, despite $130m in “violence research” grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health, no studies explicitly looked at firearms. Nor did any of the $59m in grants devoted to “youth violence” or the $16m that went to “youth violence prevention”.

“The lack of research has been so detrimental because not only do we not have the research funding, another thing I think that’s really important is that it’s been a huge blow to the trained workforce,” said Susan Sorenson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who studies gun violence as a public health issue.

In the United States, researchers are required to generate their own grant funding for projects, including for lab time, salaries and equipment.

“If there’s no funding, that researcher simply is not going to have a job, so they go into fields that are more heavily funded – cancer, tobacco, HIV – simply because they too need to be able, like all humans, to eat, to have a place to live,” Sorenson said.

As scientists struggle to rebuild a field Sorenson called “nascent”, some surprising funding streams have stepped forward.

The Seattle city council funded research studying whether people who go to the hospital for gunshots were likely to later be the victims of violence (they are). The Chicago-based Joyce Foundation is cited by researchers as one of the only private foundations willing to provide money for research, and firearms researcher Dr Gary Wintemute donated about $1.1m of his own money to fund his research.

“Better data, and data systems, are needed. Interventions must be evaluated, and those evaluations must help guide further efforts,” wrote Wintemute in aneditorial for the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Until we revitalize firearm violence research, studies using available data will often be the best we have. They are not good enough.”
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After Oregon Shooting, Hillary Clinton Says She Wants To Stand Up To The NRA

“We’re going to tell legislators, do not be afraid.”

Posted: 10/02/2015 10:45 AM EDT

WASHINGTON — After a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon left at least 10 people dead and more wounded on Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for a “national movement” on gun control to counteract the political power of the National Rifle Association.

“I have to tell you, Janet, I am just sick of this,” Clinton told Janet Wu of the Boston ABC affiliate WCVB Thursday evening. “I’m sick about it, and I feel an absolute urgency for this country to start being sensible about keeping guns away from people who should not have them.”
“I think that what we need is a national movement,” she continued. “What the NRA does in their single-minded, absolutist theology about the Second Amendment being sacrosanct — when we know that every constitutional right and amendment can be tailored in an appropriate way without breaching the Constitution — but what they do is to so intimidate and scare legislators because they make it into a single issue for voting.”
“I’m going to try to do everything I can as president to raise up an equally large and vocal group that is going to prove to be a counterbalance,” she said. “And we’re going to tell legislators, do not be afraid.  Stand up to these people because a majority of the population and a majority of gun owners agree that there should be universal background checks. And the NRA has stood in the way.”

When Wu asked why Clinton thought she could win battles against the NRA, the candidate pointed out that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. (The law expired in 2004.) She added that citizens themselves clearly wanted more restrictions on gun purchases, since gun control measures often pass via ballot initiative.

Clinton also pointed out that a flaw in the background check system allowed Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with killing nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, to purchase a weapon.
“I’m going to be pushing this issue,” she said. “Universal background checks, a long-enough waiting period so that people can’t sneak in under the deadline because the full investigation wasn’t completed. I would like us to be absolutely determined, as I am, to try to do something about this.”

I am pretty sure Republicans would be fine with abortion if a gun were involved

helen-mug1 HELEN:

Margaret, within minutes of the President saying that he would be accused of politicizing this latest shooting, right on schedule Fox News accused him of politicizing it.  I swear the yahoos over at that network could start an argument all alone in an empty room.


How many times does our a President have to go on television to ask for our prayers and our thoughts  before our elected officials decide to pass sensible gun laws? Why in the world do we think it should be easier and less expensive  to get guns than it is to get mental health treatment?

Crazy people fire guns at will these days and politicians have nothing to say except our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.  But a women makes the private decision to end an unwanted or unhealthy pregnancy and those same politicians cry murder and pass laws faster than a hot knife through butter.

It occurs to me that if Planned Parenthood would just shoot the fetus with a gun maybe the Republicans would let women have control over their own bodies.   Now I know how awful that sounds, but it’s no crazier than all those NRA-card-carrying idiots who are now warning the government to keep their hands off our guns while just a few days ago they pulled Cecile  Richards into a hearing to talk about the government getting its hands on a women’s uterus.

The hypocrisy of their actions is as appalling as what I just wrote. Then again, I’m not an elected official.

If they cared so much about life, they’d work as hard to get rid of guns as they do to get rid of Planned Parenthood. But I fear the only life they care about is the one that will vote for them during the next election. Sadly, I mean that. Really.

margaret-mug1 MARGARET:

Helen, dear, either you have fallen and hit your head again or you’re just still upset by this season’s Dancing with the Stars cast. Either way, I can tell that you are all fired up once again. Heaven help those in your line of fire, dear

Fight on Guns Is Being Taken to State Ballots

JAN. 2, 2015

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has proposed the restoration of the state’s limit on handgun sales to one a month. Credit Molly Riley/Associated Press

Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has proposed the restoration of the state’s limit on handgun sales to one a month. Credit Molly Riley/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The gun control movement, blocked in Congress and facing mounting losses in federal elections, is tweaking its name, refining its goals and using the same-sex marriage movement as a model to take the fight to voters on the state level.

After a victory in November on a Washington State ballot measure that will require broader background checks on gun buyers, groups that promote gun regulations have turned away from Washington and the political races that have been largely futile. Instead, they are turning their attention — and their growing wallets — to other states that allow ballot measures.

An initiative seeking stricter background checks for certain buyers has qualified for the 2016 ballot in Nevada, where such a law was passed last year by the Legislature and then vetoed by the governor. Advocates of gun safety — the term many now use instead of “gun control” — are seeking lines on ballots in Arizona, Maine and Oregon as well.


Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia has proposed the restoration of the state’s limit on handgun sales to one a month. CreditMolly Riley/Associated Press

The National Rifle Association, which raises millions of dollars a year largely from small donors and has one of the most muscular state lobbying apparatuses in the country, is well attuned to its foes’ shift in focus. “We will be wherever they are to challenge them,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the group’s spokesman.

The new focus on ballot initiatives comes after setbacks in Congress and in statehouses. After the 2012 mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., President Obama’s effort to pass a background-check measure never got out of the Democratic-controlled Senate. Although 10 states have passed major gun control legislation, not only in Connecticut and New York but also as far away as Colorado, more states have loosened gun restrictions.

Candidates who backed gun control mostly lost in the midterm elections, even after groups spent millions on their behalf. The last setback came in December when Martha McSally, a Republican, prevailed in a razor-thin recount over Representative Ron Barber, Democrat of Arizona. Mr. Barber was wounded in the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and lost even though Ms. Giffords’s PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, spent more than $2 million in the race.

Gun control groups say that although they are still dwarfed by the N.R.A., they have more money and are involved in more grass-roots activism than ever before. The N.R.A. was even heavily outspent in the Washington State referendum.

The advocacy groups have recast their cause as a public health and safety movement, and are homing in on areas where polling has shown voter support, like expanded background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of people with domestic violence convictions, restraining orders or mental illnesses.

“Things that people feel are most doable politically right now are connected to domestic violence,” Mr. Webster said. “There is a lot of uptick on that issue even in red states and states with a lot of guns.” In the past two years, 11 states have passed such legislation.

Closing loopholes on background checks for gun owners is an area Americans support far more than steps like curbs on assault weapons or limits on magazine sizes. A recent Pew survey, for instance, showed that 52 percent of respondents said they believed it was more important to protect gun ownership rights. That figure was up from 29 percent in 2000. Still, in a 2013 poll, Pew found that nearly 75 percent of respondents supported background-check expansions.

Gun control advocates believe that ensuring background checks for the majority of gun buyers is the foundation of all other existing laws. “The reason voters support these laws is the same reason the movement supports these laws,” said Laura Cutilletta, a senior lawyer for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The same-sex marriage movement has been a model for advocates of new gun restrictions. As with gay marriage, background-check expansions enjoy far broader public support in polls than among elected officials, and they affect state residents immediately.

“The arc of the marriage-equality movement started in the federal government, and got them the Defense of Marriage Act,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group backed by Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City. “Then they went to the states and showed that if you can get the majority of the public on your side state by state, that will influence the courts and Congress in the end.”


A firearms buyer looked at hand guns on display during the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas last January.CreditJulie Jacobson/Associated Press

Their efforts have emboldened some governors and lawmakers, largely, but not exclusively, in solidly blue states. What is more, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut and Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado — both Democrats who pushed through a series of tough gun laws in their states after the Newtown massacre — won re-election. Two Colorado Democrats who strongly supported that state’s gun control package were booted from office in a special election in 2013. But the Democratic Party regained the seats in November.

Last month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, which has been the source of many illegally obtained guns in other states, proposed the restoration of the state’s limit on handgun sales to one a month to slow the “iron highway,” a nickname for gunrunning up Interstate 95 to states to the north. He would also seek mandatory background checks on gun sales at firearm shows, and end issuing gun permits to anyone restrained under domestic violence orders of protection.

The prospects for his gun proposals did not look great out of the gate. The governor “knows refighting the one-gun-a-month battle will not be productive,” Thomas K. Norment Jr., the Republican majority leader of the Virginia legislature, said in a statement.

For gun control groups, money is not the problem it was only recently. Contested ballot-initiative programs cost somewhere between $5 million and $15 million, said Pia Carusone, a senior adviser to Ms. Giffords’s group.

It has raised roughly $30 million for all political activities, including the Washington State initiative, over the past two years. And Mr. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars on everything from research to political campaigns to the Washington referendum, and is prepared to continue to do so.

Gun rights groups plan to meet them head-on. “The terrain gets a lot harder for him,” Mr. Arulanandam, the N.R.A. spokesman, said of Mr. Bloomberg.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — along with other advocacy groups — is evaluating which states among the 17 that allow ballot initiatives are the best spots to pick for the next fight; Maine, Arizona and Oregon, should their legislatures not take action, are widely viewed as the three with the most potential for gun control advocates.

In Washington, those who pushed the ballot measure through say they will begin a campaign to get the State Legislature to pass measures to keep guns from those with mental illnesses, children and people with a record of domestic violence. Opponents of gun control, for their part, went to the courts this week to challenge the new background-check requirements.

As with the same-sex marriage movement — as well as efforts by some conservative groups to weaken unions and to make abortions more difficult to obtain — the efforts of both gun rights advocates and advocates for gun restrictions demonstrate a fading faith that legislative remedies are to be found in Congress.

“Whether it’s on guns or immigration or tax reform, clearly Washington is broken,” Mr. Feinblatt said. “You have to influence the federal government at the state.”

Bright Spots in the 2014 Elections

Devin Burghart

IREHR has documented many of the human rights setbacks in the 2014 elections. At the same time, there are some important victories to highlight. These include victories in areas of women’s rights, pro-worker legislation, and gun safety.

Women’s Rights

Despite the defeat of the pro-immigrant Measure 88 in Oregon, there were some hopeful signs for human rights in the state. Oregon voters overwhelmingly passed Measure 89, 63.8% to 36.2%, the Oregon Equal Rights for Women Initiative, which guaranteed that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”

Other states voted to protect women’s reproductive rights. Two states rejected so-called “personhood” measures, which would have severely restricted women’s reproductive rights and would have granted legal rights to fertilized eggs. For the third federal election in a row, Colorado voters rejected “personhood,” as did nearly two-thirds of North Dakota voters. One setback for women’s reproductive freedom, Tennessee, where voters amended their state constitution to explicitly say that it does not protect abortion rights.

Pro-Worker Legislation

Spurred on by efforts around the country to organize fast-food workers and re-ignite the conversation about income inequality, four states passed minimum wage increases, from $8.50 in Arkansas by 2017, to $9.75 in Alaska by 2016. South Dakota and Nebraska also raised their minimum wage. Wisconsin voters (who re-elected staunch anti-union governor, Scott Walker) also passed a non-binding measure calling for a $10 wage. At the city level, San Francisco passed a $15 wage by 2018, and nearby Oakland passed $12.50 by 2015. It is estimated that more than 600,000 workers will benefit from these increases.

Paid sick leave was another issue that many low-wage workers have demanded. Massachusetts’ voters passed a ballot measure guaranteeing paid sick leave to an estimated 1 million workers. Three cities also passed sick-leave measures: Trenton, New Jersey; Montclair, New Jersey; and Oakland, California.

Gun Safety

The National Rifle Association and their allies lost big in Washington State, where 60% of voters passed I-594, a ballot measure extending background checks to all gun sales and transfers. The state’s voters also rejected I-591, a ballot initiative backed by the NRA, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and local Tea Party groups, which would have constrained gun safety efforts.  The NRA and their allies also failed to unseat governors in Colorado and Connecticut, who passed gun safety measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shootings.

Last modified on 11.13.2014