Below is a guest opinion column submitted by Dr. Michael Baron for publication on www.PeteDinelli.com. The article is a very in depth, researched and straightforward discussion of gun violence in the United States concluding with recommendations on what laws are needed to curb gun violence and mass shootings. It is being published now because the 2023 New Mexico legislature is in session. There are numerous pending gun control bills pending that have been reported upon in this blog with a discussion of a possible special session being convened to consider an Omnibus Violent Crime and Gun Control Act. The article has been forwarded to all New Mexico House and Senate members and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Michael Baron, Ph.D. has been a licensed psychologist in the state of New Mexico since 1979. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he received his B.A. in Psychology in 1972 from Syracuse University, and his Ph.D. in 1978 from the University of New Mexico. In private practice since 1980, Dr. Baron fancies himself a “hardnosed humanist,” and has provided individual child and adult, couple, and family therapy services (www.michaelbaronphd.com). After about half a million miles consulting with New Mexico’s schools (1981-2011), he jettisoned his “Road Warrior” role, expanding his home-based practice in Corrales. Since 2017 Dr. Baron has written a column, “Open Mike,” touching upon the ridiculous and the sublime for the New Mexico Psychological Association’s quarterly online newsletter. The Columbine shooting in 1999 led Dr. Baron to become an advocate ever since to reduce gun violence in America. After needing to replace his office furniture, Dr. Baron’s love of artistic creation was resurrected, has been in a number of art shows since (www.artofdowel.com), and featured on the cover of America Psychologist (http://www.artofdowel.com/bio#images-2).
EDITOR’S DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this guest column are those of Dr. Michael Baron and do not necessarily reflect those of the www.petedinelli.com blog. Dr. Baron has not been paid compensation to publish the guest column and has given his consent to publish his column on www.PeteDinelli.com.
Following is Dr. Baron’s guest opinion column:
“Please envision the following headline:
“TODAY’S MASS SHOOTING IN THE UNITED STATES: 463 victims: 134 dead, 329 injured”
That could be any newspaper’s headline, except these tragedies are geographically distributed throughout the country, hardly garnering any media attention. In 2021, 48,832 firearm deaths (of which 26,320 are suicides) occurred in the United States according to provisional data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and about 120,000 firearm injuries occur each year on average in the US. For comparison’s sake, in 2021, while we had 48,832 firearm deaths, Japan had only ONE shooting death. Our death rate is over 500 times greater than theirs per 100,000. It is no coincidence our private gun ownership rate is also 500 times greater than theirs per 100,000 (total guns owned: US 393,300,000, Japan 377,000).
Mass shooting deaths, incidents where four or more people are killed or injured, totaled 513 in 2020, accounting for a very small percentage of firearm deaths: 1%. All told, with over 45,000 deaths and 120,000 injuries each year, it is safe to say one American “takes a bullet” every three minutes, and as many die from a bullet in 14 months as American soldiers died in the Vietnam War over 20 years, about 58,000.
The links to source materials for review are here:
PREVALENCE OF GUNS IN THE United States
In 2023, it is estimated we now exceed 400 million guns.
There are 53,267 gun shops and only 15,876 Macdonald’s in the U.S.
Since World War II ended, the number of guns in the U.S. has increased by a factor of 8.5: from 47 to about 400 million guns, while the population has increased by a factor of 2.4: from 140 to 333 million. A bar graph of the statistics can be found here:
About 81 million Americans (31% of all adults) own an average of 5 guns each.
Americans own nearly half (46%) of all civilian-owned guns worldwide, and we own more per capita (120.5 guns per 100 population) than any other country on earth. Yemen is #2 at 52.8 per 100.
With such staggering numbers, hope of reduced firearm tragedies may seem pie in the sky, but some interventions show promise.
GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION: LET EVIDENCE, NOT PARTISANSHIP, DICTATE POLICY
In a December15, 2022 email to state legislators of different political party affiliations, I noted the Albuquerque Journal cited New Mexico’s gun fatality rate as being among the nation’s highest. I added as follows:
“Among seven economically advantaged countries we Americans are extreme outliers with 56.2 firearm deaths per million people ages 1-19 versus an average of 2.0 for the other six countries combined….[Y]ou are committed to make a difference for New Mexicans of all ages. Please let the data and not party affiliation guide you.”
I closed by saying, “The state’s firearm deaths totaled over a thousand between 2020 (481) and 2021 (562). You have the time-limited opportunity to pass legislation which may help reduce these horrific numbers. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, so legislation which holds promise to reduce firearm deaths does not preclude also working to reduce alleged contributors to this, i.e., drug addiction, firearm trafficking, and expanding mental heath treatment. We can always change the law; we cannot bring back a lost life.”
Legislation which also upholds the 2nd Amendment is often seen as the heaviest challenge but can reduce these horrific statistics.
REPEAL OR REVISE THE SECOND AMENDMENT
I believe Thomas Jefferson would support repealing the Second Amendment. Mass shooters Harris and Kleibold, Crimo, Ramos, Lanza, and Holman are NOT part of a “well-regulated militia.” It is not at all likely that even Jefferson could anticipate in 1816 that a one-shot-load-and-reload musket might be replaced someday, maybe not with automatic rifles capable of shooting at hundreds of people in a matter of minutes, nor perhaps with a future rifle capable of shooting a nuclear mini-warhead, but “as new discoveries are made…institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times,” and that “constitutions” are not “too sacred to be touched” and revised.
Not one gun-related murder has occurred in Iceland from 2007 until at least 2018. No doubt Icelanders are surviving fairly well under whatever “tyranny” their government has thrown their way for the past 16 years. Likewise, Japan had only one firearm death in 2021. We might well reduce the tyranny of seemingly unbridled gun violence by redefining what a well-regulated militia really is.
Frances DeBenedictus, past Executive Director of Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL) in New York City, eloquently addressed this on Facebook in July 2022 when she posted:
“Two main groups of soldiers fought on the American side during the Revolutionary War. One group was the ‘well regulated militia,’ made up citizens who were ready to fight in case of an emergency. And, the other was the Continental Army. The commonly used weapon carried by the Continental Army was the ‘Brown Bess’ muzzle-loading smoothbore musket. This musket was used to fire a single shot ball, or a cluster style shot which fired multiple projectiles giving the weapon a ‘shotgun’ effect.
I have no objection to civilians obtaining a license to buy this weapon or similar weapons today. We no longer need ‘well regulated militias’ because now (247 years later) we have three military departments (Army, Navy and Air Force) and two reserve components; the United States Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. No American citizen should be allowed to own any weapons that would allow them to outgun the police or fire more than 70 bullets in minutes.”
Failing a repeal or revision of the Second Amendment, one which reinterprets a “well regulated militia,” we run the risk of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Boogaloo Boys, the Three Percenters, or any vigilante group forming overnight and claiming status as a “well regulated militia” when they are not at all regulated.
POLITICAL RHETORIC MAY BE INCREASING GUN VIOLENCE
Over a 35-year period, during the five administrations between Presidents Ronald Regan and Barack Obama (1981-2016), there was an average of 44 mass shooting victims per year (22 deaths and 22 injuries). It appears the first three years of Donald Trump’s administration (2017-2019) witnessed a nearly 900% increase in total deaths and injuries in mass shootings, per year, to 377 annually (108 deaths and 269 injuries).
The average of 3 national online publications or news sources was used: Mother Jones, Time, and Wikipedia. Following are the statistics for death and injuries gleaned from each source:
MOTHER JONES NEWS OUTLET STATISTICS
Deaths from gun violence from 1981 to 2016 per year: 18 (643 total over 35 years)
Deaths from gun violence from 2017 to 2019 per year: 99 (296 total over 3 years)
Injuries from gun violence from 1891 to 2016 per year: 19 (660 total over 35 years)
Injuries from gun violence from 2017 to 2019 per year: 283 (843 total over 3 years)
TIME NEWS OUTLET STATISTICS
Deaths from gun violence from 1981 to 2016 per year: 18 (643 total over 35)
Deaths from gun violence from 2017 to 2019 per year: 98 (293 total over 3 years)
Injuries from gun violence from 1981 to 2016 per year: 20 (689 total over 35 years)
Injuries from gun violence from 2017 to 2019 per year: 233 (700 total over 3 years)
WIKIPEDIA RESEARCH CITE
Deaths from gun violence from 1981 to 2016 per year: 29 (1,017 total over 35 years)
Deaths from gun violence from 2017 to 2019 per year: 128 (383 total over 3 years)
Injuries from gun violence from 1981 to 2016 per year: 28 (993 total over 35 years)
Injuries from gun violence from 2017 to 2019 per year: 292 (875 total over 3 years)
One needs to tread delicately when discussing politics, rhetoric, and violence, and correlation is not causation, but a nearly nine-fold increase in mass shooting victims raises the question: Can political rhetoric impact others’ behavior?
ABC News found that former Republican President Donald Trump’s name was invoked in 54 cases of violence, threats, and alleged assaults. “ABC News could not find a single criminal case filed in federal or state court where an act of violence or threat was made in the name of President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush” during the previous 16 years.
THE TRUMP FACTOR
During campaign rallies before the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump repeatedly warned that America was under attack by immigrants heading for the border, and he said, “You look at what is marching up, that is an invasion.” Nine months after Trump’s comments, a 21-year-old white man was accused of opening fire in a Walmart in El Paso, killing 20 people and injuring dozens more after writing a manifesto railing against immigration and announcing that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Earlier that year, 49 people died and 48 were injured after the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. In that shooter’s 74-page manifesto he cited Trump by name as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
In a review of domestic extremism 1994-2021, it was reported that “data shows a surge in homegrown incidents not seen in a quarter-century,” especially 2015-2020, corresponding to Trump’s presidential campaign and administration. In the first 21 years the Center for Strategic and International Strategy kept data (1994-2014), there were 558 incidents of domestic terrorism (26.6 per year). In the next six years (2015-2020), incidents rose 155% to 67.8 per year, with an all-time high of 113 incidents in 2020. In January 2021 alone, there were 15 incidents, including the January 6th insurrection at The Capitol. From 2015 through 2020, “far-right” incidents (267) outnumber “far-left” (66) by a 4-to-1 ratio.
Former President Trump provided what some saw as cover for white supremacist groups when he said in 2017, after the Charlotteville protest when a white supremacist drove a car into a crowd killing people, “Very fine people on both sides.” Trump was seemingly defending white nationalist protesters.
During a presidential debate (2020), after his unwillingness to denounce white supremacy, Trump encouraged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” and a few months later, at Trump’s invitation, the Proud Boys and other paramilitary groups took part in the January 6th insurrection.
Recall the journalist who was body slammed by Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte in 2018. Trump said, “Any guy that can do a body slam — he’s my kind of guy,” he was reported to have said, “to cheers and laughter from the crowd.” And added: “He’s a great guy, tough cookie.”
Fast forward a year later. It was reported that, “A Montana man charged with assaulting a 13-year-old boy who refused to remove his hat during the national anthem believed he was doing what President Donald Trump wanted him to do, his attorney said.”
Also in 2019, in Los Lunas, New Mexico, a man was charged with threatening the ACLU on social media. On Facebook he wrote: “You bitches want a Physical Civil War. I’m Game. I’ll Bring My Farm Implements and They Will Never find your bodies. AND for Fun I’ll BURN Every ACLU office in the State. GO TRUMP GO!”
The man’s attorney said it was a mental health issue. More recently in New Mexico (2022), a Republican candidate for the State House of Representatives, who received 26% of the vote, hired gunmen and was himself involved in shooting at the homes of four prevailing Democratic candidates. Buying into Trump’s “Stop the Steal” mantra, he attributed his defeat to a “rigged election.”
In October 2020, just before the election, regarding the plot to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Trump offered the plot was “maybe a problem, maybe it wasn’t.”
Not exactly a full-throated repudiation of threats of violence. Nearly two years later, after Trump lost his reelection bid, two men, members of a right-wing Michigan paramilitary group, were convicted of conspiring to kidnap Whitner and conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction.
In 2023 David DePape was arrested for the attack of the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, R-CA. DePape had a Facebook account which included links to videos produced by the My Pillow CEO, Mike Lindell, which falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Republican incumbent Donald Trump in favor of his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
If government leaders have even the pretense of trying to work together for all that ails us, including the scourge of gun violence, they need to put their guns away, at least their verbal guns. Trump logs in with over one hundred less-than-complimentary names for others, even members of his own party.
A similar google search, “nicknames used by” Joe Biden or Barack Obama yielded nothing, other than nicknames they are called. Demonization of “the other” starts with words.
Political rhetoric, which can serve to motivate others to become violent, is not confined to one politician. Rep. Steve King, R-IA, is a longtime member of Congress with an even longer history of racism and associating with white supremacists at home and abroad. In 2019, King was stripped of his committee appointments after telling The New York Times: ‘White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?’”
US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, speaking about fellow Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashid Tlaib, both US citizens, stated, “I really want to go talk to these ladies and ask them what they are thinking, and why they are serving in our American government. … They really should go back to the Middle East.”
US Representative Paul Gosar, R-AZ was severely criticized “for sharing a violent animated video on his social media that was edited to depict him killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and attacking President Joe Biden.”
“The fear of a mass shooting may be higher in those who are more likely to experience hate crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says these crimes are motivated by the perpetrators bias against a particular race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or gender.”
Words are powerful tools, for good and for evil. They can elevate and heal or they can debase and destroy. America has prided itself on being the open-armed “melting pot,” that our differences make us stronger, that diversity and tolerance are hallmarks of our democracy. However, politicians who not only provide safe havens for, but actually promote, racism and intolerance are insidiously complicit in contributing to fear and rejection of “the other,” of people “who aren’t like me.” In so doing, acts of violence increase. Our elected leaders need to unabashedly repudiate racism, prejudice, and violence. The rhetoric and vitriol of hate needs to be replaced by language that forges building bridges, which contributes to constructive problem-solving.
CONSTRUCTIVE PROBLEM-SOLVING DIALOGUE
What is the language of constructive problem-solving? Is there such a language? If there is such a language, it may well need to start with agreement on the facts, e.g., a statement of the problem upon which varying sides can agree, even if there may be later disagreement on proposed solutions to the problem. Let’s at least agree there is a fire, and then we can decide whether the hook-and-ladder is needed to put it out.
Here is a succession of statements that might register agreement among discussants of different political persuasions:
(1) Children are our most vulnerable population.
(2) Death is the greatest harm that can occur to them.
(3) We favor reducing the incidence of death among our children.
(4) We agree if we were to rank order causes of death, not that we couldn’t or shouldn’t address all causes of death, but those which lead to more deaths might merit greater attention than those leading to fewer deaths.
(5) If our death rate due to certain causes of death among children (and adults) was, say, 5x, 50x, or 500x greater than the death rate by the same cause(s) in another country (or countries), we agree that it might be worth exploring what we may learn from that other country (or countries) so that we might substantially reduce our own (US) death rate.
(6) We agree to rely on epidemiological data from the Center for Disease Control or World Health Organization rather than less reliable sources.
It does not appear a heavy lift to have would-be problem-solvers agree to these half dozen statements. Let us say, for example, cancer was the leading cause of death among American children. “In 2021, it is estimated that 15,590 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,780 will die of the disease in the United States”.
If in other countries the cancer death rate for children were significantly smaller, I think we would agree it would be advantageous to learn what they do to keep their death rates so low.
If in 2020 the greatest number of childhood deaths, ages 1-19, due to a singular cause (let us call it Cause A) in the US was 4,357 and all other causes of death led to fewer deaths, I think we might agree to focus on Cause A. And if Cause A contributed to over 45,000 deaths for children and adults combined, and another country reported fewer than a hundred total deaths due to Cause A, openness to learning from that country might be worthwhile.
Cause A, in 2020, which led to over 4,000 child deaths and in 2021 to over 48,000 total (child plus adult) deaths in the US, while Japan, in 2021, had only one such death, was…firearms.
Can a constructive problem-solving discussion ensue, whether the cause were cancer or firearms? Efforts to reduce 1,780 cancer child deaths ought not trump efforts to reduce 4,357 firearm child deaths. When we have 500 times more firearm deaths per capita than another country, it is incumbent upon us to be open to learning how others do a far better job than we are doing in reducing or preventing such deaths.
By the way, here are some possible reasons why Japan’s firearm death rate is one of the world’s lowest: “For Japanese citizens to purchase a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written exam, and complete a shooting range test, scoring at least 95% accuracy. Candidates will also receive a mental health evaluation, performed at a hospital, and will have a comprehensive background check done by the government. Only shotguns and rifles can be purchased. The class and exam must be retaken every three years.”
None of these requirements appear to infringe upon Second Amendment rights, and one could argue which is more arduous: Enduring the “hardship” of such requirements for the purchase and retention of a gun, or enduring the hardship of nearly 50,000 annual firearm deaths.
“MENTAL ILLNESS” IS NOT THE CULPRIT
Don’t blame mental illness for firearm homicides. Suicides, sure, but not homicide.
“The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent: 95-97 percent of homicidal gun violence is not carried out by individuals with a mental illness. However, suicide is often correlated with depression and is the number ten cause of death in adults nationwide (number three cause of death for youth in America). Firearm deaths associated with mental illness are nearly always suicides. A suicide attempt with a firearm results in death nearly 85 percent of the time, but more common means of attempting suicide—drug overdose and cutting—result in death less than 3 percent of the time. If mental illness were eliminated, gun violence in America would go down by just 4 percent.”
My own guess is that while mental illness may be implicated in only about 3-5% of homicidal gun violence, it’s presence in mass shooting killers is considerably higher. But, as was previously shown, mass shootings account for only about 1% of all firearm deaths. Greater accessibility of mental health services may have its greatest impact on reducing firearm suicides, which represent the majority, 54%, of all firearm deaths (26,520 of 48,832 deaths in 2021).
Our rates of mental illness are not significantly different than the rates in other countries. Ten years ago, our gun death rate, however, was reported in a UN Study to be 20 times the average of 31 other developed countries. Now that’s insanity.
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN
Consider the following:
“Gun massacres of six or more killed decreased by 37 percent for the decade the ban [on assault weapons] was active [1994-2004], then shot up 183 percent during the decade following its expiration.”
“[G]uns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.”
And, as we know, 376 good guys with guns in Uvalde were stymied by one guy with an AR-15 because it was an AR-15 and they felt helpless.
After the 2012 Sandy Hook and 2018 Parkland mass shootings, both where an AR-15 was used, National Rifle Association chief Wayne La Pierre claimed, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun…. The NBER [National Bureau of Economic Research] study discredited the idea of the ‘good guy with a gun’ as a possible solution to gun violence.” Stanford University law professor John Donohue indicated their research “concluded that allowing citizens to carry handguns seems to increase violent crime 13 to 15 percent by the 10th year’ of the laws being enacted in the state.”
Can homeowners protect themselves with a firearm other than an AR-15? Of course they can. When the technology evolves that a nuclear device could be deployed using a firearm, defending its sale under the pretense of “protection” would make as much sense: none at all. The ban which proved successful over a previous decade’s use might well prove successful once again. What do we risk by re-implementing the ban?
MORE “BAD GUYS” THAN “GOOD GUYS” WITH A GUN
Again, 376 good guys with guns were stymied by one guy with an AR-15 in Uvalde. Conversely, one “good guy with a gun” Elisjsha Dicken, used his handgun to “neutralize” a 20-year-old gunman at an Indiana mall who fired two dozen rounds from his AR-15-style rifle. However, “There were at least 434 active shooter attacks in the US from 2000 to 2021, according to Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) data. Active shooter attacks were defined as those in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people in a populated place. Of those 434 active shooter cases, an armed bystander shot the attacker in 22 of the incidents. In 10 of those, the ‘good guy’ was a security guard or an off-duty police officer, ALERRT data showed. Having armed people at the scene who are not law enforcement members can create confusion and carry dire risks, according to a data analysis published in The New York Times.”
So, 12 of 434 or 2.7% of attackers were shot by armed bystanders who were neither security guards nor off-duty police officers. The other 97-98% were never interdicted by a “good guy with a gun.” Bottom line: Guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.
Consider the following scenario: You, your spouse, and two children go to see “The Dark Night Rises” Batman movie at a multiplex theater in, let’s say, Aurora, Colorado. There are two theaters to choose from: One will have 100 “good guys” with their guns, the other theater prohibits firearms. Which do you choose? Which one feels safer?
The ALERRT data over two decades addressed an average of only 20 active shooter incidents a year in the U.S. In contrast, another study investigating 626 shootings in or around residences with gun owners, within 12-18 months in just three cities, may be more representative of the impact nationwide of “a good guy with a gun.” The study reported as follows:
“[The] total included 54 unintentional shootings, 118 attempted or completed suicides, and 438 assaults/homicides. Thirteen shootings were legally justifiable or an act of self-defense, including three that involved law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty. For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”
That’s a 1-to-22 good-to-bad ratio. They concluded:
“Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.”
The 1-good-to-22-bad ratio found in three cities may be an underestimate nationally. In 2016, in an analysis on FBI data, there were only 274 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm. As there were 10,341 criminal gun homicides that year, that would generate a 1-to-37 ratio of justifiable-to-criminal homicide. That report excluded gun suicides and unintentional shootings, which would only increase that ratio further.
On the other hand, the PubMed study looked at shootings in and around residences, whereas the analysis of the FBI data did not restrict itself to “within and around” residences.
More than 5 in 6 Americans (84%), including over three-fourths of Republicans, support a law requiring a background check on all firearm purchases.
Clearly there is overwhelming public support for background checks, but legislation varies from state to state. What do the data show? In a 25-year study (1991-2016), the following was reported:
“State gun laws requiring universal background checks for all gun sales resulted in homicide rates 15 percent lower than states without such laws. Laws prohibiting the possession of firearms by people who have been convicted of a violent crime were associated with an 18 percent reduction in homicide rates….None of the state gun laws studied were found to be related to overall suicide rates.” The study concluded, “controlling who has access to guns has much more impact on reducing gun-related homicides than controlling what guns people have.”
The US has averaged about 13,000 annual firearm homicides in 2020 and 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/249803/number-of-homicides-by-firearm-in-the-united-states/
Were these findings applied to all states, that would suggest reducing homicides by 2,000-2,500 (15-18%) annually.
Elsewhere, “Researchers found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring gun buyers to get permits (which themselves required background checks) was associated with a 40 percent decline in gun homicides and a 15 percent drop in suicides. Similarly, when researchers studied Missouri’s 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase law, they found an associated increase in gun homicides by 23 percent, as well as a 16-percent increase in suicides.”
If the results of Connecticut’s law were applied nationally, that would suggest over 5,000 saved lives. Perhaps the salient question with rigorous universal background checks or other gun safety legislation is simply this: What do we risk with its passage? We can always revise the law. We cannot bring back a lost life.
RED FLAG LAWS
Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), also known as “Red Flag” laws, first adopted in Connecticut in 2005, are now in 19 states and Washington D.C. They allow loved ones and law enforcement to intervene when a family member is in crisis and considering harm to themselves or others. They can petition the court for an order to temporarily prevent someone from accessing guns.
Most research to date has focused on firearm suicide prevention. Two of the earliest states to adopt such measures, Connecticut and Indiana, taken together, showed about a 10% reduction in firearm suicides in the 10 years following the enactment of their laws.
If such results were applied nationally, that could mean about 2,500 saved lives. “Indiana’s law was found to prevent one suicide per 10 orders issued.” In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, Florida adopted a red flag law. It’s been used nearly 9,000 times.”
If Indiana’s results were applied to Florida, that might mean nearly 900 averted suicides in Florida. On the other hand, New Mexico adopted a red flag law, but it was implemented only nine times by what were described as resistant law enforcement officers during the first two years after the law’s passage. Any law without enforcement can never prove its effectiveness.
Red flag laws can also play a role in preventing mass shootings, as a 2019 study revealed “the subjects in 21 of the 159 court orders that were analyzed showed clear signs that they intended to commit a mass shooting.”
Again, what do we risk with its passage of such gun safety legislation? We can always revise the law. We cannot bring back a lost life.
SINCE COLUMBINE: WARNING SIGNS 2.0 AND SAFE GUN STORAGE
The American Psychological Association’s multiyear collaboration with MTV led to a training video, Warning Signs, “aimed at helping the nation’s youth to identify the warning signs of violent behavior and to recognize the need to seek professional help.” The video’s eventual release came just the day after the Columbine mass shooting in Colorado, in April 1999.
“There have been 366 school shootings since Columbine….There were more school shootings in 2022 — 46 — than in any year since at least 1999…. While it remains highly unlikely that any student will experience a school shooting, the number of incidents has risen rapidly in recent years. [From 1999] Through 2017, the country averaged about 11 school shootings a year, never eclipsing 16 in a single year. But starting in 2018, violent incidents started climbing. In 2020, the novel coronavirus closed campuses for months, and the number of shootings declined. But with classes in session again, 42 K-12 schools experienced school shootings in 2021, and 46 endured one the next year — mirroring the nation’s broader rise in gun violence as it emerged from the pandemic.”
With so many school shootings since Columbine, one would hope that lessons have been learned which may prevent or at least reduce the recurrence of such tragedies. The time appears more than ripe for the American Psychological Association to produce an updated version of their 1999 video, perhaps calling it Warning Signs 2.0.
An analysis of mass shootings, school and non-school, “from 2009 to 2017 revealed that in 51 percent of incidents the shooter exhibited warning signs that they posed a risk to themselves or others before the shooting” making the case for increased training for students, staff, teachers, and others. Meanwhile, the US Secret Service developed Enhancing School Safety Guide in 2018.
However, as child firearm deaths represent only about 10% of all firearm deaths, Warning Signs 2.0 might target all ages, and could serve as a training video, not just for school personnel and students, but for the general public and all workplace settings.
One telling comment in the Washington Post column was this:
“The median age of a school shooter is 16. Children, The Post also determined, are responsible for more than half the country’s school shootings — none of which would be possible if those children didn’t have access to firearms.” In fact, “80% of school shooters under 18 access a firearm from their own home or that of a relative or friend.”
Safe gun storage legislation may help reduce children’s access to such guns. Presently, there are only “13 states that have laws concerning either gun storage or firearm locking devices.”
But are states with such laws make a difference? The answer appears to be a resounding “YES.” “A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that states requiring gun locks experienced a 68% lower suicide rate compared with states that had no similar requirement….A 2020 meta-analysis of 18 different gun policies by the RAND Corporation found that CAP [Child Access Prevention] laws have reduced both firearm suicides and accidental shootings among young people. The RAND team concluded that CAP laws were the most effective out of 18 categories of laws it examined.”
In a survey interviewing over a thousand adults, nearly 8 in Americans 10 (nearly 70% of Republicans, nearly 80% of Democrats and Independents) support mandating that guns are stored with a lock in place.
The data suggests both the efficacy of such gun storage legislation and widespread support for such. As was stated in connection with adopting background checks and red flag laws nationally, what do we risk with the passage of gun storage legislation? We can always revise the law. We cannot bring back a lost life.
VOLUNTARY BUY-BACK PROGRAM
Thought experiment: Gun violence results in an estimated $280 billion in total annual costs in the United States.
There are nearly 400 million guns owned by just over 80 million Americans, about 5 per owner. What if the government offered $10,000 to buy back 4 guns, regardless of gun type, and each owner decided to keep just one gun? It’d cost the government $800 billion, about 3.2x what it costs the country every year for gun violence. Mileage may vary: At “just” $1,000 per gun were offered, if 4 out of 5 guns were turned in, the cost would be $320 billion. I’m sure a mere $500 per gun ($160 billlion total) would incentivize many. For comparison, our military budget is $882 billion this one year alone. I see this buy-back program as a “military budget” to prevent the equivalent of “war” against our very own selves.
Of course loopholes may abound in this thought experiment, but we may learn from Australia. “What we can say with certainty is that in the 15 years prior to the first gun buyback in 1996, there had been 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 21 years since more restrictive firearm policies came into effect [through 2017], there has not been a single mass shooting in the country.”
Attributing change to one intervention when multiple interventions occurred simultaneously may not be considered “cricket.” Australia’s 1996 National Firearms Agreement had many provisions, including:
- Restrictions on automatic and semi-automatic rifles and pump action rifles and shotguns and
- Stricter requirements for the registration of all firearms, and
- Stricter requirements for the storage of all firearms. However, in another analysis, “We find that the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates.”
This is particularly salient as, in the US, estimated firearm suicides in 2021 totaled a record high 26,320, even greater than the record high 20,966 firearm homicides.
If a certain number of days are required between the purchase of a gun and when the buyer can take possession of that gun, such a “cooling off period” can lead to fewer firearm suicides. “In a study of statewide suicide rate changes between 2013 and 2014, states with waiting periods saw a decrease in suicide rates, while those without waiting period laws had an increase.”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a 2017 study, found, “Waiting period laws that delay the purchase of firearms by a few days reduce gun homicides by roughly 17%. Our results imply that the 17 states (including the District of Columbia) with waiting periods avoid roughly 750 gun homicides per year as a result of this policy. Expanding the waiting period policy to all other US states would prevent an additional 910 gun homicides per year without imposing any restrictions on who can own a gun.”
Extrapolating these PNAS results to the nearly 21,000 firearm homicides in 2021 would suggest about 3,500 fewer firearm homicides with waiting periods in place.
The following must be considered as part of the solution to reducing gun violence in America:
- Let evidence, not partisanship, dictate policy. Look to positive outcomes of legislation in some states which show promise if extended nationally. Organizations such as Everytown Research & Policy serve as an independent repository of outcome-based legislation. (https://everytownresearch.org/rankings/)
- Repeal or revise the Second Amendment. Over two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson sagely noted, “As new discoveries are made…institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times,” and that “constitutions are not too sacred to be touched and revised”. In 1816 he could not have anticipated a one-shot-load-and-reload musket would be replaced with automatic rifles capable of shooting at hundreds of people in a matter of minutes, or perhaps a future firearm capable of deploying a nuclear device. Our “well-regulated militia” includes the Army, Navy, and Air Force, not the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Boogaloo Boys, nor any vigilante group forming overnight.
- Tamp down the tenor of political rhetoric, and replace it with constructive problem-solving discussion. The divisiveness promulgated since about 2015 by political leaders corresponds to a rise in hate crimes and gun violence over that time. When rhetoric vilifies “the other,” whether a minority group member or one’s political adversary, there is implicit approval to act against them, some taking it to a violent extreme. Cool-headed problem-solving will reverse this trend. We need to value effective results, not scoring political points, and hold our political leaders accountable for such.
- “Mental illness” is not the culprit in nearly any of the firearm homicides, but expanded mental health services may help reduce firearm suicides. The majority (54%) of firearm deaths are suicides. And, while mass shootings account for only 1% of firearm deaths, mental health services may assist those prone to such violence.
- Reinstitute the Assault Weapons Ban. In effect for a decade (1994-2004), mass shootings (of 6 or more) declined during that decade, and nearly doubled the decade thereafter. Homeowners can adequately protect themselves and hunters can sufficiently snag big game with other kinds of firearms.
- Ban high-capacity magazines.
- More “good guys with a gun” is not the answer. For example, in 2016, FBI stats suggested only 1 in 37 firearm homicides were “justifiable.” Studies show “guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.” If you and your children were to attend a movie at a multiplex theater, given a choice between one theater with a hundred patrons each carrying a gun and the other theater prohibiting guns, in which one would you feel safer?
- Require a background check on all firearm purchases. States with gun laws requiring universal background checks for all gun sales were associated with 15-18% reductions in firearm homicides. Extrapolating that nationwide would suggest reducing such homicides by 2,000-2,500 annually. Another study suggested a decrease by 40% in one state; nationally that might suggest reducing firearm homicides by 8,000.
- Extend Red Flag laws nationwide. Already in 19 states and Washington D.C., if research in a couple states, Indiana and Connecticut, generalized nationally, there would be about 2,500 fewer firearm suicides. The more recent adoption of a red flag law after the Parkland shooting in Florida revealed it has been implemented about 9,000 times already in Florida, arguably preventing close to 1,000 suicides, and possibly many homicides as well.
- Extend safe gun storage legislation nationwide. With 16 being the median age of a school mass shooter, with 80% of school shooters under 18 having access a firearm from their own home or that of a relative or friend, with gun storage legislation associated with a 68% decrease in child firearm suicides, and with firearms being the number one cause of childhood deaths, extending gun storage legislation from 13 to all 50 states is clearly indicated.
- “Warning Signs 2.0” training video tape. The American Psychological Association and MTV produced a training tape, “Warning Signs,” in 1999, identifying the warning signs of violent behavior in youth and thereby recognizing the need to refer such individuals for professional help. Now two decades (and nearly 400 school shootings) later, an updated “Warning Signs 2.0” is sorely needed. Perhaps a collaboration of the American Psychological Association with the United States Department of Homeland Security, United States Secret Service, and the National Threat Assessment Center may forge new, effective methods. The latter three entities, in 2018, produced “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model – An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence.” (https://archive.org/details/EnhancingSchoolSafety) However, as child firearm deaths represent only about 10% of all firearm deaths, Warning Signs 2.0 might target all ages, and could serve as a training video, not just for school personnel and students, but for the general public and all workplace settings.
- Raise the minimum age for gun purchase to 21.
- Voluntary buy-guns-back program. In Australia, “In the 15 years prior to the first gun buyback in 1996, there had been 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 21 years since more restrictive firearm policies came into effect [through 2017], there has not been a single mass shooting in the country.” The voluntary nature of the program in no way treads upon the Second Amendment.
- Require a waiting or “cooling off period,” the required time between the purchase of a gun and when the buyer can take possession of that gun. If the results of waiting periods found in 17 states in 2017 generalized to 50 states in 2021, that might suggest about 3,500 fewer firearm homicides.
- Confer with leaders in firearm violence prevention from the world’s most successful countries. The US had “3.96 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019. That was more than eight times as high as the rate in Canada, which had 0.47 deaths per 100,000 people — and nearly 100 times higher than in the United Kingdom, which had 0.04 deaths per 100,000.”
More recent data notes that in 2021, while the US had 48,832 firearm deaths, Japan had 1 (O-N-E)!
For more than a decade, 2007 through at least 2018, Iceland had 0 (Z-E-R-O) firearm homicides!
With nearly 400,000 firearm deaths in the past decade (2012-2021), with a steady rise from about 34,000 in 2012 to about 49,000 deaths in 2021, the US has much to learn from others to reverse this trend in tragedy…if we are willing to listen and be open to what has shown success within and outside our borders.