By Susan Grigsby /Daily Kos
The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the even further right-leaning Gun Owners of America continue to stoke fears of gun confiscation in America with able assistance from their political arm, the Republican Party. This is happening in spite of the fact that no Democratic politician is suggesting such a thing or sadly, appears to even want such a thing. Writing for Talking Points Memo, Catherine Thompson compares the current hysteria over gun confiscation to the threat of the Jade Helm exercise, and suggests that this too will all blow over in a couple of months when no guns are confiscated. Meanwhile, politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump use the issue to raise funds from their base and increase their poll numbers.
The point of the gun confiscation hysteria is to prevent any discussion of gun control.
The NRA does not want us to talk about ways to control gun violence through restricting, in any way shape or form, guns or ammunition. Because of that, if for no other reason, we should discuss it. We should discuss it because firearms are used to kill people, including children. We should discuss it because while they are only 13 percent of our total population, blacks represent 55 percent of the victims of firearm homicides. We should discuss it because over 20,000 people used guns last year to commit suicide.
It is time to start paying more attention to the unalienable right of all Americans to life, and a little less to a tortured interpretation of a pretty straightforward amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In 1993, a study supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that, rather than conferring protection, keeping a gun in the house raises the risk nearly threefold of being shot by a family member or intimate acquaintance. Enraged by what it has called an “almost vicious sentiment against personal firearms ownership,” the National Rifle Association in 1996 successfully lobbied Congress to insert this restriction into the CDC budget: “None of the funds made available … may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” It was a pointed prohibition that went far beyond the rule that federal research money cannot be used for lobbying on any issue. The restriction, which was interpreted broadly by CDC, served as a virtual ban on firearms research. Since the mid-1990s, the agency’s gun safety research budget has dropped by 96 percent. In 2011, the NRA’s official website offered a rationale for its efforts to stifle research: “These junk science studies … are designed to provide ammunition for the gun control lobby by advancing the false notion that legal gun ownership is a danger to the public health instead of an inalienable right.”
What the ban on research really does is allow the gun lobby to pull numbers out of the ether to buttress their arguments for selling as many guns as their sponsors can manufacture. Few of those arguments are as ludicrous as the claim that guns are used in self defense 2.5 million times every year.
In its 2013 report, “Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use,” the Violence Policy Center (VPC) quotes the 2004 book Private Guns, Public Health by Dr. David Hemenway, Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center:
Proponents of such putative benefits often claim that 2.5 million Americans use guns in self-defense against criminal attackers each year. This estimate is not plausible and has been nominated as the “most outrageous number mentioned in a policy discussion by an elected official.”
The VPC’s report goes on to state:
According to the NCVS [National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics], looking at the total number of self-protective behaviors undertaken by victims of both attempted and completed violent crime for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, in only 0.8 percent of these instances had the intended victim in resistance to a criminal “threatened or attacked with a firearm.”11 As detailed in the chart on the next page, for the five-year period 2007 through 2011, the NCVS estimates that there were 29,618,300 victims of attempted or completed violent crime. During thissame five-year period, only 235,700 of the self-protective behaviors involved a firearm. Of this number, it is not known what type of firearm was used or whether it was fired or not. The number may also include off-duty law enforcement officers who use their firearms in self-defense.
That would mean just over 47,000 uses of a gun in self-defense, per year, in a nation that owns over 300 million guns. Meanwhile, more than 6.5 million victims threatened or attacked a criminal without using a weapon during the same five-year period.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2014 Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program Expanded Homicide Data, there were a total of 229 cases of justifiable homicide using firearms. During the same period there were 8,124 firearm murders, which means that for every single justifiable homicide, there were 35 murders committed using guns. Those figures do not take into account the number of suicide by firearms, as they are not included in the FBI’s report. Using the 2013 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we know there were 21,175 suicides committed using firearms. During the same period, there were 227 justifiable homicides using firearms, for a ratio of one justifiable homicide for every 93 suicides.
And yet the NRA has done such an incredible sales job for the arms dealers that the latest Pew Research Center survey shows that more Americans believe that owning a gun can keep them safe than believe it risks their safety. This in spite of all evidence to the contrary, going back as far as the 1993 CDC report mentioned above.
A recent Stanford study found:
The murder rate increased in the states with existing right-to-carry laws for the period 1999-2010 when the “confounding influence” of the crack cocaine epidemic is controlled for. The study found that homicides increased in eight states that adopted right-to-carry laws during 1999-2010.
And from MarketWatch:
What’s more, a growing body of research suggests that simply owning a gun is correlated with an increased likelihood that you’ll be a victim of violence. A study published this January in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who live in homes with firearms are over three times as likely to die from suicide and two times as likely to be a victim of homicide as those who don’t have access to firearms. The study analyzed the results of 16 other studies and found that in all but one, access to guns was linked to a higher probability of murder or suicide. In another study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, two Harvard researchers conducted a review of 26 studies on gun availability and homicide in multiple countries and found that most of them “are consistent with the hypothesis that higher levels of gun prevalence substantially increase the homicide rate.”
The same Pew survey showed a change in the public’s attitude about gun control versus gun rights. Between 1993 and 2008, Americans consistently favored gun control over protecting the rights of gun owners. But that all started to change in 2008. Gee, I wonder why?
Far be it from me to suggest that any of the Republicans that were polled by Pew had a single little racist bone in their entire bodies, but check out when it was that their opinion on gun control changed:
It wasn’t the mass killings in Aurora or Newtown that changed attitudes: It was the presence of a black man in the White House. Neither the NRA nor the munitions manufacturers care very much what the reasons were, as long as the fear that was created led to the sales of more guns.
Determining the annual sales of American arms dealers is problematic. Putting it frankly, they just don’t want us to know what their sales numbers are. Their sales arm, the NRA, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), their trade association, are happy to report how many background checks are run every year, and claim that this shows an increase in sales, but hard numbers are more difficult to obtain. MarketWatch reported estimated sales of $14.7 billion in 2013.
We do have some numbers that show what the cost of their free market bonanza is to the rest of us. A team of reporters from Mother Jones investigated the cost of gun violence. They added the direct cost of emergency, police, medical, courts, and prison to the indirect costs, quality of life, and loss of earnings, and came up with an annual figure of $229 billion, or $700 a year for every man, woman and child in the country.
Our investigation also begins to illuminate the economic toll for individual states. Louisiana has the highest gun homicide rate in the nation, with costs per capita of more than $1,300. Wyoming has a small population but the highest overall rate of gun deaths—including the nation’s highest suicide rate—with costs working out to about $1,400 per resident. Among the four most populous states, the costs per capita in the gun rights strongholds of Florida and Texas outpace those in more strictly regulated California and New York. Hawaii and Massachusetts, with their relatively low gun ownership rates and tight gun laws, have the lowest gun death rates, and costs per capita roughly a fifth as much as those of the states that pay the most.
This is a two-minute summary of the data, but the article itself is worth much more of your time.
Suicide is an impulsive act, and most who attempt it regret it. Less than 3 percent of suicide attempts using drugs (the most common type) are fatal. But a whopping 85 percent of suicide attempts using a gun are successful. Pulling a trigger in a moment of high stress leaves no time to reconsider or to call for help.
In a 2001 study that surveyed survivors of suicide attempts, 70 percent of them indicated that they had decided to kill themselves within one hour of the attempt, and 86 percent indicated that the decision had been made within eight hours of the attempt. Almost a quarter of the survivors made the decision within five minutes of the attempt. Five minutes. That suicide is an impulsive act is borne out by the fact that 9 out of 10 suicide attempt survivors do not go on to try to commit suicide again. A gun doesn’t allow them the opportunity to not attempt suicide a second time.
A 2008 study titled “Guns and Suicide in the United States” compared suicide rates in states with the highest rate of gun ownership to states with the lowest. What they found was that the states with the highest rate of gun ownership have suicide rates that are 3.7 times higher for men and almost eight times higher for women than those in the states with the lowest rates of gun ownership. The rates of non-firearm suicides are roughly the same for both types of states, so those who live in states with higher rates of gun ownership are no more likely to attempt suicide than those in other states, but the ready availability of guns makes it far easier to succeed.
Put simply, the fatal link applies across the board. “It’s true of men, it’s true of women, it’s true of kids. It’s true of blacks, it’s true of whites,” says Azrael. “Cut it however you want: In places where exposure to guns is higher, more people die of suicide.”
The gun lobby doesn’t want us to talk about any of this. They don’t want us to consider the impact that guns have on all of us. Even the CDC, in its National Violent Death Reporting System, only collects data from 18 states.
Compare this with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which amasses extensive details within 30 days of every fatal car crash on public roads, from the time and location of the accident to weather conditions to the role of alcohol and drugs. Partly as a result of this bureaucratic diligence, the fatality rate from car crashes has dropped by about a third over the last two decades.
According to the Mother Jones investigation:
Using statistical models to estimate a range of costs both tangible and more abstract—from property damage and traffic congestion to physical pain and lost quality of life—the Department of Transportation (DOT) published a 300-page study estimating the “total value of societal harm” from this problem in 2010 at $871 billion. Similar research has been produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the impact of air pollution, by the Department of Health and Human Services on the costs of domestic violence, and so on.
But no federal agency is allowed to amass any data on the societal cost of gun violence. That’s the kind of tight control the arms dealers exert on our government. They have gagged the federal agencies that exist to protect our safety, all in the name of their profit.
It may be hard to believe today, when something as basic as universal background checks can’t get through Congress, that at one point not all that long ago, the American public was evenly divided over banning the sale of handguns. Seriously. In March 2000, 47 percent of the public both agreed and disagreed with banning the sale of handguns. That is the closest we have ever come to popular support for such a measure—but then we elected the cowboy from Kennebunkport, Maine.
Today we are told that the issue is a non-starter. That no serious discussion of controlling gun violence can include talk of bans. But it seems to me that as Democrats, we will be accused of gun confiscation regardless of what we suggest.
Hillary Clinton was accused of trying to confiscate guns from red-blooded Americans for this:
“The Australian government, as part of trying to clamp down on the availability of automatic weapons, offered a good price for buying hundreds of thousands of guns. Then they basically clamped down going forward in terms of having more of a background check approach, more of a permitting approach,” she said. “But they believed, and I think the evidence supports them, by offering to buy back those guns they were able to curtail the supply and to set a different standard for gun purchases in the future.”
Which led to tweets like this:
Make no mistake, when Clinton refers to common sense Australian gun control measures, she’s talking about confiscation #2A
— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) October 19, 2015
And then Andrea Mitchell had to ask Clinton aide Jen Palmieri if Clinton was planning on confiscating Americans’ guns.
“Of course not,” Palmieri said. “What she was referring to is places where there have been mass shootings and the countries have done something to act on it. She’s put forward a very common-sense proposal that would have background checks for everyone, that would remove the special protections the gun industry has from liability. But it’s all very common-sense measures that the majority of the public supports.”
Discussing common sense gun control measures with NRA supporters makes no more sense than trying to negotiate with the Freedom Caucus. Being reasonable in our demands means surrendering to theirs.
So let’s stop being so damn reasonable and start asking for what we really want. Gun control that will result in fewer deaths.
- Restrictions (not a ban) on the sale and possession of handguns, which were used in 5,562 of the 8,124 gun homicides reported by the FBI for last year.
- Mandatory universal background checks on all firearm purchases.
- A federal database that includes those individuals that the states have determined are not mentally capable of handling weapons.
- A means to report family members or friends whose behavior leads one to suspect that they may harm themselves or others which would lead to a temporary suspension (10 days) of their right to posses a gun pending an investigation.
- A removal of the NRA-dictated gag on federal research into gun violence.
- The repeal of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields gun manufacturers from the same negligence and product liability lawsuits that every other manufacturer in the United States must face.
We may lose, but at least we will be fighting battles that are worth the effort.