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Gun violence: A public health crisis

Guest Opinion: Data show that gun violence takes far too many lives. And there is public support for effective preventive measures.
A gun display in a store.

A gun display in a store. Photo: Mike Saechang


Gun violence is a fraught topic in our country, with much of the debate framed by ideology, fear and rigidity. But following a string of tragedies, culminating with the recent shooting deaths of 26 people (including 20 children) in Newtown, Conn., national debate has been transformed. A public health framework — the pragmatic, data-based approach that has tackled challenges ranging from influenza to obesity, from polio to heart attacks, from smoking to traffic safety — offers a fresh point of view, important insights, and evidence-based guidelines for action.

What is the magnitude of the problem? Over 30,000 Americans each year — close to 600 each week — lose their lives to guns. The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 20 times higher than in other wealthy nations. In 2011, the last year for which statewide data are available, Washington listed 619 firearm deaths, including 492 suicides, 92 homicides, and 9 classified as “accidental.” (Firearms accounted for 50 percent of all suicides and 51 percent of all homicides.) For comparison, motor vehicle traffic crashes accounted for 497 deaths in the state that year, drowning 123, and poisoning (including drug-related deaths) 1,075. In King County, more than 125 people lose their lives to firearms each year, and hundreds more are injured. The burden — in dollars and in human suffering — is enormous.

The impact of gun violence disproportionately impacts communities already struggling with poverty and poor health. In King County, the firearm homicide rate among blacks is seven times higher than among whites. Homicides by firearms are more likely among residents of south and central Seattle (including Beacon/Georgetown/South Park, Southeast Seattle, Delridge and central Seattle) and South King County.

What do we know about firearm risks? A great deal of research data indicates that a gun in the home increases the risk that someone in that home will die of a firearm injury. Much of this data comes from studies conducted, in part, in Seattle. An early 1980s study found that for each case of self-protection homicide involving a firearm kept in the home, there were 1.3 accidental deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides and 37 suicides involving firearms. Handguns were used in 70.5% of these deaths. Studies comparing Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., which has very different gun control laws, found that despite similar overall rates of criminal activity and assault, the risk of death from homicide was 63 percent higher in Seattle than in Vancouver. Virtually all of this excess risk was explained by a 4.8-fold higher risk of being murdered with a handgun in Seattle as compared with Vancouver. Similarly, people 15 to 24 years old had a 38 percent higher suicide rate in King County than in the Vancouver area and virtually all the difference was due to an almost 10-fold higher rate of suicide by handguns in King County. Homes that contain guns are associated with a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide and a 4.8-fold increased risk of suicide.

Does mental illness play a role? When random acts of mass violence such as the Newtown shooting occur, the public perception is often that mental illness must have caused the violence. This perception, sometimes perpetuated by news reports, risks increasing the stigma of mental illness and could keep people from seeking needed treatment. In fact, people with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence, and much more likely to die of suicide by firearms, than to kill someone else using a firearm. The focus on mental illness also ignores potentially larger risk factors that contribute to violence, such as substance abuse, poverty, having a history of abuse and victimization, and social isolation. Early identification of mental illness and broader access to services are an important part of any comprehensive plan to reduce the risk of gun violence, but they are not sufficient.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

As a non-gun owner who is appalled by the peroidic massacres, I'm inclined to be sympathetic to the idea of more gun control. Even more so after reading or hearing this or that National Rifle Assn spokesliar give supercilious "solutions" like putting an armed guard in every school, etc.

But when I see the articles like this one, I truly despair. Gun control ought to be an easy sell, but the typical brain-dead "progressives" manage to screw up everything they touch, including gun control. I really wonder whether they want any solutions, or whether their actual goal is to keep the massacres coming so they can feed the self-righteousness that they depend on as much as they need food, water, and air.

Specifically:

1. Ban guns under the age of 21. Yeah, let's end the hunting and sportsman culture in America. After all, we're all a bunch of snooty, obnoxious, white-collar city jerks who can't stand hunting, and especially the idea that a father and son might go hunting together. And because we don't like the idea, like any good "progressive" we're going to reach out and tell other people what they can and cannot do.

2. Force all sales through dealers. See, we hate guns, so we'll make everyone go through a middleman and drive the prices way up, in hopes that fewer people will have them. Sure, we could simply require a background check for every transfer regardless of the mechanism, but that wouldn't be enough. We are "progressives" and we think our cleverness won't be noticed.

3. Expand the categories of banned owners. And let's not mention appeals or expiration dates on bans. We're "progressives," and we care about civil liberties only when it's convenient. And let's ignore other consequences, such as the disincentive we want to bake into the cake for any gun owner who might seek psychiatric treatment but now will not do so because he'll lose his gun ownership rights forever. Not to mention police officers, for whom losing the right to own a gun would mean losing their job. Let's keep them away from counselors too.

4. Let's lump all gun owners in with the psychos by declaring gun ownership itself a public health problem. Oh, we'll deny we're doing that, but we'll be lying. We'll say that "gun violence" is the problem, but then link gun violence to gun ownership, and by extension make gun ownership the issue. And then we'll imagine that the 40% of householders who own guns will fail to notice that we've just called them a public health problem.

5. Let's ignore inconvenient facts, like the gun murder rate being less than half what it was 15 years ago. Or that most of the gun deaths are suicides, and that if guns weren't used the people would simply find a different means of killing themselves. Like they do in places like France, Japan, and Sweden, where suicide rates are higher than ours but gun suicides are very rare.

------

Come on, you brain dead "progressive" jerks. Just who the hell do you think you are kidding? There are indeed some important steps to take in the gun control realm, but your self-serving, self-righteous politicking is every last bit as disgusting as anything I see from the National Rifle Association. All of you -- every last pathetic one of you, including the people who wrote this article -- should be ashamed of yourselves for you abject failure as problem-solvers, thinkers, and human beings.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 3:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Man, you just saved me a lot of typing.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Feb 9, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

1. Ban guns under 21? Where did the article say that?
2. Force all sales thru dealers? Didn't say that either. Did say get a background check. Dealers have the system in place, how much would they charge for just a permit? Don't know, let's ask one.
Isn't getting a background check a no-brainer? Tell me why, if it isn't.
3. "Individuals at high risk of committing a violent crime include those who have been convicted of a violent misdemeanor, a violent juvenile crime, drug trafficking or stalking; gang members, and those who have violated a restraining order."
Ok, which of those folks do you feel comfortable with carrying? I'd add someone who has a restraining order for domestic abuse.
I'm fine with a hearing to appeal, and say, 3 year sunset. What do you think?
4. "40% of householders" Latest numbers I see are low 30's %. I have no fear that gun owners will will fail to notice anything affecting gun ownership or gun use.
5. Let's both be happy murder rates are down. A big picture observation is that gun fatalities to gun injuries is 40%. There is a 40% lethality with guns (for all kinds of shootings).

Lethality is what makes guns different than pills for suicide, different than automobiles for accidents, different than knives of whatever for murders.

"All of you -- every last pathetic one of you, including the people who wrote this article -- should be ashamed of yourselves for you abject failure as problem-solvers, thinkers, and human beings."

So much for not lumping all gun owners in with psychos.
What do you think are "important steps to take in the gun control realm"?

Thanks,
John

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 4:39 p.m. Inappropriate

1. Read the last sentence of the second bullet point.

2. They want to "facilitate" all sales through an FFL. If background checks are the issue, that can easily be accomplished without ever involving an FFL in the chain. The reason to require FFL involvement is to channel all purchases and sales through the dealers, who will mark up prices on each side.

3. You can drive a truck through the terms "violent misdemeanor" and "violent juvenile crime" and "stalking" and "those who have violated a restraining order." And no mention of expiration or appeals. You might be "fine" with "a hearing to appeal" and "say, 3 year sunset," but the clowns who proposed this mess say nothing about that, nor do they ever define their terms.

4. Gun controllers who quibble about whether 30% or 40% of households have a gun are just as bad as the gun nuts who pounce on people who say "clip" instead of "magazine." Quit dodging the issue.

5. You didn't bother to explain why France, Japan, and Sweden have managed to rack up much higher suicide rates even though gun ownership there is far, far less common than here. Fact is that, when it comes to suicide, guns are truly just an instrument. People who want to kill themselves will find a way. And in the U.S., that's never going to change. Not when you've got hundreds of millions of guns in private hands.

----------

You ask what important step to take on gun control. The best one I've seen so far that might have an impact is tight limits on magazine sizes, coupled with stricter prohibitions on so-called bump firing kits that convert semi-auto to full auto. The link to bump firing is my idea. The gun nuts will never mention it, and the "progressives" are for some reason too timid to actually study up on the realities.

Even there, though, I'd want to know more about exactly how the various big massacres were actually committed, i.e., whether the perpetrators bump-fired. How much conversion from semi-auto to full auto is there, and what role does it or does it not play in these killings? The problem with the gun control side of the debate is they're so squeamish about guns that they refuse to look at the details.

Instead, they offer unresearched, overly broad and vague proposals, along with patronizing, offensive declarations that, in so many words, target all gun owners. Then they wonder why the other side is so suspicious of them and their motives. What in hell do you expect to happen when you brand tens of millions of people as potential killers, and their guns as a "public health crisis?"

Are the gun controllers ever going to decide to actually do anything that matters, or is this just one more empty Seattle-style "progressive" gesture? Wait, better not answer that.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 1:27 p.m. Inappropriate

What an on-point and brutal dissection of a standard "liberal" propaganda piece. As a gun owner who has raised daughters and grandchildren around firearms, I suspect that NotFan and I could find many legal and policy details upon which to disagree. However, I can find little with which to quibble on this comment.

Decades ago I moved to the Seattle area to get away from what I saw as the parochial bigotry East of the Cascades. Now I find myself subjected to bigotry by my fellow liberals and all agencies of municipal and county government on the issue of "sensible gun control measures".

The public is provided with a constant stream of main and alternative "news" pieces that regurgitate the same "facts" and "statistics". Almost all of these have been repeatedly refuted. However why let an "inconvenient" truth get in the way of the goal.

This Bagshaw article is a fine example. It calls for a reasonable discussion based on data; it then goes on at length to obfuscate what the data is, and to appeal to fear. At multiple governmental levels and in multiple locales, the pleas are based upon "mass shootings". Who were affected in the cited cases? Certainly not the bulk 400 plus people who died in Chicago last year. An SPD deputy chief has made it clear that we have a "gun problem", not a "gang problem".

On a personal level, friends and relatives who have known of my pro-gun stance for years have essentially cut off contact. These are persons with whom I have had lengthy discussions on policy matters ranging from urban transit modes to how to balance ecological and development concerns. If I have the temerity to point out

My sin seems to have been that I pointed out that their gun control arguments and facts have as much legitimacy as the nonsense coming from the right on the environment, health care, global warming, or the economy.

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 10:12 p.m. Inappropriate

I really think there are some gun control measures that make sense. One example would be limits on magazine capacity. When you look honestly, and in detail, at the ways that "assault style" semi-automatics are easily modified to act as automatics even if not technically classified as such, I believe that sharply limiting magazine sizes could be effective, at least to some degree. There would be no impact on hunters or on those who keep a weapon for self defense. There are other controls that would make sense as well, but they need to be carefully and narrowly targeted.

A big problem, as I see it, is that too many of the urban "progressives" who dominate the left-of-center realm simply refuse to dive into the deeper end of the pool and look at the details. Too many of them would rather stand at the edge and point at all guns and all gun owners and put them into one undifferentiated mass of mentally defective psychos. It is offensive in the extreme, yet the "progressives" wonder why so many people turn and fart in their general direction.

This is so self-defeating, and winds up obscuring ideas that might have real impact. Here we have (depending on whose numbers you accept) anywhere from 100 million to 300 millions guns in private hands in this country, and we have the Heller decision that recognized a second amendment individual right to keep and bear arms and use them in self defense.

We have something like half (maybe more?) of the state constitutions that explicitly recognize an individual right to keep and bear arms, in terms much less ambiguous than the federal second amendment. And we have 40% of the households in the U.S. equipped with one or more firearms, and we have millions of military veterans who are familiar with guns and much less squeamish about them than the typical "progressives," or than me, for that matter.

But for some reason, Sally Bagshaw and Michael McGinn and the other bloated gas bags won't stoop to actually deploying the third digit of their I.Q. on any of this. Instead, they do stupid crap like stage a phony "gun buyback" that supposedly removes 700 guns. Out of a minimum of 100,000 in the city, and probably a whole lot more. And then they proclaim gun ownership, in essence to be a public health crisis. And they make every stupid, offensive statement that comes to mind, and throw every ridiculous proposal out there in the hope that something will stick. The result? The general public looks at them, pukes, and rejects the whole package. And then runs to the nearest gun store in fear that these b.s.-ers will put the force of the law on the side of the criminal element.

How sick and ridiculous is this? Come on, you fake, phony, b.s.-injected "progressive" blowhards! What planet do you live on? Were you born or hatched, and who sucked out your brains and stuck them in a storage unit somewhere? Bottom line: I dare you to put your latest crap onto the Washington State ballot. Remember I-676 in the 1990s? That lost 71% to 29%. How many votes do you self-infatuated idiots think you will get the second time around?

NotFan

Posted Fri, Feb 8, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

A detailed plan to reduce gun violence in the US is available at:

http://issuu.com/urbanplanninganddevelopment/docs/issue_five

Marc Brenman

mbrenman

Posted Fri, Feb 8, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Aren't you competent enough to give a link to the article itself?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Feb 9, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you shooting the messenger?? ;,)

That "magazine" is online, try cutting and pasting into your browser, then go to page 38. Haven't read it yet.

Also saw this there, haven't read it yet: http://issuu.com/aswwucollegian/docs/volume_97_issue_15.

If you can educate me on how to turn this into a real hyperlink on this comment interface, that might help solving your problem.

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan, you are such an insufferable asshole. Did you follow the link? Did you notice that it's impossible to link to the article itself?

No, you just fire off one of your typical hateful one-liners -- and probably wonder why nobody takes you seriously.

bigyaz

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 4:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the civility, yaz. It's just so typical of the Seattle "progressive," who hates the "hateful" except when he decides to grant himself an exemption and spew some hatred himself. You people really despise anyone who opposes your hollow, phony, corrupt schemes, don't you?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Feb 9, 10:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Wayne La Pierre called today for everyone everywhere to be armed at all times with at least 2 handguns, a shotgun, and an assault rifle. At a news conference interrupted when the CEO of the NRA took a break to shovel the cash flowing in from firearm manufacturers, the small arms industry's chief lobbyist reiterated the NRA's position that the more guns in more hands in more places can only make everyone safer.

Meanwhile, at the biggest Gun Expo of them all, the industry unveiled its latest campaign to boost sales by creating new markets. The "Dogs Run Free!" campaign features semi-automatic paw guns designed for dogs. However, the initial exhibition ran into problems when a Pekinese on Prozac opened fire, killing 3 standard Poodles, a Schnauzer, 4 German Shepherds, 3 Collies, a Dachshund and their handlers. The rampage was cut short when the Pekinese fumbled while reloading another 33 round magazine, allowing a team of commando Chihuahuas attending the show a chance to tackle him. The Pekinese' motive was not immediately known, but sources close to relatives of the Pekinese said the dog was distraught over a failed relationship with a neighborhood Siamese Cat and frequently spoke of how he would be bankrupt due to ObamaCare.

Steve E.

Posted Wed, Feb 13, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the typical "progressive" drivel. And then you wonder why people so thoroughly disrespect the gun control viewpoint?

NotFan

Posted Sat, Feb 16, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Anyone notice that SNO County asked armed police to patrol the schools? Anyone notice the Kitsap County has armed guard(private) in some of their schools? Anyone notice that Sandy Hook asked for armed guards in their school after the murders? If guns are so bad then why are these school districts asking for armed guards or police? If guns are the problem then why do police need to have them? It is because they are a defensive tool that supplements the time it takes for law enforcement to come to the aid. I can't carry a cop so I carry a gun to protect my life and the lives of my family. If you feel guns are bad then wear a sticker and I will NEVER protect you if you are a victim of a crime in front of me.

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