Friday, January 25, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #92 - Part 6

Guns: How Obama's proposals fall short

For the rest of the show, we're going to talk about guns.

Because it happened again, it happened even as I was preparing my notes for this week's show. There was an altercation between two people at Lone Star College, which is just outside, Houston Texas. It got heated, guns were drawn, and three people shot. Happily, none of them died.

Now, this was not be considered a mass shooting because there were only three people involved and none of them died. However, there was a mass shooting just last weekend. According to the arrest report, on Saturday, January 19, a 15-year-old boy shot and killed both his parents and his three younger siblings, ages nine, five, and two. This happened at the family home in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The accused, whose name is Nehemiah Griego, had never been in trouble with the law, he had no contact with the juvenile justice system before this, and there was no history of any emergency calls to the home in the recent past.

Each victim, each of these five people killed, was shot multiple times. Apparently different guns were used in the attack. Several guns were found at the home, at least one of which was an assault rifle.

So we're going to talk about guns.

I'd like to be talking about other things. I'd like to be talking about the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, for example. I'd like to be talking about the legacy of Martin Luther King. I'd like to be talking about how this month in the 10th anniversary of the landings of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity - and how after 10 years, Opportunity is still going. I'd love to be talking about how astronomers have found the largest known structure in the universe, a collection of quasars so takes up so much space that it challenges our current understanding of cosmology.

On a serious note, I'd like to be talking about the economy, about why we're still talking about the deficit instead of stimulus when unemployment is still at 7.8% and inequality is still rising, as if we're supposed to regard the first as so good and the second as so ordinary that we don't have to bother with them any more. I'd like to be talking about how Obama administration still persecutes whistleblowers like John Kiriakou and Bradley Manning and even more how it is fighting to keep secret its supposed legal justification for killing Americans abroad without trial.

But we're going to talk about guns.

In fact, I'll be talking something about guns every week for the next few weeks, anyway.

A good starting point for us here is Obama's proposals on gun control. Among the major ones were requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, reinstating the assault weapons ban, restoring the 10-round limit on the size of ammunition magazines, eliminating armor-piercing bullets, providing mental health services in schools, allocating funds for more police officers, and creating a federal gun trafficking statute, among others.

Plus, he was issuing or was going to issue 23 executive orders, most of which are about collecting and organizing existing information and improving interagency cooperation within the Executive branch, so, no, despite the fevered fantasies of the fanatics, this is not a power grab, this is not an end run around Congress or the Constitution but about administrative matters within the Executive branch.

On the whole Obama's proposals are good ones. In fact, Rachel Maddow expressed it well: She said Obama has not gone further than previous presidents, but he has gone wider: He's been more inclusive. So on the whole, they are good. The problem is, they are inadequate to the task set for them. I'm going to talk today about two ways in which they are inadequate.

One is that the administration and loads of other people are acting as if the single most important thing we can do is "get guns out of the hands of crazy people." That is a misguided, useless, "feel good" deal that does more to make us feel like we did something than actually doing anything.

Because mentally ill people are no more likely to commit acts of violence than "normal" people. There is no evidence that the mentally ill possess guns or commit gun violence any more than "normal" people. In fact, the best available data indicates that only about 4 percent of the violence in the United States can be ascribed to mental illness. In other words, even if we could stop every act of violence by every mentally ill person, we would still be left with 96% of the level of violence we have now.

Laws requiring mental health professionals to report to police any client or patient that they suspect is likely to do violence are far more likely to result in false positives and unnecessary and involuntary commitment to mental institutions than they are to prevent violence. Even experienced people with specialized training have difficulty accurately predicting who is going to act in a violent fashion. What these laws, frankly, are more likely to do is to discourage people from seeking treatment.

Now, admittedly, it's reasonable to think if you're going to go shoot up a school or a movie theater or a campus, you probably have emotional problems. We know that Adam Lanza had problems; we know that Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre, did. But do we really want to adopt a policy that will make it less likely that such people will seek help?

But here's the real thing: What if all these proposals pass? What if all of them pass and all of them work? What would be the result? Well, it would be good: fewer people will die, fewer people who shouldn't have guns will have them, fewer guns that people shouldn't have will be there to be had.

But: How many lives will be saved? Suppose there was never again a mass shooting in the United States. Never again, any. We would save dozens, maybe hundreds, of lives per year. And that is good.

But nearly 11,000 people were murdered by guns in 2010 in the United States. That's 30 people a day. That's more than a Newtown a day. Every day. Remember, this is just murders. This is not suicides and it is not accidents. Add those and it's over 31,000.

This is a graph of rates of gun ownership and of handgun deaths for eight members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The rate of gun ownership in blue, the rate of handgun death is in light purple. Notice us at the end. We are an outlier, far removed from the rest both in rates of gun ownership and handgun deaths.

On December 21, liberal pundit Mark Shields said that since Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 4, 1968, more Americans have died from gunfire than died in all the wars of this country's entire history. And you know what: That's right. All of the deaths - not just combat but all war-related deaths - in our entire history from the Revolution right up through and including Iraq and Afghanistan come to a little less than 1.2 million. The number of people in the United States who have died as the result of guns since June 1968 is just under 1.4 million.

The homicide rate in the United States is seven times higher than average of all the other high-income countries because the US firearm homicide rate is 22 times that average.

We are a uniquely violent nation. And until that question is addressed, until we stop talking about the drama of death instead of the steady daily drumbeat of death, we will not have solved that problem and you members of Congress and all you members of state legislatures, I say to you again, until you deal with that, there is blood on your hands.


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