Nel's New Day

December 5, 2015

‘Seasonal’ Facts about Guns in the U.S.

‘Tis the season for more mass shootings although they seem to fit into every season. Although conservatives cut off funding for tracking gun violence several years ago, Mass Tracker is watching the prevalence of mass shootings, defined as a single shooting which kills or injures four or more people, including the assailant.

The killing spree in San Bernardino was the 353th mass shooting in 2015 on the 336th day of the year. At least 20 days of 2015 had four or more mass shootings in a single day.

shooting calendar

Sixty-two of these 353 shootings were at schools, bringing the total to 161 in the three years since the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre on December 14, 2012.

Overall, 12,223 people have been killed in gun “incidents”—not counting suicides and “accidental shootings”–this year in the U.S. Another 24,722 people have been deliberately injured by guns.

The number of per capita gun murders in the US in 2012–the most recent year for comparable statistics–was almost 30 times that in the UK, at 2.9 per 100,000 compared with just 0.1. Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK.

More people died from gunfire in the U.S. since 1968 than in all the wars fought by the U.S. The 1,516,863 gun-related deaths in that time period are nine percent more than the 1,396,733 million U.S. deaths in every conflict between the Revolutionary War and the Iraq war.

The number of deaths in mass shootings is up from last year, currently 447 people compared to the 383 people who died from gun violence in 2014. The number of injured has also gone up from 1,239 to 1,292—and the year isn’t over yet.

This year saw fewer days between mass shootings that killed at least four people. On average these occurred every 200 days between 1982 and 2011, increasing to 64 days.

At least half of the 12 deadliest shootings in the U.S. happened in the last eight years.

Five percent of the global population lives in the United States, but 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings occurs in this nation.

The U.S. has 4.4% of the world’s population, but 42% of civilian-owned guns.

States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence, and areas with more guns have more homicides. States with the lowest death rates from firearms–Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii—are the same states with the most restrictive laws. Death rate of 2.6 per 100,000 residents in Massachusetts is almost eight times less than the death rate from gun violence in Alaska. Other states without gun restrictions—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Wyoming—also have the highest number of gun deaths.

The United States spends more than a trillion dollars per year defending itself against terrorism which killed an average of 31 people a year between 2002 and 2011. During the same time, an average of 11,385 people died in the U.S. from gun “incidents” not related to suicides and “accidents.”

Australia took steps almost two decades ago to stem gun violence and now takes notice of the growing problem in the United States. Tim Fischer, former prime minister, is calling for travel warnings to the United States because of the increasing gun violence in the U.S. Australia’s firearm mortality rate is one per 100,000, ten times less that the U.S. statistic of 10 per 100,000.

A 1996 mass shooting in Australia that killed 35 people turned around the country’s gun legislation. The conservative-run government ran a mandatory buyback of 700,000 newly illegal guns and passed other laws controlling the purchase and ownership of guns and ammunition. People are prohibited from private sales, and each gun must be registered to its owner for a “genuine reason.” Self-defense is not one of those reasons. A person can be refused a license because of “reliable evidence of a mental or physical condition which would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a firearm.”  Gun license applicants are required to take a safety course before owning a gun. New measures banned the sale and possession of all automatic and semiautomatic rifles and pump shotguns as well as making storage and inspection requirements. Laws created a 28-day waiting period gun purchases and a national gun registry.

Results of change in legislation:

  • Intentional gun deaths dropped by half in the first decade while the population increased by 14 percent.
  • During the following 11 years, gun related homicides dropped 59 percent with no increase in any other homicide related deaths.
  • In 2013, the 200 gun-related deaths, a rate of .87 per 100,000 people, was almost one-third of the 2.71 deaths per 100,000 residents in 1996 before the laws took effect.
  • Suicides fell 65 percent.
  • In the homicide rate of 1.1 per 100,000 in 2012, only ten percent involved a gun—below 50 victims annually during the past decade. Adjusting by population, that would mean about 750 victims in the U.S. instead of the existing 12,223 thus far this year. The U.S. rate of homicides is about four times that of Australia at 4.5 per 100,000.
  • Robberies occur at half the rate of the U.S. (58 compared to our country’s 113.1 per 100,000 in 2012). There has been no increase in home invasion.

Before the new legislation, Australia had 11 mass shootings killing at least five people each in the prior ten years; since the laws were enacted, Australia has had not one mass shooting like those.

People opposing gun restrictions in the U.S. take pride in their rugged individualism. This philosophy, however, is very similar to the Australian culture that also expounds “freedom and liberty.” The conservative man behind the shift in gun laws, then Prime Minister John Howard, was a good friend of George W. Bush, but he spoke up after the mass shooting in Aurora (CO) which left 12 dead and 70 injured:

“The Second Amendment, crafted in the immediate post-revolutionary years, is more than 200 years old and was designed to protect the right of local communities to raise and maintain militia for use against external threats (including the newly formed national government!). It bears no relationship at all to the circumstances of everyday life in America today. Yet there is a near religious fervour about protecting the right of Americans to have their guns—and plenty of them. It remains to be seen … how much carnage a society is willing to take.”

Even President Ronald Reagan supported gun restrictions.

After a mass shooting in the UK killing 18 people, including 16 children, a conservative party member decided that they must “take this as a warning that we are becoming like America and act before it is too late.” Gun-related offenses had surged in the early 2000s, but new laws began seven years of successive drops in gun crimes.

People need guns to be safe, cry the NRA supporters. The victim did not use a gun for defense in 99.2% of violent crimes in a country with 357 million guns in civilian hands, a 50-percent increase in the past two decades. And that’s just a guess because the government is not allowed to keep records.

An Atlanta study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into occupied single-family dwellings found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the victim’s gun than to have the victim use a firearm in self-defense.

Conservatives claim that they want to control killings by reforming mental illness. In Germany, people under 25 who want to buy a gun must pass a psychiatric evaluation. Conservatives claim that it’s too easy for criminals to get guns—and they are right because many criminals purchase guns. In Italy, people wanting to possess a gun must pass a background check considering both criminal and mental health records. Conservatives reject these laws.

Australia was may have been successful in reducing gun violence not only because of the change in the laws but also because of a shift in culture. When the people acted on their shock of the Port Arthur massacre, they removed the ready availability of guns, and mentally troubled people were not constantly told that guns are the best way to address any grievances, whether against other people, organizations, or the government.

The U.S. culture rewards the man who killed people at Planned Parenthood because of the constant attention to false videos. Even so-called Muslim terrorists are following the U.S. culture that keeps guns in order to overturn the U.S. government. If Christians believe this, why shouldn’t Muslims? People–mostly males and mostly white–parade their guns, not for safety but as a demonstration that their “freedom” is far more important than human lives.

Research shows that gun restrictions save lives. The Constitution places limits on all rights when they threaten others—religion doesn’t allow human sacrifice, and free speech doesn’t permit incitement, conspiracy, and libel. The Supreme Court has declared that government can put reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. In all other areas, people in the U.S. are willing to exchange “pure” freedom for safety; guy ownership should be no different.

November 10, 2015

The Tragedy of Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day, a designated time to honor U.S. veterans for their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. For many years, being a vet meant moving toward the middle class, a benefit for struggling citizens. Yet today’s United States is a very sad place for many veterans.

One serious problem is health care for veterans who were sexually assaulted while in the military, ten times the rate for women as for men. Reporting these assaults while in the military is frequently ignored which impacts the lack of care later on, especially when military officials warn television stations to not air these stories.

Col. (Ret.) Kathy Platoni, a U.S. Army psychologist for more than three decades, cited problems such as hostile physicians and violations of HIPAA privacy regulations in the VA. Susan Avila Smith, advocate for raped and sexual abused women in the military, told about a woman placed on a VA co-ed psych ward who was forced to watch a New Year’s Day football game with a group of male patients. They cheered their team, and she screamed in fear, remembering her rape by a serviceman. She was strapped to a gurney, legs spread, and left alone in a quiet room instead of receiving appropriate care and support. Only 55 percent of the 150 major VA hospitals have women’s clinics.

Female service members account for about 15 percent of the armed forces, but 46 percent of military sexual assault victims. Of the victims who reported attacks, 62 percent said they received retaliation both professionally and socially because of their reports. According to an estimation, fewer than three out of every 100 sexual assaults in 2012 were prosecuted.

Among the homeless, veterans represent 8.6 percent, down from five years earlier because of efforts to end veterans’ homelessness. Overrepresented are black veterans who comprise 39 percent of the homeless veteran population but only 11 percent of the total veteran population. Feeding America reports that “20 percent of families served by its food banks and pantries include someone who has served in the U.S. military.”

At least ten percent of people on death row today—over 300 inmates—are military veterans although only seven percent of the population has ever served in the military. Many more veterans have been executed, according to a report from the Death Penalty Information Center. Researcher Richard C. Dieter reports that this disturbing statistic may be related to the serious traumas that veterans have suffered, receiving poor treatment or none at all. One-third of homicide victims killed by veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan were family members or girlfriends. Another 25 percent were fellow service members.

Jeffrey Toobin points out the difference between recent and past veterans:

“Earlier generations of veterans came home from war to ticker-tape parades, a generous G.I. Bill, and a growing economy that offered them a chance at upward mobility. Younger veterans returned to P.T.S.D., a relatively stagnant economy, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, and an epidemic of drug abuse. And they came home to a society where widening income inequality suggested the futility of their engagement with the contemporary world.”

Veterans also have a suicide rate 50 percent higher than those who didn’t serve in the military. Because the suicide rate is higher among veterans who didn’t deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq, the causes of suicide for the veteran population may not be limited to the trauma of war. Suicide among women veterans is much higher than men, almost six times the rate of other women. Suicide for women veterans ages 18 to 29 is 12 times the rate of nonveterans, and every other age group of women veterans is between four and eight times higher. In the general population, women tend to attempt suicide more often than men but use pills or methods other than guns. Female veterans, however, are more likely to have guns; 40% of female veterans use guns to commit suicide.

Veterans, like the elderly, disabled, and others on Social Security, won’t receive a cost of living this coming year, for the third time since 1975. In introducing the Seniors and Emergency (SAVE) Benefits Act—a one-time increase of 3.9 percent or about $581—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) selected that percentage because it’s equal to the average annual increase in CEO pay at the top 350 U.S. companies. Taxpayers subsidize CEO pay packages because they are considered a business expense. Closing that loophole would pay for this increase veterans and Social Security payments while still leaving funding for the Social Security Trust Fund.

Tonight the GOP presidential candidates met to debate issues. Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) supports privatizing the VA health care system, removing government-connecting negotiating power for prices. He also “advocated for leniency in the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation of Corinthian Colleges and its job placement claims” although Corinthian Colleges illegally used official military seals “in its advertising in an effort to recruit recently discharged service men and women” before abruptly shutting down “under the weight of regulatory and legal pressure.” The company was also accused of advertising programs that it didn’t offer and misrepresenting job placement rates to students and investors.

While governor of Florida, Jeb Bush tried to privatize health care for veterans, but the private company providing nursing and food services—a company that donated to Bush’s campaign—went into bankruptcy two years later. The facilities using the private companies provided substandard care and were ranked in the bottom 20 percent of facilities in the county. Records showed that nine out of ten patients did not receive proper care.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson wants to do away with the VA and put their care into facilities for the general population. Although not all VA-enrolled veterans seek health care during a given year, the U.S. had 9,111,955 VA-enrolled Veterans in 2014, a number equivalent to the combined populations of Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and both Dakotas.

Back in 1998, Sen.Lindsey Graham (SC) lied about seeing action while in the military when he claimed to be “an Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran although he never got closer to the war than McEntire Air National Guard Base near Columbia where he was a military lawyer.” Later he said that he “didn’t mean to mislead people.” His job while in South Carolina was to make wills for soldiers sent to the Gulf War.

Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Rubio voted against spousal benefits for legally married same-gender spouses of veterans. The amendment would “establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ensuring all legally married same-sex spouses have equal access to the Social Security and veterans benefits they have earned and receive equal treatment under the law pursuant to the Constitution of the United States.” It passed without the votes from the GOP presidential candidates.

In opposing giving veterans access to affordable housing, Paul was also one of 11 senators who voted against considering a bill that would “provide $142 billion in fiscal 2012 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, military construction, military housing and related operations. The bill also includes $52.5 billion in advance fiscal 2013 appropriations for VA medical programs.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill to set aside 3 percent of all state contracts for veteran-owned businesses. President Obama signed the Veterans Entrepreneurship Act this past summer, but Christie refused to hire them for state projects. During the debate, Christie said, “Hillary Clinton doesn’t respect [veterans] service.

Candidates in the debate were eager to create more crisis situations in the Middle East which would force more death and disaster for military members, but they did not go beyond empty words in helping them. Last spring, 41 Senate Republicans voted against a measure that would have expanded education and health care, including 27 new medical facilities, for veterans. The bill proposed the guarantee of in-state tuition rates at all public universities for post-9/11 veterans. Conservatives are ready to cause wars but reluctant to care for the “collateral damage” of their decisions.

In a recent poll, two-thirds of the surveyed veterans opposed privatization of VA health care. In addition, 57 percent of them said that this issue would determine the presidential candidate that they choose. The GOP presidential candidates might want to take notice.

September 19, 2013

Gun Culture Leads to Murder, Suicide

Ho-hum. There was another mass shooting a few days ago, this one killing 13 people. It’s business as usual in the gun culture of the United States. This time, a veteran and defense-industry employee got into the Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital by using his pass. No particular outrage—just the customary stupid responses from the right.

Alex Jones said it’s all a fake, the same thing he said about earlier mass shootings and the Boston bombing. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who has moved from The View to Fox network, thinks that a solution is to ban video games. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said, “Blaming this on guns is like saying the big problem with obesity is we’ve got too many spoons.” CNN was back to doing its dance around the facts although this time, they would say that they might be getting in the information wrong after every report.

The conservative Reds are screaming that the carnage happened because the Navy Yard is a “gun free zone.” As usual, they got it wrong: only civilians there were not permitted to carry guns. They also skipped the fact that the first person killed was an armed security guard, that “internal security” immediately began firing at the gunman, and that local police officers arrived within two or three minutes.

Not one mass shooting in the past 30 years has been stopped by an armed civilian. Fewer than one-fourth of the mass shootings in the past four years occurred in “gun free zones.” And there is not one shred of evidence that shooters targeted places where guns were prohibited. Then conservatives decided to blame President Clinton for a policy approved during the that George H.W. Bush administration.

So many people carry guns that the police have started firing at anything that indicates the slightest bit of danger. After 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, former Florida A&M football player, was in a car crash, he dragged himself to the nearest house to find help. The owner called 911, and three officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina came to the scene. Police accused Ferrell of charging them, and Officer Randall Kerrick, 27, fired at Ferrell 12 times, eventually killing him. The charge against Kerrick involves killing without malice, using “excessive force” in “imperfect self-defense.”

A study by the New York Times shows that highly trained New York City police officers who discharged their guns in public hit their intended targets only 34 percent of the time. That means that these police officers miss their targets two-thirds of the time.  Last Saturday evening, police were aiming at a mentally disturbed man walking in and out of traffic but shot two innocent bystanders. One of the women, using a walker, was shot in her knee.

Today, a man in Michigan suffering from road rage fired at another car. The second man shot back. The result is two more funerals.

The Navy Yard killings happened nine months and two days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (CT) killed 26 people. On the same day, a crazed man in China attacked children in an elementary school. During that massacre, 22 children were seriously injured, but none was killed. The man had a machete, not a gun. The U.S. shooter had a military-grade weapon capable of firing a bullet every two seconds.

Details about Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old shooter, show that he had been suffering from “a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder” and reported hearing “voices in his head.” He was involved in at least two incidents involving a gun while in the Navy and was discharged in January 2011. His “pattern of misconduct” ended his military career but didn’t stop him from legally carrying guns. He got a concealed carry permit from Texas and bought a shotgun in Virginia because the two states honor each other’s gun licenses. Washington, D.C. has tough gun laws, which means that 98.2 percent of all guns used for crime in the District come from states with weaker gun laws, including Virginia just across the Potomac River.

At least 17 mass murders, defined by the FBI as the slaying of four or more people, have occurred thus far this year. Shootings related to drug or gang violence don’t get the publicity as one gunman. HuffPost prepared the following graphic from news sources, including Reddit’s community-generated database of mass shootings. There may be more, but NRA pressure keeps the government from compiling statistics. It includes killing sprees that occurred in more than one location, but the ones that happen on more than one day, such as the string of homicides committed by ex-cop Christopher Dorner in Los Angeles, aren’t listed.

2013_09_MassShootingsALT_4

Guns have killed about 24,580 Americans since Newtown, according to Slate’s estimate based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; we’re pretty much on target for the annual 30,000+ deaths. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google, the fifth most frequent cause of death in the United States is “unintentional injuries”–including those inflicted by guns. The tenth most frequent cause of death in the country is suicide, including those involving guns. And the 16th most frequent cause of death in the country is homicide, including many murders-by-gun. Those figures are on a par with people in the nation who die from cancer and heart disease.

People in the U.S. have far greater odds of getting killed by other people in the country than by terrorists—about one in 20 million. The number is greater in areas that have more gun ownership. Boston University’s School of Public Health has released the results of a new study showing a connection between gun ownership and gun violence. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found a direct correlation between gun ownership rates and homicides in the U.S.

Conservatives and the NRA have attempted to show that stricter gun laws did not lead to fewer “intentional deaths.” Breitbart.com columnist AWR Hawkins cited a Harvard University study from Europe. It listed Eastern Europe and Scandinavia but skipped countries such as the UK, Italy, Portugal, and Spain; much of it concentrates on homicide rates in the U.S. and Russia. Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser, authors of the study, have a history of bias in their connections to organizations and their opposition to gun control legislation.

Dr. Michael Siegel, the principal author of the Boston University study, looked at data from all 50 states going back over 30 years. According to AFP.com, the study “determined for every one percentage point in the prevalence of gun ownership in a given state, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent.” Siegel commented on the findings:

“This research is the strongest to date to document that states with higher levels of gun ownership have disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides. It suggests that measures which succeed in decreasing the overall prevalence of guns will lower firearm homicide rates.”

A summary of the main findings:

  • Over the three decades, the mean estimated percentage of gun ownership ranged from a low of 25.8 percent in Hawaii to a high of 76.8 percent in Mississippi, with an average over all states of 57.7 percent.
  • The mean age-adjusted firearm homicide rate ranged from a low of 0.9 per 100,000 population in New Hampshire to a high of 10.8 per 100,000 in Louisiana over the three decades, with an average for all states of 4 per 100,000.
  • For all states, the average firearm homicide rate decreased from 5.2 per 100,000 in 1981 to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2010.

Other studies show that a gun in the home increases the incidence of suicide, particularly for young people. According to another new study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the strongest predictor of how likely a person is to die from suicide within a given state is whether they have a gun in the home.

Guns don’t increase the number of attempts; they just increase the risk of succeeding. Victims who attempt suicide using pills or cutting are 100 times more likely to survive, said Dr. Matthew Miller, the study’s author, whereas “you don’t get a second chance when you use a gun.” Less than 10 of suicide survivors make another attempt. Nearly one in five people under 21 who are at risk for suicide have guns in their homes.

The irony of Monday’s shooting is that a Senate hearing on gun laws had to be postponed. The mothers of two Florida teenage boys slain by gunfire were slated to testify about their opposition to their state’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law. The hearing has yet to be rescheduled. One woman is the mother of Trayvon Martin, killed by George Zimmerman; the other woman’s child is 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who died after an intoxicated man fired into the back of a SUV because he didn’t like the music. The killer said he didn’t know anyone had died until the next morning.

One CEO has decided to buck the gun culture. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has asked customers to stop bringing guns into his 11,000 coffee shops after the increasing number of “Starbucks Appreciation Days” when extremists wander around the coffee places displaying their guns. Their actions led to gun safety advocates’ promoting “Skip Starbucks Saturdays” urging “the public to get their caffeine fix somewhere other than Starbucks” and “post a photo of themselves enjoying a non-Starbucks coffee.”

Schultz is one of the good guys. He supports marriage equality, suggesting that opponents can just sell their Starbucks stock. He also openly supports raising the minimum wage and has stated that Starbucks has no intention of cutting workers’ hours or employee benefits in response to Obamacare. As some gun owners pointed out, extremists are ruining gun ownership for everyone else.

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