Gun Violence
A Public Health Crisis

Summary

The U.S. witnessed an alarming string of multiple mass shootings in 2012. Among the deadliest in the country’s history was the recent rampage in an elementary school in Newtown, CT, where a gunman killed more than two dozen people, mostly children. He also killed his mother and himself. The Connecticut shooting prompted President Barack Obama to call for an end to such tragedies, but what policy changes can Americans realistically expect? This Forum event investigated the legal, political, and public health factors that could influence future efforts to prevent such massacres.

Presented in Collaboration with Reuters

Background Articles

Image Credit: © iStockphoto.com/lamiel

  • Kari Arvisais

    Having worked in mental health and public health, I have seen the decay of both these fields in terms of prevention of mental illness. This is not to blame these fields, merely to point out that when politicians say mass shooting can’t be prevented nor predicted-I shake my head in disgust.
    I have been trying to build a network of colleagues and professionals since the Aurora Theater Massacre. I was told that if I wanted to help, I could donate money to a Victims fundraising site.
    Sad to say, we are all culpable for these mass shootings and violence in our society. This is going to take more than gun control laws. This is going to take a cultural paradigm shift. Everyone has been stretched to their limits, doing more with less for years. We have all become caught up in the rat-race of life. What is convenient for us, is not healthy for us.

    Unfortunately, violence and mass shootings has become a solution for some. It has become a way to demonstrate power, act out rage and obtain fame and recognition. Media and social media are the avenues in which people can publicly one-up each other for all the wrong reasons.

  • Kari Arvisais

    We have to make a paradigm shift now because gun laws and political gesturing is like riding a merry-go-round, it keeps people busy, but goes around in a circle.

    We need to value whole health, the whole person and stop compartmentalizing people. We have become the makers of our own mayhem here. We have to create the solutions here through our own actions. Look at how we live our lives with blatant disregard for our own health and people around us.

    Mass shooting is a symptom of our fractured society. Each of us is responsible to create solutions.

  • Jack Rozel

    Not to detract from the tragedies of rampage shootings, but I wonder if, from, a public health perspective, they are the right place to focus. My understanding is that gun violence as a whole is increasing and only an extremely small fraction is attributable to mass killings or rampages. Outliers are usually outliers for a reason and I am not sure they will have enough commonalities to make them a viable target for prevention. Does it make more sense to develop strategies and policies to target the outlier events or the more common but less notorious forms/causes/outcomes of gun violence? Are there realistically implementable strategies or polices which would meaningfully impact both the common forms of gun violence and the rare events?

  • Eric Roberts

    first off i would like to thank Harvard University for creating this forum on this subject. second i will be watching the live broadcast.

    I am no expert on gun violence i however think something can be done to curb the violence.
    first laws should be passed to require gun control by gun owners and what i mean by this is the owner of a gun should be required to secure an owned gun at all times. next i feel that technology has to be incorporated in guns such as smart technology that would recognize the owner of the gun, second technology should be used to recognize when a gun is being aimed at a person also gps technology should be incorporated to locate guns that are stolen/lost or in a restricted area like a school etc., next schools and other places of concern should be secure buildings and building codes should be enhanced to enforce this a school for example should be as or more secure then a medium secure government facility.

    i also feel that gun buyers and owners should be required to be licensed and retain a medical card that would verify physical and mental conditions the license and med. cards would have to be renewed like any other license, also liability and bodily injury or umbrella insurance should be required in order to compensate those injured by said gun .. we have insurance for everything else.

    this is a summary of my ideas and input.

    if you are inclined to reply to this I do not tolerate bullying or harassment.

    best regards

    eric

  • Azevedo Fernandes, Jr

    China doesn’t allow private ownership of guns and the gun violence is very rare! Could there be a lesson?

    Azevedo Fernandes, Jr.; MPH, PhD Research Fellow

  • Arthur Ushaev

    I think Americans can expect more human rights restrictions in the nearest future.. Hope I’m wrong.

  • Adrian Toader-Williams

    COMMENTS – STATEMENTS

    Not the guns kill people, not the weapons but rather the intention and the will power of our mind. Gun control will probably reduce in the number of incidences and their gravity but definitely will not stop. Weapons can be purchased as drugs are. Furthermore, they can be manufactured, improvised.

    Education and row model – What we are actually facing its also an echo effect of humanity international armed conflict, a reverberation of the world wide violence under the label of war. Wars create public insecurity and a general distrust.
    Violence in the movies – perpetuates human violence by feeding youngster’s brains from cartoons to the so call action movies.

    Financial economy and money making – War means profits for the arms oriented financial interests. Guns and bullets mean income and profits. Public health means profits to health industry. The conflict of interest is very high. A small difference it makes in the moment when the family member of a major stockholder becomes the victim of such anthropogenic economy, but that is just a tiny noisy for a short time.

    Solution: Observing the Bioeconomic principles and their gradual introduction into the economy, the adaptation of the financial economy to the natural economy that been around before mankind.

    Questions:

    1) What is your opinion, how do you see the above statements in relation to the public violence and the tragedies that our society at large is exposed due to our very own generalized misconduct?
    2) Do you really believe that “gun control” will eradicate killings?
    3) Who is responsible for such mental disorders that conduct to mass killings, the high suicidal rate and heavy alcohol and drugs consumption in the USA as well as worldwide?

    Greetings to the entire The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health team !

    Adrian Toader-Williams, PhD,
    USA – ROMANIA – Full active member of the
    International Academy of Science, Russian Section,
    Moscow, Russian Federation

  • Jeremiah Schuur

    Dear Panelists,

    A question about Massachusetts gun policy: Why doesn’t Massachusetts report information on mental illness to the national background check system that is used in firearm purchases?

    From reviewing the Mayors Against Illegal Guns website, it appears that there is a significant deficiency in Massachusetts reporting of mental health records to the background check system. Information that they received from the FBI shows that Massachusetts has not submitted records of individuals with mental illness to the national background check system.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/us/gaps-in-fbi-data-undercut-background-checks-for-guns.html?pagewanted=all

    http://www.demandaplan.org/fatalgaps

    As an emergency physician and health policy researcher I am acutely aware of the concerns around privacy regarding health information, and in particular mental health information. That said, there must be a way to safely and securely submit this data to the background check system.

    While this would not have prevented the shootings at Newtown Connecticut, a failure such as this was a key issue in the shootings at Virginia Tech.

    Just as we must balance the Second Amendment rights of individuals to own guns with society’s need for safety and protection, we must balance individual’s right to privacy with societies need for safety and protection.

    Jeremiah Schuur, MD, MHS
    Chief, Division of Health Policy Translation,
    Director of Quality, Safety & Performance Improvement for
    Department of Emergency Medicine | Brigham & Women’s Hospital
    Assistant Professor | Harvard Medical School

  • Wade Smith

    Where is Steven Pinker? Why is he not a participant? Violence is a straw man.

  • Charles Jessee

    Less the “conversation” or “discussion” that Obama spoke of, and more like the Presidential Task Force (chaired by VP Biden) or Democratic Task Force (chaired by Sen Pelosi), this is another partisan event with largely like-minded participants. While the formed task forces are largely focusing on gun control, with debate and agreement focusing on achieving that end with minimal damage to political careers, this event might spend less time arguing the assumed conclusion that more gun control is necessary, and focus on what else needs be done. One doesn’t seriously expect a debate on whether more gun restrictions are needed, given the participants, so dash off the tried-and-true quotes and sound bites for the media and get on with some useful discussion.

    Start with the premise “Stricter gun control laws will be largely ineffective without also…”, and carry on with in the blanks. Assume that an enhanced AWB passes, universal NICS background checks are required for any legal gun sale/transaction and that the only guns available for sale or transfer are revolvers and rifles with internal, non-removable magazines holding less than 10 rounds/bullets. That brings us back to the firearms in popular use in the 1960s era, where semi-automatic pistols and rifles with high-capacity magazines were almost exclusively used by the military and law enforcement.

    The job is to take a society with what would be, after enacting very strict gun control, the numbers and types of firearms prevalent in the “violent ’60s”, with with the lower crime and gun violence levels and different sociodemographics of of today’s USA, and propose how to further cut crime and violence (gun and non-gun).

    The challenge to to assume these extensive gun controls are enacted, to assume that ready funding is available, and agree what the other part of the complex solution to the complex problem of violence is, other than just gun control. If our smartest minds in our smartest universities can’t agree on what to do and how to do it, then we are just left with more gun control, which we all appear to agree is only part of the solution.

  • Kari Arvisais

    Gun violence is a symptom of a society that is addicted to quick fixes. Gun violence and really all violence is what people resort to, to solve their emotional pain. We are all part of the problem and will have to be part of the solution.

  • John Fitzgerald

    Would a national health care system, Single Payer, contribute to a more effective screening for mental health issues and thus reduce the probability of gun violence by the mentally ill?

    Does the Special Education law in Massachusetts (766) effectively screen for potential perpetrators of acts of physical violence?

  • Adrian Toader-Williams

    Not the guns kill people, not the weapons but rather the intention and the will power of our mind. Gun control will probably reduce in the number of incidences and their gravity but definitely will not stop. Weapons can be purchased as drugs are. Furthermore, they can be manufactured, improvised.
    What we are actually facing it’s also an echo effect of humanity international armed conflict, a reverberation of the world wide violence under the label of war. Wars create public insecurity and a general distrust.
    Violence in the movies – perpetuates human violence by feeding youngster’s brains from cartoons to the so call action movies.
    War means profits for the arms oriented financial interests. Guns and bullets mean income and profits. Public health means profits to health industry. The conflict of interest is very high. A small difference it makes in the moment when the family member of a major stockholder becomes the victim of such anthropogenic economy, but that is just a tiny noisy for a short time.
    We need to observe the Bioeconomic principles and their gradual introduction into the economy, the adaptation of the financial economy to the natural economy that been around before mankind.

    Who is responsible for such mental disorders that conduct to mass killings, the high suicidal rate and heavy alcohol and drugs consumption in the USA as well as worldwide?

    Adrian Toader-Williams, PhD,
    USA – ROMANIA – Full active member of the
    International Academy of Science, Russian Section,
    Moscow, Russian Federation

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    EMAIL RECEIVED FROM ONLINE AUDIENCE MEMBER
    1) What about comedian Chris Rock’s suggestion to ‘tax the hell out bullets’? As Rock says, if a single bullet cost, say, $10,000, there wouldn’t be any more spray-the-crowd mass shootings; you’d really want to kill one specific person to pay that kind of money, and you might be forced to put the bullet on layaway before you could afford, thereby giving you time to calm down and reconsider. Certainly it would certainly reduce the number of shots fired. And the additional tax revenue could be used to invest in other types of gun violence prevention.

    2) If there is any possibility of actually changing the situation in a meaningful way, what is it? (e.g., overturning Amendment 2 and outlawing guns…or most guns…or the guns used in the most killings.)
    Robert Padulo, Ph.D.
    President
    iWorkwell, Inc.

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    EMAIL RECEIVED FROM ONLINE AUDIENCE MEMBER
    Would each panelist identify gun control policies that pass these two tests:
    1) They would make the United States safer;
    2) They would be politically practicable, in the sense that the President can implement them himself by executive order, or they could realistically get through the current Congress?

    Thank you very much. I look forward to the forum.

    Rita Goldberg

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    EMAIL RECEIVED FROM ONLINE AUDIENCE MEMBER
    Hello
    after Australia’s worst mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia implemented a gun buy back program that I worked on. Even though it was clear that not all guns would be turned in, the long term data shows that taking guns out of circulation has been associated with a significant reduction in gun related deaths and injuries.

    My question for the panel is:
    Are initiatives to reduce gun violence too often dismissed on the basis they can’t solve the whole problem. Why is it so hard to achieve acceptance of incremental improvement.

    Regards and good luck in bringing about a reduction in gun violence.

    Sue Netterfield
    Strategia Consulting

  • The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health

    EMAIL RECEIVED FROM ONLINE AUDIENCE MEMBER
    Sirs:
    I have three questions:
    1. Where can one find reliable data on the circumstances surrounding deaths from guns? Specific examples would include
    a. What fraction of deaths occurs between acquaintances? Between partners in domestic disputes? During the course of committing another crime? Suicide? Accident?
    b. What fraction are committed by people with no prior criminal history (i.e. by “law abiding” citizens)?

    2. What has the Supreme Court actually ruled with respect to gun laws?

    3. What conceivable arguments are there for possessing large capacity firearms, like assault rifles or multi shot handguns?
    Thank you.

    Jim Butler, Dept. Env. Health, HSPH

  • Dennis Richards

    The cycle of violence has to be broken. While this discussion seems to be in response to mass casualties such as Newtown, the everyday use of weapons to kill is the true crisis facing the country. A public health approach may be beneficial. Certainly we knew there was harm caused by smoking for years, but it was socially accepted nevertheless.

  • Mariane Macasinag

    what is the purpose of guns?
    what are the positive and negative effect of guns?

  • Mariane Macasinag

    guns are made to protect people, not to make distruction and not to kill life.
    guns are power that many people is craving for this..what we need to control is the desire to buy, produce, and bear guns…

    the people is the solution not the laws.

  • Richard Muldoon

    Academic discussions of gun violence begin from the premise that more gun control laws are necessary. Rarely do speakers address current federal or state firearms laws. At what point will academics begin addressing gun law enforcement issues state-by-state rather than advocating new laws?

    Why should the public health community play any role whatsoever in creation and enforcement of gun laws? If the public health community does assume a role in creation and enforcement of gun control laws, how will the community cope with those who will reject not just its gun control policies, but by extension *all* public health policies advocated by the community? I.e., what are the relative consequences indirectly associated with a public health gun control mandate?

  • Peter Stringham

    Is it reasonable to imitate car insurance laws which require owners of all cars to buy annual insurance to pay for the irresponsible use of cars by a minority of car owners? Then gun owners would have to pay the true price for their hobby.

  • Remedios Rosari…

    I am a HEALTH teacher of DOMINICAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, Taipei Taiwan. I thank you and Reuters for this opportunity to hear and watch this forum about gun policy. Restructuring US gun laws/ policies means a lot, the same way as promoting mental health. The public awareness about these strengthens the whole society to be vigilant and to take action against all forms of violence.

  • Paul Hans

    For as long as I can remember events like the Newtown shootings have provoked public outrage and a relatively brief national debate regarding gun control that fairly rapidly fades. The Newtown killings are relatively rare. More obscene are the daily deaths–intentional murders, crimes of passion, and suicides–through the use, generally, of handguns. These rarely enter into our meager national dialogue. My questions for the panel are:
    1. What can be done to keep the public debate, provoked by Newtown, going in a meaningful way?
    2. Of the many possible ways that the complexities of gun control can be approached–a ban on assault weapons, outlawing multi-bullett magazines, universal background checks, etc. etc.–which would realistically have the greatest chance of being passed legislatively and have the most positive impact on the problem, at least to start? What would a sensible list of priorities look like?

  • Douglas Miller

    Are there legal impediments to bringing the cost of gun violence to the manufacturers and distributors of weapons? It seems crazy that pediatricians have to carry malpractice insurance but gun dealers don’t. Could we please sue Walmart for selling weapons of mass destruction that have been used to destroy lives.

  • Lynval H. GoldingJan

    Is there any connection or association with playing violent video games?

  • Heidi Brenke

    As a RN that works in the emergency department in case management, the amount of violence from guns has become a common occurance. It is not a TV program that you can turn off and turn away… these are real kids, adults who are using deadly weapons they need not have. I believe that through well developed mental health assessements that I as a nurse or a social worker in the ED can perform with the patient or family and highlight pertinent questions related to the social functioning in the home including the housing and use of guns. This will at least help on the front end of healthcare along with providing a notification system to a larger database that can house potential patients that have mental personality disorders and access to guns and assault weapons. It is a pity that we must own guns at all. There are no excuses or reasons that can convince me they promote positive outcomes. They do nothing but kill.

  • Lynval H. Golding

    I certainly understand everyone’s concern regarding gun violence in society. But, i have not read anyones concern pertaining to education and the use of violent video games, that seriously requires addressing.

  • David Osborn

    I’m hopeful educated and informed authorities experienced with behavioral/mental health, active shooter, federal/state laws and firearms facilitate this webinar while providing valid and valuable information/data. Shall we focus and concentrate on the real problem and possible solutions? DRUNK DRIVING: We provide education, awareness and strict consequences for this behavior. We do not ban vehicles. WRITING: We provide education, awareness, reveiw and spellcheck. We do not ban pencils. A one-sided emotional discussion and reaction will only provoke alienation. One decision or rule/guidence will not be beneficial for all U.S. communities. Perhaps each community should be encouraged to form coalitions within their jurisdictions. Local, State and Federal Government can assist this effort through resources and legal authority to plan, train and respond how they believe is most applicable for their area

  • Douglas Miller

    Can tort law be brought to bear upon manufacturers, sellers, owners of assault weapons that are used in assaults?

  • Peter Zimmer

    It occurs to me some “gun control” often means discouraging gun ownership (see some comments here, such as taxing bullets). This is reflected in some “strict” states laws and policies (e.g. MA increased licensing fees to $100, some local law enforcement licensing officials require doctor’s notes, others have application processing times that well exceed the 40 days in statutes. The list could go on).

    Do you think this kind of legislation is effective in reducing gun violence and is the aim really to reduce gun ownership? I think the focus should be on public safety and reducing violence, not reducing individual ownership of firearms. Or would you agree with me that the latter focus has “fired up” gun ownership supporters and actually resulted in resistance to sensible public safety and legislation around guns?

    I can tell you the focus on “reducing gun ownership for law abiding citizens” has upset me as a matter of public policy. The focus should be on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those with violent tendancies, irresponsible owners, and the mentally ill. I think we can achieve that if both sides of the debate came to the table with this focus and without the focus of eliminating gun ownership.

    For reasonable consensus, I see two important concessions are necessary:
    (1) PRO-GUN side needs to be open to sensible restrictions, background checks and gun tracing schemes that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill
    (2) ANTI-GUN side needs to (a) support the second amendment meaning an individual’s right to keep and bear arms (no fingers crossed behind the back) (b) agree to end abitrary (and often capricious) licensing policies used in the “strict gun control states” and especially large cities (= support “shall issue” policies) (c) to protect in statute that tracing schemes will not be used to confiscate law abiding citizens’ guns

  • Craig Lambert

    Why is it that, immediately after some mass shooting like the massacre in Newtown, the media never seem to carry any comment on the event from the NRA? Can we assume that the press ask the NRA for a response and the answer is always, “No comment”? Even that might be worth reporting.

  • Amy Blaisdell

    What about a stronger focus on early childhood and mental health? Are there early childhood social and emotional learning programs or mental health screening and assessment tools that could be used/utilized in schools to help behavioral development early on to identify children who could benefit from mental health support?

    Also, thinking more along the lines of school climate, what is the current and future role of bullying prevention programs in preventing school violence at the early childhood, middle and high school levels?

  • Anthony Defendis

    We need to find a way to make a lasting impression, which is age appropriate, on childrens’ minds about the dangers and lasting consequences (including death) associated with gun violence.

  • Miles Zaremski

    Let me get a bit more legal. First, we know from Heller that Scalia believes the second Amendment is not without limits. We also know that Scalia, Thomas and their ilk on the Court are strict constructionists—that the words of the constitution mean what they say when they were penned. Given this as background, has anyone looked at what the Second Amendment means when it says, “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. The key here is the very last word, infringed. If anyone on this chat is a wordsmith, the infringed is meant to abolish, to destroy, to take away; it never was meant at the time to be inconvenienced, as we look to it now-a-days when speaking about having background checks, limiting magazine sizes, etc. Thus, even if we cede the argument to gun right advocates that the Second Amendment allows those outside the militia to have firearms, where is it that we can bear them but without some reasonable inconveniences?

  • David Osborn

    ACTIVE SHOOTERS in the U.S. (2002 – 2012)

    -Active Shooter Incident Motivation: 40% unknown, 21% workplace retalition, 14% domestic/faily, 7% academic retalition, 2% hate crimes
    -Active Shooter Incident Location: 37% workplace, 17% academic, 17% business, 12% outside/outdoors, 6% home/residence, 6% place of worship, 4% Civil locale/courthouse
    -Active Shooter: Gender: 96% male, 4% female
    -Avg. number of people shot before law enforcement stops shooter: 14
    -Avg. number of people shot when civilian stops shotter: 2.5
    -Gun Laws: over 20,000 laws on the books now
    -Approx. 2.5 million incidents where potention victim defended self with firearm last year (media fails to report) compared to approx. 16,000 homicides of which 10,000 included use of firearm
    -The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the 2nd Ammendment to the Constitution.
    -Lets identify the mental health problem and issue as it relates to violence: the community mental health approach we have practiced for the last 40 years isn’t working.

  • Ken Swain

    Let’s face it. In 2008 and 2010 the Supreme Court, showed complete lack of responsibility to the American people, and succumbed to the NRA pressure (money) to let stand an outdated (222 year old) amendment without adding any sorely needed relevance for our modern society. In doing so, they ignored public safety and empowered the the NRA and others to make “meaningful” recommendations to curb gun violence by arming EVERYONE.

  • Shaun Dakin

    Thank you so much for doing this. Very helpful. I agree that this will be a generational change, if it will occur.

    I have to believe that it will because a future in America for myself and my children that is one that the NRA Gun Murder Lobby wants in which everyone is armed and dangerous is not a future that I want to be part of.

  • Lisa Hawkins

    I am not a fan of guns; however, I respect the 2nd amendment and the reason for its existence. People should have the right to defend themselves. While we could limit the kinds of guns sold and to whom they are sold – as well as ammunition, I do not believe that making guns illegal or even drastically changing our gun laws will contribute to less violence. It may, instead, disarm the good citizens and embolden the criminals. To make real change in our incidence of violence with guns or otherwise, we must return to traditional family units with strong moral values. Homes need to include a mother and a father. There has to be discipline and children need to have a sense of purpose. That purpose comes with responsibility. Too many children are growing up without the presence of fathers, without good role models and without guidance. It’s a basic breakdown in our society that has spread its roots to many, many areas and impacted them negatively.

  • Christina Roache

    We thank all of our viewers for watching and for sending their comments and questions. Due to time constraints, during The Forum, we were unable to ask all of the questions.

  • Michael McCarthy

    I am anti gun control and pro 2nd amendment. The words “shall not infringe” mean nothing to politicians though. It’s not gun violence! It’s just “violence” and the only epidemic is the News Media’s selected coverage of only violence where a gun is involved. How about this… Instead of gun control why don’t we remove the glamorization of gun violence on television, movies, and video games? Why not work on reducing single parent families? Why not teach gun safety in schools? Why not get rid of all the toy guns off the shelves of family department stores? Because this isn’t an issue of removing violence from our society. They don’t want to get to the heart of the matter. They want to remove our rights, and disarm our citizens only. That’s the real underlying issue. Without guns, we go from citizens living in a democracy to subjects living under tyranny.

    • Carolyn Martin

      I was at the National Archives last week looking at the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Right. The 2nd amendment was an afterthought. Originally the 4 Pillars of Freedom were religion, speech, assembly and press and are considered THE foundation of democracy. So, naturally, the founding fathers were most concerned about these 4 freedoms being the basis of democracy and the route to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

      • Dennis Jackson

        Madam:

        I do respect you work at researching the Pillars. You are correct. But may I remind you that the afterthought as you put it was from the ratifying states and the insistance of those states to especially observe the key supports of those pillars. Please see Federalist Paper 84 written by Hamilton. Hamilton explains such an inclusion to be dangerous. The enumeration of certain rights may disparage others retained by the people. It would afford those disposed to usurp a plausible pretext. In essence if there is no delegation there is no power to do, speaking of the government.

        Endowed by our Creator was not all inclusive, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, thus the words “among those are”. These we owe to no man, woman nor institution. They were our rights by birth upon this earth and the meaning of the Declaration is exactly that. The Federalist ahsve been used over 1500 times by the courts to render the meaning of the Constitution. the “declaration” is referenced many times in the collections of the essays written by Jay Hamiltom and Madison attempting to explain the contents and the meaning to the people of New York to pursuade them to vote in favor of ratification. May I humbly suggest obtaining a PDF copy form the net and with it you search any word of phrase you desire. I do often, it is wonderfully enlightening.

        Kind Regards,

        Dennis Jackson

  • Timothy Shubert

    I believe we can engineer a better and safer class of firearms. In the last 200 years, firearms have become more accurate, more powerful and more deadly; but not safer. While autos and airplanes have undergone life-saving changes the development of the firearm has sadly remained stagnant in safety features; the only design goal – to more effectively maim and kill. I am sickened by the ineptness of government and firearm engineering that so blatantly ignores safety. I can think of a few ways to effectively prevent another school massacre; not by banning weapons, but by producing “smart weapons” and offering trade-ins for the arsenal of PRIMITIVE KILLING MACHINES that currently plague our world without infringing upon our rights.

  • Patrick Brady

    Regarding Dr. Fenton Earls comment that violence is “learned” and does not orginate in the brain, I would respectfully disagree to the extent that current research shows the issue of aggression & propensity for violence is more complex than any binary reductionist explanation.

    In fact, multiple streams of evidence show that the link between aggression & violence can arise from interactions among a child’s early environment, quality of maternal care, genetic endowment and even epigenetic changes after conception and birth as the below summary article of some recent research into this topic shows.

    Respectfully,

    –Patrick Brady

    Portland VAMC/Portland State University
    Portland, Ore.

    Childhood Trauma Directly Linked to Adult Aggression
    Pam Harrison

    Jan 17, 2013

    Stressful experiences in early life are associated with higher rates of increased long-term aggression, a new animal study suggests.

    Investigators from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, found that male rats that were submitted to fear-inducing experiences during the peripubertal period exhibited high and sustained rates of increased aggression in adulthood, even against unthreatening rodents.

    Peripubertally-stressed rats also showed hyperactivity in the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in emotional reaction.

    In contrast, the same rats exhibited little activation in the orbitofrontal cortex.

    Previous research examining the brains of violent individuals has shown the same deficit in orbitofrontal activation and the same corresponding reduced inhibition of aggressive impulses.

    “In a challenging social situation, the orbitofrontal cortex of a healthy individual is activated in order to inhibit aggressive impulses and to maintain normal interactions,” states Carmen Sandi, PhD, head of the EPFL’s Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics, in a release.

    “But in the rats we studied, we noticed that there was very little activation of the orbitofrontal cortex. This, in turn, reduces their ability to moderate negative impulses.”

    The study was published online January 15 in Translational Psychiatry.

    Consequences of Abuse

    It is known that violent adults often have a history of childhood trauma, but a direct link between early trauma and neurologic changes has not been demonstrated before.

    Using a protocol researchers had developed in their own laboratory, 43 rats were repeatedly exposed to fear-inducing procedures during a developmental period resembling the interval between childhood and puberty in humans.

    This period was specifically chosen because it is a time when significant maturational processes occur in regions of the brain important for emotion and cognition.

    When the rats reached adulthood, researchers investigated brain activity along with brain region–specific changes in the expression of the MAOA and 5HTT genes, variants of which genetically predispose humans to aggressive behaviors.

    “We found that the level of MAOA gene expression increased in the prefrontal cortex,” said Dr. Sandi.

    Alterations in gene expression were also linked to epigenetic change — in other words, exposure to fear-inducing procedures during the peripubertal period caused long-term modification of expression of the MAOA gene.

    The study group also found that treating the same peripubertally-stressed rats with an MAOA inhibitor in adulthood reversed stress-induced antisocial behaviors.

    “This research shows that people exposed to trauma in childhood don’t only suffer psychologically but their brain also gets altered,” said Dr. Sandi.

    “This adds an additional dimension to the consequences of abuse and obviously has scientific, therapeutic, and social implications.”

    The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

    Transl Psychiatry. Published online January 15, 2013. Full article

  • Gregory Prang

    I don’t have all the data, but these are the best questions I’ve seen.

    The crude numbers we see in the news stories are probably good enough to make a point for public health policy purposes, though.

    There are around 300 million guns and 33,000 deaths. We are therefore seeking to mitigate the annual effects of about one gun out of every 9,000 without unduly restricting the other 8,999.

    Gun suicides number around 18,000 of the 33,000 total. Depending on how one feels about right to die, one might want to adjust for this (or not). If we do, then we are looking for about one gun out of every 20,000.

    Drug wars (caused, by the way, by well-intentioned but misguided US government policies) and gangbangers account for at least 5,000. Now, nobody deserves to die, but these are not Newtown-level of tragedy, I would say. And clearly, it would be silly to address gang and drug problems by regulating guns; guns are quite incidental to the causes of these problems. If you agree, we are now looking for about one gun out of 37,500.

    Note that even these low probabilities are overestimates, because I have assumed each gun is responsible for only one death. So we would have to adjust for instances of multiple deaths from a single gun.

    Now I am running out of data, but we have the real tragedies — accidental deaths from guns, incident escalations from guns, and mass shootings — left to try to prevent. If there were no guns, all the accidents and many of the escalations would be prevented. Some mass shooters would be frustrated, but some would find illegal weapons by any means. However, even today, mass shootings are exceeding rare in relation to the number of guns — “one in a million” doesn’t cover it.

    So I claim we are trying to find one gun out of something around 50,000. If gun ownership is “exposure” and gun death is “disease”, public health would say that we need either very good understanding and action with regard to risk factors, or a very cheap, noninvasive vaccine or cure. Otherwise we would probably decide to tolerate the risk.

    The answer to question 3 goes to the point of need for a well-armed militia. I’m not going on the soapbox about that one! It is socially unacceptable to speak of defending against occupation or repression in this day and age in the USA. I understand that. However, I do find it ironic that many actually laugh or guffaw at the prospect of a populace defending itself in extreme circumstances; meanwhile, the best armed forces in the world have been defeated regularly and soundly by non-uniformed guys and gals with guns, hiding behind trees. I would not take this position, but I wouldn’t mock its proponents, either. We are uniquely blessed by domestic tranquility here and now, and I hope we remain the sole example of a populace that hasn’t needed to defend itself for a long time.

  • Rene Thompson

    While I am usually no fan of Justice Antonin Scalia, I think it appropriate that we all be clear on his position. In the Heller case he stated in his opinion:

    “Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment , nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

    We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

    It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment ’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.”

    Thus, the most conservative justice on the highest bench in the land sees no infringement to the 2nd Amendment in taking steps to keep criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining them, nor does he see limiting civilians from having access to military level weapons which are currently being marketed to civilians.

  • Dean Goddard

    The problem with the words written by Madison et al over 200 years ago now is that they have in effect made the 2nd amendment an anachronism today. Sure, if you would like to own an arsenal of muzzle loaders in you home, no problem. But Madison never could have envisioned or predicted the advancement of weapons technology of the last several decades, not could he envision a nation of 315 million owning 310 million weapons. I too have rights and freedoms, but rather, to not be shot the next time I find myself at a shopping mall or a movie theater, or when I place my child on a bus not knowing whether or not it may be the last time I see him or her alive.

  • Dennis Jackson

    Madam and Gentle Folk Here Today:

    To address the current tone of the discussion here as you have so generously done for us, it may be quite necessary to correct our course before we get off point and run afoul.

    Setting the foundation of the discussion here is the key to intelligently discussing the matter at hand. Proceeding upon a supposition without a proper review of relevant points does not stand the house squarely upon the foundation. This obvious analogy here is that the lean to the left or the right will not assist us in a proper discussion, our point of reference is skewed and thus our persuasion, however though out may not be on point. And just like a house the skew will be obvious if not corrected and result in the collapse of the house. After all, it is not our individual agenda we discuss her but how our understanding and our ability to reasonably address the matter that is of value if we indeed think to do the right thing.

    On the point of Justice Scalia’s reference to “arms in common use at the time” I must say this. Miller was addressing a challenge to the National Firearms Act. Justice Scalia borrowed the phrase for the Miller Court’s comments in this consideration alone. The justices at the bench referenced militia statutes that mandated individual members come to drill and muster prepared to repel an instant threat to security. As every infantryman was equipped in the regular army, so the militia member was to be equipped. This was the bare minimum required to report to muster with, thus the fine if the member failed to report, missed the drill or the muster or failed to report with a proper “kit”. Failure to report with the prescribed equipment is still an offense punishable under and “Article 15” non judicial punishment pursuant the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The charge is “failure to repair”. Pleas note: the ordinary solder does not drag along a canon or other heavy equipment when required to report for duty, even today.

    Miller was attempting to address the question of what a militia type weapon was. The challenger of the NFA, Miller, stated as a defense that a shotgun regulated under the NFA was a proper militia weapon and thus exempt from the provisions of the NFA. The courts rationale in determining the validity of Miller’s proposition was to consider arms in common use by the militia at the time, thus the phrase used by Justice Scalia. Unfortunately Miller did not complete his challenge, the attorney did not present any showing to support the defense’s position and the Court ruled that “absent a showing that a sawed off shotgun was a militia type weapon the NFA would prevail. In short the decision was based upon a default. What Miller did not address and Justice Scalia failed to research, exhaustively, is that citizens, of the colonies at the outset of the Revolution, possessed field artillery. I know that this fact may be shocking to the conscious but we must examine the truth here in it entirety of become one of the many agenda driven irrational voices which seem so prevalent today.

    Minute Man Park has on display a 3 Pound canon with the inscription describing the ownership of the gun, who it belonged to and the Order of the United States Government returning the gun to its owners “several citizens of Boston. The inscription goes further to describe its fellows “captured by the enemy” belonging to the Government of Massachusetts. Such a distinction was carved upon the gun and its brother, the Adams and the Hancock as they are named, in order to pay tribute to those citizens who bought with their own money a fierce weapon of war and furnish it to the militia.

    The United States Maritime Museum sponsors a site and the site describes the efforts of a civilian navy during the Revolution. The Continental Navy had a compliment of 64 ships equipped with around 1200 mounted canon and swivel guns. The civilian navy with privately owned and armed ships numbered in excess of 2000 with a gun compliment of over 14,000 canon and swivel guns. These men upon the armed ships of private individual citizens harassed the British shipping and naval vessels keeping our supply lines open and the British Navy otherwise occupied until the land forces could be marshaled and defenses could be made as well as they could. Obviously the sheer number of canon aboard these vessels would astound the civilian population today but at the time they were ordinary equipment aboard ships. Those who do not have such a sense of our historical roots and the facts as they are may sometimes swayed by incomplete supposition and allusions to reason which are, shall we say, constructed in a vacuum. But the truth is and it must be always observed else we are swayed by unreasonable suggestions and smoky rationale.

    As for the use and possession of “military type weapons” I may add that in each and every militia statute, the weapon required of the militia man was of the equal or better quality as the military and in some of the statutes, such as that of Ohio in 1788, required the militia man to have a bayonet with their other military equipment when they mustered or were called into service. In addition if the civilians were to be relegated to having less proficient arms that that of the military would they not be limited to bows and arrows???? Indeed the militias in the Civil War that were called to duty did not all show up with muzzle loading weapons and when the technology changed, so did their weapons that used complete cartridges and breach loading technology. I dare say that the National Guard, the current “organized militia” is not directed to use muzzle loaders or black powder weapons.

    Of course one may take “dangerous and unusual weapons” out of context. But headsman’s axes have no more use in a military operation, or simple self defense for that matter, than a sledge hammer. Unwieldy, heavy and cumbersome they were a symbol of certain death by tyrants committed upon bound and helpless victims. One would be hard pressed indeed to press an offense against a militiaman armed with a musket or rifle and bayonet. Indeed Washington chose a militia unit to cover his retreat from New York because the militia unit all had bayonets, whereas the newly formed Continental Army did not. However, yes there were regulations concerning what was dangerous and unusual but no one carries those types of things in public to disturb the peace intentionally. At least I have not seen anyone carrying a headsman’s ax recently. I too would think it unusual. In deference to the Heller decision we need to remind ourselves of one thing. The Court does not give advisory opinions. Comments about what a person keeps at home for personal protection was the question before the Court, not military type weapons. It is not permissible to for young clerks to use opinion and dicta in citing a “decision” by a court. The comments of the court are irrelevant and immaterial in this matter. While the comments are sometimes used for persuasion, it is usually considered bad form to quote a comment out of context and of course there is no “stare decisis” president created.

    The militia unit was “well regulated”, they were well practiced in drill and maneuver, force-which is the correct and historical meaning of well regulated. They are not the type of weapon to carry into the field and would have been equally disdained by proficient infantrymen in open warfare. To say that rocket launchers, machineguns, mortars and the like are unusual in modern societies is to disregard the fact that civilians possess them in other parts of the world. Civilians also possess them in this country, although they are heavily regulated. There are operational tanks, grenade launchers, field artillery and even armed helicopters owned by civilians. There are reenactment done in this country that use amphibious equipment artillery and automatic weapons fire recreating the Normandy Invasion. So the unreasonable reaction that disregards fact and the “scientific” resort to empirical evidence as proof is just that, unreasonable.

    So you see resorts to popular sentiment and appeals to authority and emotion are as fallacious in Aristotle’s time as they are in the present. Indeed time may change but as we ascertain by observation, human nature has not. The crux of the matter may be as easy as educating our young people about the sanctity of life for every living thing and not to callously disregard an action before you consider the effect upon ourselves and the people we interact with. There is too much anger in society. Those who foment the emotion and stir action based upon anger and hate are as culpable as those who commit the act. The FBI reports that more murders are committed with everyday items than firearms. Firearms are not the cause or the affliction. The firearm does not point itself or discharge unless there is a human to direct it. The issue is human error not that of the inanimate object. Let us cure the disease not mere address one symptom out of the many. The failure to see ourselves in the other person’s position or consider their life as ours is the failure of the whole of society, not a piece of metal. We all, I hope, wish to live in peace. Let us not throw peace to the wind for some irrational reasoning and emotional bent. Let us see the common ground here, not devise a war between us.

    I thank you all for your time and your and good manners in allowing me to comment here today. I hope that I have not offended any one. My reason for commenting is to present a correct and well founded position from which to discuss a matter that all of us are concerned with. Grave differences of opinion often create divisiveness when we all should be united. Terrible events like those which occurred at Sandy Hook should be unifying calls to action. We can certainly accomplish more with communicating our ideas and suggestions than attempting to gain the moral high ground based upon questionable premises.

    Kindest Regards,

    Dennis Jackson, B.S. LS, LMT,
    P.O. Box 81272
    Fairbanks, Alaska 99708
    drjackson253@hotmail.com

  • Jimy

    Any policy changes need to address mental health. obviously, the people who do this kind of thing are sick in the head. So I don’t understand why politicians are so focused on gun control, and not so much on taking care of people who are mentally ill.

  • droidologist

    It should be a criminal offense to disarm your workforce like they did at the Naval Yard. This shooting, by one account, took thirty minutes to conclude! In the first few seconds you have panic and shock, but after that someone should have been able to do something! We should be able to prepare for it, and then react when it happens. I even just read a book on it, Fight, Flight, or Hide, by John Forsythe, but I’m sure there’s lots of resources out there that would be just as helpful.