Let’s fix the larger gun death problems

Mass shootings are very tragic and heart wrenching. Homicides are also tragic. Yet, the biggest gun problem and another tangible and avoidable problem make up between 60% and 70% of annual gun deaths in America. The lion’s share of gun deaths in America are suicides. Last year, over 23,000 of the 38,000 plus gun deaths were suicides. This ratio is not unusual and tracks pretty well year in and year out.

The other much smaller, but more avoidable gun death problem is accidental shootings. And, tragically the ones doing the shooting or getting killed are children who come across a weapon. To lose a child is the worst nightmare I could possibly imagine. But, to lose one because you did not put away your gun, is even more traumatic. The gun owner has to live with the guilt. While accidental shootings are about 2% of gun deaths, they seem to be ones we should be able to avoid irrespective of one’s fervor for the 2nd Amendment.

After each mass shooting, there is concern registered by kids and parents about not letting this happen again. The people for and against more gun control go into camps with some saying now is not the time, while the others asking when is the time. I must give a huge amount of credit to the Parkland kids and others around the country who are forcing action. But, outside of a little lip service in Washington, nothing tangible happens. They may regret inaction come November.

These past few months, the barest of minimum change was done, but there was the President of the United States speaking before the NRA convention last week. He was the one who taunted Congress representatives for not standing up to the NRA. These were obviously just words, which we should be used to by now. With this said, I do give kudos to Florida who acted a little more demonstrably than DC.

To prevent more suicides, background checks on all sales with elongated waiting periods are needed. Doctors must be permitted to ask patients if there is a gun in the house as the propensity for suicide is much higher than one without. All it takes is an impulse and it is over. We must add more psychologists and counselors to schools. The greater gun risk is a depressed student taking his or her life. And, we should expand Medicaid in the remaining 18 states along with its mental health benefits.

As for the accidental shootings, the majority of states require guns to be locked up at home, but why do not all states have such a requirement? I have shared this before, but I asked my father-in-law to lock up his weapon, as I did not want his grandkids around a loaded weapon. He did so. One idea that has merit is requiring a finger printed trigger, where only the owner can use the weapon.

Please note that none of the above speaks of taking weapons away. These steps would help reduce the number of suicides and accidental shootings. Even if the number is only 100, 500 or 1,000, those are lives saved. Isn’t this what it’s all about?

 

 

You see something, say something only works…

It is hard to get involved when it could be indicting of someone. But, we are encouraged to do so, if we see looming danger, a threat to many people. The term often used is “if you see something, say something.”

On several occasions the last year or so, people called in to local or federal officials to register concern over the mass murderer who killed seventeen students in Parkland, Florida. Some even explicitly noted they feared he would shoot up a school. Yet, only a modicum of steps were taken.

Law enforcement needs to recognized how hard it is to get involved. It is harder when the possible backlash of the person being accused exists. I realize we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. With that said, the specificity and rationale for the concerns had veracity.

As people dole out reasons and look for single answer solutions for these and other kinds of gun deaths, we must understand how the holes in the Swiss cheese aligned to let a killer pass through.

Finally, we should recognize that 2/3 of all 30,000 plus annual gun deaths in America are suicides. We must look at all reasons for gun deaths (not just the mass shooting of the month) to craft good solutions to make us safer, including better governing the requirements to get and own a weapon. So, if someone takes the time to call a law enforcement or social worker official with concern over a person who is a threat to themselves or others, please exhaust all means of investigation and make sure we have resources where most effective. Otherwise, people may die.

 

Terrorists are the least of our concerns for violence

Since we are in the middle of a Presidential race, those out of power tend to use the politics of fear to terrify people that they are best suited to handle things. In my long voting history, I also have seen fear used when your story is not as good to tell. This is especially true with our economy doing pretty well, the stock market more than doubled and unemployment down to 5%.

We are told that our country is not doing enough to fight terrorists. And, we need to be hyper vigilant that terrorists will attack again in America like they did in California five months ago or in Paris, Belgium or Africa. The fear is based on some merit, which is why this election model works. Dial the fear up as much as possible. Forget the words of FDR who said “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”

Yet, what the continuing, day after day news stories show us, the much greater fear in America is gun deaths from Americans. We now have more guns than people in America. Think about that for a second. Just this past week, horrible gun deaths occurred in Ohio and Georgia. More law enforcement people were killed and people were shot at a prom in Wisconsin.

But, those are the event stories. Something bad happened en masse, so it is reported as it should be. The greater gun death problem is what happens everyday. Pick up any paper, any day of the week and count the gun death stories. Or, make yourself very sad and Google “toddler kills parent” or “six-year-old shoots four-year-old” and count the stories.

Or, think for a minute about what does not get reported, the greater tragedy in America with gun deaths – suicide. Over 2/3 of our gun deaths in America are suicide. A home that has access to weapon is far greater likely to house a suicide than one without. We have some states who are enabling students at college to have weapons on campus, where the rate of depression is higher than in general society, as a hoped for nirvana is not found on campus or kids feel they have disappointed their parents by failing. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

The President has said failing to gain any common sense action from Congress on guns is his greatest frustration. I share that frustration, but I blame Congress who is too influenced by the NRA’s money to do what Americans have told them to do in surveys – background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. The “fog a mirror” gun sales at shows has got to stop. When a fourteen year old boy cannot buy cigarettes, porn or beer, but can walk out with weapon, that is a shame (this was a done as a demonstration project).

Guns do not kill people. People with access to guns kill people. But it is not just guns, so that argument is sound. It is the lack of civil discourse. Having access to a gun in bar is an unhealthy mix with alcohol and testosterone. It is the we/ they culture we have in news, politics, religion, entertainment and sports – we must divide us into factions. We cannot argue civilly, we have to do it angrily and a loved one, friend or acquaintance is dead because someone had access to a weapon.

It is the increased poverty which leads to crime filling the void. It is the increased amount of drug usage which begets crime. It is entertainment violence which desensitizes us to gun death. In the case of suicide and some mass shootings, it is not getting treatment for depression or other mental illness, although I want to avoid the perception that if you have a mental illness you must be a danger to others. And, it is due to the increased number of domestic terrorists groups who are hate groups.

We need the parents in legislatures to push the others to act. Those who don’t say “doing something won’t solve the problem.” But, it is obvious doing nothing at all won’t either. And, that is what our Congress is known for. Doing nothing at all.

 

 

Mental Health is one reason, but that means…

After the most recent mass shooting tragedy at Umpqua Community College, the new defense that it is not a gun problem, but is a mental health problem, have arisen. This is not an either/ or debate, as both are problems, but it is even more than that. But, let’s keep it simple and focus on mental health side for now, as there are some very telling things that need to be addressed.

Of course, someone killing people like this is indicative that there is likely a mental health issue. Even if the killer was aligned with a domestic terrorist group, wanted to commit a hate crime, or tried to start a race war as was the motivation in Charleston, SC, there is a sociopathic problem where the killer believes he is justified to do this.

Yet, as tragic as these types of mass shootings are in the US, the most prevalent reason for gun death is clearly a mental health concern and that is suicide. Suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths and are the leading cause of death in nine of the top ten states for gun deaths. Also, homes with a gun have a much greater propensity toward suicide than homes without a gun. All it takes is one impulsive act and it is over.

So, yes improving access to mental health is important. Denying access or restricting access to guns for those who have mental health issues is also a concern. Yet, that means you should not advocate actions to the contrary. What do I mean by this?

The folks who are shouting the loudest that this is not a gun issue, but is a mental health issue, have taken steps to block the path to addressing the mental health aspects, sometimes overtly advocating a policy change to make it easier to kill with a gun. The easiest example is the NRA, through the conservative group ALEC, has been supportive of state legislation that will make it a crime if a doctor asks a patient if he or she owns a gun. These laws are being considered in several conservative led states and have passed in a few.

So, think about this. The NRA, who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, advocates that a doctor cannot ask a presumably depressed patient if he or she has a gun at home. Maybe this doctor is already prescribing Lexapro, Risperdal or Seroquel, but the NRA and ALEC want to say it is a criminal act that the doctor inquires whether the patient has access to a weapon. Again, two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicide. I think it is well within the domain of the doctor to ask these questions.

But, it goes further. The retiring US Speaker of the House struck language earlier this year to some funding of looking at health care data in the US. He felt it was not appropriate to track gun death data as that was not germane to health issues. Please reread this statement as it takes a second to sink in. A conservative leader, whose party is heavily influenced by the NRA who says gun deaths are a mental health issue, does not want to spend our money to track reasons for gun deaths.

Finally, access to mental health care is key to this process. How are you going to do it? A behavioral psychologist, I used to work with, who helps employers design mental health wellness programs cites the following two statistics. 1 out of 5 people will have some level of depression during their lifetime. She also says that you can pick up any large employer’s health claim data and 1 out of 10 plan participants would be on depression medication. So, the need for access to mental health care is critical. The beauty is the Affordable Care Act provides more people with access.

Yet, the people who say gun deaths are more of a mental health issue also want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If this is done, what would they propose to make sure access to mental health care exists? The ACA is successful in getting uninsured people access to health care, including mental health care. My recommendation is if this is what they believe, then they should do what most Americans want and continue the ACA and improve it.

We obviously need better gun governance. Two keys are detailed background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. Per various surveys, there is a clear majority of Americans who want these, even conservative voters. The waiting period may help save a life, as if someone is depressive, the wait may allow the impulse to wane. Yet, both of these steps along with some others, could help make a difference in gun deaths.

Yet, mental health is a concern. But, that means we should not restrict doctors from having conversations with their patients about guns, especially if they are treating a patient for depression. That means we should track gun death data and use it to make informed decisions. And, that means we should promote the access to mental health care through the Affordable Care Act. To do otherwise on any of these three issues, is highly hypocritical. Saying mental health is a concern and then doing the opposite is antagonistic to solving the problem. It has to be more than words.

 

Just a typical day in the news – shootings abound

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post regarding recent headlines on various shooting deaths that had appeared in recent press. The post can be accessed with the link below to “And the band played on as more people are shot.” In that post, I referenced that you could test my theory and pick up any paper on any day and count the number of gun deaths. So, with that in mind, here are domestic gun related headlines from the March 31, 2015 edition of The Charlotte Observer.

– 2 arrested after firing shots at Waffle House

– Man charged in Anson killing

– Mistaken identity murder case goes to jury

– Man charged after boy 8, shoots friend

– Officers named in Gaston County shooting

– Robbery suspect demands his charges be dropped (this relates to a slain couple)

– Youth group invites peers to discuss suicide

The above includes six stories about gun deaths in a metro area that counts about 2 million people. The last story is not specifically about a gun death, but I included it as it is trying to prevent gun deaths. With the significant abundance of gun deaths in America related to suicide, prevention has to be a part of the equation. It noted that “More than 1 out of seven Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school students said they had seriously considered a suicide attempt in the past 12 months…according to a recent Youth Risk Behavior Study.” With homes owning a gun having 3x the rate of suicide as homes without a gun, this is should be alarming to parents.

Test my theory with your own paper. Pick a day and count the gun stories. Better still, track them over a week or month. The end result is we have to do a better job of gun stewardship and governance. For politicians who say certain changes will not solve our gun death problem, the answer is neither will doing nothing.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/and-the-band-played-on-as-more-people-are-shot/