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petronius's Journal
petronius's Journal
December 16, 2013

There have been attempts, through means other than analysis of media

reports, to estimate the number of defensive ('good') gun uses that occur - these estimates vary pretty widely, and are plagued by the what-ifs (even in a real defensive use, there's no way of knowing what would have happened without the firearm being present). But it does seem clear that 'good' uses do occur, even if they're largely absent in the media.

For example, here's a source (see page 8) that reports 235,700 uses of firearms in defense against violent crime over 2007-2011, or ~47,000 per year. There's no way to know if the defensive attempt succeeded, or if it actually prevented death/injury that wouldn't have been prevented otherwise, but even the low estimates of defensive uses of firearms seem to be non-trivial.

If I had to guess, I'd say the the following:

  1. that the number of actual deaths prevented through the intervention of a firearm is smaller (perhaps by a lot) than the number of deaths (homicide, suicide, accident) that occur through the medium of a firearm;
  2. that the total number of 'bad' uses is greater than the total number of 'good' uses; and
  3. that the number of 'neutral' uses (not crime/accident, not defense) vastly outweighs the other uses put together...
December 12, 2013

I've been pondering that a little bit, and it reminds me of the old saying

about academia, that the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. On the internet in general you see so much energy (mental and emotional) expended in board/group wars and flamefests - battles for turf and message control and to get posts deleted, threads locked, opponents banned. Teams chosen, and enemies snarked at and antagonized.

I assume there are people who enjoy those things, but I imagine they generally would be in the troll and/or sociopath categories. For most people, it really doesn't look like a lot of fun. And there really aren't any stakes to be 'won'...

December 9, 2013

My impression* of full-fledged 'hunting' is that it involves a wide range of

activities extending long before and long after the hunt itself, for example:

  • Before: training physically for the rigor of the hunt, mastering the gear to be used, studying the environment and habits of the prey species;

  • During: finding, tracking, stalking the prey, killing it humanely, field-dressing, packing out;

  • After: butchering, storing, cooking, consuming, washing the dishes.
My respect for a hunter goes up proportionally to the degree that they make an effort toward and have an interest in participating in every aspect of the hunt.

However, I get the sense that there are some 'hunters' on these safaris who are simply transported to where they can take a shot, and then go home with a photo and a chunk of dead beast for the wall. All I can see there is that the pleasure is in the killing-an-animal part, and that's contemptible.

It's perfectly reasonable to acknowledge that there are positive spinoffs to this behavior (local food, money, and conservation) while still despising the actions of the so-called 'hunter.'

* I don't hunt, except in the ocean with a speargun, so take my opinion FWIW...
November 21, 2013

Matthew Kressel: "The History Within Us"

On a wrist-mounted computer, Betsy Haadama watched a six thousand-year-old silent film. It was grayscale, overexposed, two-dimensional, and chronologically jumbled. On the film: a mustachioed man doting over his young son at a crowded zoo. A woman vigorously combing the boy's white hair beside a large piano. A family eating a large meal, candles burning on a table, men wearing yarmulkes, bodies shivering in prayer. A river, people swimming, women in white bathing caps and full-body suits. Men on rocks by the shore, pipes in mouths, smoke drifting lazily upward. A park, the boy looking down at a dead pigeon. Staring. Staring. Father picking him up, kissing him. In the sky, a bright sun.

A young sun.

"Pardon my intrusion in this time of ends," a Twirlover said, startling her. The Twirlover's six separate, hovering pink objects — like human knuckles — danced a looping, synchronized pattern in the air. "If it pleases you, will you share with me why you watch that flickering device so incessantly?"

In some parts of the galaxy one could be killed for being human. Betsy wasn't sure if this Eluder Ship was such a place. But death was coming for all soon enough. So why fear it now?

--- Snip ---

November 15, 2013

Some links regarding suicide and firearms:

There is a great big noisy thread in LBN regarding firearms and suicide, and there are a few links I thought belonged in here:

This NY Times Magazine article from 2008 was very interesting to me, and I thought worth the read.

Also, there's a lot of material at this Harvard (HSPS) Means Matter page, which DanTex posted in that thread. I was particularly interested in the Gun Shop Project, since I do think that gun store and range operators may be a viable point of intervention in some cases.

My take away is that it's important to understand how impulsive many suicide attempts can be, and how a delay or interruption (or survival) of a first attempt will often be life-saving. Intervention and removal of means is particularly important when the means is particularly effective (as firearms are).

I do not support policies that are intended to reduce, interfere with, or make more difficult gun ownership in general - even if the purpose is the laudable goal of suicide prevention. However, it seems that there are some strategies that are acceptable:

  • a brief waiting period (at least for a first gun purchase),
  • universal background checks (with efforts made to get everyone adjudicated to be a/in danger into the system),
  • suicide-prevention education and training materials for/at gun shops and ranges,
  • systems to remove firearms (temporarily, and with judicial protection) from those at risk,
  • help for families and caregivers in recognizing danger and reducing means,
  • obviously a much better health care system, and
  • most most most importantly careful thought about storage and access by individual gun owners...
November 15, 2013

I find it surprising (and sad, and a bit scary) how impulsive suicide can be,

and how short the interval between first ideation and attempt often is. That impulsive aspect is of particular concern when highly effective means like firearms are available to an individual.

It's also interesting how inaccurate the assumption of "they'll just try again / they'll just find another way" seems to be. Some - even many - people are acting so impulsively and are so fixated on a specific method that if you throw up some barriers, or interrupt the process, they may never try again.

This NYT Magazine article from a few years back was particularly interesting, I thought:

--- Snip ---

Beyond sheer lethality, however, what makes gun suicide attempts so resistant to traditional psychological suicide-prevention protocols is the high degree of impulsivity that often accompanies them. In a 1985 study of 30 people who had survived self-inflicted gunshot wounds, more than half reported having had suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours, and none of the 30 had written suicide notes. This tendency toward impulsivity is especially common among young people — and not only with gun suicides. In a 2001 University of Houston study of 153 survivors of nearly lethal attempts between the ages of 13 and 34, only 13 percent reported having contemplated their act for eight hours or longer. To the contrary, 70 percent set the interval between deciding to kill themselves and acting at less than an hour, including an astonishing 24 percent who pegged the interval at less than five minutes.

The element of impulsivity in firearm suicide means that it is a method in which mechanical intervention — or “means restriction” — might work to great effect. As to how, Dr. Matthew Miller, the associate director of the Injury Control Research Center, outlined for me a number of very basic steps. Storing a gun in a lockbox, for example, slows down the decision-making process and puts that gun off-limits to everyone but the possessor of the key. Similarly, studies have shown that merely keeping a gun unloaded and storing its ammunition in a different room significantly reduces the odds of that gun being used in a suicide.

“The goal is to put more time between the person and his ability to act,” Miller said. “If he has to go down to the basement to get his ammunition or rummage around in his dresser for the key to the gun safe, you’re injecting time and effort into the equation — maybe just a couple of minutes, but in a lot of cases that may be enough.”

It reminded me of what Richard Seiden said about people thwarted from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. When I mentioned this to Miller, he smiled. “It’s very much the same,” he said. “The more obstacles you can throw up, the more you move it away from being an impulsive act. And once you’ve done that, you take a lot of people out of the game. If you look at how people get into trouble, it’s usually because they’re acting impulsively, they haven’t thought things through. And that’s just as true with suicides as it is with traffic accidents.”

--- Snip ---

October 15, 2013

Gun-control advocates see 5150 holds as model

Having achieved something close to mythic status in California pop culture, the state's "5150" hold for people in psychiatric crisis is being looked at by national gun-control advocates and some experts as a way to get help for mass shooters before they open fire.

Named for the section where it appears in California's Welfare and Institutions Code, 5150 lets mental health professionals commit those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others to a care facility for as long as 72 hours.

--- Snip ---

Under California law, hospital admission in these circumstances triggers a report to the state Department of Justice's Armed Prohibited Persons System. Those who have been detained on a 5150 hold cannot possess or own guns for five years, though the law permits them to petition to regain firearms rights.

--- Snip ---

But gun-rights advocates say 5150's gun prohibition has come at a cost to individual rights. There is no provision in 5150 for a due-process type hearing at the front end, they say. While those held for 72 hours can move afterward to have their gun rights restored, the process can be time consuming and costly.

--- Snip ---


California is more active than most states, I think, when it comes to removing guns from people who may pose a danger as well as expanding prohibited persons to gun-related misdemeanors. This article seems like a pretty balanced discussion...
October 13, 2013

Giffords to attend gun show under NY sales model (SF Gate)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, is set to tour a New York gun show, the first such visit since she was shot.

Giffords and husband Mark Kelly, a former combat pilot and astronaut, are scheduled to be with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the Saratoga Springs Arms Fair on Sunday to highlight a voluntary agreement to monitor gun show sales and stricter state gun control law.

--- Snip ---

Under the agreements worked out by Schneiderman, all firearms are tagged at the entrances to gun shows. Operators must provide computer stations for sellers to do national background checks. Guns are checked as they are taken away through a limited number of exits to make sure background checks were performed. No buyers can leave a show without documentation of a proper sale.

Operators must also notify local police so they can patrol near shows watching for illegal sales. Schneiderman also has a staff member at each gun show to work with operators to monitor compliance with the new gun control law.

--- Snip ---


Now that NY requires background checks on all transfers, this seems reasonably efficient...
September 19, 2013

If you say pharmacy rather than convenience store, it would be arguable

Licensed firearms dealers are required to keep a bound record of every gun they bring in, and every gun that goes out. This data is kept indefinitely, and handed over to ATF when the dealer goes out of business.

Sales Records: FFLs are required to maintain records of the acquisition and sale of firearms indefinitely. The dealer must record, “in bound form,” the purchase or other acquisition of a firearm not later than the close of the next business day following the purchase or acquisition. The dealer must similarly record the sale or other disposition of a firearm not later than seven days following the date of such transaction and retain Form 4473, the Firearms Transaction Record. When a firearms business is discontinued, these records are delivered to the successor or, if none exists, to the Attorney General


ATF does conduct inspections to ensure compliance with this requirement, and can revoke licenses if necessary. However, ATF can only inspect each dealer once a year, and doesn't have the ability to do them all - most dealers will be inspected maybe every 5 years. And ATF does find that non-trivial numbers of firearms drop out of inventory. (This, IMO, is another area where more funding and more thorough enforcement of existing law would be a good thing.)


The inventory issue I think you're referring to is that, while FFLs are required to keep those bound records and are subject to inspection, ATF can not require FFLs to conduct an annual physical inventory to detect missing firearms. This is one of the Tiahrt Amendments (MAIG links to the 2010 text, the inventory prohibition is at the bottom of the big yellow chunk). So without an actual inspection, it's made more difficult to detect firearms missing from dealer inventory.

FWIW, I don't understand the reason to not require dealers to do an annual inventory and note any absences - it sort of seems that most normal businesses would be doing that anyway...

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