Saturday, December 15, 2012

Guns, the N.R.A., and the politicians that enable them

The American Academy of Pediatrics  has some statistics they would like Americans to be aware of:

1.  Every two hours, someone's child is killed with a gun, either in a homicide, a suicide or as a result of an unintentional injury.

2. An unmeasured but large number of children are seriously injured - often irreversibly disabled - by guns but survive.   One in every twenty-five admissions to pediatric trauma centers in the United States is due to gunshot wounds.

( Please read their rules for gun safety.)

The pediatricians' research has found that talking to parents about guns and gun safety is a good practice; the parents may wise up and improve the safety of the guns they have at home.  E.g., a recent paper is referenced here.  Pediatricians regularly talk to the parents of their patients about  safety issues surrounding automobiles and swimming pools.
Which is why pediatricians have to be so nosy. They ask all sorts of personal questions, delving into family diets and discipline and urging caution around swimming pools and street crossings. They remind parents to make their kids wear helmets when biking and stay in booster seats even when big kids complain they’re too babyish. They also ask whether parents keep guns at home and whether they’re stored safely — with the ammunition and the firearm kept separately in locked cabinets, the key tucked away from children.
But the N.R.A. took offense, and in Florida, the state of some of the craziest Republicans that the N.R.A. has in their pocket, they had a law passed in 2011, that penalizes physicians from inquiring about gun ownership.  A doctor could lose his license and face a fine of upto $10,000.   The Florida Medical Association originally opposed the legislation, and then caved, and supported the bill.

Fortunately, the Florida chapters of three physicians' organizations (the American Academy of Family Physicians , the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians, with support from the American Medical Association),   and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence challenged the law in court, and won a stay from a federal judge.
“Despite the State’s insistence that the right to ‘keep arms’ is the primary constitutional right at issue in this litigation, a plain reading of the statute reveals that this law in no way affects such rights,” wrote U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. “A practitioner who counsels a patient on firearm safety, even when entirely irrelevant to medical care or safety, does not affect nor interfere with the patient’s right to continue to own, possess, or use firearms.”
Just how insane the N.R.A. and the politicians it has in its pocket should be evident by now.   The N.R.A. does have members who seem sane, (e.g., here ) but because they do not reign in their organization, they are culpable for its insanity, and the insanity of gun violence in the U.S.A.

PS:  In India, people weep over the violence in the 1990s and later in the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency.  But on a per capita basis,  Thomas A. Marks (Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Vol 12, No. 3 (Autumn 2004), pp. 122-143) makes the observation:

Indeed, the internal war in J&K, when scaled, does not begin to approach the levels of criminal violence present in those US metropolitan areas best known for their murder rates. The ‘death count’ in Jammu & Kashmir for 2003 stood at 836 civilians, 1,447 militants, and 380 security personnel.  If this violence is aggregated (2,663), which is unorthodox but certainly presents the worst possible statistical picture, it scales out at 24.5:100,000 population.  This would place Jammu & Kashmir between Memphis (24.7:100,000) and Chicago (22.2:100,000), in the 2002 murder rankings when examining American cities with populations greater than 500,000, well off the pace established by the likes of Washington, DC (45.8:100,000) or Detroit (42.0:100,000).
Think about it, it really opened my eyes:  the level of violence that led to fears of the break-up of India is tolerated as a normal phenomenon in the US of A.  A national emergency it is not!

Kieran Healy @Duke University made this graph of deaths due to assault in the USA and other OECD countries (read about it here), which shows that while the US is much improved, it still is incredibly violent compared to its peer group of countries.  (It may well be that the violence leads people to cling on to their guns out of fear, thus enabling perpetuation of the cycle of more violence and more fear).

There is no easy solution, but we cannot shrug away this problem.