Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gun Violence Prevention is Not About Gun Control

A Pew Research survey released just before the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting reported more Americans care about gun rights than gun control. But they asked the wrong question, so they came to the wrong conclusion. Here's my attempt to set the record straight and help the cause of gun violence prevention. 

Published in Greenwich Time, Jan 4, 2015

The Pew Research Center reported that for the first time in over two decades, Americans believe it is more important to protect gun rights than it is to control gun ownership, by 52 to 46 percent.[i] The report received widespread coverage because it stands in stark contrast to the crisis of gun violence that claims 30,000 lives each year. But the premise of the question is flawed, as Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of political research, later admitted.[ii] It presents a false choice between regulating firearms and protecting Second Amendment rights.
It’s time to stop calling the efforts of the gun violence prevention movement “gun control.” Contrary to gun rights absolutists who call us “gun grabbers,” we are for reasonable regulation of firearms that keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous people.  We also believe in balancing public safety against individual rights with restrictions on highly lethal weaponry such as large capacity magazines and firearms designed for military use.
Asked in a way that appropriately frames the debate, Americans support our goals in far higher proportions than they support unfettered gun ownership. In a survey conducted for Everytown for Gun Safety, 63 percent of voters believe it is more important to make it harder for dangerous or severely mentally ill people to get guns than it is to protect the right to own guns.[iii] The leading reform to achieve this is background checks for all gun sales, supported by 92 percent of voters and 92 percent of gun-owning households.[iv]
The more disturbing statistic in the Pew survey is that 57 percent of Americans believe that guns do more to protect people from crime than put their safety at risk. Given this belief, it’s easy to see why many Americans bristle at the abstract concept of constraining gun ownership.
The fallacy is that people who believe guns make us safer are dead wrong. If it were true, the U.S., with 300 million civilian-owned firearms, would be the safest country in the world. Not by a long shot. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that across 27 developed countries there was no significant relationship between per capita gun ownership and crime rates.[v] What is true is that higher rates of gun ownership are associated with higher rates of gun deaths, with the U.S. at the top of the list for both.[vi]
The notion that guns make us safer is simply not true, especially when it comes to guns in the home. A study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center found “there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in.”[vii]  In fact, guns in the home make them more dangerous.
Guns are much more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense—up to 22 times more likely by some estimates[viii]. The toll on children and women is particularly high. According to data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, children are more likely to be killed by guns in the home than anywhere else, with four out of five deaths under age 16 occurring in the home.[ix] In domestic abuse situations the risk of homicide for women increases by 500 percent when guns are present. Over the past 25 years more intimate partner homicides have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined.[x]
In the face of these statistics, why do so many Americans oppose stronger gun safety laws? Two reasons: many don’t realize that gun laws work and many believe our laws are stronger than they are.
A study by the Benensen Strategy Group found half of voters favor stronger enforcement of existing gun laws over new laws.[xi] But, of the 50 percent favoring stronger enforcement, nearly half falsely believe current law requires background checks for all gun purchases and that assault weapons are illegal.
With so many gun deaths, it’s not surprising that people believe gun laws don’t work. But the problem is not too many laws that aren’t enforced, but weak laws that allow dangerous people easy access to firearms. For example, there is no federal law criminalizing gun trafficking[xii].
Evidence proves that gun laws work. States with stronger gun laws have half the rate of gun deaths than states with weaker laws.[xiii] Brady background checks, even with the private seller loophole, have blocked more than 2 million purchases by felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people.[xiv] In states with background checks for all gun purchases 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by partners.[xv]
State-level gun laws protect more than just their own residents. When Virginia limited gun purchases to one per month, the proportion of crime guns recovered in Northeastern states originating from there dropped by half in just two years.[xvi] When Colorado closed the gun show loophole to require background checks at gun shows its rank as an exporter of crime guns dropped from 17th to 32nd. [xvii]
We need to shift the discussion from gun control vs. gun rights to how reasonable gun laws make us safer. As Supreme Court Justice Scalia wrote in the Heller decision creating an individual right of gun ownership, “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.”

[i]      Growing Public Support for Gun Rights, Pew Research Center, December 10, 2014
[iii]    Rethinking “Gun Control,” Kevin Ingham, Huffington Post, December 17, 2014
[v]   Gun Ownership and Firearm-related Deaths, The American Journal of Medicine (2013) 126, 873-876
[vi]   Ibid.
[vii] Risks and Benefits of a Gun in the Home, David Hemenway, American Journal Of Lifestyle Medicine, February 2011
[viii]         Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home, Kellermann, Arthur L.MD, MPH, et al., Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 45 (1998): 263-67
[ix]   The Truth about Kids and Guns, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
[x]   Guns and Violence Against Women, Everytown for Gun Safety
[xi]   Don’t Know Much About Gun Laws, Joel Benenson and Katie Connolly, The New York Times, April 6, 2013
[xii]    Gun Trafficking & Straw Purchases Policy Summary, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, October 16, 2013
[xiii]         America Under the Gun, Center for American Progress, April 2013
[xiv]         20 Years of Brady Background Checks, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, February 2014
[xv]    Ibid.
[xvi]   New Jersey’s Useful One-Gun-a-Month Law, The New York Times, February 3, 2013
[xvii]             Trace the Guns, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, September 2010.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Democratic Losses in CT weren't about Gun Law

Following the midterm election, the Speaker of the CT General Assembly tried to pin the blame for Democratic losses on voting for CT's 2013 gun law. It was his way of shifting the reason from other issues on which Democrats were perceived to be weak. I was thrilled to see this published in the Hartford Courant, the country's oldest newspaper.

In the wake of last week’s Democratic losses in the CT General Assembly, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Democrats lost because they voted yes on SB1160, the 2013 gun safety reform bill[1]. Speaker Sharkey’s assessment of the political risk of supporting common-sense gun laws is patently false.
Of the 106 Senate and House candidates who voted yes on SB1160, more than 90 percent were re-elected[2]. Gun regulation wasn’t a key issue in several of the contests where incumbent Democrats lost, so it’s disingenuous of Mr. Sharkey to blame their losses on support of gun violence prevention.
In the gubernatorial race, Gov. Malloy made unwavering support for the landmark legislation a centerpiece of his campaign. Grassroots gun safety advocates across the state were outspoken in their support for the governor. Malloy’s opponent Tom Foley did just the opposite, embracing extremist gun owners and taking an openly hostile position on gun safety reform. Foley went so far as to say he would not enforce aspects of the law[3] and would repeal it if given the opportunity. 
Foley’s pro-gun strategy failed. He received nearly 40,000 fewer votes than in his race against Malloy in 2010.  Malloy increased his margin of victory over Foley fourfold, with gains coming from around the state, not just in urban areas[4]. Compared to the 2010 campaign, the significant new policy debate was the gun law.  On that issue the winning strategy was Malloy’s. As U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal remarked,  “there are rewards for common sense and sensible solutions, particularly in the area of stopping gun violence.”[5]
On the Democratic side, Speaker Sharkey is a lone voice in blaming Democratic losses on support of gun safety reform. In contrast, GOP leaders have not been shy about calling the state GOP party to task for running a pro-gun candidate in a state still recovering from the Sandy Hook school shooting. But for its poor choice, noted former U.S. Representative Chris Shays, Malloy’s advantage on the gun issue could have been neutralized.[6]
Speaker Sharkey’s thesis is further refuted by the outcome on the other side of the aisle. Every Republican House member who voted yes on SB1160 was re-elected. The only incumbent Republican to lose was Mike Molgano, who voted against the 2013 gun bill. His opponent, Caroline Simmons, a 28 year-old newcomer to elective office, made gun violence prevention a prominent message in her campaign.
In Congressional races, first term U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty, a vocal advocate for stronger gun regulation, overcame a challenge from Mark Greenberg, an NRA “A” rated candidate who is more concerned with limits on Second Amendment rights than protecting us from gun violence. In his 2010 Congressional campaign, Greenberg wrote “I will ensure that no bills violate our Constitutional Rights as lawful citizens to own and possess firearms.”[7]
The NRA and its local ally, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, whose endorsement Tom Foley eagerly accepted[8], lost decisively in Connecticut.
But it wasn’t only in Connecticut that voters expressed their support for reasonable regulation of firearms and the candidates that champion gun safety reform. It happened around the nation. Despite spending nearly $5 million in Colorado advancing its “guns everywhere” agenda[9], the NRA was not able to unseat Gov. Hickenlooper, another sponsor of strong state-level gun law reforms.
In Washington State, a solid 60% of voters approved a universal background check referendum despite a counterproposal designed by the gun lobby to confuse the issue. In Cook County, Illinois, an overwhelming 86% of voters approved a tough sense-of-the-electorate measure calling for universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines[10]—key elements of the law that Gov. Malloy signed last year.
Despite Speaker Sharkey misreading election results, we cannot overlook his instrumental support in passing the tough measures following Sandy Hook, or his recognition that lawmakers showed integrity by voting yes on SB1160. I look forward to the Speaker’s support when Gov. Malloy follows through on his proposal to close the loophole that allows domestic abusers with temporary restraining orders to keep and buy guns.[11]
There is still legislative work to be done to reduce gun violence. If last week’s election showed anything, it’s that being on the right side of protecting communities from gun violence is also good politics.

[1]   CT House GOP - Most Members Since 1994, Hartford Courant, 11/5/14
[2]   99 of the 106 House and Senate incumbent candidates who voted yes on SB1160 were re-elected. Analysis by CT Against Gun Violence.
[3]   CT gubernatorial debate, 8/27/14
[4]   6 Reasons Malloy Did Better in 2014, Hartford Courant, 11/6/14
[7]     Mark Greenberg campaign website
[8]     Connecticut gun rights group backs Foley, Washington Times, 8/29/14
[9]     7 Big Gun Fights to Watch on Election Day, Mother Jones, 10/30/14
[10]   It Was a Great Night for Gun Reform, The Nation, 11/5/14
[11]   Dan Malloy, Tom Foley: Close Gun Loophole, Hartford Courant, 9/18/14