Monthly Archives: November 2016

Why Not Smart Guns in This High-Tech Era?

editorial, New York Times, 11/26/16

The Department of Justice has issued official guidelines for the manufacture of smart guns — weapons that, like smartphones, have technology to allow only the rightful owners to use them. The guidelines aim to “shape the future of gun safety technology,” as called for under an executive order issued in January by President Obama, in the face of Congress’s refusal to deal with the nation’s horrendous toll of gun deaths.

Nearly 7,000 children committed suicide with guns from 1999 to 2014, and thousands of people are killed every year with misappropriated guns. How many lives might be saved if guns were equipped with fingerprint scanners, radio frequency chips or other evolving technology that blocks anyone but the owner from using them?…

read more at New York Times


Gun Violence Prevention in the Age of Trump

As the dust settles from this election it is incumbent upon our group and other gun violence prevention groups to forge a strategy forward. This article, by ‘Mike, the Gun Guy’ gives cogent suggestions for strategy in an age when the NRA agenda, Washington and Harrisburg all seem to be in accord.

Now that the dust is slowly beginning to settle and the smoke slowly beginning to clear, Gun-sense Nation has to sit down and come up with a workable plan to drive the issue of gun violence prevention in the Age of Trump. Because at least for the next couple of years, until he really screws things up and/or everyone gets sick of his noise, the organizations and individuals committed to ending the senseless behavior that kills or injures 120,000 Americans ever year are going to have to figure out how and what to do with the lunatics in charge. So while I’m not suggesting that what follows should be adopted as an agenda by the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, I do hope that at least some of these ideas will at least be discussed as plans for the future of GVP begin to take shape.

There must be a dedicated and serious effort to prevent Gun-nut Nation from achieving its most fervent goal, namely, a national concealed-carry law that will be valid in all 50 states. And I am opposed to national CCW not because it would necessarily increase gun violence, but because it would make walking around with a gun just as normal and mainstream as driving a car. Which would lead to even less restrictions on the ownership and use of guns.
States and individual communities should be encouraged to more strictly regulate the most lethal guns. A town north of Chicago – Highland Park – banned the ownership of AR-style rifles by town residents following Sandy Hook and the ban was upheld. The Attorney General in Massachusetts banned purchases of black guns in the Bay State which unleashed a spate of lawsuits that will probably end up in the trash. Let’s remember that the 2nd Amendment protects private ownership of guns but doesn’t say anything about purchasing a particular type of gun.
Gun buyback programs work. The buyback program in Worcester, MA, has taken more than 2,500 guns off the streets of Worcester and surrounding towns at an average cost of $60 a gun. Let’s increase the buyback tariff to $150 a gun and see if 20 cities with high levels of gun-violence could pull 500 guns of the streets of each city every year. So it would cost $1.5 million to reduce the gun arsenal by 10,000 guns – that’s chump change for someone like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or (God forbid) the Clinton Foundation to pony up for collecting a really big pile of guns.
Start pestering school districts to mandate gun violence instruction in the primary grades. Guns don’t show up in high school; they first start appearing in the middle-school years. Massachusetts mandated an anti-violence curriculum several years ago but confined the instruction to lessons about bullying after several unfortunate student suicides took place. Shouldn’t they also have added a module on violence cause by guns?
Don’t stop talking about gun violence – no public forum is out of bounds. Public discussions about gun violence used to be of the moment, provoked by this mass shooting or that. The GVP community has gone far beyond rallying around the issue only when something dreadful takes place. But keeping the dialog going and increasing its volume is not something that should only occur in response to specific events. It should go on all the time.

Note that I did not mention the ‘usual GVP suspects’ like universal background checks or tightening up taking guns away in at-risk situations like suicide or domestic disputes. I didn’t mention these issues because there is enough momentum behind them now to sustain such strategies even when the chances for success are less positive than they were before. I just wanted to throw a few more items on the table because we need to attack this issue from as many different perspectives as we can, and let’s not forget that the next election is now less than two years’ away.

Women Under the Gun

How Gun Violence Affects Women and 4 Policy Solutions to Better Protect Them

Weak gun laws at the federal and state levels leave far too many women facing a fatal end to domestic abuse.

This report contains a correction. See page 1 of the PDF.

See alsoFact Sheets: Protecting Women from Gun Violence by Chelsea Parsons and Lauren Speigel

Violence against women looks very different than violence against men. Whether in the context of sexual assault on college campuses or in the military, violence by an intimate partner, or other types of violent victimization, women’s experiences of violence in this country are unique from those of men. One key difference in the violence committed against women in the United States is who commits it: Women are much more likely to be victimized by people they know, while men are more likely to be victims of violent crime at the hands of strangers. Between 2003 and 2012, 65 percent of female violent crime victims were targeted by someone they knew; only 34 percent of male violent crime victims knew their attackers. Intimate partners make up the majority of known assailants: During the same time period, 34 percent of all women murdered were killed by a male intimate partner, compared to the only 2.5 percent of male murder victims killed by a female intimate partner.

A staggering portion of violence against women is fatal, and a key driver of these homicides is access to guns. From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun—more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Guns are used in fatal intimate partner violence more than any other weapon: Of all the women killed by intimate partners during this period, 55 percent were killed with guns. Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than are women in other high income countries.

Limiting abusers and stalkers’ access to firearms is therefore critical to reduce the number of women murdered in this country every year. This idea is not new: Congress first acted 20 years ago to strengthen our gun laws to prevent some domestic abusers from buying guns. But we are still a long way from having a comprehensive system of laws in place at both the federal and state levels that protect women—and children and men—from fatal violence in the context of intimate and domestic relationships. This report provides an overview of the data regarding the intersection of intimate partner violence and gun violence, describing four policies that states and the federal government should enact to reduce dangerous abusers’ access to guns and prevent murders of women:

  • Bar all convicted abusers, stalkers, and people subject to related restraining orders from possessing guns.
  • Provide all records of prohibited abusers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
  • Require a background check for all gun sales.
  • Ensure that abusers surrender any firearms they own once they become prohibited.

Some states have already adopted some of these policies, and in the past 12 months, there has been a growing movement across the country to enact laws closing some gaps related to domestic abusers’ gun access in several states, including Wisconsin, Washington, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Minnesota.

This report collected and analyzed data from a variety of sources, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI; the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC; the Office of Violence Against Women; state criminal justice agencies; state domestic violence fatality review boards; and academic research. These data provide a snapshot of women’s experiences of violence in this country and show the glaring gaps in state and federal laws that leave victims of domestic violence and stalking vulnerable to gun violence. Many of these data have not been made public prior to the publication of this report and were collected through Freedom of Information Act requests. Among our findings:

  • In 15 states, more than 40 percent of all homicides of women in each state involved intimate partner violence. In 36 states, more than 50 percent of intimate partner-related homicides of women in each state involved a gun.
  • A review of conviction records in 20 states showed that there are at least 11,986 individuals across the country who have been convicted of misdemeanor-level stalking but are still permitted to possess guns under federal law. It is likely that there are tens of thousands of additional convicted stalkers who are able to buy guns.
  • While submission of records regarding convicted misdemeanant domestic abusers to the FBI’s NICS Index has increased 132 percent over the past five-and-a-half years, only three states appear to be submitting reasonably complete records—Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. Records from these three states account for 79 percent of the total records submitted to the FBI.

Every day in the United States, five women are murdered with guns. Many of these fatal shootings occur in the context of a domestic or intimate partner relationship. However, women are not the only victims. Shooters have often made children, police officers, and their broader communities additional targets of what begins as an intimate partner shooting. In fact, one study found that more than half of the mass shootings in recent years have started with or involved the shooting of an intimate partner or a family member. Enacting a comprehensive set of laws and enforcement strategies to disarm domestic abusers and stalkers will reduce the number of women who are murdered by abusers with guns—and it will make all Americans safer.

Arkadi Gerney is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Chelsea Parsons is Director of Crime and Firearms Policy at the Center.


Myths and Truths about Gun Violence in PA

By Jeffrey Benzing | PublicSource | Nov. 15, 2016

 Guns kill 1,400 Pennsylvanians every year. That’s a clear, round statistic, but it’s a complicated one, encompassing deaths in our biggest cities, small towns and rural areas. PublicSource has spent the last three weeks taking a closer look at these deaths and what can be done to prevent them. Solutions depend on better understanding. But with gun violence, much of what seems intuitive isn’t necessarily true, even with something as simple as identifying who’s pulling the trigger. To shine some light and dispel assumptions, here are answers to a few common questions.

We see murders every day on the news. Is that what’s driving gun deaths?

Gun murders tell a fraction of the story.

The repetition of shootings on the news is likely to give the impression that most gun deaths are linked to crime. That perception is not grounded in facts. The majority of Pennsylvanians killed by guns aren’t shot by dangerous criminals. They are ending their own lives.

Statewide, 465 people were killed in gun murders in 2014. Another 894 people died in gun suicides. Nearly double. And 85 percent of those suicide victims are white men.

“I think a lot folks think that it’s a city-only problem, and that is not true,” said Charles Branas, a professor of epidemiology who has studied gun deaths at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gun suicides have outnumbered murders every year in the 25 years of records listed in the state’s online mortality database. Recently, they’ve become even more common.

In 2001, 681 people died by suicide using a gun. That peaked to 914 gun suicides in 2013.

Meanwhile, 444 gun murders were recorded in 2001. These deaths swelled in the middle of the decade but were down to 465 in 2014. Not much of a change, with the vast majority of those murders clustered around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Have more guns made us safer?

That’s hard to say. More guns have certainly not reduced gun deaths.

Since 1999, the Pennsylvania State Police has published stats on the number of guns sold or transferred every year. We started at 396,709 in 1999. Last year, it was 755,764.

Total gun deaths rose from 1,183 in 1999 to 1,385 in 2014. Gun suicides rose about 30 percent in that period.

Explaining that increase is difficult. Experts caution against naming a single triggering event for a suicide, though common risk factors are depression, addiction, isolation and family strife.

Another risk factor: the availability of guns.

“We know for sure there’s a correlation between gun access and suicide,” said Dr. Lisa Pan, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, justifiable homicides are rare. A recent report from the Violence Policy Center references 51 justifiable homicides by firearm in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2013. Fifty-one out of 6,926 total gun deaths for that same period, according to state mortality figures.

These numbers would not account for situations where the presence of a gun prevented a crime but didn’t result in death. Estimates on those instances vary widely. Federal statistics show that those cases are fairly rare.

Is violent crime on the rise?

It’s a myth that violent crime is vastly rising. The national rate increased 3.9 percent last year, and murders increased nearly 11 percent, but much of that spike is attributed to a high number of killings in a few cities, such as Chicago, Baltimore and Milwaukee.

Pennsylvania saw a 0.1 percent increase in violent crime compared to 2014, according to FBI figures.

Pittsburgh’s violent crime rate was down 12 percent last year. Philadelphia was up 1 percent (though murders there rose nearly 13 percent).

Go back to 1990 in Pittsburgh, when gangs were beginning to take hold in the city. Our violent crime rate is down 48 percent from that time. Philadelphia is down 24 percent over the same period, though it had fluctuated in the years between.

How many guns are there in the streets of Pittsburgh?

In Allegheny County last year, residents legally bought or transferred 48,645 firearms. That’s double the number from 1999.

While buyers have to pass a background check, guns are also readily available on the streets.

A recent study by Anthony Fabio, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, found that nearly 80 percent of guns obtained by Pittsburgh police in 2008 were not held by their original owner.

Guns are stolen, borrowed or obtained after someone else clears a background check and passes the gun to someone who didn’t pass a check and possibly couldn’t.

“Anybody can get a gun. Very easily,” Fabio said. “I tend to not think about that as a black market. It’s part of our society.”

While Pittsburgh is safer overall, gun violence remains a persistent and concentrated problem in many neighborhoods. Victims are disproportionately black men, a discrepancy that has not changed in decades.

Is there no way to reduce deaths?

There are ways to reduce gun deaths. And they can work, but no one intervention can solve gun violence. In Pittsburgh, police are hoping to reduce gun violence by identifying residents they think are likely to be involved and connecting them to social services. Those that refuse could face charges if they’ve broken the law and police think getting them off the streets could reduce shootings and retaliation. A similar approach worked in Boston where homicides dropped drastically after violence swelled in the early 1990s.

With suicide, experts are struggling to even make the public aware of the risk. Because guns are used so often, prevention groups think lives can be saved if family and friends intervene to remove guns from the home of someone in crisis. That requires difficult conversations. A new effort to train employees at gun shops and shooting ranges to understand risk factors and promote awareness to customers could make an impact. It’s being tried in four states.

How many lives can be saved? We simply don’t know. What we do know is that gun deaths are more common than even 10 years ago, and that these solutions are only a start.


Armed Trump Supporters a very real concern at Polls

Trump message: OK to be a bully

As this election season mercifully winds up, it was interesting to hear Melania Trump speak
yesterday in Berwyn. Part of her message was about empowering children and women, and working  to prevent put downs and bullying-an admirable goal. The irony is that her husband is a text book case of acting  like a bully. His overreaction to any criticism brings out the worst in him, and even more so, the people who support him.
Short samples of a very long list:
*Megyn Kelly challenging him on his put down of women had him calling her a ‘bimbo’ and worse.
*Threats to sue the NY Times for publishing reports of his loss of $900 million dollars in 1995.
*Claims that Judge Curiel could not honestly rule on a Trump court case because of his Mexican heritage
*Attacking a Gold Star mother who lost her son to the war in Iraq as not being aloud to speak because of her Islamic faith.
The unfortunate reality is that Trump has attracted a large and loud group of people who, like their leader, feel unshackled to ‘speak their minds’ and not be inhibited by ‘political correctness’- i.e. permission  to say things like ‘Lock Her Up’ and ‘Trump that B____” and worse, in a loud, obnoxious way. Just this past  week, a fervent Trump supporter put a huge ‘Lock Her Up’ sign on his pickup truck and honked his way  up and down High Street in downtown West Chester… kind of like a huge ape beating his chest to prove his manhood.
Trump has infected the minds of many supporters into believing that they need to go ‘down to the polls  and challenge anyone they think many be trying to vote twice.’ In addition, we are an open carry state, so election day may have a significant number of Trump supporters openly carrying their AR-15’s, intimidating  people who will just be trying to do their civic duty. It is an ugly image from a candidate who has brought negativity,  conspiracy theories and bad behavior into the mainstream of our most cherished American institution, the right to vote.
I do not want to paint a broad brush and say that this describes all or even most of Trump’s supporters.   However, I do need to ask ‘Trumpeters’, why are you enabling such bad behavior in a candidate, and what kind of a  country will we have if Trump wins? I can and do believe that the majority of Americans will reject Trump’s  message of negativity, and that we will elect a competent person, like Hillary Clinton,  who can handle the job of being President.
It is truly frightening to think otherwise.

Tom Buglio

In the Kennett Spotlight: Mary Ellen Balchunis

from Kennett Area Democrats November 2016 newsletter

Candidate for PA’s 7th Congressional District

If Mary Ellen Balchunis is successful on Election Day, November 8th, she will leave the halls of academe in January for the halls of Congress. Running for U.S. Congress from Pennsylvania’s 7th District, Professor Balchunis teaches political science at LaSalle University, where she reminds her students that the government should always be, in the words of the Founding Fathers: “we the people, by the people.” Fearing that America is beginning to embrace “of the rich and for the rich,” instead, she decided she needed to run for Congress to advocate for restoring the nation’s original values.

One of the issues that is paramount in the Balchunis campaign is gun control. While she firmly supports the 2nd amendment, she believes in legislating the restrictions, which would curb gun violence. Further, she firmly supports background checks and a ban on assault weapons. An early proponent of gun control, she marched with her young daughter in the 2000 Million Mom March. Understandably, she seriously laments the fact that nothing has changed in the last sixteen years. It’s probably worse, because, as she says, “Congress is beholden to the National Rifle Association.”

When Mary Ellen Balchunis leaves the classroom to go to Congress, her constituents in 7th District can be assured that she will be guided by a singular tenet: Restore power to the people.

Submitted, Brenda Mercomes