By Helena Rho
Read more in Slate about gun control.
see video here:
What does the body of a 6-year-old girl look like after a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle’s high-velocity bullets rip through her? The average 6-year-old girl weighs about 44 pounds and stands around 3 feet 9 inches tall. The size of her organs and the diameters of her arteries and veins, bowel, and bones are much smaller than an adult’s. But a 6-year-old girl is not a miniature adult; her organs are more vulnerable and less protected by bones. So when a high-velocity projectile like a .223-caliber bullet, traveling at approximately 2,000 miles per hour, from an assault weapon like a Bushmaster AR-15, enters her body, all hell breaks loose. If that bullet pierces her chest wall into her heart, it will cause her heart to explode, and if it passes within 3 inches of her aorta, the shockwaves will tear it open. If it slices into her arm, it will shatter her humerus into so many fragments that it will no longer be recognizable as a bone. If it spirals into her brain, the cavity and damage the bullet causes will be so extensive that her head will break apart.
Guns kill kids. In 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,694 children and teens in the United States died because of a firearm. Another 15,578 children and teens were injured. Every 30 minutes, a child is killed or injured by a gun. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the largest organization of pediatricians, recommends that conversations about guns and gun safety start during a prenatal visit and be repeated every year as part of anticipatory guidance. Those conversations start with a question: “Do you own a gun?”
One Tuesday in the summer of 2010, at Children’s Health of Ocala, Fla., a pediatrician named Chris Okonkwo asked the mother of a 7-year-old patient, “Do you have guns in the home?”
Her response was unexpected: “None of your business!”
Okonkwo tried to explain why he was asking the question. He told the mother he routinely asked questions about safety regarding firearms, swimming pools, and bike helmets, to name just a few. He told her that if there was a gun in her home, it should be locked and any ammunition also locked and kept separately.
Instead she continued to yell at him, “Didn’t you hear what I said? None of your damn business!”
Okonkwo finished the rest of the physical exam, administered immunizations, and then informed the mother she had 30 days to find another doctor. He felt they were unable to establish a “relationship of trust,” given her refusal to answer questions about basic safety.
What happened in that pediatric office led an NRA lobbyist to sponsor legislation in the Florida State House. “Privacy of Firearm Owners” was signed by Gov. Rick Scott and passed into law on June 2, 2011. This law prohibits doctors from “making written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient.” It also prohibits doctors from “unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership during an examination.” But this law does not define what “unnecessarily harassing” means. The question Okonkwo asked could be construed as “unnecessarily harassing” if that mother filed a complaint with the Florida Board of Medicine. And Okonkwo could be censured and his license to practice medicine revoked, as well as fined up to $10,000. But this was a watered-down version of the law. The original bill called for more Draconian measures: a third-degree felony punishable by a fine of up to $5 million and a maximum of five years in prison. All for simply asking the question, “Do you have guns in the home?”
Days after the law passed, three physicians, Bernd Wollschlaeger, Judy Schaechter, and Tommy Schechtman, along with the Florida chapter of the AAP and other medical societies, filed a suit to block enforcement of the law. They sued Rick Scott, in his official capacity as governor of Florida, on grounds that the law violated the First Amendment right to freedom of speech for physicians and also violated the First Amendment right of patients to hear that speech.
Wollschlaeger is a family practitioner who makes house calls. Before he became a naturalized citizen of the United States, he served in the Israeli army and is intimately familiar with firearms. He owns guns and is a concealed-weapons permit holder. He used his personal knowledge of guns to relate to his patients who are gun owners to counsel them on gun safety. But the Florida Physician Gag Law, as the plaintiffs refer to it in their suit, changed his practice. He stopped talking about guns. Wollschlaeger used to be a member of the NRA. Now he feels the NRA has “metastasized into a lobby for the gun industry.” And the law, which was “all NRA proposed, all NRA sponsored, all NRA supported,” was a form of intimidation. Wollschlaeger doesn’t like to be intimidated. He volunteered to be a named plaintiff in the suit because “our voices and our words matter. We have to stand up for what is right.”
Schaechter is an expert on childhood injury and violence. She has practiced Adolescent Medicine for 16 years and is much too familiar with gun violence and teens. Most teens use guns in homicide and suicide, the second and third leading causes of death in older teenagers. Schaechter felt that the lawsuit was a way “to serve the nation” because it was an “opportunity to stand up for constitutional freedom.”
Schechtman echoes his fellow plaintiffs in his desire to do “the right thing” in bringing this suit. He is a pediatrician who has been involved in child advocacy throughout his career. He recalled an incident in his exam room when the mother of a patient denied the presence of guns in her home. “Yes, there is,” her teenage son interrupted. Unbeknownst to her, the father was keeping a loaded gun in the house. Schechtman counseled the mother on the safe storage of guns. He may have averted an episode of needless gun violence in his patient’s home. After the law passed, he did not stop asking the question, “Do you have guns in the home?” To him, “missing a child at risk for gun violence” outweighs “the risk of being censured.”
On Sept. 14, 2011, Justice Marcia Cooke granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the physicians and blocked the state of Florida from enforcing the gag law, and on June 29, 2012, she issued a permanent injunction. In her orders, she wrote, “The State has attempted to inveigle this Court to cast this matter as a Second Amendment case. 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. … What is curious about this law—and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners’ speech—is that it aims to restrict a practitioner’s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient. …” The state is appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where oral arguments await. Gov. Rick Scott in a press release said, “I signed this legislation into law because I believe it is constitutional, and I will continue to defend it.”
The NRA has proposed physician gag laws like the one that passed in Florida in several other states. In 2011, it sponsored legislation in Alabama, North Carolina, West Virginia, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. In 2012, the NRA was responsible for bringing to the Oklahoma senate floor a bill that required doctors to first obtain “informed consent” to ask about guns in the home before they could even ask questions about guns in the home. In Tennessee a house bill prohibited doctors from making a written or verbal inquiry about gun ownership. And in West Virginia, a house bill sought to amend the West Virginia Medical Practice Act so that doctors asking about guns would be the equivalent of “professional incompetence” and “gross negligence” and punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and the revocation of the doctor’s license to practice.
Gun violence is a public health issue. And the NRA has been disturbingly influential in public health policy. Since the 1990s, it has suppressed research in gun violence by targeting the sources of funding. In 1996, pro-gun members of Congress tried to eliminate the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. They failed in getting rid of the center, but the House of Representatives cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—the exact amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. And they added restrictive language on any appropriation to the CDC: “none of the funds available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” In 2011, Congress extended the restriction to include all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s leading medical research agency.
Astoundingly, the NRA was also responsible for a provision in the Affordable Care Act. Into this landmark health care law, NRA-backed legislators quietly inserted “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights.” This section bans doctors, health care programs, and insurers from “collection of any information relating to the presence or storage of a lawfully possessed firearm or ammunition in the residence or on the property of an individual.” This provision stifles research in gun violence, and it is so vaguely worded it could be interpreted to prohibit doctors from asking patients about guns. This provision was so alarming to the AAP and other child-advocacy groups that they wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services “vehemently” rejecting this provision in the ACA and urging the department to “craft policy” to “limit the harmful impact of this section of the Act.”
Since the Newtown, Conn., massacre, it appears as though the NRA is weaker than it has been in decades, and gun control is finally being debated seriously. President Obama has issued 23 executive actions on gun control. But the NRA, through its friends in Congress, has many ways to block meaningful action.
Among Obama’s executive actions, No. 16 states, “Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.” This clarification confirms that doctors should continue to practice preventive medicine. But it does not specifically lift the moratorium on data collection of gun ownership in the ACA, which directly affects research on gun violence.
Another executive action, No. 14 directs the CDC to “research the causes and prevention of gun violence,” which is intended to overturn the restrictive language on research-funding agencies. However, Congress needs to provide funding for gun violence research or it will not be supported. If the NRA continues to be influential with members of Congress, it will continue to affect public health policy.
Despite a permanent injunction blocking enforcement of the physician gag law, doctors in Florida remain wary. Okonkwo, the pediatrician involved in the circumstance leading to the gag law, says the permanent injunction may not be enough. He knows there is an appeal in progress. He counsels patients and their families about the safe storage of guns. But he does not ask the question: “Do you have guns in the home?”
Helena Rho, a former assistant professor of pediatrics, lives and writes in New York. You can read her work at helenarho.com.
Up to 100 children a year die from accidental shootings, research shows
Substantially higher figure of accidental US gun deaths recorded in gun control groups' research than suggested by federal statistics
Caroline Starks was 2 years old. Her 5-year-old brother was playing nearby with his birthday present: a .22-caliber Crickett rifle. His mother stepped outside for a moment, certain the gun wasn’t loaded. She was wrong. Caroline was pronounced dead a few hours later at the Cumberland County Hospital in Kentucky.
Despite harrowing tragedies like Caroline’s death, the National Rifle Association is committed to expanding firearm ownership among children. The NRA’s recent convention in Indianapolis included a “Youth Day” to promote firearms for children, an event from which the media was banned. For years, gun manufacturers and the NRA have marketed firearms to children ages 5 to 12, insisting that programs such as the Eddie Eagle Safety Program ensure the safety of children. If they truly believe this, they are mistaken.
The overwhelming empirical evidence indicates that the presence of a gun makes children less safe...
Guns Within Reach
More than 1.5 million children live in households where firearms are kept unlocked and loaded, and over 100 innocent kids are killed every year. Read this to make sure your child stays safe.
By Jeannette Moninger from Parents Magazine
Matthew Bellamy loved to hunt with his dad, Chip, near their home in Little River, South Carolina. "We started talking to him about the dangers of guns when he was 3," says his mom, Mylissa.
Safety was a top priority for the Bellamys. They always triple-checked their weapons to make sure they were unloaded and kept them locked in a gun safe. But these precautions didn't protect 11-year-old Matthew when he and a 12-year-old friend found a hunting rifle lying on a bed at the friend's grandparents' house three years ago. Assuming the gun was unloaded, Matthew's buddy, who also hunted, picked it up. As he handed the rifle to Matthew, it fired accidentally. The bullet struck Matthew squarely in the chest. He died on the way to the hospital. "We took the right steps to keep guns away from our kids and their friends," says Mylissa. "It never occurred to us to ask others whether they did the same."
With an estimated 270 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. -- nearly one for every man, woman, and child -- the odds are good that there's a gun (if not several) located someplace where your child spends time. If that fact doesn't give you pause, this one will: A study published in Pediatrics found that nearly 1.7 million children under age 18 live with a loaded and unsecured gun in the house. It could be on a closet shelf, in a drawer, or under a mattress -- where a child can easily reach it. Yet few parents raise the issue of firearms before letting their kid play at someone else's home. "Most parents who own guns are responsible about keeping them locked, unloaded, and stowed away safely," says Beth Ebel, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. "Yet nearly 40 percent of gun-owning households with children have an unlocked gun to which a child might gain access."
Understandably, the nation's focus has been on tightening gun laws in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults. However, the biggest threat to our kids' safety likely isn't assault rifles, a lack of school security, or weapons that fall into the hands of the mentally ill. It's the guns that are commonly found in our own homes. Each year, nearly 140 minors are accidentally killed and more than 3,000 are injured by firearms, most often at home or while visiting a friend, relative, or caregiver. About a quarter of victims under age 14 unintentionally shoot themselves. And, according to data from the Harvard School of Public Health, these estimates are certainly low, because many unintended shootings are incorrectly labeled as homicides.
Although the AAP recommends that all kids' environments be free of firearms, many loving families choose to own weapons. If yours is among them, it's your job to take every possible precaution (see "Take Our Gun-Safety Pledge," below). But you still can't let down your guard. As the Bellamy family learned too late, other gun owners may not be as careful, so it's crucial to protect your child.
Teach SafetyAnyone who's seen a preschooler use his thumb and index finger to "shoot" bad guys knows that weapons hold an innate fascination for little kids. "If a child finds a ball, he'll bounce it; if he finds a gun, he'll shoot it. The impulse is totally natural," says Dr. Ebel, who is also director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington, in Seattle. It can also be deadly: Studies show that kids as old as 12 have a hard time distinguishing real guns from play ones. That's why it's never too early to talk to your child about what to do if he sees a firearm, even if he thinks it's only a toy.
Since 1988, the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program has been promoting firearm safety in schools and youth groups as well as through law-enforcement agencies. Its main points: If you see a gun, 1. Stop. 2. Don't touch. 3. Leave the area. 4. Tell an adult.
Unfortunately, research shows that most kids can't resist the lure of handling a gun, even after they've been warned repeatedly not to do so. "Children can recite what to do if they find a gun and still do the wrong thing when it counts," says Raymond Miltenberger, Ph.D., professor of applied behavior analysis at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. As proof, he cites his studies published in Pediatrics, which showed that 4- and 5-year-olds who participated in verbal safety training didn't follow the correct procedure when they were left alone in a room containing a gun.
Nevertheless, it's better to have these types of conversations with your child than to ignore the issue of firearms entirely, as too many of us do. A poll on children's health conducted by the C. S. Mott Children's Hospital, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, found that 18 percent of gun-owning parents and 52 percent of non-gun owners have never talked to their kids about firearm safety.
Experts recommend that by the time your child turns 3, you should review regularly what to do if he discovers a firearm. Start by showing him photos of a handgun and a rifle. Tell him if he ever finds either one lying around, he is to leave the area and find an adult at once. Emphasize that he must never touch a gun. Then quiz him. Praise him if he knows the proper way to respond, and correct him if he doesn't.
For a child 6 or older, you should also discuss the differences between the make-believe images on TV shows or in video games and what truly happens when someone is shot. Let him know that even though they may look the same, real guns are very different from pretend ones. "Grade-schoolers need to understand that unlike in combat games or action movies, people don't get up and keep going after they've been shot," says Margot Bennett, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit education and advocacy organization. "There are no do-overs. Many people die."
“They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom, and they are absolutely essential to living the way God intended for us to live.”
The Raw Story
Data suggest guns do in fact kill people
PREPPING for an appearance on Dutch TV this week to talk about the new gun-control measures that take effect in Maryland starting October 1st has afforded me a priceless opportunity to watch lots of gun-rights videos. My favourite, I think, is Ice-T's appearance on CNN, where he seems not to grasp the concept of laws. ("I'll give up my gun when everybody else does," he says, with a wry, superior glare. Well, ah, yes. That's how laws work; they impose the same rules on everyone, all at once, to overcome prisoners' dilemmas like this one.) Another good one is this savvy, funny rabble-rousing speech by Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, at a rally in Idaho. Mr Rhodes opens up by scolding the crowd for being too lightly armed: "Where's your rifles? You know what your handgun is for, right? (Scattered crowd response.) To fight your way to your rifle!"
On a more serious note, conservative millennial pundit Ben Shapiro of Breitbart News had an interesting conversation after the Newtown shootings with liberal DIY news-show producer David Pakman. Mr Shapiro argued that it's hard to determine whether gun laws work, since less restrictive areas such as New Hampshire have low gun-violence rates while highly restrictive areas such as Chicago have high gun-violence rates. "It comes down to culture, and how do we inculcate a culture that really takes violence seriously and takes gun ownership seriously," Mr Shapiro says. "The truth is this: Britain has a lot of gun laws on the books, they have five times our violent crime rate."
That isn't the least accurate crime-stat quote I've ever heard, but it's not accurate, and more importantly it's very misleading. The total prevalence of violent crime in America in 2010, according to the National Crime Victimisation Survey, was 10.8 per 1,000 people; that is, you had about a 1.1% chance of being a victim of a violent crime. In England and Wales, according to the British Crime Survey, it was 3.1%. This makes England's violent crime rate three times as high as America's, not five times. That's still a striking difference. But counterintuitively, "violent crime", in both America and Britain does not include homicide. (Violent-crime stats are usually based on survey data rather than police reports, since many crimes are never reported to the police; but homicide victims tend not to respond to surveys.) Homicide is a separate category, and here the difference is startling: as we reported this summer, the homicide rate in America is four times as high as that in England and Wales. There were 622 homicides in England and Wales in 2011. In America, with a population 5.5 times as large, there were 14,022.
How much of that difference should be chalked up to the presence of guns? Well, gun-rights advocates often argue that there's no point taking away people's guns, because you can kill someone with a knife. This is true, but in practice people are nowhere near as likely to get killed with a knife. In America, of those 14,022 homicides in 2011, 11,101 were committed with firearms. In England and Wales, where guns are far harder to come by, criminals didn't simply go out and equip themselves with other tools and commit just as many murders; there were 32,714 offences involving a knife or other sharp instrument (whether used or just threatened), but they led to only 214 homicides, a rate of 1 homicide per 150 incidents. Meanwhile, in America, there were 478,400 incidents of firearm-related violence (whether used or just threatened) and 11,101 homicides, for a rate of 1 homicide per 43 incidents. That nearly four-times-higher rate of fatality when the criminal uses a gun rather than a knife closely matches the overall difference in homicide rates between America and England.
Then there's the related argument that people have a right to defend themselves against aggressors carrying firearms, and that if you criminalise gun ownership, only criminals will have guns (which is perhaps what Ice-T was getting at). That may be valid in the abstract. In practice, 0.8% of victims of gun violence say they responded to their attackers by either using or threatening to use a gun. Not much of a risk for the criminal, it seems. Perhaps that was because too few Americans own guns or carry them on their persons to have a substantial effect, but it's hard to imagine driving those numbers up much higher; Americans already own twice as many guns per person as any other nation. How many more Americans would need to carry weapons in public in order to create a serious criminal deterrent? Five times as many? Ten? Is this even possible, let alone desirable?
None of this should be particularly surprising. We know that overall, firearm deaths are lower in states with stricter gun-control laws. More recently, we've learned that the expiration of America's assault-weapons ban was responsible for a substantial portion of the subsequent increase in gun deaths in northern Mexico. It's really not terribly shocking that making it harder to get your hands on machines designed to kill people results in fewer people being killed. But we've worked very hard over the past few decades to convince ourselves otherwise.
Just the facts: Gun violence in America
The big picture:
of Various Subjects