“Bystanders got to Loughner and subdued him only after he emptied one 31-round magazine and was trying to load another.”

—Larry Burns, Federal District Judge who sentenced Jared Loughner to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years for his shooting rampage in Tucson.

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Twenty-two states have no laws requiring adults to keep guns out of the hands of unattended small children.

Map illustrating states with CAP laws and states with no CAP laws

Map illustrating states with CAP laws and states with no CAP laws

These infographics attempt to illuminate the complexities of ammunition, in the interest of informed debate about possible new legislation and regulations.

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The policy proposals that President Obama announced on Wednesday (organized by category here) outlined a wide-ranging agenda, including twenty-three items that could be implemented through executive action and twelve recommendations for action from Congress.* The items are a mixed bag, ranging from immediately actionable ideas to proposals that may never make it through Congress. Some are vague (launching a national dialogue about mental illness) while others are very specific (confirming a director for the ATF).  In the coming weeks, PAGV will explore, seek input on, and respond in detail to the specific items. Here we outline a few of our immediate reactions as parents and concerned citizens.

  1. This is an important first step. It is gratifying to see the President both take direct action on a number of important gun-related matters, and publicly initiate the conversation about what needs to change to address the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in the United States.
  2. We strongly agree with the need for a comprehensive legislative and executive agenda, one that attempts to solve gun violence by addressing gun access, gun safety, school safety, societal factors, and mental illness.  Reducing the threat of violence to our children will clearly require such a broad-based, comprehensive effort. Any flaws in individual proposals do not invalidate the entire effort.
  3. There will be something for everyone to like, and for everyone to hate, in the proposals.  Given the current political climate, this may be inevitable.  Due to the absence of thorough research into the causes and effects of gun violence, there is little agreement about its remedies, beyond a desire to see it end.  To some, allocating $10,000,000 to research the connection between video games and violence seems like the worst kind of pandering to the NRA’s “it’s-everything-but-the-guns” narrative. To others, requiring background checks on all gun sales seems like the first step in a government takeover.
  4. Some of the proposals concur in fundamental ways with recent policy proposals from Parents Against Gun Violence. One of the executive orders, for example, directed the Centers for Disease Control to initiate research into the health effects of gun access (PAGV Policy Plank #2, Empower Researchers), while a proposal to Congress urges legislators to allocate $30,000,000 for schools to develop emergency-response plans (Policy Plank #5, Protect Schools).
  5. While President Obama implemented a number of executive actions, the biggest proposed changes will all require legislative action. All of the major funding allocations (with the exception of $20 million to encourage states to share background data) also have to go through Congress. In the coming weeks, concerned parents and citizens need to make sure that our voices and perspectives are heard in the legislative debates.

* Note that Obama actually signed only three executive orders (technically “presidential memorandums“) on Wednesday.  The 23 “executive actions” named in the Obama proposal describe general policy priorities that would not require Congressional approval for implementation. However, many of the proposed “executive actions” come far from implemented (or implementable) public policy at this point.

logo2Parents Against Gun Violence was founded by a nationwide coalition of mothers and fathers hours after the Newtown, CT killings.  In the weeks that followed, our members were busy collecting and studying scientific, peer-reviewed research on the causes of gun violence and gun accidents, and strategizing about how to reduce both.

At the same time, we have engaged in intensive dialogue with concerned citizens from across the political spectrum.  Through this process of research and dialogue, we have developed a set of five policy planks that we believe can gain support across the political spectrum, and that provide a comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence. We encourage all concerned citizens to contact their representatives, senators and any other elected officials as well to advocate for these policy proposals. If you would like to sign the petition promoting this platform, click on the Change.org petition here.

As parents, we urge lawmakers and the President to consider the following:

Policy Plank 1.) Empower law enforcement

a.) Approve Andrew Traver, President Obama’s nominee for Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives.  Without a leader, the Bureau is hampered in its ability to enforce its congressionally mandated responsibilities, such as investigating and prosecuting straw purchasers who buy guns for criminals. More »

In the next several weeks we will see new gun legislation proposed in both the House of Representatives (sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette and others) and the Senate (sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others). Both bills will call for restrictions on the sale of high capacity magazines.

For the thousands of Americans who die each year by gun suicide and gun accidents, these bills will have little effect—one bullet is enough to kill. There is ample evidence, however, to suggest that an effective ban on high-capacity magazines will reduce the number of deaths in gun homicides, especially in mass shooting scenarios.

This graph reveals the correlation between magazine capacity and number of casualties during mass shootings in recent history.

This graph reveals the correlation between magazine capacity and number of casualties during mass shootings in recent history.

A seven-year-long study of gunshot victims observed an increasing incidence of gunshot victims who had been shot multiple times. The proportion of gunshot victims with two or more gunshot wounds grew from 26% in the early 80s to 43% by 1990[1]. Over the same span of years, semiautomatic handguns like the Beretta 92 and Glock 17 were replacing the .38 and .357 caliber revolvers that had been the most popular handguns in the United States in the preceding decade. The ammunition capacity in a fully-loaded handgun rose from typically six rounds to typically 15 rounds, and shooters exploited that advantage, shooting their victims multiple times and increasing the likelihood of fatal injury.

Parents Against Gun Violence researchers have identified 37 mass shooting incidents (excluding robberies and armed confrontations) involving more than 6 victims in the United States since 1945. In 35 of 37, the perpetrators carried semiautomatic weapons. In 33 of 37, the perpetrators carried magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. In the recent mass shootings in Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown, the perpetrators sought out inordinately large magazines, including the 100-round drum magazine James Holmes used to shoot 70 people in a movie theater. These mass murderers clearly believe that a higher-capacity magazine will equate to more fatalities.

Opponents of the high-capacity magazine ban will point out that smaller capacity magazines can be rapidly exchanged, and will argue that such a ban will not slow or hinder a mass shooter. Online videos show expert shooters removing an empty magazine and replacing it with a fully loaded magazine with dazzling speed. Let’s remember, though, that these videos are impressive precisely because the reloading skills depicted are remarkably rare—it takes years of practice to achieve such proficiency, and the perpetrators of most mass shootings are young men with limited experience. There are cowboy trick shooters who can operate a single-action revolver or lever-action rifle with astonishing speed—but Annie Oakley doesn’t fit the profile of a mass shooter. We’re not seeking laws to stop Wild Bill; we’re seeking laws to stop Jared Loughner. More »

We’ve been covering a lot of medical association news related to the Newtown shooting and gun-related legislation, but that’s because we’re very focused on looking at what research can tell us about reducing firearm injury, and medical associations are closely involved with much of this research.

Just as the American Psychiatric Association issued their remarks last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent their own letter, which you can download here, to President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders on December 19.

The organization had published a report on firearm-related injuries affecting children in their journal Pediatrics in October, in which they wrote “The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to support a number of specific measures to reduce the destructive effects of guns in the lives of children and adolescents, including the regulation of the manufacture, sale, purchase, ownership, and use of firearms; a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons; and the strongest possible regulations of handguns for civilian use.”

Unsurprisingly, in their letter to political leaders, they were just as direct regarding policy proposals related to gun control, mental health and children’s exposure to violence:

•    ”New federal firearms legislation that bans assault weapon sales and the sales of high capacity magazines, strengthens mandatory waiting periods and background checks for all gun purchases and promotes strict gun safety policies is a necessary first step.
•    Next, the federal government must take action to improve access to services that meet the mental health and developmental needs of infants, children and adolescents, and ensures that children and families exposed to violence have access to a medical home and other community supports.
•    Finally, we must engage in a national dialogue designed to reduce children’s detrimental exposure to violence in their communities, environments and entertainment.”

We’ll be revisiting the full account of their policy report on firearms for a later blog post, but we also wanted to mention another article with similar recommendations. “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, which is published by the American Medical Association, also offered commentary related to firearm regulation. More »

As our organization has been working to uncover research related to firearm injury, we stumbled on to an article published last week in one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals that goes a long way to explain why we’ve found our task so difficult. In short, pro-gun members of Congress successfully gutted any funding into firearm injury prevention starting in 1996 and continuing through today.

Illustration by Svilen Milev

Illustration by Svilen Milev

The article, published December 21 in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), describes how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was silenced in the late 1990s when the CDC lost $2.6 million for research into firearm injury — and that was after Congress members failed to completely eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control as they had tried to do first.

It was no coincidence that the $2.6 million removed from the CDC’s budget in 1996 happened to be the direct amount previously budgeted for firearm injury prevention research. Though that precise amount was added back into the budget as the bill moved forward, it was “earmarked for traumatic brain injury.” The final bill even included the language “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Such expansive language basically shut down any firearm research at the CDC, lest such research be considered something that advocated for gun control and thereby cost them their careers. And it didn’t stop there. Two years after a 2009 study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism looked at the association between risk of firearm assault and carrying a firearm, Congress expanded the funding restriction to all agencies at the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health.

The article is worth a thorough read to learn just how successfully pro-gun members of Congress and the gun lobby have managed to completely shut down well-funded scientific research into prevention of injury and death related to guns. It’s true that violent crime and gun-related crime has been on a continual decline in the U.S. over the past two decades. But any crime is too much, and it’s reasonable to expect we might have made even more progress had our top public health researchers and health-related government agencies been allowed the opportunity to research how.