Posts Tagged ‘Science!’


I wanted to be wrong about this

July 25, 2013

This gives me a cold sweat just to think about it, but I’m actually sad to see this appear in the news.

Annually, about five million patients stay in an intensive care unit in the United States. Studies show that up to 35 percent may have symptoms of PTSD for as long as two years after that experience, particularly if they had a prolonged stay due to a critical illness with severe infection or respiratory failure. Those persistent symptoms include intrusive thoughts, avoidant behaviors, mood swings, emotional numbness and reckless behavior.

Yet I.C.U.-induced PTSD has been largely unidentified and untreated. When patients leave the I.C.U., said Dr. O. Joseph Bienvenu, a psychiatrist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “Everyone pays attention to whether patients can walk and how weak they are. But it’s the exception for them to be screened for psychiatric symptoms like post-traumatic stress or low mood.”

Now critical care specialists are trying to prevent or shorten the duration of the mood disorders, which can rattle not only I.C.U. patients but their frantic relatives.

So there’s a million or two folks, each year, that may be suffering from PTSD from their experience. It beats being dead, I know. Been there. But still, not nice.

I spent a month in the hospital trying not to die from respiratory failure, that was chalked up to a viral pneumonia (still don’t know what caused it). Been long enough that I can’t remember the specific terminology but I think it was characterized as ARDS. I was also not taking any care of my health, so I know I brought it on myself to some degree. A month lost, took a while to recover enough physically to function, but it took a year to recover in my head.

“I.C.U. patients have vivid memories of events that objectively didn’t occur,” Dr. Bienvenu said. “They recall being raped and tortured as opposed to what really happened,” such as painful procedures like the insertion of catheters and IV lines.

The I.C.U. setting itself can feel sinister to patients, as if lifted from “The Twilight Zone.” The eerie, sleep-indifferent lights. The cacophony of machines and alarms.

I can recall one specific instance of nearly jumping out of my skin one day, when a radio program played the noise of a ventilator and I mistook it/recognized it as something out of a nightmare. Crazily enough, it was understanding that it was a ventilator noise that helped – the realization that these nightmare visions had some basis in reality, however distorted. But that’s just the most vivid experience I can recall, while awake…that was months after the hospital stay, those sedation drugs were long gone. I still feel sometimes, irrationally (and I know it), that some part of me died there and I lost something essential. That’s nothing compared to the folks all too willing to offer interpretations on what few details I did let spill to anyone at the time.

I don’t want to say more about it. Certainly not going to share this on Daily Kos like my gun violence diaries; better that nobody or almost nobody reads this. Even if it was in the NYT. But I have more evidence, more understanding. I wish that felt good, but it doesn’t. It just…is, and I don’t want to forget. The understanding, that is. Some parts of this I will never forget.


The NRA is just one part of a right wing campaign

March 1, 2013

[Although I may write more tomorrow, today I am actually looking at…a weekend! As my work schedule has flipped again. Today’s little rant is about how the NRA fits in so well with the right wing fringe, from reality denial to conspiracy theory to sneaky corporate backing.]

No, this isn’t shame — though it should be

David Keene, president of the NRA, was in New York yesterday for a rally against the recently passed gun control legislation passed by the state. Promising to do whatever’s necessary to get rid of politicians who oppose them, to the delighted cheers of what few tea partiers they could bus in for the publicity stunt, it was business as usual for the NRA.

Keene called them believers in the 2nd Amendment, making a somewhat religious argument for a fervent crowd. And the dog whistling about getting rid of their opposition by any means necessary didn’t hurt, either. I’m sure he would deny it, but Keene’s remarks are right in line with the threats coming out of the right wing, threats for anyone trying to make our society safer from gun violence.

So, I also read today a fascinating article by People for the American Way, which I found through Right Wing Watch, one of my regular stops for news of the extreme right wing. PFAW correctly places the NRA in the right wing, as part of the campaign to stop legislation intended to curb gun violence — they’re out to preserve the status quo, the ongoing slaughter, and they’ve got help.


This was the NRA president in Albany, on Thursday:

“Because of the fact that we, as believers in the Second Amendment, are willing to do something that most people in this country are not willing to do, which is not just to stand up for our rights, but to support those people who stand with us and work to get rid of those in public office who do not,” the NRA president told the crowd.“So we’re with you,” Keene added. “We’ll help you defeat the politicians that would deprive you of your rights. We’ll help you overcome these statutes in court. We’ll do whatever’s necessary to make certain the Second Amendment rights that we have had passed down to us are are going to be passed down to future generations.”

Also noted in the news piece was the crowd’s response, responsible, law-abiding gun owners all, chanting “we will not comply.” Now, the crowd bussed in for the NRA rally isn’t representative of gun owners in general, or even NRA members. There’s good reason for those ‘don’t tread on me’ flags waving in the video that can be found at the linked article. That crowd is the tea party, the far right fringe of conservatism.

Mathew Staver, anti-gay crusader

And that is where the NRA has made its bed, as shown in the PFAW article. For example, they begin with a quote from Mathew Staver of the Liberty Counsel, from back in January.

Radicals in power have already devoured our First Amendment right to Freedom of Conscience through ObamaCare and have repeatedly chomped on our Freedom of Speech in the ongoing “homosexual rights” campaign. Now these insatiable socialists are drooling all over our Second Amendment right to bear arms!

It should be fairly obvious, but the Liberty Counsel has a reputation for its anti-gay agenda, and it’s never a good sign when the SPLC takes an interest in a group like this.

The LC supports the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.[3] The LC also opposes efforts to prohibit employment discrimination against gay workers.[4] The LC further opposes ‘the addition of “sexual orientation”, “gender identity” or similar provisions’ to hate crimes legislation.[5] The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Liberty Counsel as being one of twelve groups comprising an “anti-gay crusade.”[6] The LC also devotes its time to fighting against same-sex marriage, civil unions, and adoption by homosexuals.[7]

PFAW offers a list, with examples, of the different strategies used by the right wing — not just against gun control, but for a variety of issues. And they show how the NRA fits right in with these conservative extremists. When it comes to reality denial, anyone familiar with the religious right’s campaign against evolution knows all too well about the tendency for creationists to deny the science. Or, as another example, climate science denial and the right wingers and corporate interests that support that entire industry. And then there’s the NRA, denying the obvious results of scientific research; that is, when they haven’t outlawed the practice of researching gun violence.

On issues from gay rights to climate change, right-wing activists stick stubbornly to their ideology even when it is clearly controverted by scientific consensus and other reality.  On gun violence, NRA officials  and their allies refuse to acknowledge that the availability of assault weapons and high-volume ammunition clips, or the lack of background checks for private sales of guns, are problems that make it easier for a shooter to kill more innocent people quickly.  They ignore evidence that stronger gun laws can and do reduce gun crimes. According to an October 2012 report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, “When states expand firearm prohibitions to high-risk groups, and adopt comprehensive measures to prevent diversion of guns to prohibited persons, fewer guns are diverted to criminals, and there is less violence. ”

Likewise, when it comes to shifting blame away from that which is precious to the right wing, the NRA is in excellent company. While Wayne LaPierre pulled out the old standards of blaming everything else in society but guns, the religious right stood beside them issuing sermons on their god’s judgment:

Religious Right leaders and right-wing pundits played their usual parts in the spin. Religious broadcaster James Dobson said the shooting was God’s judgment for the country turning its back on scripture and on God.  Franklin Graham said much the same: “This is what happens when a society turns its back on God.”  Radio host Steve Deece blamed public schools for promoting a “culture of death” and teaching students “there is no God and thus no real purpose to their lives.”  American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer said God wasn’t there to protect students because schools were not starting the day with prayer.  Newt Gingrich blamed “an anti-religious secular bureaucracy and secular judiciary seeking to drive God out of public life,” along with video games.

And that’s about…maybe half of the instances of blame-shifting documented by PFAW just for this one mass shooting. I’m reluctant to go looking back for more blame-spewing from back in 2011 after the shooting in Tucson, but I’m sure it’s out there for the googling.

There’s so much more in the PFAW article that I can’t touch on all of the ideas discussed within the limits of fair use. It is well worth your time to check it out. But they go on, and on. Hostility to compromise. Smearing opponents. Promoting conspiracy theories. None of this should be news to anyone following news of the NRA. Fickle loyalty to states’ rights — like when the NRA and ALEC push federal laws intended to force other states to abide by the concealed-carry laws of the most lax states in the union.

Ted Cruz, constitutionally challenged

Extremist interpretations of the Constitution — they cite Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in a piece from ThinkProgress, claiming reforms of gun laws violate the Constitution.

CRUZ: The reason we are discussing this is because of the the tragedy in Newtown. And every parent, my wife and I we have two girls aged four and two, every parent was horrified at what happened there. To see 20 children, six dults senselessly murdered it takes your breath away. But within minutes, we saw politicians run out and try to exploit and push their political agenda of gun control. I do not suppor their gun control agenda for two reasons. Number one, it is it unconstitutional.

Just as right-wing outfits like the NRA make a habit of reality denial, they bookend this by creating false perceptions of their own — like the mythology of their own political power. This is something I’ve written about before, but it bears repeating in the face of ongoing reality denial.

Indeed, the NRA did poorly in 2012, and not only with the millions it spent to defeat President Obama.  An analysis by the Sunlight Foundation found that less than one percent of the NRA’s political spending in 2012 supported candidates who actually won.  Early in 2012, Paul Waldman released a study of prior year elections and found that the NRA’s endorsement and spending had little impact on most races.  He challenges the notion – an article of faith among many Democrats – that Democratic support for the assault weapons ban gave control of Congress in 1994.  Waldman called the NRA a “paper tiger.”

This flies in the face of the perception that the NRA’s influence is what allowed Republicans to gain power in 1994, a myth that is perpetuated to this day, even here on Daily Kos. And it comes as no surprise that this myth is still defended, and reality still denied, even here.

But the NRA is demonstrably out of the mainstream. Their leadership is out of touch, even with their own membership. NRA members support background checks, and a majority of people in gun-owning households support the banning of high-capacity magazines for guns. The best they can do now is rally some tea partiers to their side. They belong with the rest of the right wing fringe. Their ideas deserve to be dismissed by liberals. And their influence, such as it is, shows weakness in political victories like Robin Kelly’s win in Chicago. Or in Maryland, where a new wave of gun control legislation ran a gauntlet of more than 75 amendments and votes meant to weaken it, and beat a filibuster attempt from Republicans, to pass in the state Senate.

The NRA deserves no pity or support here. They can be, they are being beaten. And in Congress, we have the opportunity to defeat the NRA again in the Senate. Keep the pressure on, and demand a vote.


Acts of desperation: NRA pushing lies and conspiracy theories

February 26, 2013

[…and we’re back! New week, more tales of NRA paranoia and fear. Are they really as frightened as they sound? Well, gun manufacturers could see their profits take a hit, so…]

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee has released the bills they will consider in regard to gun violence prevention. As legislative proposals like universal background checks and a new assault weapons ban come closer to getting the vote that the President has demanded for them, the NRA counterattack has become increasingly unhinged.

They seem to be testing the ability of fact-checkers to keep up with their lies, and today I see Media Matters has tackled a series of programs the NRA ironically titled “Media Misinformation”…in which the misinformation taking place is coming from the NRA.


To be fair, I can’t excerpt too much of the Media Matters article, and it’s worth the read for the variety of NRA mythbusting in it. But it’s clear that the gun enthusiasts have been busy. On their Cam & Company show, the NRA spokesman Cam Edwards has done several segments about “Media Misinformation.” Intended as some sort of media criticism, the NRA’s rebuttals are themselves founded on falsehoods and debunked by Media Matters.

   In five recent “Media Misinformation” segments, Edwards…        …cited the long-debunked research of criminologist Gary Kleck to claim that up to 2.5 million defensive gun uses occur each year while also pushing the false claim that loosening concealed gun carry laws reduces crime.

…falsely claimed that the United States ranks 28th among industrialized nations in terms of gun homicide rate when the U.S. actually ranks first in a more comparable study among high-income nations.

…used discredited research to attack an accurate claim by Mother Jones that guns in the home are more often used in criminal acts, accidents or suicides than for self-defense.

…made a flawed and anecdotal comparison to deny that increased gun availability is associated with increased firearm homicide.

…denied that a link exists between firearm access and suicide while suggesting that making firearms less accessible to a suicidal individual was not a plausible way to prevent a suicide attempt.

For example, the discredited research of Gary Kleck was used twice — while Cam Edwards was pushing concealed carry laws, and in his attack on Mother Jones. I was particularly amused by the way in which this research was debunked by Dr. David Hemenway, Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director: simple math. Not even fuzzy.

[I]n 34% of the times a gun was used for self-defense, the offender was allegedly committing a burglary. In other words, guns were reportedly used by defenders for self-defense in approximately 845,000 burglaries. From sophisticated victimization surveys, however, we know that there were fewer than 6 million burglaries in the year of the survey and in only 22% of those cases was someone certainly at home (1.3 million burglaries). Since only 42% of U.S. households own firearms, and since victims in two thirds of the occupied dwellings were asleep, the 2.5 million figure requires us to believe that burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100% of the time.

There’s much more, of course — other research from around the same time as the old Kleck study showing a fraction of his numbers, and more recent data from the CDC showing a ratio of 32 gun homicides to each “legal intervention,” or justifiable homicide by firearm. 32 to 1.

Cam Edwards was also caught in a lie while attacking Stephen Colbert, who is more than capable of defending himself, of course. But it’s interesting to see how the NRA uses statistics to make a misleading argument.

On January 10, Edwards claimed that Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert was wrong to say that the United States has the highest firearm homicide rate among industrialized countries. Instead, Edwards claimed that the United States ranks 28th in the world in firearm homicide.

Media Matters tracked down the chart that the NRA used to make this claim, and found that the U.S. ranks 28th when compared to a whole range of countries that submitted data for the 2007 Small Arms Survey. And sorted by Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop, sure enough, the U.S. is 28th — after 27 industrialized nations with similar income and living standards? No, not so much. The NRA is using a chart that treats America the same as Honduras, or Mexico, or Zimbabwe.

To look for, say, European countries, one has to look further down; that is, through countries with much lower homicide by firearm rates. Countries like, say, Switzerland, with its conscripted militia and mandatory gun ownership and training laws often admired by the NRA, and its homicide by firearm rate of 0.77, compared to ours at 2.97 on the same chart.

And there’s more still, whether it’s data collected by the Violence Policy Center showing the link between more guns and more homicide, a link that the NRA disputes. Almost makes me want to move to New Jersey.

Or, how about data collected by the New York Times showing the link between more guns and more suicide, which the NRA also disputes. Because even if restricting access to guns is the most effective suicide-prevention policy, that might mean…horrors! Less guns!

And if a series of lies and discredited research masquerading as criticizing “Media Misinformation” isn’t enough, there’s always Wayne LaPierre pushing the CT, to a standing ovation in Utah. Same old tale, background checking leading to registration, then confiscation. With an added bonus of gov’t hacking and criminals stealing your guns.

“Picture this: your name, your address on a map giving directions to your home that could include a list of all the specific firearms you own,” LaPierre said. “That’s a pretty handy list if you’re a seasoned criminal or a drug dealer or a gang member, isn’t it? How safe do you think that government list would be?”

Wayne figures we’re just one mass slaughter away from confiscation, showing his disrespect for the victims of gun violence in this country. He utterly fails to see this violence as an actual problem — that is, anything beyond portraying victims as political props, as a threat to gun manufacturers’ profits. More guns is, of course, the only solution the NRA will entertain.

“This so-called background check is aimed at one thing – registering your guns,” he said. “When another tragic opportunity presents itself, that registry will be used to confiscate your guns … Imagine right now your name on a massive government list.”

So it’s clear, at least to Wayne. Although the current proposals have no gun registry included, he sees that as inevitable. Certainly I would like to see a nationwide gun registry after reading about the success stories in some states, but in Congress it’s simply not on the table. And if the government won’t indulge his paranoid fantasies and confiscate guns, criminals will hack the database and steal them. I see I’m not alone in recognizing the paranoia and fear that the NRA seeks to instill in its membership; Miriam Walkingshaw, founder of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, was quoted for the Salt Lake Tribune about the speech.

“He made this chain of logic that universal background checks equate to registering guns and that leads to confiscation,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It went more and more into the paranoia, and then he mentioned the catch-and-release justice system – this constant fear that there are so many criminals out there.”It’s always more and more guns” with the NRA, she added.

Precisely. Always comes down to that, doesn’t it? Funny how that works.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this piece, and the latest move in the Senate. Since John Boehner’s Republican majority in the House has achieved total incompetence at its legislative function, it’s up to the Senate to make the first move and force the House into action.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has released a series of gun-violence preventions bills — including a controversial assault weapons ban being pushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — for mark up in his panel on Thursday….

Other legislation being considered for Judiciary markup is a bill by Leahy to stop illegal gun trafficking; a “placeholder” proposal on universal background checks for all gun sales by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); and a measure by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to increase school safety.

Since procedural rules could delay this for a week, I expect that Republicans will force that delay. The NRA is expected to try to derail the legislation in committee — no doubt hoping to kill this effort before it reaches the entire Senate, and draws more attention. And Politico expects a Republican filibuster because of the assault weapons ban; I expect a filibuster because Democrats are sponsoring legislation, period.

The time is now, bring the noise — demand a vote.


More data on gun control policies even NRA members support

February 23, 2013

[This will probably wrap up my week of ranting about guns…I prefer to take a break on the weekend, and try to enjoy life a little before diving back into the suffering and despair that is gun violence news and debate. Maybe I’ll take some pictures of cats.]

Although I find the fixation on the NRA irksome at times — as if the NRA membership is the measure of what should and should not be law in this country concerning guns — it is interesting to peruse data on the level of popular support various ideas enjoy. While the NRA is quick to run its own alleged polls, to issue blanket statements and to spew much bluster, behind the curtain of propaganda, they are weaker than they will ever let on.

And, as can be found in polling data about 31 different gun policies, it’s also interesting to see what separates Democrats from the hardcore gun enthusiasts in the NRA.


So, today I found this PBS article about what Democrats and the NRA have in common. This was research done by Johns Hopkins, or to be more precise the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I felt the need to investigate that name, as I expect anything with Bloomberg in it will immediately raise the hackles of most gun enthusiasts.

Originally named the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the school was founded in 1916 by William H. Welch and John D. Rockefeller. The school was renamed the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on April 20, 2001 in honor of Michael Bloomberg (founder of the eponymous media company) for his financial support and commitment to the school and Johns Hopkins University. Bloomberg has donated a total of $1.1 billion to the school over a period of several decades.[9]

America’s most dangerous mayor! ACK!

Does this mean that Bloomberg has bought the university’s reputation and twisted it to serve his treacherous scheme of gun-grabbing? Well, sarcasm aside…no, not so much. More from the wiki article:

The Bloomberg School is the largest school of public health in the world, with 530 full-time and 620 part-time faculty, and 2,030 students from 84 countries.[19] It is home to over fifty Research Centers and Institutes with research ongoing in the U.S. and more than 90 countries worldwide.[20] The School ranks #1 in federal research support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), receiving nearly 25 percent of all funds distributed among the 40 U.S. schools of public health,[19] and has consistently been ranked #1 among schools of public health by U.S. News & World Report.[21]

All right then, so when someone questions Michael Bloomberg’s affiliation with the university, I think it can rightly be dismissed as shooting the messenger based on the university’s excellent reputation. On with the show.

We were surprised that NRA members had the widest variation in their support (or not) of policy types than any other group. This means NRA members showed a lot of distance (in terms of percent approval points) between what they liked best and what they didn’t. Women, on the other hand, liked just about every policy, and approved of them at similar amounts.

Interesting point. The NRA will latch onto whatever statistics they can find, to claim that they enjoy popular support among women. But the data from Johns Hopkins doesn’t suit the NRA fantasy; out of 31 different ideas for reducing gun violence, only four — the four least popular overall — fail to achieve majority support from the women polled for the survey. PBS presents the results in a handy interactive table, which can sort by column.It’s worth noting here that women have already been identified as a key demographic that could shift the 2014 election results away from the typical party in power loses scenario. So, in addition to saving lives through progressive gun policy change, we could also improve our chances next year.

The survey released by Women Donors Network, a self-described progressive “community of women philanthropists,” found that a subset of women voters who usually don’t vote in midterm elections are more likely to vote in 2014 on the issue of gun violence.That echoes what former Rep. Steve LaTourette (OH), now a militant moderate leader in the Republican Party, said on Tuesday when he cautioned his party against sticking too close to the National Rifle Association in the post-Newtown legislative push to reduce gun violence. If the GOP is seen as being in the pocket of the NRA, he said, it could cost the party big with women in future elections.

Poor Rep. LaTourette, he’s part of an endangered species! “Militant moderate” indeed. And to think, all we have to do is show the American people the truth, as the GOP is in the pocket of the NRA.

Anyway. What else has this Johns Hopkins study got to say? They asked Colleen Barry, the lead researcher.

“One surprise was that so many of these policies were supported by a majority of gun owners, and a second was that so many policies enjoyed support across political party affiliations,” Barry said.

Across the two parties, gun owners, non-gun owners, NRA members, all of them. It is impressive how many of these gun control policies enjoy widespread, bipartisan support. You wouldn’t know it from listening to Wayne LaPierre or John Boehner (perhaps not even Harry Reid). So from here on, I will be pulling percentages from that handy interactive table mentioned above. Check it out, it’s worth the time.Background checks, for example. “Requiring a background check system for all gun sales to make sure a purchaser is not legally prohibited from having a gun?” is the exact wording of their question. 74% of NRA members support this, and it just goes up from there. 86% of Republicans. 88% of independents. 92% of Democrats. All gun sales. No exceptions. And it enjoys the kind of approval even the President would like to have. I read this past week that he’s at 55%, a three-year high. I bet he’d like to score 74%. Well, seems like maybe supporting that universal background check may be one way to go.

So, out of the 31 policy ideas only four came in with less than majority support, overall. Worst case scenario, though, how’s the support from the NRA members look? This is where the surprise comes in. Thirteen different gun control policies on their list registered a majority of NRA members in support of them. From background checks, to requiring states to report more data and more funding to make it happen; banning guns for domestic violence convictions, or violating a restraining order, or for multiple alcohol or drug crimes; even taking away dealers’ licenses for record-keeping violations and ‘losing’ guns; and more still.

I can safely say from my interactions here that when the prospect of gun banning, prohibiting people from having guns, comes up, it’s generally considered as some kind of poison pill. Absolutely not, under no circumstances. But it seems even NRA members will support some reasonable prohibitions on gun ownership, accountability for gun dealers, and background checking and improving that system. Even if it means requiring that the states improve their reportage. The specific question was “Requiring states to report a person to the background check system who is prohibited from buying a gun due either to involuntary commitment to a hospital for psychiatric treatment or to being declared mentally incompetent by a court of law?” and it enjoyed the highest support among NRA members — 81% — for any of the 31 policy ideas. Overwhelming support for a federal mandate! Goodness gracious!

Hell, they’ll even support prohibiting people on the terror watch-list from having a gun (76% support from NRA members). Although it makes one wonder about the other 24%. What are they thinking? That they’ll be on it someday?

But enough about the NRA. Let’s talk Democrats. The Democrats polled for responses on these 31 gun control policies expressed support for 28 of them. Mind you, one of those three is a bit of a misnomer. “Allowing people who have lost the right to have a gun due to mental illness to have that right restored if they are determined not to be dangerous?” has a 32% approval rating. That’s about restoring gun rights. And nobody offers that majority support, including NRA members. Oh, but I said enough with them…what I want to focus on are where Democrats and the NRA dramatically differ, where we can safely say this is where we don’t agree with them, where the NRA’s opinions have the least sway in the Democratic party.

Sorting by Democratic percentages, one dramatic policy difference sticks out right away. Gun licensing. “Requiring a person to obtain a license from a local law enforcement agency before buying a gun to verify their identity and ensure that they are not legally prohibited from having a gun?” Democrats, 88%; NRA, 38%. Even Republicans support this idea at 69%, so folks opposing this are pretty much doing the bidding of the NRA and no one else.

I see another 40-point swing for background checks that take up to five business days to finish, but I’m not as concerned about that; even NRA members give that one 47% approval, it’s not that big a deal. Where I see an impressive difference is on assault weapons. You know, the issue that’s supposed to be DOA in Congress, that gun-cherishing Democrats like Harry Reid are so squeamish about supporting, because his pockets may be a bit stained with NRA blood money…

Only the NRA says these are worth keeping

“Banning the sale of military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons that are capable of shooting more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading?” 87% support from us. 52% from Republicans (a bare majority, but interesting). 15% from NRA members. 46% of gun owners are with us on this. This is not about gun owners. This is all about the NRA. And Democrats who vote this down — and I expect there will be quite a few — will hear from me about doing the NRA’s bidding. Of course, there’s more. Banning the sale of large-capacity magazines that hold more than 20 bullets. Banning the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. 83% support from Democrats for both of these. 20 and 19 from NRA members. Again, this is not a big deal for Republicans or gun owners; they show an even split, a bare majority of Republicans, just under from gun owners. Again, it’s all about the NRA. Even banning the possession of assault weapons, or of large-capacity magazines, provided that owners are paid fair market value for their weapons. 72% and 69% support from Democrats, respectively. Oh my flying spaghetti monster. Banning! Confiscation!

Only the NRA sees nothing wrong with this picture

Democrats support this. Americans overall support this. You might not know that, thanks to the impassioned denials and threats from gun enthusiasts, but this is not a threat or an anecdote or an obsolete argumentum ad Bill Clinton. It’s data, credible evidential support. And what the data shows is that many gun control proposals are much more popular than NRA mouthpieces or politicians either cowed into submission by them, or just in their pockets, will admit. It also shows which gun control policies enjoy widespread Democratic support, and extreme NRA opposition — showing how that opposition is right-wing fringe. It may not even be majority-Republican, it’s not Democratic, certainly not liberal.

Polling like this shows where we are strong and the opposition is split, and the NRA in particular is isolated and weak. Beyond that, I’ll be damned if I am going to give up on ideas that I support, that also enjoy broad support among Democrats. Especially on account of just the NRA against the rest of the country.


Applying public health successes to reduce gun violence

February 16, 2013

[My latest Daily Kos piece, which I’ll cross-post here. Been a prolific week! Have to thank Sue for showing me the latest issue of JAMA. I might not have written at all the last couple of days without it. But this one is a lesson in moderation, skepticism; it’s about taking on ideas I don’t find palatable for a good cause, like taking the NRA a bit seriously for a change.]

Yesterday, I wrote about an article in the latest issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association to show how the NRA has silenced various government agencies and scientists, suppressing research into gun violence, in order to demonstrate the callous disregard of some gun enthusiasts for the Bill of Rights.

This was not the only JAMA article to discuss the issue of gun violence, however. Today I’d like to spread the word on what lessons we can learn from other successful public health and safety campaigns, and how doctors suggest we apply them to curb gun violence.


In seeking to apply what we’ve learned from such public health campaigns as we’ve undertaken concerning tobacco, accidental poisoning, and cars, the JAMA writers suggest taking on social, cultural, and educational causes for gun violence. Not that they suggest doing this instead of the current legislative proposals addressing ideas of gun ownership.

Although such commonsense regulations on ownership warrant implementation, a broader public health perspective is imperative. Gun violence arises from sociocultural, educational, behavioral, and product safety issues that transcend gun ownership alone. Addressing this crisis will require a comprehensive, multidimensional strategy. Toward that end, much can be learned from prior public health successes in changing the prevalence, social norms, and cultures of harmful behaviors.2- 6

Using the example of taxes on tobacco products, which help to fund prevention and better represent the cost smoking exacts upon society, they recommend a national tax on guns and ammo for similar purposes.

A new, substantial national tax on all firearms and ammunition would provide stable revenue to meaningfully target gun violence prevention. This revenue should fund a national endowment to benefit those harmed by gun violence and their families; a sustained public awareness campaign to increase gun safety, reduce gun violence, and assist in recognition of at-risk individuals; and stronger enforcement of existing gun laws. Such efforts would not necessarily be intended to reduce ownership, a key regulatory and political distinction.

Given the conservative penchant for ‘sin taxes’ to reduce behavior, I wonder if that political distinction could hold in practice. But if funding is needed for better enforcement, a standard NRA line, why not secure such funding directly from guns and ammo, and thus apply some sense of responsibility to gun enthusiasts that they may currently avoid?

And when it comes to the media — movies, TV, ads, video games — the NRA is quick to blame these things for gun violence. And there is a lesson to learn from history here as well, in how we addressed cigarettes.

Strategic use of media, education, celebrities, peers, teachers, and physicians served to shift sociocultural norms toward cigarettes as symbols of “weakness, irrationality, and addiction.”3 An analogous campaign could equate gun violence with weakness, irrationality, and cowardice. In today’s society, US adults and especially youth view a staggering amount of graphic violence in television shows, commercials, movies, and video games, much of it idolized and glorified. A generation ago, many popular movie heroes smoked. Today, many movie heroes shoot at other people. To protect children, current policies strictly restrict obscenities and sexual imagery, yet remain permissive of gun violence.

The NRA of course has a documented history of hypocrisy when it comes to the glorification of gun violence in our society. They noisily lament its appearance in movies, and attack celebrities with a record of both criticizing gun enthusiasm and profiting from it through their acting careers. But the NRA does its fair share of profiteering and glorification of gun violence through the entertainment industry. This was the NRA promotional video celebrating “Hollywood Guns” that I wrote about before, since deleted from their website, but preserved for posterity by Media Matters.

My own views on this potential use of media are mixed. Observing the NRA’s behavior, I see gun enthusiasts eager to blame something, anything else for the problem, while for their precious guns they strive to maintain the appearance of driven snow. My gut instinct is to take the opposite tack. But the JAMA article points out widespread, bipartisan conviction that decreasing the depiction of gun violence in our entertainment would reduce gun violence.

Now, a majority opinion poll doesn’t mean they are necessarily correct. But this is a democracy, and such majorities at least require respect; they may be an obstacle to overcome, but they can’t be ignored. And it may be foolish to just jerk my knee at the NRA. So while they do not get the free pass of ‘it’s video games/music/movies and not guns,’ history teaches us that taking this on from both angles may be warranted. As the JAMA writers suggest, let’s not just pass laws tackling gun ownership or address societal causes; let’s do both.

Not that I’m a big Call of Duty fan, but I have a stack of violent games and movies on my shelves. This would affect me directly! But if I’m not willing to change, what can I tell the gun enthusiasts, eh? The least I can do to possibly save lives is to modify my sources of entertainment to diminish the glorification of gun violence.

The article goes on to draw from the examples of safety measures taken to reduce accidental poisonings, and deaths from automobile accidents. They point out the substantial progress we’ve made — a 75% reduction in childhood poisonings, for example, as a result of better safety measures, changes to products, and national networks dedicated to education and prevention. Likewise, they cite a curious statistic (well, I found it curious anyway) of deaths per mile reduced by more than 90%. Fun with science, I suppose; you get some interesting units of measurement. But we’re all familiar with the variety of measures taken to make cars safer. Child seats, seat belts, education and licensing, air bags, safety glass, not to mention changes to the roads…it goes on, but just imagine that kind of comprehensive approach to making guns in our society safer.

As opposed to the current strategy: marketing by gun manufacturers, paranoia and fear ginned up by the likes of the NRA, and manufacturing simply to make guns more effective killing machines, more convenient for the user, more…sexy…if there is such a thing.

This article in JAMA sums up the different potential applications of our established public health success to reduce gun violence in a table, and I’ve included it below to hopefully promote discussion and more proposals for legislation. What I found interesting about this was that it takes the NRA’s off-handed blame-slinging seriously — I’m skeptical that gun enthusiasts do, themselves. But if they do, it seems there should be some real common ground to be found here. And to curb gun violence, if it’s there I want to find it.





Creationism back on schedule in AZ

January 27, 2013

Basically every time the state legislature is back in session, we start getting a lot of bad news to report here in Arizona. Tonight is one of those times, and I’ve written about it on Daily Kos. Republicans are looking to inject some fake controversy into the science curricula in our schools, on behalf of the usual creationist fools. As evidenced by their choice of rhetoric, more of the old ‘strengths and weaknesses’ line that they adopted after ‘teach the controversy’ became too obvious.

Probably ill advised to write this late, but what the hell. The way it is there, someone else will probably pick up the news unless mine is featured on the rec-list or spotlight.


Capping off a decent week

November 30, 2012

Much like the Friendly Atheist (where I first saw this) the mention of the Templeton Foundation makes me grimace. They’re well known in skeptical circles for blurring the lines between faith and science with as much punditry and offerings of cash as they can manage. Their mission as described on Wikipedia is

The mission of the Foundation is:

[to serve] as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.[1]

Knowing that theologians have damned little of import to say to scientists, it’s clear to me at least that this organization is mostly a waste of time, and observation of its work product bears that out – most notably the Templeton Prize, a nice chunk o’ change. When they’re not handing prizes to the priestly class (who can beg for money on their own by writing useless books) they’re shopping for scientists willing to harbor a little cognitive dissonance for pay, like Francisco Ayala, who won their prize in 2010 as “a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension” and whose book Darwin’s Gift related the theory of evolution as a theodicy, or a solution to the believer’s problem of evil.

I haven’t read that explanation but I bet it would be a laugher. I have not yet found a good answer to that problem of evil. It remains a personal favorite.

This video however, where Neil deGrasse Tyson answers the Templetons’ question “does the universe have a purpose?” ended much better than…well, some philosophical drek from Ayala, I suppose. I thought it was worth listening to. The animation put to Tyson’s answer makes it worth watching, too. Amusing, if for nothing else than what the bacteria in our gut might think our purpose is. (More poop!)