Gun violence and harm reduction

Gun control won't stop every horrible attack -- but it will make awful situations less awful

Deadly attacks on large groups of people are happening all over the world. Most of the time, politicians call it “terrorism.” It’s happened in France, in Britain, sometimes with suicide bombers (who are, of course, very hard to defend against), sometimes with knives and cars used at weapons.

I'm sorry, but nobody needs or has a right to an assault pistol
I’m sorry, but nobody needs or has a right to an assault pistol

But the United States has the unfortunate distinction of being the place where the weapons of choice are high-powered firearms, which tend to make bad situations a lot worse – and which other countries manage to limit and control.

If the attackers on London Bridge, who killed seven with a van and knives, had been armed with assault weapons, the death toll would have been much higher.

If the Pulse Nightclub killer had a knife instead of a gun, the death toll would have been much lower.

We live in a horribly violent society, and I could spend hours talking about why, about what we have done wrong as a global body politic to let things get to this point. But I want to do something different, and talk, on a day when a man with a rifle started shooting at Republican members of Congress and a man with an assault pistol  killed three workers at the UPS facility in Potrero Hill, about what the public health folks call Harm Reduction.

Let’s say you can’t stop all of the insane violence or terrorism right now. What you can do is make it harder for a killer to maximize the carnage.

You can, for example, strictly control handguns and assault weapons.

I have never been opposed to hunting; For better or for worse (my daughter things for worse) I am not a vegetarian. The meat I buy at the store was killed by someone else, and I never see or have to think about that part of my Italian meatballs or turkey sandwich.

If someone else who eats meat wants to hunt a turkey for dinner, or shoot a deer and make venison sausage (and I know people who do both), I’m not in any position to argue.

But as we all know, the gun you use to shoot a deer or a turkey isn’t typically the kind of gun that gets used in these mass killings. (Besides, since hunting is regulated in most parts of the country, when not ask the hunters to check out a gun from a licensed dealer before the go hit the woods, then bring it back when they’re done? I’ve gone fishing off the Farrallons, but I don’t own the gear you need for rockfishing; I just rent a rig when I go. Much easier.)

I know that’s heresy in this country, where a lot of people see the Second Amendment as a right to protect themselves against the government. Whatever your opinion about the government, I don’t think that’s a very effective strategy in 2017.

But I do think that other countries (with robust democracies) have done a pretty good job of keeping powerful firearms out of the hands of people who will abuse them. There are very few gun murders in England, where there are still hunters, but most guns are strictly regulated.

I also hear the gun-rights folks say that the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But shootouts, as we saw this morning in Washington, are not typically an optimal solution; they often end up with the “good guys” – in this case, the cops — getting shot, too.

Which suggests that the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is to not let him get it in the first place.

Every time this horror raises its head in the US, I wonder: What will it take to bring us to our senses? When will we understand that even if you can’t stop violence, you can make it less lethal by downsizing the weapons?

Gun control isn’t perfect. It doesn’t stop stabbings and people driving cars into crowds. It doesn’t stop suicide bombings.

But it’s a form of harm reduction. It makes a bad situation less bad.

Maybe that’s the only way we can talk about this. And we have to. Because there are three dead people who worked at UPS would would probably be alive today if their killer didn’t have a gun.

  • curiousKulak

    Yeah, but the only real way to reduce gun violence is to reduce guns hell, eliminate ’em. And that means somehow rounding up 300,000,000 American guns (and the deadliest ones are the ones left behind). And plenty of those will have to be pried from someone’s cold, dead fingers… . No, I bet they’d say its easier to round up 100,000,000 Bernie Bros than 300 M guns, and if challenged, is probably what they’d attempt to do.

    OF course, rounding up all those guns is probably what should happen. Should have happened in Iraq, after Saddams’ fall, and look at the shite that lack of foresight resulted in. A mirror, America!

    While we do have to be fearful of our govmint trying to control and surprise us, they don’t have to – they can just sic others to do it for them.

  • Porfirio666

    Even Sandy Hook couldn’t prod Congress into passing sensible gun control laws. The NRA has too many politicians in its pocket. Let’s face it, this country is extremely violent because of lax rules about guns and were are incapable of doing anything about it.

  • Bryan Costales

    The tobacco lobby (in his day) lobbied just as the NRA does now. But we managed to take steps to discourage smoking. We did that because it was a public health issue. The gun issue should be a public health issue, but sadly is instead a police/4th amendment/self-defense issue. If we hope ever to reduce gun violence, we need to change the conversation.

  • mbrenman

    Reader of this may be interested in my paper on reducing gun violence in the US. There are many more possible solutions than portrayed in this article. If anyone wants a copy, send me an e-mail. mbrenman001@comcast.net

  • Bill

    The NRA is the only organization villified and condemned for actions not undertaken by it’s members.

    We keep passing more, restrictive gun laws and it’s not working. Short of you folks being honest with your agenda that what you want is total firearm confiscation, passing more laws does nothing to prevent a person who does not obey the laws, from killing somebody.

    Molon labe.
    “Come and take them”

    • Ragazzu

      “The NRA is the only organization villified and condemned for actions not undertaken by it’s members.”

      And yet it acts as the gun industry’s lobby, ready to fight any reasonable restriction, such as background checks on lunatics.

      • Bill

        NRA opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration.

        Background checks don’t necessarily stop criminals from getting firearms. Federal studies have repeatedly found that persons imprisoned for firearm crimes get their firearms mostly through theft, the black market, or family members or friends. Less than one percent get guns at gun shows. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

        Most mass shooters, including those inspired by Islamic terrorist groups, pass background checks to acquire firearms.

        ATF has said that nearly half of illegally trafficked firearms originate with “straw purchasers”—people who pass background checks to buy firearms for criminals. The terrorists who attacked in San Bernardino in 2015 allegedly got firearms from a straw purchaser who passed a background check.

        Federal law requires firearm dealers, regardless of location, to initiate a background check before selling or otherwise transferring a firearm to a person who is not a dealer.

        There is no “gun show loophole.” Federal law is the same, regardless of where a firearm sale takes place.

        There is no “online sales” loophole. Federal law is the same, regardless of how people communicate about selling/buying a firearm. Federal law prohibits anyone— licensed firearm dealer or not—from shipping a firearm to a person who lives in another state, unless that person is also a dealer. Dealers must document all firearms they receive.

        There is no “Charleston loophole.” The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has three days to determine whether a person is prohibited from acquiring a firearm, to prevent arbitrary delays. If the FBI thereafter determines the person is prohibited, ATF recovers any gun inappropriately transferred.

        Federal law requires all firearm dealers to be licensed[1] and to initiate a background check before transferring a firearm to a non-dealer,[2]regardless of where the transfer takes place.[3] Background checks for firearms have been conducted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) since November 1998

        • Ragazzu

          Gee, thanks for the cut-and-paste propaganda from the NRA’s website.

          It’s funny how no other country has our per capita gun violence—and none other has our easy access to firearms.

      • arbcar

        NRA is the marketing arm of the gun industry.

  • Max Powers

    Could somebody please define what a “high powered” gun is? I constantly see anti-gun people use this term, but I’m not clear on what they mean, and I don’t think they’re clear on what they’re saying.

    Also, Tim Redmond is probably mistaken when he claims rifles used for hunting are not used for killing people. Isn’t the AR-15 (and its derivatives) one of the most popular rifles on the market? It’s definitely used for hunting and target practice, but also figures prominently in a lot of mass shootings.

    • Rosh HoshHosh

      It’s layman”s terms for a military grade weapon that was meant to have a high sustained velocity.

      And yea, big game rifles certainly qualify. But my pa”s .308 is bolt action and only holds a few rounds. AR’s and MX’s should be reserved for police/military. Why do you think sustained fire is not legal? Too deadly.

  • Don Sebastopol

    Hunting is not the purpose of the 2nd Amendment.

  • MKR

    A gun to protect yourself from the government? How far does it go? Does everyone now have to have an atomic bomb in his or her basement to deter tyranny?
    The United States was borne of a violent revolution. And deep within the American subconscious is a belief that violence can and should be used for the purposes of a greater good for humanity (for example defeating the Third Reich) Its not just the NRA – most Democrats I know want to be able to own a gun even though they many won’t admit it to themselves. So how much worse will it have to get? probably much worse.

    for anyone who is interested in this topic Johns Hopkins has a Center for Gun Policy and Research as part of their Public Health School and some of the work published there does actually show that on a micro level there are steps that law enforcement and public health workers can take. ttps://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/index.html

    • Don Sebastopol

      Speaking of the Third Reich

      La Grande Evening Observer, November 12, 1938: “The official phase of nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish campaign was opened today with a law forbidding Jews to possess firearms or other weapons. This law was the first of a series designed to effect a permanent solution of the Jewish problem.”

      “To disarm the people…is the most effectual way to enslave them.” – George Mason, June 14, 1788

      • MKR

        That is the standard reply that the right wing media gives every time someone discusses gun control but its inherent misguided when it comes to nazi Germany’s situation . The European Jewry never really had guns because they weren’t allowed to long before the nazis took over. Anti Jewish sentiment in Europe dates back thousands of years. They were segregated in schetels and subjected to discrimination for centuries. Hitler didn’t really convince people to hate the Jews he just got them organized.

  • danimalssf

    I’m all for Harm Reduction when it comes to guns, and that is why I support the SFPD having tasers.

    • curiousKulak

      I would support their use of Tasers IF they had the same responsibilty for documenting usage as the proticols for fire arms.

      I do not favor giving them another, easy implement to abuse our fellow citizens without some kind of accountability.

      Is that too much to ask?

  • Ricky26blue

    Nobody “needs” a scary looking pistol with black plastic attachments and a detachable magazine, but then again, nobody “needs” a set of titanium golf clubs, or a Harley with loud pipes. But we allow such things in the United States because this is an ostensibly free society, one that recognizes the right of people to engage in activities that are sometimes loud, scary, fun, and yes, dangerous. It’s one of the things that sets America apart from the rest of the world, and is embedded in our laws and customs.

    This writer feels that the 2nd Amendment is just as important as the rest of the Bill of Rights. Sure, access to firearms can sometimes make it easier for the deranged and evil to perpetrate horrific crimes, but so too do the protections embodied in the 4th and 5th Amendments make it easier for violent criminals to escape justice and go on to commit other acts of violence; I doubt the author or most of the commenters here would argue in favor of revoking those protections in the name of Safety.

    And the author has completely failed to consider the role of privately owned firearms in self-defense. Just the other day two murderous escaped convicts in Georgia were apprehended by a gun-wielding private citizen. Privately held firearms have a positive role in our society little discussed in the mainstream media. Believe it or not, guns save lives too.

    Freedom, such as we get, comes with risks and dangers. As we’ve learned from “gun-free” places like Europe, if you disarm the populace, the evil and crazy will simply find other ways to murder and maim. At least in America, we have the right to possess the means of self-defense. That’s a rare and valuable thing.

    As we gun nuts like to say: when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.