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Do Mass Shootings Like Newtown Actually Reduce Support for Gun Control?

John A. Tures   |   December 15, 2014    4:10 PM ET

As America passes the second anniversary of the Newtown massacre, where 26 students and teachers lost their lives, one would have expected a greater support for gun control to stem the tide of such slaughters. But as with other cases of such gun violence, it has led to a greater push for more guns, not less. In fact, for the first time, a majority of Americans claim that gun rights are more important than gun control.


Research by the Pew Research Center found that in 1993, 57 percent of Americans supported "controlling gun ownership," while 34 percent found it more important to "protect the right of Americans to own guns."

As Congress signed a crime bill to ban assault weapons in 1994, the NRA and conservatives launched all kinds of criticism of President Bill Clinton and Democrats. But the number of Americans supporting the idea of controlling gun ownership climbed to 66 percent while those wishing for more gun rights fell to 29 percent.

That support was shattered as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered more than a dozen fellow students in Columbine High School near Denver, and a day trader killed his family and colleagues in an Atlanta suburb. Support for gun control slipped to 54 percent over the following years.

Nevertheless, support for gun control rebounded to nearly 60 percent, as these two tragic events were the only major spree shootings over the ten-year period. Only 32 percent said it was more important to protect the rights of gun owners. Yet President Bush and the Republicans in Congress let the assault weapons ban lapse in 2004. And we've had many more spree shootings in the decade since the assault weapons ban was rescinded.

Support for gun control plunged in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, which led to the deaths of more than 30 students and professors, including the son of one of my colleagues at LaGrange College. For the first time, supporters of gun control dropped to 49 percent, with 45 percent demanding more gun rights.

As the number of school shootings, workplace violence, and family massacres continued, support for gun control dropped as well. Gun control recovered slightly to 51 percent (with 45 percent opting for more gun rights) before the Denver theater shooting and the Newtown killing spree. Now, in December of 2014, only 46 percent support gun control, while a majority claims they want more gun rights.

Traditional explanations for these public opinion changes include views of President Obama, concerns about the crime rate, and the opinions of angry white males swamping other groups. None of these are supported by the evidence.

The increased demand for more gun rights predates the election of President Barack Obama. Sure gun control support increased as the overall crime rate fell in the 1990s, but also fell as the crime rate continued to decline in the following decade. And the Pew Research Center found that every group except for liberals and Hispanics boosted their support for gun rights, including women, blacks, college grads and non-college grads (and graduate degree holders), urban, suburban and rural dwellers, every age group, independents, and even Democrats, according to Emily Badger with the Washington Post.

Supporters of gun control have sought to highlight the vast number of shootings that have occurred in recent years. But while it seemed to make sense, it may not have been a good strategy. They need to highlight examples where tough gun laws reduced shootings. Otherwise, such publicity may only reduce support for gun control.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at

Ariel Edwards-Levy   |   December 10, 2014    5:29 PM ET

For the first time in more than 20 years, Americans say it's more important to protect the right to own guns than it is to control gun ownership, according to a Pew Research poll released Wednesday that finds "a substantial shift in attitudes since shortly after the Newtown school shootings."

While 46 percent prioritize gun control, 52 percent of Americans are more concerned about the right to own guns, the first time a majority has held that position since Pew started asking the question in 1993. In a poll taken immediately after the December 2012 shootings, public opinion favored gun control by 7 points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

Two Years After Newtown, A Shift in Favor of Gun Rights

While the partisan divide on the question remains as wide as ever, the increasing support for gun rights spans across a wide swath of demographics. Compared with last January, support for gun rights increased by 6 points among Republicans and Democrats, 7 points among independents, 8 points among whites and 10 points among African Americans.

Americans are also more likely than two years ago to say gun ownership does more to protect against crime than it does to put people's safety at risk. Fifty-seven percent now say guns are largely protective, up from 48 percent in 2012.

Other surveys show similar changes. An October Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans wanted stricter gun laws, down from 58 percent after the Newtown shootings.

The Pew Research poll was conducted between Dec. 3 and Dec. 7, using live phone interviews to reach 1,507 adults who use both landlines and cell phones.

GMOs. When Minds Are Still Open Civil Debate Can Give the Facts a Say in How People Feel

David Ropeik   |   December 10, 2014    3:43 PM ET

I regularly highlight examples of what I call the Risk Perception Gap... when people worry too much about some things or not enough about others, and those perceptions leads to risky choices and behaviors all by themselves. The hope is that by describing this phenomenon and giving it an official name, and explaining the psychology of why it happens, these essays might help us all recognize the emotional nature of risk perception and avoid some of its dangers.

Examples of people worrying too much, or not enough, are everywhere. Ebola, vaccines, climate change, obesity... But it's also instructive, and encouraging, when people get risk right, when careful, open-minded consideration of the evidence produces judgments and decisions that more closely align with the evidence. It was inspiring to witness an example of that the other night, at a debate about genetically modified food.

Usually public forums about GM food are less debates and more just angry, invective-laced arguments with lots of interruptions where GMO opponents repeat their values-based tribal beliefs and shout down anything that challenges their views. This one was different, and different in ways that should give us all hope about people's ability to keep open minds and make choices based on what the bulk of the evidence seems to say.

The setting was an Intelligence Squared debate, part of a privately funded non-profit series created to "restore civility, reasoned analysis, and constructive public discourse to today's often biased media landscape." Teams of two debaters argue for or against a proposition in front of an audience, which then gets to ask questions. A moderator helps keep the discussion on point, productive, and civil. The audience is asked to vote before the debate starts, and again afterwards. The winner is the side that gained the most support between the first vote and the second.

The proposition was:

Genetically modified plants, the kind where genes are spliced from one species into another, as only modern agricultural biotechnology can do; for, against, or undecided?

You can see the full debate itself here.

While there was a clear and passionate difference of opinion, the debate was largely about the evidence. The debaters didn't yell at each other. They mostly didn't interrupt each other. They mostly provided direct answers to questions, and when they tried to lapse into sales-pitch talking points the moderator cut them off (More than once I wished this would be the way that political debates might be conducted).

Importantly, the two participants who argued against agricultural biotechnology were not the scream-and-yell types who usually show up at public hearings and rallies about GMOs, spewing all sorts of wild and unsupported claims and shouting down anyone who disagrees their perspective. The opponents of the proposition were adamantly anti-GM advocates, but willing to respectfully debate the evidence.

The audience of a few hundred people included several well-known advocates of both sides. But it also included a lot of people who had come not to cheer for their side, but to actually learn more about GM food. Cheering for each side was robust, but when GMO opponents in the audience hissed at the opening statements of the "Pro" side, the moderator shut them down politely but firmly. A woman who said she had attended dozens of these IQ2 debates told me that this was the first time the audience had tried that. When the audience got to raise questions, aspects of the GM food issue unrelated to the proposition (e.g. what about those evil greedy corporations patenting seeds and genes?) were disallowed.

When the votes were revealed, what had been a relatively even split in the first poll -- 32 percent for GM Food, 30 percent against, 38 percent undecided -- had shifted dramatically. The final tally was 60 percent for, 31 percent against, and 9 percent still undecided. People who listened in or watched online could vote too, and a tally that had been overwhelmingly against the proposition before the debate also shifted, coming in at 51 percent in favor and 49 percent opposed. (Beware the online tally, of course. Those votes can be gamed by either side, and probably were.)

A closer look at the numbers is particularly encouraging. Half the people voted the same way both times. But half changed their minds, voting differently the second time. Most of these moved from undecided to one side or the other (mostly to the pro side). But 15 percent of those who voted for or against the first time changed their minds! And most of those (12 percent of the overall population) had voted against the first time, but changed to either for (9 percent) or undecided (3 percent). (Here's a graphic of those details.)

It would be naïve to make too much of this. It was hardly a definitive general plebiscite on GM food. The vote may not have even been about GMOs at all. We were asked to vote on who made a more persuasive argument, and the pro team had markedly better debaters.

But some conclusions can be drawn. One is that the GMO issue doesn't seem to be one of the classic polarized right-left culture war battles. There certainly are cultural affinities among those who most strongly oppose GM food. But GMOs seems to be a group identity issue only to one "side", a small albeit passionately vocal group. The debate results support what most surveys find, that most Americans have barely heard about this issue, much less taken up a position for or against.

But the most hopeful conclusion may be that -- despite the natural tendency humans have to quickly make up their minds about things, based largely on emotions, and then to stick to those views no matter what else they may hear -- there are also plenty of people willing to find out more before they make up their minds, and who are willing to keep an open mind and carefully think things through. That is crucial if society is to make intelligent choices on a wide range of issues, beyond GMOs.

In a world where so many risk issues are decided by public passions based on very little information and a whole lot of gut instinct and emotion, this debate was a ray of hope that we can do better, that we can bring the power of human reason to bear on the challenge of making the healthiest possible choices. It was model of careful thinking about risk that we would all do well to try and follow.

  |   December 6, 2014    9:44 AM ET

Several recent killings of black men or boys by police officers across the nation and grand juries' decisions not to indict some of the officers have angered many people, especially in minority communities, and have spurred sometimes violent demonstrations.

Here's a look at killings by police that protesters have cited as examples of an epidemic of police brutality and heavy-handed law enforcement efforts often targeting minorities and related events:



On July 17, a white plainclothes police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, applied what a medical examiner determined was a chokehold to an unarmed black man accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on a New York City street. A videotape of the takedown of Eric Garner, who had asthma, showed him repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe," while officers wrestled him to the ground. Garner died soon after, and a grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict Pantaleo, prompting daily protests and chants of "Black lives matter!"

On Aug. 5, a white policeman responding to a call about a man waving what appeared to be a rifle in an Ohio Wal-Mart store shot and killed John Crawford III, who was black. What Crawford was holding was an air rifle. A special grand jury decided in September the actions of Officer Sean Williams and another Beavercreek officer in the racially charged case were justified.



On Aug. 9, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Supporters of Brown's family say he had his hands up in surrender, but Wilson has said that's "incorrect" and he couldn't have done anything differently in their confrontation. A grand jury decision last month to not indict Wilson sparked violent demonstrations and looting in the St. Louis suburb, and around the nation protesters have chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!"



On Nov. 20, a rookie New York Police Department officer walking with his gun drawn in a darkened stairwell of a public housing complex shot and killed a black man leaving the building with his girlfriend. Police Commissioner William Bratton said that Akai Gurley had been "a total innocent" when he was shot and that the shooting, by an Asian officer, was under investigation. The Brooklyn district attorney said Friday that the case would be presented to a grand jury.



On Nov. 22, a white rookie police officer, Tim Loehmann, shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, who had been pointing a pellet gun near a Cleveland playground. Police say Tamir was told to raise his hands but reached into his waistband for the realistic-looking airsoft gun, which was missing its orange safety indicator. The shooting, captured on surveillance video, has prompted street protests, and Tamir's family on Friday filed a lawsuit against the city, Loehmann and his partner.



On Tuesday, a white police officer who authorities say mistook a pill bottle for a gun shot and killed an unarmed black drug suspect during a struggle at a Phoenix apartment building. About 150 people upset about the killing of Rumain Brisbon marched to police headquarters, and police and prosecutors met with local civil rights leaders.



On Thursday, in tiny Eutawville, South Carolina, a white former police chief was charged with murder in the 2011 shooting death of an unarmed black man, Bernard Bailey, who had gone to Town Hall to argue about a broken-taillight ticket. Bailey and then-chief Richard Combs fought, and Combs shot Bailey twice in the chest. Combs' lawyer accused prosecutors of taking advantage of national outrage toward police to obtain the indictment.



Also Thursday, in Cleveland, the U.S. Department of Justice and the city reached an agreement to overhaul the police department after federal investigators found officers use excessive force far too often, causing deep mistrust, especially among blacks. The investigation was prompted chiefly by a November 2012 car chase that ended in the deaths of two unarmed black people in a hail of 137 bullets.

  |   December 3, 2014    7:20 AM ET

BURIEN, Wash. (AP) — Authorities say a driver crashed into a Washington sporting goods store on purpose so he could steal guns, and then he tried to hide in the ceiling.

The King County sheriff's office says it arrested a suspect after a more than four-hour standoff at the Big 5 store in Burien, south of Seattle.

Police Shootings as Accidents

Tom Harvey   |   November 30, 2014    9:06 PM ET

Some deaths from police shootings are crimes, ranging from negligent homicides to outright murder; but it's very difficult to know how many and nearly impossible to be sure about any particular case. We have had almost no success in dealing with these incidents by attempting to hold particular officers responsible.

The standard that an officer is justified in using lethal force if they are responding to a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm many be appropriate in deciding whether the officer is guilty of a crime; but it provides no protection for others. The officer may come to the confrontation already feeling fear -- is any increment to that fear sufficient? Can one tell instantly the difference between startle or surprise and fear? The incident last week in Cleveland where a 12-year-old with a BB pistol was killed is an example. The officer, no doubt, thought a real gun was being drawn to fire at him. The gun wasn't real and the kid, knowing it wasn't, could not have been trying to shoot the officer -- two mistakes in a flash resulting in a tragic death. We may never know if negligence, indifference or hostility made enough of a contribution to the causes to make this criminal; but the accidental component of the chain of causation is obvious.

Scientific investigation of accidents works when it is followed by action to implement the resulting recommendations. We have reduced the number of highway deaths per mile traveled by a factor of three in the last 30 years. The number of airline tragedies has gone down even more. Air crash investigation gives us an informative example of how it can be done. Leaving airliners aside, even small plane crashes produce a detailed and publicly released investigation report in every case. In the case of car crashes, the larger number lends itself to a sample. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gathers a sample that is scientifically designed to be representative and intensely studied in detail.

We don't even collect statistics on the gross number of people who are killed by police officers, we only have guesses that start at 400 and go upward. We have precise information about every officer killed, 33 of them by gunfire in 2013.

If we do study officer-involved shootings and find probable causes for them, we are going to, in my opinion, discover that training and the cultural perception of constant threat is the major factor -- it won't be bad will by the officers. Police and gun users in general are trained to shoot. They are not given real hands-on training in recognizing when an apparent threat isn't real. We may know in an intellectual way that a dark blob coming out of a pocket is as likely to be a cell phone or a wallet as to be a gun and that reaching for a waistband is far more likely to be about holding ones pants up that going for a weapon. We know that when we have time to think. So we think that we will know when to shoot or not to shoot.

But, when it's a crisis confrontation, there's not time to think. The training that's been ingrained into the body and the lower parts of the brain takes over. That training in our police agencies has been shoot, shoot fast and keep shooting. Every once in a while a training target that's supposed to represent an innocent, not to be shot, may pop up; but restraint isn't seriously taught. We should let three-quarters of the targets be subtle false threats and have the trainee who shoots a target showing a tiny little dirty orange plug in a barrel (signifying a toy gun) go home and start the course over. That would help.

Part of the problem is that we use being armed as the symbol of authority. Law officers feel they aren't genuine if they aren't carrying a firearm -- not just on the job but off-duty and after retirement. We have a bizarre federal law that says that officers can't be stopped from carrying guns by state or local governments or even by their own agencies when off duty. There is no room for the view that guns are a risk that must be weighed against the need for them. Deadly force is the only tool that's universally available for dealing with problems.

It's no wonder that honest cops of good will end up wondering: "What have I done?" Of course, being human, their wonder quickly turns into rationalization and a desperate search for an explanation.

If you want to understand just how bad are the reflexes trained into ordinary officers, you can look at the fusillade incidents where many officers empty their guns at once. Recent examples include one in LA where an estimated 33 officers fired 600 shots, one in Miami where dozens of cops shot 50 rounds, and an incident in Nebraska which killed a crew-member of the Cops TV Show as well as the suspect. It is not possible to believe that all of these shooters had identified a target that was a sufficient threat to require deadly force. General fire in the direction thought to be occupied by the enemy is a wartime tactic, but is extremely dangerous when practiced in our cities.

The trainers get their own attitudes from the industry of advisors who make a living painting a dangerous world and recommending aggressive ways to deal with it. Much of this is supported by gun and equipment manufacturers who want to sell things both to agencies and to the portion of the public who emulates law enforcement; but there are also those who are just consultants and advisers.

The Force Science Institute is an example of an organization that is well-known in the law enforcement community and illustrates the positions and attitudes of people who proclaim themselves experts in offensive and defensive use of force by law officers. They publish a continuous stream of justifications for the use of force. An example last month is in their newsletter Force Science News #267 which has "Suspects on a curb: Are you as safe as you may think?" as an article or in the next issue "What locations are riskiest for you? New study IDs worst sites." It's not any one statement or article but the development of a mindset that encourages shooting first and thinking later.

So if we can't effectively hold individual officers responsible, how do we get safety for our citizens. How do we get the policies and training that we need? I believe the answer is that we have to demand responsibility from the leaders and organizations; then they will get it from their people. We don't need certainty "beyond a reasonable doubt" to fire a police chief or to take a police department into receivership. If we do convict an occasional policeman in a rare clear case, that's likely to be viewed as just one "bad apple" and nothing will change. Management fired and departments disbanded will have an effect. First we need transparency, not just in some places but nationwide.

White Vision: Seeing Clothes on a Naked Emperor

Lucia Brawley   |   November 26, 2014    2:03 PM ET

This is what trials are for, to determine whether or not the accused is a coldblooded killer; whether it was manslaughter; or whether it was excessive force. The outrage is that there will be no trial at all. People are not protesting a verdict. They're protesting the fact that the officer who killed Michael Brown will not see the inside of a courtroom because the Grand Jury decided not to indict Darrell Wilson. Worse, the Special Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, acted more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor, discrediting witnesses and putting social media on trial. He also timed his announcement of the decision perfectly to ensure night skies lit up with fires, offering validation to those who believe in the criminality of black youth, and guaranteeing juicy fodder for media outlets, who would rather cover "riots" than the injustice of the decision.

Mind you, it's not riots when white college students set cars on fire after a football victory. It's not a terrifying mob when gun activists waltz into Target with AK-47s. But justifiably outraged youth revolt against what is clearly oppression in the eyes of the world, call in the troops.

Contrary to what some critics say on social media, most of us who are outraged are not taking a monolithic view on all cops. We're taking a fact-based stand against vastly disproportionate cases of police and others (George Zimmerman) killing unarmed black men, due to what can only be chalked up to racial fear, and doing so in large part with impunity. And to the point of Brown's size being 6'3," 292 lbs, Wilson himself is 6'4", 210 lbs, armed. And he shot 12 times, when according to eyewitnesses, Michael Brown had his hands up in the air.

Many police officers are heroes, sworn to protect and serve. And they do just that, every day, often at great personal cost. But there needs to be better training. There need to be fewer guns out there in general, to prevent officers being so afraid. It can't be a shoot-first mentality. There needs to be racial sensitivity training. There need to be more indictments of cops who kill unarmed citizens. There needs to be the option of shooting to wound, not kill, if one must absolutely shoot. And if officers took the Aurora shooter alive, took Gabi Giffords' assailant alive, mass murderers with massive arsenals, why do they have to shoot unarmed black boys dead?

When you're black, which I am not, it must seem monolithic, of course. All too frequently cops pull guns on unarmed black men who have done nothing wrong. Many of my Ivy-League-educated black male friends, including my own husband, can attest to this, after getting pulled over for a minor infraction, like a license-plate light being out or registration out of date. It is fear, plain and simple, that caused Wilson to see the black face in front of him as a "demon." A cultural illness of "otherness" colors our vision as white people and that includes white officers. It must be addressed, so that trigger-happy cops don't ruin the reputation of all cops. And more importantly, so we can build trust between our communities and those sworn to protect and serve them.

Can you imagine how maddening it must be for black people to experience the daily indignities of unacknowledged white supremacy -- from media portrayals or the lack thereof to inequities in the job market and in the schools, right down to being told by your society that white men may shoot you down without any consequences? The fact that black people don't retaliate more -- especially considering their disproportionate contribution to the building of American society and culture -- bespeaks the patience of Job. This is not the version of our country, the country we love, that I want to pass on to my mixed children or your white ones or anyone's children anywhere.

The epidemic of monolithic thinking seems to me to be weighted far more on the side of white Americans, officers and civilians alike, thinking of all black boys as criminal. It motivates white women to clutch their purses when they see young black men walking down the street. It motivates white men to shoot to kill unarmed black boys. It motivates prosecutors not to prosecute. Juries to be selected that are not sufficiently integrated. Grand Juries not to indict. Juries not to convict. Media to report on a few angry looters, rather than on the source of their outrage. And audiences to gobble it all up in a ratings bonanza. White Americans, we need to grow up and let go of the comforting blankie of our longest-held fears.

  |   November 23, 2014   10:27 AM ET

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. (AP) — Police say a father has accidentally shot and killed his adult son during a hunting trip in New Jersey.

WCAU-TV ( ) reports that the shooting happened Saturday afternoon in West Windsor.

How Do Illinoisans Feel About Stricter Gun Violation Penalties?

Reboot Illinois   |   November 20, 2014    4:58 PM ET

Most politicians have made their stances on gun control laws widely known. Republican Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner has said he supports the rights of Illinoisans to own guns while some Democrats have expressed support for stricter gun control laws as a way to stymie violence in the state. What about Illinoisans as a whole, though? What do average people in the state think about gun laws?

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University polled registered voters throughout the state to gauge their feelings and found that most "show strong support for two key provisions of a gun crime bill which is pending in the legislature."

The provisions are: increasing mandatory minimum prison sentences from two years to three years for felony gun convictions and requiring convicted felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Nearly 69 percent and 65 percent supported the provisions, respectively.

From The Paul Simon Institute:

Some background: House Bill 5672 seeks to enhance penalties for certain violations of laws concerning unlawful use or possession of weapons. It is sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Michael Zalewski of Riverside and calls for increased prison sentences for certain gun crimes from two years to three years.

The bill also requires at least 85 percent of certain gun-related-crime prison sentences to be served, a provision called "Truth in Sentencing" by bill supporters. Current law requires 50 percent of these sentences to be served.

Many local and statewide officials support these proposals as a way to curb violent crime in the state, particularly Chicago.

Check out these charts to see how Illinoisans' support for these measures were divided, and click on the charts to see interactive information at Reboot Illinois.






The poll was conducted Sept. 23 to Oct. 15 and contains the responses from 1,006 registered Illinois voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Check out Reboot Illinois to see how the Paul Simon Institute found Illinoisans feel about police officers and how well they do their jobs.

Sign up for our daily email to stay up to date on all things Illinois politics.

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Brazil and South Africa Are Addicted to Gun Violence

Robert Muggah   |   November 19, 2014    9:55 AM ET

Brazil and South Africa have dramatically expanded their geopolitical influence over the past two decades. But after years of democratic and economic gains, the two countries now find themselves in the doldrums. One of the reasons for this is that they are addicted to violence. Brazil and South Africa lead their respective continents in murder. This is no easy feat: last year the United Nations reported that 8 of the top 10 most violent countries in the world were located in Latin Americas and Africa. Yet between them, Brazil and South Africa now share 16 of the 50 most dangerous cities on the planet.

The scale of killing in both countries is breathtaking. At least one in eight people dying violently around the world each year is either a Brazilian or South African. In 2013, an estimated 53,646 Brazilian citizens were murdered -- a rate of 25.2 per 100,000. Last year another 16,259 South Africans died as a result of homicide -- some 31.3 per 100,000. And while criminologists and public health experts dispute the "real" number of murders (police tend to underestimate violent crime), everyone concedes that these figures likely under-estimate the true scale of the problem.

High profile murders in Brazil and South Africa have put the issue of firearm-related violence back in the spotlight. Earlier this month in the northern Brazilian city of Belém, off-duty police officers went on a shooting spree and massacred 10 people. Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, the assassination of South Africa´s national football captain, Senzo Meyiwa, comes on the heels of Olympian Oscar Pistorius for gunning down his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. These individual gun deaths add to the lethal epidemic that is afflicting both countries.

There is nothing inevitable about gun violence. And while the scandalously high rates of murder in both Brazil and South Africa are treated by many as "normal," there are encouraging signs of change. Targeted crime prevention measures and public health interventions pursued in both countries are cause for cautious optimism. For example, in December 2003, Brazil´s national congress passed a landmark Disarmament Statute. For law introduced unprecedented restrictions on purchasing firearms and prohibited civilians from carrying them.

The Brazilian Statute also prescribed a firearms amnesty in order to reduce the number of guns in circulation. A national campaign led by non-governmental organizations, churches, and an army of volunteers collected more than 450,000 weapons, one of the largest hauls in history. These weapons were publicly destroyed. In 2004, just one year after the Statute, firearm homicide declined by 8 per cent, and this after 13 years of steady increases. This translates into 3,234 lives saved in a single year. The Disarmament Statute remains in force, but is under threat by right-leaning Congressmen.

Meanwhile, an array of far-reaching violence prevention programs have also been rolled out in Brazilian states like Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. In Rio, a community policing effort involving gun retrievals has reduced homicidal violence by 65% since it started in 2009. In Sao Paulo, hot spot policing and police reform efforts also contributed to reductions in murder by about 70% since 1999. These and other activities have attracted the attention of law enforcement officials everywhere, including from South Africa.

There are also signs of positive steps being taken to reduce gun violence in South Africa. For example, the country´s Firearms Control Act, or FCA, regulates firearms ownership. Since its signing into law in 2000, it has contributed to statistically significant reductions in gun violence. A recent peer-reviewed study demonstrates a 13.5 percent reduction of firearm homicide in five cities where it was applied since 2001. If the FCA has one limitation, it is that it does not go far enough.

The South African organization Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) and the South African Football Association are proposing additional gun law reform. They are calling for concrete action -- including amnesty schemes such as the one that netted over 32,000 weapons between January and April 2010. GFSA and the Association have asked the South African Parliament and the Minister of Police to declare a blanket amnesty, similar in many ways to the one adopted in Brazil. They are also recommending that the collection program should be accompanied by a gun destruction campaign so that they are never used to commit another murder.

Notwithstanding these many initiatives, gun violence is reaching crisis proportions in both Brazil and South Africa. A citizen from either country is intentionally murdered every few hours by a bullet. In South African alone roughly 18 people are shot and killed a day. Many more suffer crippling injuries and untold pain and suffering. This does not mean that citizens should throw up their hands in despair. To the contrary: there are obvious lessons about what works and what does not when it comes to controlling gun violence. As regional powerhouses, Brazil and South Africa are seeking more authority in global affairs. But neither country can make a genuine claim to genuine global power status when this violent carnage persists in their own backyards.

*Robert Muggah delivered a TED talk in 2014 on how to reduce violence in cities around the world. It will go live in early 2015.

Public Health as Political Prisoner

David Katz, M.D.   |   November 18, 2014    7:36 PM ET

If a foreign government took the United States Surgeon General hostage, I'm confident we'd be pretty upset. I think we would be working on reprisals, and maybe even prepping a SEAL team.

I don't know if it's better or worse that we need no help from a foreign power to take our surgeon general hostage. Our own political system manages all on its own.

Admittedly, it's not quite the surgeon general who is hostage to our political system; it is the president's nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy's nomination is in limbo, because Congress won't take up his confirmation. We'll get to why in just a moment.

Before that, however, it's worth noting that everybody who is anybody in public health and medicine supports Dr. Murthy as a highly-qualified candidate. I am pleased to be counted among them, and from a uniquely personal vantage point. Dr. Murthy was a medical student of mine at Yale quite some years ago, and I got to know him well during those formative years. We have remained close, and collaborated, ever since.

He is both an excellent candidate for the job, and a really good person.

But, as noted, his candidacy is, in essence, a prisoner of our political system -- or at least, of political discord.

Why? In some reports, Dr. Murthy is cited as having spoken in favor of various gun control measures long before he was a candidate for surgeon general. Naturally, we are talking about truly radical stuff here, like, for instance: background checks so we don't routinely arm deranged sociopaths. Or, perhaps, not everyone being entitled to semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines. Truly outrageous assaults on the second amendment, clearly.

But we needn't go nearly that far. The official reason for opposition to Dr. Murthy is a tweet dated 10/16/12 that states: "Guns are a health care issue."

If we reasonably take the full expanse of "health care" to encompass both patient care, and public health, I think the only possible reaction to this statement is a yawn, and: Duh!

What can possibly be controversial about this statement? For gun control advocates, there is clearly no cause for dissent. Those contending that guns foment murders and massacres certainly agree that a public health issue is in play.

But there can be no cause for dissent from the most ardent gun enthusiasts either. After all, the rationale for guns-for-all is so that we can defend ourselves, presumably against the harms to which we might succumb if unarmed. Self-defense against harm is, pretty self-evidently, an issue of both public justice, and public health.

And, of course, anything with the potential to involve emergency surgery and blood transfusions is pretty much, by definition, a health care issue.

And then there is the -- forgive the pun -- real smoking gun of the "guns are a health care issue" issue: suicide. I don't think anyone wants to refute the notion that suicide attempts are a health care issue. After all, we health care professionals are the first responders to them. This one, too, should be among those truths we hold to be self-evident.

So here's the thing: Guns are used far more often for suicide than for either homicide or self-defense. We don't have all the research we would like on the topic, mostly because the NRA spends pretty lavishly to ensure it won't get done, but what we have is rather compelling. A peer-reviewed paper from 1998 suggests that the ratio of gun use for suicide to use for self-defense is 11 to 1. CDC data from 2010 indicate that 60 percent of firearm deaths are suicides, and more than half of all suicides are by gunshot.

That second statistic is more compelling than it may seem. After all, most people who contemplate, and then attempt suicide, don't have guns. So what it means that more than half of all suicides are gun related is this: Most people who attempt suicide do NOT use guns, but those who use guns succeed much more often.

Guns don't kill, people kill -- even themselves. But guns make them a whole lot better at it.

And that's tragic, because suicide may result from uncompensated depression, or a moment of despondency that could be assuaged. A suicide attempt is an opportunity to identify the source of such anguish, and restore the chance to live. A completed suicide is: game over. Guns are strongly associated with the latter.

The simple, if sad, fact is that we are indeed all subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Maybe at one time or another most of us think at least fleetingly about taking arms against that sea of troubles, and by opposing, ending them. For most of us, it is just a fleeting thought. For some, it evolves into a plan, a gesture, or an attempt. For those with a gun handy, it results far more often in the need for a hearse rather than an ambulance. This is not ideology; it's just epidemiologic fact.

Suicide is a health care issue. If guns figure in it, as they irrefutably do, then guns are a health care issue, too. QED.

The surgeon general, whatever his or her views on gun control, has no political authority, and will do absolutely nothing about gun control in office. Even if the position did allow for that, why would that unsettle anybody? Even the president of the United States, openly in support of gun control legislation also supported by a decisive majority of us Americans, can't get much of anything done about it. Is the NRA really all that concerned about the profound ramifications of a public health physician's personal opinion? I'm impressed if so, because it must mean I have all kinds of power to which I am oblivious.

Far more likely, nobody actually is all that concerned about Dr. Murthy's totally predictable, completely uncontroversial position on this topic. It is all just political theater.

But it is bad theater. A public health physician stated -- before ever he was under consideration for surgeon general -- that guns are a public health issue. We may ignore the fact that he was exercising his first amendment rights at the time, and posed then -- as he poses now -- no threat to the second amendment rights of anyone else.

More importantly, he was speaking a truth, universally recognized as such. There should be no political agenda directed against universally recognized truths.

Cheer or lament it, public health is no threat to gun rights. But threats to public health that result from ideology over epidemiology, and resistance to statements of fact, are potentially ominous for us all.

However we may differ over guns, I suspect all of us like to live in a society where stating a fact does not bring reprisals. On that basis alone, please tell your members of Congress you would like Dr. Murthy freed from his political prison -- and confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General. Ideally, no SEALS will get involved.



Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP believes all sorts of radical things, like: no Uzis for certifiable sociopaths; the Second Amendment should not be defended at the expense of the First; and, oh yea, guns are a health care issue.

Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity

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Author: Disease Proof

David Lohr   |   November 17, 2014    5:28 PM ET

Authorities in Buffalo, New York, reportedly plan to confiscate handguns from the estates of recently deceased gun owners.

"We recently started a program where we're cross referencing all the pistol permit holders with the death records and we're sending people out to collect the guns whenever possible," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said at a recent press conference, according to WGRZ.

Under the terms of the new program, the weapons will be seized if the descendant's estate fails to take necessary steps to dispose lawfully of them.

Derenda said the goal of the program is to ensure the firearms don't wind up in the hands of a criminal.

"At times, [guns] lay out there and the family is not aware of them and they end up just out on the street," he said.

The plan is legal under state penal law 265.20(f), which states the estate of a deceased permit-holder has 15 days to dispose lawfully of the descendant's handguns or surrender them to the authorities. If they don't, they can face up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Buffalo Police Department further explained the law in a recent Facebook posting:

"The estate is also requested to notify the Erie County Pistol Permit Office ... of the permit holder's passing, along with a copy of a death certificate and information about the disposition of the firearm(s), so that the license may be cancelled."

According to the law, when a firearm is surrendered, authorities will hold the weapon for up to two years, during which time the estate can sell or transfer it to a licensed permit holder. In the event neither of those things occurs within that time period, the weapon will be disposed of by the authorities.

The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost on Monday. Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, declined to go into detail about the program.

"I don't think that I want to say any more on it," King told HuffPost. "It's an issue that will most likely be resolved in the courts."

In a Friday interview with Fox News, King said Derenda should have been clearer about the specifics of the law.

"They're quick to say they're going to take the guns," King told Fox News. "But they don't tell you the law doesn't apply to long guns, or that these families can sell [their loved one's] pistol or apply to keep it."

Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, called the program "cold-hearted" and "ghoulish."

"This is the kind of behavior one might expect in a police state, but not the United States," Gottlieb said, according to a statement obtained by "But it proves that the anti-gun mindset knows no boundaries. From now on, no gun control zealot will be able to dismiss and ridicule the concerns of law-abiding firearms owners that there is no reason to fear gun registration, no matter what form it takes. This explains why gun owners are opposed to registration and other forms of record-keeping and permit laws."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

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Robbie Couch   |   November 14, 2014    6:49 PM ET

Peter Thum saw preteens carrying rifles while he was in Kenya and Tanzania. Disturbed by the sight, the social entrepreneur decided to become a catalyst for change.

And to use jewelry to do it.

Thum is a co-founder of Fonderie 47 -- a brand of watches, bracelets, rings and other accessories helping rid Central Africa of deadly weaponry. The brand's items are in part created with melted down and recycled metal from AK-47s seized through disarmament efforts in the region, according to NPR.

Although not everyone may be able to purchase Fonderie 47's high-end items, a portion of each sale helps support Mines Advisory Group -- an international organization that removes and destroys weapons that remain after conflict. For example, one $195,000 watch ensures the demolition of 1,000 weapons, according to Fast Track.

Thum is not new to the humanitarianism scene. About 13 years ago, he founded Ethos Water -- a bottled water brand that donated a share of its profits toward sanitation and clean water efforts in the developing world. Ethos Water was sold to Starbucks in 2005.

Thum's eye-opening experience in Africa occurred while the entrepreneur was visiting safe water projects in the region.

According to Mines Advisory Group, the Cold War created arms supply routes across the globe. As a result, many regions around the world are now home to surplus amounts of weaponry. The United Nations said illegal weapons in Central Africa increase cross-border crime and complicate international relations in the region, Voice of America reported.

"This is a very tangible action," Thum told NPR of supporters buying jewelry to help the cause. "It's not a peace conference. Let's take a device that makes people dead and get rid of it."

Because of Fonderie 47, more than 40,000 weapons have been confiscated through the Mines Advisory Group, Fast Track reported, with the majority being from Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thum's success spurred him to bring his international idea home through Liberty United -- a jewelry company where "every purchase helps stop gun violence in America." The company, launched last year, uses jewelry sales to support local efforts curbing gun violence -- such as the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, CeaseFirePA, and the Newburgh Armory Unity Center -- according to Fast Track.

On Oct. 16, Liberty United announced a partnership with Cook County, Illinois -- which encompasses Chicago -- allowing the company to repurpose illegal guns collected by law enforcement. A portion of profits will boost area nonprofit efforts fighting gun violence, according to a press release.

"Our gun violence epidemic is destroying communities and setting back an entire generation of young Chicagoans," Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said. "With this partnership, we're taking guns that would otherwise be incinerated and turning them into something beautiful, while benefiting a local organization working on the front lines to stop the bloodshed."

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What Does Washington's I-594 Mean Going Forward? Trouble for the NRA

Mike Weisser   |   November 5, 2014    4:02 PM ET

As expected, in Washington I-594 won and I-591 lost. The margins of victory and defeat were about equal, which meant that, at least in this state, voters know how to read because the way the two propositions were worded, a 'yes' vote on both would have effectively cancelled them out. But proponents of gun safety were smart enough to see through the cynical ploy by Alan Gottlieb, who uses a non-profit called the 2nd Amendment Foundation to disguise what is a very successful right-wing direct mail operation and he put I-591 on the ballot because he knew that I-594 was going to pass.

Basically, I-594 makes Washington the sixth state to restrict all gun transactions to NICS checks. This closes what has always been considered a major loophole in the effort to keep guns out of the "wrong hands" because in those states where all gun transfers must go through NICS, a person with a criminal record or other disqualifying issue would not be able to get a gun no matter when or where the gun became available, as opposed to the current system in which individuals who do not meet legal qualifications for gun ownership can only be denied gun ownership at the initial point of sale.

The NRA has steadfastly rejected an expansion of background checks because, they claim, it targets law-abiding citizens while doing nothing to prevent crime. Imagine, says the NRA, "If your mother had a prowler at her home, having to do a background check on your own Mom before you could give her one of your guns for protection." Now I can't figure out how someone's going to get a gun to dear old Mom when the prowler is already in her home, but that's hardly the only thing the NRA says about armed defense that I can't figure out. Without a shred of evidence-based data they have been tirelessly promoting the idea that an armed America is a safer America for the last twenty years, but why let facts stand in the way of a good marketing campaign, right?

The good news is that the voters in Washington didn't buy this nonsense and, the last time I looked, were approving I-594 by a margin of nearly 20 points. Taking this issue directly to the voters was a smart move for the issue's supporters, first of all because they knew that the NRA would bottle up such a bill in the legislature, but second of all because universal background checks appear to have wide popular support. Even groups that generally support the NRA, such as Republican men, appear to favor NICS checks on most, if not all gun transactions, and ballot initiatives are a clever way to turn such grass-roots support into laws.

If gun safety advocates use the experience in Washington as a template and begin moving ballot initiatives for background checks into other states, they will not only negate the lobbying power of the NRA at the legislative level, but can use the financial resources of their chief supporters to equalize or overcome the monies that the NRA doles out for political campaigns. In the I-594 contest the supporters spent nearly $8 million to gain what will probably be somewhere above 1 million votes, the measure's opponents spent slightly under half a million and vote-wise fell far short. Bloomberg kicked in $2.3 million, the Microsoft boys -- Gates & Ballmer -- threw in another $1.6 million and Paul Allen added half a mil. Gates, Ballmer and Allen are all residents of Washington, but if Mayor Mike decided to move his funding cavalcade to another state he'd no doubt dig up a few wealthy friends to help foot the bill.

Don't get me wrong. You could fund a citizen's initiative on background checks in Alabama with a gazillion dollars and it would probably fail. But the first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in 2004. Now the list is up to 32...