Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Cost of Guns in America, an 800 Pound Gorilla, and House Hunting in Belize

Every so often there is an urge to stop writing about America's perverse gun fetish. Let's face it, there are powerful forces at work out there who will pay, do, or say anything to keep us all locked in this particular BDSM dungeon. They range from the National Rifle Association and their wholly owned savants in congress, to every gun manufacturer and coward who is so frightened of his fellow Americans he, or she can't leave home without packing a piece.

Yes, at times there is an overwhelming temptation to simply shrug at the frenzied madness, have a beer, and investigate property costs in someplace like Belize. Invariably, though, things show up on the internet which are so appalling they just have to be commented on.

In the latest edition of Mother Jones, economist Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation threw together some stats about the price of gun violence in these United States of America. He based his numbers on the year 2012, so it could be things have gotten worse since then.

According to Miller, gun violence costs each and every American $700 per year for a grand total of $229 billion every twelve months. In addition each murder carries an average price tag of  $441,000. He notes 87% of the bill is footed by taxpayers. The vast majority of it is what we pay to incarcerate the perpetrator.

His research shows 57% of gun related homicide victims are African American and that  black men are 10 times more likely to be shot to death than their white counterparts. Black women are four times more likely to be killed by a gun than white women. The other side of the coin is that 93% of all suicides committed with a gun are white people. Anglo men are three times more apt to kill themselves with a gun than black men while white women are four times more likely to shoot themselves than black women.

Miller also found that firearms are used in 70% of all homicides and in over 50% of suicides. In addition the people who decide to kill themselves with a gun are really good at it. 80% of attempted suicides involving a gun are successful.

In all, 33,000 Americans are killed every year by guns and another 80,000 are wounded. To put that in perspective over the last 14 years, 5,281 American service people have been killed in combat both in Iraq and Afghanistan while 50,897 have been wounded.

Earlier in the week Public Radio International published a report about a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study which was conducted in conjunction with the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The study itself is old news. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 1993. What it found was if you keep a firearm at home for self defense, or any other reason, you are running three times the chance of becoming a victim of homicide than people who don't have one. If there is a teenager, or young adult living with you they are 10 times more at risk of committing suicide with your weapon than others in their age group who live in a household without a gun.

As you can imagine the National Rifle Association took one look at those stats and went bat shit crazy. Even though there wasn't a word about limiting access to guns in the report, they knew it exposed all the crap they had been drilling into the heads of Americans for decades as deadly nonsense. Such a moment of distinct clarity is known as The Big Tobacco Paradigm. Indeed, once  people found out cigarettes really would kill them, they quit smoking by the millions. Fearing similar results, the NRA immediately ran to then republican senator Arlen Specter who was, at the time, the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. Proving he knew who paid for the butter on his bread, Specter called the CDC, accused them of bias, and threatened to cut all federal funding for injury research.

PRI says he didn't go that far, but quoted Dr. Fred Rivara, who was involved in the project, as saying, the committee did cut CDC funding by exactly as much as the study cost. Additionally Specter made sure there was a clause inserted in the appropriation rules for the CDC which blocked all gun research for 20 years.

The NRA wasn't satisfied. They wrote a letter to the National Institutes of Health demanding a review of the study by the Office of Scientific Integrity. Rivara explained, the letter basically questioned the credentials of everyone involved and accused researchers of lying, or at least falsifying the results of their work.

Eventually the NIH and Office of Scientific Integrity found nothing wrong with either the methodology, or findings, however the message was clear to all those who participated. Not only was the funding gone, but in the wake of the grotesque bullying no one wanted to take another swing at the 800 pound gorilla known as the NRA out of fear of what could happen to their careers.

In the end it isn't unreasonable to describe the NRA's response to the CDC report as a quaint variation of Don Corleone's offer you can't refuse.

Hey, that's how the ruthless bastards define liberty

It is also what makes some shack on a beach in Belize more and more attractive with each passing year.


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