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About this blog: I was born and raised in Palo Alto, and graduated from Palo Alto High in 2013. For the lion's share of that time, I had a starry-eyed adoration for my hometown, and all its perks: top-notch schools, safe neighborhoods, and a boomi...  (More)

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Data and Compassion: Radical Tools in the Fight for Gun Control

Uploaded: Mar 19, 2018

Students in Washington D.C. during National Walkout Day, March 14, 2018.

During last week’s National Walkout Day, a nationwide demonstration against gun violence, I sat in a crowded lecture room at Stanford’s school of medicine. Physicians, surgeons, and lawyers alike were presenting their ideas on this timely and contentious issue. Public health experts described the socioeconomic impact of gun violence; a trauma surgeon depicted the visceral reality of gunshot wounds; and a lawyer explained America’s past and present gun legislation. The event was convicting – a call to stand up, and speak truth to our nation’s power. I shared that conviction, which is why I’m writing today.

But if such a conviction is to move beyond rhetoric, it likely needs reframing. If we in Palo Alto are to advocate for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and for lives across the country, we must frame our advocacy with wisdom and compassion.

When I first heard of the Parkland shooting I, like many others, felt an unsettling mix of rage and cynicism. A similar outrage is pulsing through our national and local discourse. Mass shootings are preposterously prevalent, and the solution is, ostensibly, no more complex than passing a simple bill. We have knowledge, we have purpose, we have the stalwart Parkland survivors. Straightforward and visible victories should be at hand. The fact that they are not, calls for even more outrage.

But after sitting through the Stanford medical school panel, I’m skeptical that victory or loss are so simple in this case. Instead, after considering the social, public health, and legal contexts, I’ve arrived at three primary conclusions. First, that we in Palo Alto must resist grabbing at detached facts and figures surrounding gun violence, and constantly search for sound, reliable data. Second, that any subsequent advocacy must reflect our growing body of nuanced knowledge. And third, that our advocacy must burst beyond the insular – and perhaps self-defeating – Silicon Valley echo chamber. These points are simple, but often overlooked in the post-tragedy frenzy. I believe Palo Alto should embrace them, if local perspectives are to become relevant for dissonant minds. If the injustice of gun violence is to be rectified, we must understand comprehensively, speak wisely, and act compassionately.

Sound understanding is the simplest, yet most critical of these necessities. All too often, contentious debates are held around gun violence, informed by obtuse facts from the Facebook newsfeed. Think of any prominent national debate – how often do opposing parties ceaselessly revolve around broad, diametrically-opposed truth-claims? I am no exception, and often fall victim to this tendency myself.

For example: before the Stanford panel, I assumed that public health experts had studied every last crevice of American gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In 1996, the National Rifle Association lobbied for what is now called the Dickey Amendment, after a 1993 government-funded study found that guns did not, in fact, increase household safety. The NRA claimed that the study’s authors were biased, and pushed the bill which declared that “none of the funds made available [by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” To this day, public health researchers find it difficult to use CDC funds for gun violence research.

Meaningful data do exist, however, and we might all benefit by becoming well-versed in them. For example, it is shocking – though perhaps not surprising – that approximately 33,000 people die in the U.S. from gun violence each year (FiveThirtyEight). Nearly two-thirds of those deaths are suicides, with small-scale homicides rounding out most of the remaining third. In comparison, mass shootings comprise a miniscule fraction of gun-related deaths: just 14 out of 33,594, in 2014 (BBC).

The cultural and social nuances of gun violence are also evident. For example, white males comprise about 85% of gun-related suicides, and propagate the overwhelming majority of mass shootings. On the other hand, young black men are at disproportionate risk of homicide, with one Stanford panelist saying that “you can’t talk about gun violence in America without talking about race.”

As FiveThirtyEight notes, the common element in all these deaths is a gun. Nonetheless, our public discourse on gun violence may be too broad.

If any gun-control advocacy is to be effective – if it is to change minds and save lives – then anti-gun rage must be tempered with such nuanced data. It must also be tempered with the knowledge that – within a given geographic and socioeconomic environment – most people are predisposed toward certain views on gun control. I naturally reflect Californian gun control attitudes; but what if I were raised in Knox County, Ohio, where I went to college? If we in Palo Alto are to advocate for federal gun control, therefore, our knowledge must be both nuanced and self-reflective.

But knowledge is not enough, and no human is purely rational. This point came across during the Stanford panel: while data are invaluable to any gun control discussion, people and cultures are rarely convinced by facts alone. As such, it is not enough for us to absorb more numbers, churn them up, and spit them out into the bottomless Silicon Valley echo chamber. While I agree that these numbers are convicting, I’m also aware that my perspective on gun violence is purely abstract. If I want to change the minds of people in rural Ohio or West Virginia – those to whom guns are real, tangible parts of life – I cannot forsake humble compassion.

And let’s be clear: federal legislative victories will not come without changing minds. U.S. gun culture is far too strong for spiteful policy-pushing. Even the Stoneman Douglas students themselves have not yet affected federal discourse. This is not because they lack in wit or fervor; rather, it is because cultural attitudes must first be permuted, if life-saving policy is to be enacted.

And how does one shift cultural attitudes? By shaping and reshaping communities, which are comprised of real human beings. California has long been a pioneer in gun control legislature, and we should be proud of that. Now is the hard part: how do we make that pioneering relevant, especially to our friends in NRA-toting states and communities?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers in this discussion. To be honest, my interest in the issue was first sparked by the inspiring events of National Walkout Day. But as a researcher, a writer, and a human being, I know one thing. I know that minds and cultures are not changed through brute force and echo chambers; they are transformed through wisdom, outreach, and compassion. If we take any one of those factors without the other two, our efforts will be in vain. If we lambast gun-rights advocates as moronic hillbillies, our national laws will never change. And if we fail to unite our minds with our hearts? Then children, the suicidal, and young black men will continue to die preventable deaths.

We in Palo Alto like to consider ourselves innovators. Let us put forth a radical innovation, and change gun violence with wisdom and compassion.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by LiberalGuns, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 20, 2018 at 2:59 pm

LiberalGuns is a registered user.

To Mr. Petriceks,
Since you posted this article, I have been trying to figure out how to respond in a manner that you may be open to learning from. I think I have found a way to reach you, if not, I can always try other arguments.

You stated:
"First, that we in Palo Alto must resist grabbing at detached facts and figures surrounding gun violence, and constantly search for sound, reliable data. Second, that any subsequent advocacy must reflect our growing body of nuanced knowledge. And third, that our advocacy must burst beyond the insular " and perhaps self-defeating " Silicon Valley echo chamber."

Mr. Petriceks,
I found in Forbes on-line some articles that you may be willing to learn from because they were written by a doctor who is closer to your own age and has a deep background in health research and ethics.

These articles also provide links to firearms research conducted under the CDC and other Federal health-related agencies. These studies include areas of research data that the main-stream chooses to exclude from consideration when discussing firearms laws.

The articles are written by a doctor named Paul Hsieh.
Mar 20, 2018 @ 07:30 AM
Any Study Of 'Gun Violence' Should Include How Guns Save Lives

‘Carrying a Gun Saved My Life': Meet Ryan Moore
By Paul Hsieh January 30, 2013

Many of the assertions you made are not actually true and I hope the articles provided begin to help you see just some of the misinformation you believe to be true.

If you indeed meant what you said, please make the effort to learn some new information and to gain the "nuanced knowledge" you wrote about.

Thank you for following your own advice and do let me know how you are doing on that.

 +   7 people like this
Posted by Conservative Lives, a resident of Nixon School,
on Mar 20, 2018 at 3:31 pm

The anecdotal stories of guns occasionally saving a life, popping up amid the carnage of tens of thousands of annual gun deaths.

Did his so-called 'study' (story) involve a high capacity AR-15 with a bump stock?

Pretty sure we can all recall a 'story' about such a weapon: Web Link Oh, look! More than one!

Let's get back to the topic: data. Not anecdotes.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by LiberalGuns, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Mar 20, 2018 at 4:17 pm

LiberalGuns is a registered user.

@Conservative Lives,

You have completely missed the point of the blog by Aldis Petriceks!

"The anecdotal stories of guns occasionally saving a life,"

The term "anecdotal" implies a rare event not worthy of consideration. Considering that when you combine all types of "long guns" (meaning all types of rifles and shotguns together) the total number of deaths by long-guns is about 250-300 and about 2/3rds of those are suicides. Knives kill about 1600/yr, hands/feet about 650, etc. Semi-auto rifle deaths get a lot of media attention, but they are in fact quite rare. The very definition of "anecdotal".

Clearly, you have not bothered to read up on all the facts, which was the point of the article. The vast majority of people know nothing beyond what the main-stream media tells them and they mostly wont bother to dig any deeper beyond the cherry-picked and often false info provided by the main-stream media.

According to the CDC study there were at least 500k lawfully defensive firearms uses compared to only 300k illegal violent crimes committed with firearms. Hardly "anecdotal".

"popping up amid the carnage of tens of thousands of annual gun deaths."

As the author of the blog suggests, we must seek out all information and gain a "nuanced knowledge" of the truth, not just emotional knee-jerk cries to do "something", regardless of how utterly useless any proposed laws would be. Worse yet, it's extremely rare for the long-standing laws to actually get enforced.

And again, 2/3rd of all firearms deaths are suicides. Lets also consider that according to the FBI UCR, about 1400 people are lawfully killed by police and about 1600 are lawfully killed by armed civilians. Leaving about 7000 actual unlawful murders.

The rest of the firearms deaths were not even crimes!

"Did his so-called 'study' (story) involve a high capacity AR-15 with a bump stock?"

Actually, there are many true-life stories where citizens with an AR-15 (or other semi-auto rifles) lawfully used them in self-defense situations and the police agreed the armed citizen acted properly.

" with a bump stock? Pretty sure we can all recall a 'story' about such a weapon"

Indeed, one such crime and no laws could possibly have prevented a determined MILLIONAIRE from committing that crime after planning it for well over a year.

"Let's get back to the topic: data. Not anecdotes. "

And yet, the very crime you point to is the ultimate in anecdotes!

These exceedingly rare crimes that the media loves so much are not useful data in thinking about firearms laws. The only ones who benefit are politicians and media that exploit these rare events to keep themselves in power and selling more advertising.

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Conservative Lives, a resident of Nixon School,
on Mar 20, 2018 at 5:08 pm

"The term "anecdotal" implies a rare event"

Well, no. Let me help you:
(of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

So let's move on: you said "According to the CDC study"

Link to the CDC study on the CDC site, please.

So while you look for that.... Are you actually referring to the NAP report that has a short ambiguous section on possible defensive statistics? The one that ends with:

"For example, if gun ownership raises the risk of suicide, homicide, or the use of weapons by those who invade the homes of gun owners, this could cancel or outweigh the beneficial effects of defensive gun use. Although some early studies were published that relate to this issue, they were not conclusive, and this is a sufficiently important question that it merits additional, careful exploration."

If so, you may want to get off the gun sites that have been cherry-picking selected excerpts and read the whole thing. After you find the CDC report on the CDC site, of course.

Cheers, mate.

 +   5 people like this
Posted by fact checker, a resident of Woodside School,
on Mar 21, 2018 at 3:07 pm

"To this day, public health researchers cannot tap government funds to investigate gun violence."

The restriction is much narrower than you portray. It only applies to *advocacy for gun control*, not merely *investigating* gun violence. HHS Secretary Azar said this of the Dickey Amendment: "My understanding is that the rider does not in any way impede our research mission. It is simply about advocacy,"

Furthermore, it only applies to the CDC--not all government funds.

Please be more careful with your facts in the future, so that you don't end up spreading falsehoods and giving credence to the cries of "fake news!".

 +   5 people like this
Posted by Conservative Lives, a resident of Nixon School,
on Mar 21, 2018 at 4:48 pm

Secretary Azar? The drug company executive that was put in charge of HHS? See: fox, henhouse. See also: swamp, filling

If you look at the omnibus bill with the attached Dickey amendment, you will find that the GOP Congress took the $2.6 million from the CDC's budget, allocated to the agency for firearms research, and reallocated it to brain injury research.


American Psychological Association
Web Link
"Research on the prevention of firearm-related injury, supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and coordinated within CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), has come under attack from Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) and the National Rifle Association (NRA). The House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee initially rejected Rep. Dickey's attempt to eliminate the $2.6 million dedicated to CDC firearm-injury research. However, Mr. Dickey prevailed in the full Appropriations Committee. The Dickey amendment would transfer the $2.6 million to regional health education centers. This research has attracted a powerful and wealthy opponent " the NRA. The NRA has taken the position that firearm-related injury research at the CDC amounts to 'antigun' political advocacy and has also attacked the quality of this research. However, research proposals submitted to CDC are subject to a peer review process that follows standard practices. APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) has distributed accurate information to Congress on the nature of CDC-supported firearm-injury research and is advocating against the Dickey amendment."

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eileen Wright, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 22, 2018 at 5:50 pm

Data and compassion have no place in the everlasting fight to preserve our basic rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment says we Americans can have all the guns we want. It does not say we need data and compassion.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Clauses and Commas, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 22, 2018 at 7:47 pm

The Second Amendment says...

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."

Why doesn't the NRA have the full amendment posted in their lobby, but just part of it?

And what about our founding documents which discuss LIFE liberty etc..?

 +   4 people like this
Posted by The Middle will win, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Mar 24, 2018 at 12:37 pm

SCOTUS has determined that the 2nd amendment does NOT guarantee unrestricted firearms. You can, and we will, have common sense gun laws put into place without banning guns as the common NRA narrative likes to claim people are doing.

When the Republicans brought forth the first common sense gun law by banning bump stocks, it signaled to all that we can have gun laws and guns just like we can have driving laws and cars. Extremists will make the most noise, but the middle has the common sense.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Shiramusa, a resident of Cuernavaca,
on Mar 29, 2018 at 3:53 am

Thanks for sharing about Data and Compassion: Radical Tools in the Fight for Gun Control...........

Web Link

 +   10 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 29, 2018 at 10:56 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

I don't understand the focus on data. As noted in the blog, there is a lot of historical data on gun crimes including who commits them, with what type of weapon and why.

The overwhelming number of total gun crimes (some estimates as much as 99%) are committed using handguns. The author points out that over 2/3 of those are suicides. Next we have drug and gang related incidents, domestic/family/workplace violence and mental illness. One can pick and choose reports to micro criticize numbers but there is really no dispute about those conclusions.

Lastly, we get to mass shootings which account for about 150 incidents over the last 50 years. Since 1982, only about 25% were carried out using rifles of any kind. Terrorism has been a major cause of the increase and the other is what I will call fratricidal sociopathy. That is where there is no clear political motive but the shooters simply want to take their anger out on the world and cause as much suffering as possible.

So I think the question you are really asking is how to stop the gun violence. Well, to solve that problem we need to understand the causes of suicide, gang violence, domestic/family/work disputes, mental illness, terrorism and sociopathy.

The good news is we know the answers to those too. It is the break up of the nuclear family, teenage pregnancy and having children out of wedlock, no positive institutional moral framework, isolation and lack of connectedness to the community, dramatic wealth inequality (not just poverty), drug/alcohol abuse and poor access to mental health care.

Those are the things that lead to self-destructive behavior, sociopathic tendencies and gun violence. They would be a good place to start rather than focusing on the cosmetic features of weapons that are used in less than a fraction of 1% of the crimes.

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