Sunday, May 18, 2014

Point Blank

Writing in The Huffington Post last Friday, Qudsia Raja, the Advocacy and Policy Manager for Health and Safety for the YWCA (my old job, as Bill Mahar would say), pointed out that "If you're a woman in the U.S., you're more likely to die at the hands of a gun than in any other developed nation in the world." 

Let that sink in for a minute.  Of any modern country in the world, the U.S. is the least safe for women.  Lest that sound like mere liberal hyperbole, the source of this sobering fact is an academic, peer-reviewed, 2011 article by Erin Richardson and David Hemenway in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery (Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Fatality: Comparing the United States with Other High-Income Countries; vol. 70, pgs. 238-42).  If, like me, you're not a regular reader of the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, the salient points of the article are:
  • The U.S. homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that are 19.5 times higher. 
  • For 15- to 24-year-olds, firearm homicide rates in the U.S. are 42.7 times higher than in other countries. 
  • For U.S. males, firearm homicide rates are 22 times higher, and for U.S. females, firearm homicide rates are 11.4 times higher. 
  • The U.S. firearm suicide rates are 5.8 times higher than in the other countries, although overall suicide rates are 30% lower. 
  • The U.S. unintentional firearm deaths are 5.2 times higher than in the other countries. 
Among 23 populous, high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occur in the United States, 86% of all women killed by firearms are American women, and 87% of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms are American children.

"Forty-six women are shot to death each month by a current or former partner in domestic violence-related homicides," Ms. Raja continues.
"These women are friends, mothers, neighbors and daughters, and nearly one in five of them had previously obtained protective orders against their abusers. Yet those orders were insufficient to save their lives. 
Intimate partner homicides account for nearly half of all women killed each year in the U.S., with three women murdered every day. Of these homicides, more than half are attributed to firearm use. This is a public health issue, and it is preventable."

Do guns keep women safe, as the NRA and Congress (both Republicans and a majority of Democrats) would have you believe?  No.  In fact, the opposite appears to be true.

Fact: The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases five-fold the risk of homicide for women (Source: J.C. Campbell, D.W .Webster, J. Koziol-McLain, et al., 2003, Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study; American Journal of Public Health, vol. 93, pgs. 1089-1097).  

The authors of the Public Health study considered the possibility that access to a gun by the victim could plausibly have reduced her risk of being killed.  However, they could find no clear statistical evidence of any protective benefits.

Fact: In most cases of self-defense, no shots are fired at all (Source: David Hemenway and D. Azrael, The Relative Frequency of Offensive and Defensive Gun Uses, Results From a National Survey; Violence and Victims, vol. 15. no. 3, pgs 257-272).  However, the Public Health study found that the victims’ risk of being killed by their partner did become lower when they lived apart from the abuser and had sole access to a firearm.  In other words, women were safer when the gun was out of the hands of their partner.

So what can be done?  Although a perpetrator’s access to firearms increases homicide risk, banning of firearms infringes on U.S. Second Amendment rights, and besides, there were already 270 million firearms in civilian hands in 2007, or nearly one per person.  With the proliferation of guns already in the hands of Americans, other solutions have to be considered.

"Our analysis and those of others," the Public Health authors note, "suggest that increasing employment opportunities, preventing substance abuse, and restricting abusers’ access to guns can potentially reduce both overall rates of homicide and rates of intimate partner femicide."

Access to firearms and use of illicit drugs by the perpetrator are strongly associated with the likelihood of domestic homicide. Neither alcohol abuse nor drug use by the victim was associated with her risk of being killed.

The strongest risk factor for domestic homicide was the perpetrator’s lack of employment. Instances in which the perpetrator had a college education (vs. a high-school education) decrease the likelihood of homicide, as were instances in which the perpetrator had a college degree and was unemployed but looking for work. Race and ethnicity of abusers and victims were not independently associated with domestic homicide risk after control for other demographic factors.

So here's my solution to this crisis:  In addition to tightening laws to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and users of illicit drugs, as well as confiscating firearms from convicted domestic abusers, as a nation we should provide low-interest (or no interest, or free) higher education to as many Americans as possible.

This would not only lower the risk of homicide associated with a lack of higher education, it could also plausibly lower unemployment, provided there were jobs available.  In addition, illicit drug use would be expected to decrease among an educated, employed work force.

Henry fucking Rollins. . utt' s mai. ishii) itit.. t.. either nah an . , ll and ii warm win " , (flty j, -IAH " henry Hollens. A country with no low level laborers is impossible. So, most of your whip-crack smart kids will be filling low level jobs, and the time necessary for college wo

Therefore, the second part of my solution would be to stimulate job creation, including a Federal jobs program to repair and upgrade the nation's aging infrastructure, not only roads and bridges, but airports, inter-modal transport and shipping facilities, telecommunications, and a free, open, high-speed internet system.

Would this be expensive? You bet.  Would this help the deficit?  Maybe not in the short term, but the consumer demand of a newly educated, employed middle class, along with the benefits of an improved national infrastructure, could plausibly increase revenue in the long term to offset the expense of the program in the short term.

And it's better than standing by and doing nothing while American women are being killed.  

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