Later On

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Archive for the ‘Guns’ Category

Since Parkland

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Tomorrow is the 1-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting, and since then shootings have continued. Look at SinceParkland.org for some stories of children killed by shootings.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 February 2019 at 9:06 am

More than 4 million children endured lockdowns last school year. The experience left many traumatized. Something is seriously wrong with the US.

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This should not be normal, but it is. That’s a sign of a serious and deep problem. Is anyone looking for a solution? Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox write in the Washington Post:

Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you ok?”

In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her.

Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Southeast Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building.

“The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her Anacostia school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared.

School shootings remain rare, even after 2018, a year of historic carnage on K-12 campuses. What’s not rare are lockdowns, which have become a hallmark of American education and a byproduct of this country’s inability to curb its gun violence epidemic. Lockdowns save lives during real attacks, but even when there is no gunman stalking the hallways, the procedures can inflict immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger. And the number of kids who have experienced these ordeals is extraordinary.

More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year alone, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by The Washington Post that included a review of 20,000 news stories and data from school districts in 31 of the country’s largest cities.

The number of students affected eclipsed the populations of Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware and Vermont combined. But the total figure is likely much higher because many school districts — including in Detroit and Chicago — do not track them and hundreds never make the news, particularly when they happen at urban schools attended primarily by children of color.

Still, on a typical day last school year, at least 16 campuses locked down, with nine related to gun violence or the threat of it. The Post’s final tally of lockdowns exceeded 6,200.

The sudden order to hunker down can overwhelm students, who have wept and soiled themselves, written farewell messages to family members and wills explaining what should be done with their bicycles and PlayStations. The terror can feel especially acute right after school shootings like the one in Parkland, Fla., when kids are inundated with details from massacres that have taken the lives of students just like them.

In New York City earlier this year, rumors of a firearm on campus sparked panic at a Staten Island high school, where teens desperately texted and called their parents, begging for help, telling them, “I love you.”

In Fremont, Neb., students sobbed as they hid for nearly two hours in a girls’ locker room with the lights turned off after a teenager was spotted with a gun. When armed officers barged in, they ordered the kids to put their hands up.

In Pensacola, Fla., a sixth-grader messaged his grandmother, certain a shooter was in the building after social media threats triggered a lockdown. “Please check me out before I doe,” he wrote her, then corrected his misspelling: “die.”

And then there are the kids like MaKenzie, who have never heard of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine but have heard the sound of gunshots on the streets where they live and play and learn. . .

Continue reading.

This is America today.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2018 at 5:40 pm

Training students to patch up classmates’ gunshot wounds sends message: Kids, you’re on your own

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A Boston Globe column by Nestor Ramos begins:

It sounds like some sort of especially dark satire: In a nation unwilling to take even modest steps to prevent the next Columbine or Parkland massacre, schools have begun training students to patch up their classmates’ gunshot wounds, writes columnist Nestor Ramos.

“Bleeding is the leading cause of death at a mass shooting,” an NBC News report about the trainings intoned last month, accompanied by images of Georgia high schoolers learning to bandage up their friends. “But one-third of victims can survive if treated within five minutes.”

As America attempts to stanch the steady stream of massacres inside its schools, trainings like Stop the Bleed – designed to teach professionals and the public how to respond in any kind of bloody mishap — have been repurposed to teach schoolchildren how to fend for themselves in a mass shooting. . .

Read the whole thing.

And consider the kind of country the US is becoming, before your very eyes.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2018 at 3:38 pm

How Defective Guns Became the Only Product That Can’t Be Recalled

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Michael Smith and Polly Gosendz report in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

Thomas “Bud” Brown makes his way out the back door and stops a few steps to the right, raising a trembling arm, pointing at something. It’s where he found his boy slumped against the cold back wall of the house around 7:15 a.m. on the last day of 2016, bleeding out.

Brown is telling the story now, about how he was sitting in his chair in the living room when he heard the shot. His son Jarred, 28, had just picked up Bud’s Taurus PT-145 Millennium Pro pistol and headed out to do some shooting near the house in Griffin, Ga., with his best friend, Tyler Haney. Bud figured Jarred had fired at something for the fun of it, like he did sometimes. “I was thinking I’d better go out there and tell him to be careful or something,” Bud, 54, says, his voice trailing off. But what he’d heard was the pistol going off without anyone pulling the trigger, sending a .45-caliber slug through Jarred’s femoral artery. “Oh shit, my leg, my leg,” Jarred yelled, loud enough for his father to hear. Haney, 26, rushed into the house in a panic, pleading for help. When Bud got out there, the pistol was still in the holster, tucked into Jarred’s waistband.

The rest is a blur for Bud. His wife, Sonie, recalls running out of the house in her nightgown. She’d grown close to Jarred since he moved into their home a year or so earlier, taking him to the stables to feed her two horses, cooking for him, and just talking with him. And now Jarred was on the ground, his father kneeling over him, applying pressure to the wound. Sonie wrapped Jarred’s belt around his leg as a tourniquet. It was hard to tell how bad the bleeding was because Jarred was wearing thick waterproof hunting pants. Sonie worked on Jarred, alternating between chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth, using the training she’d gotten during a career as a Georgia state parole and probation officer. Haney paced back and forth until Sonie ordered him to call 911. “Jarred was trying to say something, but then the words wouldn’t come out, and he stared,” Sonie says. By the time paramedics got there, she knew her stepson was gone. “I wasn’t going to say anything, because Bud was so torn up, but I knew,” she recalls today. “I can still taste the cigarettes on his breath.”

In the days after his son’s death, Brown couldn’t get his head around how that Taurus pistol went off. He’d spent his career in law enforcement, first as a Spalding County Sheriff’s Department deputy, then as a cop in Jackson, a little town nearby, and finally with a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Macon. (He retired 10 years ago before having surgery to remove a softball-size cancerous tumor from his esophagus.) For years, Brown was a police shooting instructor. He started teaching Jarred how to shoot with a .22 rifle when he was 7 and drilled safety into his head on hunting trips and at the shooting range.

Sonie also knows guns, down to the .38 revolver she’s licensed to use and carry in her purse for work as a probation officer. Sonie and Bud have 12 firearms in their small brick home—seven rifles and five handguns—and Bud is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. The Browns refused to accept that Jarred had accidentally shot himself. “Jarred knew his way around guns and safety better than I did,” Bud says. “He never would have done anything that would have made that gun go off.”

Those doubts were gnawing at Haney, too. He watched Jarred come out of the house with the Taurus safely in a holster and swears his best friend didn’t touch the pistol when it fired. “I knew there was something wrong with that gun,” Haney says. “So I Googled it.” He found a curious announcement on Taurus’s website: The company was offering to fix or replace nine of its handguns. The pistol that killed his friend was on the list.

Haney kept Googling. He learned that the repair-or-replace offer was the result of the 2016 settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by Chris Carter, a deputy in the Scott County, Iowa, sheriff’s department, against Brazilian gunmaker Forjas Taurus SA and two of its Florida-based units. In July 2013, Carter’s suit claimed, he was running down a suspected drug dealer when his Taurus PT-140 Millennium Pro pistol fell out of the holster at his hip, hit the ground, and fired, sending a slug into a nearby car. The suit further asserted that because of defects of design and manufacturing, nine different models of Taurus handguns can fire unintentionally when bumped or dropped or when the safety is on and the trigger is pulled. Taurus agreed to repair or buy back, for as much as $200, any of those models owned by people in the U.S. and its territories—an estimated 955,796 guns, according to the settlement. (The cut-off date for the offer was Feb. 6.) The company denied any negligence, wrongdoing, or defects in its firearms and also denied that its offer to fix its guns was a recall.

Haney sat Jarred’s dad and stepmother down in their living room to show them what he’d found. Sonie took down the name and number of Todd Wheeles, a state trooper turned lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., who’s handled 16 lawsuits against Taurus, including the class action in Iowa.

Two days later, Wheeles and another Birmingham lawyer, David Selby, were sitting at the Browns’ kitchen table. Wheeles showed them how the Taurus gun that killed Jarred would fire, even with the safety on. “In about 10 seconds he showed us three different ways that gun could go off on its own,” Sonie says.

Bud couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He’d never heard of any problem with Taurus guns. He never saw a notice at the pawnshop where he paid $250 for the gun that killed Jarred or at Walmart when he bought his ammunition. Before the kitchen table meeting was over, the Browns had hired Wheeles and Selby to sue Taurus for negligence and manufacturing defects. “I couldn’t believe that no one had warned us that those guns were bad,” Bud says. “Why didn’t Taurus warn us? Why did the government let them sell those guns?”

The simple answer is that no government entity has the power to police defective firearms or ammunition in America—or even force gunmakers to warn consumers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission can order the recall and repair of thousands of things, from toasters to teddy bears. If a defective car needs fixing, the U.S. Department of Transportation can make it happen. The Food and Drug Administration deals with food, drugs, and cosmetics. Only one product is beyond the government’s reach when it comes to defects and safety: firearms. Not even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can get defective guns off the market. If a gunmaker chooses to ignore a safety concern, there’s no one to stop it.

To understand how firearms makers escaped government oversight of the safety of their pistols, revolvers, and rifles, you need to go back to 1972, when Congress created the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Four years earlier, . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2018 at 2:17 pm

The insanity of Pizzagate, discussed by John Podesta

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Pizzagate in all its glory reveals what the threatening ideological infection the US harbors: a large number of angry people who are unable to connect with reality. That is a dangerous situation, particularly since the movement is directly encouraged by many on the Right, including some elected officials (beyond Trump, I mean). Andy Kroll reports in Rolling Stone:

John Podesta has given it a lot of thought and believes the best way to deal with the trolls is to ignore them. His wife, Mary, however, takes a different approach. When angry people call their home in the middle of the night, she has a conversation with them.

“She sits on the phone and talks to them, which is disconcerting actually to most of the people who are calling just to leave a nasty message on your voicemail,” Podesta says. “When somebody actually engages them and says, ‘Why are you doing this?’ they fold pretty quickly. But she has more patience for that than I do.”

Podesta is easily forgiven for having little time for his tormentors. Since 2016, he has been the victim of a deranged and viral conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate. The theory — which has its roots in the emails stolen from his personal account by Russian hackers and dumped online by WikiLeaks — claimed that Podesta was a pedophile and that he, Hillary Clinton and a Washington, D.C., restaurateur named James Alefantis ran a child sex-trafficking ring from the basement of Alefantis’ pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong.

On its face, Pizzagate was insane, with zero basis in reality. Yet in the frenzied days after Donald Trump’s election, it caught fire on social media platforms including Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and 4Chan, metastasizing into a story so twisted and bizarre that it radicalized online trolls and traumatized others who, through no fault of their own, had gotten sucked into the conspiracy.

Two years ago this month, Pizzagate reached its grim apex when a 28-year-old man stormed into Comet Ping Pong with a revolver and an AR-15 on a mission to save the “children.” Edgar Maddison Welch had binge-watched YouTube videos about Pizzagate and tried to recruit friends for his rescue mission. “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many,” he texted one friend a few days before he got in his Prius and drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington. Customers and employees fled the restaurant as Welch fired several rounds into a locked closet full of computer gear, searching for the infamous child sex dungeon in Comet’s basement, which he never found — not least because the pizzeria doesn’t even have a basement. No one was hurt, and Welch surrendered to the police, hands on his head, in broad daylight in the street outside of Comet. He was later sentenced to four years in federal prison.

Even after the arrest, Pizzagate lived on. The day after Welch stalked into Comet, Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of Trump’s first national security adviser, tweeted: “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.” An Economist/YouGov poll in late December 2016 found that 46 percent of Trump voters and 17 percent of Clinton voters thought Pizzagate was real. A few months later, a small rally of Pizzagate believers took place outside the White House. Protesters have stood outside Comet carrying blown-up photos of Alefantis’ god-daughter taken from his social media accounts. Strangers online have threatened to torture, rape and kill him.

“I’ve been through a lot of Washington shit in my life,” Alefantis tells Rolling Stone. He grew up in D.C., and dated David Brock, the notorious conservative journalist turned Clinton loyalist, for 10 years. “This is not my first time at the rodeo,” he says. “I had never seen this volume of specific, directed attacks.”

In the two years since the shooting, our understanding of online conspiracy theories has grown, of how they take root and the people who believe and spread those theories. But what about the victims? What is it like to be on the receiving end? How do you fight back against a plainly false allegation that changes your life?

***

For four decades John Podesta has worked at the highest levels of American politics: campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton’s historic 2016 presidential run, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, counselor to President Obama and adviser to senators and congressmen. But nothing could prepare him for Pizzagate.

Speaking about the conspiracy theory and its impact on his life for the first time, Podesta tells Rolling Stone that he learned about it the old-fashioned way: from the news. As Clinton campaign chair, he had spent the final month of the 2016 race locked in hand-to-hand combat with reporters about the contents of his personal emails, which WikiLeaks was releasing in periodic batches to damage Clinton’s chances. He didn’t have time to reflect on the hack, let alone notice the conspiracy theories bubbling up about him on websites like Reddit and 4Chan.

Searching for evidence of illegality or anything sinister in Podesta’s hacked emails, wannabe online sleuths decided that mentions of “pizza” were code for child pornography. An anonymous 4chan user posted a list of other supposed code words to search for in Podesta’s emails — “pasta” meant little boy, “ice cream” meant male prostitute, “sauce” meant orgy. Soon, the hashtag #Pizzagate appeared and spread like wildfire on social media.

Podesta claims he wasn’t overly concerned about his emails getting released: their contents, he now says, were “relatively much ado about nothing.” It wasn’t until after the election that he realized those emails had become fuel for a horrific conspiracy theory. In his career, he says he had never been on the receiving end of something like Pizzagate. “It’s painful and crazy,” he says. “I’m pretty grizzled. One big difference is you’ve got somebody sitting in the Oval Office stoking the conspiracy. That’s pretty different than what I’ve experienced in my years in politics.”

Podesta was only one strain of the conspiracy. Another thread formed around Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong. It appears to have begun with a 2008 email included in the WikiLeaks dump in which Alefantis asked Podesta if he would give a speech at an Obama fundraiser at Comet. From there, the trolls began mining every detail they could find about Alefantis and Comet, quickly concocting a parallel theory that said Alefantis, Podesta and Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring. Self-styled investigators claimed that symbols on Comet’s iconic sign (which had previously been used by a D.C. liquor store that had since closed) were linked to satanic rituals. They said a photo of an empty walk-in refrigerator was evidence of a secret kill room.

One day in November 2016, roughly a month before Welch’s attack, one of Alefantis’ young employees told him that a wild theory called Pizzagate was blowing up on Reddit. “What’s Reddit?” he asked.

Alefantis is a self-taught chef who never graduated from college and a self-made restaurateur well-known around Washington. (GQ named him one of D.C.’s 50 most powerful people in 2012.) He opened Comet more than a decade ago to be “a place of play and interaction,” as he puts it, where families could eat pizza and play ping pong and engage in real, substantive conversations with one another.

Alefantis told his staff that this Pizzagate thing would blow over after the election. Then Trump won, and the threats got worse. Violent messages poured into Comet’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, some of which Alefantis shared with Rolling Stone:

I will kill you personally

I truly hope someone blows your brains all over comet pizza

Are you scared yet? You should be motherfucker because were [sic] coming for you

You need to be raped killed and tortured like you do to children u sick fuck .. ur days of freedom are numbers u evil douche

The home addresses and phone numbers of Alefantis and his employees were published online. Comet would receive 150 menacing calls in a single day, Alefantis says, so he unplugged the phone. People reviewed Comet on Yelp and said there were chopped-up baby parts in their food.

As the threats became more violent, Alefantis repeatedly contacted the D.C. police and the FBI. He estimates he called the bureau three or four times and described a situation that, he admits, sounded insane. The FBI largely told him to call the police. “They were essentially like, ‘If you get a specific threat, let us know. Thank you, goodbye.’” When he asked what qualified as a specific threat, the FBI said, “A date and time when they’re going to come.” He says the local police visited Comet on multiple occasions but there was zero specific action taken by the police or the FBI as the threats escalated in the weeks after the election. (The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the same time the Pizzagaters barraged Comet, they attacked Alefantis personally. Strangers filmed his house and questioned his neighbors, he says. Any person or organization connected to him also got sucked in. A non-profit art gallery whose board he chaired received angry calls. Any trace of Alefantis’ life found in public records or social media — an old home address, an event he had attended — was used against him.

He came to see Pizzagate as a real-life video game played by the theory’s true believers. “These are people at home who want to investigate, and basically anything that’s available online is fair game to them,” Alefantis says. Sometimes, when he responded to the people making the threats, they would veer off into unexpected territory. “Some of those messages to me were, ‘How much do you pay your employees? Do you have health care?’” When he told them he did in fact offer health care, some responded, “Will you hire me?”

But the onslaught proved too much for him to handle on his own. Through a friend, he got in touch with Mike Gottlieb, a partner at the firm Boies Schiller Flexner. (David Boies, one of the firm’s founders, is the renowned litigator who has faced criticism for his work on behalf of Harvey Weinstein and the fraudulent blood-testing company Theranos.) Alefantis and Gottlieb met on a Friday in early December 2016, and Gottlieb agreed to take on Alefantis as a client. That Sunday, Welch walked into the restaurant, guns in tow. (Welch did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

Alefantis wasn’t at Comet but rushed over when he heard about the gunman. The neighborhood was a crime scene: there were SWAT officers and yellow tape everywhere, and police had evacuated Comet’s employees to a fire station down the street. The workers at Buck’s Fishing and Camping, another restaurant Alefantis owned on the same block as Comet, were locked inside for their safety, as were the other people who worked at nearby businesses. “I really hope that all these people fanning the flames of this conspiracy theory would take a moment to contemplate what has gone on today and maybe to stop,” Alefantis, still in shock, told reporters later that day.

At the urging of his new legal and P.R. team, Alefantis reopened Comet on Dec. 6th, two days after the attack. A long line of customers waited to get in, and he stood at the front door to personally welcome them. He recalls seeing one of his best friends from high school in line with her young kids. Months later, Alefantis and the friend talked about that day. “She said, ‘The look on your face was Don’t come here,’” he recalls. “I asked her, ‘How did you feel?’ She was like, ‘I did not want to go there. It was so terrifying for me.’” But her kids wanted to go and so she took them. “That trauma exists,” he says, “not just for me, but for a whole community of people.”

***

After Comet was back up and running, Alefantis and his lawyers set out to stop the spread of Pizzagate. “For me, at some point, I was like: My name is totally destroyed,” Alefantis says. “I just didn’t want anyone to come shoot us up again.”

The response from the social media companies ranged from helpful to utterly dismissive, Alefantis recalls. Even before he’d hired lawyers, Alefantis had gotten Yelp to suspend Comet’s page after his staff had reported the abusive reviews. Facebook was responsive to Comet’s complaints. YouTube, however, refused to so much as acknowledge its role in amplifying Pizzagate, saying they were just a platform, that they weren’t an arbiter of truth and falsity and told Alefantis to get back in touch if and when he could get a court order finding the videos that promoted Pizzagate to be defamatory.

“YouTube is a platform committed to allowing a wide range of free expression, but it is not and never has been anything goes,” a YouTube spokesperson tells Rolling Stone, adding that in the first half of 2018 the company removed more than 17 million individual videos that violated its policies.

The traditional crisis communications playbook proved useless. Media interviews and op-eds did nothing to quiet the conspiracists and, if anything, emboldened them. Alefantis’ lawyers and P.R. team booked him onto then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s show a few weeks after the attack. It didn’t help: Alefantis answered all of Kelly’s questions, but the interview just became more fodder. “We thought it was possible to show and tell the facts — to make sure that people could see with their own eyes that the crazy conspiracies were just false,” says Molly Levinson, a communications strategist who advised Alefantis. “But we quickly learned that in these kinds of situations any attention is bad attention, any public conversation becomes twisted and contorted and most likely has more of a negative than positive effect.”

The only real strategy, Alefantis realized, was a legal strategy. He would have to get aggressive with the loudest proponents of Pizzagate, people like Alex Jones, host of InfoWars, who had run multiple broadcasts with titles like “Pizzagate Is Real” and “Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture.”

Gradually, in the months after the gunman showed up, Jones and others seemed to bow to legal pressure and backed away from Pizzagate. On March 24th, 2017, Jones published online and read on-air a lengthy statement in which he apologized to Alefantis, announced that he had removed past broadcasts about Pizzagate and admitted that those stories were based on “an incorrect narrative.” Neither Alefantis nor his lawyers would further comment on any interactions with Jones or on any possible settlement.

Podesta says he considered litigation as well. But suing the Pizzagaters would be extremely difficult given that he was a major public figure. He pushed back against the trolls on Twitter, but that didn’t make much difference, either. He found that the best course of action was doing nothing. “If I really spent my life trying to figure out what those people were saying, it would drive me nuts,” he says. “The only rational reaction to that is to deal with it when there’s something serious and right in front of you, but for the most part to try to ignore it.”

***

This past September, Alefantis traveled to New York City to attend a therapy session with his ex-boyfriend. Alefantis and his ex had broken up as Pizzagate was raging, but they had decided to see a therapist together. During their session, Alefantis assured his ex that, almost two years later, the nightmare had passed. “Things have moved on,” he recalls saying. “You’re safe. Everyone’s fine. It’s all over.”

After their session, they headed for the subway. A stranger approached Alefantis on the street and began taking pictures in his face and screaming at him.

“I’m going to my kid’s school right now!” the stranger said, apparently fearing for his child’s safety.

“Don’t engage, James,” his ex told him.

“Go call the police,” Alefantis said to the man, “and get the fuck away from me.”

Alefantis walked his ex to the subway station. The stranger followed Alefantis on foot before eventually leaving. “The guy’s basically chasing after me through the streets of New York,” he recalls. “He’s a Pizzagater. He recognized me. It still happens.”

Today, Alefantis says business at Comet is back to pre-Pizzagate levels. The angry phone calls and violent online threats have mostly subsided. You can still find plenty of disturbing tweets if you search for #Pizzagate or #CometPingPong on social media. But the worst of it appears to be over. Alefantis says he thinks the trolls just moved on to other things.

A restaurant in a smaller city, owned by someone with fewer connections, would’ve closed, he says. But the community of customers Alefantis had built up over the years rallied around him. Three brief phone calls and he had a meeting with one of the best attorneys in the country. “If this had been someone else or someone else’s restaurant, without 10 years of hard work and support behind us, without my understanding of how absurd the world can be and how difficult these things are, other people would have been taken down,” he says.

But the trauma remains. . .

Continue reading.

The US is becoming a bad place.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2018 at 8:38 am

The role of PTSD in mass shootings: Let’s separate myth from reality

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Deborah Netburn reports in the LA Times:

Just hours after former Marine Ian David Long killed himself and 12 other people at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday night, observers speculated that post-traumatic stress disorder played a role in the tragedy.
The Ventura County sheriff alluded to it. One of Long’s former roommates in Reseda mentioned it. Even the president of the United States said it.

But psychology experts say it is premature to suggest that Long suffered from PTSD — or that it could have prompted him to open fire in a bar packed with young adults.

“Unless someone comes forward and says this man was experiencing PTSD or being treated for PTSD, there is no reason to think he had PTSD,” said Lisa Jaycox, a behavioral scientist and clinical psychologist at the Rand Corp. in Washington, D.C., who studies how people to react to violence.

Jaycox’s previous work has shown that even among veterans who have seen combat, fewer than 1 in 5 suffer from PTSD. She also said violent behavior is not a common symptom of the disorder.

Jaycox spoke with the Los Angeles Times about myths and facts about PTSD.

Do we know for certain that the Thousand Oaks shooter suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder?

No. We know he did see combat in Afghanistan, but it’s a small portion of people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder after an experience like that.

In my own work, when we looked at people who had recently been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, about 14% of them suffered from PTSD. It’s not the norm.

Whenever a mass shooter has a military background, people are quick to blame it on PTSD. Does that make sense?

No. There are about 20 symptoms associated with the disorder. One of them is anger and irritability, but that is not the predominant picture of post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people who have PTSD are not violent.

What might be more pertinent here is that military personnel who have violent outbursts may be more likely than other people to own a gun privately and to be highly trained with firearms.

What exactly is post-traumatic stress disorder?

I think of it as a very human reaction to a traumatic event, and then an inability to recover.

In the wake of a mass shooting I’m sure everyone who was there will be thinking about it constantly in the days and weeks afterwards — dreaming about it, having difficulty focusing on work or relationships. But if those symptoms persist for more than a month, then that is classified as PTSD.

What are some other symptoms?

They cluster in four areas. Re-experiencing the trauma, so flashbacks, nightmares, recurrent thoughts. Then there is arousal, which includes irritability, difficulty concentrating and difficulty sleeping.

Another set of symptoms have to do with withdrawal and numbing — feeling disconnected from people and emotionally blunted. And finally, avoiding things that might remind you of the trauma — not wanting to talk about it and avoiding certain people and places.

Do most people with PTSD develop it as a result of military service?

No. It’s much more common to be exposed to it through community violence, sexual violence or sexual assault.

We’ve done work in the Los Angeles County school system that shows one-third of kids who have been exposed to community violence suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Most of these kids are flying completely under the radar. It’s the 7th-grade girl sitting quietly at her desk or the 8th-grade boy playing basketball. They are not shooting people.

Are people with PTSD more likely to commit mass shootings?

I would say no, but I don’t think there is great data on that because these events are so rare. But again, there is not a high likelihood of being violent when you have PTSD.

When we think of PTSD, we mostly think about military men. Why? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2018 at 11:24 am

Shootings happen only when guns are present. America’s easy access to guns is enabling all these mass shootings

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German Lopez reports in Vox:

It’s been a horrible few months for mass shootings.

There’s the Thousand Oaks, California, bar shooting on Wednesday. There was the Tallahassee, Florida, yoga studio shooting last week. There was the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting late last month. There was the Florence County, South Carolina, shooting in which police officers were shot in October. There was the downtown Cincinnati shooting in September.

There were also a bunch of mass shootings that didn’t get much attention. The Gun Violence Archive considers events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot (but not always killed) in the same time period and place as mass shootings. By this count, there have been 311 mass shootings in 2018, resulting in 314 killed and 1,270 wounded. That’s almost a mass shooting a day.

After these horrific events, politicians and pundits will latch onto all sorts of explanations for why these keep happening: It’s mental illness. It’s misogyny. It’s anti-Semitism. It’s some other form of extremism or hate.

In individual shootings, these all of course can play a role. But when you want to explain why America sees so many of these mass shootings in general, none of these factors in individual shootings give a satisfying answer. Only one thing does: America’s easy access to guns.

America does not have a monopoly on mental health issues, bigots, or extremists. What is unique about the US is that it makes it so easy for people with these issues to obtain a gun.

America’s gun problem

It comes down to two basic problems.

First, America has uniquely weak gun laws. Other developed nations at the very least require one or more background checks and almost always something more rigorous beyond that to get a gun, from specific training courses to rules for locking up firearms to more arduous licensing requirements to specific justifications, besides self-defense, for owning a gun.

In the US, even a background check isn’t a total requirement; the current federal law is riddled with loopholes and snared by poor enforcement, so there are many ways around even a basic background check. There are simply very few barriers, if any, to getting a gun in the US.

Second, the US has a ton of guns. It has far more than not just other developed nations, but any other country period. Estimated for 2017, the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 120.5 guns per 100 residents, meaning there were more firearms than people. The world’s second-ranked country was Yemen, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 52.8 guns per 100 residents, according to an analysis from the Small Arms Survey [see chart above – LG]

Both of these factors come together to make it uniquely easy for someone with any violent intent to find a firearm, allowing them to carry out a horrific shooting.

This is borne out in the statistics. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times that of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to United Nations data for 2012 compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason America has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)

The research, compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center, is also pretty clear: After controlling for variables such as socioeconomic factors and other crime, places with more guns have more gun deaths. Researchers have found this to be true not just with homicides, but also with suicides (which in recent years were around 60 percent of US gun deaths), domestic violence, and violence against police.

As a breakthrough analysis by UC Berkeley’s Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins in the 1990s found, it’s not even that the US has more crime than other developed countries. This chart, based on data from Jeffrey Swanson at Duke University, shows that the US is not an outlier when it comes to overall crime:

Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence — and that’s driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.

“A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar,” Zimring and Hawkins wrote. “A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.”

This is in many ways intuitive: People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get angry at an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone.

Researchers have found that stricter gun laws could help. A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence — a strong indicator that restricting access to guns can save lives. A review of the US evidence by RAND also linked some gun control measures, including background checks, to reduced injuries and deaths.

That doesn’t mean that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2018 at 8:54 am

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