When Men Murder Women: The Violence Policy Center 2013 Report

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The following is a guest blog originally published here by Jerin Arifa, with an acknowledgement to Patricia Reuss for staying on top of this issue and sending the report to us.

Jerin serves with me on the board of directors for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and chairs NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force.

Patricia is the “godmother” of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), having worked very closely with now Vice-President Joe Biden when he authored the original VAWA back in 1994.  She describes herself as “a longtime women’s rights activist pretending to be retired and currently serving as a policy adviser to NOW and the National Task Force [to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women].”

Earlier this year, Pat wrote a guest blog for me on the Violence Against Women Act. It focused on a watered-down version of VAWA introduced by Republican legislators that fortunately failed and was replaced by a strong re-authorization bill signed into law by President Obama on Women’s Equality Day last March. Thank you Pat for all you do for women’s lives.

Here’s Jerin’s guest blog:

The Violence Policy Center has released their annual report, When Men Murder Women, in advance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The study reports the statistics for females murdered by males, and includes a list of the top ten states with the highest homicide rates.

Some key findings:

  1. For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 94 percent of female victims were murdered by someone they knew. Compared to a man, a woman is far more likely to be killed by her spouse, an intimate acquaintance, or a family member than by a stranger.
  2. For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 51 percent of female victims were shot and killed with guns. Of these, 73 percent were killed with handguns.
  3. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance was more than five times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents
  4. For homicides in which the circumstances could be identified, 87 percent were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.
  5. Of these, 60 percent involved arguments between the victim and the offender.
  6. For homicides in which the age of the victim was reported, 8 percent were less than 18 years old and 10 percent were 65 years of age or older. The average age was 39 years old.
  7. Owning a gun doesn’t protect women. Females living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home.
  8. A gun in the home is a key factor in the escalation of nonfatal spousal abuse to homicide. In one study, firearm-associated family and intimate assaults were 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm associated assaults between family and intimates.
  9. Women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.
  10. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of lethal gun use in America in 2010, the most recent final data available, are suicide (19,392), homicide (11,078), or fatal unintentional injury (606).
  11. South Carolina was followed by Alaska and Oklahoma as the states with the highest homicide rates for women.

Update on Pittsburgh’s Domestic Violence Policies

Last week I wrote a blog about an attempt by Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess  to backtrack on the city’s domestic violence policies.

There has been a week of outrage among advocates for the back-handed attempt to eliminate the police-perpetrated domestic violence ordinance that was created in 2007.

Yesterday, three people, including former City Council President Douglas Shields and my friend Audrey Glickman (both of whom were quoted in last Friday’s blog), spoke out in committee to not backtrack.  Then today, advocates came out in mass to oppose the commingling of police-perpetrated domestic violence with police responses to domestic violence in the community.

Most of the advocates who spoke were given three minutes to express their concerns. Jeanne Clark (candidate for Pittsburgh City Council, long-time NOW member and a women’s rights advocate), Shirl Regan (Executive Director of Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh), Beth Pittinger (Executive Director of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board), and Maryellen Deckard (State Campaign and Development Director for  Action United—a membership organization of low and moderate income Pennsylvanians that employed Ka’Sandra Wade before her death—and the convener of ANEW WOMEN—a group of women who have experienced domestic abuse and want to work for change) were given seats at the Council table to discuss the issues in more depth.

Following the concerns raised about domestic violence and with Jeanne’s call for a public hearing, Pittsburgh City Council quashed the attempt to eliminate the police-perpetrated domestic violence ordinance.  They placed a hold on the proposed Domestic Violence Task Force ordinance until after a post-agenda hearing is held.  And they passed the resolution that allows funds to be expended to start the Maryland Lethality Assessment Training program.

The final vote on this resolution and the amendments made in committee today will be finalized on Tuesday, May 14 during the official business meeting of city Council.   Here’s a news article on what happened, along with some quotes.

After the Council met and voted down Burgess’ proposal to eliminate the zero-tolerance policy, Councilman Bill Peduto sent me the following email:

Joanne –

I wanted to let you know that Councilwoman [Natalia] Rudiak, Councilman [Bruce] Kraus and I were able to lobby Council to successfully pass the Police-response DV bills today while stopping the amendments offered by Reverend Burgess that would have weakened the Police-perpetrated DV legislation we worked so hard on back in 2007.

It is unfortunate that politics entered into this debate at all but I am thankful for the many women and men who wrote in to Council and came to Council Chambers today.  With your help we were able to stop the games and pass this important legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.  Thank you.

Thanks Council members Peduto, Rudiak, and Kraus for your leadership on this issue.  Additional thanks to Councilman Danielle Lavelle for your comments and Councilman Corey O’Connor for your clarification on the differences between a resolution and an ordinance.

A final decision on the Domestic Violence Task Force ordinance will occur only after the post-agenda hearing and public hearing are held.

Thanks all for all of your work.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

Pittsburgh: Do NOT Backtrack on Domestic Violence Protections

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a debate erupted in the Pittsburgh City Council meeting on  Wednesday, May 1, 2013 when Councilman Ricky Burgess presented a proposal to throw out the ordinance that established a zero tolerance policy in the city code for police-perpetrated domestic violence.  This was a last-minute amendment to a package of bills that was designed to improve police handling of calls received about domestic violence within the city.

After a two-hour long, heated debate, Council seems to have separated the two issues – domestic violence within the community and the police perpetrated domestic violence policy.  They will continue the discussion in their meeting on Wednesday, May 8.

What is going on?  Why would Pittsburgh even think of backtracking on the 2007 ordinance that was created to ensure that individuals with a history of domestic violence were not hired, be promoted, nor be allowed to continue employment after committing domestic violence while employed or being considered for employment within the police department? As explained in Chapter116, Department of Public Safety, Section III  of this ordinance, the purpose of the police-perpetrated domestic policy is, in part, to

“delineate a position of zero tolerance by the Bureau. It is imperative to the integrity of the profession of policing and the sense of trust communities have in their local law enforcement agencies that leaders, through the adoption of clear policies, make a definitive statement that domestic violence will not be tolerated.”

So if you want the community to trust your police and believe in their integrity, why would you throw out this ordinance?  And why would you attempt to do this when the intent of the proposal was to improve how police deal with cases of violence in the community?

I believe that there are three issues embedded within this debate.  First, Pittsburgh (and many other communities throughout the country) needs to ensure that cases of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault are appropriately handled whenever a call comes into 911 emergency services. Second, there should be no backtracking on the zero-tolerance ordinance.  And third, these two issues are separate issues that should not and cannot constitutionally be commingled. Here’s my take on these three issues.

Police Handling of Domestic Violence Calls

Why this is an issue in Pittsburgh

On December 31, 2012, according to many reports (including this one), Pittsburgh’s 911 services received a cell phone call from Ka’Sandra Wade asking for police to come to her home. The call was truncated.  The officers went, some 10 minutes later after they were done with another call and then called in to determine what was next.  A man would not let them into the door, but through a window told the officers that everything was all right. The officers claim that since the phone call was not from a land line, they did not know whether Ka’Sandra was home, even though she requested officers to come to her home.  They claim that they did not know it was a call about violence.  They lurked about for several more minutes, looking around the house, but then left.

The Officers never spoke directly to Ms. Wade, taking the word of the man at the door that refused to let them in to talk to Ka’Sandra.  She was found dead the next day.  When her boyfriend was confronted in his suburban residence, he said on a note that the officers could have saved Ka’Sandra, and he killed himself.

The Model Domestic Violence Community Policing Policy

According to the model policy by the International Association of Chiefs of Police on responding to potential domestic violence calls, 911 communications centers and police officers should

  1. Assign a priority response to all domestic ­violence calls, whether or not the assailant is known to be on the premises;

  2. Keep the caller on the telephone if the caller is a victim or witness to a domestic violence incident in progress in order to relay ongoing information provided by the caller to the responding officers and remain aware of ­victim’s safety;

  3. Not cancel the original call for service even if a subsequent request to cancel the original call is received; and

  4. Make contact with all residents of the house, all potential witnesses, victims, and perpetrators [emphasis added]….In evaluating the information, officers should take into account the credibility of the persons ­supplying the information and whether there is a reasonable basis for believing the information.

Pittsburgh has not, to my knowledge, instituted this model policy.  As reported in the press, none of these basic protocol actions were taken in this case.  Rather than immediately dispatching police to the scene, the police delayed their response for ten minutes.  They also took the word of only one resident – the man who refused to let them in – rather than talking to the original caller.  911 knew it was a woman that called, not a man. And yet they used his statement to cancel the request for service.  Which may have resulted in Ka’Sandra’s death after they left.  Note, she may have been dead already; however it is presumed that she was murdered after the police left based on the suicide note left stating that the officers could have saved her life.

Actions Taken Since January

People in the community quickly called for action to improve first responders’ behavior.  At the Action United vigil held for Ka’Sandra after her death, one of the speakers said that Action United would convene a group to craft policy to change how first responders act in cases of domestic violence.  That was on a Saturday.  The following Monday, Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess announced that he would convene a “group of professionals” to make recommendations to Council on how to handle these types of cases.  The result of this announcement was a series of closed-door, by-invitation-only meetings that resulted in two specific strategies to address the issue:

  1. Instituting the Maryland Lethality Assessment as a tool for police to use when responding to calls that could include issues of domestic violence and
  2. Creating a Domestic Violence Advisory Board (aka “task force’) as described in the Violence Against Women Act. This board would include representatives from organizations and institutions serving the needs of domestic violence victims to “provide policy guidance and make recommendations to the Public Safety Department [includes the bureaus of Police, Fire, EMS, Emergency Management, Building Inspection and Animal Care & Control] about best practices for law enforcement response to Domestic Violence.”  

Although this Domestic Violence Advisory Board sounds like it might help,  some advocates are not clear that creating a new board is necessory or appropriate.  There currently is a Citizen Police Review Board that reviews and makes recommendations on how to improve police services within Pittsburgh. There is also a Domestic Violence Committee that deals with all employees. So if this new board is created, would it be duplicating the oversight currently held by these other boards or not? Or is the problem not that there is no oversight, but that the police have ignored recommendations by these oversight boards that are already in place?

Although many people and most of the community’s advocates for ending domestic violence were left out of these discussions, these two strategies crafted into two ordinances (see here and here) and one resolution might help address some of what happened on December 31, 2013.

These bills were part of Wednesday’s Council meeting and will be discussed again next week.  A broader discussion and eventual passage of these ordinances could help ensure that cases of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault are appropriately handled whenever a call comes into 911 emergency services.

Don’t Backtrack

At this Council meeting on May 1, Councilman Ricky Burgess caused a real ruckus when he proposed and presented a last minute proposal to throw out the ordinance that established a zero tolerance policy in the city code for police-perpetrated domestic violence.

As the meeting was beginning, Councilman Burgess distributed a proposed amendment to one piece of legislation containing two paragraphs that referenced a part of what the Working Group had discussed last Friday.  The rest of the pages were an Amendment by Substitution of the portion of the City Code that would gut the Police/Officer-Involved Domestic Violence legislation passed in 2007. 

My girlfriend, Audrey Glickman, posted a couple of comments on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article regarding the debate and ruckus that occurred in this city council meeting.  Audrey was the person in 2007 who volunteered and coordinated the group of advocates that worked with former Councilman Doug Shields to craft the zero tolerance policy.  Here’s what she said about the sudden and unexpected back-tracking proposed by Councilman Burgess (I’m combining two of her comments so that you can see the history of the zero-tolerance policy):

This set of bills (and especially the amendment dunked in at the last minute with no knowledge or prior discussion among other Council persons) does not really address the details surrounding the tragedy attending Ka’Sandra Wade, may she rest in peace.  The response of the police – their not suspecting DV immediately, nor apparently even thinking of it, is what needs to be addressed.  The commission of DV by Pittsburgh’s Police Officers and the law that since 2007 has covered it well, and could save potential victims and prevent future lawsuits against the City, should not be up for discussion at all, much less as an amendment by substitution tossed on the Council table like so much trash.

There should be zero tolerance for all City employees committing domestic violence.  But the City Solicitor’s inability (as stated at the Council table) to defend having “zero tolerance” in the Police legislation – in a state in which, according to the representative from the Solicitor’s Office sitting at the Council table today, cities are allowed by law to hold police to a higher standard – is not a reason to eliminate zero tolerance from the Police/DV legislation [emphasis added].

The pieces of legislation that were supposed to be on the table would (1) enact a Lethality Assessment as in Maryland, to help discern issues and teach Police;  (2) fund that effort;  and (3) create a council to oversee DV.  None of that has anything to do with the legislation passed in 2007.

The 2007 legislation serves to prevent the heads of our Police force from getting away with committing DV by virtue of their position; serves to protect our City from a lawsuit such as the one Tacoma, Washington, faced, and had to pay $16 million to the family of the late wife of their police chief; and serves to define the specific policy – in detail – that the Bureau of Police must keep on the books.

The law (already in the City Code, passed in 2007) concerning police *committing* domestic violence was based on a model policy by the IACP [International Association of Chiefs of Police], was hammered out by a huge working group who did not always agree with each other, and when passed it was praised from coast to coast.

The original [2007] legislation was crafted through discussion among dozens of individuals. We had input from national experts and local service providers of all stripes. Everyone researched for months, years even. Emasculating this law would serve no one well.

Creating a political and divisive issue out of a law that was duly passed in 2007 and lauded from coast to coast is pointless and untenable.  Domestic violence is not a political football.  Some of the Councilpersons who spoke at the table referred to it as a women’s issue, but in truth DV is committed against women and men, the young and the old, the suspecting and the unsuspecting.

Council should leave the legislation already on the books alone, and find some way to teach the Police to consider potential DV when they respond to a call.

Audrey is right on the mark.  The zero-tolerance policy is based on model legislation created by Chiefs of Police across the country. It is good legislation. Don’t backtrack now.

Commingling Two Separate Issues

My final concern about what happened is that this last minute amendment to insert police-perpetrated domestic violence into issues concerning how officers respond to domestic violence calls is a commingling of two separate issues.  Audrey  put it this way in her Post-Gazette comment:

[Council ended the discussion of the bills with a] lousy one-week hold when large discussions and public hearings and real research are warranted to hash out whether there is any value at all to that poison-pill portion, which again had nothing to do with the original bills.

Nothing. It has nothing to do with the subject of the original bills. The original bills concerned officers *responding to* domestic violence calls. The poison pill concerned police officers *committing* domestic violence.

There is a world of difference. The former is a more prevalent issue and is the one at hand; the latter is a more delicate issue, and has already been successfully addressed [in 2007].

In addition, the introduction of police-perpetrated violence into a bill on police response through substitution, particularly at the last minute, may be unconstitutional according to the PA Constitution.  I am basing this on a Supreme Court opinion from 2008 when they overturned the expansion of Pennsylvania’s Ethnic Intimidation (Hate Crimes) Act.  Here’s what went down in that case.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania General Assembly updated its statutes to define ethnic intimidation as committing a crime “with malicious intention toward the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity of another individual or group of individuals (Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 2003; bolded items were added in the 2002 legislation).” However, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in 2007 overturned the expansion in a case called Marcavage v. Rendell. They opined that  the final version of the bill, which initially dealt with the crime of crop destruction, changed its original purpose during the amendment process at the last minute.

The Commonwealth Court stated and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed in 2008 that this law was enacted in violation of Article III, Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. As a result, hate-crime protections for gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability were eliminated from the state’s hate crimes law.

This hate crimes law started off as a crimes bill dealing with a crime of crop destruction.  A crime, but in a different area.  In Pittsburgh, the initial intent and focus of the bills in Pittsburgh was responding to domestic violence.  The substitute proposed by Councilman Burgess focuses on a different area of violence – police or officer-initiated domestic violence.  Two different issues.  A world of difference. And I suspect, if it passes next week, could successfully be argued in court to have been unconstitutionally redacted under the first three sections of Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article III, Section 4 deals with bills within the General Assembly and is not germane to local legislation).

Actions Needed

The Working Group convened in January, although not completely open and transparent, did came up with two strategies focusing on how police should respond to cases of domestic violence.

Due the confusion that ensued during the public session on May 1, it is unclear whether the proposed amendment was amended in Council to be reduced only to the two paragraphs referring to the work of the Working Group or if the amendment by substitution is still on the table.  Removing the substitute amendment had been the intention of Councilman O’Connor during the debate; but it is believed he withdrew the amendment in the confusion that ensued.

One week may be enough time to discuss finalizing the legislation that was originally discussed by the Working Group.  It is nowhere near enough time to discuss deleting a good piece of legislation—the police-perpetrated domestic violence ordinance—from the City Code, nor should such a discussion be endeavored.  That law has nothing at all to do with what happened to Ka’Sandra Wade.  Weakening that law we would do nothing but tarnish Ka’Sandra’s memory.

On Wednesday, May 8, 2013, these bills will be taken up again in Committee. There will be public comment at the opening of the legislative and standing committee meetings on  Wednesday. These committee meetings officially start at 10:00 AM (but they do sometimes begin late). You should show up in droves.  People can have up to three minutes each to comment.  Come, stand up and be heard.  Tell Council

  1. Don’t backtrack on the 2007 police-perpetrated/officer-initiated domestic violence ordinance. It has nothing to do with the subject of the original bills and could be an unconstitutional overturn of the ordinance as described above;
  2. Institute the Maryland Lethality Assessment tool; and
  3. Discuss how and if the creation of the Domestic Violence Advisory Board would improve police response to domestic violence.  Duplication of duties and effort by multiple oversight boards could muddy rather than clear the waters. Only if it becomes clear that this new board would help should this proposal be enacted.

It is incumbent on all concerned to be vigilant.  Don’t backtrack.  But do do the right thing and make sure that police handle cases of domestic violence properly so that there are no more cases like that of Ka’Sandra Wade ever happen again.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to all forms of violence, including domestic violence

Additional Info After Posting This Blog

After I posted this blog, I had a phone and email conversation with Doug Shields.

He is the former President of Pittsburgh City Council who sponsored of the 2007 ordinance on police-perpetrated domestic violence.  He asked if I would continue spreading the word about what’s going down in Pittsburgh regarding domestic violence protections.  Here is a copy of his email call for action:

“As you know, we all fought hard and long to enact an Ordinance that began to address issues related to police officers and domestic violence.  This came about due to the Mayor’s promotion of three officers who had significant issues related to domestic violence.

Over the past few months, a task force, formed to shape legislation that addresses the lack of clear protocols in responding to a domestic violence call, worked to provide an appropriate response.  As a result, the Council was about to enact the so-called “Maryland Protocol” this week.

Numerous people who had worked hard to get this legislation to the Council table were shocked to find upon introduction, the sponsor, Councilman Burgess, had without notice, took the opportunity to delete the entire section of the Ordinance that was enacted in December of 2011.

When the bill passed finally in 2007, I had tears in my eyes.  It was the only time that ever occurred.

Now this.  Blog by Joanne Tosti-Vasey (See: https://civilrightsadvocacy.net/2013/05/03/pittsburgh-no-dv-backtracking/)

I write to ask you for help to have a strong presence at next Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s Council meeting to utilize the public comment portion of the meeting to condemn this action by Councilman Burgess and to show strong support for the law we need and fought so hard to get.  

Unfortunately, your voice is needed again to defend that which we all worked on for so long.

The members who defended the bill were:  Bill Peduto, Patrick Dowd, Corey O’Connor, Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus.

Those who joined with Mr. Burgess were, President Darlene Harris, Daniel Lavelle, and Theresa Kail-Smith.

Well worth watching this Council meeting, which repeats on air Sunday at 10:00 and 7:00 (Comcast City Channel 13), and which will soon be posted on line at the City’s Legislative Information Center.

Those who cannot be there on Tuesday or Wednesday at 10 AM are encouraged to  email or call the Council to convey their support for the Ordinance.  

Here is the link:    http://pittsburghpa.gov/council/

Here are the contacts for those who were ready to repeal the Ordinance.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation in this matter.  Please also share this missive with others who would be interested in this issue.

Douglas Shields

Former President of Pittsburgh City Council

Prime sponsor of the Police & Domestic Violence Ordinance”

Powerful UN CSW57 Document on Ending Gender-Based Violence Created

On March 14, I wrote a blog entitled “The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence.” I talked about an alliance between the Vatican, Iran, Russia and a couple of other countries that were attempting to eviscerate the comprehensive plan being created at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements). These previous agreements include the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).

I am happy to say that this didn’t happen.  Thanks to the bloggers, news media, Tweeters, NGO’s attending CSW57, and several official Member States, the amendments to the document were voted down on Friday during the final day of the 2-week convention.

Iran was the only country that voted against the final, comprehensive document. The Vatican did not get to vote because of its status as a “Permanent Observer State” rather than as a voting “Member State”. And Russia backed down and voted for the final document along with all of the remaining UN Member States.

People around the world heard about these attempts to deny women and girls safety from all forms of violence.  We spoke out and acted.

As a result, unlike last year, we FINALLY have a strong document that

“condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response.” (Source)

This document has a strong prevention focus since the best way to end violence against women and children is to stop it BEFORE it happens.  It also addresses inequalities in the political, economic, and social spheres that engender violence. And it takes action to provide services and justice for victims of violence around the world.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women summarized the comprehensive coverage of this powerful statement to end this type of human rights violation in her closing statement of the conference:

During the past two weeks, discussions centred on matters of urgency to people around the world — eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, ending impunity for perpetrators, fully engaging men and boys, and advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality to prevent and end these human rights violations….

Important and timely matters were addressed — ending child and early forced marriage, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and providing justice and critical services for survivors of violence.

There were debates on ending sexual violence in conflict, tackling human trafficking, protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and on the role of culture, religion and the family.

You had many intense late-night negotiations, going over every single word and paragraph, debating long and hard in order to come to [this] strong agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, immediately after CSW57, released a statement showing the commitment of the United Nations to fully implement this new document. It says, in part:

Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage.  No matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear.  She has the universal human right to be free from all forms of violence so as to fulfill her full potential and dreams for the future.

States have a corresponding responsibility to turn that right into reality.  The Secretary-General hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.  The United Nations system is fully committed to leading this global effort.

So now I say, THANK YOU! Thank you for creating this statement. It is one more step  towards realizing the rights, dignity, and humanity of girls and women throughout the world.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013

And

There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”

VAWA Passes Senate: One Step Toward Ending the Climate of Indifference Towards Violence Against Women

The climate of indifference that I talked about in my blog on February 10 is pervasive both here in the US and around the world.  Which is why Eve Ensler has called for a worldwide day of action to recognize and end violence against women around the world.  Thursday, February 14, 2014 is V-Day, aka One Billion Rising. V-Day calls for people around the world to Rise, Strike, and Dance to end violence against women.

Today, the US Senate by an overwhelming majority, passed the comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women ReAuthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA, S.47). We all can speak out. We all can rise and call for the end to this indifference by funding this law and allowing the Office on Violence Against Women to fully do their job in collaboration with advocates and service providers throughout the country.

If you haven’t done so already, do so on February 14. You can find your Representatives phone number here. Call him/her on V-Day.  Say that they need to have a heart, they need to have compassion, and they CAN help end this Climate of Indifference by passing and fully funding VAWA.

Ideas for a Plan in Response to the Connecticut Shootings: Guest Blog

Marc Brenman is a colleague of mine. He is the former Executive Director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission and co-author of “Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity.

Marc has compiled a very detailed plan and ideas to deal with gun violence that he believes have at least some value in this discussion regarding a comprehensive gun control, safety, education, medical care, and community responses to the current climate of gun violence here in the United State.  Earlier this month, I linked one of my earlier blogs to one of the groups I am a member of on LinkedIn. After seeing a much shorter version of his thoughts in a comment to my posting, I asked him if he would like to do a guest blog detailing his thoughts on this issue.  The following is what he wrote.

Marc can be contacted directly at mbrenman001@comcast.net

Marc’s Plan in Response to the Mass Shootings in the United States

Here are some elements of a plan in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy and other similar mass murders committed with guns in the US.  Each of these has some value, and together would have great value.  Some elements are derived from others. There are pros and cons to many of these suggestions and initiatives; those aspects are generally not discussed here.

Effective enforcement of gun control laws can deter illegal gun trafficking, but loopholes, high standards of evidence, and weak penalties make it difficult to enforce laws designed to keep guns from prohibited persons. Stronger gun laws will lead to better enforcement of those laws.

Keep the Situation in Perspective

Schools are still among the safest places for our young people to be. Students are 99 times more likely to be victimized in the community—on the streets, at the mall, at movie theaters, in fast food restaurants and other public places—rather than at school.

Reframing the Discussion

Guns are a force multiplier, and make any inclination to violence much more destructive, whatever the cause. Gun use intensifies violence, increasing the case-fatality rate in assaults and “accidents.” Gun violence substantially reduces the standard of living in a community in which it is common, and not just for the immediate victims. “For many social policy applications we either must give up on the goal of evidence-based policy, or develop a broader conception of what counts as evidence.” (U. of Chicago)  “Compared with other common weapons, guns have a peculiar ability to create fear, resulting in a loss of peace of mind together with self-protective distortions in routine activities of work and play. There is no counterpart with other weapons to drive-by shootings and stray bullets.”  (U. of Chicago)

Public Education

Some mistakenly believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would prohibit the kinds of legal reforms we believe are warranted. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to own guns, striking down Washington, D.C.’s law banning handgun possession in the home. However, the Heller decision also mentioned numerous types of presumptively valid gun laws, including ―laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  Since Heller, lower courts have overwhelmingly upheld the constitutionality of a wide range of gun laws other than handgun bans.

Establish a long-term public-education media campaign to change the public’s perception of gun violence. It must be understood that crime is merely the most recognized aspect of the public-health problem posed by firearms. The campaign should also be designed to educate citizens about the risks associated with firearms ownership.

Stakeholder Engagement

There are differences in the problem defining process.  If the problem is not defined well, finding solutions becomes much more difficult.  However, there will not necessarily be consensus in defining the problem.  It would be useful to have the discussion among different parties.

Recruit individuals and organizations not traditionally involved in the debate. Gun-control organizations must reach out to build active, long-term coalitions with organizations whose constituencies are affected by firearms violence, including women’s groups, youth organizations, civil-rights organizations, hospitals, consumer organizations and public-health associations. Support should also be sought from those with economic interests in reducing firearms violence, such as the insurance industry, hospital associations and criminal-justice associations.

“Since all crime is local, the response to emergencies caused by crime should start with a local plan that is linked to the wider community. Universities and colleges should work with their local government partners to improve plans for mutual aid in all areas of crisis response, including that of victim services.”  (Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel; Office of the Governor of Virginia)

Move Quickly

“[C]riminal misuse usually follows rather quickly after gun acquisition. In other words, the millions of current gun possessors will account for little of the violent crime five years from now. A reasonable goal, then, is to increase the effective price of guns to the high-risk segment of the market.   (U. of Chicago)

Improve School Safety

Every campus should have a series of threat assessment protocols so that school officials can effectively work with mental health and law enforcement professionals in handling circumstances that could result in potential violence or harm.

“Identify whom to call in a crisis. Maintain an updated list of who to call in case of various kinds of crisis. Develop a close working partnership with these emergency responders…Create a close working partnership with mental health professionals who can assist school officials in evaluating and assessing potentially dangerous students who may threaten or intimidate others.  (National School Safety Center).”

Provide ways for students to report rumors or concerns and ensuring that students trust and feel connected to adults at their school. Recent studies by the Secret Service show that in the vast majority of student shootings, other students on the campus were aware of the event before it occurred.

Use tip lines. Tip lines acknowledge the key role that students and community members play in keeping schools safe. They also provide a deterrent effect that may preclude acts of crime and violence from occurring. Advice from educators and law enforcers around the country underscores several key recommendations for successful tip line management:

  • Make the tip line a collaborative, communitywide effort; involve students in planning and managing the tip line; regularly publicize and promote the  tip line;
  • Protect privacy and caller anonymity;
  • Keep callers informed of progress; and
  • Provide incentives or rewards.

Training every staff member to look for signs of “off behavior,” even subtle ones, from people who come into school buildings, is critical.

Ensure that classroom doors can be locked.

Control access to school buildings and grounds during school hours. “Minimize the number of campus entrance and exit points used daily. Access points to school grounds should be limited and supervised on a regular basis by individuals who are familiar with the student body.

  • Campus traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, should flow through areas that can be easily and naturally supervised.
  • Delivery entrances used by vendors also should be checked regularly.
  • Parking lots often have multiple entrances and exits, which contribute to the vandalism and defacement of vehicles and school property.
  • Vehicular and pedestrian access should be carefully controlled. Perimeter fencing should be considered.
  • Bus lots should be secured and monitored. \Infrequently used rooms and closets should be locked.
  • Access to utilities, roofs, cleaning closets should be secured.”  (National School Safety Center)

Require faculty to wear badges or photo identification.  “All school employees should be advised to greet visitors or any unidentified person and direct them to the main office to ensure that these persons have legitimate business at the school. Teachers and staff should be trained to courteously challenge all visitors.”  (National School Safety Center)

Use security cameras.

Equip individual classrooms with telephones.  “Establish an Emergency Operation Communication System. In addition to campus intercoms and two-way radios, it is important for school officials to be able to communicate with law enforcement and outside telephone providers. This includes the use of cell phones.”  (National School Safety Center)

Have lockdown and Code Blue procedures, practices, and drills.

Use Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).  These theories hold that law enforcement officers, architects, city planners, landscape and interior designers, and volunteers can create a climate of safety in a community. CPTED’s goal is to prevent crime by designing a physical environment that positively influences human behavior. The theory is based on four principles: natural access control, natural surveillance, territoriality, and maintenance.

Youth Gun Violence

[O]ne way to prevent youth gun violence is to make the incentives that youth face to engage in prosocial activities (particularly schooling) and avoid risky behaviors (such as gun involvement) more swift, certain, and salient.  (Gun Violence Among School-Age Youth in Chicago; Crime Lab; University of Chicago).”

“Address root issues, such as poverty, social inequality, and school failure.  Gun availability has multiplier effects when combined with such risk factors for youth violence involvement as mental health problems, alcohol or drug abuse, and school failure or disengagement. “The lethality of guns means it is important to try to keep guns away from youth who are engaged in violence as an independent goal, above and beyond trying to reduce youth involvement with violent events.”  (U. of Chicago)

“[Y]oung people, criminally involved young adults, and even drug-selling street gangs respond to police pressure against illegal gun carrying and use.’ “[D]eliver a credible threat to…gangs that using guns was not going to be tolerated, and that the entire gang would suffer when any one member of the gang used a gun. The hope was to provide gang leaders with an incentive to limit gun use by the members, for fear of a police crackdown.” (U. of Chicago)

Suicide Prevention

Many people commit suicide using a gun.

“[I]t is reasonable to suppose that a policy that made it more difficult for those who consider it to use their preferred means of ending their lives (often, a gunshot) would cause some to desist (U. of Chicago).”

Gun suicides are more common among whites than blacks, and more common among the old than among young or middle-aged adults (Cook & Ludwig, 2000). Men are vastly overrepresented in all categories.

Background Checks and Record Keeping

Ensure state compliance with requirements to post appropriate mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Establish clear reporting guidelines for when and how mental health records are required to be posted in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System so that states can be held accountable for compliance

Close the gun show loophole.  Require a full background check in all gun transactions, including private sales at gun shows and online purchases. Presently, only seventeen states regulate private firearm sales at gun shows. An advocate for closing the private sale loophole once likened current federal gun policy to an airline security system which offers passengers a choice between submitting oneself to our current screening system, or side-stepping it, and boarding with whatever you would like to bring on board.  Approximately 40% of the guns acquired in the U.S. annually come from unlicensed sellers, who are not required by federal law to run background checks on potential gun purchasers.

If an individual privately sells guns to anyone, he or she must first report it to local authorities.

Fully fund state technology efforts to comply with the federal background check system requirements.

Require states to comply fully with the protocols of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or threatening to take away their federal funding.

Require states to rerun background checks more often (a minimum of every other year) to prevent otherwise ineligible individuals from continuing to possess weapons.

Mandate federal compliance with a presidential executive order directing all agencies to submit records to this instant background check system.

Mandate that gun dealers take yearly inventories and report any lost or stolen guns and/or ammunition.

Change the Congressionally mandated Tiahrt Amendments to make it easier to trace weapons and prosecute violators. These amendments have weakened the federal gun laws by amending the Gun Control Act.  One provision of the Tiahrt Amendments requires the FBI to destroy all approved gun purchaser records within twenty-four hours of approval, making it extremely difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to quickly trace crime guns or to retrieve firearms from prohibited individuals.  In other words, there is no searchable paper trail.  The Tiahrt Amendments also prohibit the ATF from requiring gun dealers to submit inventories so that the 50,000 gun dealers currently operating in the United States are not mandated to report the loss or theft of guns. State and local law enforcement are still prohibited from using trace data in civil proceedings to suspend or revoke the license of a gun dealer who has sold weapons illegally.

ATF should be empowered to operate as a health and safety agency with the ability to:

  • Set safety standards for firearms, monitor compliance with such standards and issue recalls of defective firearms. The U.S. General Accounting Office has estimated that 31% of unintentional deaths caused by firearms might be prevented by the addition of two devices: a child-proof safety lock (8%) and a loading indicator (23%)  (U.S. General Accounting Office, Accidental Shootings: Many Deaths and Injuries Caused by Firearms Could Be Prevented).
  • Restrict the availability of specific firearms, classes of firearms and firearm products when appropriate, i.e., where the products present an unreasonable risk of death or injury and no feasible safety standard would adequately reduce the risk.
  • Take immediate action to stop the sale and distribution of firearms or firearms products found to be “imminent hazards.”

Close loopholes.  Criminals who have been convicted of misdemeanors other than domestic violence are not usually banned from gun possession under the current laws.  This loophole must be closed because research has shown that one previous misdemeanor (violent or not) may be a future indicator for further violence involving a firearm. Another study revealed that individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors were eight times more likely to be charged with subsequent violent crimes, including crimes involving firearms, and that one out of every three violent misdemeanants seeking to purchase a handgun was arrested for newly committed crimes within three years of acquiring that handgun.

The best solution to the limitations of running a background check is to perform both federal and state checks before allowing a gun to be sold.

Manufacture and Sale of Guns

Prohibit the manufacture, sale and purchase of assault weapons and outlawing high-capacity bullet magazines, very large amounts of ammunition, bullets that have the sole purpose of causing great bodily injury, and aftermarket kits to convert certain firearms from semi-automatic to fully-automatic.  Define “assault weapons” better and more specifically.  Include fully automatic rifles and semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic handguns.  One in five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty was killed with an assault weapon.  Gun shooting victims were more likely to die in larger-caliber shootings, again suggesting that the intrinsic lethality of the weapon affected the outcome (Cook, 1991).  The obvious partial solution is to restrict very large caliber gun manufacture, sales, and possession.

Prohibitions and Restrictions on Gun Ownership

Firearms Prohibitions for High-Risk Persons Should be Broadened. Our current laws permit many people who have been convicted of crimes—most misdemeanor crimes adjudicated in adult court and felony crimes handled in juvenile court—to possess firearms. Data from two studies of individuals who have committed the most serious crimes indicate that prior to committing these crimes, the perpetrators were not prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law. Many suspects charged with felony crimes are convicted of lesser charges as a result of a plea agreement. Research has shown that misdemeanants who were legally able to purchase handguns committed crimes involving violence following those purchases at a rate two to ten times higher than that of handgun purchasers with no prior convictions. Handgun purchasers with a history of arrest but no convictions have an equally high or higher risk of committing violent crimes following handgun purchases as do misdemeanants who legally purchased a handgun.

The number of drug abusers prohibited from possessing firearms might be increased significantly by revamping these regulations to, for example, expand the period following a drug conviction for which a person is prohibited from possessing firearms.

More Restrictions on Youth Purchases. Restrictions on youths’ ability to purchase and possess firearms should be broadened. Although federal law and most state law allows youth 18 to 20 years of age to legally possess a handgun, youth of these ages have some of the highest rates of homicide offending. Age-specific homicide offending rates rise sharply in the late teens and peak at age 20.  An analogy is to graduated driver’s licensing.

There should be more federal control over gun policy, particularly because the federal government is going to better internalize cross-state spillovers in gun trafficking.  In an article from Brown University in Science Daily on October 24, 2011 titled “Gun traffickers exploit differences in state laws, economist says,”

  1. Trafficking flows respond to gun regulations, with guns flowing from states with weak gun laws into nearby states with strict laws.

  2. Proximity matters: Trafficking flows are more significant between two nearby states than between two distant states. Thus, a weakening of gun laws has a more significant effect in nearby states.

  3. The fraction of crimes involving a gun tends to be higher in states exposed to weak gun laws.

Raise the Price and Increase the Cost of Illegal Gun Acquisition.

“Transaction costs in underground gun markets are substantial: prices are high relative to the legal gun market; wait times are considerable; mistrust is common between buyers and sellers; and many transaction attempts go unfulfilled, even by people who are well-connected in the underground economy (Cook, Ludwig, Venkatesh, and Braga, 2007).”

The underground market seems to work far less smoothly for guns than for drugs, perhaps in part because guns, unlike drugs, are durable goods, so the number of market transactions is lower and exchange becomes more difficult to manage. These patterns suggest opportunities for enforcement efforts that disrupt the illicit gun market. Measures such as buy-and-bust operations or efforts to incentivize arrestees to provide information about buyers and sellers in the gun market may prove more effective than those directed at illegal drugs.” (U. of Chicago)  “Diverting high-risk buyers from the primary to the secondary market (by, for example, improving background checks or cracking down on rogue dealers) would further increase prices in the latter by increasing demand (Cook & Leitzel, 1996).”

Safety Training

Mandatory Training on Gun Safety for Gun Owners and Users.  Tie this requirement to federal funding of states.  If there is no such training, then a withdrawal or deferral of federal funding occurs. Life, health and homeowner insurance companies deny any injury or liability claims caused by unregistered weapons/ammo owned by the claimant, or if the gun owner failed to take the requisite training.

Require any person seeking to own, possess, purchase or otherwise acquire a firearm to obtain a firearm safety certificate, which obligates the applicant to successfully complete a safety training course that includes live firing, a safe-handling demonstration and a written test of firearm laws.

Require Training for Concealed Carry.  There is a critical lack of accountability required for gun ownership, especially for carrying a gun in public.  For example, one does not have to be a trained marksman to own a gun or carry a concealed weapon in many states; a course is required for concealed carry in most, but not all, states, most notably in the states that do not require permits for CCW.  Require periodic recertification.

 Reporting loss or theft of weapon

Require any firearm owner or possessor to report the loss or theft of his or her firearm to law enforcement within 48 hours of the time he or she knew or reasonably should have known of the loss or theft.

Detection of Incidents

Install Gunfire Detection Systems. Such systems help law enforcement detect the physical location of the gunfire, review video of the location, and dispatch an appropriate response. Gunfire detection systems have been shown to produce safer communities, produce 80% more arrests, and provide evidence for court.

Storage, Safes and Trigger Locks

Mandatory trigger locks and gun safes for gun owners. Installation of gun cabinets may improve gun and ammunition storage practices.  Financial assistance to gun owners, such as tax incentives, can be provided to gun owners for this purpose.

Child access prevention (CAP) laws require gun owners to store their firearms so that children and teens cannot easily access firearms unsupervised. Studies have found CAP laws to be effective in reducing accidental shootings of children by as much as 23%, and suicides of adolescents by 8%. Keeping firearms locked, unloaded, and storing ammunition in a locked location separate from firearms may assist in reducing youth suicide and unintentional injury in homes with children and teenagers where guns are stored (David C. Grossman et al., Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Firearm Injuries, 293 JAMA 707, 711-13 (Feb. 2005).

Require trigger locks.

Retrieve weapons from ineligible individuals.

Policies regulating the retrieval of weapons from ineligible individuals are also seriously inadequate.  For example, if a crime is committed after the purchase of a gun, it remains unclear in several states which law enforcement agencies must be notified, if any, and which procedure law enforcement must follow to retrieve weapons from the person accused or convicted of a crime.  Moreover, laws often do not mandate that stolen guns be reported to law enforcement officials, so a stolen gun could easily be used to commit violent crimes

Alcohol Use

Expanding firearm prohibitions to include persons who are alcoholics or problem drinkers could potentially reduce alcohol-related violence.  Substance abuse is associated with a significant increase in violent behavior. It’s a much more significant risk factor than mental illness.  Therefore, create and make more severe the penalties for using a gun while drinking alcohol, as well as for using a gun while on certain medications known by medical experts to cause agitated or aggressive behavior. Federal firearm laws do not prohibit alcoholics from possessing firearms, and only 16 states have statutes prohibiting alcohol abusers from possessing firearms. Furthermore, some states with gun prohibitions for alcohol abusers lack regulations to allow authorities to enforce the prohibition.

Trafficking

Make gun trafficking a federal crime, with stiff penalties for those who arm criminals.

Mental Health Services

Fully Fund Mental Health Services.  Fund these services through a special tax on guns, ammunition, and permits dedicated to mental health screening, counseling, and services. Instituting and expanding programs that work through schools to identify and help students with issues, helping families with at risk children, and adults with crisis counseling might help create a safer environment.

  • Ensure access to mental health care, including treatment and medication.
  • Establish 24/7 walk-in crisis centers.
  • Provide annual mental health screenings in schools, as is often done for vision, hearing, and dental issues.  Maintain confidentiality as necessary, but don’t let confidentiality requirements interfere with provision of necessary services.
  • Conduct screenings in pediatricians’ and doctor’s offices for boys and young men with a history of a traumatic event of many types.  Screening can also be done by school counselors and school nurses.  Include in the screening probing for a history of acting on threats or of having violent or destructive behavior.  Other screening factors include self-loathing, rage, social marginalization, family problems, work or school problems, and precipitating crisis events.  Substantial evidence indicates that perpetrators of murder–suicide share many of the following characteristics: (1) they had troubled childhoods, (2) they lived in oppressive social environments, (3) they suffered from low self-esteem, (4) they were triggered by a personal crisis, (5) they were seeking revenge, and (6) they were seeking fame and glory.  Many suffered grotesque physical and /or psychological abuse during childhood, including injury in the company of their caregivers.
  • Under the IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, students with emotional disorders are supposed to receive free and appropriate services in K-12 schools so that they can remain in school and succeed in life. However due to the high cost of these services, school budgetary cuts, resistance by some school districts, and the lack of knowledge by parents that these programs are mandated, but not fully implemented, many young people drop out or do not receive the services they need.  These Acts should be fully funded and enforced.
  • Expand the Australian concept of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. The idea behind MHFA is no different than that of traditional first aid: to create an environment where people know how to help someone in an emergency situation. Not only does the course increase mental health literacy, according to studies of the Australian model, but it’s also shown to improve the mental health of those taking the training, making them more confident in dealing with people who have a mental health illness. Participants learn how to detect a number of mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, substance use disorders, depression, anxiety and eating disorders — and how to respond to people who have them. Their response is guided by a five-step action plan, termed “ALGEE,” which stands for:
    • Assess for risk of suicide or harm.
    • Listen nonjudgmentally.
    • Give reassurance and information.
    • Encourage appropriate professional help.
    • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

One of the program’s main goals is to erase the stigma associated with mental health illnesses.

Remove the requirement that youth under age 18 must consent to mental health treatment.  Instead, make provisions in case this is not possible: require that a parent/ guardian must consent to the treatment and a mental health professional that has knowledge of the case and an unrelated professional such as a teacher, pediatrician, etc. For example, a 13-year-old mentally-ill person may or may not consent to treatment. However, they are still likely living with a parent/ guardian.

Provide other options for mentally ill youth and adults who are returning to the community (often to a parent or relative’s home) after in-treatment or institutionalized care.

Provide more opportunities for respite for parents of children with mental illness. Include insurance coverage for this type of care.  Help provide infrastructure, care and support to maintain the mental health of the parent/ guardian caring for the child.

Medical Services

End medical gag laws.  Some states, such as Florida, have passed laws that prohibit doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership, even though studies clearly show that gun ownership is a health risk factor for the owner and his family. A group of Florida doctors and physician groups soon filed a lawsuit, arguing that the outrageous law interfered with their free speech rights under the First Amendment, as well as their ability to care for their patients by warning them about the dangers of firearm ownership. The district court agreed, finding that “[t]he law chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient.” The court’s order prohibited the state from enforcing the law.  The American Bar Association has also spoken out against “medical gag laws.” At its annual meeting the ABA adopted a resolution expressing strong opposition to such laws. The accompanying report stated,

For medical practitioners to meet their preventive care and safety counseling responsibilities, they must be able to discuss a broad range of topics with their patients related to known risk factors. This unfettered access allows doctors to adequately assess and address these factors with their patients. Risk factors that may be discussed vary depending on the age of the patient, but for adults often include alcohol consumption, illicit drug use, smoking, diet, and exercise; pediatricians often discuss wearing seat belts and bicycle helmets, the potential dangers of backyard swimming pools, and the need to securely store household cleaners and toxins. Firearms in the home are another known risk factor that doctors may choose to discuss with their patients or the parents of young patients.

Threat Assessment

Use a threat assessment approach.  Look at the person’s personal risk factors and ask,

  • “Do they have a history of mental illness?”
  • If students, what kinds of behavioral problems have they had? What are their relationships like?

Also look at protective factors:

  • Do they have someone they can talk to?
  • Are there guns in the home?  Are they locked up?
  • Are there signs such as social withdrawal, irritability, and a change in habits?

The best predictor of future behavior is past behaviors. A history of violence towards family members, toward others, towards animals is a warning sign.  A common pattern for school shooters is being male, having a history of loss or a perceived failure or rejection, and having access to firearms.

For example, despite being rejected by the military because of a history of illicit drug use and being kicked out of a community college for repeated incidents of threatening and bizarre behavior, Jared Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, mass gun murderer, legally purchased a semi-automatic pistol with a magazine capable of holding 30 rounds of ammunition.

“Some warning signs carry more weight than others.  For instance, a fascination with, and possession of, firearms are more significant than being a loner, because possession of firearms gives one the capacity to carry out an attack.”

According to Roger Depue in the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report, the “following are some warning signs (indicators and red flags) associated with school shootings in the United States.  Schools, places of employment, and other entities that are creating a threat assessment capability may want to be aware of these red flags:

  • Violent fantasy content –   Writings (Stories, essays, compositions),
  • Drawings (Artwork depicting violence),
  • Reading and viewing materials (Preference for books, magazines, television, video tapes and discs, movies, music, websites, and chat rooms with violent themes and degrading subject matter), and role playing acts of violence and degradation.
  • Anger problems –   Difficulty controlling anger, loss of temper, impulsivity,
  • Making threats
  • Fascination with weapons and accoutrements –  Especially those designed and most often used to kill people (such as machine guns, semiautomatic pistols, snub nose revolvers, stilettos, bayonets, daggers, brass knuckles, special ammunition and explosives)
  • Boasting and practicing of fighting and combat proficiency –
  • Military and sharpshooter training, martial arts, use of garrotes, and knife fighting
  • Loner –  Isolated and socially withdrawn, misfit, prefers own company to the company of others
  • Suicidal ideation –
  • Depressed and expresses hopelessness and despair
  • Reveals suicidal preparatory behavior
  • Homicidal ideation –
  • Expresses contempt for other(s)
  • Makes comments and/or gestures indicating violent aggression
  • Stalking – Follows, harasses, surveils, attempts to contact regardless of the victim’s expressed annoyance and demands to cease and desist
  • Non-compliance and disciplinary problems –  Refusal to abide by written and/or verbal rules
  • Imitation of other murderers –
  • Appearance, dress, grooming, possessions like those of violent shooters in past episodes (e.g. long black trench coats)
  • Interest in previous shooting situations –  Drawn toward media, books, entertainment, conversations dealing with past murders
  • Victim/martyr self-concept –  Fantasy that some day he will represent the oppressed and wreak vengeance on the oppressors
  • Strangeness and aberrant behavior –   Actions and words that cause people around him to become fearful and suspicious
  • Paranoia –   Belief that he is being singled out for unfair treatment and/or abuse; feeling persecuted.
  • Violence and cruelty –   A history of using violence to solve problems (fighting, hitting, etc.), abusing animals or weaker individuals
  • Inappropriate affect –   Enjoying cruel behavior and/or being able to view cruelty without being disturbed
  • Acting out –  Expressing disproportionate anger or humor in situations not warranting it, attacking surrogate targets
  • Police contact –   A history of contact with police for anger, stalking, disorderly conduct;
  • Past temporary restraining orders (or similar court orders),
  • A jail/prison record for aggressive crimes
  • Mental health history related to dangerousness – A history of referral or commitments to mental health facilities for aggressive/destructive behavior
  • Expressionless face/anhedonia – An inability to express and/or experience joy and pleasure
  • Unusual interest in police, military, terrorist activities and materials
  • Vehicles resembling police cars, military vehicles, surveillance equipment, handcuffs, weapons, clothing (camouflage, ski masks, etc.)
  • Use of alcohol/drugs –  Alcohol/drugs are used to reduce inhibitions so that aggressive behaviors are more easily expressed”

National success in reducing injuries from car crashes can serve as a model for reducing firearm injury.  Just as speeding or distracted driving escalates risks on an unsafe road, misuse of firearms in the wrong places and at inappropriate times can intensify risks for violent injury and death. A patient’s firearm risks should be examined in the context of his or her environment, their household, and their history of risk-taking behaviors.

Patient Safety

The military, the Veterans Health Administration, and the wider medical community should create a trusted mechanism for safely removing and temporarily storing firearms on a patient’s behalf with his/her consent.

Suicide Prevention

The issue of guns should be linked to the issue of suicide prevention. Access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide.  Firearms used in youth suicide usually belong to a parent.

Reducing access to lethal means saves lives. The best generally available proxy for gun prevalence is the fraction of suicides that involve a firearm (FSS), which is highly correlated with survey-based measures of gun ownership rates in cross-section data (at both the state and county level), and also tracks movements over time at the regional and state levels (Azrael, Cook, & Miller, 2004; Kleck, 2004; Cook & Ludwig, 2006). “[S]tates with relatively high gun ownership rates also have a higher ratio of male-to-female suicides compared with states with fewer guns. These findings are consistent with the idea that guns increase the lethality of suicide attempts. (U. of Chicago)

Lethal Means Counseling

Nurses and other emergency department personnel in hospital emergency rooms should provide “Lethal means counseling.”  This means:

  • Assessing whether a person at risk for suicide has access to a firearm or other lethal means, and
  • Working with them and their family and support system to limit their access until they are no longer feeling suicidal.  Psychiatrists should also provide such counseling in their practices. Among families of high risk youth, those who received the counseling were significantly more likely than those who had not to remove or secure the dangerous items.  Others who come into contact with suicidal people should also provide such counseling.

Emergency departments and trauma centers offer the opportunity to reduce repeat or retaliatory violence in injured youth.  Addressing distress and mood disorders, providing relationship therapy, brief interventions for at‐risk drinkers, nutritional supplements, and encouraging help-seeking can lower risks for future violence.

Social Safety Net

Improve the social safety net generally, so that fewer people fall through the cracks.

Mandatory Reporters. Tighten rules for mandatory reporters, so that more people with violent potential come to the attention of law enforcement.

Community Oriented Policing. Restore funding for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, to put more police back in communities. Directed police patrol against illicit carrying has promise for reducing gun violence.

Use other targeted harm reduction strategies, analogous to those used for illegal drugsHarm reduction is a pragmatic, public-health approach to dealing with drug-related issues that focuses on minimizing the negative consequences of drug use and drug laws and policies. Providing an alternative to the U.S. prohibition-based abstinence model, harm reduction favors effective and low-cost approaches like needle exchange and methadone treatment. These approaches are legal in New York State, and have successfully reduced drug use, crime, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Gun Owner and Retailer Responsibility.  Gun enthusiasts should police other gun enthusiasts, and learn to notice and act on signs of potential violence.  For example, firearm retailers and range owners can help prevent suicide by

Use guidelines with gun store/firing range owners about how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal customer

Encourage gun stores and firing ranges to display and distribute suicide, anger, and violence prevention materials tailored to their customers, including materials, resources, and hotline telephone numbers and websites.

Experience has shown that higher-yield interventions include third-party reporting of concerns or leaked intent.

James Knoll:  “An open and fearless heart seeks to take responsibility for its own anger. It does so by learning how not to externalize blame, being willing to examine itself, and cultivating responsibility.”

Media Coverage.  The media, in covering a mass murder shooting, should ensure that the perpetrator is neither glorified nor demonized.  Avoiding much emphasis on the perpetrator is a good general rule. Rather, media should emphasize victim and community recovery efforts.

Product Liability Laws

Firearms are the only consumer product not regulated by a federal agency for health and safety. This unique exemption has been exploited by the gun industry as it has moved to embrace increased lethality as the foundation of its design, manufacturing, and marketing efforts in the wake of the long-term decline in household gun ownership.

Apply the decades-long lessons of consumer product safety regulation and injury prevention to the gun industry and its products. Strengthen product liability laws, so that gun manufacturers have at least some liability for the damage that their guns do. Congress enacted a law in 2005 that gives gun manufacturers and dealers broad immunity from being sued. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) shields the gun industry.  This law should be rescinded. Before the PLCAA, lawsuits were starting to prod the gun industry to act more responsibly. In 2000, Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest handgun manufacturer, agreed to a variety of safety conditions to end lawsuits that threatened to put it in bankruptcy. Among other things, Smith & Wesson agreed to put a second, hidden set of serial numbers on all of its new guns to make it harder for criminals to scratch away the identifying markings.  But the PLCAA took away the pressure to work on safety.

Consumer Product Regulation and Safety Devices

The nation has decided to regulate the design of numerous consumer products, such as cribs and small, high-powered magnets, in order to prevent far fewer deaths than could be prevented with a ban of large capacity magazines for example.  We need a holistic approach to protecting children.

Safety Disconnect Devices.  Although unintentional or accidental shootings account for a small share of firearm-related mortality and morbidity, these deaths and injuries are highly preventable through proper design of firearms. Some of these incidents occur because inexperienced gun handlers, often children, do not realize that a gun is loaded, or that a pistol can have a round loaded in the chamber to fire even after the ammunition clip is removed. Unintentional shootings of this type can be prevented by magazine safety disconnect devices and loaded chamber indicators, relatively inexpensive safety features already available on some handguns.

Biometrics. Technological fixes so that only the registered owner can shoot the gun. Guns can be designed so that they cannot be fired by unauthorized users, and thus, prevent unintentional and self-inflicted shootings by underage youth, as well as some crimes committed with stolen guns  (Teret SP, Webster DW. Reducing gun deaths in the United States: personalized guns would help – and would be achievable. British Medical Journal 1999:318:1160-1161).

Safer gun technology exists, but most manufacturers, not required by law to incorporate safety into their designs, have been reluctant to make use of it.  The technology to manufacture child-resistant handguns has existed since the late 1800s when Smith & Wesson produced a handgun with a safety grip, and claimed that “no ordinary child under eight years of age [could] possibly discharge it.”

Also, technology exists to “personalize” a gun so that only the authorized user can operate it.  Methods for personalization include low-technology devices such as combination locks and high-technology electric, radio frequency, or magnetic sensory devices.  Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Inc. (Colt) has developed working prototypes of a personalized gun which use radio frequency technology.  In 1996, Sandia National Laboratories released a report of its work on personalized gun technologies.

Liability Insurance

Gun holders should be required to purchase additional liability insurance to cover gun incidents that cause harm to themselves and other. Proof of insurance should be provided as a condition to purchase a gun.  The analogy is to car insurance.

Divestment

Institutional and other investors should divest from gun manufacturers. For example, the father of Stephen Feinberg, founder of Cerberus, the private-equity firm that owns gunmaker Freedom Group Inc., lives in the town where a Freedom Group-made rifle was usedto kill 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut’s elementary school. Martin Feinberg is a resident of Liberty at Newtown, a community for people 55 and older that’s about 6 miles from Sandy Hook elementary school. Cerberus today announced on December 18, 2012 that it will sell Freedom Group.

Advertising

In the absence of rules governing the design of firearms, regulating the way guns are advertised may be a useful public health intervention. Some gun advertisements include messages suggesting that bringing a handgun into the home is generally protective for the occupants of the home. The best available scientific information contradicts this message. Given this disjunction, regulating those advertisements may be an appropriate response.

Under federal law, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority to prohibit advertisements that are “deceptive” or “unfair.” Under the FTC’s deception analysis, the focus is on whether consumers are misled by an advertisement. For a finding of unfairness, the FTC looks for advertisements that may cause substantial injury to consumers. Under either analysis, a strong argument can be made that firearm advertisements promising home protection are unlawful.

The Prevalence of Evil People rather than Demonizing the Mentally Ill

Broaden the discussion beyond mental health to include evil people, and learn to recognize the signs of evil.  James Scully, MD, CEO of the American Psychiatric Association has stated, “The idea that mental illness and evil are one and the same thing is simply a relic of the past and has no place in our public dialogue.  People who are clearly not mentally ill commit violent crimes every day.”

Most mass shooters have not had a mental illness but instead were very angry and/or seeking vengeance. According to the psychiatrist James Knoll,

“The majority of research indicates that there are factors common to mass murderers, such as extreme feelings of anger and revenge, the lack of an accomplice (in adult mass murder), feelings of social alienation, and planning/organizing the offense. In a detailed case study of 5 mass murderers who were caught before they were killed, a number of common traits and historical factors were found.  The subjects had all been bullied or isolated as children, turning into loners who felt despair over being socially excluded. They were described as suspicious, resentful, grudge-holders who demonstrated obsessive and inflexible thinking. Not surprisingly, they were also narcissistic and coped with personal problems by blaming others. Their worldview was characterized by seeing most others as rejecting and uncaring. As a result, they spent a great deal of time nurturing their resentment and ruminating on past humiliations. The ruminations evolved into fantasies of violent revenge. They did not see their own violent death as a deterrent, particularly because they perceived it as bringing them fame with an aura of power.” Besides access to a gun, other factors often found in killing of family members (familicide) include the presence of a stepchild, substance abuse by the perpetrator, domestic violence, jealousy, and economic stress.  In familicide cases, studies have found that 91–95% of the time the perpetrator is a man.

“Rampage shooters are generally assumed to be mentally unbalanced, while suicide bombers are seen as extreme, but rational, political actors. However, this review explores the possibility that the primary differences between the two types of killers are cultural, not individual, and that in terms of their underlying psychology and motivation, they are actually quite similar.”  (Adam Lankford and Nayab Hakim; From Columbine to Palestine: A comparative analysis of rampage shooters in the United States and volunteer suicide bombers in the Middle East in Aggression and Violent Behavior; Volume 16, Issue 2, March–April 2011, Pages 98–107)

It can be argued that the evil does not lie within the shooter, but within the society that permits the shooter. Barrister John Mortimore clearly stated this realization: ‘If this man was allowed to have handguns under license it is not demonic evil but a failure of resistance’ (Mortimore, cited by Squires, 131).  (Squires, Peter. Gun Culture or Gun Control?  Firearms, Violence and Society. Routledge: New York, 2000)

Concealed Carry

Tighten the rules on concealed carry of a gun. Concealed weapons are defined as “weapons, especially handguns, which are kept hidden on one’s person, or under one’s control.”  Under one’s control can also mean a gun that is easily accessed in places such as a glove compartment or under the seat of one’s car while driving.

Violence against Women

According to the Violence Policy Center’s report, When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2007 Homicide Data, 91% of murdered women were killed by someone they knew.  Because guns increase the probability of death in incidents of domestic violence, the carrying of concealed weapons (CCW) is especially problematic.

Incidence. Federal law does not prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons by private citizens, nor does it provide rules for concealed weapons permits or licenses by private citizens.  From the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (“WISQARS”) Leading Causes of Death Reports database for women’s violence-related deaths in the United States:

  • For females aged 15 to 34, homicide-by-firearm was the leading cause of death from 1999 to 2007.
  • For women aged 35 to 64, homicide-by-firearm was the third leading cause of violence-related death from 1999 to 2007.
  • Moreover, suicide-by-firearm also ranked in the top five causes of violence-related deaths for women of all ages from 1999 to 2007 with the rate increasing with age after age 35.
  • For women aged 15 to 34, the rank was third, and for women aged 35 to 64, it rose to the second leading cause of violence-related death.

A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed gun use at home and concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”

Thanks to the high level of state reciprocity, concealed weapons permits are often valid across state lines.  These policies should be ended. The correlation between carrying concealed weapons and violence against women deserves heightened research.

Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.  VAWA authorizes the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for violent crime against women, increases the duration of pre-trial detention of accused batterers, imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows civil redress in cases that prosecutors chose not to pursue.

Fully fund these additional acts:

  • The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) as extended by the Department of Health and Human Services Appropriations Act in 2010 provides dedicated federal funding for domestic violence shelters, emergency shelters, crisis hotlines, counseling services, and victim assistance programs for the underserved.  FVPSA also funds initiatives for teen dating violence and children who witness violence.
  • Additionally, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) intervenes in child abuse, neglect, and sexual violence and improves services for both victims of child abuse and families that are experiencing domestic violence and child maltreatment.
  • Strengthen the Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Gun Ban, prohibiting anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or of child abuse from purchasing or possessing a gun.  While well-intentioned, the Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Gun Ban has some serious limitations.  First, the law does not apply to people who are dating unless the couple has at some point cohabitated and/or have a child together.  However, there is a documented risk of domestic violence being committed by a dating partner. California has addressed this gap in federal law by enacting more stringent state laws encompassing a more comprehensive list of persons subject to firearm prohibitions due to domestic violence, including persons convicted of Intimate Partner Violence against someone they are or were dating, regardless of sexual orientation.

Improve State Laws Dealing with Interpersonal Violence. State laws should require removal of firearms from abusers to help ensure that the abusers will not have continued access to firearms to threaten or harm their victims. Twenty-three states do not have a court-ordered removal law or a police gun removal law in place.  The following elements should be included in state gun removal legislation:

  • Mandatory “shall-remove” laws are preferable to discretionary “may-remove” laws. “Shall-remove” laws limit discretion and facilitate consistent implementation in removal of guns from the abuser.
  • Requirements that guns have been used as an instrument of abuse prior to removal should be eliminated as such conditions limit the preventive potential of these laws to reduce the risk of severe and lethal abuse.
  • Laws that condition gun removal on arrest of the alleged batterer impose a link between two interpersonal violence response options that need not be connected, and they may needlessly complicate law enforcement officers’ decisions about how and when to use arrest and gun removal to achieve maximum benefit.
  • Laws that require the presence or potential risk of danger associated with the gun as a condition of police removal may be too subjective for consistent, effective implementation, and therefore this requirement is not recommended.
  • Court authority to remove guns from protective order respondents during both the temporary and permanent stages of the order are more comprehensive than laws that restrict court removal authority to the permanent order stage. Offering this protection when respondents first learn of the order is advisable, given the heightened danger for the protected party at this time.
  • Responsibility for removing surrendered guns should rest with law enforcement.
  • Relying on respondents to comply with the court’s order may result in decreased compliance with the law.
  • In general, laws that specify clear procedures for the mechanism, immediacy, and duration of gun removal and provide funding to train law enforcement and the courts in implementing these laws will increase the likelihood that these laws will positively impact victim safety.  Good laws require effective implementation and enforcement.  Advocates and policy makers in states where these laws exist can assess how law enforcement and the courts are using these laws to increase available protections for interpersonal violence victims.
  • Working with state and local officials to support efforts to ensure that these laws are effectively used is important.
  • There is a need for research that informs how these laws are being implemented, and how their implementation impacts victim, law enforcement, and community safety.

Privacy Rights

Increase the understanding of school and college officials, so that they don’t hide behind the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in mistakenly thinking they can’t do anything about potentially violent students.

Similarly, increase the understanding of HIPAA (the health care privacy act), so that practitioners understand that it doesn’t mean that potentially violent patients can be ignored or hidden.  Currently, if the threat does not seem imminent, current confidentiality rules and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prohibit clinicians from acting on these measures, lest they set themselves up to be sued.  Therefore, a legal safe harbor should be created to protect clinicians who warn a potential victim and law enforcement authorities.

Research

Establish a National Institute of Violence Prevention at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research root causes and community solutions. We should fund the Centers for Disease Control to develop its infrastructure so it can track, assess and develop strategies to prevent gun violence, just as we do with tainted spinach and influenza.  Currently NIH is prohibited by statute from covering gun violence as a public health problem.

Revise the charter of the US Institute on Peace to allow it to work on domestic US conflict issues, such as gun violence.

Political Contributions

Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, so that the influence of big donors will be decreased in politics.  This will reduce the influence of the NRA and arms manufacturers, which are distorting the possibility of good legislation, and make possible a more even playing field for public policy and political discussions, deliberations, and decisions.

Public Health Emphasis and Approach

Shift to more of a public health emphasis, and encourage passive safety elements, similarly to the way car safety has been approached.  People still have lots and lots of cars, but each car is much safer. Public health provides a useful framework to address firearm injury because it seeks to prevent harm to both individuals and the community.  This approach is informed by epidemiology, “the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations and the application of this study to control of health problems.”  Specifically, this approach looks for practical prevention and intervention points that occur prior to, during, or after an injury event, and can operate by addressing the agent, the host, and environment.

The prevention of firearm suicides—which outnumber firearm homicides and are not crimes—is often viewed as the responsibility the healthcare system and providers. Healthcare providers have a vital role in preventing intentional and unintentional firearm injuries and their impact on patients, families and communities.

Buy-Back Programs

Use buy-back programs for guns. “Gun “buyback” programs may seem to offer another opportunity to learn more about the effects of gun prevalence on crime. In practice, American buyback programs have had little effect on prevalence because they are brief and voluntary, and leave open the possibility of owners buying new guns to replace those they turn in.  Further, the sellers in these buyback programs have been shown to be people at low risk for criminal offending, and the guns that are turned in are often broken or quite different from those that are used in crime (U. of Chicago).  This argues for evidence-based programs.

Police Enforcement, Security Guards, and Surveillance of Potentially Dangerous People and Groups

Treat mass gun murderers as domestic terrorists.   There are burgeoning sales of 50 caliber sniper rifles—military-bred weapons that can down helicopters and penetrate armor plating, yet are easier to purchase than a standard handgun.  A study by the Violence Policy Center revealed that the Al Qaeda network had purchased at least 25 of the weapons in the United States.

FBI documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) under the  Freedom of Information Act show that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.  Using similar criteria, extreme gun enthusiasts could be similarly surveilled, monitored, and reported on.  In fact, extreme gun enthusiasts, because they possess guns, espouse a willingness to use them, and give as a reason protection from an allegedly oppressive government, provide even greater reasons for FBI scrutiny of them.  This would help provide early warning of potential mass murders using guns.

Undercover stings of suspect gun dealers, coupled with prosecutions and publicity about the effort, can lead to substantial reductions in the number of new guns diverted to criminals.  Using this strategy, Chicago and Detroit saw reductions in the diversion of recently purchased guns from in-state dealers to criminals of 62% and 36%, respectively. States that have and enforce (through regular compliance inspections) comprehensive regulations on gun dealers have fewer guns sold by in-state gun stores that are diverted to criminals soon after retail sale.  Currently, the FBI conducts such stings of suspected terrorists.  Reframing the idea of gun violence as a form of domestic terrorist would enable similar tactics to be used against gun violence enablers.

Gun Carrying Suppression Units.  Many shootings result from spontaneous conflicts involving an individual who is illegally carrying a gun.  Some cities deploy special police units to detect and deter illegal gun carrying at times and places where shootings are common. This strategy has reduced shootings in several cities by 30% to 70% without causing the violence to spill over to nearby areas.

Call-In Meetings. Offenders in target areas with the most violent criminal histories are instructed to attend a “call in” meeting.  Law enforcement officials tell offenders at these meetings that they will be under surveillance, and will face federal prosecution if they are involved in any violence or firearm offenses.  Offenders are also offered assistance, including substance abuse treatment and job training to help them change their lifestyles.

Community leaders and family members sometimes attend to encourage positive change. This strategy is associated with substantial reductions in gun violence in Boston and Indianapolis.

CeaseFire Programs. Chicago’s CeaseFire program is a public health initiative involving outreach to high-risk youth in neighborhoods with high levels of guns violence, mediation of disputes, and efforts to promote social norms that stay away from violence.  Street outreach workers—who are typically former gang members—develop  relationships with high-risk youth, steer those youth to resources to reduce their risk (e.g., job training), and serve as positive role models.  Outreach workers also place themselves in settings where shootings tend to occur, and seek out information about conflicts that could escalate to gunfire.  When disputes arise, outreach workers (sometimes with the assistance of “violence interrupters”) help the individuals involved to appreciate the negative consequences of using violence, and offer nonviolent resolutions to the conflict.  An evaluation of CeaseFire found shootings declined in 6 of 7 intervention neighborhoods, and that the program was associated with significant reductions in shootings and retaliatory homicides in 4 of 7 neighborhoods studied.  When program implementation was interrupted as a result of funding cuts, shootings increased in the affected areas. Baltimore’s replication of the program has demonstrated significant reductions in homicides in two intervention communities.

Armed security guards in schools.  There are about 132,400 elementary and secondary schools in the US.  If each had one guard, at a loaded cost of about $100,000 per year (loaded cost means salary and benefits and overhead, etc.) then the cost for the nation would be about $13,230,000,000 per year.  Where is this $13 billion going to come from?  A special tax or surcharge on guns, perhaps?  On ammunition?  Both?

(With thanks to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research)

Finally, Getting Ready for New Challenges

3-D printing of guns. We can easily envision a future in which 3-D printers are affordable and patterns abound for products both benign and malicious, and that cut out the manufacturing sector completely.

We should be prepared to respond to this development or any other new challenge in the future.

 

The Indian Gang Rape-Murder Just Scratched the Surface

This is a great summary of the history of gender-cleansing in India in the wake of the gang rape and murder of the 23-year old female medical student in New Delhi, India.  It was written by feminist Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York. Thought I’d share her thoughts with you.

The Indian Gang Rape-Murder Just Scratched the Surface.