Friday, November 30, 2018

Pennsylvania's Surprisingly Balanced Report On Gun Violence

Eugene A. DePasquale

It is a rare thing for government reports on "gun violence" to be even close to balanced, but Pennsylvania appears to be bucking that trend.

Eugene A. DePasquale, Pennsylvania's Pennsylvania Auditor General, has issued a surprisingly balanced report on ways to reduce gun deaths entitled "
A Safer Pennsylvania - A Community Approach To Firearms Safety

Unlike most other such projects, gun rights advocates were actually included.  Consider this from the report's preface:  "Firearm ownership and usage are rights guaranteed by the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions, so firearms will continue to exist in our society."

It's also worth noting that five of the twelve recommendations do not directly address firearms, but instead violence in general.  It seems like those who wrote this report realize that a gun is only one tool that can be used to injure or kill others.

Here are the 12 recommendations, each followed with my comments:

1. The state should work to expand access to mental health care, especially in rural communities.

2. The stigma of seeking mental health help must end; to do that, the state should mount a culturally responsive public awareness campaign.

It's heartening to seek mental health given top priority, given that the focus is upon mass shootings and suicide is the number one cause of firearms related deaths,

3. Engage medical doctors and train all physicians, especially primary care physicians, to screen patients for risks of firearm violence.

If we are talking about screening people for mental health issues, or simply distributing firearms safety info from the NRA or DFG this could be quite positive.  If we are talking about doctors Asking patients if they own firearms and then charting the information, this is  totally unacceptable.

4. Engage licensed firearms dealers in looking for red flags in customers who might potentially use a firearm for suicide.

Another positive step - however no mention is made of the fact that the firearms industry association (NSSF) has already partnered with a major suicide prevention to do just that.

5. The Pennsylvania Game Commission should expand its hunter education program section on firearm safety and create a voluntary training program on safe firearm usage and storage.

OK, this never a bad thing - but given that the NRA has already produced massive amounts of firearms safety material, why reinvent the wheel?  Additionally, as noted in the report, only 4% of firearms deaths are "accidents".  I put "accidents" in quotes because a significant but unknown number of these deaths are suicides.  Medical examiners tend to give the deceased the benefit of any doubt and therefore rule that they are accidents or "undetermined".

6. Encourage all firearm owners to voluntarily use safe storage best practices, such as locking unloaded firearms in a safe and storing ammunition away from firearms.

OK, again, not a bad thing - except that any firearm used for self defense must be available.  Clearly, we all should take measures to secure our firearms from theft or unauthorized use - but it is doubtful that government efforts will do much to encourage this.

7. The state should continue to support hospital-based violence intervention programs and behavioral health resources in hospitals so they can be fully responsive to the violence they treat and ensure that unresolved trauma will not contribute to retaliation or suicide.

Again, the mental health aspect of this recommendation could prevent some deaths, especially suicides, but preventing retaliation is law enforcement's job.

8. The state should support communities in organizing violence prevention efforts proven to be effectve. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s Gun Violence Reduction Initiative is a good example of that support.

If we are talking about focusing upon offenders instead of their tools, this is a good thing.  If we are talking about programs to discourage gun ownership - that is another matter entirely.

9. The governor should sign an executive order requiring Pennsylvania State Police to issue quarterly and monthly reports on firearms traced from crimes to help track lost and stolen guns as well as firearm-related criminal activity.

Please, please do this.  We all know what it will show: Criminals don't buy their guns legally.  They do not buy them at gun shows.  They get them through thefts and straw purchases.  More background checks will not stop them.

10. The state should secure funding to increase Pennsylvania’s participation in a national network that uses bullets to connect multiple crimes to single firearms.

It think what they are talking about is simply good police forensic work, not requiring all guns to be registered with a fired casing.

11. Sheriffs and other law-enforcement officials who issue concealed-carry permits should thoroughly check applicants’ references and backgrounds before approving applications and consider prosecuting those who provide false information.

Doesn't this sound like just requiring people to do their job?  Not that those who are denied will be stopped from carrying - they just will carry illegally.  Why aren't people who lie under threat of perjury being prosecuted now?  Again, this boils down to telling people in the justice system to do their jobs. 

12. Pennsylvania State Police should implement the Lethality Assessment Program, which connects victims of intimate partner violence to local domestic violence programs, statewide.

I have worked with domestic violence victims and the two things that most people do not know are:

1) They are not all female.  A significant number of victims are male.

2) The greatest challenge is getting victims to leave their dysfunctional relationship with the offender.  They keep returning.

If these programs can convince victims to leave offenders and get help, not only will "gun deaths" be reduced, domestic murders in general will be reduced.

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