Tag Archives: politics

Gunning For Change: Gun Safety in America

Whatever one’s feelings about the 2nd amendment, individuals’ gun rights should not supersede the health and safety of the American people.

I was in middle school when the massacre at Columbine happened. Everyone was devastated and appalled – those kids were only a little bit older than we were! What if it had been us? Our school officials took that reaction to its next logical step and started preparing us for such an eventuality with “lockdown” drills. We turned off the lights, closed the shades, and hid – scrunching along the wall that bordered the classroom door to avoid scrutiny from the door’s window. We were told not to let anyone in, regardless of who they were or how much they begged and pleaded. Anybody could be a potential shooter or hostage. The exercise was equal parts terrifying and surreal.

That was 17 years ago and what scares me more than the possibility of my own demise is how commonplace such carnage has become in our country. The actions that shocked us in their gruesomeness have now become almost banal in their regularity. Reports on the number of mass shootings vary depending on sources’ definitions and available information, but tend to agree that that number has increased in recent years. The American Journal for Public Health (AJPH) published a report on the matter:

By most estimates, there were fewer than 200 mass shootings reported in the United States often defined as crimes in which four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events between 1982 and 2012. [27, 28] Recent reports suggest that 160 of these events occurred after the year 2000 [29] and that mass shootings rose particularly in 2013 and 2014. [28]

As frightening as such occurrences are, people killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year. According to Snopes, toddlers actually kill more people (accidentally) than potential or suspected Islamic terrorists within the US. And yet, the frenzy of fear surrounding the latter group has fueled infinitely more federal and state action.

Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. was clear in his opinion that guns have become a public health issue. In fact, many cite the NRA’s lobbying efforts against him as the reason his nomination took over a year to receive approval. It makes sense, though, that he would be concerned about something that has such a profound effect on the safety of the American people.

“Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center.

 Comic relief: SNL’s take on the safety of consumer products.

 

Certain politicians enjoy passing this off as a mental health issue, reasoning that it’s not the guns, but the crazy people holding them that we have to control. It’s not actually that simple – most people who have mental illnesses pose no harm to themselves or others.

… surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, [25] less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. 26 (AJPH)

Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be “crazy” to want to hurt someone (or act on that thought). Not only that, but the same politicians who use the mentally ill as scapegoats refuse to pass legislation that would actually benefit their wellbeing. Yes, we do need reform on how we treat people with mental illness, but that’s not the question at hand.

The real issue here is that we need to get serious about reforming our gun control laws. This isn’t even a radical idea – the vast majority of Americans agree that at the least, we need more background checks and enforcement of existing regulation.

Chris Rock has famously said that we would be better served regulating bullets (pricing them at $5,000 each) than guns. Maybe he’s right. In any case, we need to start looking into creative and common sense ways to fix this problem.

Fact or Faction

The Sticky Truth

The election is right around the corner and the world is in a tizzy about the outcome. News sites and Facebook feeds are brimming with analyses of the latest Trump gaffe, the panic surrounding the “new” Clinton emails, and what they mean about the polls. But to what extent does new information actually filter through our consciousness to influence our system of beliefs?

I’ve discussed America’s difficult relationship with the truth before. The media certainly shapes the way that the public interprets information – whether or not viewers believe the news being reported is true. Of course, that’s assuming that they actually care if something is true. In the case of Trump, for example, his supporters view him as a truth-teller even though he continues to spout easily disproven lies. Some have actively claimed that they would support him regardless of whether he is telling the truth. Meanwhile, Hillary “enjoys” a persistent aura of untrustworthiness in spite of having lied significantly less than her competitor.

We are in an age where many Americans proudly proclaim their disbelief in science. How do you get through to people who are so enamored of their own convictions that they will not accept anything that proves them wrong? A study in 2010 showed that “misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs.”

Part of the solution is changing tactics. No one likes to be patronized and hitting someone over the head with dull and dry statistics certainly is not a winning strategy. Scientists and communicators have had to tackle these problems when trying to fight the uphill battle against climate change denial. A great blog called Skeptical Science first introduced me to this interesting approach to debunking myths: fight sticky ideas with stickier ideas. Use humor, snappy soundbites and unexpected metaphors to make the truth circulate. Hey – who doesn’t love a good meme?

Science and Politics: When Feelings Trump Facts

Looking back on it, there was a time when the US was set on making science a priority in learning. Advancing our technology and teaching our children to strive toward excellence in math and science put us ahead in the Cold War and we desperately wanted to catch up with and surpass the advances made by other countries. The US made major progress – we even became the first nation on earth to land people on the moon!

By its nature, science is constantly growing and evolving (see what we did there?). We know more now than we did before – DNA, genes, the solar system, cancer research, etc.

So when did it become not only politically expedient, but popular to deny science? Science has long faced opposition from religious sources/forces, but more recently, it has been filtered most often through the lens of politics. Cases in point: we hear about climate change, evolution and vaccinations, and can immediately conjure up the last time we saw major opponents to their acceptance. These people are shown prominently in mainstream media, but more than that, are in charge of policy. Here’s where it becomes a problem.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica science is:

…any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.

The key word in that definition is “unbiased.” That means science should be an impartial resource that is equally relevant and accessible to those with myriad political opinions.

LCG has touched on this topic before, specifically with regard to news coverage of hot debate:

For us, it brings up the journalistic idea of balance wherein journalists try to get “both sides” of a news story. But what if there is no balance? Certainly, while part of the climate change story does include the fact that there are some people who deny that humans are helping to cause global warming, the deniers, by and large, are basing their claims on right wing political views, not real science. Should journalists feel compelled to include that in their stories? Currently, the jury’s out on this one, but we certainly don’t think so.

While it’s true that not everyone is a scientific genius, that does not excuse deliberate scientific illiteracy. We have professional scientists worldwide who have studied these issues extensively for decades and reached almost unanimous consensus. Not only that, some of the most important aspects have national and global consequences. Vaccination, for example, is vital to maintaining public health (as we recently saw with the measles outbreak); opinion does not counteract fact, and the ramifications of ignoring that truth can be catastrophic. Similarly, this applies to climate change. 97% of active climate researchers and the Academies of Science from 80 countries agree that humans are causiJng climate change. Of course, there should be room for political debate, but it should be over how to act, not whether to bother. For the record, it is possible to be a Republican climate scientist.

Many of us learned about scientific reasoning and methodology in school. Our society’s development owes so much to this field of study (think what would happen if we were still debating the morality of electricity instead of using it!). We are doing a disservice to ourselves and our country to turn our backs on science.

We remember past generations for their progress in this field; how will our descendants look back upon us; upon our actions and inactions? Can we really afford to make science a partisan issue?

The ever fabulous John Oliver illustrates our point.

Or, to put it differently, there’s this:

Fear of Ebola or Fear of Telling the Truth?

The biggest word in the news right now is Ebola.  Of course, the right wing has taken despicable advantage of this epidemic to try to strike fear into the hearts of Americans by saying, over and over, that the US is in jeopardy.  However, as someone recently said on twitter, “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.”  While Ebola is a definite concern, since we should always be concerned when any other nation’s people suffer and the world’s health is in jeopardy, it’s clearly not an epidemic that will have an enormous impact here in the US.

Conservative forces have been successful, once again, in playing a game of three card monte with us; they are showing us the hand that isn’t doing the trick, distracting us from what’s really going on.  And, what’s really going on?  Aside from the obvious attempt to paint the current administration as incompetent and uncaring, they are masking their own major failure to protect our health; they have held up, for more than a year, the appointment of a Surgeon General. (And yes, the Surgeon General’s office does more than print those warnings on the side of cigarette packs.) There’s an acting Surgeon General who is not actually confirmed, so he has no power.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that?  You are not alone.  This fact has been well buried.  As reported in Politico, the nominee – Dr. Vivek Murthy – has had his confirmation held up by Republicans and conservative red-state Democrats because of his outspoken views on gun violence and public health.  It was apparently this tweet that sent right wing forces over the edge:

 

 

So it turns out that the real “fear” here is that the new US Surgeon General will openly make the case that rampant gun violence constitutes a major public health threat and that, in turn, will unleash the NRA’s public relations machine which, in turn, will try to defeat any Republican or Democrat who votes to approve Murthy’s nomination.

Unfortunately, fear does tend to work.  So, while spineless elected officials try to hold up the appointment of the Nation’s leading doctor for fear of not be re-elected, Americans are being told to fear a disease that is not killing them.

A confirmed Surgeon General would not only help focus American attention and resources on the real threats to American health – including gun violence – but would obviate the need for a so-called Ebola czar and create real US leadership on the issue.

Demand that Congress confirm Dr. Murthy now. NOW.  As a matter of fact, if you go here, you can sign a Credo petition that asks for the Senate to do just that.