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The CDC and the gun control lobby

Posted on December 26th, 2015 in Gun Control by Robert Miller
AR 15 Rifle

AR 15 Rifle

In 1993, the New England Journal of Medicine, published research done by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), on the hazards of gun ownership. The article was entitled “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home.”

In the Introduction to that research, the authors pointed out that

  1. Homicide claims the lives of approximately 24,000 Americans each year, making it the 11th leading cause of death among all age groups, the 2nd leading cause of death among all people 15 to 24 years old, and the leading cause of death among male African Americans 15 to 34 years old1. Homicide rates declined in the United States during the early 1980s but rebounded thereafter2. One category of homicide that is particularly threatening to our sense of safety is homicide in the home.
  2. Unfortunately, the influence of individual and household characteristics on the risk of homicide in the home is poorly understood. Illicit-drug use, alcoholism, and domestic violence are widely believed to increase the risk of homicide, but the relative importance of these factors is unknown. Frequently cited options to improve home security include the installation of electronic security systems, burglar bars, and reinforced security doors. The effectiveness of these protective measures is unclear, however.
  3. Many people also keep firearms (particularly handguns) in the home for personal protection. One recent survey determined that handgun owners are twice as likely as owners of long guns to report “protection from crime” as their single most important reason for keeping a gun in the home3. It is possible, however, that the risks of keeping a firearm in the home may outweigh the potential benefits4.
  4. To clarify these issues, we conducted a population-based case-control study to determine the strength of the association between a variety of potential risk factors and the incidence of homicide in the home.

You can appreciate that the research effort carried out by the CDC was done carefully and without prejudice. The full report can be viewed here. The essence of this report was as follows: There were 1860 homicides in the three counties during the study period [Counties examined included, Shelby County, Tennessee; King County, Washington; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, are the most populous counties in their respective states. The population of King County is predominantly white and enjoys a relatively high standard of living. In contrast, 44 percent of the population of Shelby County and 25 percent of the population of Cuyahoga County are African American. Fifteen percent of the households in Shelby County and 11 percent in Cuyahoga County live below the poverty level, as compared with 5 percent in King County5-7]. Twenty three .9 percent were committed in the home of the victim and it was these cases that the study emphasized.

In the discussion the report begins with:

  1. Although firearms are often kept in homes for personal protection, this study shows that the practice is counterproductive. Our data indicate that keeping a gun in the home is independently associated with an increase in the risk of homicide in the home. The use of illicit drugs and a history of physical fights in the home are also important risk factors. Efforts to increase home security have largely focused on preventing unwanted entry, but the greatest threat to the lives of household members appears to come from within.
  2. We restricted our study to homicides that occurred in the home of the victim, because these events can be most plausibly linked to specific individual and household characteristics. If, for example, the ready availability of a gun increases the risk of homicide, this effect should be most noticeable in the immediate environment where the gun is kept. Although our case definition excluded the rare instances in which a nonresident intruder was killed by a homeowner, our methodology was capable of demonstrating significant protective effects of gun ownership as readily as any evidence of increased risk.

In essence the study pointed out that rather than confer protection, the presence of guns in the home posed a significant risk factor the homeowner who ran the risk of being killed by a relative or at least someone that the homeowner knew. The purpose of this blog is not to summarize to any great detail the level of analysis carried out in the study, but to characterize what happened after this study appeared.

Congressional Reaction to the CDC Study

From the American Psychological Association website:

The 1993 NEJM article received considerable media attention, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded by campaigning for the elimination of the center that had funded the study, the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention. The center itself survived, but Congress included language in the 1996 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Bill (PDF, 2.4MB) for Fiscal Year 1997 that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”  Referred to as the Dickey amendment after its author, former U.S. House Representative Jay Dickey (R-AR), this language did not explicitly ban research on gun violence. However, Congress also took $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget — the amount the CDC had invested in firearm injury research the previous year — and earmarked the funds for prevention of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Kellerman [author] stated in a December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency’s funding to find out. Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up.”

At the time APA advocated in support of firearm-related injury research, and APA released the following statement when the Dickey amendment was adopted:

  • Research on the prevention of firearm-related injury, supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and coordinated within CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), has come under attack from Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) and the National Rifle Association (NRA). The House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee initially rejected Rep. Dickey’s attempt to eliminate the $2.6 million dedicated to CDC firearm-injury research. However, Mr. Dickey prevailed in the full Appropriations Committee. The Dickey amendment would transfer the $2.6 million to regional health education centers. This research has attracted a powerful and wealthy opponent — the NRA. The NRA has taken the position that firearm-related injury research at the CDC amounts to ‘antigun’ political advocacy and has also attacked the quality of this research. However, research proposals submitted to CDC are subject to a peer review process that follows standard practices. APA’s Public Policy Office (PPO) has distributed accurate information to Congress on the nature of CDC-supported firearm-injury research and is advocating against the Dickey amendment.

Right after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first grade students were  killed, along with six adults, President Obama signed an executive order that gave the CDC permission to resume research on gun issues related to gun ownership. But Congress refused to provide resources for funding this kind of research. In the meantime the Huffington Post has an article in which Jay Dickey, the author of the bill banning the CDC from doing research; he regrets his decision and states “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time,” Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, told the Huffington Post in an interview. “I have regrets.” Meantime the NRA has no regrets and each time there is a new shooting weapons sales go up, further endangering those that bought them.

So there we have it, the NRA prevents us from even doing research on weapons which endanger our lives. What other country would tolerate this?




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What did we get out of the Paris agreement to address global climate change?

Posted on December 19th, 2015 in Climage Change by Robert Miller

Nearly 200 countries signed onto the Paris accord, each pledging to attack climate change without specifying how they are going to do it. The news coming out of the Paris conference on global climate change, known as COP21, is a very mixed bag. On the one hand you have skeptics who claim that the agreement fell far short of the 1.5 degree (Celsius) target that they now claim they all signed onto. On the other hand you have advocates who claim that it was important to get everyone on board with their signature, so that even if the agreement fell far short of the 1.5 degree mark, at least you have everyone recognizing the serious nature of the problem and having established that, it may be far easier in the future to get movement on these important issues. According to Bill McKibbon (founder of 350.org) in his NYT assessment, “so the world emerges, finally, with something like a climate accord, albeit unenforceable. “If all parties kept their promises, the planet would warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. And that is way, way too much. We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.” Greenland ice is melting and Antarctica is showing dangerous signs of melting too, with large ice sheets having broken away previously. So, if the ice is already melting at 1 degree centigrade, who and what will stop it. As near as I can tell no one in Paris had an answer to that question. Yet, at the Paris conference, it seemed like everyone was focused more on seal level rise rather than temperature. If the Greenland glaciers should melt, that by itself will cause about a twenty foot sea level rise, meaning most coastal cities would be underwater. So we are in a race to see if we can reverse the ongoing trend of melting our principal ice stores, the ones that really count, while hoping that future efforts will reduce greenhouse gases and eventually restore Greenland and Antarctic ice to their normal cycling pattern. My advice: don’t buy a house near the sea shore.

The deal requires any country that ratifies it to act to stem its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming century, with the goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and continuing the reductions as the century progresses. Countries will aim to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F).

The deal will also encourage trillions of dollars of capital to be spent adapting to the effects of climate change—including infrastructure like sea walls and programs to deal with poor soil—and developing renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. The text of the agreement includes a provision requiring developed countries to send $100 billion annually to their developing counterparts beginning in 2020. That figure will be a “floor” that is expected to increase with time.

The agreement gives countries considerable leeway in determining how to cut their emissions but mandates that they report transparently on those efforts. Every five years nations will be required to assess their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them.

The legal nature of the deal–whether it will be binding–had been a hotly debated topic in the lead up to the negotiations. The agreement walks a fine line, binding in some elements like reporting requirements, while leaving other aspects of the deal—such as the setting of emissions targets for any individual country—as non-binding.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club and author of “Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal.” But climate justice activists disagree on how effective the agreement will be in rolling back the effects of climate change. “What I see is an agreement with no timetables, no targets, with vague, wild aspirations,” says British journalist and author George Monbiot, columnist with The Guardian and author of the 2006 book, “Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.” “I see a lot of backslapping, a lot of self-congratulation, and I see very little in terms of the actual substance that is required to avert climate breakdown.” From Democracy Now, both Brune and Monbiot talk about the Paris agreement.

MICHAEL BRUNE: “We do think it’s a turning point. What we saw is just about every country in the world made a commitment to either cut their own carbon or to peak the growth in their emissions. And there was also an explicit acknowledgment that what was committed to is not nearly enough, and so there was a process that was established to take stock of the progress that’s being made and then to commit to continuous reductions in the years ahead. What we saw in the last two weeks was that every country around the world agreed that we have to do much, much more to fight climate change effectively, and to begin to set up a dialogue and a mechanism for rich countries to aid the poor countries, and to make room for continuous ambition moving forward. So, it’s a good start, and there’s, of course, a very long way to go.”

GEORGE MONBIOT: “Well, I wish I could be as optimistic as Michael, but what I see is an agreement with no timetables, no targets, with vague, wild aspirations. I mean, it’s almost as if it’s now safe to adopt 1.5 degrees centigrade as their aspirational target now that it is pretty well impossible to reach. I see a lot of backslapping, a lot of self-congratulation, and I see very little in terms of the actual substance that is required to avert climate breakdown. That’s what we’re facing. We’re facing an existential crisis for humankind. And the response by the world’s leaders has been anything but commensurate with that crisis.”

Meanwhile the polar and Greenland ice stores keep melting. I recall Jim Hanson telling us that at 400 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the Antarctic and Greenland ice would be gone. Well we passed that mark earlier this year and the ice in those regions is melting, but the question is how fast? The answer is NOBODY NO KNOWS.

One thing is certain, we have to thank the climate activists for what we have achieved so far, even if it’s not far enough. An article in Truthdig has the right tone.


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