Washington U. Decides to Study Guns and Public Health
Gun violence took center stage at Washington University on Tuesday, as the institution kicked off a yearlong initiative to study what has become a public health crisis on the streets of St. Louis and throughout the nation.
That a top-tier research university would seek to find out "what we know, what we need to know and what to do," as it relates to the country with the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, should not be controversial.
But it will be.
Chancellor Mark Wrighton knows this.
“We know enough about the local political environment to know that major policy shifts will be a challenge,” he recently told the Post-Dispatch editorial board.
As the university was preparing to begin its work, Tim McGraw found out just how absurd the gun debate in the U.S. has become. The country music star found himself the target of criticism from extremists who believe that even an attempt to protect children from gun violence is somehow sacrilegious. These extremists have elevated a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment above every other word in the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court has ruled that there is an individual right to bear arms, but it is not an any-gun, any-place, any-time right.
Mr. McGraw has agreed to hold a benefit concert in July for Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization started by some of the families of the 20 children and six adults massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. One of the parents who lost a child, Mark Barden, is a musician who is a longtime friend of the fiddler in Mr. McGraw’s band.
Sandy Hook Promise advocates for “protecting children from gun violence with programs that work.”
Some of the suggested programs? Better training and gun safety. Better background checks to make sure guns stay out of the hands of the mentally ill. Teaching children, parents and community members to watch out for the warning signs of at-risk behavior.
For his support of these entirely reasonable goals, Mr. McGraw is being blasted as a modern-day traitor by that sliver of country-music-loving gun enthusiasts who believe that the one and only answer to anything related to gun violence is “more guns.”
Think back to those dark days after the 20 children of Sandy Hook elementary and six of their adult teachers and caretakers were gunned down in cold blood. The nation mourned. We demanded action. Some of us got angry. And then?
The power of the National Rifle Association and its keepers in the gun industry went to work in state legislatures all around the country. They proceeded to mostly weaken gun laws, not strengthen them.
In Missouri, lawmakers tried, but failed, to nullify all federal gun laws. Then they did serious damage to the state constitution by putting Amendment 5 on the ballot, and failing to tell voters that it would allow many felons to legally own guns.
Today in Missouri, prosecutors are hamstrung, unable to bring gun charges in many criminal cases because Missouri’s constitution has been so badly damaged.
That Mr. McGraw could become a pariah for doing something nice for his friend, and for the memory of 20 dead children, and with the hope of saving other children, is disgusting.
But that’s the reality of America in 2015.
And it’s why the Washington University yearlong initiative — and the in-depth studies that we hope will follow it — is so important.
“We want to find out what might work in terms of curbing gun violence,” Mr. Wrighton said.
The issue became personal for the chancellor last year when 16-year-old Chelsea Harris was gunned down, the innocent victim of another gun crime in St. Louis. Chelsea had been mentored by Risa Zwerling Wrighton, an academic adviser at Washington University and the chancellor’s wife.
In an op-ed on these pages, Mrs. Wrighton lamented the death of her friend.
“My heart is broken not only because of Chelsea but because of all the Chelseas out there who won’t feel the sun on their faces anymore,” she wrote.
There is — or was, at least — a great middle in this country, where Second Amendment rights and children can both be protected and valued. Where gun safety and background checks are just common sense, not controversial proposals. Where the idea of trying to determine whether the high gun ownership rate in the U.S. has anything to do with the equally high homicide rate, or the high rate of suicides among those who have easy access to guns, or the all-too-common accidental deaths of preschoolers who find their parents’ guns not properly locked up and shoot themselves or their friends is a reasonable endeavor.
Gun violence is leading to tremendous tragedy in this city, and this country, on a daily basis. Just Monday, yet another rolling gun battle on Interstate 44 endangered innocent bystanders. Guns were part of the equation, along with criminal activity, the drug trade and all the elements of generational poverty.
What we know right now, according to a 2013 report from the National Academies in Washington, D.C., is that there is a whole lot we don’t know about guns in America. We know, from a new study published in Mother Jones magazine, that gun violence costs the nation $229 billion a year. We know that gun deaths have surpassed motor vehicle deaths in Missouri for three years. We know that trend may become national. But why? And what can be done about it? There isn’t a tremendous amount of credible, in-depth research on gun violence and its effect on public health in the U.S.
By this time next year, Washington University hopes to learn enough from the existing body of research to point to some policy steps that might save the lives of children, be they 16-year-olds walking down the streets of their St. Louis neighborhood, or children like 7-year-old Daniel Barden, who never got to clutch Ninja Cat, his favorite stuffed animal, again after Dec. 14, 2012, because a madman shot him dead.
Let’s find out what we don’t know. Let the data guide us to a place where public health is more important than political division.
By St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Local Man Pushes for Guns on Public Transit
Right now it is illegal to carry a weapon on the Metro but one local business owner wants to change the law in hopes of making the Metro safer.
Stephan Marx testified in Jefferson City to help Representative Ron Hicks push legislators to pass a bill that would allow concealed weapons on the Metro.
“I've seen some bad behavior,” Marx said. “I've even some drug dealing going on in Metro lots, going on in plain view.”
A spokesperson for Metro would not go on camera but said the agency prohibits weapons of any type, which can be seen on signs around Metro stops.
“These gun free zones are not necessarily so, these thugs and criminals don't adhere to rule of law, they go by whatever they wish to do,” Marx said.
Police, Mayor Slay and Metro officials oppose the idea of allowing weapons on the Metro. They say putting guns in more places will not make anyone safer.
“Metro needs to step up their security on the trains and on the system, that's their responsibility,” Marx said.
Metro employs officers from the city and county police departments to patrol the transit system. Metro said they also have undercover officers monitoring buses and trains.
By Kelly Davis, kmov.com
House Urges Common 5.56mm Round for Army and Marine Corps
The House Armed Services Committee called on the Pentagon Wednesday to explain why the Army and the Marine Corps use different types of 5.56mm ammunition for the M16A4 rifle and the M4 carbine, and to develop a plan for a common round.
The Committee also proposed an increase in the Obama administration's request of $1.4 million for upgrades to the M240 medium machine gun to improve the longevity of the weapon and also give a boost to the U.S. small arms industrial base.
The recommendations came from HASC's Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces in deliberations this week on 2016 defense budget.
The subcommittee called on Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for an "explanation" for the difference in ammunition by March 2016.
Carter's report should detail why the Army uses the M855A1 round for the M16 while the Marine Corps stayed with the older M855 round and also used the newer Mk318 Mod 0 round.
The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, also asked for an accounting of additional costs incurred by the use of the different rounds and called for planning "to eventually transition back to using one standard 5.56 mm combat ammunition round."
The Army adopted the M855A1 in 2010 after years of struggling to find a lead-free replacement for the Cold War era M855.
The Marine Corps had planned to field the Army's M855A1 until the program suffered a major setback in August 2009, when testing revealed that some of the bullets did not follow their trajectory or intended flight path.
At a hearing last month, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, said: "Maintaining two inventories of the same size combat ammunition is probably not the most efficient way to go."
"I just think it looks bad. It makes us all look bad. It appears very wasteful from the outside to have the Marines and the Army not buying the same bullet," Sanchez said.
In its "markup" deliberations on the NDAA, the subcommittee said that "there may be additional costs to the Department of Defense in procuring two types of ammunition rather than just one, which it had been doing before 2009."
The intent of the members was "to encourage the Department to develop a plan to get back to one standard 5.56mm combat round."
By Richard Sisk, military.com