Click for next page ( 40


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 39
Session 3 Impact on Health and Crime Speaker Presentations Pro Philip Cook is the ITT/Stanford Professor of Public Policy at Duke University and a member of the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academies. Among his works is a book coauthored with lens Ludwig, Gun Violence: The Real Costs (Oxford University Press, 20001. Prof. Cook said that one of the things he found most remarkable about the morning proceedings was the significant push by the federal government to develop personalized gun technologies to protect law- enforcement officers and by the New lersey state legislature to protect children. In the grand scheme of things, he said, those two populations represent only a small part of the problem of the misuse of handguns. The larger concern is guns that are diverted from their intended pur- pose into the hands of dangerous individuals who are forbidden by law to have guns. Reducing diversion would reduce gun-related homicides, acci- dents, and suicides. Public health statistics give a sense ofthe scale of the problem. In 1999, there were about 11,000 gun homicides in the United States, almost all caused by handguns. This represents about two-thirds of the total number of homicides in that year. Moreover, there were 187,000 robberies involv- ing a gun, more than one-third of the total number of robberies, and 340,000 gun assaults. There were almost 17,000 gun suicides in 1999, or 57 percent of the total number of suicides. Teenage suicide is of particular concern. Of the 17,000 suicides, 1,100 were younger than 20. In terms of 39

OCR for page 39
40 OWNER-AUTHORIZED HANDGUNS injuries, there were 29,000 fatalities caused by gun-related injuries in 1999 and 76,000 nonfatal injuries. A second way of thinking about the magnitude of the issue is to look at the impacts of gun crime. For example, the threat of gun crime imposes a burden on all of us, Prof. Cook said. Fear and anticipation of the possible loss of a loved one translate into costly activities to avoid victimization. Dealing with the consequences of gun crime imposes costs on our criminal justice and medical systems. In many urban neighborhoods, serious vio- lence reduces property values, stops commercial development, and encour- ages neighborhood flight. The dynamic was illustrated in the 1990s, when a major decline in violence, especially gun violence, coupled with an eco- nomic renaissance, led to huge increases in property values in inner cities. Prof. Cook estimated that the costs associated with the criminal use of guns amounts to about $80 billion a year. No doubt, reducing gun violence could save a lot of money, he contin- ued. Nevertheless, the value of a gun-safety device that adds, say, $30 to the price of a new gun must be balanced against the average additional social burden that additional guns impose on all of us. It is also important to remember that guns have virtuous uses. Thirty-five to 40 percent of American households own a handgun, typically in conjunction with several other guns (Cook and Ludwig, 1996) . The 200 million guns and 70 million handguns in circulation are confined to perhaps 30 million households. Gun-owning households have on the average five guns. In 1999, 4.7 million new guns, 1.7 million of them handguns, were sold in the United States. There were some 2 to 3 million transactions in used guns. If the purpose of personalization is to reduce diversion, it is important to understand how diversion happens. According to the Na- tional Sample of Prisoners, 25 percent of prisoners who had a gun when arrested had acquired it from a retail dealer. In a sample of juvenile offend- ers, however, only 7 percent said they bought their guns from retail dealers. Buying a gun from a retail dealer and committing a crime with it is rela- tively rare. Guns usually pass through several sets of hands between retailer and the commission of a crime. Ten percent of prisoners stole their guns; 2 percent took them away from their victims; and about 30 percent bought them on the black market or on the street. There are four ways a gun can be diverted from a legal user to an illegal user: (1) unauthorized transfer within a household; (2) seizures from victims

OCR for page 39
SESSION 3: IMPACT ONHEALTHAND CRIME 4 1 by assailants, the so-called take-away phenomenon, a rare event; (3) thefts from residences, vehicles, and commercial businesses; and (4) transfers in the secondary market. Prof. Cook described the last two diversion routes in some detail. There are at least 500,000 gun thefts a year from residences, enough to provide a gun for every gun crime committed in a single year. There are a few million transfers every year in the secondary market. Most of these are perfectly legal, but some are not. The classic straw purchase is when a girlfriend with a clean record buys a gun at a retail store and hands it to her boyfriend, who has a criminal record. There are also sales out of private collections and from states with fewer controls to states with tighter controls. Conventional personalized technologies, a keyed lock, for example, would do little to prevent the fourth type of diversion, voluntary transfers in the secondary market. When a gun with a keyed lock is sold, the accom- panying bracelet or key or ring could simply be handed over so that the purchaser could fire the gun as easily as the seller. A biometric weapon, however, could not be transferred as easily; the gun would have to be repro- grammed. With some technologies, transferring the gun in working order would be impossible. The personalization could also include a locator built into the gun, a technology that is already used in cars. The Lojack system has led to a steep reduction in vehicle thefts, because it allows law enforcement to track ve- hicles very easily. Building a signal device into guns would have a remark- able deterrent effect. Even if the signaling device were entirely optional, but perhaps encouraged by insurance companies, the effect could well be to deter theft. That has been the experience with car owners they pay for Lojack but then get an insurance break. Some miniaturization issues might have to be overcome, but this technology has real potential to stop one very important kind of diversion and make gun theft a lot less attractive than it iS now. Prof. Cook said it would be useful to analyze how these three technolo- gies key or combination locks, biometrics, and locator signals match up with the four diversion channels. To what extent would a particular personalization design influence each of these? A standard key or combination lock design should presumably prevent household diversions, and, if the gun were locked, prevent take-aways. If it were made very difficult to rekey the lock, if rekeying by an unauthorized person would basically destroy the gun, this approach would also prevent

OCR for page 39
42 OWNER-AUTHORIZED HANDGUNS thefts of workable guns. A very similar analysis could be performed for biometric weapons. A gun with a locator device wouldn't prevent house- hold thefts or take-aways, but it might have a substantial effect on theft. Prof. Cook also raised the issue of"competing" risks. When a new safety technology is introduced, it introduces new, so-called competing risks. The classic example is air bags and seat belts, which reduced old risks but created new ones. For new gun-safety technology, a competing risk might be that, as safer options become available, handgun ownership might rise, thus increasing the overall risk of gun violence. A second competing risk is that some people might get a false sense of confidence, and choose to keep their guns loaded and otherwise unlocked because they think their guns are now safe. Finally, if the locking mechanisms fail, the owner would be prevented from using the weapon during an attack. Prof. Cook suggested several policy approaches to introducing person- alization as a way to address the problem of gun diversions. Handguns with internal locking devices or a built-in geopositioning system could be pro- duced but not required. Another approach would be to require certain groups to carry personalized guns for instance, people with concealed- carry permits or security guards, who are usually not trained in gun use but are required to carry guns. The third policy option would be to require every new handgun to have an accepted personalization device built in. The result would be a steady increase in the percentage of guns of no inter- est or use to thieves. It would take a long time for these guns to penetrate the market, but newer handguns are greatly overrepresented in criminal use, so penetration might be fairly rapid. The fourth and most radical approach would be to require that any conventional handgun being transferred to another owner be retrofitted with an appropriate personalization technology. That would greatly accel- erate market penetration. Social reforms, including gun control, have always been subjected to the same criticisms: futility, perversity, and jeopardy. Futility suggests that reform is hopeless because of the large number (200 million) of guns in circulation. Perversity suggests that smart guns will not fire when necessary, so they would be worse than useless. Jeopardy suggests that requiring smart- gun technology would interfere with our right to own guns. These same arguments have been made for every past social policy reform. But studies of social reforms show that, on balance, they were effective. This suggests

OCR for page 39
SESSION 3: IMPACT ONHEALTHAND CRIME 43 that the correct answer might be that safer guns will mean fewer gun deaths . . . ant ~ gun injuries. Different smart-gun designs would accomplish different purposes. But the larger purpose of all smart-gun technologies should be to reduce diver- sions, Prof. Cook said. The effectiveness of any particular design will de- pend not only on the design, but also on the regulations that go with it.

OCR for page 39
Panel Presentations Charles A. Moose is chief of police of Montgomery County, Maryland, a major in the District of Columbia Air National Guard, and a member of the adjunct faculty at Montgomery College. Chief Moose said he has carried a handgun for the 27 years he has been in law enforcement, but as a child he never handled a gun. His father had a gun, however, and probably died under the illusion that he had kept it successfully hidden from his children. No one in his household misused his father's gun, but many young people make very poor decisions about the use of family guns, decisions that result in accidental shootings, accidental deaths, and suicides. In contrast to home- and family-related misuse of handguns, law- enforcement take-aways are a relatively minor problem. Only a small number of law-enforcement officers are killed with their own weapons. A much better reason to pursue smart-gun research would be to stop young people from hurting themselves or others. One of law-enforcement officers' biggest concerns about smart guns is their reliability. That is the challenge manufacturers must face. ChiefMoose said if he and his peers were not convinced that a smart gun would be absolutely reliable every time it is used, they would rather stick with the weapons they already have. There is considerable skepticism in the law- enforcement community about existing gun-safety technologies. A number of law-enforcement agencies ask their police officers to use locking devices on their guns, at least during off-duty hours. His own agency issues the 44

OCR for page 39
SESSIONS: PANEL PRESENTATIONS 45 equipment and encourages its use, and many younger officers, he said, have not only asked for locks but for better locks. But Chief Moose said he doubts that many officers actually use the equipment, and he admitted that he does not lock up his own gun at night. He said he is afraid that, if he needs quick access to the weapon, struggling with a lock will take too much time. A smart gun would be of most value in preventing gun misuse in the home. ChiefMoose noted that homeowners rarely shoot criminal intruders. More often, a criminal completes a crime and may even take the gun away from the victims and use it against them or simply steal it. The idea that guns provide home protection just is not borne out in real-world experience. Chief Moose said he endorses maintaining a relationship among law enforcement, developers of gun technology, and the public health commu- nity. But he repeated that for personalized gun technology to catch on with law enforcement, it would have to be 100 percent reliable. The challenge is not only to design smart weapons but also to sell and market them. i' The next speaker, Paul Blackman, research coordinator for the lobby- ing arm of the National Rifle Association, said he knows of no opposition to efforts to develop technologies to prevent unauthorized use of hand- guns, as long as they are conducted by the private sector. A few gun owners want "such gadgetry," he said, and there is nothing wrong with developing it for them. But he said such technologies will have the effect of making handguns less reliable. The most obvious limitation in imposing personalization technology is that personalizing consumer products does not prevent unlawful access. Houses and cars have personalized locks, and they are broken into or stolen fairly often. Hacking into personal computers is done for fun and profit. Similarly, personalizing handguns will not prevent misuse but might slow misuse down by a few minutes. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the effort to develop smart handguns is that proponents of improving handguns rarely have any per- sonal interest in owning a handgun. People who push for safer cars at least ride in cars, he said. But technological gimmickry for guns comes mostly from people who don't like or own guns and who equate the words "gun" and "weapon." That alone makes the notion suspect. One reason these devices have not been successfully developed for guns s that they don't sell. Gun owners don't want them. Most so-called safety devices make guns less reliable, he said, and will be undone by the consumer. A century ago, Smith & Wesson introduced the grip safety for revolvers.

OCR for page 39
46 OWNER-AUTHORIZED HANDGUNS But purchasers began to undo it, so the company gradually withdrew it, first making it easy to undo, then leaving it off entirely. Much the same is true today for guns sold with magazine interlocks. Most purchasers remove them. It costs only a "buck or two" to put on, and it costs even less to take off, Dr. Blackman said. The personalized technology that is being talked about will add con- siderably to the price of a handgun. Any serious personalization being con- sidered today could double or even triple the price of a handgun when you add in the increased cost of liability insurance. Dr. Blackman said he was opposed to the idea of the federal govern- ment imposing the technology and becoming involved in all handgun trans- fers. He said he also opposed any system of government regulation, ap- proval, or record keeping, which would amount to gun registration. One concern of gun owners is that registration would make confiscation fea- sible. A few decades ago in Bermuda, after a political assassination, the authorities temporarily called in all registered guns; that temporary confis- cation has still not ended. Registration of radios was used by Quisling to confiscate radios in Norway (during WWII) and thus to limit listening to Allied broadcasts. And the Vichy regime in France used registration of lews as a way to ''confiscate'' people. One form of personalization, inserting a homing device into guns, would enable police to confiscate non-stolen guns as well, he noted. Some of the opposition to personalizing handguns, he continued, is based on warranted fears of ultimate goals. Other fears relate to concerns about the reliability of personalized guns. Because most personalization would make handguns unreliable, he said, any attempt to guess their im- pact on public health and crime is problematic. The question is how unre- liable handguns would be, and what would be done by gun owners to keep at least some of them reliable. If unreliability were forced onto all new or all transferred handguns, many buyers would be anxious to restore reliability to their guns. With respect to personalizing handguns to prevent misuse by children, the NRA shares the concern of the Violence Policy Center that some people who buy these guns would not understand or conform to firearms safety procedures. Moreover, the safety claim would be complicated if only hand- guns were made childproof, and indeed only new handguns. Much is simply not known. For instance, Dr. Blackman asked, how would a government willing to force unwanted technology into guns react to owners' efforts to remove or disable the technology? How would gun

OCR for page 39
SESSIONS: PANEL PRESENTATIONS 47 owners respond to changes in their guns? How would criminals respond? Currently, gun manufacturers bundle locks with their guns, but these locks will have no impact on the criminal, suicidal, or accidental misuse of guns, because they are easy for criminals and suicides to defeat. It is impossible to say how many child gun accidents or potential sui- cides would be defeated by personalization. The restrictions on use pro- vided by personalization would have to be balanced against the possibility that access would be easier, because personalized guns might be more likely to be stored loaded. In addition, children might play with other, unpersonalized guns thinking that now all guns were safe. Similarly, no one knows how many criminals might gain access to unreliable handguns and would be unable to restore their reliability, or whether that would matter. Since most gun-related crimes don't involve shots actually being fired, an unreliable handgun may be as effective a tool for the average criminal as a reliable handgun. No one knows how police would respond to personalized guns in the hands of children or criminals. Would they be fooled into thinking that newer handguns would fire in the hands of criminals? How many children with access to handguns left lying around because their parents think them childproof might playfully point them at less playfill law-enforcement officers? Would the new technology make handguns unaffordable for the people who most need them for protection and who are already given the least police protection? If so, wouldn't that encourage crime and prevent self- defense? What would be the effect on the cost and availability of used, reliable handguns of having some reliable and some unreliable handguns in the same marketplace? Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center (VP C) and author of the book Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America (The New Press, 1999), was the next speaker. The gun industry is an extremely innovative industry, according to Mr. Diaz. Gun manufacturers have scored some stunning successes through innovation and design. VPC believes that if the gun industry wants to develop and market owner- authorized guns, they should, but they should do it with their own resources, not government funds. VPC also believes that such technologies should be subject to the same oversight as other American consumer products regular reviews by an independent agency that balances risks against benefits. The gun industry should also be subjected to the time-honored collective effects oftort litigation.

OCR for page 39
48 OWNER-AUTHORIZED HANDGUNS As has been suggested during this workshop, for the law-enforcement community, a user-authorized gun is a "dog that won't hunt," he said. The community today is not in a buying mode. The real target of the gun industry's efforts to develop personalized handguns is not law enforcement, and has never been law enforcement, he suggested. Introducing a new gun technology to the law-enforcement or defense community first is a means of getting into the civilian market, which can then be much more easily penetrated, and which is orders of magnitude bigger. Anyone interested in selling owner-authorized guns would not be in this business if they think they would only be able to sell to the highly fractionated and extraordinarily skeptical police market. They want to sell to civilians, and they think they can. It is not entirely accurate to compare user-authorized gun technology to automobiles. A better comparison, Mr. Diaz said, would be with filter- tip cigarettes, which encouraged people to keep smoking cigarettes and destroy their health. Similarly, a smart gun would not do anything to pro- tect American public health. It would encourage large numbers of people who would not have bought handguns otherwise to go out and buy them, believing they are safe. Thus the pool of people who own handguns would expand dramatically. An owner-authorized handgun poses two risks a direct risk from the gun itself and an indirect risk related to the pattern of gun ownership in America. Both risks should be studied before anyone assumes that techno- logical success equals epidemiological success. In terms of indirect risk, gun ownership in America is highly concen- trated. Fewer and fewer people now own more and more guns. Moreover, the nature of handguns has changed dramatically in the last quarter cen- tury. Twenty-five years ago, most police departments carried six-shot re- volvers; today, probably none does. Most police departments have gone through several rounds of rearming and now carry high-capacity, semiauto- matic pistols. The same pattern holds true for private owners. In the last 20 years, guns have become far more powerful, with new calibers, bullet sizes, and cross-dimensions. Entirely new calibers have been introduced, such as the Smith & Wesson 40. Gun buyers are seeking out guns with bigger calibers and higher capacity. There is no convincing reason to think that people who purchase smart guns will be any different, and smart guns will probably be of the highest capacity legally allowed. Furthermore, some ofthe people who are persuaded to buy these guns will already own "dumb" guns, which they intend to keep. That means that, in the same household,

OCR for page 39
SESSIONS: PANEL PRESENTATIONS 49 there will be both technologically brilliant and technologically stupid guns available, which will create the serious problem of opportunistic use. If one examines people's behavior, the argument for technologically smart guns begins to fall apart. Chief Moose's description of what he does and doesn't do with his own gun is a good example. Mr. Diaz said that, as a former gun owner and from his own observations, he doubts that people who buy these guns will keep them in an inoperable mode. The main reason most people buy handguns is for self-defense, and they are not going to buy an implement for self-defense that they make ineffective, by their own actions. Advocates of so-called smart guns like to draw attention to uninten- tional shooting deaths of children. Statistically, that occurrence is very small. For 1999, out of 28,874 gun-related deaths, a very small number, about 824, were unintentional. Of those, 158 victims were under the age of 18. If we assumed that every firearm in every household were replaced with a smart gun and that every child under 18 never figured out how to override the safety device, the number of lives saved would still be negligible. Unless you subscribe to the hoary premise that saving one life is enough, the statis- tics are not persuasive, given the ballooning numbers of new buyers. Furthermore, almost all unintentional deaths of adults occur during gun-cleaning and hunting activities. In both of those cases, the authorized user is already in control of the firearm. Suicide is an important category to consider in the argument over user- authorized guns. First, suicide success rates by methods other than guns are far lower. However, authorized gun owners obviously could turn their guns on themselves. Therefore, that category of suicides would not be affected by personalization technology. Teen suicides are often the focus of atten- tion, but many teenagers in America own their own guns. If they are too young to own one legally, their parents often give them one, so they, too, would be authorized users. Much of the gun suicide problem cannot be solved with authorized guns. The question of homicide and criminality is very dicey. Mr. Diaz said it is his understanding that only a small proportion of homicides results from a criminal intending to kill another person. The preponderance of homicides takes place among people who know each other, and many people who commit homicides are authorized owners. When it comes to criminals who are not the initial authorized owners, the question becomes, as Dr. Cook pointed out, the nature of the technology. Will it be possible to prevent a gun from being transferred?

OCR for page 39
50 OWNER-AUTHORIZED HANDGUNS It is possible to imagine a technological fix to any one of these objec- tions, but the problems are nevertheless very real. To be fair, the presence of a smart gun in the absence of a standard gun would save some lives. But we must balance that against the mass of new owners and new families that would be exposed to the hazards of these guns. In short, VPC thinks smart guns are a dumb idea, Mr. Diaz said. If the gun industry wants to disprove that, let them. But they should do it on their own dime, and they should be prepared to pay the consequences to the public if they guess wrong in the name of profit. The last speaker was Lois Mock, a senior social scientist and program manager in the Office of Research and Evaluation (ORE) in the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice. She said there is obviously enormous skepticism about the development and use of owner- authorized handgun technology, not only among those on both sides of the gun-control divide, but also within the law-enforcement community. Ms. Mock said she is concerned that both federal and state legislatures are talking about mandating owner-authorized handguns without consid- ering the possible unintended consequences of such requirements. One such consequence might be an increase in the market for im- ported nonowner-authorized handguns, as well as parts for those guns, in response both to legitimate demand from those who want nothing to do with the new technology and to criminal demand. In addition, all 70 million handguns now legitimately in private hands would suddenly become much more valuable to the criminal element. Most offenders get their guns through secondary markets, which would still be out there. As the number of owner-authorized handguns in circulation in- creases, the value of guns that aren't owner-authorized would rise, thus increasing the number of household burglaries. Another unintended consequence of mandating owner-authorized guns might be to increase the use of long guns in the commission of crimes. It doesn't take much to dismantle or saw off the barrel of a shotgun and make it more user friendly and more portable. The ORE has conducted research for 20 years on issues related to the prevention and control of firearms violence. However, the office has not done social or behavioral research on the impacts of owner-authorized handgun technology, because the technology is still under development. Even so, Ms. Mock said, an affordable owner-authorized handgun could effectively reduce some aspects of gun violence. For instance, personalized

OCR for page 39
SESSIONS: PANEL PRESENTATIONS 51 gun technology could prevent accidental injuries ancl deaths clue to impul- sive acts by chilclren, ancl it could cut clown on the growing problem of . . teen SUlClC ~e. She noted that the effectiveness of using handguns for self-clefense is controversial. The figures in different surveys vary greatly, from less than 100,000 defensive uses per year to several million per year. In some cases, it's not clear how self-clefense events are clefinecl. In any case, there is not a one-to-one relation between the defensive use of a handgun ancl deterrence of a crime. Sooner or later, owner-authorizecl handgun technology will be clevel- opecl. Politically ancl in the meclia, it sounds very goocl, ancl it will become increasingly difficult for gun manufacturers to refuse to pursue it. Owner- authorizecl guns could become a valuable tool in reducing certain kinds of injuries ancl cleath, but it will not cut clown on crimes ancl violence result- ing from the use of available nonpersonalizecl hanclguns. Moreover, great care will have to be exercised by those who advocate laws requiring the technology to avoid the potential for increased violence ancl crime by crimi- nals seeking to acquire pre-law, nonpersonalizecl hanclguns.