Gun control laws actually work – both ways, unfortunately

In this week’s obvious news, laws that allow people to kill other people with guns have led to more people killing other people with guns. According to two new research papers, stricter firearm laws are associated with fewer firearm homicides, and the implementation of Florida’s stand-your-ground law was associated with increased firearm homicides.

These findings, released today by the JAMA Internal Medicine, may sound obvious. But since Congress has essentially withheld all funding for gun violence research for the last 20 years, large-scale studies of this sort have been few and far between. As The Atlantic reported, “In the mid-1990s, Congress declared that funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shouldn’t be used to advocate for gun control, and it effectively blocked funding for the study of gun violence at the agency.” Despite studies showing that gun violence is a threat to human health and safety, the CDC, a federally funded public health agency with a seven billion dollar annual budget, still withholds support from gun research. Perhaps these new findings will bolster the case for federal funding.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for chickenshit Congress-critters to act.

One paper released today, first-authored by Lois K. Lee of Harvard Medical School, examined five types of gun laws: “those that (1) curb gun trafficking, (2) strengthen background checks, (3) improve child safety, (4) ban military-style assault weapons, and (5) restrict firearms in public places and leniency in firearm carrying.” The researchers found strong evidence that laws strengthening background checks and purchase permits helped decrease gun homicide rates. Interestingly, the researchers did not find strong evidence that laws focusing on trafficking, child safety and assault weapons decreased firearm homicides. The evidence for the effects of laws regarding guns in public places was not conclusive either way. On the whole, though, they found that, “stronger gun policies were associated with decreased rates of firearm homicide, even after adjusting for demographic and sociologic factors.”

Another paper released today, also in JAMA Internal Medicine, tracked the effects of Florida’s stand-your-ground law since its implementation in 2005. This law allows a person to use deadly force instead of retreating from what they believe to be a life-threatening encounter. To conduct this research, David K. Humphreys of University of Oxford and his colleagues examined gun death data for the years leading up to 2005 and the years after, then compared them to other states’ data for the same years. They found that gun homicides increased in the years following 2005, while prior to 2005 they had remained relatively stable. The comparison states (New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia) which don’t have stand-your-ground laws, did not have similar increases, strengthening the evidence that this is a Florida trend associated with stand-your-ground laws, not part of a national trend…

Informed discussion requires sound data. When public bodies, from the Republican Party and Blue Dog Democrats to the NRA oppose the collection of any data at all they only illuminate their cowardice, their fear of law and public practice reflecting conclusions about best practices. Ideology trumps evidence quite easily when evidence collection is forbidden.

In Oklahoma, thousands with mental illnesses get to go to jail, not medical treatment

Click to enlargeChris Landsberger/The Oklahoman

❝ A monthslong investigation by The Oklahoman, including the examination of hundreds of pages of jail inspection reports, found that jail staffs across Oklahoma are tasked with attempting to be mental health professionals, often with little or no training…

❝ Since statehood, Oklahoma has grappled with how to create a sustainable, comprehensive mental health system. The state has spent among the least in the nation on mental health care, all while filling jails and prisons with people who wouldn’t be there if they could afford and access basic health care for their brain disorders.

Imprisonment is not only the least effective form of “treatment” but also the costliest.

The cost of a year of state-funded mental health treatment: $2,000.

The cost of a year in prison for someone with serious mental illness: $23,000.

At last count, 60 percent of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ population — 17,000 people — have either symptoms or a history of mental illness…

Often, before these Oklahomans are sentenced to prison, they spend months, if not years, cycling in and out of county jails.

I won’t try to precis this excellent article down to the size of a blog post. The article reflects the first two of a four-part series on Oklahoma’s lousy excuse for mental health care. I think a mirror image approach to the state’s mediocre criminal justice system would show the same.

Hypocritical ideologues run the state. They care not for science, modern medicine, current concerns and remedies to substance abuse or mental illness. They run Puritan jails the way they run a Puritan legislature. RTFA. Make up your own mind.

Here’s a mosquito bite you don’t want to look forward to!

James Gathany

Most people hate mosquitoes, and who could blame them? At best, we associate mosquitoes with itchy red bites. They also happen to be our most deadly animal adversary: 400,000 people died of malaria alone in 2015, which was a huge improvement from death tolls in recent years. The recent spike in Zika cases — and the spread of the disease into new regions like North America, thanks to global warming — has researchers working even harder to understand how the insects got so good at transmitting pathogens and how we might stop them.

❝ But if you think Zika sounds bad, just imagine contracting that virus and another exotic ailment from the same irritating little mosquito. According to new research from Colorado State University, that’s totally possible: The scientists were able to infect mosquitoes with both Zika and chikungunya, a virus that causes fever and joint pain in humans. And when they tested the amount of mosquito spit that would usually go into a single bite, they found enough copies of those viruses to simultaneously infect a human host. The team also confirmed previous reports that chikungunya and dengue virus could shack up in the same mosquito. It remains to be seen whether a nasty trifecta is possible, but all three of these viruses have been spotted in North America in recent years…

❝ The findings, Greg Ebel readily admits, are still preliminary—and the results don’t suggest that these concurrent outbreaks are common. In fact, he and his team aren’t even sure what would happen if a human was simultaneously infected with Zika and chikungunya at the same time…

But while it’s tempting to freak out over the possibility of a double or triple viral infection, Ebel and his colleagues are more concerned with how the viruses might interact inside mosquitoes than they are with theoretical human symptoms. The human scenario is a little too far-fetched to prompt immediate concern, but if the viruses behave strangely when they end up in the same mosquito, that could have implications for the transmission rate of any of those illnesses in humans.

Frequently, I note the unforeseen successes that roll out of basic research. Scary stuff happens as readily, perhaps more often. All the more reason to continue searches simply to extend human knowledge.