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OTHER VIEW
Other View: I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.

Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence. The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns.

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

When I looked at the other oft-praised policies, I found out that no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos.

As for silencers — they deserve that name only in movies, where they reduce gunfire to a soft puick puick. In real life, silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.

As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them. I couldn’t even answer my most desperate question: If I had a friend who had guns in his home and a history of suicide attempts, was there anything I could do that would help?

However, the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get them help. Women endangered by specific men need to be prioritized by police, who can enforce restraining orders prohibiting these men from buying and owning guns. Younger men at risk of violence need to be identified before they take a life or lose theirs and to be connected to mentors who can help them de-escalate conflicts.

Even the most data-driven practices, such as New Orleans’ plan to identify gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures, wind up more personal than most policies floated. The young men at risk can be identified by an algorithm, but they have to be disarmed one by one, personally — not en masse as though they were all interchangeable. A reduction in gun deaths is most likely to come from finding smaller chances for victories and expanding those solutions as much as possible. We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves.


Mailbag
Letter: Haters the minority in Twin Falls

I am a 91-year-old lady who was born and raised in the sandhills of Nebraska. I have lived many places both foreign and domestic. All the people I have met while living in Twin Falls have all been wonderful, loving and caring people. I was shocked, disturbed and disappointed that the Times-News gave front-page billing, Saturday Sept. 30, to someone, Adrienne Evans, who considers Twin Falls as a "haven of white nationalists." The article deserved page three, not the front page.

There may be a small faction in our community, and country, that holds those beliefs but they are in the minority. It is sad that they are using the media as a means of spreading inflammatory rhetoric.

Margie Crossley

Twin Falls 


Columnists
Brugger: Buying the snake oil and swallowing the Kool-Aid

I have a nephew who I admire a lot. When he married early in life, he bought a fourplex and let his renters pay for his home. He used his high school welding training to build a one-man pump repair business that billed over $1 million one year. He is dedicated to his family, and the example he set has carried on to his two children who are committed parents to his grandchildren. Despite these positive traits, there are some of my Facebook friends who don’t understand why I tolerate his repeated castigation of liberals, Democrats, socialists, communists, and “libitards” in his posts.

The reason, of course, is that I cherish opposing ideas. However, his posts are illustrative of why political thinkers on both the right and left are apprehensive about the effect of the flow of unedited information across the internet. He has bought the snake oil and swallowed the Kool-Aid offered by the unbelievable number of websites dedicated to detailing conspiracies.

For my purposes, snake oil is bottling a specific event as an example. Kool-Aid is the collection of these examples as proof of the overriding anti-American values of a group of people who are enemies of Our Way of Life. It truly seems as if, somehow, a well-meaning, even enviable, group of people have been gathered into a collective which sees itself as a defender of traditional American ideals which have been corrupted by the extent of modern thought.

I say this because the names of the websites he posts from, the range of events, and ideas these websites use, promote the one central thought: a nation run amok. These items often have nothing to do with policy. They are about motive and mental competence. They gather up an astounding number of examples; some are false, some are half true, and some mischaracterized, but all serve the same narrative. To this collective, Trump is the “outsider” who will defeat the foes inside our nation and re-establish its ideals. Bernie might have been seen the same way.

The most well-known site he uses is YouTube. The less well-known websites typically have patriotic themes, names denoting real truth or conservative ideals. They are an interesting lot. The articles posted reinforce the villainy of the “other.”

Many of his non-political interests probably identified him as a potential member of the collective. No doubt things he has looked at over the years have added to the frequency of the posts directed his way. Because he shuns items he doesn’t agree with (except, thank goodness, his aunt’s posts) he doesn’t get much fact-checked journalism.

Now, just in case you are one of my readers who believe that you are firmly on another side, please think again. It could be that you are simply buying another brand of snake oil. If you love to see the worst of the other side, gather only with like-minded individuals, watch only commentary you agree with, or do not take time to investigate the news, you could be swallowing a different flavor of Kool-Aid.

Idaho, like its Western cousins, is made up of a history forged by people who wanted to think for themselves and resisted collective thought, but not community. Westerners have always been skeptical of the snake oil salesman, and that has been our strength. Whether the impulse of homegrown authoritarians or an influence outside of our country is using modern communication to push us into collectives, I believe it injures our Western sensibilities to allow it.

My objective with this column is to break out of the collective into the collaborative. I want to suggest ideas that may find common cause and break away from groupspeak. I believe to the tips of my toes that our founding documents were written to allow for both the emergence and death of ideas. That is what is needed to hold a diverse population together cooperatively.