Change Management… Under the Gun (Part III of III)



Since the last chapter in our series on change management and guns, a lot has happened. The Federal Gun Bill, energized by the massacre in Sandy Hook, was defeated by gun rights advocates, but the gun-control  camp is organizing for another try. State and local  gun control bills, were passed, but so too were pro-gun bills. In Texas, “Gun Day” saw the passing of 12 pro-gun bills, including one that allows more students to bring guns to school and another to jail any government officials that enforce federal gun controls in Texas. Gun violence was briefly eclipsed by the Boston Bombings. This even will be over by Pundits for years to come, but the story isn’t complicated.  A young man, frustrated by his own failure to achieve fame and success, vented his anger by using two bombs placed near the finish line of the Boston marathon, to kill three people and injure 264 more. Sociopathic thinking is common in mass killings, but the Boston Bombings was unique in one way. In America, bombings are rare. This was the first significant bombing in more than a decade. However, gun violence is so common that in the five days between the bombing and the shooting/capture of the bombers, 1,500 Americans were injured and 500 killed through gun violence.

We Americans have a notoriously short attention span.  The gun-control  bill in Washington narrowly, but predictably, lost. The gun-control  camp didn’t get the law they wanted, but did they learn something from this defeat? After Sandy Hook, polls showed that 90% of Americans favored gun control, yet politicians voted according to pre-Sandy Hook politics. Pro-gun and pro-control advocates relied on top-down management to drive their agenda. The pro-gun side, a portion of the that remaining 10%, is dedicated to a tight core of beliefs with strong support by powerful gun industry lobbying groups, such as the NRA.

Top-down management works well when everyone follows the same beliefs, and defines the issues the same way. However, a diverse community with loosely defined goals and different cultural beliefs, which describes the 90% who favor a general proposition for gun control, does not respond well to top-down management. When a small group of leaders only talks to themselves, they are unlikely to learn, let alone use, the words and ideas that will galvanize the 90%.

Many corporations “preach to the choir” when they want to implement a change, having “believers” discuss and agree to all of the key issues, and only later informing other of the decision  Both political camps are primarily preaching to their core supporters, and not paying attention to the majority of Americans. The majority just doesn’t fit into a neat category. It’s made up of moderate gun owners, police that want gun violence to end, non-gun owners who respect the rights and history of gun users, parents of children in violent school districts want more armed guards and a lot of Americans who don’t understand how gun control laws will improve their quality of life.

The goal of this series is to provide the information and proposals that can appeal to the “middle ground.” Gun violence covers so many different ideas and issues, that even those who are completely dedicated to gun control may not agree with every gun-control  proposal. By breaking down the very complex concept of “gun violence” into much more specific and actionable ideas and proposal, gun-control advocates can build and maintain specific communities of support for the policies that they most passionately believe in.

In earlier attempts to control gun violence, laws were passed to ban assault weapons, but we learned that laws can be amended and banned weapons can be modified, until they are exempt from regulations. The banned M-16 assault rifle was modified as  the new AR-15. This history will undoubtedly repeat itself. Corporations put project management offices, change management groups and reporting functions in place to implement and track a change. Gun control requires a strong and long-term coalition with an infrastructure to monitor events and mobilize supporters when changes are proposed to gun control’s legislation or administrative changes threaten to weaken gun regulations or enforcement. Politicians who are used to being rewarded by the NRA for a pro-gun position and punished by gun owners for allowing gun regulation will be slow to be influenced by  gun-control advocates, until they offer similar resources to support their careers.

The facts supporting controls on gun violence are very compelling. Every year, 100,000 Americans are injured by guns and 35,000 are killed. Even the most ardent gun-rights supporters don’t propose that these deaths are justified, they just don’t see a way to curb the violence AND to maintain their rights.  So, we have the leadership rights and the control groups butting heads and not winning over the middle ground. The Change Management solution is to narrow our focus to very specific issues, and to offer proposals that are actionable and measurable.  Each proposal may have specific “middle grounders” who are already organized, but need to be convinced to support gun control.  Because of the power of research, gun industry lobbyists, such as the NRA, have been effective in de-funding or limiting funding on critical gun violence issues. We need more research to refine these proposals, but there is sufficient data to develop the following proposals:

GUN EDUCATION: Every year there are 600 deaths from accidental shootings and 1,500 youth killings from gun injuries. Almost all of these deaths result from the child or the parent, or both, failing to understand how to use a gun or allowing a child to have access to a gun that should have been safely locked away. Parents believe that small children do not even know they have a gun, let alone know where it is or how to get access. Studies show that children over 8 know where your guns are, and too often they also know the combination or the location of the key to gain access. We also know that 50% of parents fail to lock up their guns. The NRA has said that their extensive gun training programs have dramatically reduced accidental gun shootings, and we should believe them. In fact, we should encourage even greater training, no just when a gun is purchased, but throughout the live of the weapon.

A gun can work for one hundred years or more, and be handed down from father to son, or even grandson. That’s even part of the cannon of gun culture. But during the life of that weapon, the owner can go from a young man to a husband and later a father.  During each stage in the owner’s life, there are different safety rules that need to be remembered and followed. When the bachelor’s home becomes a place where children live and play, there are new risks that may be forgotten until it is too late.  When the father becomes a grandfather, and vision and hearing are weaker, a family member might be mistaken for an intruder, and new training might avoid a tragic killing. We need research to explain how accidental killings occur, with a special emphasis on youth killings.

In addition to training gun users, we need to think about gun violence as another form of preventable death. In 14 “gun” states, more people were killed by gun violence than by car accidents. When you buy cold medicine, the package contains instructions not to drive or operate heavy machinery. We need to include that statement in medicine, and we need more research on how many killings involve the use of over the counter and prescription medicine. While a gun registry is not politically feasible any time soon, perhaps doctors should be trained to ask if their patient has a gun before they prescribe medicines that can result in hallucinations or otherwise contribute to an accidental shooting. Everywhere we include a warning for driving, there should be a warning for gun use. Educate gun owners and include guns in any instructions that warn you about operating a vehicle, and we will be able to impact accidental shootings, and possibly other gun violence metrics.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: In just the state of Michigan alone, there are 95,000 reports of domestic abuse every year. Across America, between 1,500 and 2,000 women are killed annually by guns used by violent partners. These numbers are only part of the story. Domestic killings are usually caused by a man, and against a woman. Frequently, the killer then commits suicide, perhaps after killing his in-laws, parents, children, other relatives, friends and neighbors.

These killings may be spread out across multiple cities and suburbs, preventing local police forces from recognizing this as a single killing spree. Before the murders occur, it is not uncommon for the future shooter to announce (sometimes in front of police officers) that they have a gun and intend to kill their partner.  Even when the victim has an order of protection, this confession of future murder is not sufficient to take away a gun. Unfortunately, the NRA has had great success in lobbying states and cities to pass laws against gun confiscation. The NRAs position is that the 2nd Amendment protects the future shooter until he is proven to have committed a criminal act. Meaning that the shooter must first attempt to kill their partner with a gun before it can be confiscated.

In situations where a threat of murder or injury by gun occurs, we need to separate the gun owner from his guns, and ensure that no new guns are purchased for a period of time. We need research to give us parameters for this regulation. In an existing case of domestic violence, the chances are high that additional violence will occur. But how high is this threat, and how long does it last? Should guns be held for 30 days, 90 days or longer? Research can help us answer these questions. And that research should be used to gain support for state and federal legislation for gun confiscation. Especially by women who are middle-grounders. In 2012, the Presidential election of 2012 was largely determined by women’s votes, which outnumbered those of men for the first time ever. If women adopted domestic violence as a political issue with the tenacity that men have adopted gun rights, hundreds or thousands of lives could be saved.

SUICIDE: Guns account for nearly 20,000 suicides every year. Misreported “accidents” and unreported suicide attempts would show this as an even larger problem. While there are more than twice as many suicides than homicides, these numbers are often ignored. However, many of these suicides are preventable. All sides of the gun issue agree that mental health issues are linked to mass killings and other gun deaths, but disagree on remedies. We also know that suicides among young Americans have risen dramatically, and are three times higher than in the 50s, and continue to rise. We know that more women attempt suicide, but men die in far greater numbers Why? Because men use guns to kill themselves. If the number of suicide attempts was unchanged, but guns were not available, suicide rates would drop dramatically. We know from the research literature that states where guns are more available have higher suicide rates. We also know that 50% of gun owners fail to lock away weapons and ammunition, and that 85% of suicides under 18  used a gun owned by someone else in their home.

Just under 1,000 young adults (18-25) commit suicide every year with a gun, with a similar number under 18. If we want to impact this number, we need to cut off access to weapons. People commit suicide for complex, and often irrational reasons. As previously stated, 6%  of the population has a personality disorder. Over a lifetime, any individual has a 46% chance of having a mental health issue. Even if you never have a mental health issue, you may still be affected by a life circumstance (death, loss of a job, a terminal disease) that overwhelm you and causes suicidal thinking.

That’s why gun owners, just like car owners, need to be periodically retrained or recertified. Good eye-sight and mental acuity are needed to continue driving, at least the same standard should be used to state that you are competent to use a gun. If you own guns, you must be responsible for guns and ammunition in your possession. If you have children and do not own a safe or gun locks, it should be dealt with under state laws as child abuse. If weapons were not stored with reasonable care, and a member of the family uses a gun to commit suicide, the gun owner should be charged with negligent homicide, or at least have their weapons removed. Support for saving the lives of children can be found in police, para-medics, school teachers and the general medical community.

Holding owners of guns responsible for the negligent management of a deadly weapon is a new concept. When a family member dies, we sympathize with the remaining members of the family. Pursuing criminal charges seems cruel. And it would be, if the purpose is merely to punish a suffering family. But if it can prevent additional deaths, it needs to be pursued. First, though, we need research. We need to know if negligent gun owners, those that fail to secure their weapons, are responsible for multiple gun injuries and deaths. We also need to know if criminal charges for negligence can prevent future negligence. 

Consider the case mentioned earlier of the five-year-old boy who killed his sister with a Crickett (a gun designed for use by children). This is called an accident. But the combination of a five-year-old having a gun, the gun being left loaded, and the gun (safely?) stored ”in the corner” of the boy’s trailer home, are a combination of factors that resulted in the death of a 2 year old girl looks more like unintentional homicide than an accident. Clearly, many gun-rights advocates would disagree. Some, especially some middle grounders, would see more than an unpreventable accident. Each of these incidents requires a mandatory independent investigation (perhaps by the ATF), and if  the evidence justifies it, prosecution.

BACKGROUND CHECKS:  The NRA believes that the government should keep guns out of the hands of criminals and individuals with mental illnesses. Because gun ownership can last a lifetime, background checks need to happen more than once in a gun owner’s life. If you buy a gun when you are 20, but commit a serious crime a year later, should you be banned from buying new guns but keep guns you already own? According to the latest medical information, 6% of Americans suffer from a serious medical disorder. However, that’s a 6% chance in any one year. Over a lifetime there is nearly a 50/50 chance of a mental isorder. Mood disorders, which played a role in numerous mass killings, typically don’t manifest until after age 30. What about weapons purchased before that? Even individuals without a specific mental disorder can, at a certain point in their life, be overwhelmed and commit a crime of passion. In the 80s several high stress events led to a series of mass killings in post offices across the US.    

We need background checks when guns are purchased, but we also need checks throughout the lifetime of a gun owner. However, background checks have not been uniform, with gun shows and private sales following different rules. Also, databases on the mentally ill are still missing data from several states, including many conservative and gun rights states. We need to fund more research to allow us to produce better background checks and better profiles of potential killers. Combined with more frequent training and the ability to confiscate weapons when threats and other “gateway” acts of violence identify high-risk  individuals.

GUN SALES: According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 467,321 victims of crimes committed with a firearm in 2011 (including the threat that a gun would be used). FBI data shows that firearms were used in 68 percent of murders, 41 percent of robberies and 21 percent of aggravated assaults. Gun rights advocates tell us that gun laws don’t stop criminals, because criminals do not obey the law. Perhaps. But how do criminals get their guns? Rather than some shadowy underground network, research from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) tells us that they get them from licensed gun dealers; only 10-15% of guns used in crimes are stolen. Criminals are impatient, and prefer a quick sale from a licensed gun dealer. The ATF study showed that 57% of guns recovered in criminal investigations came from just 122 dealers, less than 1% of the population. These dealers are as responsible for crime and murder in America as any criminal organization.  

America has 130,000 gun dealers, far outnumbering McDonald’s restaurants (14,000) or grocery stores (36,000). For as little as a $150 fee you can sell guns. By comparison, obtaining a liquor license in New York City costs $27,000 with an additional $20,000 bond, and an extensive background check. The low bar set for licensing gun dealers partially explains why just 122 gun dealers are selling 11,000 weapons every year that are used in crimes. According to ABC news, these gun dealers violated many of the laws and procedures for selling guns, yet are not prosecuted. ATF official Joe Vince stated , “they [gun dealers] are just keeping their eyes closed to what is going on and letting guns get to the criminals, it is rare that they are prosecuted.”

Once these criminally negligent dealers sell weapons to criminals, tracing gun ownership is a difficult  and manual process. We either need to hire many more agents to trace weapons and prosecute gun dealers (which would be expensive), or we need more efficient databases for tracing guns (which would be resisted by gun rights advocates). Whatever the methodology, the cost needs to be borne by the gun dealer network. It can be in the form of higher licensing fees, a tax on bullets or a gun tax. Gun dealers, or some segment of gun dealers, also need to post significant bonds to offset potential fines if they are found guilty of violating the law. A fair and reasonable way of getting the gun community to pay for its own policing is a reasonable proposal could attract many middle-ground  supporters.      

SURVIVABILITY: Each of the 100,000 Americans who are shot every year has a unique injury. The severity of the injury, the health of the victim and the availability of medical aid all determine if the victim lives or dies.  A small change in any of these events and an injury could have been a death. In fact, some of the survivable shootings today, would have resulted in death a few years ago. Trauma and emergency centers in America use medical technology developed on the battlefield to save civilian lives. Since the Vietnam war, the quality of that technology has improved significantly.  In Vietnam 84% of injured soldiers survived, vs. 90% today. When comparing gun-related  deaths in America today with the 70s, the same 100,000 injuries would have resulted in as many as 6,000 more deaths, if not for the advances in medicine. However, not all advancements are saving lives.

As deadlier  weapons are developed, such as the AR-15 modified assault rifle, and as more lethal ammunition is used, including hollow point and armor piercing bullets, injuries are more likely to translate into deaths.  A number of police departments broke with their once unanimous support of the NRA, over their support for ammunition that can shoot through the bullet-proof armor police use. Ammunition sellers rarely advertise hollow point bullets as being better at killing Americans, but do advertise their “stopping power” and ability to take down bigger game. Should the same ammunition used for big-game hunting be used for personal protection? In the 19th century, it was agreed, in the Hague Convention, that in a war, the use of hollow point bullets (against a soldier or civilian) is a war crime. There are no reliable statistics on how many bullets used  gun violence are armor piercing, hollow point or of other types. We need to capture this data, control the ammunition sold in America and outlaw the use of  the deadliest ammunition.

New classes of weapons also affect survivability. Every gun bill mentions the AR-15, a civilian version of the M-16 rifle, modified to circumvent the 1994 assault weapons ban. The AR-15 is intended to be an intimidating weapon; intimidation is part of its marketing. In reality, few rifles… of any kind… are used in gun killings. Last year, less  than 200 gun homicides were caused by rifles, compared to at least 7,000 caused by handguns. Instead of the AR-15, we should consider banning the Crickett. This a gun designed for children. A 5-year-old boy in Kentucky recently killed his two-year-old sister with a Crickett. This is clearly the market the Crickett was designed for, since their website shows pictures and comments from small children. Outside of the gun community, a gun designed for a child is seen as dangerous, just as power tools or a food processor designed for a child would be dangerous.

This blind-spot in parental responsibility is exacerbated by the 2005 “Protection of lawful Commerce Act,” that prevents gun shooting victims from suing gun makers. This law must either be repealed or revised. Products like the Crickett need to be objectively reviewed to determine if they can be used safely. A decade ago, it was decided that another American Culture product, tobacco, could not be used safely, and its use has been slowly restricted. Guns for children need to follow the same critique. The government banned plastic guns through the 1988 “Undetectable Firearms Act,” because they can evade metal detectors. This law, which will expire in 2013, needs to be renewed. The impact of hollow point, armor piercing and other high lethality ammunition on death rates must be researched. Based on that research, arrests and convictions for gun-related  crimes and injuries must take the choice of  ammunition into account.

SCHOOLS: The massacre at Sandy Hook was a rallying point for this round of gun-control debates. However, this was only the latest in many mass shootings, started off by the Columbine killings in 1999. As each new killing unfolds, it seems more horrifying than the last. Yet, these killings are responsible for less than 1% of the gun deaths in the US. Even so, that means a new school mass killing almost every month. Far more school gun shootings are individual killings at violent schools. In the most violent of these schools, these individual shootings add up to more than a Sandy Hook massacre every year.

Schools with a history of violence, and the parents with children in these schools, my eagerly accept the offer from the NRA to train and pay for armed guards in schools. In schools without a history of violence, where the possibility of a random assault is unlikely, might not want to add weapons to their children’s environment. It is not clear where the NRA intends to offer guards, but gun-control advocates need to put aside preconceptions about the NRA and let them help, where their help is needed and accepted.  If the NRA, and the NRA members who are assigned to these schools, are given exposure to these violent environments they may develop a new understanding of how gun culture affects the youngest Americans, and the limits of armed force. Both sides of the argument are only going to understand each other when they work together, and this is unexpected opportunity for both camps to work side by side.

CONCLUSION: We’ve covered a lot of ground and a lot of controversy. There is no single path to reducing gun violence. There is no single “gun culture.” Americans live in cities, rural areas, high crime districts, and safe neighborhoods. Some families have guns handed down guns from their grandfathers, others are first-time gun buyers and still others are families that never want a gun in their home. More Americans live in cities, and gun culture areas are losing population with each generation. We have the lowest crime rates in 100 years, but the gun culture feels endangered, yet they cannot articulate the reasons for their rage. The  condensing of gun culture communities makes them more radical and inflexible. Gun-control advocates have little common ground with the most radical of gun-rights advocates, but there is a large middle-ground where gun owners and gun control groups can stand together. Gun owners can keep much of their culture, but hey will also need to accept that there is mismanagement and abuse of weapons in their community, and the gun community needs to take financial and legal responsibility to bring  gun ownership into the 21st century.

This list of seven actionable proposals is just a starting point, but it follows the basic rules of Change Management. Identify proposals that support winnable battles, forge alliances and provide opportunities that provide opponents with reasons to supporting your position, provide research that supports your position, and avoid proposals that sound good but are not supported by facts no matter how “obvious” they appear to be when you discuss it with similarly-minded supporters. Change Management is not about a single event, and the reduction of gun violence will not be about the passing of a single law. Even if a gun control law had the most sweeping provisions imaginable, enforcing those provisions and maintaining the effectiveness of the law requires decades of continuing support, and active review to ensure that laws are producing the desired changes. With as many as 300,000,000 guns and 100,000 gun shootings every year, America is facing a monumental problem. But it is a problem that we can overcome, if we really want to and if we fully apply the rules of change management.

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