Brady Campaign, Smart Guns, Suicide, and Scholarly Overreach

Earlier this week I recorded segments for a future episode of Dr. Celine Gounder’s “In Sickness and In Health” podcast. Her third season in production is on gun violence as a public health problem. I made clear to her that my scholarly expertise is on American gun culture not gun violence, and she welcomed me on her show anyway. She was easily the most prepared podcaster I have spoken with — having read 3 of my papers on guns — and so challenged me to go beyond my usual talking points.

One issue we discussed was how to create opportunities for greater mutual understanding between those who lean pro-gun and those who lean pro-gun control (recognizing that those who are beyond just leaning in those directions may not be able to profit from these efforts). I told her I did not have any clear ideas for this and if I did I would probably win some humanitarian prize. But I suggested we could begin by focusing on areas of common ground — such as violence prevention, or especially suicide prevention.

No gun owners I know are in favor of criminal violence, and the gun community often feels the effects of suicide in large (Bob Owens) and small ways.

In fact, there have been some efforts at collaboration already, that that between the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as well as between the Safer Homes Suicide Aware project and the Second Amendment Foundation (see Women & Guns magazine, March/April 2018 issue).

For my part, I look for opportunities to both listen and speak across boundaries that might otherwise divide us. As someone who came to gun culture later in life and from a blue bubble outside it, I feel well-situated to do this.

For example, I was recently asked by Wake Forest’s new chapter of College Students for the Brady Campaign to speak and answer questions at one of their meetings. We had a productive dialogue, including with four young men who showed up with ROTC haircuts and gun-themed (Grunt Style, molon labe) t-shirts. I think all the students were encouraged by the possibility of speaking across the lines that divide us with common goals in mind.

One of the questions raised at the Brady Campaign meeting was about “smart gun” technologies. I gave reasons why these should not be mandated, but said I would be interested in seeing them developed as an option. If I had small kids or a potentially suicidal family member at home I would consider a “smart gun” if the technology was sound, which is a long way off from what I can tell.

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I was excited to roll my productive dialogue with the Brady Campaign and pro-2A students into my Sociology of Guns seminar the next day. The class also provides a model for reasoned discussion about guns, and coincidentally we were discussing the common ground issue of suicide.

One of three articles we read was a systematic review of research on the relationship between firearms and suicide published in 2016 the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The article, sadly, mimics too much of the scholarship on guns conducted from the public health perspective. It begins with a seemingly objective consideration of the data on the relationship between firearms availability and suicide, but then draws conclusions far beyond what the data allow.

In this case, concerning smart guns. As smart guns are not yet in common circulation, research on smart gun technologies are non-existent. Nonetheless, the authors conclude their paper by calling for “legislation requiring . . . smart-gun technology on all new firearms sold.”

Not promoting the development of smart gun technologies. Not the encouragement of using smart gun technologies. But LEGISLATION REQUIRING SMART GUN TECHNOLOGY ON ALL NEW FIREARMS SOLD. Argued for in a systematic review of the academic literature. Damn.

Productive dialogue on guns. One step forward. Two steps back.


  1. Japan has/had concerns of suicides involving knives [1]; Romans and Greeks would fall on their swords to commit suicide [2].
    Every culture throughout recorded time, has used what weapons at that period were the state of the art or most readily available. What if every firearm were, confiscated, destroyed, never to be made again? From my time as a cop, I have seen suicides, from jumps out of windows and off of rooftops, train strikes, bus strikes, car strikes, suicide by cop, vein slashings, assisted suicide by another wielding a hammer, overdose of pills (every kind imaginable), forced objects into throat, immolation [3], poisoning. You name it, and people will do it.
    Rather than looking at the firearm, psychiatric overview should include why people with mental illnesses are not committed to psychiatric institutions. Why are physicians continually prescribing medications that alter the brain to a state where they are a timebomb in the making or why medications are issued without comprehensive database to check if another pharmacy issued medication that does not mix well with what the doctor is giving or, is the doctor pushing drugs to get kickbacks from drug salespeople?
    In fact, it would be wise if a study were made in Constitutional Carry states, because I doubt if murder rates or suicide rates made any leap or spike beyond a dull blip. What about the future? Rail guns. I’ve got news for everyone, I believe TWA Flight 800 was brought down by one, as the weapon was developed in Brookhaven National Laboratory and I spoke with a freelance (stringer) reporter for the NY Times and NY Post, who said the weapon was tested that very same day. Miles away, I was having dinner with my wife and kids (rare opportunity for me), and the ground shook. I knew it was a blast, and thought maybe petroleum tanks blew. Well, the loss of life was tremendous. I believe it was the first mass murder with a futuristic rail gun. My point is, people will use absolutely anything to take life. How is it, that most gun owners, believe in God or some form of deity, and have an urge to respect life? The Bible says, you may take life in Defense of, your own life; In Defense of you family; In Defense of your nation. Or, to feed yourself and your family. Or, to rid a menace or threat to your life or the life of another. But somehow, as people sidestepped away from God, then twisted thinking became involved. That, developed into Hollywood where killing and guns, are glorified by those advocating the opposite. But actors will not return the money. Mental illness? Hmmm…


    Liked by 3 people

  2. First to Brittius a thank you for your service. To Professor Yamane shared on Facebook with a recommendation to save the site and go back and read past posts.

    People through out recorded history have taken there own life with what ever came to hand. Suicide is even recorded in the Bible.

    The gun debate is becoming, at least online, increasingly partizan. The left, who I see as inspired by the communist/fascist/socialist movements, will not bulge from the ultimate goal of total confiscation. The right, who I identify with and see our inspiration as being the Bible and the Constitution, will not bulge from the Second Amendment saying what it says.

    I enjoy your work sir because as you pointed out in the beginning you approach this as a sociologist looking at people and what people do and there thought processes. I have learned a very great deal from yourself and the excellent posters like Brittius.

    Molon Labe!
    Keep you powder dry and your faith in God.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First, I don’t believe in so-called smart-guns. The most important attribute of a gun is reliability. I don’t want something vulnerable to hackers and such.

    I want an Iphone as reliable as my AK47–not the other way around.

    You might also consider that the suicide rate for males is higher in Japan than in the US–even though guns are very difficult to own in Japan.

    There are a bit over 700k legally owned guns in Japan out of a population of 127 million.

    You might want to google suicide forest Japan.


    • Smart guns are one of those pie-in-the-sky ideas that look good until one tries to get them into reality. The concept itself complicates design and as one could guess, complexity breeds potential failure modes. If one is at the range, a failed recognition device could be a PIA but in a holy shit moment on the street, its analogous to a whole magazine of failed primers. One of my semiautos started malfunctioning a couple years ago and I cussed it out at the range for failure to eject reliably. When I got home, I noted that the ejector rod had fractured and the tip was missing so I had to pack it off to the factory for warranty repair. Adding a selection of smart gizmos such as RFIDs, fingerprint recognition, other magic stuff, etc and their mechanical, magnetic, or electronic actuators just give it more reason to fail. Oops. Its cold out and the battery dropped out of spec, like the one in my tactical red/green dot scope likes to do.

      Sure, a smart gun might keep one’s troubled teen from performing do-it-yourself brain surgery, make the thing a paperweight if stolen, or keep a cop from being shot with his own smokepole. Other than the last example, a gun safe pretty much does the same job for multiple guns and besides, a gun safe works on all guns, old, new, or future designs. And all for one low, low price at Crazy Wayne LaPierre’s gun shop, where prices are insane. I think my Browning safe cost me about the same as one of my semiautos and it holds more guns than I plan to buy. Costco recently was selling those little biometric hand cannon lockboxes for under 100 bucks.

      But that said, I’m all for R and D. If someone wants to make a liar out of us skeptics, that’s wonderful. The biggest obstacle to R&D into smart guns is the politics, not the market or the engineering. As long as laws like the NJ one (which mandates that once smart guns are available, all other guns are banned from being sold) are on the books, safe guns are the third rail of the discussion. That NJ law plays right into the hands of the gun abolitionist’s plans to make guns scarce and “safe”.

      Liked by 1 person

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