No-gun REI

rand study

Gun-control data as reviewed by the RAND Corporation

Recreational Equipment Inc., which runs busy stores in both Anchorage and Fairbanks, has never sold firearms and sold fishing gear for only a limited time, but it has now jumped into American huntin’ and fishin’ issues in a big way.

The company is making a very public, very high-profile push for gun control. 

It announced Thursday it would stop selling Giro, Bell, Camelbak, Camp Chef and Blackburn products because the parent company for those brands, Vista Outdoors, “also owns Savage Arms, which manufactures guns including ‘modern sporting rifles.'”

Savage is an American firearms manufacturer that traces its roots back to 1894. The company’s product line of more than 100 firearms is heavy on bolt-action rifles and shotguns, and it produces a half-dozen semi-automatic weapons that would match the description of “assault-style” or “assault-style appearing” rifles. 

(Editor’s note: The author is the owner of a .308-caliber, Savage Model 510 bolt-action handgun with which he has hunted caribou and deer.)

The fallout from this decision in the highly competitive Alaska market for outdoor gear – REI competes with huge Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops stores along with a number of specialty retailers in both cities – remains to be seen in the gun-happy north.

REI has demanded a statement from Vista on how the company plans to “work towards common sense solutions that prevent the type of (gun) violence that happened in Florida last month.”

What exactly would constitute “common sense” – the kind of problem-solving long advocated by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – in this case is unclear. A RAND Corporation report on guns issued Friday indicates the solutions to gun violence are anything but clear cut.

Common science

RAND is a nonprofit, global think tank created by the Douglas Aircraft Corporation in 1948 to perform research and analysis for the U.S. Air Force. It is probably best known for its association with the Pentagon Papers, which publicly revealed the fiasco of the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg was employed by RAND as an analyst when he helped compile those top-secret documents. He later leaked the Pentagon Papers to 18 newspapers. He was eventually tried on espionage charges, cleared after the discovery of government misconduct and became something of a national hero to some for helping get the U.S. out of the Vietnam War.

“The Post,” a Tom Hanks movie about the Washington Post’s role in the Pentagon Papers is currently a successful movie.

Meanwhile, RAND has moved on into the foggy area of trying to figure out what might work to reduce firearms deaths in the U.S.

Putting aside “common sense,” which is often neither common nor sense, RAND says its “Gun Policy in America initiative is a unique attempt to systematically and transparently assess available scientific evidence on the real effects of firearm laws and policies.”

Unfortunately, RAND adds in its report on the “Science of Gun Policy” that there are now no easy, clearcut means to make America safer. The key findings, according to the report:

  • Of more than 100 combinations of policies and outcomes, surprisingly few have been the subject of methodologically rigorous investigation.
  • Available evidence supports the conclusion that child-access prevention laws, or safe storage laws, reduce self-inflicted fatal or nonfatal firearm injuries among youth, as well as unintentional firearm injuries or deaths among children.
  • There is moderate evidence that background checks reduce firearm suicides and firearm homicides, as well as limited evidence that these policies can reduce overall suicide and violent crime rates. There is moderate evidence that stand-your-ground laws may increase homicide rates and limited evidence that the laws increase firearm homicides in particular.
  • There is moderate evidence that violent crime is reduced by laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of guns by individuals who have a history of involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility. There is limited evidence these laws may reduce total suicides and firearm suicides.
  • There is limited evidence that a minimum age of 21 for purchasing firearms may reduce firearm suicides among youth.

A changing society

Safe firearms storage is an idea that has been preached by Hunter Education Programs in the U.S. for decades, but the number of Americans hunting has fallen steadily as the country has urbanized, and gun ownership has become increasingly about home protection and less about hunting.

It is hard to protect your home with an empty gun, but that does not mean it cannot be stored safely away from children. There are, however, no required educational programs for non-hunting gun owners.

All 50 states now require some sort of hunter safety education, but in many it is limited to young people. In Alaska, hunter ed is required only of youths planning to hunt in game-management units near urban areas.

Most Americans seem to agree that gun-safety training is a good idea, though many would never want it taught in school because that would require children to handle guns. Many want simpler, “common sense” solutions.

Among the findings in the RAND report sure to be controversial are evidence-based conclusions, or conclusions that note the lack of evidence on which to base conclusions, that run counter to “common sense.”

The report lists as “inconclusive” the data to support a number of the most popular ideas for reducing America’s gun-death rate:

  • Banning the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  • Licensing and permitting requirements.
  • Minimum age requirements, although RAND notes some limited evidence this might help in reducing suicides, which are a huge problem in Alaska.
  • Waiting periods.

The report does conclude there is “moderate” evidence to support the idea that preventing gun ownership by those with certain kinds of mental illnesses might help lower the violence.

But it also cautioned that “evidence that these prohibitions reduce total homicide rates is limited. Evidence for the effect of such prohibitions on firearm homicides is inconclusive.”

Not easy

Anyone who bothers to read the full RAND report will find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that there are no simple solutions to reducing gun violence in an inherently violent country that in many ways worships violence.

The U.S. box-office leading movie for 2017 was “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which is almost wholly about people killing each other with the weapons of the future instead of the old-fashioned weapons of the present. 

The year’s best-selling video game?

“Call of Duty: WWII,” which is wholly about people killing each other with the weapons of the past. Part of a series of video games said to have “blueprinted the feel and responsiveness of modern first-person shooters,” PCGamer reported, the game lets players experience “finding a blind spot in the enemy’s advance and racking up three quick kills (which) feels great, even if it’s the same feeling I had in Modern Warfare 10 years ago.”

In a country that almost celebrates the idea that the virtual killing of others “feels great,” it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise some of those who don’t distinguish so well between the virtual and the real can turn deadly.

It’s only common sense, right?

Maybe yes; maybe no.

“We found that violent video game exposure was associated with: an increased composite aggression score; increased aggressive behavior; increased aggressive cognitions. . . . Our task force concluded that violent video game use is a risk factor for adverse outcomes, but found insufficient studies to examine any potential link between violent video game use and delinquency or criminal behavior,” Dr. Meredith E. Gansner wrote in Psychiatry Times last fall.

As with guns, so with violent games; there is a lot more grey than black and white.

But there is some black and white. It also happens to run counter to most of the “common sense” fear of the moment.

The national murder rate is now significantly less than in was in the 1970s or 1980s, though no one is sure exactly why or why popular perception is the opposite.

Homicides down

Nationally, homicides per 100,000 peaked at 10.2 in 1979, according to the website maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center, before falling to 4.5 in 2014. They have since crept back up to where they are about half of the 1979 rate.

The rates are by no means uniform across the country.

Illinois, with the gun-controlled city of Chicago having become something of a real, live urban war zone, is up to 8.2 per 100,000 from a low of 5.3 in 2014. Alaska, a state with no gun control and guns everywhere has more than doubled from 3.1 per 100,000 in 2009 to 7 per 100,000 in 2016, the last year for which complete statewide data is available for any state.

Alaska is subject to large swings due to its small population, but it’s clearly a more dangerous state than other gun-filled states in the lower 48. North Dakota, Minnesota, and Maine have among the lowest death rates in the country at 2 to 1.3 per 100,000.

North Dakota is reported to have an “extremely high population of gun owners,” over 50 percent, with Minnesota and Maine in the “high population,” over 40 percent.  Wyoming leads the list with a gun ownership rate of almost 60 percent. Alaska is just behind with about 58 percent.

Wyoming had a 2016 murder rate of 3.4 per 100,000, which put it just worse than New York at 3.2. The year before the two states had been in opposite positions with Wyoming at 2.7 and New York at 3.1.

Guns and death in America are a complicated subject that defies “common sense.” And almost any discussion of doing things that might work tend to get wrapped up in emotions that border on a moral panic.

One can have an interesting discussion about the media’s role there.

Moral panic

“Central to the moral panic concept is an argument that public concern or fear over an alleged social problem is mutually beneficial to state officials—that is, politicians and law enforcement authorities—and the news media. The relationship between state officials and the media is symbiotic in that politicians and law enforcement need communication channels to distribute their rhetoric and the media need tantalizing news content to attract a wide audience which, in turn, attracts advertisers,” Scott A. Bonn observed in Psychology Today in 2015. 

Moral panics badly complicate sensible decision-making because fear is the easiest of human emotions exploited by political interests and because suffering victims are the most easily used of props.

Fear is in all of us, and if we do not care about the suffering of our fellow citizens we are not human.

Writing at New York just days ago, Eric Levitz observed that the survivors of the country’s latest mass shooting at a school in Florida and the media who have highlighted their cause “have already changed gun politics in the United States for the better.”

But he went on to lament that “they’ve also (inadvertently) triggered a moral panic about the safety of America’s schools that has little basis in empirical reality — and which is already lending momentum to policies that would increase juvenile incarceration, waste precious educational resources on security theater, and bring more guns into our nation’s classrooms.”

As others have noted, Levitz reiterated: schools are safer today than ever. Both school crime and victimization rates have been falling for years. Students report less fear of being harmed, not more.

“American children do not “risk their lives” when they show up to school each morning — or at least, not nearly as much as they do whenever they ride in a car, swim in a pool, or put food in their mouths,” Levitz wrote. “(An American’s lifetime odds of dying in a mass shooting committed in any location is 1 in 11,125; of dying in a car accident is 1 and 491; of drowning is 1 in 1,133; and of choking on food is 1 in 3,461). Criminal victimization in American schools has collapsed in tandem with the overall crime rate, leaving U.S. classrooms safer today than at any time in recent memory.”

If American’s truly want to make life safer, not to mention healthier, for school children, they could start by working on creating safer ways to walk to school and making sure teachers know how to perform a Heimlich manuever. Some have suggested the country’s childhood-obesity epidemic is in part linked to fewer and fewer kids walking or cycling to school because it isn’t safe. 

And it isn’t safe.

“On average, a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every seven minutes in traffic crashesFourteen percent of all traffic fatalities and an estimated 3 percent of those injured in traffic crashes were pedestrians,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency has gone so far as to not so subtly warn that what responsible parents should do is put their kids on a bus.

Don’t let them walk. Don’t let them cycle. Don’t drive them to school. Put them safely on that bus.

“In 2013, 288 pedestrians and bicyclists ages 14 and under were killed, and approximately 15,000 children in this same age group were injured while walking or bicycling in the United States,” according to the Safe Routes to School interest group. “Many parents respond by driving their child to school. However, being inside a motor vehicle does not promise safety. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death for school-age children. In the United States during 2013, 1,149 children ages 14 and under were killed and 172,000 children in this age group were injured as motor vehicle occupants.”

These are the most serious childhood death threats.

Time magazine last month tallied school shooting deaths since 2013. They reported a total of 35 children and six adults killed, and 92 children and 12 adults were injured. The deaths are tragic and horrible. One is too many, but the average rate of 10 deaths per year is low.

Ninety-one people under age 19 died in bicycle accidents in 2015, the last year for which full cycling data is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration. The number of cycling deaths has been trending upwards since the start of the new millennium even as the number of cyclists overall has been declining.

As regards REI, the data supports one scientific conclusion: If the co-op’s true interest is in doing its part to prevent violent death – and not just engaging in marketing ploy aimed at increasing sales among whatever customer-profiled group the algorithm its corporate computer spit out – it really ought to stop selling bikes designed for those under age 19, and limit all bike sales to those over age 21.

Or, at the very least, it could put some of its money where its mouth is and giveaway whatever Giro and Bell bike helmets it now has in stock. That might actually save somebody’s life.






























16 replies »

  1. I’m not allowed to enter REI stores. I don’t wear my hair in a man bun or have disks in my ear lobes. So, I am not hipster enough to have the privilege to shop there.

    This gun-related manufacturer ban by REI is hypocrisy to woo their main hipster client base. It’s hypocrisy because 90 percent of what they sell in REI is from China. A land where human rights are trampled (maybe ask the Tibetans) and where most of the greenhouse gases in the world are emitted. I’m actually surprised millennial hipsters haven’t boycotted REI long ago due to their China connections. Just goes to show how shallow and unquestioning the millennial generation is. And REI knows how to play these hipsters to keep them spending their money.

  2. As someone familiar with the extant research, one thing to note about the Rand report is it did not independently analyze the methodology used within the studies themselves, nor look for any critiques by other researchers. There’s nothing wrong with their methodology, they had solid criteria for selection, but that a meta-study taking research _on its face_ can find no better than a few cases of “Moderate” evidence for potential impact of a few policies is informative.

    Suicide and violent crime are behaviors which are driven by individual and (sub)cultural factors, not the “influence” of inanimate objects. Factors which have common qualities across the developed/Western/civilized/insert favored vague term. Focusing on one object actually distracts from putting resources into better understanding and intervening in the behaviors themselves.

  3. There is no such thing as “Gun violence”, it’s all carried out by humans. A gun is an inanimate object. Using this term in and of itself is a bias newspeak that poisons any attempt at reasonable discussions.

    • Bombs are also inanimate objects. Should we make it legal to buy them at department stores?

      • we sort of do if you know what you’re doing…. in fact, that’s kind of my greatest fear of the future: some crazy builds a bomb, puts it on a drone, and flies into a school.

      • Bombs, while they can be entertaining in the right circumstances, have a limited utility for a comparatively small group of people due to how they do what they do. Guns have a wide utility to a large number of people, for a wide variety of legitimate uses, and with very low rates of misuse.

        The larger point is “gun violence” focuses on one means rather than on the small number of people who commit it, who share characteristics making them distinct from the majority. If you actually want to address violence, it makes more sense to focus limited resources on those few violent people instead of something ubiquitous and overall innocuous.

    • A gun is a tool, sure. Most of us in alaska would agree to that. But it takes a lot longer to get to anchorage from fairbanks if you don’t have a car.

      • And, like firearms, the vast majority of people don’t misuse cars and, like cars, those that do typically have histories of doing so and deliberately break numerous other laws in the process.

  4. Before we can intelligently discuss things like school gun violence we need to cut thru the partisan rhetoric and quantify the facts. This article makes a start at doing just that.

    A deeper dive into the data provides a broader perspective.

    Reliably liberal Mother Jones News has compiled one of the most fair, honest and transparent databases of mass casualty shootings around.

    What we learn is there have been 97 mass casualty shootings in the US over the last 35 years, with 816 fatalities. This comes out to an average appx 2.8 incidents per year, and average 23.3 fatalities per year … an average 8.41 fatalities per incident.

    We also learn that just 17 of those 97 mass casualty shootings occurred in schools – with 160 fatalities. This come out to appx 0.48 incidents avg per year, 4.57 avg fatalities total per year, and avg 9.41 fatalities per incident.

    We have apx 140,000 public, private and post secondary schools in the US … with appx 71.1 million students. As an aside there are appx 3.25 million teachers.

    Doing the math – and reducing the odds to a uniform scale for comparison – we learn the chances of students in any particular school being involved in a mass casualty school shooting in any guven year are appx 5.7 in a million.

    The chances of a particular student being killed in a mass casualty school shooting in their 17 years in school (K-12 plus 4 years co college) are appx 1.7 in a million.

    The chances of being hit by lightning … appx 6.2 in a million.

    For perspective, the chances of being killed in random gun violence are 2,703 in a million.

    The reality is, the chances of a student or school being involved in a mass casualty shooting in any given yer, or killed in 17 years of school …. are lower than the chances of being hit by lightning.

    At the same time – the chances of being killed by random gun violence are massively higher.

    The costs to add two entry level armed officers in each school easily top $15 billion a year … for a chance that is lower than being hit by lightning they would ever be involved in a mass casualty school shooting.

    On the other hand – if a fraction of that amount was dedicated to a task force to attack overall gun violence in the appx 20 areas/cities responsible for appx 80% of all gun deaths in the US, we could significantly lower the random gun violence chances of death.

    Likewise, for a small fraction of that $15 billion annually, we can spend $3,500 per teacher and provide full tactical training and certification an avg 6 teachers for each one of the 140,000 schools in America to be armed. A stealth crew of 850,000 teachers, distributed throughout the 140,000 schools in the US. Fir less than 20% of the costs of an avg 2 entry level armed officers that can be easily defeated.

  5. Craig,
    Good piece.
    Lots to digest.
    Sounds like RAND is code for DNC.
    Every Alaskan with a hunting license or firearm used to protect them from bears should boycott REI.
    Better deals across the street at the Hoarding Marmot or on Amazon anyways.
    As the U.S. becomes more divided on protecting our rights and liberties as Americans, we should remember that “our money is our vote”.
    Lastly, Homeschool is the safest option for educating children in America…no commuting required and less disgruntled students to deal with.

    • i’m going to assume your last line is meant as just humor, Steve.
      If it was meant seriously, let me add that something should be said about the ability of most parents to be able to homeschool their kids. I’ll venture that less than one in a carload is capable of educating their elementary-age kids and fewer able to do it for high schoolers. Time available is one issue especially with single parents.
      My own experience with homeschooling involved a visit monthly by an assigned teacher who flew in in a supercub and stayed (along with the pilot) for 1-2 hours. Further, one parent attended a workshop each year, with other parents usually flown in, in Fairbanks to help out with their issues. This was back when the oil-money was big and I know of no homeschool program with anything like this today. I doubt such an expense could fly today, even though its probably cheaper than providing school buildings for them all.
      Certainly some families are successful with homeschooling but my guess is they are very few.

      • Bill,
        There are many good options for homeschool curriculum available today.
        The key is only having one parent out in the workforce at a time.
        In the Mat Su, children who are homeschooled can attended athletic events and receive vouchers for extra curriculum activities.
        This is much easier when tied in to the road system.
        All the folks that I meet who were homeschooled have a better understanding of how to take care of themselves.
        Skills like gardening, carpentry, fishing, and hunting are more easily fit into home school schedules.
        My favorite book on the subject was written by Ben Hewitt, who would consider himself a Vermont farmer.
        It is called: Home Grown…Adventures in parenting off the beaten path.
        He advocates for “Unschooling”.

      • Like you’ve said Steve, homeschool can work for special people-those with only one parent in the workforce and impossible for single parents. Even then, my opinion is that most wouldn’t be capable of doing the job adequately (regardless of the “good options” available).
        In Juneau, homeschooled students can attend music classes, as well as some other public school classes that certainly gives these students some added benefits. And this would be impossible if not on the road system.
        I have no idea of what you mean by “All the folks that I meet who were homeschooled have a better understanding of how to take care of themselves.”

  6. I’m cynical enough to be suspicious that a helmet manufacturer competing with Giro is behind this. The campaign started in the bicycle business community, which I used to be part of and still try and stay in touch with what’s going on. I’m guessing Vista Outdoor bought whoever owned Bell, Giro, Blackburn, and Camelback because they thought it would be a good idea to diversify into something non-firearms related in case the government clamps down. Define irony.

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