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The problem isn't mental health—it's access to guns, new research suggests
The "dangerous people" framework is a myth.
- A new study by University of Texas Medical Branch researchers states that gun access, not mental health, leads to gun violence.
- The team discovered that mental illness and personality traits are not reliable indicators of gun violence.
- This line of research could have important implications for legislation and rehabilitation.
America doesn't have a gun problem; it has a mental health problem: a post-mass shooting slogan trotted out time and again. Like many other slogans, it suffers from a major flaw: it isn't true.
That's the consensus of a recent study published in the journal, Preventive Medicine, by two University of Texas Medical Branch researchers. Yu Lu and Jeff Temple investigated three potential links to gun violence—gun access and ownership; mental illness; and personality traits—and discovered only one actually predicted gun violence.
It's all about access.
"Counter to public beliefs, the majority of mental health symptoms examined were not related to gun violence. Instead, access to firearms was the primary culprit."
Language matters, as it is the entry point into understanding the root of any problem. In this case, the stakes are dire. Up to 100,000 Americans are non-fatally injured by firearms each year; between 30,000-40,000 Americans die every year from gunshots. One-third are homicides and 61 percent are suicides, with roughly 1 percent attributed to accidents.
While that's disturbing enough, Lu and Temple write that there has been a mass shooting (four or more people killed) every single day over the past two years. In these situations, access and ownership appear to be the main catalyst.
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This fact has been obscured by the dangerous people framework: guns don't kill people, people kill people. Lu and Temple respond with the dangerous weapons framework. Give people an opportunity to own weapons and they take advantage of the possibilities.
For this study, Lu and Temple analyze the "temporal relationships between mental health and gun violence" among 663 participants of diverse backgrounds: a third self-identified Hispanics, 27 percent black, 26 percent white, 13 percent other nationalities, with an average age of 22 years old. Notably, 62 percent of respondents were female.
While mental health definitions are sometimes difficult to assess, they investigated a number of conditions, including anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD, hostility, impulsivity, and borderline personality disorder. They discovered that these conditions are not good predictors of gun violence. In fact, out of this list only one—hostility—increased the likelihood of the person threatening another with a gun.
Yet even that number paled in comparison. Those who reported hostile inclinations were 3.5 times more likely to threaten another individual with a gun. What truly predicted gun violence? For gun owners, the risk of threatening another was 18 times greater.
"Prior gun carrying, having access to a gun, and owning a gun were all linked to future gun carrying. Although gun carrying itself is not a violent behavior, research has demonstrated a strong link between this behavior and gun violence victimization."
David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., assemble on the East Front of the Capitol during a rally to organize letters to be delivered to congressional offices calling for an expansion of background checks on gun purchases on Monday, March 25, 2019.
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
There's that old sentiment about being a hammer and everything looking like a nail. All technologies become extensions of our bodies, as Marshall McLuhan so eloquently phrased it. Our bodies take on the contours of cars when we're driving; my mind is extended through the pecking of my fingers on this laptop. Everything we touch becomes an instrument to use. Put something in our hands and we assume it is part of us, and treat it as such.
So much more so with weaponry. If I feel hostile toward someone, it takes a lot of work to physically confront that person with words, much less fists. Extend my consciousness with a gun and the ability to threaten becomes more seductive. The fetishism of firearms is a biological tenet: we like to feel power. Given the opportunity we're likely to exploit that trait.
Yes, dangerous people exist. Give them a dangerous weapon and their likelihood of engaging in danger increases—by a lot, as this research shows. Volunteers for the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment likely didn't expect to be torturing fellow citizens a day into the study, but that's how quickly we adapt to new environments, especially when placed in positions of authority.
As the authors note, this research could be helpful in deciding how to proceed with future gun legislation and treatment for criminals. We just have to ensure that we're treating the right symptoms. Thanks to research like this, we're understanding what to focus on, an important step forward in one of the most contentious issues in America today.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.</p><p>"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.</p><p>The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.</p><p>It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.</p><p>Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have <em>Frankenstein</em>, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."</p><p>She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.</p>
Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.
- Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
- In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
- "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.
After a decade of failed attempts, scientists successfully bounced photons off of a reflector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some 240,000 miles from Earth.
- Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
- For years scientists have been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era, but these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
- The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.
A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.
NASA<p>The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/laser-beams-reflected-between-earth-and-moon-boost-science" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">said</a>. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."</p>
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA<p>But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the Moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.</p><p>That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.</p>