13 December 1943

13 December 1943

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13 December 1943

War in the Air

Eighth Air Force Heavy Bomber Mission No. 154: 182 aircraft sent to attack port area at Bremen and 516 to attack u-boat yard at Kiel and port area at Hamburg, all supported by 12 pathfinders. Five aircraft lost.

War at Sea

German submarine U-391 sunk with all hands off Cape Ortegal

German submarine U-593 sunk north of Constantine (Mediterranean)

German submarine U-172 sunk off the Canary Islands

Editor’s Comments

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 50, 13 December 1943, p.ق.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Meaning of the Two-Party System

For some time now, we have called the attention of the labor movement to the need for independent political action by labor through its own political organization, a Labor Party. Developments in recent years have demonstrated that this is a prime need of the American workers. There are thousands and thousands of workers in the country who are more than sick of the rooking that labor has been receiving at the hands of the political parties of big business and its servants.

If you really want to know how important an independent Labor Party is, you have only to note who opposes such a political policy and such a party. The Republicans are against it the Democrats are against it. Willkie is opposed to a Labor Party, and so is Roosevelt. Big business would fight it tooth and nail its press screams out against independent labor politics every day.

But these are outright capitalists, or their supporters. But in the labor movement the officialdoms also speak and act against such political action by the workers.

Behind the labor officialdom stand the arch-enemies of the working class, the Stalinists. They are the most conscious and therefore the cleverest opponents of genuine independent political action by labor and are especially vigorous in their fight against any kind of organizational steps that would lead to the formation of a Labor Party.

One of the oldest arguments used against a Labor Party is that it would upset the two-party system in this country. But you might ask: What is so all-fired holy about the two-party system? Certainly experience shows that the two-party system, especially when it is represented by the Republican and Democratic Parties, as it has been for so many years, is really a choice between tweedledum and tweedledee.

Tradition – Good or Bad?

The two-party system is a bad tradition for labor. It means choosing between two capitalist, anti-labor political parties, that is, parties of big business.

When the capitalists and their servants defend the two-party system it is because they fear a party of labor and do everything in their power to prevent its formation. In their success lies their political strength.

When the labor movement accepts the two-party system it is merely aiding the parties of big business and weakening the political and economic position of the workers.

In the light of the above, it is easy to see how harmful the CIO political policy is today. I do not speak about the AFL now because that organization with its old and foggy leadership is reactionary, politically speaking. It continues to adhere to a policy of “reward your friends, and punish your enemies.” This has meant support of either Republican or Democratic candidates and has usually meant no support to any third progressive or labor party.

But the CIO gave promise of progressive labor political action in its early years. More recently, local unions and officials have spoken out openly in favor of a Labor Party and genuine independent political action by the trade union movement.

Hillman and the CIO Political Action Committee

The CIO officialdom, however, has become very active politically – but also in a reactionary way. They too oppose genuine political labor action and the formation of an independent Labor Party.

Instead of pursuing such a progressive course, the CIO executive board set up a “Political Action Committee.” There are obviously two reasons which led to the formation of this committee:

  1. to mobilize support for Roosevelt and his party of big business and poll-tax Southerners
  2. to head off any movement for a Labor Party, which would defeat the first purpose.

And who was placed at the head of this committee? None other than Sidney Hillman, the social worker-union leader, who, as the Maryland Labor Herald says, “is losing caste among the members of the union he heads because he thinks fifty cents an hour should be top pay for members of his union who work in cotton goods.”

Hillman is not carrying on independent political action. He is playing boss politics. He is acting as a henchman of the Democratic Party national machine. This is revealed not only by the policy which his committee pursues, but most alarmingly by the assistants he has chosen.

As his first assistant, Hillman has chosen C.B. Baldwin, former administrator in the Farm Security Administration, a Roosevelt appointee, and not a member of the labor movement in any way.

As director of CIO political activities in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, Hillman named Raymond C. McKeough, former Democratic member of the House and long-time politician associated with the Kelly-Nash-Horner machine in Illinois.

Hillman’s “Labor” Assistants

Isn’t it as plain as day that the politics of the CIO under Hillman and the executive board is essentially the same as that of the AFL officialdom? The only difference is that the AFL has not yet decided which boss party it will support, while the CIO Political Action Committee is unmistakably pro-Democratic Party.

What has this to do with independent political action by labor? What has it to do with an independent Labor Party? Exactly nothing!

The only thing that can be gained from such policies is another defeat for labor. It is more than high-time to call a halt to this kind of political action.

It is necessary now more, than ever for the ranks of the trade union movement, and the union movement as a whole, to embark on a determined course which would lead to the formation of a Labor Party to fight for the economic and political interests of the whole working class.

World War II Today: December 13

The Japanese army occupies Nanking, China.

In the south Atlantic, the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, fights an action against three British cruisers, HMS Achilles, HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter, which results in serious damage to both sides. HMS Exeter is rendered a blazing hulk and the Graf Spee withdraws to the neutral Uruguayan port of Montevideo for repairs.

Petain dismisses his Vice-Premier, Laval.

British General Richard O’Conner decides his tank raid against Italian troops is going so well he will make it a full-fledged offensive. One of O’Conners officers reports having captured “five acres of officers, 200 acres of other ranks,” as the Italians surrender en masse.

Hitler issues Directive No. 20, the order for the preparation of Operation ‘Marita’, the plan for sending German forces to revive the bogged-down

Italian offensive in Albania.

Twenty four German divisions begin their redeployment to Romania, through Hungary as part of Directive No. 20, Hitler’s order for the preparation of Operation ‘Marita’, the attack on Greece.

The Soviet press issues a triumphant statement on the repulse of the German Armies before Moscow. The Red Army launches a new counter-offensive using Timoshenko’s South West Front in an attack northwest against the juncture of Panzer Group 2 and the German 2nd Army between Yelets and Livny. This results in Panzer Group 2’s right flank being left open as the 2nd Army is forced to withdraw in order to save itself. Field Marshal von Brauchitsch meets Field Marshal von Bock, C-in-C of Army Group Centre and decide that Army Group Centre must withdraw some 90 miles west to take up a ‘winter line’. Secret orders are passed to this effect.

The British manage to turn back an Italian convoy, which is taking supplies to Libya, by making it believe that its under threat from the Mediterranean Fleet.

The British Governor of Hong Kong rejects a Japanese demand for his garrisons surrender. British troops in the southern tip of Burma begin to withdraw north towards Rangoon.

A US naval task force under Rear-Admiral Frank J. Fletcher sets sail from Pearl Harbor with orders to relieve Wake Island.

Rommel begins to retreat from his positions El Agheila, as the Eighth Army continues advance in to Libya.

The Japanese make successful new landings North of Buna.

Captain. James Stewart of the US 445 th BG flies his first mission in a B-24 Liberator bomber for the US Eighth Air Force in England.

54 Mustangs escorted B-17s 490 miles on a raid over Kiel, Germany, and for the first time in the war successfully defended the bombers for 40Â minutes over the targets, shooting down enemy fighter planes.

A war criminals trial at Kharkov accuses four Germans of murdering thousands of Russians in specially equipped carbon-monoxide murder vans. Army Group Centre becomes engaged in a series of heavy defensive battles in the area of Vitebsk.

The USAAF make the first damaging raid on Japanese industrial targets.

German forces of 7th Armee withdraw in to the fortified positions of the Westwall.

War Department Circular No.323 13 Dec 1943

Post by Gary Kennedy » 04 Jun 2019, 17:53

Does anyone know if there is an accessible source for War Department Circulars, ideally online? I'm aware there were hundreds issued each year, but there is one in particular that I'd like to see. War Department Circular Number 323 (13th December 1943), which would appear to have concerned the increase in ranks for various NCOs in Squads, Sections and Platoons of Rifle and Heavy Weapons Companies of Infantry Battalions.

Re: War Department Circular No.323 13 Dec 1943

Post by yantaylor » 11 Jun 2019, 20:41

Hi Gary and how are you. How’s your marvelous web site doing.
I asked a friend of mine from the states about your quest, he is an ex-US Army Infantry Colonel who has work on tactics and organization as well as commanding a rifle battalion. He said to me that you would find your data at one of these three sites

The Pentagon Library
Center of Military History
The National Archives

Out of the three, he reckons that the National Archives web site would be the best shot.

Born This Day In History 13th October

Celebrating Birthdays Today
Margaret Thatcher
Born: October 13th, 1925, Grantham, Lincolnshire, England
Died: April 8th, 2013, Westminster, London, England
Known For : The British Prime Minister from May 4,1979 to November 28,1990 and the first and still only Female British Prime Minister. She was elected on a mandate to reverse the UK's economic decline, although many disagreed with her political philosophy she was admired by most for her strength of leadership and nicknamed the "Iron Lady." She was a member of the Conservative party with strong views.

Paul Simon
Born: October 13th, 1941, Newark, New Jersey, United States
Known For : Paul Simon American songwriter, musician, and member of the famous Simon and Garfunkel duo who had a string of top selling singles and albums. They broke into the charts with the first single "The Sounds of Silence" in 1965. Paul Simon also had a series of successful solo albums and singles including "Loves Me Like a Rock," "Kodachrome," and "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

Massacre of Kalavryta

The Holocaust of Kalavryta (Greek: Ολοκαύτωμα των Καλαβρύτων), or the Massacre of Kalavryta (Σφαγή των Καλαβρύτων), refers to the extermination of the male population and the subsequent total destruction of the town of Kalavryta, in Greece, by German occupying forces during World War II on 13 December 1943. It is the most serious case of war crimes committed during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II.

In November 1943, the German 117th Jäger Division began a mission named Unternehmen Kalavryta (Operation Kalavryta), intending to encircle Greek guerilla fighters in the mountainous area surrounding Kalavryta. During the operations, some German soldiers were killed and 77 of them, who were taken prisoners, were executed by the Greek guerillas. The Command of the German division decided to react with harsh and massive reprisal operations.

The reprisals began from the coastal area of Achaea in Northern Peloponnese, Wehrmacht troops marched to the town of Kalavryta burning villages and murdering civilians on their way. When they reached the town they locked all women and children younger than 14 in the town's school and ordered all male residents 16 and older to a field just outside the village. There, the German troops machine-gunned down 499 of them. There were only 12 survivors. Allegedly, the women and children managed to free themselves from the school while the town was set ablaze. The following day the Nazi troops burnt down the Monastery of Agia Lavra, a landmark of the Greek War of Independence.

In total, 677 civilians were killed during the reprisal operations. About 1.000 houses were looted and burned and more than 2.000 sheeps and other large domestic animals were seized by the Germans.

Today the Place of Sacrifice is kept as a memorial site and the events are commemorated each year. Despite the fact that the Federal Republic of Germany has publicly acknowledged the Nazi atrocity at Kalavryta, war reparations have yet to be paid. On 18 April 2000, the then-president of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, visited the town of Kalavryta to express his feelings of shame and deep sorr

The massacre at Kalavryta was one of retaliation. Guerillas resisted Germans in northern Peloponnesus, where 78 men from a German division were killed and took others captive. As a result, The Germans raided several Greek villages trying to find their prisoners and seek revenge. In December of 1943 they arrived at Kalavryta and asked the whole village to meet at the schoolhouse with some food. The town complied some believing it was an evacuation.

Units departing Japan December 1943

Post by john whitman » 01 Sep 2012, 22:34

To all (and especially fontessa):

The following units (not including divisions and their subordinate units) departed Japan in December 1943. I am sure there were many, many more.

In December, eight non-divisional regimental equivalents deployed out of Japan.

1st Amphibious Brigade
1st Independent Mixed Regiment
2nd South Seas Detachment
3rd South Seas Detachment
5th Independent Mixed Regiment
16th Tank Regiment
Three independent infantry battalions
One-half of the 7th Field Replacement Unit

Also in December, smaller units deployed:

202nd and 234th Naval Construction Units
14th Shipping Engineer Regiment
72nd Field Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion
8th Air Intelligence Unit
47th Field Machine Cannon Company
19th and 20th Taiwanese Specially Established Labor Groups (departed Takao)
ground crews of the 63rd Bomber Regiment
68th Navy Air Defense Unit
The single battalion of the 4th South Seas Detachment

Can anyone find more? As an example, Convoy O-506 departed Saeki on 5 December to Palau and arrived there on 14 December. But I have no troop or cargoe information.

Re: Units departing Japan December 1943

Post by fontessa » 02 Sep 2012, 00:01

There were more South Seas Detachments.

The 4th South Seas Detachment
- Departed Moji aboard Nagano Maru on December 22
- Arrived at Truck on January 7

The 6th South Seas Detachment
- Departed Ujina aboard Akitsu Maru on December 29
- Arrived at Palau on January 12

Re: Units departing Japan December 1943

Post by john whitman » 02 Sep 2012, 01:46

Thank you for this update. I missed the 6th South Seas Detachment (two infantry battalions and a tank company). When Kayo Maru with 825 men aboard was sunk on 4 March 1944, I assumed that the 6th South Seas Detachment departed Japan in 1944. But as you say, they actually departed aboard Akitsu Maru on 29 December.

I would guess that there were also other units on Akitsu Maru. She was a big ship. I checked the // TROM for Akitsu Maru, and there is no information about this 29 December 1943 departure and 12 January 1944 arrival at Palau. I will pass on your information to, and I am sure they will incorporate it.

I had listed the 4th South Seas Detachment under "smaller units," because it was just one battalion (three infantry companies, one tank company, one machine gun company, one infantry gun company).

// . _236_1.pdf mentions the 4th South Seas Detachment and Nagano Maru. If I understand this correctly, the 4th South Seas Garrison Unit was formed from the rear detachment of (and replacements scheduled for?) the 142nd Infantry. This source says that the unit boarded Nagano Maru on 23 December and departed port on 24 December. I do not quite understand the following: 650 men belonged to the 4th South Seas Detachment and sailed aboard Nagano Maru, but there were a total of 800 men on Nagano Maru. or an additional 800 men.

If you find any other units departing Japan in December 1943, I would be happy to learn about them.

Remember Who Tucker Carlson Is

The Strange Elegance of Joe Manchin’s Voter-ID Deal

Americans Say Immigrants Should Learn English. But U.S. Policy Makes That Hard.

Gun violence also affects more than its victims. In areas where it is prevalent, just the threat of violence makes neighborhoods poorer. It's very difficult to quantify the total harm caused by gun violence, but by asking many people how much they would pay to avoid this threat -- a technique called contingent valuation -- researchers have estimated a cost to American society of $100 billion dollars.

Guns are also involved in suicides and accidents. 19,392 of 38,264 suicides in 2010 involved a gun (50%), according to the CDC. There were 606 firearm-related accidents in the same year -- about 5% of the number of intentional gun deaths.

How many guns are there in the U.S.?

There are about 310 million guns in the country. About 40% of households have them, a fraction that has been slowly declining over the last few decades, down from about 50% in the 1960s. Meanwhile, the overall number of guns has increased to about one gun per person, up from one gun for every two persons in the 1960s. This means that gun ownership has gotten much more concentrated among fewer households: if you own one gun, you probably own several. America has the highest rate of gun ownership of any country in the world, by a wide margin (see: international comparison).

How do mass shootings differ from other types of gun violence?

The FBI defines a "mass murder" as four or more murders during the same incident. This is an arbitrary number, but a dividing line is useful when asking whether there are differences between mass shootings and other kinds of gun violence. The most comprehensive public list of U.S. mass shootings is the spreadsheet of 62 incidents from 1982-2012, compiled by Mother Jones. Their list shows:

  • Mass shootings happen all over the country.
  • Killers used a semi-automatic handgun in 75% of incidents, which is about the same percentage as the 72% in overall gun violence.
  • Killers used an assault weapon in 40% of incidents. This is much higher than overall assault weapon use in crimes, estimated at less than 2%.
  • The guns were obtained legally in 79% of mass shootings.
  • Many of the shooters showed signs of mental illness, but in only two cases was there a prior diagnosis.
  • There were no cases where an armed civilian fired back.

2012 was the worst year in American history, in terms of total victims. A graph of yearly victims shows a slight upward trend. But the pattern is a lot less clear without the 2012 peak, and because yearly numbers vary so widely, it's likely that there will be many fewer victims next year.

Several criminologists deny that mass shootings are increasing. Although these incidents dominate headlines and conversation, it's important to remember that they account for only a small fraction of gun violence in the United States. For example, the spike of 72 deaths in 2012 includes only 0.8% of all firearm-related homicides in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available.) Many gun deaths, especially in large cities, never make the news. This means that the most effective gun violence reduction strategies -- in terms of lives saved -- might not target mass shootings at all.

What gun control laws currently exist?

There are two major federal laws that regulate firearm ownership and sales. The National Firearms Act of 1934 restricts civilians from owning automatic weapons, short-barreled shotguns, hand grenades, and other powerful arms. The Gun Control Act of 1968 focuses on commerce. It prohibits mail-order sales of weapons, and requires anyone in the business of selling guns to be federally licensed and keep permanent sales records. It also prohibits knowingly selling a gun to those with prior criminal records, minors, individuals with mental health problems, and a few other categories of people.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks. Background checks are not required for private gun sales (though, as mentioned above, it's still a crime to knowingly sell a gun to someone with a criminal record). To ensure privacy, Section 103(i) of the Act prevents the Federal government from keeping the names submitted for background checks, or using this information to create any sort of registry of gun owners.

From 1994 to 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban prohibited the sale and manufacture of semi-automatic weapons (in which each pull of the trigger fires one shot) with various military features such as large-capacity magazines and pistol grips. It was still legal to keep previously owned weapons. The law expired in 2004 due to a built-in "sunset" clause.

These federal laws set minimum standards, but many states have also passed various types of gun laws. These laws determine which weapons are legal to own, and also set requirements on sales, background checks, storage, open and concealed carrying permits, and sentencing of gun-related crimes.

(More: Gun Laws in the US, State by State, The Guardian, and Gun Control Legislation, Congressional Research Service)

What could be done to reduce gun violence?

The firearms debate usually revolves around "gun control" -- that is, laws that would make guns harder to buy, carry, or own. But this is not the only way of reducing gun violence. It is possible to address gun use instead of availability. For example, Project Exile moved all gun possession offenses in Richmond, Virginia, to federal courts instead of state courts, where minimum sentences are longer. Policies like these, which concern gun use, are sometimes said to operate on gun "demand," as opposed to gun control laws, which affect "supply."

Similarly, while the idea of new laws gets most of the attention, some projects have focused on enforcing existing laws more effectively, or changing policing strategies the way Boston's Operation Ceasefire did in the 1990s. In fact, launching community-based programs has proven to be one of the most effective strategies for reducing gun violence. (See: What has worked, below.)

There have also been programs based on other principles, such as public safety education and gun buy-back campaigns. The White House proposals (see below) address both gun access and gun use, and include both new laws and enhanced enforcement of existing laws.

(More: Aiming for Evidence-based Gun Policy, Phillip Cook and Jens Ludwig)

Would fewer guns result in less gun violence?

Suppose it were possible to reduce the number of guns in circulation, or make it harder for people to get a gun. Would gun violence go down?

Although countries that offer easier access to guns also have more gun violence, at least among developed nations, this doesn't necessarily mean that more guns cause more deaths. People may own more guns in dangerous places because they want to protect themselves. It's also possible that gun ownership is a deterrent to crime, because criminals must consider the possibility that their intended victim is armed.

Economist John Lott did extensive work on this question in the late 1990s, culminating in his 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime. He studied the effect of right-to-carry laws by examining violent crime rates before and after they were implemented in various states, up until 1992, and concluded that such laws decreased homicides by an average of 8%. Lott's data and methods have been extensively reviewed since then. A massive 2004 report by a 16-member panel of the National Research Council found that there was not enough evidence to say either way whether right-to-carry laws affected violence. In 2010, different researchers re-examined Lott's work, the NRC report, and additional data up through 2006, and reaffirmed that there is no evidence that right-to-carry laws reduce crime.

Meanwhile, other studies have suggested that reduced access to guns would result in less crime. These studies compared homicide rates with gun availability in various states and cities. The most comprehensive estimate is that a 10% reduction in U.S. households with guns would result in a 3% reduction in homicides. Internationally, the effect of reductions in gun ownership might be much larger. This might have to do with the large number of guns already available in the U.S.: Any reduction in gun violence hinges on whether gun control laws would actually make it prohibitively difficult to get a gun.

Does gun control result in fewer guns?

In principle, it's not necessary to keep guns away from everyone, just those who would misuse them. Background checks are promising because a high fraction of future killers already have a criminal record. In one study in Illinois, 71% of those convicted of homicide had a previous arrest, and 42% had a prior felony conviction.

Yet current federal gun regulation (see above) contains an enormous loophole: While businesses that deal in guns are required to keep records and run background checks, guns can be transferred between private citizens without any record. This makes straw purchases easy. In other words, these laws may generally make guns harder to come by, but those who really want them can still obtain them through private sales.

Also, although it's generally illegal to sell guns across state lines, in practice this is very common. There's abundant evidence that under the current system, guns flow easily between legal and illegal markets. Washington, D.C,. banned all handguns in 1976, and Chicago did the same in 1982. In neither case did the percentage of suicides using firearms -- considered a very good proxy for general gun availability -- fall significantly.

Similarly, Illinois had a background check requirement before 1994, so the local gun market was not affected by the passage of the Brady Act, but gun trace data shows that criminals simply switched from smuggling guns from out of state to buying them illegally in state.

How often are guns used in self-defense?

There are no comprehensive records kept of incidents where guns are used in self-defense, so the only way to know is to ask people. Data from the National Crime Victimization Survey suggest that a gun is used in self-defense about 60,000 to 120,000 times each year. Several other surveys confirm this estimate. By comparison, each year about a million violent crimes involve guns. This means guns are used to commit a crime about 10 times as often as they are used for self-defense.

A few surveys in the early 1990s suggested that there are millions gun self-defense incidents each year, but there are very good reasons to believe that these estimates were improperly calculated and these numbers are way off, more than 10 times too high. If the numbers really were this high, this would imply that pretty much every gunshot wound in America is the result of somebody protecting him or herself.

Even among the more accurate surveys, according to a panel of criminal court judges who reviewed survey respondents' stories, about half the time the gun use was "probably illegal," even assuming the gun itself had been purchased legally.

(More: Gun threats and self-defense gun use, Harvard Injury Control Research Center)

Won't criminals kill with other weapons if they don't have guns?

The crux of this question is whether most homicides are planned, or whether killers more often confront their victims with no clear intention. In the second case, adding a gun could result in a fatal shooting that would otherwise have been avoided.

The evidence that weapon does matter goes back decades. In 1968, Franklin Zimring examined cases of knife assaults versus gun assaults in Chicago. The gun attacks were five times more deadly. Moreover, the two sets of attacks were similar in all other dimensions: age, sex, race, whether the victim knew the assailant beforehand, and so forth. A few years later, he repeated his analysis, this time comparing small and large caliber guns. As expected, the victim was much more likely to die from larger caliber guns.

Although it is surely true that a determined killer cannot be stopped by the absence of a gun, this type of evidence indicates that many homicides are unplanned. The outcome depends, at least partially, on the weapon at hand. In that restricted sense, guns do kill people.

What has worked to reduce gun violence?

This is not an easy question to answer, because crime rates can decline for a wide range of reasons. For example, violent crime rates declined sharply all across the country in the mid-1990s, regardless of whether a given area had tightened its gun laws. So based on a naive interpretation of the numbers, any attempt at reducing gun violence in 1995 would have appeared successful by 1998. Then there is the problem of comparing different states or cities: Circumstances differ, and what works in Memphis may fail in Detroit.

Nonetheless, there are some plausible methods for isolating the different factors, using comparison groups or other controls. The most thorough summary is a 2008 meta-analysis where the authors reviewed every prior American gun violence reduction study, examining both the reported effectiveness and the strength of the statistical evidence. Here are some approaches that don't seem to work, at least not by themselves, or in the ways they've been tried so far:

  • Stiffer prison sentences for gun crimes.
  • Gun buy-backs: In a country with one gun per person, getting a few thousand guns off the street in each city may not mean very much.
  • Safe storage laws and public safety campaigns.

We don't really have good enough evidence to evaluate these strategies:

  • Background checks, such as the Brady Act requires.
  • Bans on specific weapons types, such as the expired 1994 assault weapons ban or the handgun bans in various cities.

These policies do actually seem to reduce gun violence, at least somewhat or in some cases:

  • More intensive probation strategies: increased contact with police, probation officers and social workers.
  • Changes in policing strategies, such increased patrols in hot spots.
  • Programs featuring cooperation between law enforcement, community leaders, and researchers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

There is no obvious solution here, and there's a huge amount we still don't know. But it's possible that combinations of these policies, or variations in a different context, might work better. For example, background checks would probably be more effective if they were also applied to private sales. Also, of course, this list does not include policies that have not yet been tried.

There are no feasible policies that would reduce the rate of gun violence in the United States to that of Western Europe. But we believe there are ways to make a substantial dent in the problem.

Are the White House proposals likely to be effective?

There is no way to know whether the recent White House proposals will be effective in reducing gun violence. How can there be, when it's so difficult to assess the actual policies that have already been tried, let alone vague plans? But the White House proposals do at least plausibly target several components of the gun violence problem.

Probably the most significant proposal is the idea of requiring background checks for gun sales between private individuals, not just from licensed dealers (with some exceptions, such as transfers within a family). Private sales are currently the main way guns move between legal and illegal owners. However, the White House has yet to specify how a private seller would perform such a check.

There is less evidence for the effectiveness of banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. During the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban, the use of assault weapons in crimes fell, but use of large-capacity magazines increased. This is thought to be largely due to the huge number of already-owned LCMs, which were exempt from the ban on manufacturing and sales. If the new law does not address the LCMs already in private hands, it may be decades before it has any real effect.

Removing legal restrictions that prevent the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies from tracking and researching gun violence is also a sensible idea, and follows a long history of calls from scientists (see: what don't we know).

How does the U.S. compare to other countries?

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of violent crime and homicide, per capita, of any developed country. According to 2008 figures compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. homicide rate for 2010 is 5.1 per 100,000 people. Only Estonia's is higher, at 6.3. The next most violent country is Finland, which has a homicide rate of 2.5, half that of the U.S. The remaining 28 developed countries are even lower, with an average of 1.1 homicides per 100,000 people.

But many less developed countries have much higher homicide rates -- for example Columbia (35.9), South Africa (36.8) and Sudan (24.2). This analysis uses the 2012 IMF list of developed countries.

The U.S. also has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world, by far. The best data is from the 2007 Small Arms Survey, which notes:

With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison.

U.S. gun violence has had several decades-long cycles over the past three centuries, but shows a long-term downward trend. Overall homicide rates were similar to Western Europe until the 1850s, but since then violence has declined more slowly in the U.S.

It's tempting to plot the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence across countries, but recent research suggests that gun violence is shaped by "socio-historical and cultural context," which varies regionally, meaning that it's not always possible to make direct comparisons. However, it's still reasonable to compare places with similar histories, and more guns still correlate with more homicides in Western nations. Meanwhile, in developing countries, cities with more guns have more homicides.

What don't we know yet?

A lot! We lack some of the most basic information we need to have a sensible gun policy debate, partially because researchers have been prevented by law from collecting it. The 2004 National Research Council report discussed above identified several key types of missing data: systematic reporting of individual gun incidents and injuries, gun ownership at the local level, and detailed information on the operation of firearms markets. We don't even have reliable data on the number of homicides in each county.

For such sensitive data sets, it would be important to preserve privacy both legally and technically. There have been recent advances in this area, such as anonymous registries. But the Centers for Disease Control, the main U.S. agency that tracks and studies American injuries and death, has been effectively prevented from studying gun violence, due to a law passed by Congress in 1996.

Similarly, anonymized hospital reporting systems are the main ways we know about many other types of injuries, but the Affordable Care Act prevents doctors from gathering information about their patients' gun use. A 2011 law restricts gun violence research at the National Institutes of Health. The legal language prevents these agencies from using any money "to advocate or promote gun control."

This may not technically rule out basic research, but scientists say it has made the issue so sensitive that key funding agencies will not support their work. They point to grant data as evidence of an effective ban. The White House has recently proposed lifting these research restrictions (see above)

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