The NRA is smaller than you’d think – so why does it wield such influence?

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Why is the National Rifle Association so powerful?  asks The Guardian in an in-depth analysis of the political role of the NRA in resisting efforts to reduce gun violence.  Here’s a clue: it’s not (just) about the money.  The vast majority of Americans support gun control, and yet Congress has failed to toughen laws even in the wake of a series of mass shootings. With the NRA pouring money into political races at record levels it is an easy argument to make that the gun lobby has bought Washington – but that fails to paint a full picture… “The NRA has money that it uses to help its favored candidates get elected. But the real source of its power, I believe, comes from voters,” said Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.  By choosing its battles wisely, the NRA has shown an ability to swing primary elections in favor of pro-gun candidates, Winkler said. “That’s the real source of their strength,” he said. That and its use of a relatively small number of highly motivated people to push an agenda that appears out of step with the general population, which, according to recent polling, is in favor of stricter gun laws.

‘Nothing can be done until everything is done': the use of complexity arguments by food, beverage, alcohol and gambling industries

Corporations use a range of strategies to dispute their role in causing public health harms and to limit the scope of effective public health interventions.  This study analyzed alcohol, food, soda and gambling industry documents and websites and minutes of reports of relevant health select committees, using standard document analysis methods.  Two main framings were identified: (i) these industries argue that aetiology is complex, so individual products cannot be blamed; and (ii) they argue that population health measures are ‘too simple’ to address complex public health problems. However, in this second framing, there are inherent contradictions in how industry used ‘complexity’, as their alternative solutions are generally not, in themselves, complex.  Corporate arguments and language may reflect the existence of a cross-industry ‘playbook’, whose use results in the undermining of effective public health policies – in particular the undermining of effective regulation of profitable industry activities that are harmful to the public’s health.

Petticrew M, Katikireddi SV, Knai C, Cassidy R, Maani Hessari N, Thomas J, Weishaar H. ‘Nothing can be done until everything is done': the use of complexity arguments by food, beverage, alcohol and gambling industries. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(11):1078-1083.

Voices from Newtown: Doctors, Lawyers and Gun Makers

Excerpts from Amici Curiae Briefs filed in Newtown parents vs. Bushmaster Firearms

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Advertisement by Bushmaster, the company that made the weapon Adam Lanza used in Newtown, Connecticut. Appeared in Huffington Post on Dec. 17, 2012. Credit.

A lawyer for families who lost loved ones in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting told Connecticut’s highest court this week, reports Reuters,  that Remington Outdoor Co, the maker of the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle,  should be held responsible because its military-themed marketing was designed to appeal to young men like killer Adam Lanza. “They knew they were hitting their mark and Lanza was responding to their marketing,” said lawyer Joshua Koskoff. Lanza, 20, used a Remington AR-15 Bushmaster rifle, a semi-automatic civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-16, to kill 20 school children between the ages of 6 and 7, as well as six adult staff members, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.   To take CHW readers behind the headlines, we excerpt from three of the requests to appear as amicus curiae that were submitted to the Connecticut Supreme Court earlier this year.

From request to appear as amici curiae by physicians Katie Bakes M.D., William Begg M.D., Barbara Blok M.D., Kathleen Clem M.D., Christopher Colwell M.D., Marie Crandall M.D., Michael Hirsh M.D., Stacy Reynolds M.D., Jeffrey Sankoff M.D., and Comilla Sasson M.D.

Amici curiae are emergency physicians and trauma surgeons. Many have been responsible for the treatment of patients who have been shot or affected by the AR-15 or similar military assault weapons, including at Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, and Columbine.  Their brief elaborates on the reasons why the trial court erred in failing to recognize a Connecticut common law cause of action for negligent entrustment against the makers and sellers of the intrinsically dangerous AR-15 when plaintiffs alleged defendants knew or should have known that entrusting the AR-15 to civilians created an unreasonable risk of harm to the public. The trial court’s holding, if upheld, may have very significant consequences.

The right to be free from the violence and carnage of military weapons, and from the fear of such carnage, is central to our society and our way of life. Connecticut recognized this, as a matter of public policy, when it enacted its semiautomatic assault weapons ban. But this right will be continually threatened if the accountability that a common law cause of action provides is not allowed.

From the request to appear as amici curiae by Trinity Church Wall Street, Attorneys Howard Zelbo, Evan Davis and Elizabeth Vicens of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.

The operative complaint alleges that each of the defendants was required to take the “most careful precautions” in the conduct of their business of manufacturing, distributing, and selling firearms to consumers. The complaint details the many respects in which the Bushmaster AR-15 is an especially dangerous firearm. It is Trinity’s position that the AR-15 is so dangerous that it should not be sold in the civilian market….

The question thus presented — whether the defendants exercised due care in the context of marketing an especially dangerous weapon — is a question for the finder of fact, here the jury. Notably, knowledge of the absence of precautions need not be actual, it may be constructive, i.e., what the defendants should have known in the exercise of due care. Equally significant, the question of precisely what precautions due care mandates be taken so that an especially dangerous weapon does not fall into incompetent hands also is a question for the jury to decide. In that regard, it is fundamental to the law of torts that the greater the magnitude of the potential harm, the greater the duty of care… Mass slaughter unquestionably ranks at the top of the magnitude of harm spectrum.

In sum, there is a basic question of negligence in this case, and “the trier of fact is, in [Connecticut], given a wide latitude in drawing the inference of negligence.” Unless the Court is willing to hold as a matter of law that sellers of weapons that deliver high-speed death have no duty to take any reasonable precautions to safeguard against those weapons falling into the hands of incompetent and even criminal users, then this case presents the basic, unremarkable jury question of just what due care required.

From the amicus curiae brief of National Shooting Sports Foundation in Support of Defendants-Appellees (Bushmaster Firearms LLC)

These lawsuits have most typically assigned blame to firearm industry members for damages caused when criminals misuse lawfully sold, non-defective firearms. The burden of litigating these lawsuits poses a threat to the hunting and shooting sports industry and to the constitutionally-protected right of access to firearms by law-abiding citizens… The basic tort alleged in this case is negligent entrustment. Contrary to Plaintiffs’ claims, this tort is not predicated on unbounded foreseeability such that the manufacturer of a lawful product may be subject to liability whenever that product goes through a daisy chain of exchanges and ends up in the hands of someone who uses it in a violent and unlawful manner. Rather, as this brief shows, the tort is properly limited to situations in which the person or entity entrusting a product to another actually knows or has reason to know that a specific recipient is likely to use the product in an unlawful or dangerous manner… Plaintiffs’ argument is, at bottom, an effort to have a firearm manufacturer internalize the costs of gun violence because the mother of the perpetrator of a mass shooting happened to lawfully purchase that company’s particular firearm product. This contravenes both well-reasoned tort law and an express purpose of the PLCAA to “prohibit causes of action against manufacturers . . . for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.”

Ultra-processed food: a useful concept for public health?

A recent commentary in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition offered a “critical appraisal” of NOVA as a system of classifying foods. NOVA (a name not an acronym) classifies all foods and food products into four clearly distinct groups: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods and ultra-processed food and drink products. The authors of the AJCN commentary challenge many of the basic arguments of using the NOVA food classification system to examine the link between food and health.

In a response to this commentary in Public Health Nutrition, Carlos Monteiro and other developers of the NOVA system, correct inaccurate statements made about NOVA in the ‘appraisal,’ rebut points raised, and discuss the larger issue of scientific responsibility for publishing opposing views on controversial topics.  They conclude, “the NOVA classification system challenges a much older and dominant system of classifying foods based on nutrient composition. Of course, it should be appraised. But scientific advances come from the exchange of well-reasoned and supported arguments, and from balanced debate. We invite further discourse on the topic of ultra-processed foods, for the sake of science and public health. We also respectfully suggest that all journals take on the responsibility of encouraging the informed and constructive exchange of ideas in controversial areas.”

M.T.A. Will Ban Alcohol Advertising on New York City Buses and Subways

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An ad for beer on the New York City subway

Last month, reported The New York Times, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted to ban advertising of alcoholic beverages on New York City buses, subway cars and stations, contending that the social benefits of deterring underage drinking outweighed the loss of revenue.  After years of pressure from grass-roots organizations, the board voted unanimously in favor of the ban, which will go into effect in January.  Advocates have long said that alcohol advertising is a public health issue and that the proliferation of such advertising increases the likelihood of underage drinking.  “Alcohol advertisements on the M.T.A. are disproportionally targeting communities of color, lower-income communities and also young people,” said Jazmin Rivera, a spokeswoman for Building Alcohol Ad-Free Transit.

In a letter to the editor responding to the article, David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote “subways are the way many New York City young people get to school every day. The M.T.A.’s decision will help reduce their exposure to alcohol advertising, and is a significant step in the right direction.”

Ireland’s Public Health Bill: crucial to reduce alcohol harm

Ireland has become the fourth heaviest drinking nation in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of quantity of alcohol consumed, and ranked joint third for binge drinking in an analysis of 194 nations by WHO, according to a new report in Lancet. Irish adults consume on average 11·5 L of pure alcohol per person every year, an increase of more than 100% compared with 60 years ago. Most alcohol in Ireland is now consumed at home and alcohol retailing off licenses have increased by five-fold since 1990.

Corporations, Conflicts of Interest and Protecting Public Health

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How do the business and political practices of corporations conflict with protecting public health?  In a talk last week sponsored by the Mexican civil society group El Poder del Consumidor, Corporation and Health Watch founder Nicholas Freudenberg described three types of conflicts of interest:  scientific, policy and ideological.  In each of these domains, the private—or business –interests of corporations, maximizing profits, market share and return on investment, conflict with the public interest of preventing harm and reducing health inequities.

Read the talk in English here.  A Spanish language version, Corporaciones compran partidos y miman gobiernos para exprimir a la gente, afirma catedrático, was published in the Mexican online newspaper Sinembargo and is available here.

Tracking the Effects of Corporate Practices on Health