Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve: 10 Reasons to Avoid Getting Drunk This Year

This sign exists because of drunk people

#1: You are not smarter when you are drunk. In fact, you are significantly dumber. You aren't fooling anyone.

#2: You are also not funny when you are drunk. Trust me. Not funny. At all.

#3: You are less attractive when you are drunk. I give you exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

#4: If you are drunk, you are probably around a lot of other drunk people. One of them will probably want to kick your ass at some point in the evening.

#5: Your ability to have sex is significantly hindered by excessive amounts of alcohol.

#6: Drunken phone calls. Drunken texting. Drunken Facebooking. Drunken Twittering.

#7: Do you really want to spend the first day of the new year hung over?

#8: You could accidentally kill yourself.

#9: You could accidentally kill someone else.

#10: You are significantly more likely to need the services of a forensic psychologist (and attorney) if you get drunk tonight.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year! --Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

School Shootings: What Are The Odds, Part II

Although the chances of a school shooting happening at your
child's school next year is very small, the chances of a school
shooting happening somewhere in the US is very high.
Yesterday, I posted on the odds of a school shooting happening at a particular US school in 2013. Today, I thought I would report on the odds of a school shooting happening anywhere in the US in 2013.

In the last 13 years, there have only been two years with absolutely no school shooting incidents. Those years were 2004 and 2009. In every other year, there was at least one school shooting incident somewhere in the US. So, taking this data, one might argue the odds of a school shooting incident taking place in the US is 2:13, or 1:6.5.

That translates to an 85% chance of at least one school shooting taking place somewhere in the US in 2013.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Friday, December 28, 2012

School Shootings: What Are The Odds?

What can data tell us about the prevalence of school shooting incidents in the United States, and can we use that information to predict the likelihood of a school shooting taking place at your child's school next year?

In order to attempt an answer to that question, let's focus on 2012 first. This year, there have been four shootings at K-12 schools (note: I had to ignore two shootings on US college campuses to come up with this number). Here are the incidents:

1. February 10, 2012: A student shot and killed himself in front of 70 classmates at a public high school in Walpole, New Hampshire.

2. February 12, 2012: A former student killed three students and injured six in a shooting at a public high school in Chadron, Ohio.

3. March 6, 2012: A disgruntled former teacher shot and killed the headmistress of a private religious high school in Jacksonville, Florida.

4. December 14, 2012: 27 people, including the shooter, were killed in a Newtown, Connecticut public elementary school. The shooter also killed one other person at his home prior to going to the school.

But really, how common are school shootings in the United States? Four seems like an excessive number. After culling through the incidents from the last thirteen years, here are the number of US school shootings per year (data from

2000: 4
2001: 5
2002: 2
2003: 3
2004: 0
2005: 2
2006: 4
2007: 2
2008: 3
2009: 0
2010: 1
2011: 2
2012: 4

It appears that 2012 is on the high end, although it is not completely atypical. Taking a strict average over the last thirteen years, the US experiences 2.46 school shootings per year.

It is also interesting to note that these shootings have taken place all over the country and in all regions. There does not seem to be a difference between socioeconomic status or rural/urban setting. However, most school shootings take place at high schools. Of the 32 US school shootings from 2000 through 2012, 23 of them took place in a high school. Only three took place in an elementary school. Five took place in a middle school. One took place in a one-room Amish K-12 schoolhouse.

Now that we have an understanding of the number of school shootings in a given year, we need to know how many schools there are. The best estimate from the Center for Education Reform is that there are about 132,656 K-12 schools, both public and private, in the United States. There are about 99,000 public schools, but I am including private schools in my calculation because a number of the school shootings over the last 13 years took place at private religious schools.

So, what are the odds that a school shooting will occur in your child's school in 2013? If you take the average number of school shootings per year and compare it to the number of schools in the US, you get 2.46:132,656. Reducing that down reveals the following statistic:

The chances of any particular K-12 school in the United States experiencing a shooting incident in any given year is approximately 1 in 53,925.

Breaking the numbers down a little further reveals the following statistics:

The chances of a school shooting taking place in a US high school in any given year: 1 in 21,000.

The chances of a school shooting taking place in a US elementary or middle school in any given year: 1 in 141,463(data for the number of elementary and middle schools is not separated by agencies keeping track of such numbers)

Please note, this is not a scientific study. I relied on publicly available numbers and a probability statistic calculation that is simple enough to be taught to middle school students. It is obviously much more complicated than I have presented it to be--there are a number of factors that would need to be examined prior to claiming that 1 in 53,925 is wholly accurate. And, not every shooting incident is as horrendous as the one in Newtown, Connecticut. In some shootings, only the shooter died. In other incidents, no one was killed. But, in each incident, at least one gun was fired in a school.

Also keep in mind, your chances of dying in a car crash in 2013 is approximately 1 in 7775, which is about the same as your chances of dying due to any type of gun violence in the next year.

The question we now need to ask ourselves is what is an acceptable level of risk? Are we willing to ride in cars? Are we willing to keep guns around? Are we willing to send our kids to school?

As far as the school shooting question goes, there is extremely little chance your child's school will experience a school shooting incident in 2013. But, we are virtually guaranteed to have a few school shootings somewhere in the US in the next year. It probably won't happen to us. It probably won't happen in our city. It probably won't even happen in our state.

But, it will happen to someone. It seems like we should do something about that, don't you think?

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Good Words To Keep In Mind

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Common Characteristics Among Mass Shooters: Can We Predict Future Violence?

Following is a story from Alan Gionet (CBS 4 News, Denver) about common characteristics among mass shooters and predicting violence. I am interviewed about halfway through the clip:

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Anxiety In Young Children: Reactions to The Tragedy in Connecticut

I am on the School Accountability Committee at my childrens' elementary school (ECE-3), and I wrote the following letter to go out to parents regarding the Sandy Hook school shooting. As a psychologist, I thought it might help reassure parents that their kids are going to be okay. Keep in mind, this is information pertaining to kids who are ages 3 through 9. Here is the letter:

Hello all,

My name is Max Wachtel. I am a XXXXXX parent with children in XXXXXX and XXXXXX. I am also a member of the School Accountability Committee. I am a psychologist and professor in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.

In the wake of the horrible tragedy that befell Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown, Connecticut, I would like to share a few tips:

11. First, do not allow your young children to watch the news right now. If you decide they need to know about the shooting, talk to them about it yourself, but turn off the news when they are around. They will see images and hear stories that will haunt them.

22. If your children ask you about the shooting, don’t shy away from the conversation. Ask them what they have heard, correct any misconceptions they have, and tell them the (limited) truth.

33. If you have this conversation with your kids, be prepared to discuss death, religion, guns, good versus evil, the existence of a higher power, and the afterlife. Kids have the same big, existential questions we adults have.

Also, your children may be more stressed than usual for the next week or two. Here is some information that may be helpful for you to have:

11. The vast majority of humans, including children, are highly resilient. Your kids are strong and have the capability to make it through some horrendous times without being scarred by them. So, if your kids are struggling right now, try not to worry too much about it. They will get better.

22. Stress comes out in children in different ways. You might see your children crying or throwing more temper tantrums. You might see them revert to previous stages of development (e.g. thumb sucking, bed wetting, baby talk, etc.). You might see more anger and aggression in your children as well.

33. If you notice any of the above-mentioned changes in behavior (emphasis: changes in behavior), it is likely your child is stressed out. Talk to your child about his or her emotions and let him or her know you care. Firmly address any dangerous behavioral issues, but do so sympathetically. Remember, your kid is going to go back to normal—there is no need to get overly frustrated about temporary issues.

44. If any of these problems last more than about two weeks, there is a chance something bigger than stress over the shooting is occurring. At that point, it might be important to schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to discuss the recent but lasting behavioral changes you have noticed.

55. In more severe reactions, you will see your child frightened to go to school. Refusing to get out of bed in the morning, crying at the drop-off, clinging to the parent, panicking when the parent leaves—if your child develops these types of behaviors, you might want to address it sooner rather than later.

What can you do to reduce your child’s anxiety?

61. Play with them. Spending time with your children sends a message of compassion and reassurance. They learn you are going to be there for them. Kids also work out some of their emotional difficulties through play—by observing your kids at play, you can determine how they are feeling.

22. Get them some exercise. You know how you feel better when you exercise? Kids do too. Figure out a way to have them run around a bit every day, even during the cold winter months.

33. Do some good deeds with your kids. Donate money or time to local charities (for kids, time is better than money). Teaching your kids about helping others helps them feel better about themselves.

44. Like I mentioned before, limit their exposure to the news right now. And, if you feel the need to talk about the tragedy, wait until your children aren’t around. Despite what you think, your children listen attentively to everything you say!

I hope this helps. Thanks—Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Interview with Fox 31 News On The Newtown Tragedy

Here is a video of my interview with KDVR Fox 31 News last night about the horrible tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday. I come in around the half-way point to talk about characteristics of individuals who commit this type of crime. One aspect left out of what is otherwise a good piece of journalism: easy access to guns.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mass Shootings & Gun Control: An Intelligent Argument From A Pro-Gun Rights Individual

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that
disagreement over e-mail can still remain civil.
After reading my post on the Clackamas shooting and gun control, a Twitter follower of mine responded to me via e-mail. His name is Vitaly Kroychik, and he lives in Aurora, Colorado. He felt it was important to present me with his opinion on the issue of gun control.

Although I have never met Vitaly, he struck me as a caring, intelligent individual who is passionate about his beliefs. At the same time, his e-mail response was respectful. It was a breath of fresh air to discover that people can have different opinions and can discuss them (electronically) without having the discussion immediately break down into name calling and hysterics.

Vitaly made some good points, and I discovered that he and I actually agree on some fundamental issues regarding gun control--namely that merely banning guns will do no good and that education into gun safety is extremely important.

I asked him if he would be willing to let me post his e-mail, and he graciously agreed. Here it is, unedited (with the exception of removing some contact information) and in its entirety. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Vitaly.


Hello there!

I wanted to comment on the gun control tweet and blog article you had and offer up my thoughts, I'm sure you can appreciate me not clogging your timeline with my long-winded opinion.

First and foremost I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Vitaly Kroychik and I live in Aurora, Colorado and was born in Moscow, Russia. I went to school and graduated with a bachelors of science in Health promotion.

My first experience with weapons came when I was 6. My older brother and I were standing outside of our apartment building in Russia playing and a man, obviously drunk, came up to us asking for cigarettes. When the 13 year old and 6 year old stated we didn't have any, he showed us a revolver and said "that is that" and walked away. Our building was adjacent to a police station and we ran over there and told the police, they didn't listen and "shooed" us away.

The next one I had was in the US Army at fort benning, GA when I was learning how to shoot, carry, assemble, disassemble, clean, and do anything else imaginable with an m16, m4 and several other weapons.

Coming out of the military, I have shot recreationally and am planning on obtaining my concealed carry weapons license. I currently own a shotgun and a rifle. 

I am not a republican, democrat, independent, communist, NRA member or any other affiliation of any other extreme thinking party.

To address some of your points: #2 - it is true that guns don't usually go off by themselves. Unless there is a malfunction of an extreme sort (loose spring, retaining pin, etc) guns have a tendency of going off from a user, whether 2 years old, or 102 years old. Having had several major shootings lately, it is certainly a natural thing to pull the "gun control" card.

There is currently an assault weapons ban in this country, meaning I cannot just go out and buy ridiculous weapons and shoot them in our suburban back yards. The weapons that were used in the Aurora and now the Portland incidents were the civilian version of the m16, the Ar15. It is a semi automatic weapon. Many don't know what time means.

While an ak47 can fire it's entire magazine if you pull and hold the trigger once. The m16 (model A2,3,4) have a 3 round burst option, and a semi automatic option. Semi automatic means the bullet fires, the bolt slides back, comes forward and catches and chambers another round WITHOUT firing it. For every round fired, there is 1 trigger pull. It is no different than a hand gun, except it has a longer barrel and is designed to be more of a long distance weapon (50-300 yards). It is also important to point out that the aurora shooter bought his legally, and the Oregon shooter stole it. 

Points 4, 5: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, etc are (or were in the cases of weed and booze) illegal and all are easily attainable within 24hours in most cases to a wide array of people. I knew several kids who owned guns in high school, and marijuana can be found basically on the streets. Making something illegal will not fix the problem at all. 

You note the study by UT, if you look up the states which have least gun control and most, they are pretty close together. Vermont (which currently only has the only no-license concealed carry law) is number one for least gun related crimes per capita, NY is #3 surprisingly, and has a very tough gun laws.

Doesn't make sense right? 

Here is another fact taken from DOJ, bureau of justice website: 
  • According to the 1997 Survey of State Prison Inmates, among those possessing a gun, the source of the gun was from -
    • a flea market or gun show for fewer than 2%
    • a retail store or pawnshop for about 12%
    • family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source for 80%
My point here is this: it doesn't matter what kind of laws we put in place, we will not be able to stop those who have an agenda to murder and to kill. 

While I think a gun ban may reduce the number of domestic control instances, it may hinder those who protect themselves and their families and their households.

My idea is education. I had DARE when I was in elementary school and learned about drugs and alcohol and tobacco, but gun education is non-existent. Let's educate kids on the laws and what to do when they see a weapon, let's educate teens that gun violence is terrible, just like they showed us videos of a 38 year old lady who looked 70 due to meth use.

This may not work right away, but it a step in the right direction. We do not need government dictating that we are not responsible with our weapons, because it is not responsible with it's weapons and it's money either and can't lead from the front.

These are just my two cents. 


Thanks again, Vitaly. And, thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Clackamas Shooting: Can We Talk About Gun Control Yet?

My heart goes out to everyone who was at the Clackamas Town Center yesterday, the site of the most recent mass shooting in the United States. Two people were killed, one was physically wounded, and thousands will have lifelong emotional scars. It was only a few months ago that we in Colorado went through something similar--I know how you feel.

Is it too soon after this latest tragedy to talk about gun control? Gun lobbyists would say it is, I am sure. But when can we get a break from gun violence long enough to actually have the discussion?

Here are a few anti-gun control arguments, and my take on them:

1. Guns don't kill people, people do. Technically, this is true. Except when a gun accidentally fires and kills someone, like it did last week: Seven Year-Old Accidentally Killed By Gun

2. Guns don't kill people, people do, Take II. I suppose there is some merit to this claim. Responsible gun owners don't kill people (except on accident, see #1 above). I would change this slogan to the following: Guns don't kill people, people with guns kill people. Are we really to believe the Aurora Theater Shooter and the Clackamas Shooter would have killed as many people as they did if they had only been armed with knives? A few weeks after the shooting in Colorado, a man threatened to kill a bunch of people in Times Square with a knife. He ran around like a lunatic and the police shot and killed him. The story is here. You may not remember hearing about it, because he did not kill anyone.

3. If someone wants to kill someone else, he/she will find a way to do it, regardless of whether or not there is a gun available. This theory has recently made its way into the news about Jovan Belcher. He could have stabbed his girlfriend. He could have strangled her. He could have tied lead weights to her feet, driven to New York City, and thrown her in the East River. It is true--he could have done something else to kill her. But, what numerous studies related to guns and domestic violence have shown is that a domestic abuser is four to five times more likely to kill his partner if a gun is around. Chances are good that Mr. Belcher would have just beaten the crap out of his girlfriend and would be sitting in jail right now if he hadn't had a gun available.

4. If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns. Except for the police.

5. If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns, Take II. An offshoot to this argument is that gun ownership is a deterrent to crime. But, researchers from the University of Texas (yes, the University of Texas) found in 2011 that this is absolutely false. They found no support for the idea that legal gun ownership deters gun violence.

6. Gun ownership is a Second Amendment Right. I'm no Constitutional scholar, but I believe the Federal Government has placed reasonable restrictions on certain types of arms--I can't just go out and buy an automatic weapon, or a tank, or a fighter jet. So, why can't there be reasonable restrictions on assault rifles that have no other purpose than to kill living things quickly, accurately, and from a distance?

7. If certain types of guns are banned, they don't just disappear. This is true. I am not sure how to get around this one.

8. There are already myriad gun laws that perpetrators of gun violence break. Why do we need more laws? That won't keep anyone safer. This is also true. Other than scrapping all previous gun laws and starting over, I am not sure how to get around this one, either.

9. Why are we trying to find blame in guns? Let's just blame the terrible people who committed these crimes. People who commit heinous crimes need to be held accountable for those crimes. If someone murders someone else, it is no one's fault but the murderer. Absolutely. It makes no sense to excuse dangerous, illegal behavior by saying, "It wasn't his fault. It was the gun's fault."

But, what I do know is that if the Aurora Theater Shooter had not had a gun, twelve people would be alive today. If Jovan Belcher had not had a gun, his girlfriend would be alive today. If the Clackamas Shooter had not had a gun, thousands of Portlanders and Oregonians would not be in mourning today.

I don't know what the solution is, but isn't it worth starting the discussion? Let's at least be honest with ourselves--guns have the potential to take a bad situation and turn it deadly.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Interview with Fox 31 Denver

Here is a news clip from my November 14, 2012 interview with Fox 31 Denver News. I am discussing the unusual nature of several recent crimes in the Denver Metro Area:

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Friday, December 7, 2012

No Guns If You Use Drugs: But What About Marijuana?

I hope there are no guns in that van, because
I'm willing to bet they have some weed.
Living in Colorado, it is hard to avoid conversations and news stories about marijuana right now. For those of you who have been living under a rock, there was an election about a month ago. In addition to voting for the President of the United States, citizens in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado voted on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. All three states had already legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

Although it did not pass in Oregon, Washingtonians and Coloradoans voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational cannabis. In the month that has followed, there has been a lot of discussion about what the Federal Government will do in these two states. Marijuana continues to be classified as a controlled substance under Federal Law. So, even though it is legal to smoke it by state law, the Justice Department may still be able to prosecute users, sellers, and growers.

But, even with all of the discussion, there is one particular aspect of this legalization dilemma that receives little attention: Guns.

Under Federal Law, it is illegal to possess a gun or ammunition if you are a drug user (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3)). Specifically, anyone who is "an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance" is breaking Federal Law by possessing a gun or bullets. No handguns. No hunting rifles. Nothing.

Does this mean marijuana users in Washington and Colorado will be breaking both Federal drug laws and Federal gun laws? From a non-lawerly reading of the law, it seems so. It remains to be seen what the Justice Department will do about this issue. In the meantime, it would make me very nervous...paranoid even...if I were a marijuana user and gun owner.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Murder-Suicide: What Caused Jovan Belcher To Do What He Did?

Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher
Everyone is grasping for answers after this Saturday's horribly tragedy. Jovan Belcher, professional football player, shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their home. He then drove to the football stadium and shot and killed himself in front of his coach and general manager.

What caused Mr. Belcher to do such a thing? A quick internet search revealed the following list of causes for this murder-suicide:

1. Guns (Bob Costas, among others)
2. Not guns (Fox News)
3. The violent culture of football (
4. The fans insisting on violence in football (
5. Traumatic brain injury (
6. The "strained" relationship between Mr. Belcher and Ms. Perkins (lots of news agencies)

Here is what most everyone is ignoring:

1. This incident isn't really all that shocking

Yes, murder-suicide is relatively rare, and it always makes headlines when someone in the public eye is involved. Very few of you who are reading this post probably know that a murder-suicide occurred on a college campus in Casper, Wyoming several days prior to Mr. Belcher's act.

Even though murder-suicide is rare, incidents of domestic violence are not. According to the National Institute of Justice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately one in four women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. About 1.3 million women are victims of intimate partner abuse every year in the United States. About 20% of non-fatal violent crime against women is domestic violence. Further, about one-third of female homicides are committed by their male intimate partner.

In about 75% of domestic violence cases that end in homicide, the man has abused the woman prior to the killing (this includes cases where the man kills the woman and cases where the woman kills the man).

Finally, researchers in 2003 discovered domestic violence ending in homicide is five times more likely when the abuser has access to a gun. In fact, the Violence Policy Center states that almost 66% of women who are killed by a gun are killed by their male domestic partner.

So, what is to blame for the deaths of Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins? We can blame guns, we can blame brain injury, we can blame the rabid fans. We can complain that the NFL encourages violence in men who are prone to mental instability. All of these so-called causes may have contributed to their deaths. None may have contributed. We don't fully know.

What we do know is there was nothing particularly special about this murder-suicide, except that it happened on the national stage. And that is a very, very sad thought.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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