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Brainstorm Health: Armed Guards in Schools, Antidepressants Study, Health Care Demonstration Projects

In the wake of the mass shooting last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we have heard a familiar refrain from those steadfastly opposing any kind of gun reform: To stop armed students, put armed guards—or teachers “adept at firearms,” as President Trump proposed—in schools.

As the argument goes, we put guards with guns in banks to stop thieves, so why not use that same strategy to protect our children? After all, we cherish these young lives far more than we do our bank deposits, don’t we?

There is a gut appeal to such an argument to be sure—and if only the facts agreed with it, it might be persuasive.

But they don’t. Indeed, the facts (and by “facts,” I mean the real facts) counter this line of reasoning in three clear-cut ways.

First off—and here’s a shocker—banks hardly use armed guards any more. Despite virtually every bank robbery movie you’ve ever seen, most banks and bank branches are guardless nearly all of the time. We can see that from looking at one key subset of banks—um…those that have been robbed.

In 2016, there were 3,733 commercial bank robberies across the U.S, according to the FBI’s own bank crime statistics. (There were also an additional 400-plus robberies at credit unions, S&Ls, and mutual savings banks.) Lest you think this subset is a carve-out of just the wimpy banks, or the careless banks, or the robbery-prone banks—and that’s why they were marked…it isn’t. Rather, this huge sample is fairly representative of the U.S. commercial bank population on the whole—which totaled under 4,900 in the latest quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

So what can we learn from these incidents? Start with this: In only 224 of them did the “victim institution” even have a policy of hiring security guards and in just 177 of the cases was a guard actually on duty at the time of crime (see the bottom of page 2 in the FBI stats).

Why? Well, that brings up the second surprise: The presence of armed guards tends to dramatically increase the likelihood of violence and injury during a robbery, as the Center for Investigative Reporting found when it analyzed detailed FBI crime incident reports from 2007 to 2011—which the group got through a Freedom of Information Act request. In robberies where there were no guards present, there were violent events (such as the firing of a weapon or injury of a customer or employee) in 4% of cases. When an armed guard was on duty, that rate more than tripled, to 12.8%.

So what’s surprise No. 3? Armed guards aren’t nearly the kind of deterrent that many think they are. For evidence, consider the most armed and armored kind of bank repository there is: the armored car. These same FBI statistics paint a fairly frightening picture here too. In 2016, no fewer than 36 of these tank-like vehicles were robbed at gunpoint (see pages 9 and 10).

In these assaults, three people were killed: Two of them, sadly, were guards.

We can’t afford those kinds of odds at our schools.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

The next activity tracker: Glasses? VSP Global, the vision services giant, announced Thursday that it’s launching a new “smart glass” product called Level which can track steps, calories burned, distance, and total activity time through a device located in the left temple of the frame. The company’s argument for why glasses are superior to wrist bands for measuring activity? People tend not to forget their glasses whereas a wristband may be marooned on a bedside stand.

INDICATIONS

Massive new study says (some) antidepressants really work. A large new meta-analysis of antidepressants suggests that they do actually work, at least when compared with placebo, in treating depression. “Antidepressants are routinely used worldwide yet there remains considerable debate about their effectiveness and tolerability,” said John Ioannidis of Stanford University, one of the researchers, in a statement. But the study also suggested that some antidepressants were more effective than others; several older antidepressants were found to be more effectivee than more modern ones, but the modern treatments (such as Prozac) were better tolerated by patients. (Reuters)

Gilead pushes forward in the next-gen cancer drug space. Gilead, fresh from its CAR-T cancer drug victory last year, has struck a deal with gene-editing specialist Sangamo that could be worth up to $3 billion (with $150 million in upfront cash). Gilead subsidiary Kite Pharma (which the biotech giant scooped up ahead of the FDA’s approval for Yescarta, a treatment that reengineers patients’ immune cells to fight cancer) will have access to Sangamo’s platform technology, which could be used to create various types of cancer cell therapies. Importantly, the deal also means that Gilead/Kite rival Novartis (which had its own CAR-T drug approved ahead of Yescarta) and other CAR-T companies won’t be able to get in on Sangamo’s platform. Sangamo stock rose 18% on the news Thursday.

THE BIG PICTURE

When “demonstration” projects don’t demonstrate anything. U.S. states are allowed to pursue “demonstration” projects to see whether or not policy changes can help make Medicaid, the program that serves tens of millions of low-income and disabled Americans, better and more efficient. Theoretically, these are meant to be local policy experiments, and the data gleaned from them should ostensibly inform public debate on health policy. There’s just one problem: States and the federal government don’t have much way to know what works and what doesn’t because the data isn’t being collected and evaluated, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. “About one-third of Medicaid’s spending goes toward demonstrations, which allow states to test new approaches to delivering Medicaid services. Do they save money? Improve care?,” wrote the GAO. “The short answer is that states and the federal government don’t fully know. We found that the federal government did not require complete and timely evaluations from the states, so conclusive results were not available. Moreover, the federal government wasn’t making its evaluation results public—missing opportunities to inform federal and state Medicaid policy discussions.” (GAO)

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Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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