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Shawn Vestal (courtesy

Columnist Shawn Vestal of the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review is horrified by the idea that the natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right to own and carry the weapon of your choice is soon going to apply (in a rather limited fashion) to college and university campuses in Idaho. Furthermore, he seems to believe that if he piles up enough distortions, twisted and irrelevant facts and outright lies, he will get people to agree with him; at least that is what I assume he’s doing with the piles of distortions, twisted and irrelevant facts and outright lies he presents in Statistics are poor ammo in Idaho debate about guns.

He starts out:

Idaho’s legislators and governor should – but most probably will not – pay attention to a new batch of statistics about gun safety in Washington.

Unfortunately this is as specific as Shawn gets about his “source” which makes it hard to either agree or disagree, but I will do my best.

As accidental gun injuries rise, the most common age of those who unintentionally hurt or kill themselves or others is 22.

Okay, let’s look at that claim: Are such injuries in fact on the rise? According to the CDC’s WISQARS Non-Fatal Injury data:


Yes, but only if you limit your sample to the last few years, and the rate still hasn’t reached what it was in 2001. Oh, wait, these are raw numbers, not rates; what do the rates of injury per 100,000 look like?


Hrmm, pretty much the same — an overall downward trend with a slight rise over the last couple of years. Not really what I would call “accidental gun injuries [on the] rise” but we’ll let that slide since there has been a slight rise over the last couple of years. Continuing on:

As accidental gun injuries rise, the most common age of those who unintentionally hurt or kill themselves or others is 22.

You know. Upperclassmen.

Now things get a little trickier, since I’m not aware of where to find stats on shooters rather than victims, but let’s look at those victims, shall we?

Going back to WISQARS we find the aggregate numbers for accidental gunshot injuries from 2001 – 2012 and find that it’s actually 21-year-olds who have the highest injury rate, but still upperclassmen, so let’s let that slide too.

Age Number Rate
20 8,046 15.57
21 11,219 21.80
22 8,842 17.43
23 7,301 14.60
24 7,148 14.43
25 5,703 11.59

How about unintentional deaths? Unfortunately WISQARS isn’t quite as up-to-date when it comes to deaths, so these data are from 1999 – 2010 (and I set the cut-off at 84 because WISQARS lumps everyone 85 and older together which throws off the chart):


Okay that is a little horrifying; the accidental gun death rate of babies (under 1) is 26.69/100K, but we can also see that there is a slight peak in accidental gun deaths right around 22 (the actual peak is again at 21) and another slightly lower peak in the mid-40’s, but it’s actually seasoned citizens (70+) who are most at risk.

Wait, I hear someone in the back asking, “Okay, charts, graphs, all great; but what do they mean?” Excellent question, with a simple straight-forward answer.

What does all this mean? Nothing!

Nada, zip, zilch, ingenting, ei mitään, gar nichts, niente, ничего. Because all of those numbers and statistics are for the general population, which permit-holders most decidedly ain’t. And the Idaho law which has Shawn in a tizzy concerns permit holders only.

Don’t believe me that his data are meaningless? Let’s look at Florida. Up until early 2012, the state of Florida posted detailed statistics on permit applications and revocations. The most recent I can find comes courtesy of the Wayback Machine and shows that between 10/1/87 and 7/31/11, out of the 2,031,106 permits issued there were 168 revocations for use of a firearm in a crime. That works out to just a hair over seven permit holders who committed a crime with a gun each year. Seven per year. Seven.

So with those incorrect and irrelevant factoids out of the way, what more does Shawn have for us?

Idaho’s legislators and governor will certainly not give this a thought, having already ignored all the good reasons to keep guns off crowded, chaotic and youth-filled campuses, and having already ignored every college president and the state’s police chiefs, and having already ignored every other sensible, post-Enlightenment thought about guns in favor of a stubborn Dirty Harry fantasy. They are in the grip of a passion, a faith, and the dictates of this passion involve overlooking or denying certain facts.

Snort *cough* wheeze! Okay, I about sprayed coffee across my keyboard with that one. An anti is accusing gun rights supporters of ignoring facts? Seriously? What about ignoring the story, printed in your own paper about the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association endorsement of the bill? “’There was a pretty wide margin that were in favor of this bill’ said Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman.”

Again, since he’s non-specific I can’t address the “post-Enlightenment” thinking Shawn is referring to, but since the Enlightenment heralded reason and individualism rather than dogma and tradition, I think we can safely assume that it includes Dr. Lott’s seminal work More Guns, Less Crime. And the the 18 peer-reviewed national studies by economists and criminologists which supported his thesis that recognizing the natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil and Constitutional right to own and carry the weapon of your choice reduced crime. As well as the 10 which found such recognition resulted in no increase in crime.

Finally, Shawn appears to forget that “Dirty Harry” was a (fictional) cop and this bill is about allowing people who are not LEOs carry the most effective self-defense tool in existence.

Shawn continues:

But here they are anyway, pearls into the pen:

Ooh, nice offhanded Biblical reference there, he is casting pearls before the swine …

Gun accidents are more common than defensive gun uses; criminal uses of guns are more common than gun accidents; and suicide is more common than all of them.

Wait a minute, kemosabe. Accidental shootings are more common than DGUs? Hell, even the VPC admits to 67,740 DGUs annually from 2007 – 2011, but apart from propaganda numbers from anti-gun sources, how many DGUs are there each year? Well according to a study performed in the early 1990s by Drs. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, there are between 2.1 and 2.5 million DGUs annually.

Still, skeptics will always be skeptical and antis like Shawn will always prefer their own “reality” so let’s go ahead and throw the Kleck-Gertz study results out in favor of a more conservative one. Let’s use the numbers from a study — which was commissioned by the Clinton Department of Justice — shortly after the K-G study came out[1]That study, conducted by Drs. Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig (both of whom have very long records as very strong proponents of very strict gun control) concluded that there were 1.46 million DGUs per year.

I imagine that some may find even this lower number dubious, probably preferring to rely on the numbers from the National Crime Victimization Surveys which in 1993 showed 108,000 DGUs per year[2]. Unfortunately for those starry-eyed doubters, the way the NCVS is structured means that it seriously undercounts the number of DGUs. I’ll let Dr. Tom Smith, Senior Fellow and Director of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago explain:

First, it appears that the estimates of the NCVSs are too low. There are two chief reasons for this. First, only DGUs that are reported as part of a victim’s response to a specified crime are potentially covered. While most major felonies are covered by the NCVSs, a number of crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, and malicious mischief are not. DGUs in response to these and other events beyond the scope of the NCVSs are missed.

Second, the NCVSs do not directly inquire about DGUs. After a covered crime has been reported, the victim is asked if he or she “did or tried to do [anything] about the incident while it was going on.” Indirect questions that rely on a respondent volunteering a specific element as part of a broad and unfocused inquiry uniformly lead to undercounts of the particular of interest.

There’s another problem with the failure to directly inquire about DGUs: the DGU question is only triggered by someone saying they were the victim of a crime. If someone came towards me with a knife saying “Gimme your wallet,” and I put my hand on my weapon and replied “I don’t think so, Skippy,” causing the assailant to retreat, was I actually the victim of a crime? Before I started researching these issues I would have told the NCVS interviewer that no, I hadn’t been the victim of a crime so they never would have learned of my DGU.

Anyway, back to Shawn’s, um, pearls:

Gun accidents are more common than defensive gun uses; criminal uses of guns are more common than gun accidents; and suicide is more common than all of them.

Balderdash! Going back to the CDC and totaling up the numbers, from 2001 – 2010 we have 166,522 non-fatal and 6,739 fatal accidental gunshots for a total of 173,261 or 17,326 per year. Even if we use the NCVS’s lowball figure of 108,000 DGUs a year, that’s still more than six times as many DGUs as negligent shootings.

Going to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports for 2012 and using a little Excel-Fu we find there were 89,674 violent crimes using a firearm that year, so yes, there are more criminal gun uses than accidents each year. And your point is . . . what, exactly? That we have more criminals than stupid or careless people[3]?

As for suicides, yes it’s true, there are a depressingly high number of suicides annually, averaging 33,804 from 2001 – 2010. Indeed, that number is more than accidental shootings, but considerably less than DGUs or CGUs. Of course if you just look at suicides committed with a firearm then there were only 17,522 annually, a hair more than negligent shootings and vastly less that CGUs and DGUs. Our total annual suicide rate is 11.22/100K. By comparison, Japan’s is 21.7 and the Bahamas’ is 1.2 (as of 2005). Again, Shawn, what is your point?

Maybe Shawn will get to his point in the next paragraph:

This is what we know about guns generally, everywhere.

Ah, that’s why he was being so general. He wasn’t dealing with facts, but instead with things “everybody knows.” You know, like the fact that rockets won’t work in space because they don’t have anything to push against, or that you have to wait an hour after eating to go swimming, or you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex[4]. Things more commonly known as folklore, old wives tales or simply bullshit.

But then Shawn actually gives us some facts:

Here’s just one example from the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery: Researchers in 1998 examined gun injuries in Seattle, Memphis and Galveston, Texas, and concluded, “For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”

Too bad his one example is also, well, bullshit. This study by Dr. Kellerman (the “23 times” study, not the “43 times” study) has been debunked six ways from Sunday, not least because only 11.2% of the guns used were known to have come from the home in question. 67.3% of those “gun[s] in the home” were actually brought to the scene from elsewhere and 21.5% were from an undetermined source.

FBI reports for 2010 tallied a ratio of 36 criminal homicides for every single justifiable homicide. That does not measure all defensive gun use, of course, but that ratio is a whopper. Gun suicides were even further off the charts: 84-to-1. Accidental fatal shootings were around three times more common than defensive ones.

Actually the biggest whopper here, Shawn, is your attempt to somehow correlate DGUs with justifiable homicides. Dean Weingarten has already done an excellent job covering this in his piece, How and Why The FBI Underreports Justifiable Homicides, but let me just point out the FBI’s definition of justifiable homicide:

Certain willful killings must be classified as justifiable or excusable. In UCR, Justifiable Homicide is defined as and limited to:

• The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty.

• The killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.

NOTE: To submit offense data to the UCR Program, law enforcement agencies must report the willful (nonnegligent) killing of one individual by another, not the criminal liability of the person or persons involved.

This means that very few DGUs will be reported to the FBI as justifiable homicides.

Continuing on:

The latest analysis of Washington’s deadly gun mishaps comes from a report in the Seattle Times by Brian M. Rosenthal that showed 2012 was a banner year in Washington for two things: gun sales and accidental gun injuries.

Gun sellers conducted half a million background checks for gun sales in 2012, triple the number 10 years earlier. Hospitals admitted 122 people with unintentional firearms injuries, according to state Department of Health statistics. That’s the highest total since 1995, and a third higher than the average over that period, the Times reported.

First of all, Correlation ≠ Causation; or is Shawn willing to admit that More Guns = Less Crime and go home? But even if Correlation = Causation, by looking at trends across the U.S. I can show just how a little cherry-picking of data allows Shawn to “prove” his point.

Below is a look at NICS checks vs. Accidental shootings (fatal and non) across the country[5]; as the most casual observer will note, there is no correlation:


But then Shawn backpedals a bit:

There are limitations to what you can say about this data, of course, including whether the surge in gun purchases is connected to the increase in injuries. 

Sure, now that I’ve spent all that time tearing your “correlation” apart you admit that there isn’t actually any correlation. So what was the point, Shawn?

But hey – these were accidents, and accidents happen, right? People also crash their cars, right? What could we possibly do about this, short of storming into the homes of decent, law-abiding citizens and seizing their guns?

Ruth Kagi had one idea. Kagi, a Democratic state senator from Seattle, proposed a bill in the two most recent legislative sessions that would require gun dealers to offer – merely to offer – trigger locks when selling guns. A trigger lock would be useful when, say, the young child of a police officer or a college student picked up a pistol.

Hmph…even more useful would be if the cop or college student who owned that pistol kept it holstered instead of lying around, but given Shawn’s antipathy towards guns in general and campus carry in particular I’m guessing he wants to see more “gun free zones” where people are required to leave their gun “lying around” instead of safely holstered.

Getting back to that legislation, why would the NRA oppose the simple handing out of “free” gun locks and say that the proposal was “demonizing guns”? I wonder if there was anything else in that legislation besides the offer of a free lock?

House Bill 1676

(2) Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person is guilty of reckless endangerment if the person stores or leaves a loaded firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably should know, that a child is likely to gain access, and a child obtains possession of the loaded firearm. …

So Shawn lied once again; it was more than the simple offer of a “free” lock. But I suppose when facts, figures and statistics all serve to undermine your position, lying is all people like Shawn have left.

[1] Some cynical gunnies believe that the Administration was trying to refute the K-G numbers. If so, Oops!

[2] The NCVS has stopped asking about specific weapons used and now just reports “self-protection” with a weapon or without.

[3] Given the general tenor of criminals, specifically their marked lack of intelligence I would have to disagree.

[4] Well, that one is true for half the population anyway.

[5] Firearm related fatalities were not available for 2011 and 2012, so I used the average from 2001 thru 2010

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  1. Antis of this guys nature are not committed to intellectual truth. They only seek to expand their preconcieved prejudice against gun ownership and the people thereof.

  2. “Don’t believe me that his data are meaningless? Let’s look at Florida. Up until early 2012, the state of Florida posted detailed statistics on permit applications and revocations. The most recent I can find comes courtesy of the Wayback Machine and shows that between 10/1/87 and 7/31/11, out of the 2,031,106 permits issued there were 168 revocations for use of a firearm in a crime. That works out to just a hair over seven permit holders who committed a crime with a gun each year. Seven per year. Seven.”

    Bruce, Florida has moved their data, and it is sort of hard to find, but this is the new website, and updated statistics.

  3. “Statistics are poor ammo in debate about guns.” Maybe we should take that to heart. Very few people are ever converted by a mountain of data, and you can always find data to support your side, even when Heaven and Earth are against you. Anti-gunners don’t care about data. They want a utopia where every gun is melted down and suddenly the scales of violence and aggression fall from our eyes. We are in the way, and damn us all to Hell.

  4. I like the reference to age 22 as being, you know, upperclassmen. A huge leap of illogic, to assume that all 22 year olds are enrolled in universities. Wouldn’t age 22 also include, you know, senior gang members? And don’t they fiddle around with (frequently illegally-owned) guns and sometimes shoot themselves with their Glocks?

    • “A huge leap of illogic, to assume that all 22 year olds are enrolled in universities.”

      By that age, most of the people in my class who should have been in college in the first place, had already graduated. And that wasn’t that long ago.

      Not sure what this dual trend of increasing years to get increasingly large numbers of degrees in “soft” subjects is all about, but to me it reeks of something unhealthy for society.

  5. Aww. “Comments closed.” I was totally sure, this one time, that I could post a comment that would help him see the errs in his ways, and convert him and his inevitable supporting commentators that his junk statistics were wrong, and his argument was scarcely relevant to the subject he was supposedly writing about.
    Damn. Maybe next time.

  6. Apparently this guy didn’t know enough about the subject matter to know that all new handguns are required to be sold with a lock, and have been for the last decade or more (Federal law)? And that many police departments and some gun shops and sporting groups will GIVE you a lock for your handgun, free, if you ask? And that most handguns can be completely secured with nothing more complicated than a good padlock, available at any hardware/general-purpose store for under $10?

    Yeah, I’d listen to his advice. Not.

  7. This is what liberal nitwits do. When the facts don’t support their beliefs they just start making things up.

  8. As a “citizen” of NJ, I’m delighted to see that not every political nitwit is from my tribe. (Vestal’s a great last name, too. Too bad he’s ruining its reputation.)

  9. Well debunked, except the mush heads who read that libtards claptrap will accept it as gospel without question and not bother to read anything that contradicts it.

    • True; you beat me to it.

      However, it does provide a nice reference for when we have “the talk” with non-POTG.

      • I still dont know how you possibly engage these type of cultists. Not the half ass, “independent” wafflers who can be swayed by free donuts, but the hardcore Obama loving reality denying cultists. They have no interest in discussion or debate, their pea sized brains have already accepted the Koolaid.

        They truly are an irrational, dangerous cult. It is a wasted effort trying to sway these zealots, they must be overwhelmed, as they are attempting to do to the Teaparty.

        • Well, to start with I try to treat “wafflers” with a modicum of respect, because often you can make some headway and once they get to the range it’s pretty obvious how dumb many of the regs are.

          For the dyed-in-the-wool types, I can have the discussiob because it can be fun.

          See, by most standards I’m a poster boy for a stereotypical liberal. Raised in an urban area, postgraduate education, did some time as a college prof, etc. Gay rights / marriage? Whatever – their lives, their choice, I’m fine with it. Legalized drug use? OK – license it, tax it, make it safer, so long as they don’t hurt anybody I have no problems. Duck dynasty? Wasn’t that one of George Lucas’s star wars movies? And so forth.

          Gun rights? Cue the “screech-crash” sound effects, grab the popcorn and watch the cognitive dissonance kick in. Then, my victim, er, conversation partner is usually so off-balance I can sometimes at least introduce a little thought into their process.

          It doesn’t always work but it can be fun to try.

        • Never had that much patience. Commandeer the FEMA camps, round up the libtards, problem solved.

        • Delbert – As someone who has been fighting leftist crusaders in my local area for the last year, I completely agree. The sooner we recognize that the other side is not interested in the truth but is only in crushing us by any means possible, the sooner we will recognize how uncompromising and aggressive we have to be in affirming our full rights. (I prefer deportation to camps, though. Venezuela, Cuba, or Gaza – they can have their pick.)

        • “I prefer deportation to camps, though. Venezuela, Cuba, or Gaza – they can have their pick.”

          Be advised, left-libertarians can effectively engage targets downrange as well as anyone seeking to violate human and citizens’ rights. “I don’t neeeeed no civil waaaaaar.” LOL

  10. Nice riposte.

    Too bad it is, to borrow a phrase, pearls before ostriches.

    The people who most need to read it – and understand and think about it – likely already have their heads buried in the sand and therefore won’t.

  11. The rates for accidental gun death you posted seem high by like 2-3 orders of magnitude, I assume that’s the rate counting all accidental deaths over the 10yr period but only counting the population once?

    That seems misleading given the way rates are normally calculated.

    • It would be nice if the rates per hundred thousand were normalized to a per year basis. That is how most of the numbers in the literature are done.

      The number for children under one seems absurdly high. I wonder how they define it. Fatal firearm accidents for children under five are usually in the single digits in a given year.

  12. Living in North Idaho & having the Spokane paper as one of our dailies, you more or less get used to ignoring both Vestal & brother columnist Dave Oliviera as their stock in trade is all things liberal. Their credibility left the station without them years ago….statists to the core.

  13. Ya know, I’m just about done debating the facts. Gun suicide, accidental death, mass murder, going up, going down. I Just don’t care.

    I will concede every anti-gun stat they can throw at me. And I will raise them “NOT BE INFRINGED.” That is the only argument I need. I have the right, given to me by God or the virtue of my humanity, enshrined in the constitution, and not yours to nit pick or take away. My right is more important some idiot cop who leaves a loaded gun around in front of his kids. I have guns, I have small children, I am not a dumbass, and I am not going to abdicate my rights because he was.

    If the Liberals believe they have the unquestioned right to murder their unborn children in the womb, with the only justification being that they want to. I should have the right to carry my gun for no more reason than I want to. My guns have killed fewer kids than the doctors at Planed Parenthood.

  14. It would be nice if someone wrote a complaint to the papers’ ed board about his fucked up statistics use and also copied all of the national journalistic societies while accusing him of lacking journalistic integrity. That might score a few points

  15. Every time I read these sort of things all I get is that, clearly, unregulated parenting is the problem. Every one of those suicide/accident statistics is just another parental failure.

    These kinds of people just look for something to blame besides themselves and hide their fear of the masses.

  16. These people make up the results then perform the test. They are nowhere near scientifically correct. I guess they learned that from the CDC, or did the CDC learn that from them?

  17. Any time someone starts off their opinion piece by stating they will blatantly ignore the facts, I immediately stop reading because they have nothing of value to say.

    • With all due respect, you missed my point. There are convenient and inconvenient facts on both sides. Would banning all guns reduce suicide? Yes. Would it reduce the number of gun homicides? Yes and no. It really depends. If there were no guns in CT at all, would Sandy Hook ever have happened? Maybe.

      There is no way around the fact that the UK and Australia have so many fewer gun deaths than we do. Yes, we can bring up that overall crime is higher over there r, but we still kill more people. Nit picking the facts invites us into debate traps. Why do you need a 30 round mag? You are not using it to hunt. You are most likely never going to face down a small army of Klansmen burning a cross on your lawn. TEOTWAWKI is not going to happen on your watch. Getting rid of everything that holds more than 30, 20, 15, 10, 5 rounds would reduce the chance of another Sandy Hook type death tole.

      Ok, fine. Here is my retort: “F*CK YOU, AND READ ‘SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED!'”

      This is a matter of principle. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th amendments to the constitution really do hamper the ability of the police and court systems to prevent crime. If safety were paramount, the police should be able to search you at a moment’s notice. Juries are stupid, lawyers are slimy crooks, let the judges sentence criminals on a preponderance of the evidence. Why are you worried? You should only be worried if you have something to hide? Right?


      Debating gun control facts takes the issue from being a principle of freedom and makes it a negotiable privilege. It is not a privilege. It is a right, and I am not going to give one inch of it away.

      • Very good points.

        One clarification: the UK and Australia ALWAYS had much lower rates of homicide than the U.S., before and after they banned most guns. I am inclined – without having fully studied the matter – to ascribe the different results to the cultural differences.

        To take another example closer to my home: Orthodox Jews, whether armed to the teeth or completely disarmed, pose about the same threat to the general public, which is close to nil. The South Side Irish (of Chicago), whether armed to the teeth or completely disarmed, also pose about the same threat to the general public, which is rather larger than nil.

    • ^^This. If we can’t make public policy decisions on solid empirical evidence then how exactly are we going to determine when a policy prescription can’t or won’t work, divination?

      • There are times when good, solid, empirical evidence is critical to making policy. Economic and fiscal policy would be a tired and true example.

        Sometimes, however, you need to stand on principle. the defense of freedom is one of those times. Benjamin Franklin put it best: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” From the earliest days of our nation, our founding fathers recognized that sometimes having freedom is dangerous to the individual. Never the less, the inherent value of freedom was put at a premium to safety and comfort of the individual.

        • Homicide rates in England have gone up as they have increased the difficulty of legally owning firearms.

          In Australia, after they made the ownership of firearms quite a bit more legally difficult, and had massive civil disobedience, there was a brief uptick in violent crimes followed by a brief downtick.

          Overall the crime rate continued to trend slightly downward. The academic consensus is that the firearms laws in Australia have not had any effect on the homicide rates there.

  18. I have the feeling, based on his obvious age, that Mr. Vestal’s “post-Enlightenment” period began during or following his ingestion of a variety of anesthetic and hallucinatory drugs, plants, mushrooms and chemicals during the 1970s.

  19. Spo-Compton?

    If there’s any place in WA state where you’d want to own a gun, it’s gotta be close to the top of the list.

  20. DEBUNKED, DEBUNKED, DEBUNKED! Excellent job. Unfortunately, these people feed their own. That means that the ones being fed this BS will never see your excellent post.

    If you can figure out how to get this research to the masses then you have a huge win.

  21. 89,764 violent crimes committed with a gun reported…hmmm…you are undercounting actually!


    “Information collected regarding types of weapons used in violent crime showed that firearms were used in 69.3 percent of the nation’s murders, 41.0 percent of robberies, and 21.8 percent of aggravated assaults.”

    14,827 murders x 69.3% = 10,275
    354,420 robberies x 41% = 145,312
    760,739 assaults x 21.8% = 165,841

    Total violent crimes reported involving the illegal use of a firearm = 321,428

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