Today is national ASK day- a day to call attention to the fact that too many children have easy access to loaded guns. Children are curious and will touch guns even if adults have told them not to. It’s the adults who are responsible to secure their guns safely from children and teens. Kids should not be made responsible for this as toddlers. Yes, toddlers do find guns and shoot others or themselves with guns they find in their homes. If you want your own child or grandchildren to be safe from gun violence, asking about unsecured guns is your job. More on this at the end of this post.
Just as it is an adult’s responsibility to understand that an adult child or friend who has serious problems should not have a gun. And it is the country’s responsibility to make sure seriously troubled individuals, felons, adjudicated mentally ill people, those with restraining orders for domestic abuse, drug abusers, terrorists and others who could be dangerous with guns should not have them. It should be difficult to obtain a gun since they are weapons designed to kill people. Guns are unique in this way and need to be treated differently from other products on the market. There is no right to do whatever you want to do with a gun or to have one if you shouldn’t.
In the midst of national ASK day, long planned by the Brady Campaign, we are dealing with the after effects of one of our nation’s most heinous shootings. It’s hard to say that because they are all heinous and they all leave families bereft and the nation reeling. But this one feels worse. The victims were targeted specifically for their skin color by a white man who hated them for their skin color.
The nation is grieving for the 9 victims of the Charleston “Mother Emanuel” church shooting. The nation is asking why. The dust won’t settle for quite some time. There will be funerals. There will be attempts at healing. There will be community gatherings. There will be discussions- or there should be discussions about the role of guns and gun violence and about racism and the ugliness that caused the shooter to kill 9 people with no remorse. There will be a very public and emotional trial which will re-victimize the survivors. It’s an ugly picture of America. The gun rights folks are trying to change the subject blaming it on anti-depressants ( even though there is no evidence that the shooter was on them), religion, and even the victims themselves have been blamed by at least one NRA member. Shameful. Offensive. Insensitive. Ugly.
The truth of the matter is that the shooter was a racist with white supremacist views. He set out to kill black people and he chose the Mother Emanuel church on purpose for its’ historical significance to the black community. He was a school drop-out with no job. He appeared to be a troubled young man. He actually talked about this kind of violence with his room mate and a girlfriend and his room mate took his gun from him at one point because of his talk about violence. But his girlfriend got the friend to give it back. She just has to be re-thinking that decision and agonizing over it. This is why gun violence restraining orders are a good idea. They can prevent shootings like this.
There is talk about whether or not the shooter could have passed a background check. Apparently he bought the gun from a gun dealer but then we heard his father gave him the gun. Did he have a pending felony charge making him a prohibited purchaser? We don’t have all the facts yet. It will take a while to sort out. We do know though that in South Carolina it wouldn’t matter if he had been charged with a felony because he could easily buy a gun from a private seller on-line ( Armslist.com) or at a gun show with no background check. That’s why requiring background checks on all gun sales can make a difference.
And elected leaders are either running towards the discussion about the need to change gun laws or running way away from it. As just one ridiculous example, former Governor Rick Perry, Republican presidential candidate, suggested that the Charleston shooting was an “accident”. Come on. This should be a hot topic in the upcoming election. If it’s not, there’s something wrong with us. I guess we already know that. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, as always, did a great job of talking about our fetish with guns and the results of it in a recent show. Watch Stewart below:
Can we move on after this horrific shooting? We will. But for goodness sake, let us not move on and ignore the elephant in the country. What about gun violence? What are we going to do about it? Will we let the corporate gun lobby hold us hostage again like they did after the Sandy Hook shooting? Will our leaders at long last decide they don’t need to be afraid of the gun lobby’s threats and money? For that would be a great day in America. The rest of the world would cheer for us since now they can only wonder why we allow these kinds of shootings over and over and over again:
“We don’t understand America’s need for guns,” said Philip Alpers, director of the University of Sydney’s GunPolicy.org project that compares gun laws across the world. “It is very puzzling for non-Americans.”
A frontier nation like the U.S., Australia had a similar attitude toward firearms prior to a 1996 mass shooting that killed 35. Soon after, tight restrictions on gun ownership were imposed and no such incidents have been reported since.
A similar effect has been seen elsewhere.
“The USA is completely out of step with the rest of the world. We’ve tightened our gun laws and have seen a reduction,” said Claire Taylor, the director of media and public relations at Gun Free South Africa.
Ahmad Syafi’i Maarif, a prominent Indonesian intellectual and former leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the country’s largest Muslim organizations, said the church shooting shocked many.
“People all over the world believed that racism had gone from the U.S. when Barack Obama was elected to lead the superpower, twice,” he said. “But the Charleston shooting has reminded us that in fact, the seeds of racism still remain and were embedded in the hearts of small communities there, and can explode at any time, like a terrorist act by an individual.”
America is awash with guns as President Obama stated in remarks about the Charleston shooting. Take a look at these graphs in a Vox.com article showing the proliferation of guns in a country that can’t seem to get together to stop the shootings:
Despite signs of decline in gun ownership, the US still has a huge number of private guns. In 2012, Americans owned an estimated 270 million guns, almost 42 percent of the total number of civilian-owned guns on the entire planet:
In developed countries, there is a strong correlation between the number of guns and incidences of gun violence. In 2012, the US, which has the most guns per capita, also had the most firearm-related homicides of developed countries. Japan, which has the lowest rate of gun ownership, had the least:
When there are so many guns, there will be so many shootings. Period.
And while we move on, there are things we can do aside from passing stronger gun laws like ever popular universal background check requirement.
We can get parents and grandparents to ASK if there are unsecured guns in the homes where their kids/grandkids play and hang out. Why? Because that is a way to reduce gun deaths and injuries. There are plenty of stories to tell about parents who didn’t ask and now are living with the memory of their deceased children. Take this family, for example. Their daughter was shot by a friend when the children found a gun in the friend’s home. It doesn’t have go be this way. We actually can prevent gun deaths and injuries. Guns need to be stored securely away from kids and teens to avoid “accidental” gun deaths and suicides.
Check out the website of the ASK campaign for more information about how to ask along with materials and some videos about the awkward conversation that parents must ask to protect their children from an avoidable and senseless death. It’s just common sense, of course. Check it out:
The conversation might be awkward but not nearly as awkward as the conversation will be if your child or a friend’s child finds a loaded gun and fires it accidentally- killing or hurting someone else.
It’s Father’s Day. Fathers and mothers should be asking this question. No father wants to have to talk about his daughter like the Brooklyn father in the article above. He won’t be getting a father’s day hug or gift from his daughter this father’s day.
Some families in Charleston will be missing their fathers on this day. And some fathers won’t have their sons or daughters to wish them a happy father’s day on this day. These families will never be the same. The community and the church will never be the same. The violent and unexpected nature of gun deaths never goes away for the families who experience it. I know that from personal experience. It feels like the family has been violated.
The reaction of the families of the shooting victims is an example of grace and forgiveness in the face of tragedy. These are real people with real emotions who loved their family members and who will miss them and grieve for them. The shooter took someone away from them. Do shooters ever think about that when they fire their guns? Shooters rarely think about those who will be left behind with the holes left in their hearts and their lives that survivors will live around as they try to come to grips with their losses.
We are broken. We are Charleston. We are Mother Emanuel. We stand with the victims and survivors. We need to change our country.
Let’s do some common sense things this father’s day. Stand with the families of the Charleston shooting victims and support their healing. Demand that our leaders get to work and pass stronger gun laws and stop being afraid of the corporate gun lobby. Demand a change to the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in America- the only country that experiences such carnage. Think about being a responsible gun owner if you are one and store your guns safely. If you are a parent, think twice about giving your troubled young adult child a gun. The Charleston shooter’s father will be having a terrible father’s day today.
And ASK about unsecured guns in places where your child plays. We can save lives if we all get together and talk about the epidemic of gun violence and solve this problem together for the sake of our children and our families.
Happy Father’s Day.