Reflections on shootings past present and future

As I reflected on the beauty of a light snowfall this morning, I was reminded by a news story that today was a day to remember momentous shootings. There are so many that it is too easy to forget what happened on this day in other years. We have paid so much attention to the present chaos over COVID and the 2020 election results which continue hour by hour, that we forget important things. That is the point of a President and a party who don’t want us to remember tragedies and past mistakes so we can learn from them and move forward to better solutions.

Today is the “anniversary” of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The country experienced a shock on November 22nd, 1963 as we watched the repeated video of our young President as he slumped over into his wife’s lap while the car sped away to the hospital where he died of his gunshot injuries. One shooter; one gun; many bullets; one U.S. President’s life snuffed out in seconds; the shooter shot by another unhinged man on live T.V.; the country mourned; stronger gun laws passed:

It had been floating around Congress for several years. [Discussion] really began after the JFK assassination; there was a strong sense that people shouldn’t buy guns through interstate mail, because Lee Harvey Oswald did through an ad that appeared in a NRA magazine. Congress held hearings, but it didn’t really go anywhere. Now in 1968, the country is facing rising urban rioting. In the mid-to-late ’60s, crime begins to increase. There’s greater concern about guns and easy accessibility to guns. Martin Luther King is assassinated in April. In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated and that was really the final push that brought the law back and got it through Congress.

What are the most important things the law changed?

It banned interstate shipments of firearms and ammunition to private individuals [and] sales of guns to minors, drug addicts and “mental incompetents.” This is the first time you have in law that mentally unbalanced people ought not to be able to get guns — also convicted felons. It also strengthened the licensing and record-keeping requirements for gun dealers, and that was significant because gun dealers were subject to virtually no systematic scrutiny up until this time, although a 1938 federal law did establish a fee they paid to government to be a licensed dealer. It banned importation of foreign-made surplus firearms, except those appropriate for sporting purposes.

Since then, one other important gun violence prevention law passed in 1993 in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan- the Brady Background Check law. The Brady Background check law has prevented over 3 million prohibited people from getting their hands on guns.

As a side note, I recently completed the book-Mrs. Kennedy and Me written by Clint Hill, the security agent assigned to Jacqueline Kennedy. I learned from his reflections, about the horror in the immediate seconds after the President was shot. How can we understand the horror of what a shot person looks like when a bullet tears through their brain, or heart? We can’t. Maybe if we could better understand the consequences we would be quicker to want to prevent shootings.

Today is also the 6th anniversary of the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice. Tamir was walking around with a toy gun when police found him and mistakenly assumed he had a real gun. This is the problem with so many guns around. No one knows who is armed and who is not. But it’s also the problem with the quick response from law enforcement when a black person has a gun or is perceived to have a gun or is perceived to be armed or is just perceived to be trouble. Here is an article written by Tamir’s mother earlier this year as she reflected on the shooting death of her innocent son:

If Tamir was alive, he’d probably be doing something with sports. That little boy was so athletic at an early age. I’m not sure what kind of athlete he would have been. We didn’t really have a chance to have a lot of those conversations. He would be 18 and have graduated high school by now.

That day Tamir was murdered I received a knock at the door and it was a neighborhood kid saying my son had been shot by police. I said, “What are you talking about?” I was in denial and shock.

No parent should have to endure something like this.

As I arrived on the scene, my 14-year-old was in the back of a police car. Tamir was laying on the pavement in a gazebo with police surrounding him. My 16-year-old was surrounded by police officers as well. Basically, police told me to calm down or else they were going to put me in the back of a police car. They gave me an ultimatum to stay at the scene of the crime, or to go with Tamir in the ambulance.

The day was very horrific for me. I was enraged by the way he was killed, murdered, assassinated, lynched, whatever they may call it. Nobody bothered to look at this man’s record before he became a Cleveland police officer. He had a horrible report. Nobody in Cleveland did their job, and that’s why I have a dead son today.

No. No parent should have to endure this. No sister. No brother. No mother or father. No child. No one. And yet, over 100 Americans a day die from gun violence. The nation is enduring a public health epidemic now in the midst of an actual public health pandemic.

COVID restrictions have changed our world. Since last March, when the country shut down, many schools have been doing distance learning. This fall, when the school year began again, schools struggled with how to educate our children safely. Some opened completely. Some chose the hybrid model and some chose all distance learning. This largely depended on how the spread of COVID was occurring in the communities where schools are located. My own grandchildren are now learning from home while their parents work from home. It is not the way our kids should be educated but here we are.

There have been no school shootings since COVID started spreading in our country. I came across this report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) about school shootings that confirms what we really already know:

We examined school shootings and found:

Half were committed by current or former students

Suburban and rural, wealthier, and low-minority schools had more school-targeted shootings; such shootings were the most fatal and most commonly committed by students

Urban, poor, and high-minority schools had more shootings overall and more motivated by disputes; these shootings were often committed by non-students or unknown shooters

More shootings happened outside, but those inside schools were usually more deadly

We found no empirical research from 2009-2019 that directly examined the link between school discipline and school shootings.

There have been few mass shootings in public places either. People aren’t gathering as much in public now. There was one two days ago though in a Milwaukee suburb mall leaving 8 innocent people injured and none dead. Malls are still places where people are allowed to gather in larger numbers. It seems that where people gather in larger numbers, there are opportunities for mass shooters to take out some sort of angry rampage on people they don’t know. And easy access to guns along with weak gun laws lets this all happen.

Don’t get me started on the weak response to the actual pandemic. During the pandemic the sale of guns has gone up. How do we explain this? I don’t think we do. It’s a gun culture that no other country where COVID is also spreading experiences. It’s the weak gun laws.

We are experiencing unprecedented turmoil due to the pandemic. The stress of worry about losing a job, kids being at home, working from home, getting COVID and now the lunacy of a sitting President who refuses to admit he lost the election, is leading to fear and paranoia. It is not a good time to be locked and loaded. It is not a good time to be carrying a gun around in public where there are rallies and protests.

We know how that worked out in Kenosha when there were protests there after the shooting of a black man by police. Two people were shot and killed by a 17 year old who bought his gun in a straw purchase since he was too young to own or carry an AR-15. But carry he did. He was arrested.

The lunacy of what we are experiencing in America is that the said 17 year old shooter has been bailed out by none other than the “pillow guy”- friend to the current occupant of the White House and actor Ricky Schroder.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Where is common sense?

Everyday shootings have continued apace. According to Gun Violence Archive, 38,526 Americans have died from gunshot injuries so far this year. It will likely reach 40,00 before the end of the year.

This number included suicides. An increase in gun suicides in the age of COVID should not surprise us. Access to guns and suicide go together. Gun suicides have been on the rise anyway. But now we are seeing more evidence that times of stress and anxiety can lead to more suicides. Guns make it easy. A New York Times article has this to say:

Ms. Torp has reason to worry. Gun violence kills about 40,000 Americans each year, but while public attention has focused on mass shootings, murders and accidental gun deaths, these account for little more than one-third of the nation’s firearms fatalities. The majority of gun deaths are suicides — and just over half of suicides involve guns.

According to national health statistics, 24,432 Americans used guns to kill themselves in 2018, up from 19,392 in 2010.

People who kill themselves in this way are usually those with ready access to firearms: gun owners and their family members. Gun owners are not more suicidal than people who don’t own guns, but attempts with guns are more likely to be fatal.

Now, nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, unleashing a tide of economic dislocation and despair, experts are bracing for a rise in suicides. Gun sales have risen steadily since March, and as shutdowns aimed at containing the virus have disrupted lives and led to social isolation, studies have shown an increase in anxiety and suicidal ideation.

We are in perilous times now. More deaths from COVID and still rising to numbers that are incomprensible; a feckless, unfit and unhinged President turning his back to the American people; a major party refusing to stand up and insist that we proceed with the transition to the next President Joe Biden; armed people on our streets; conspiracy theories pushed by right wing extremists, including the President that will only make the threats of violence more likely; weak gun laws that allow for so many people to have instant access to guns that could result in a tragedy. Election officials have been threatened as have people who have spoken out against the President’s lunacy.

There is NO VOTER FRAUD. Time to move on to a more peaceful and safe country.

I look forward to President Joe Biden for many reasons. The daily chaos will decrease or disappear. We will have a sane approach to combating COVID and distributing what looks to be a successful vaccine. There is hope that the economy can recover and our kids can get back to school. And there will be a common sense approach to reducing and preventing gun violence.

I look forward to a peaceful and calm, but quiet, Thanksgiving and holiday season as a time of reflection on things past, present and future. I wish we could spend it with our kids and grandkids but not this year. Enjoy your quiet and tune out the loud noises out there.

Cure the virus of violence

image created by anonymous artists of Minneapolis and St. Paul

I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m outraged. I’m almost speechless;. I’m hurting for my state and for George Floyd’s family. I’m concerned. I’m worried about the boogaloo movement that foments violence and hopes for Civil War. Were they involved in the protests? We don’t yet know who the people are who came from the outside to promote violence, looting and burning of buildings. We need to find that out.

I’m afraid of the eruption of violence over the murder of George Floyd by a white officer while other officers stood by and let it happen. I’m inspired by the passionate activism of so many people who want justice for George Floyd. I am a white woman of privilege. I can’t really understand how it feels to be black, brown or indigenous in America. But I can see the reactions in Minneapolis and all over the country. We have all seen the demands for justice that are about more than George Floyd. They are about racism, racial and social injustice and inequality, discrimination in housing and jobs, lack of educational opportunities and violence against them perpetrated over the decades.

There are now many viruses spreading all over America. In the midst of our country’s worst pandemic in many decades, the virus of violence has been spreading from person to person and from community to community all over our country. The murder of George Floyd set it off. But that murder was the symptom of an underlying virus that has been lurking under the surface and often above the surface making America sick.

And to make matters worse, because of the protest the spread of coronavirus may increase now and could affect even more people of color. Clearly we have a long ways to go before that virus is controlled. And clearly we have a long ways to go to control the viruses of racial injustice and gun violence.

We have not been paying attention to what has been right in front of us. Communities of color have been hurting and angry for 400 years. A civil war was fought over slavery and tore our country apart. Even after the Civil War ended, there was not a solution to racial injustice.

In fact, if anything, the situation was worse after slaves were free to look for jobs, go to schools, live in houses in our neighborhoods, become professionals, work in our communities, vote in our communities and participate in our society. Because of the color of their skin, they have not been able to do any of those things without fighting and struggling to be treated just like everyone else.

Long after the Civil War, protesters in some places, Trump supporters and pro gun activists bring the Confederate flag with them as a statement of their racism. We know what that means.

Why have we allowed angry anti-government people to carry Confederate and Don’t Tread on Me (Gadsden) flags? Yes. It’s their first amendment right but it’s also an indication of racism and violence that is now taking center stage. It’s abhorrent and offensive. These may be the same people criticizing the protests and crying out for more arrests and more force against protesters.

Our own President seems to be encouraging violence in some of his recent tweets, especially mentioning shooting the looters. His tweets are stoking the tension and the violence. It’s unfathomable that our leader is not leading during our epidemics.

Pivoting to gun violence as a virus and public health epidemic, men and boys of color are 2.5 times more at risk of being shot by law enforcement than white men and boys. This article from the Washington Post shows us the number of police shootings so far this year along with the number of black victims:

Although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.

The time was ripe. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has taken over 100,000 lives, a disproportionate number of which have been people of color. The shut down of the economy has been disastrous for the economy and for low income people in particular. Many have no access to affordable health care. Many are unemployed and in despair. No wonder the country erupted.

Scientists, meanwhile, are increasingly studying police violence as a public health problem whose long-term harms radiate far beyond the original victim.

“It can have these toxic effects on communities, in terms of both their physical and mental health,” Edwards said.

A study published in the Lancet last year found that police killings of unarmed black men were associated with an increase in mental health problems such as depression and emotional issues for black people living in the state where the killing took place.

And living in a state of constant fear can lead to chronic stress, Edwards said. He referred to “the talk,” a conversation that many African American parents have with their children — especially boys — about how to interact with police to avoid being harmed.

All things considered, isn’t it surprising that there have not been more mass eruptions of anger and protests over the police killings of people of color? And over economic disparities? And over housing disparities? And over our healthcare crisis? And over gun violence?

Gun violence prevention organizations have talked about but never fully embraced this intersection of gun violence with racial injustice. We could have done better. We should have done better.

In incident after incident the country has watched the shootings of black men and boys by police when other options were better. Many organizations have made statements of solidarity with the protesters. We all care. We all want to help. We all need to step up and do more and do better. Brady made this statement about George Floyd:

This reality and the fact that Black Americans face disproportionate rates of gun violence result from the same racist policies and structures that drive inequality and disparity for minority communities across numerous outcomes. To speak to police violence requires acknowledging systemic racism in our country. To seek to end police violence requires addressing systemic racism. They are inseparable.

I get that law enforcement officers fear for their lives every day. Their jobs are dangerous by necessity. They are armed which gives them power over others. And they also recognize that citizens are more armed now than ever before. Made possible by the NRA and other gun rights organization, gun carry laws have passed in most states of the nation. Now police can’t tell the difference between “good guys” with guns and “bad guys” with guns.

And they can tell the difference between a black person with a gun ( or not) and a white person with a gun. Too often police have wrongly assumed that a black person is armed and they shoot first and ask questions later. Too often police officers who are charged and arrested are not found guilty of murder. That is what must be addressed if anything is going to change.

While we are at if, let us not forget the groups of armed white people who showed up in state capitols to protest the stay at home orders of Governors to stop the spread of COVID-19. What happened to those folks displaying assault weapons, including a rocket launcher? Nothing. No arrests. No police actions. We get the difference. If those armed men had been black, they would have been arrested- or worse. This is the problem isn’t it? One group is not like the other.

There is a virus of gun violence within the virus of the protests within the virus of COVID-19 turning to rioting and violence. We all need to breathe. George Floyd couldn’t breathe because of police action and he is now dead. Coronavirus victims have trouble breathing because the virus attacks the lungs. Some have died. Protesters can’t breathe when tear gas is lobbed their way. The nation can’t breathe now because of the violence and because of rampant racism. We need a cure.

And my last point has to do with the guns carried by protesters or used against protesters in the last few days. It’s bad enough without loaded weapons that take the breath away from the victims of the bullets. In Louisville, Kentucky several instances of deadly shootings have occured as the result of the protests. Here – 7 dead. Here- 1 shot dead by law enforcement.

In Omaha, Nebraska a white man shot and killed a black protester. The shooter had a history of gun arrests, including felonies. Why did he have access to a gun? Laws matter.

Here are just a few names of people of color shot by police:

Ahmaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor

Tamir Rice

Walter Scott

Michael Brown

Philando Castile

Jamar Clark

Just a few of the names of black people shot by armed citizens:

Trayvon Martin

Jordan Davis

Birdell Beeks

Tyesha Edwards

Nizeal Banks

I just watched an impromptu memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis. George’s 2 brothers asked for peaceful protests to make the change that is needed. We all hope that common sense happens so we can get to work on solutions and systemic changes.

At the memorial there were several chants: “Peace on the left; justice on the right.” and “What’s his name?” “George Floyd.

George Floyd.

Protecting your potatoes

We have hit a new marker in the President’s dog whistles to potential supporters. Today, in a meeting with farmers, he brought up the second amendment. Why? It’s a dog whistle and used to ramp up fear and paranoia so those farmers will certainly vote for him. I mean if I thought my potatoes were at risk during this pandemic or any other time, I would certainly think about my guns and gun rights. Wouldn’t you?

From this article:

Said Trump: “We’re going after Virginia, with your crazy governor, we’re going after Virginia.”

He then made a reference to gun rights to the farmers present: “They want to take your Second Amendment away. You’ll have nobody guarding your potatoes.”

Yes. He said that. You can’t make this stuff up.

What does it mean that Trump links ” going after Virginia” with second amendment rights? Not too subtle. Is this a threat?

Here’s the thing. Do you need to guard your potatoes? Of course it’s total nonsense to use the tired old meme about taking away your second amendment rights. After the Democrats took the House and Senate in Virginia, the first thing they did was to pass common sense gun laws. The last time I looked, no one’s guns or gun rights were taken away from them. Instead, the citizens of Virginia just got a whole lot safer and less likely to die from shootings.

Isn’t that a good thing?

This election season is already becoming insane but with the second amendment “hanging in the balance” it may just turn deadly as well. The worry is those folks who are openly carrying their guns around ostensibly guarding ….? What are they guarding? That’s what I don’t get. They claim to be guarding some sort of right to be free or die. But what they are really doing is causing the spread of the coronavirus around to their friends, families and strangers. From the article:

Thus do right-wing extremists exploit America’s lax gun laws for political gain. Of course, the open carrying of rifles or handguns is a recipe for intimidation and potentially deadly confusion, even when not politically motivated. If shots ring out on a street full of armed pedestrians, how are the police supposed to identify the culprit? (…) The lesson is that armed political movements of any ideology can endanger democracy, and that a consistent, rational reading of the Constitution would empower states to rein them in.

What about our rights to be safe from these guardians of insanity? Generally speaking the public does not like seeing people strut around with assault rifles and rocket launchers strapped around their chests.

It’s armed insurrection. It’s domestic terrorism.

And generally speaking the public does not want the coronavirus spreading to them or those close to them. When close to 100,000 Americans have died from one cause in the course of 2 months, wouldn’t you think we could be together in our efforts to stop the spread of the disease so more of us don’t succombe to a deadly novel virus? Wouldn’t you think these guys with the guns who think they are making the rules would join with the governors of their states and do whatever they could to make sure we can keep people from ending up on a ventilator? Wouldn’t you think these folks would want to keep our health care providers and front line workers safe from getting sick so they can take care of all of us- serve food, pack groceries, fill prescriptions, sell plants and building materials?

Wouldn’t you think?

UPDATE:

I am not the only one wondering what the President meant by guarding your potatoes. This parody from the Washington Post highlights how ludicrous Trump’s statement was ( see above):

I got a call from an old friend from potato guardian training. He washed out; people were always taking potatoes from under his nose, and he was a laughingstock among us. Now he works in finance. He asked if I had heard the news about the governor and what he was planning to do. I said I hadn’t, so he told me. I can’t believe the governor would come for our Second Amendment rights. No potato will be safe then. It’s monstrous.

Exactly. Nothing is safe without those second amendment rights. Not even potatoes.

Freedom or die

The last week or so has been eye opening and appalling as anti government, pro-gun, pro-Trump extremists were pushing for more ways to kill or harm us. And by that I mean both with guns and with the coronavirus. There’s quite a list of examples but below are just a few:

It would be hard to make this stuff up wouldn’t it? This did not happen in other countries that have also suffered from the same virus. Unlike America, they don’t suffer from armed insurrectionists threatening and shooting their fellow citizens.

On another front, people are dying from bullets in the midst of our pandemic. There have been several shootings in Minnesota, one in particular that has drawn the attention of the media and citizens. A gun permit holder shot and killed a young black man during an altercation over a fender bender because he “thought” the man was going for a gun when he put his hand in his waist. This is called Shoot First, Ask Questions Later. And, of course, the victim cannot tell his side of the story. But he was unarmed. Here is more from the article:

Trifiletti later told police that Lewis appeared to be reaching toward his waistband as he advanced toward Trifiletti, who’d grabbed a handgun from his glove box and fired several shots, striking Lewis four times. The man has a legal permit to carry, a law enforcement source confirmed.

The problem with legalized carrying of guns in public places is that when armed citizens and even law enforcement officers believe that anyone could be armed (because a certain number are) they assume that putting your hand on your waist band means you are have a gun and you are going to shoot.

And the excuse given by permit holders in these incidents is that they were shooting in self defense. In Minnesota the law requires a duty to retreat first unless in your own home, before shooting someone. There is no excuse for shooting innocent people for no reason.

Common sense tells us that if the shooter had been a person of color there would be no excuses allowed. Stand Your Ground laws have penalized black people more than whites in these situations. And more black people are shot in “self defense” incidents:

When white shooters kill Black victims, the resulting homicides are deemed justifiable 11 times more frequently than when the shooter is Black and the victim is white.6

Controlling for other factors—such as who initiated the confrontation and whether or not the victim was armed—Florida Stand Your Ground cases with minority victims are half as likely to lead to conviction, compared to cases with white victims.7

I can’t leave this post until I talk about the heinous case of Ahmaud Arbery who was shot in the back by 2 white men in Georgia. A video shows that Arbery appeared to have been ambushed. Once the video was released the public was so angered and the media coverage so intense that the shooters were finally arrested after more than 2 months of getting away with murder. (Coincidentally the video was made by a friend of the shooter who was following Arbery and the 2 shooters for some reason. But why was he doing a video in the first place? Was this shooting planned ahead of time?)

It seems that some in positions to know better would have let this go if they could have:

Arbery’s family and their attorneys say Arbery was out for a jog when he was killed. They believe he was the victim of racial profilingand have called the killing a lynching.

“Once again, a black man was lynched in Georgia. It was an unfortunate incident because we see this too often,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a press conference Friday. “That is a sad statement in where we are in this nation.”

It wasn’t until the video was released that public pressure and reporting about the shooting led to the arrest of the shooters. In just a few minutes 2 men with a gun snuffed out an innocent life and changed their own lives forever. For what?

Georgia is a Stand Your Ground state. It will be important to watch this case to make sure justice is done for the victim. This was a murder by vigilantes. This is an American tragedy.

Charles Blow writing for the New York Times had this to say:

But there is a clear problem here: Arbery had committed no offense. His only offense, the thing that drew suspicion, was that he was black and male and running through these white men’s neighborhood. (…)

Arbery was enjoying a nice run on a beautiful day when he began to be stalked by armed men.

What must that have felt like?

What must he have felt when he approached the truck and saw that one of the stalkers was brandishing a shotgun?

What must he have thought when he fought for the gun?

Ahmaud Arbery was a 25 year old human being out for a jog. He happened to be black while jogging. He jogged almost every day according to his family who loved him and will miss him every day.

When there are more guns added to the mix and more stress from the stay at home orders and job loss, there will be more gun deaths. A surge in gun purchases means a surge in gun deaths and injuries. From the Annals of Internal Medicine:

Since February 2020, as U.S. public health efforts have focused on containing the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), gun sales in the country have skyrocketed. In March, more than 2.5 million firearms were sold, including 1.5 million handguns (1). In the best of times, increased gun ownership is associated with a heightened risk for firearm-related suicide (2). These are not the best of times. The United States faces an unprecedented combination of a public health and economic disaster. The physical distancing necessary to curb transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 has disrupted social networks. Many people live in isolation, and the mental health of the population will likely suffer. Combined, these forces create a climate with the potential to increase firearm-related suicides.The firearm-related suicide crisis was mounting well before COVID-19. From 2006 to 2018, firearm-related suicide rates increased by more than 25% (3). In 2018 alone, there were 24 432 firearm-related suicides in the United States (3). Simultaneously, the number of firearm background checks increased from 10 036 933 in 2006 to 28 369 750 in 2019—an annual increase of 14% (4).

Gun violence is an epidemic in the midst of our coronavirus pandemic. The guns purchased in panic will be in homes and on our streets for the years to come. The gun lobby would have us believe that an armed society is a polite society. We have been treated to daily photos, videos and stories about armed Americans intimidating, injuring, threatening and killing innocent human beings during the coronavirus pandemic. The public understands that the gun lobby is dead wrong. The public is in favor of stronger gun laws and doing something to save lives.

Over 70,000 Americans- almost 80,000 have died from the coronavirus and the numbers keep climbing. It is frightening that a disease can be so deadly and so communicable. Scientists and health care providers are working hard to find measures to treat the virus and/or lessen the severity of the disease. Until a vaccine is released to give us all immunity from this awful disease, deaths will continue.

Now we need a vaccine from shootings. There are laws that can reduce and prevent gun violence -like a vaccine. Common sense works too. Staying safe from gun violence means locking up guns, not carrying them around in situations that could become volatile, checking on friends and loved ones to make sure they are not suicidal or homicidal, and just thinking about the risks of guns right now and always.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay at home unless you have important and necessary items. Social distance. Wear masks. It’s not just for you, it’s for all of us. We are all in this together and can prevent the spread of the disease by following easy and simple measures. Our freedoms have been temporarily restricted to save lives. It’s not an either or proposition. We don’t have the freedom to kill people and we should not the freedom to willfully spread the coronavirus by protesting against the very things that can prevent all of us from dying. We all have the freedom of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

May Day with guns

Use this free printable May Day Basket to celebrate May Day ...

Happy May Day. As per my last post, the armed protesters are still protesting and causing a fuss about the life saving stay at home orders. Yesterday they outdid themselves by showing up armed in great numbers and almost literally breaking into the Michigan state Capitol building where the state legislature was in session.

It was not a pretty picture. In fact it frightened most of America when they saw the heavily armed men with assault style rifles and more- some said automatic weapons- carried around their shoulders and across their chests. Yes, open carry is allowed in Michigan, but come on. This was no ordinary protest. Some Senators donned bullet proof vests out of fear of these home grown terrorists standing in the balcony above them with their guns. From the above article:

While not all the protesters were armed, there were some armed men in the crowd inside. Michigan is an open-carry state, and people are allowed to openly carry inside the state Capitol, though signs and banners are banned from the building to prevent potential damage to the architecture.

Democratic state Sen. Dayna Polehanki tweeted that some of her colleagues had worn bulletproof vests to cast their votes.

And, of course, Trump weighed in on twitter because he can’t help himself calling them good people just like he did during the Charlottesville protests. No. They are not good people:

In a tweet on Friday morning, President Donald Trump described protesters in Michigan as “very good people” and suggested that the governor should strike a deal with them.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters — many of them carrying guns — descended on the Michigan Capitol to oppose Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s extension of the state’s stay-at-home order by another two weeks, to May 15.

“The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump wrote. “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

No. The Governor of Michigan should not give a little to these dangerous terrorists. They can be angry. But they can’t be angry while armed to the teeth making threats to capitol police and yelling in their faces spewing who knows what at them. That is why we wear masks. Upwards of 25% of coronavirus victims are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.

Elected officials need not back down to armed crazed angry white guys with guns. Intimidation with guns is not new but going after our elected officials over the stay at home orders is a new dangerous thing. As it turns out these folks may become sick or make someone else sick with coronavirus and those who get it will spread to others leading to the death of some and leading to filling up hospitals with sick people that they can’t really handle.

This movement is sick and twisted.

May Day is a day of hope for the coming summer and celebrating spring. It has also been used a show of military force by some communist countries. The day itself has an interesting and controversial history.

Here are some photos of May Day celebrations and photos from around the world showing differences in the emphasis of the day.

Decades ago, my husband and I took a 3 month tour of Europe with another couple and encountered a May Day parade in the former Yugoslavia featuring tanks and a military show of force. I have never forgotten feeling very uncomfortable and a little fearful because, of course, this does not happen in America.

But yesterday, perhaps it did. A show of force of military style weapons meant to intimidate, pure and simply. It is the talk of the world now. Protests have taken place in other parts of the world for the same reason as people here are doing. But they were and are not carrying guns around wearing camo clothing.

There is no common sense in what is going on right now in our country. The President has botched the response to the coronavirus outbreak in so many ways that I can’t list them. He only cares about his re-election which is pretty obvious. Tens of thousands have died and many other sickened. The PTSD will be overwhelming for the country and Americans.

Angry white men with guns only adds to the anxiety and the PTSD. It is not OK. It is not right. It should be illegal but we have allowed laws to pass that make this all legal. And now we see what it means. The NRA and corporate gun lobby made sure that that happened and some are now involved in encouraging the armed protests. Will these people stay silent in the coming months leading up to the election?

I am worried about what is going to happen with these “good guys” with guns if things don’t go their way.

It’s May. We are just flattening the curve of coronavirus deaths. We are not done with this malignant disease in any way, shape or form. We have a long ways to go.It’s time to practice patience even though it is extremely difficult. It’s time to be together about what we need to do as Americans because we are truly all in this together. What you do today could affect me tomorrow. It could affect your cousin or your neighbor or your sister or your mother.

Guns are not needed now. In fact more guns will not and do not make us safer. Gun violence has continued apace during this crisis even though crime has gone down. Suicide hotlines are experiencing a huge increase in calls. Domestic abuse hotlines as well. We know that the majority of suicides and domestic homicides are by gun.

The other day a physician, Dr. Sarah Breen, committed suicide in reaction to what she was seeing every day on the front line. She had also contracted the virus herself. The method of her suicide has not been reported. But in this article it is clearly stated that another health care provider used a gun to kill himself:

Two days earlier, a Bronx EMT witnessing the virus’ ruthless toll fatally shot himself with a gun belonging to his retired NYPD cop dad.

We will see more of this, sadly. Guns and a coronavirus pandemic do not got together and should not. Please don’t buy a gun because of the pandemic. Guns are a risk in your home and now more than ever. Check End Family Fire about the risks and the solutions. Please store guns safely. Please don’t act in a moment of anger or despair. So far we have lost more than 60,000 Americans. We will lose many more. And we will lost more to gun violence.

“Side with Safety”.

Gun deaths are avoidable and preventable. Coronavirus can be avoided if the proper measures are practiced. In the end, a majority of Americans may be affected one way or another by the virus until a vaccine is developed. That is a ways away.

Put away your guns. Stay safe. Stop intimidating and making things dangerous and threatening to others. The folks who are doing this are foolish and look foolish.

We are better than this.

Enjoy May Day and be hopeful that if we all act together we can go together into our new future where maybe nothing will be the same.

In remembrance of Dr. Sarah Breen.

What have guns got to do with it?

Protesters at Michigan anti stay at home rally from Post Online Media (4/16/20)

I was thinking about the Tina Turner song, What’s Love Got To Do With It? as I was getting ready to write this post. For the life of me, I cannot understand what guns have to do with the anti stay at home protests going on all over the country. Why, for instance, are AR-15s deemed necessary when protesting that governors have shut down much of our lives so we stay home to keep from getting sick and dying? It makes no sense because common sense tells us that going out now and mingling with groups, eating out, going to sporting events, being in school, going to movies, etc. can be deadly. Of course doing those things can also be deadly because of gun violence as well. But right now we are talking about the coronavirus that is killing people by the thousands every day.

In a photo in the above linked article, there are armed members of the Boogaloo movement. I posted about that group during the pro gun rally at the Virginia statehouse in January to protest the impending passage of common sense gun laws. Does this mean that these folks want a Civil War or are they preparing for one?

When these anti government groups protest with guns strapped across their chests they are also sending a message to the rest of us. Beware. Danger. If society doesn’t open now or very soon, we will use these guns? Or are the guns a threat to our own leaders? Or to our democracy itself? I believe all are true.

Fomented by our very own President, these groups have been given not so subtle permission from the very top:

Several Democrats at the state and nation levels, meanwhile, blasted the president for fomenting domestic violence with a series of tweets calling on his supporters to “liberate” Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan — all states with Democratic governors.

Trump urged the action as groups have formed to protest stay-at-home orders and business closures aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus. He ominously also called on people in Virginia to protect their gun rights, which are “under siege,” he said.

And the protests are not organic. They have been organized by, of all things, Minnesota pro-gun activists:

The Facebook groups target Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and they appear to be the work of Ben Dorr, the political director of a group called “Minnesota Gun Rights,” and his siblings, Christopher and Aaron. By Sunday, the groups had roughly 200,000 members combined, and they continued to expand quickly, days after President Trump endorsed such protests by suggesting citizens should “liberate” their states.

The Dorr brothers manage a slew of pro-gun groups across a wide range of states, from Iowa to Minnesota to New York, and seek primarily to discredit organizations like the National Rifle Association as being too compromising on gun safety. Minnesota Gun Rights, for instance, describes itself as the state’s “no-compromise gun rights organization.”

I am familiar with the Dorrs. Ben shows up at the Minnesota Capital with his video camera following people like me around trying to get them to talk to him. His paranoia about what Protect Minnesota and Mom Demand Action are doing is obvious.

So is this actually about the stay at home orders or is it about gun rights? The two seemed to be linked here. The NRA has become an arm of the Republican party and represents the far right fringe, whatever that is currently. From the article about the protests though the NRA has compromised too much. Wow.

Also in the photos there are signs that say: give me liberty or the coronavirus. Really? “Give me liberty or give me death.” The irony. The ignorance. The danger. The fantasy?

Now what? What is going to happen? People are frightened, stressed out, depressed, angry- we all are. I get that. But we don’t need nor should we have to be afraid of people with guns in this charged atmosphere.

We all know that guns kill people. Yes they do.

An apparent murder/suicide just occurred in Minnesota. At this point we don’t know if it’s related to COVID because domestic killings have been going on for many decades now. But the concern is that we will see an increase that goes with the increase in the number of guns purchased in panic buying. They won’t wear out. They will be in homes for the foreseeable future to be used in homicide, suicide and unintentional shootings.

A man was found dead of a gunshot wound in Maple Grove, MN. The shootings continue during the pandemic.

Gun deaths have been at an epidemic rate for decades now. They have not been treated as an epidemic but the numbers have hovered between 32,000 and close to or over 40,000 since the mid ’90s when my sister was murdered. And yet, what have we done? Not nearly enough.

As with the coronavirus, we are not doing enough. We need strong leaders who will not be afraid to tell the truth and deal with the facts on the ground. When tens of thousands of Americans die every year from just one cause, we must find a way to reduce that number and prevent the cause. We need to make sure people are safe at home and on the streets, in the workplace and where kids and families go to school and play.

We are hopefully safe at home now with the orders given by most governors. Opening up our society too soon will cause more deaths. That is inevitable. About 25% to 50% of those who test positive for COVID 19 are asymptomatic. That is why testing of all kinds is imperative. Until that happens, we cannot listen to the people with guns who are making idle and not so idle threats. By most accounts and most reporting and facts, the country is not ready to open up yet. Those who are protesting are flat our wrong. They are not thinking about what it actually means to have people go back to “normal” pre-COVID life. But then again, they are not thinking when they show up with assault rifles outside of governors’ mansions and state houses either.

We must be safe at home and stay at home now. We also must be safe at home from gunshot injuries that could kill us. This is not how it has been in any other country. Only in America can we see photos of people protesting the very thing that will save them from themselves. Only in America is there a stupid and dangerous display of assault type weapons on the streets near our state houses and governors’ mansions.

By the way, most Americans don’t agree with the protesters- they don’t want the country to re-open too quickly according to a Sunday poll by NBC and Wall Street Journal. Just like the gun issue where the majority of Americans want common sense gun laws, Americans know that pandemics and gun violence epidemics need solutions that keep them safe from danger, death, injuries and sickness.

In the words of my friend and local writer Sam Cook in this column:

I cannot imagine a summer without waking up in the canoe country, listening to the soft lapping of water on rock. I could be packed and ready to go in half a day. But if that kind of travel is deemed too risky — to me or to the greater populace — then it would be both selfish and foolish for me to go.

Don’t be foolish. Don’t be selfish. Stay safe. Stay at home. Lock up your guns. Don’t bring your guns out in public. Don’t shoot yourself or a loved one. Don’t let your kids handle loaded unsecured guns. Wear a mask in public. Don’t congregate in groups and become sick yourself or infect those around you. Use common sense.

In the fog of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, I almost forgot to mention that today is the 21st anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Columbine was the first mass school shooting that in some ways, has been a model for other school shooters. Please remember the 13 who were killed and the others who were injured and survived and their families. This day lives on in their memories and ours.

Another epidemic amidst the pandemic

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Good morning. As I write this I sit in my cabin coronavirus hide-away looking at the sun begin to shine across the lake. It’s Easter week-end. We will not be spending Easter with our family as we often have done on this holiday week-end at our cabin. Instead, it’s just the two of us. We will connect with our kids and grandkids via one of the various apps designed to hold face to face virtual conversations. It will have to suffice. Instead of hugs it will be a chance just to see everyone and know they are OK.

Our daughter is a health care provider but not one on the front lines in a hospital. For that we give thanks this week-end. Her job has been affected by the coronavirus in that her healthcare system has had to furlough doctors, physician assistants, nurses, lab techs and others because they are bleeding money. She has taken a one week furlough without pay as have thousands of other professional staff so the hospitals can serve the coronavirus patients. She is lucky that has a job and that it is essential as she answers patient calls and has seen some patients in her office who are not COVID related. So far in Minnesota, we have had fewer than many other states but we know it’s coming here. My county has experienced an increase in cases of late.

Just as the pandemic has caused confusion, distress, disastrous changes to life as we know it and death, so has gun violence. Gun violence prevention advocates have been talking about and writing about our concerns that the surge of gun buying left possible because gun shops have been deemed essential businesses during the pandemic will result in increased probability of suicide, domestic shootings and unintentional shootings. It’s happening. Gun deaths have not been reduced during the pandemic as you might think could happen. There are fewer people out and about on our streets so certain types of gun violence are likely reduced due to young urban men shooting at each other. We won’t know this for sure until we can do more study and research during and after the pandemic surge abates.

Brady is keeping track of shootings though so we have some data. It is not pretty. We know people are dying of coronavirus now- a new disease requiring data so we know exactly how many people have the disease and how many are dying. This is crucial to stemming the disease and getting us back to some sense of normalcy. Unfortunately our testing capabilities are woefully inadequate to the task at hand. In spite of what our President says, we are not testing enough people so we can track the disease and figure out how to get our economy up and running.

Just as we have not done enough research into the causes and effects of gun violence and kept better figures about deaths and injuries. Facts matter. Research matters. Understanding reality matters. In order to cure and reduce deaths, sickness, and injuries we need facts. But when some with an agenda keep the facts away from the public and stop research, we are left with ignorance- on purpose. The CDC, now struggling to provide us with the information we need and the testing that is crucial, was stopped from researching gun violence years ago in an attempt to keep us from learning the facts about gun violence. Thank you corporate gun lobby and the elected officials who allowed this to happen. ( sarcasm intended)

After shootings like Sandy Hook and Parkland, others have filled the void. The Trace is one example as they write about and provide crucial information about our gun violence epidemic. The Gun Violence Archive has provided us with information about daily shootings that has proved to be invaluable in understanding the spread of gun violence around he country.

Just a little from the new Brady tracking of shootings ( above link):

The COVID-19 global pandemic risks exacerbating gun violence in all of its forms, including domestic violenceunintentional shootingsfirearm suicide, and everyday gun violence. So far, the devastating results have left public health and government officials pleading for an end to the violence, as gun violence victims compete for space and vital resources inside our health system’s overcrowded intensive care units.

“Doctors like me are trying to keep the world safe from the coronavirus pandemic. But thousands of families in America are already caught in the country’s existing epidemic: gun violence.”Dr. Elinore Kaufman, a fellow in surgical critical care and trauma surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

When our nation overcomes the COVID-19 global pandemic, the epidemic of gun violence will not have paused. One woman will still be shot and killed by a former or current partner nearly every 16 hours; eight children and teens will still be unintentionally injured or killed due to an unlocked or unsupervised gun in the home; and Black men will still be 13 times more likely than white men to be shot and killed with a gun.

When you look at the incidents of gun violence, broken down by “category” you can see the number of domestic related shootings, the number of unintentional shootings, the number related directly to coronavirus, and the number of suicides (less information available about suicides because of lack of reporting)

I participated in a Webinar this past week sponsored by Brady to learn more about our response to the surge in gun buying and what that will mean for our families. It is not a pretty picture. I learned that some of the reasons people are buying guns is because of the fear of a breakdown in our society, a fear that law enforcement will be sick with the virus and unable to respond to threats to safety, and fear of prisoners released during the pandemic ( most of whom were convicted of non- violent crimes).

These are scary times for sure. We already knew that we had a gun violence epidemic and that gun deaths and injuries have been on the rise in recent years. Now we know that because of the current pandemic, gun violence may increase more. Guns don’t wear out. Many of the gun buyers during this surge of purchases are first time buyers making even some of the gun shop owners nervous. The guns will be in homes long after the pandemic abates. That means, inevitably, more deaths and injuries. Common sense tells us that this will be true. More guns = more shootings and more death and injury. That has always been true.

The key to stemming this tide of violence, if we can do so, is to strongly encourage safe storage of guns. Guns must be stored unloaded and locked away from those who should not be able to access them. We know that small children are curious and can access guns easily when they are left unsecured. We know that suicides are more successful with guns than other methods. We know that domestic abusers use guns to threaten and injure or kill spouses and partners. We know these things.

And we cannot have this discussion without talking about expanding background checks to all gun sales. If a domestic abuser wants a gun he ( or she) can easily get one through a private sale. Extreme Risk Protection Orders are very important now that so many guns in homes where the risk of someone being a danger to him or herself or someone else is very real. Also making sure gun sales do not proceed after the 3 day wait ( called the Charleston loophole) without a background check is more important than ever but the U.S. Senate has failed to even hear that bill after it passed in the House last year.

Now more than ever stronger gun laws are essential to pass. That should be an essential service to our communities and our families.

Check out End Family Fire for all the reasons we should be concerned about the risks of guns in homes.

Please talk to friends and family about guns in their homes at this stressful and volatile time. Please tell them to store guns safely if they feel they must have them. Guns will not protect us from the coronavirus. They will make us less safe. Please talk to friends and family who may be experiencing domestic strife to make sure guns are kept away from abusers and to be mindful of the risk they pose to our families. Domestic abuse organizations are still working and are a resource for victims of abuse. Please refer those who you think may be at risk for suicide to the suicide hotline. There has been an unfortunate exponential increase to the calls to the hotline.

There is so much more to write about and I will be doing so in the coming days about the surge of gun buying in the midst of a pandemic and the risks of guns in the home. Please stay safe at home and spend some virtual time with your families on this holiday week-end.

Below are some resources for families.

Suicidehotlines.com At this site you can find hotlines specific to your state.

Here is domestic abuse hotline information.

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Lasting effects of gun violence

Today is the “anniversary” of the attempt to assassinate President Reagan. As we know, President Reagan survived the shooting and was back at work leading the country within the following month. But it was never the same for James Brady, President Reagan’s press secretary who suffered grievous injuries on March 30, 1981:

Besides Reagan, White House Press Secretary James BradySecret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. All three survived, but Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently disabled; Brady’s death in 2014 was considered a homicide because it was ultimately caused by this injury

His life became that of a survivor with continuing health and physical challenges. He retained his sense of humor and did the best he could to be cheerful. I met Brady once at a lunch for Brady United Against Gun Violence and spoke with him briefly. It was hard to understand him as his speech production was affected by his injuries. It was such an honor to be able to speak with him and meet him for the first time.

Sarah Brady became a force in the effort to get the Brady law eventually passed after 6 tries in 7 years. Because of her tireless and selfless efforts, we are safer now from gun violence. That is what drove her to keep going back to Congress to demand that something be done to stop people, like the man who shot her husband, from getting guns in the first place.

I served with Sarah on the Brady board and came to appreciate her wry humor, her feisty personality and plain spokenness. She was not afraid to speak up, to criticize when she thought something was wrong, to be appreciative when things were done right, and to engage in the important discussions about gun violence prevention. Sarah died in 2015 from cancer.

Since the shooting on March 30, 1981 that left Jim Brady permanently disabled, over one million Americans have died of gunshot injuries.

After the Brady Bill was enacted into law in 1993, a system of instant background checks on gun purchasers was set up by the FBI. The database includes the following:

  1. Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  2. Is a fugitive from justice;
  3. Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
  4. Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  5. Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  6. Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  7. Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
  8. Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner, or;
  9. Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

These prohibited gun purchaser categories are used by federally licensed firearms dealers to check the status of someone who wants to buy a gun. At the point of purchase, the buyer completes a Form 4473 to complete the purchase.

Because of the passage of the Brady law, over 3 million people seeking to purchase a gun from a licensed firearms dealer have been prohibited from doing so because they fall into one of the above categories. There is no question that Brady background checks have and do save lives.

As of the time of Sarah Brady’s death she was working on, along with many others in the gun violence prevention movement, expanding this system of background checks to all private sellers. What is generally referred to as a loophole in the law allows for private sellers to sell guns to anyone without requiring a background check. This loophole is equivalent to allowing some physicians, some teachers, some public accountants, some other professionals to practice their careers without being checked out to make sure they are not a felon, a domestic abuser, an illegal drug user, etc. That is the way it should be.

Especially now with the coronavirus outbreak, we certainly want patients to be treated by licensed professionals. And especially now when the Health and Human Services Department has deemed that gunshops are essential businesses with a surge in gun sales, we should want all gun sales to have a background check. These are stressful, dangerous and perilous times in the history of our country. There is a lot of fear and misinformation floating around as well as anxiety, depression and anger. When President Trump pronounced on Saturday that we was concerned about the potential for suicides, he forgot to mention that he had not shut down gun shops to make the means for suicide less likely. Whether he is right or wrong doesn’t it make common sense to stop one of the most efficient methods of suicide by shutting down gun shops? Suicide by gun accounts for at least half of all suicides; suicide by gun accounts for the majority of our gun deaths.

Something does not make sense with passing a law that made so much common sense and then letting some gun sales go without the checks that save lives. Something does not make sense in letting people who could be dangerous to themselves or others to buy a gun from a private seller without making sure that person can be responsible and safe. Something does not make sense that in this time of uncertainty, some counties across our states are declaring themselves second amendment sanctuaries to law enforcement ostensibly will not have to enact laws already on the books or new laws passed in many states to save lives.

Some things do not make sense. The shooting of Jim Brady did not make sense. My sister’s shooting did not make sense. The mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas, El Paso, Virginia Beach, Red Lake, Parkland, and all of the others so frequently occurring in our country don’t make any sense. Something does not make sense about stockpiling guns in this time of uncertainty. Something does not make sense about a public health epidemic out of control not receiving the attention it deserved and deserves.

But in this time of another public health pandemic, most things are shut down and on hold, including actions in Congress and state legislatures to deal with gun violence prevention. We will not forget. We will keep working on keeping Americans safe long after the current epidemic slows. A piece written by Jonathan Lowy from the Brady Center explains why this is so crucial:

The risks are great that guns will be stored unsafely and accessible to children and others who should not have access to them. And your semiautomatic can’t fend off the coronavirus, no matter how large your ammunition magazine is.

But there is an even more fundamental problem that may be at play with at least some of the binge-buying of guns. Some have a sense, it appears, that society may break down under the weight of this pandemic, and Americans will end up fighting each other for supplies, or food, or to maintain safety.  

In this post-apocalyptic Hobbesian state, guns will be needed. This is the same worldview that the National Rifle Association has been stoking for decades to fuel the notion that a gun is necessary for self-protection, evidenced by an inflammatory tweet last week. Some will even add, that is what the Framers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment into our Constitution. (…) And when we come out of this coronavirus, we must recommit to repairing the breaches of our society and establishing a caring community in which Americans recognize we are in this together, as a nation and, indeed, a world. Stockpiling firearms is not the answer and is contradictory to the very notions of government and society upon which our nation was founded.

Lowy is so right. We will come out of this on the other side. Many hundreds of thousands will have died or been changed forever by this time in our history. It would be an added tragedy to add gun avoidable and senseless deaths to coronavirus deaths.

The toll will be more than we can imagine right now. The toll of gun deaths has been more than we can fathom for decades. The bell tolls for the hundreds of thousands who will die or be affected.

Please be safe and healthy. These are difficult times. Having a gun in the home right now can make households and families less safe. If you own a gun please store it securely and unloaded. Please don’t let children or teens get their hands on a gun right now or ever. End Family Fire is working on awareness of the risks of guns in homes.

Sarah Brady knew the risks of guns owned by those who shouldn’t have them. I know the risks of guns in homes with domestic and marital strife. Too many parents have found out the hard way about the risks of guns to children who accessed them in curious moments. Too many families have found that a suicide by gun has forever changed their lives. Too many mass shootings have proven why we need to continue this national discussion about gun violence.

Anniversaries of gun safety reform

On Thursday this week it will have been one year since the U.S. House of Representatives voted on and passed the universal background check bill.

It is also the anniversary of the enactment of the Brady background check bill on Feb. 28, 1994.

Federally and in many states, criminal background checks on the sale of guns are not required for all gun sales. There is a private sale loophole that is big enough for 22% of sales to go through. That means that anyone can purchase a gun through a private sale at a gun show, on-line or at a flea market (the most frequently used venues):

But as effective as the original Brady Bill has proven, its current structure has resulted in several loopholes in the background check system of today. Today, one in five gun sales are conducted without a background check — through gun shows, private sales, and over the internet in online sales. More than 90 percent of Americans agree that anyone who buys a gun — no matter where or how — should go through a Brady Background Check. But loopholes in our nation’s gun laws mean that too often guns fall into the wrong hands.

Gun rights advocates often argue that we already do background checks on all gun sales. They are wrong. Are they willfully wrong or do they just not know the facts? Or are they lying? Hard to know.

They also argue that criminals will get guns anyway no matter if we pass the law. Let’s look at that deceptive argument:

“Background checks work,” Rep. Mike Thompson of California, the lead Democratic author on the background checks bill, said on the House floor. “Every day, they stop 170 felons and 50 domestic abusers from getting a gun from a licensed dealer. But, in some states, those same people can go into a gun show or go online and buy a gun without a background check. This bill will help stop them from doing so.

“Some will argue that criminals won’t follow the law,” he said. “If that is the case, then why do we have laws against murder? People still commit murder. Why do we have laws against stealing? People still steal. This is flawed logic. Don’t fall for it.”

The truth is that the Brady background check bill was written with an exception for private sales of guns. In 1993 it seemed that the NRA won that point with the idea in mind that private sales would not result in selling to prohibited purchasers or if they did, maybe it didn’t matter? Who knows?

It matters. Now, private sellers often have collections as large as the federally licensed dealer next to them at a gun show. Or they advertise their guns, ammunition and other accessories like silencers on Armslist.com and make a sale without checking ID or doing a background check. For some reason there are gun rights advocates who don’t appear to know about Armslist.com. There are also elected representatives who don’t understand it. I have educated a few of them about on-line sales. When writing new laws, it’s key to know what is in them before either voting for or advocating against.

It is disingenuous to argue that we already do background checks on all gun sales. In case the opponents believe or lie about the reason people like me support bills to require a background check on all gun sales here is the real reason. Background checks can save lives.

Why not require a background check on all gun sales? What is the reason to be against it? Rights…..confiscation…..registration. All wrong. There is no reason that makes any common sense to be against requiring a simple background check that takes just minutes on a gun sale.

Now let’s look at the Charleston loophole bill. This bill, passed on 2/28/19, closes the loophole in current law that allows a default proceed of a gun sale. In plain language, it allows someone whose background is questionable but whose information doesn’t come into the NICS within 3 days to walk away with the gun. Thus did the shooter of 9 people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, get his gun. He was a white supremacist and a prohibited purchaser. And he devastated the lives of 9 families in just a few seconds.

The bill would make the time longer before letting someone walk away with a gun if there are “red flags” in that person’s background:

Critics of the current system say the Charleston shooter would have been barred from obtaining the gun had investigators had more time to dig into his record and discovered his drug arrest.

We have been waiting a year now for Senator McConnell to take these bills out from under the dust of his desk and bring them to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Why won’t he? Ask him.

Does President Trump want the bills to pass? No. Does the NRA want the bills to pass? No. Do the far right extremists want the bills to pass? No. Does the American public want the bills to pass?

YES.

Coincidentally, Protect Minnesota will be holding a lobby day on Thursday to rally the House to pass the criminal background check bill and the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill- both of which will save lives. The Senate, of course, has refused to take up the bills so far. But we are pressing on and intend to keep pushing for common sense to happen sooner rather than later.

So let’s get on with it. According to the Gun Violence Archive, so far this year there have been over 6000 gun deaths and more injuries. That is more than last year at this time. And so, what will we do? Turn our backs on victims and survivors and say we don’t care? Or say we care and then do nothing? Or continue to take money and influence from the corporate gun lobby to stop the bills?

What will it be? Lives or rights? We all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The time is now. The time is 20 or 30 years ago.

This is an American tragedy and a public health epidemic crying out for a solution.

Traveling with your gun

It seems that the American public is no longer safe no matter where they are. A California shooting on a Greyhound bus may be a first for the scene of a mass shooting– One dead and 5 injured. Until firearms carry laws passed in the early 2000s in many states, there weren’t so many shootings in public places. Shootings took place at home mostly in the form of domestic shootings or suicides. They still do but mass shootings have become a regular happening. The Columbine school shooting was one of the first mass (school) shootings that caught the attention of the public in a big way because so many victims were left dead and they were kids.

Speaking of guns and buses, does anyone remember last winter’s incident involving a school bus driver and a “law abiding” carry holder in Minnesota?:

A Minnesota man who shot and wounded a school bus driver on a Minneapolis freeway during a snowstorm has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Thirty-two-year-old Kenneth Lilly, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty in August to first-degree assault for the February attack that left Thomas Benson deaf in one ear and unable to continue working as a bus driver due to nerve damage in his hand.

Another article about the shooting says this about the shooter:

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office says Lilly was cleared in a previous shooting, in which he shot and killed a 16-year-old armed robbery suspect in 2015. At that time, the county attorney found that no criminal charges were “appropriate.”

It appears that the man, a supposed security guard, has a trigger finger and should not have had that gun on that day. His anger combined with a gun has now left him serving time.

Unfortunately and tragically times are changing. Guns are so easily and readily available to just about anyone. No matter if they can pass a background check- they can get a gun. No matter if they are a domestic abuser- they can get a gun. No matter if they are dangerously mentally ill or a felon, they can get a gun. No matter if they live in a state with strong gun laws, they can get a gun. California is one of those states where gun deaths are actually low compared to some states and were strong gun laws have been passed. But the weak laws in neighboring states allow guns to come into California anyway:

California has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. But the tragedy that played out on Sunday, in which three people were killed and 12 wounded, illustrated a familiar problem for states that have ratcheted up their own gun laws in recent years, only to see them neutralized by neighboring states with more lax rules.

The above article was referring to the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last July where 3 were shot dead and 17 wounded. Have gun will travel to other states. Have gun will travel on buses and to malls and Congress on your Corner events like the one that killed 6 and left U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and others permanently injured and disabled.

The gun lobby, of course, will tell you that the world is dangerous so you must carry a gun to protect yourself or have one at the ready at home. The opposite is true of course. Many times “law abiding” gun owners and gun carriers are the shooters. “Unintentional shootings” happen far too often. Mistaken identity has left more than a few dead or injured. It happens primarily in America where gun rights advocates insist that the second amendment protects them and allows them to have guns no matter what.

A Super Bowl ad funded by the Michael Bloomberg campaign got it right. Watch the ad for yourself:

Galandrian Kemp who speaks about George, her murdered son, ends with these words: “You have a right to live. No one has a right to take your life and dreams”

Exactly. That is what this is all about. There is no need to travel with a gun. One can’t even compare defensive gun uses to the number of daily gun deaths. Bodies are piling up as I write. They are killed on buses, in cars, in homes, in malls, on the streets, in schools and offices, in hospitals, in every corner of America. But rarely are guns used in self defense. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of today 3583 Americans have died by firearm. There have been 132 defensive gun uses. Common sense tells us that guns are more often used to kill someone than in self defense.

Yes, some choose to carry firearms. And sometimes they are used in legitimate self defense. Mostly the firearms in homes and carried are never fired to kill or injure another human being and most gun owners are safe with their guns.

We can stipulate to all of that. But given that the number of gun deaths and injuries are the highest in our country of all industrialized democratized countries in the world, it is worth discussing why the minority of gun owners ( more extreme in their positions) resist attempts to prevent and cure our national public health epidemic. Given that we all have the right to our lives and dreams it seems like a no brainer.

There is a responsibility to safely store and handle lethal weapons. With rights come responsibilities. Lives can be saved if gun owners think twice or three times before using a gun in anger, disputes, depression or against themselves. Lives are changed in just an instant when a gun is the weapon.

There is also a responsibility to reign in your rhetoric when you are an elected leader. For example, it’s a pretty dangerous idea for a state lawmaker to say it’s legal to shoot communists. We don’t have to use much imagination to know who he is talking about. (And who, really are communists? We know the right and Trump are going to use that word to describe the Democratic candidate no matter who he or she is. Let’s take a look:

Rep. Rodney Garcia, a state lawmaker in Montana, told a roomful of Republicans he believes the U.S. Constitution says socialists can be jailed or shot simply for being socialists. Garcia initially made the statement at an election event, then he reiterated it to a Billings Gazette reporter. And then, (…) Garcia was not able to say where he finds that in the Constitution, the Billings Gazette reported.

Anthony Johnstone, a law professor at the University of Montana, told The Washington Post that “nothing in the Constitution of the United States authorizes the government to punish socialists or anyone else on the basis of their political beliefs.” In fact, the First Amendment prohibits punishing political speech, and the Constitution of Montana “expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of political beliefs,” Johnstone said. All state lawmakers swear an oath to uphold those doctrines.

Never mind….. rights.

He should get an ethics violation at the least. And does he have a carry permit? I question how he will use it if confronted with a candidate running for office who is in the left position of many Democrats. You don’t get so shoot people with whom you disagree politically. You just don’t.

Unless of course your are Donald Trump who believes he can shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose his supporters.

You can’t make this stuff up.

After experiencing the anger of Minnesotans 2 weeks ago at a hearing that I mentioned in my last post, I get the feeling that we can’t overcome this anger to get to a solution that will move us forward towards saving lives. We are not the enemy as one man told one of the bus riders who traveled to Hibbing, Minnesota to attend a hearing on gun bills. We disagree about how to get to the solution. If those folks are truly law abiding gun owners, they have nothing to fear. But the NRA and right wing extreme talking points have fueled anger, fear, paranoia, misinformation and hyperbole.

In the end, we ought to be safe traveling on buses and in the mall, and in our homes, and our kids should be safe from shootings in their schools. Arming more people is just not the solution. And allowing easy access to guns for those who clearly should not have them is just plain stupid and dangerous.

Our better angels should prevail. In my city, there will be a Better Angels training to get people on opposite sides of controversial issues to engage and try to get to some place where we can agree. Our country has become so polarized over the last few decades that I wonder if that is even possible. The current occupant of the White House tweets many times a day to foment the polarization. Never before has a President been so demeaning and called so many people names. Never before has a President engaged in hourly lies to misinform the public and cause damage to the national psyche. And never before has a President encouraged violence in tweets or excused it for that matter.

Never before has social media and more mobility been a factor in some of the violence and polarization. People travel with their guns to shoot people, to attend rallies, to attend hearings and they come from out of state and from far away.

Take this article from the Star Tribune about the increasing gang violence in the Twin Cities:

She offered another, simpler explanation: As society becomes more mobile, many young gang members, lacking stable housing, are staying with relatives or girlfriends around the metro area. (…)

Bill Finney, another Ramsey County undersheriff and former St. Paul police chief, suspects that teens feuding online set up meeting spots at transit stations along the light-rail line to settle their differences in person. Last year, he witnessed such an encounter as two boys wielding knives greeted another pair getting off the train. The attack resulted in a stabbing, Finney said.

Before the internet, graffiti was the medium of choice to diss a rival, experts say. The emboldened could, under the cover of darkness, spray paint an anonymous message on an adversary’s property.

But an explosion of social media has accelerated those disputes. Today, teens flock to Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube to disrespect one another through flashy rap videos without ever leaving their homes. The words are not veiled, and neither is the poster. Retribution is swift.

At the end of the above article mention is made about getting the guns off the streets. That is really the main problem here. Easy access to guns allows the violence to increase and results in tragic loss of life. The gun rights extremists often write off gang violence as an excuse to do nothing about the violence. Gang members have families who love them and when they die, their families mourn for them. We can’t just write off a whole group of citizens. Sometimes the violence of gangs harms and kills innocent people like the mother of my friend Bunny Beeks who as sitting in her car when a bullet flying in the street hit her and killed her.

Never before has there been such an outright display of weaponry as we have seen in Virginia and Kentucky in the past few weeks. A meme is going around with a photo of the armed Kentuckians going around the metal detectors at the state Capitol while others, unarmed, had to go through the detectors. And by armed, I mean AR-15s strapped around their shoulders and chests. Check out the photos in the linked articles and tell me if you would feel safer surrounded by these folks. You can’t make this stuff up.

It is not normal nor should it become normal. It will take elected leaders to step up and call out this dangerous and bullying behavior if the rest of us are to feel safe. I have been told by some in the gun rights community that I should not fear being surrounded by people carrying guns. They are, after all, law abiding citizens. My response? If I feel unsafe surrounded by armed citizens then I feel unsafe. They don’t seem to understand that the majority of us do not care to see people carrying guns around in public. And particularly people dressed in masks and military gear.

We are not at war- or not yet anyway. But I fear that with the increased polarization and the increase in armed rallies and citizens ready to engage in civil war, we just may see one.

That would be tragic to say the least.

We are better than this.

UPDATE:

I need to add something to my original post that supports my view that we don’t need armed people everywhere to respond to crises. According to this article. the Greyhound bus driver in the incident where a shooter killed 1 and injured 5 was unarmed. He talked the shooter down without a gun pointed at him:

After the gunman opened fire, the bus driver pulled over to the shoulder and “was able to persuade the shooter” to get off the bus, Sgt. Brian Pennings with the California Highway Patrol said during a news conference Monday morning.

The suspect “voluntarily” got off the bus, leaving a black handgun behind, Pennings said. Officers located him on the shoulder and took him into custody without incident.

The bus driver, who was not injured, “handled the situation professionally and appropriately to minimize any more possible victims,” Pennings said.

Even if the driver had been armed, how was he to respond with a gun while driving the bus and keeping the other passengers safe? This is the myth of the gun lobby suggesting that if only someone had a gun…….