Gun lobby distractions

Motivational speechThis post has been edited to update it since it was first posted.

 

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, chaos and distractions have been the rule and the name of the “game.” Lies, tweets, providing false news stories, ignoring or denying some very real dangers to our democracy from the Russian interference in our election, National Security Advisor fired, failed immigration orders, failed health care plan, etc. Not one department or policy area has been left alone. The long tentacles of those in absolute power are reaching far and wide. Gun policy is no exception. Licking their chops, the corporate gun lobby has pursued with some success an agenda that includes getting more guns into the hands of more people in more places. On the face of it, you have to wonder why anyone would want this. It makes no common sense that as a culture and civilized society we would choose to have loaded guns everywhere carried by just about anyone.

Executive VP of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre knows the rules well. He once said this and he meant it:

No Wayne. You made up the rules. This is not how Americans want our gun culture and our gun policy to be.

It seems to be of utmost importance to a minority of Americans who make claims that the second amendment gives them a right to do whatever they want with their guns because…. inalienable rights to own a gun.

Let’s talk a minute about rights. What are they? Is the meaning of the word clear to us all? I took a look at this Wikipedia article about the word rights:

There is considerable disagreement about what is meant precisely by the term rights. It has been used by different groups and thinkers for different purposes, with different and sometimes opposing definitions, and the precise definition of this principle, beyond having something to do with normative rules of some sort or another, is controversial.

And herein lies a basic problem with the arguments over gun rights. The several sides of the issue of gun rights and gun violence prevention would meet in the middle of the issue because that is where the majority stands and has stood for decades at least. In the interest of saving lives, the two sides approach it from different angles. One side, the majority, believes that people can have rights to own their guns but those rights come with responsibilities and common sense. The other side, claiming rights to the same life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness believes that that includes owning and carrying guns in order to protect their rights and lives.

Unfortunately for the one side, gun deaths are not decreasing and instead are staying the same year to year or increasing. More guns in more places carried and owned by more people who should not have them has not made us a safer nation. Those are facts. In states with more gun ownership and weaker gun laws, gun deaths are higher than in others on average. From the report from the Violence Policy Center:

“Year after year, the evidence is clear that states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have far lower rates of gun death,” says VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “States with strong gun violence prevention laws consistently have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. In states with weak gun laws and easy availability of guns, the rates of death by gunfire are far higher.”

The nationwide gun death rate in 2014 was 10.54. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire dipped to 33,599 in 2014 from 33,636 in 2013.

America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of other industrialized nations. The gun death rate in the United Kingdom was 0.23 per 100,000 in 2011, and in Australia the gun death rate was 0.93 per 100,000 in 2013. (These are the most recent years for which data is available. Data for these countries is available at GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.)

State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

Another report from the Violence Policy Center about the impacts of gun violence:

VPC research finds that in 2014, gun deaths even outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, motor vehicle deaths are on a steady decline thanks to proven public-health based injury prevention strategies informed by consumer product safety regulation standards designed to reduce death and injury.

To reduce the toll of gun violence in America, a similar public health approach is urgently needed. Today, guns are the only consumer products in the United States that do not have to meet federal health and safety standards. The federal government should regulate firearms for health and safety just like any other consumer product.

I met with a young man last week who had attended a meeting at which I spoke in January. He was interested in the issue of gun violence prevention from the point of view of a gun owner who agrees with background checks on all gun sales and other reasonable  measures. Several people he knows and even relatives have died in hunting accidents and gun suicides. He did not think of these as gun violence but has changed his thinking and understands that his involvement would be instructive for the cause of gun violence prevention.

On the same day as this man attended one of the Protect Minnesota trainings he also attended a conceal carry permit class. His take? He never wants to carry a gun. When the permit trainer and a lawyer explained the responsibility of a gun carrier if they decide to aim their gun at someone or actually shoot someone, he determined that that was not for him.

This gun owner does not see things as black and white but rather he sees the world from the point of view of someone who likes to hunt and own guns but understands that his rights are limited in the interest of public safety.

But some do see this as black and white and getting their way. A recent article from The Trace does a good job of outlining why the gun absolutists want to trample on the rights of the rest of us to be safe:

“We’re the Trumps,” he said. “We’re the grassroots.”

Like President Trump and his top advisor, Stephen Bannon, constitutional-carry activists are unconcerned by any wider distress their agenda may cause. Like the new White House, they see the trampling of existing norms as the removal of obstacles.

“Once you cross over this PC concept,”  Harris said, “then you have an enormous number of issues that come out of the gate.”

Those issues include the abolition of gun-free zones in schools, and deregulation of tightly controlled weapons categories, like suppressors and machine guns, which have been subject to strict laws for nearly a century. Rather than a drastic break with current public safety standards, he said, such changes would merely represent government “getting back on sound fundamental principles.”

This sums it up. Like Trump and his extreme advisors who want to disrupt just about everything our country has done or stood for in the last few decades, these gun absolutists want their way no matter what. No matter the lives lost as a result. No matter that public safety will be in danger. No matter that the majority of Americans don’t want what they want. No matter that over 32,000 Americans die every year from gunshot injuries. No matter that about 90 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries in gun suicides, homicides and “accidental” gun discharges.

No matter common sense.

This is where we are now. No compromising. No discussion. Executive orders or bills passed with no hearings, no expert testimony, no input from citizens. Just pass things and get your way no matter whose rights you trample or what process you didn’t follow.

People identified with severe mental illness and can’t manage their affairs can now purchase guns. People who don’t have permits to carry loaded guns around in public being able to carry everywhere and anywhere. Does any of this make any sense even with rights?

The answer, of course, is NO.

We are being distracted from the gun violence epidemic before us that we can actually address with strong gun policy and good research about the causes and effects of gun violence. We are being distracted by the agenda of the gun absolutists whose view of the world and the gun culture is far different from what Americans actually want and need.

Here is a great article from Peter Ambler of Americans for Responsible Solutions about the need for research and understanding the risks of owning guns:

It’s time for Congress to stop serving at the will of the gun lobby and to start providing the resources our institutions of public health need to understand our country’s gun violence epidemic so that we can do something about it.

Gun violence robs communities of their leaders, schools of their students, and families of their loved ones. We know that if we gave our scientists and researchers the opportunity, they would produce results. How much longer will we have to wait before we let them try?

That is what we should be talking about now.

With their very own nominee , Neil Gorsuch, about to take the oath of office for the next Supreme Court Justice, the gun lobby and gun abolutists must be feeling jubilant at getting their way once again. Time will tell if that works out for the absolutists.

Meanwhile, we need to work on the real problems and not the solutions looking for a problem.

We are better than this.

Let’s get to work. Join an organization that is working on gun violence prevention and gun safety reform. Listen to the facts and act when you see that your voices are not being heard. Make noise. Speak up. Stand up for the victims and their families and friends and ask your elected leaders to do the same. Ask them to hear the real stories of victims.

Just as Trump seemed to have changed his mind about his policy in Syria after seeing the photos and videos of children strangled after exposure to serin gas, show your leaders photos of those whose lives were lost to senseless gun violence. Here is my photo (of my sister who was shot in a domestic related shooting incident by her estranged husband):

photo of Barbara

 

 

Guns and the Capitol

Basic RGBShots were fired near the U.S. Capitol yesterday. This is all in a usual day in our country. Luckily no one was injured as officers fired at a woman driving erratically and attempting to harm officers. Bullets flying on our streets is never a good idea no matter who fires them. People are understandably frightened when they hear nearby gunfire.But officers took care of the situation as is their job. From the article:

 

 

“It was high anxiety,” said Yanta, who planned to discuss farming issues with Cuellar. “I didn’t get shaken up until I went into the building and realized what had transpired right in front of me.

“To be so close to something like that was very frazzling.”

People know what it means when they hear gunfire.

Inside the Capitol our lawmakers are up to doing the bidding of the corporate gun lobby again. When aren’t they? Let’s take a look.

The nomination of Judge Gorsuch, is, of course, being scored by the NRA:

The National Rifle Association is investing $1 million of its own money in the Senate confirmation battle over Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

The group announced Tuesday that it’s buying up ads supporting Gorsuch in the states of Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri and Montana — all states Trump won in 2016 where Democratic senators are up for re-election in 2018.

None of the four senators has indicated their intentions on the nominee.

“Judge Gorsuch is an outstanding nominee and will protect our fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, said in a statement. “We will be fully activating our five million members in support of his confirmation.”

They obviously believe that if Gorsuch is seated on the Supreme Court, he will act in their favor on gun deals. The NRA and others in the gun lobby spent a lot of money to get Donald Trump elected. They just knew he would do their bidding and he has not disappointed. Nor has Congress.

They must have forgotten that the man Gorsuch is replacing, Justice Antonin Scalia, made it clear that strong gun laws are constitutional.

The House voted to take the names of Veterans who have been diagnosed with severe mental illness off of the NICS list of prohibited gun purchasers. This makes perfect sense, don’t you think? I mean, it’s not as if veterans aren’t killing themselves with guns in great numbers. And sometimes others as well. Seems to make common sense to me and a whole lot of other Americans that protecting our Veterans from using a gun to end their own life is just a terrible and tragic idea. The overall suicide rate amongst our Veterans is high. Even some well-known military generals objected to this bill:

Earlier in the week, a coalition led by retired Gens. Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, Peter Chiarelli, and Wesley Clark wrote a letter to lawmakers saying the proposal would “put America’s veterans who need our support the most in harm’s way, by providing them with easy access to firearms.”

But Roe argued that in many cases, veterans who are deemed unable to handle their finances can be indirectly barred from buying a weapon, even if they pose no real threat to the public.

“It’s hard enough for some people to admit they need help,” he said. “Imagine how much more difficult it is when they fear they will be stigmatized and isolated … (or) that a VA bureaucrat may decide that they are incompetent and take away their constitutional rights.”

Stigmatized? I get the idea here. People with mental health issues do not want to be stigmatized and they shouldn’t be. But I don’t get the idea that one feels isolated without a gun. I don’t and most people I know don’t. Somehow I can’t believe that owning a firearm when one is deemed severely mentally ill and not being able to handle one’s own financial affairs is at the top of the needs list. If it is, one needs to wonder if that person should not have a gun in the first place. Some people should not be able to access guns.

Firearms make it so much easier and veterans are familiar with their use. From this article:

Dr. Charles Engel: Six of 10 gun-related deaths are suicides, and about half of all suicides are gun-related. Most suicides occur on impulse, and the availability of a gun makes it all too easy for a person experiencing suicidal thoughts to act on that impulse. Some have speculated that perhaps one reason that suicide is elevated among military personnel and veterans is their experience with guns. Exchanging hostile fire in battle, especially the experience of killing, may represent an important psychological threshold. The tragic psychological familiarity that comes with crossing that threshold may well increase the likelihood of subsequent self-inflicted injury in someone already thinking about suicide.

The Senate may or may not take up this bill and do something with it. Time will tell if this becomes a law. We will not be safer. Nor will our Veterans and their families. It is backwards and ludicrous that some believe the Veterans in this small category would be safer with a gun.

But never mind public safety. Some in Congress don’t care about that because they have taken a whole lot of money from the corporate gun lobby and are threatened by them if they don’t vote the right way.

The very same gun lobby minions in Congress seem to think it is a good idea to grant reciprocity for gun permit holders nationally. I think this is a very bad idea and so do many others. I agree with Everytown for Gun Safety and other organizations:

“Reciprocity would have a profound impact on state public safety, making the state with the weakest standards into the law of the land, and letting criminals and other dangerous people carry concealed guns in every state in the country,” the gun control group Every Town for Gun Safety said in a statement.

So someone from a permitless carry state where no background checks or training are required to carry a permit will now be able to carry in states that have much stronger gun laws. What could possibly go wrong?

People like George Zimmerman, infamous for his shooting of an unarmed black teen-ager, will be coming to a state near you. You will not be safer as a result. This is the antithesis of public safety.

And then there is the attempt by the gun lobby and it’s lapdogs in Congress to re-introduce silencers into our national gun culture.:

Not everyone is convinced that shooting-related hearing loss is a problem that needs another solution.

“You already have the answer,” said Kris Brown, chief strategy officer at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “There are things available on the market to protect hearing.”

The people who want to make silencers more easily available point to a range of other tactical benefits. Silencers decrease a weapon’s recoil and improve its accuracy, the American Suppressor Association says on its website. This lets shooters fire in rapid succession without losing track of the target, as silencer manufacturers note. Suppressors also reduce muzzle flash, allowing shooters to better disguise their location in low-light settings.

Although supporters of silencers tout these latter advantages in terms of sport shooting, the same characteristics might also appeal to a mass shooter or other criminal.

“There could be some instance where somebody uses it for nefarious purposes,” said Jack Rinchich, president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. “They don’t want a loud report or a muzzle flash or a blast ― say a sniper or someone trying to shoot at police officers or other people from a distance ― and they want to suppress that noise.”

I’m sure that you remember the mafia shootings in the 1930s. Machine guns and silencers were regularly used to commit heinous crimes against innocent or unarmed victims. As a result, the nation decided that making these two types of firearms/accessories very difficult to obtain would be a good idea, thus the Gun Control Act of 1934. Since then, few, if any crimes and shootings have involved machine guns or silencers.

We have to remember that we don’t have universal background checks as a federal law. Until we do, if we make silencers legal to buy without the current strong restrictions, they will end up in the hands of those who should not have them. Why? Because they will be subject to sales with no background checks, as are all types of guns, because of private sellers on-line or at gun shows and other such venues. Who would get their hands on these then? We know the answer.

To say this is a bill that would protect hearing is ludicrous. There are many products that can protect hearing when shooting a gun at the range or while hunting.  Hunters want to hear other hunters shooting so they know where they are located and as self protection. In addition, the muting of a gun’s loud noise would make it more dangerous when a mass shooting is occurring. It was the noise of the bullets expelled from the assault rifle that alerted the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School that a shooter was in the building so they could do their best to hide and save the children. It was the sound of gunfire that led officers to the location of the Virginia Tech shooter.

The gun lobby if using fake news to tell us the only way to protect hearing while hunting ( yes they try to make this sound normal by relating it to hunting) is to buy a silencer. Nonsense. My husband lost some high frequency hearing in one ear while hunting as a youth and young man. I do understand that people can lose their hearing from gunshots. A good friend of mine became permanently deaf when her father shot off an assault rifle at a range very close to her head. She has had a profound hearing loss since then and her life was changed forever. That was a senseless and careless use of a gun which she readily admits.

So yes, it is true that shooting a gun frequently, or even irregularly, can cause hearing problems. But to use selling gun silencers as a hearing protection and public safety bill is disingenuous.

Again I go back to the path that follows the money. The silencer ( suppressor) industry would love to sell more of their products and can’t wait for that to happen. As fewer people own guns, the gun industry needs a market for their goods. That lurks behind most of the gun lobby pushed legislation. If you watch the video here you can see that opinions about silencers, aka suppressors,  are all over the place as to need, personal preference, ability to buy them, cost, etc.

And further Donald Trump Jr. is making the case for gun silencers.  That can’t hurt the cause in our current political configuration. The corporate gun lobby now has a seat in the White House.

I admit that many don’t see the harm in the use of silencers. They point to other countries, mostly European, who allow silencers. But those countries also have universal background check laws and other strong restrictions which make it unlikely that silencers would find their ways into the illegal market or into the hands of people who should not have guns.

I agree with the writer of this article.  This is a solution looking for a problem and looking for a way to make money.

Aren’t Congress members and our legislators charged with the safety of the public in their states and in the country as a whole? How did the narrative get high-jacked to make some people think that allowing more armed people, some with no training, to roam our streets and public places where families and the general public shop, work, go to school, have appointments with accountants, physicians, lawyers, tax preparers, other business people located in our cities?

It’s not normal for people to be carrying guns around in public no matter what the gun lobby claims. They want it to be normal. But it’s not. They have not convinced that many people so far as the public is largely in favor of common sense when it comes to gun laws and public safety.

As I said in my last post, it is a topsy turvy world as of the November. Literally everything is under attack. What we don’t need are people who are scared, feeling ill at ease, anxious, nervous, angry or depressed to get themselves armed and dangerous. And we don’t need the people who believe this is OK to be making gun policy.

Bleak Friday

Basic RGB(Apologies for the formatting. Something went wrong with WordPress while posting.)

Yes, America, we just finished what is supposed to be a peaceful family holiday. As for me, it was one of the better Thanksgivings we have had. Our cabin has become the gathering place for our family so everyone converged in our small place for the holiday week-end. We managed to cook the dinner in our small kitchen and it was one of the best and tastiest yet. There were no arguments- no violence. Laughter, kids sliding and playing outside in the snow and memory making times.

Black Friday is here. Shopping has begun and deals are happening all over the internet and in stores. Americans love deals on things. The holidays are officially upon us, like it or not. As I wrote in my last post, the holidays mean something very different to victims and survivors of gun violence. Just as with any disease or accidental death, the unexpected loss of a loved one is very difficult at holiday times. Since my focus here is on gun safety reform and gun violence prevention, I write about the loss of loved ones in violent, often preventable deaths due to shootings.

And as we know, shootings don’t take a holidays. This year was no exception. In Kentucky, 2 were shot dead at a football game :

Gunfire erupted at an annual Thanksgiving Day football game in Kentucky, leaving two dead and four others wounded, Louisville Metro Police said Thursday.

A West Virginia man shot and killed a teen for bumping into him:

William Ronald Pulliam appeared unrepentant after fatally shooting a teenager during a confrontation outside a West Virginia discount store.

“The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street,” Pulliam allegedly told police, according to a criminal complaint.
But the 62-year-old man, in a jailhouse interview with CNN affiliate WCHS, categorically denied making that statement. He said he feared for his life when 15-year-old James Means allegedly pulled a gun on him. The complaint did not say Means had a gun.
This is “Stand Your Ground” on steroids. Without that gun, the teen would be alive today. Tell me again that more guns have made us safer and that an armed society is a polite society. These are lies perpetrated by the corporate gun lobby and their lackeys in Congress and our legislatures. A teen should not be dead over unsupported fear that he had a gun.

The incident began about 6 p.m. on Thursday. Local news station KOLO reported that “there was apparently a dispute over a parking spot” and said police characterized the shooting as a road rage incident.

Reno Police said two vehicles stopped near the exit of the parking lot, The Associated Press reported. It said: “Police said both persons involved were armed with weapons and a 33-year-old man was shot dead at the scene.”

 So much for “responsible” gun toting Americans with permits to carry.
Of course it makes no common sense but that is not what is driving our gun culture. Because if we practiced common sense, these kinds of shootings would be much more rare.
The Twin Cities area of Minnesota also saw 2 shootings right before the Thanksgiving holiday. One man was shot  and killed in his home and a woman was shot and injured in her workplace by her ex-husband. One was a domestic shooting which occur regularly in our country of guns. The other has not yet been determined but it appears that the victim may have been known by his shooter.
There are more that I likely missed or just did not report. About 80 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries.
So what should we do? Just let these kinds of shootings happen without making the slightest attempt to prevent them? Or without doing any meaningful and scientific research into the causes and effects of gun violence? Or without trying to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them?
Just because shootings have not yet affected you does mean that one day, you or someone you know or love could be a victim of a senseless and avoidable shooting. That means that you should be joining in efforts to prevent and reduce gun violence of all kinds- whether homicide, suicide, terrorism, or “accidental”.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The only reason it is is because as a country, we have let the corporate gun lobby and its lapdogs in Congress and legislatures have their way. Lies, deception, fear, paranoia and profits have kept us from saving lives. And we disagree on how that plays out in our everyday lives.
As it turns out, guns are deadly weapons and are dangerous products sold without proper vetting in too many cases and without any training required. The gun lobby has succeeded in getting some of us to think it’s OK for people with no training whatsoever or going through a permitting process to carry loaded guns on our streets.  The gun industry and lobby has convinced some of their lapdogs and members/minions that the shooting of 20 first graders and 6 educators was not enough to change our gun policy. Even the shooting of one of their own, Gabby Giffords, was not enough for Congress to act. I guess it wasn’t enough that 12 people were shot and killed at a Colorado movie theater or that 49 were killed at a GLBT nightclub and ……..
When is enough? What is enough?
It’s a bleak America if you really think hard about this.
And if we believe that President-elect Trump is going to drain the swamp of industry profits at the cost of human lives and lobbyist influence on our Congress and legislators, then I have a bridge to see you in Brooklyn. The NRA spent a lot of money to get him elected and if we think that won’t produce good results for them, we are dreaming. The interesting thing is that the opposite effect may be the result of Trump’s election. Minorities are now buying more guns to ostensibly protect themselves from the potential for more racism and acts of violence, hate crimes or intolerance towards them:

Scott, an African-American, is one of many minorities who have been flocking to gun stores to protect themselves, afraid Trump’s victory will incite more hate crimes.

“You feel that racists now feel like they can attack us just because the president is doing it,” Earl Curtis, the owner of Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virginia, told NBC News.

Gun store owners told NBC News that since November 8 they’re seeing up to four times as many black and minority customers — and black gun groups are reporting double the normal number of attendees at their meetings since the election.

This proliferation of weapons is just not good for America. It is a vicious circle that leads not to self protection but to more gun incidents and more injuries and deaths. We know that more guns has not led to fewer gun deaths but more. 
Back to the gun lobby, in this new article in The Trace, we see how the NRA actually cleverly and deceptively has worked for decades to make sure someone like Trump got elected. Sociologist and writer, Scott Meltzer, is interviewed for this article. Let’s take a look fat his observations from the linked article:

Yeah, I think the really interesting dynamic that the NRA has in its rhetoric and its language is that it frames itself and its members as victims of this culture war that’s removing guns and giving special rights to women and people of color and gays and lesbians. Its members are the new minority, they’re the new victims.

The flip side for the NRA is that it also frames its members as heroes, as freedom fighters. The group labels itself as the oldest civil rights organization in the country. It’s essentially a religion, it’s a faith. It’s a fundamental belief system, it’s the religion of freedom — that they have to literally fight ’til the death. That’s what Heston was saying with “from my cold, dead hands,” right? There are not a lot of other single-issue interest groups that would use that kind of rhetoric.

That kind of rhetoric is not based on fact but on raw emotion, fear, power, and loss of control. I get it that many good Americans own guns for hunting and self protection but again, most Americans have not bought into this kind of rhetoric and do understand that gun owning, gun rights and reasonable restrictions on guns and gun owners are not mutually exclusive.  It is because we want to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our families safe that we can agree on this. But what that means seems to be where we can’t meet in the middle. If this is about culture, it is essential that we are talking about the risk of guns and ways to prevent people from getting shot.
#Enough. Let’s get to work to change the conversation, the culture and policy so we can protect our children and families from devastating gun violence.

Thanksgiving memories

Rowan branchSo many Americans will have empty seats at their Thanksgiving tables this year because of senseless acts of gun violence. Some will be because of gun suicides, the most common form of gun violence in America. I send my hugs and condolences to those families. But wishes, hugs and forms of sympathetic expressions are just not enough.

And for the families of the 4 officers who were shot in just one day, 2 of whom were allegedly targeted by some ill intentioned person with a gun, there will be no normal Thanksgiving and maybe not for many years. One officer died from his injuries. From the article:

McManus said he believed Marconi was slain because he was a police officer.

“I think the uniform was the target, and the first person who happened along was the person he targeted,” McManus said. (…)

In St. Louis, a police sergeant was hospitalized in critical condition but expected to survive after being shot twice in the face Sunday night in what the police chief called an “ambush.”

In America ambushes by armed people against armed law enforcement officers have happened with some regularity.  Tacoma. Philadelphia. Pittsburgh. Iowa. New York. And others. So much for having a gun for protection ( as do officers) keeping you from getting shot by someone else with a gun.

Families are grieving. They have lost sons, brothers, uncles, fathers. They have lost sisters, mothers, daughters and aunts. And many of the deaths were avoidable if we only would put our heads together to prevent a portion of the devastation. We can do it. Of course we can. But we haven’t. It is an American tragedy that has been playing out for decades.

Those of us who have lost loved ones to gun violence can be thankful for the memories that make us both sad and happy. We can be thankful that we still have other family members and friends and that we can make the most of what we have. I know I am thankful for all of the wonderful people I have met over the years through my volunteer work with various gun violence prevention organizations. I feel thankful that there is a network of victims and survivors nation-wide who can share their stories and help each other get through the bad times. And I am thankful that so many of them have become stronger people as a result of their stories and their advocacy.

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If you were alive then, you can’t forget where you were or the aftermath of that tragedy. Just thinking about it now makes me anxious because the days right after the assassination were so potently sad and full of fear and anxiety for Americans. We watched much of it unfold on national television which made it all the more horrible.

The Kennedy family has suffered 2 such assassinations and have had empty seats around their Thanksgiving tables for a long long time. The pain and memories never go away. My family has had an empty chair for almost 24 years now. Holidays are always times that bring forth memories and now, we can mostly find happy ones. But the hole left in our hearts never goes away.

And so it is in America.

We could strengthen our laws to stop at least some people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them by requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. But we aren’t doing that. We could do more about lost and stolen gun legislation and launching public health campaigns about the dangers of not storing guns safely at home. ( 400 guns were stolen by teens from the home of a felon who could not possess them.)

Does one person need 400 guns? What was the felon going to do with these guns? How and why did this felon even have these guns given that he can’t legally buy them from federally licensed firearms dealers? And what were the teens planning to do with them?

Sigh.

We could be talking more about the danger of unlocked, loaded guns in homes where children live. Why aren’t we doing more about this? The gun lobby doesn’t really like this kind of talk.

We could be talking more about the risk of loaded guns for people who may have mental or physical health problems that could make them dangerous to themselves or others. But we aren’t really doing much about that either.

The thing is, most Americans have common sense and actually want something to be done. The Center for American Progress did a post election poll of Trump and Clinton voters. The results may surprise some people but not me. I know that all polling, at least about gun violence prevention measures, has been the same for decades. They show strong support from Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non gun owners and even NRA members for requiring background checks on all gun sales.

102 Pass legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, including those sold online or at gun shows. ……………………………………………………… 57 31 9 3 88 12 76 Trump Voters………………………………………………… 47 35 12 6 82 18 64 Clinton Voters ……………………………………………….. 68 25 5 1 93 7 87

What about this does the gun lobby and its’ minions in Congress and state legislators not get?

Oh right. It’s the gun industry and the corporate gun lobby that have those folks at their mercy. How sad is that? And Donald Trump says he’s going to “drain the swamp”?

I have my doubts. If he decides to stay beholden to the lobbyists of the gun industry who manage to get their way in spite of what the public wants and in spite of the continuing gun violence epidemic in our country, he will be adding swamp monsters and filling it up.

But victims and survivors move on with their lives. Many of them work hard for gun violence prevention measures and speak out against the deceptions presented by the corporate gun lobby. More guns do not make us safer. There is proof of that in every day incidents that leave innocent people dead from their gunshot injuries. An armed society is certainly not a polite society and gun free zones do not lead to more gun deaths.

Let’s be thankful for those who have common sense. Let’s be hopeful that our Congress and state legislators stop following the money and being lapdogs for the gun lobby. Let’s also be hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump will be willing to shake things up regarding the gun lobby’s influence on our country’s gun policies.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Be safe out there. As I often write, gun violence does not take a holiday.

Halloween frights, elections and violence

skullHalloween is upon us. And it’s scary out there. In a few days, kids will be going door to door and hoping for lots of candy in their bags. Older kids like to scare people with their costumes and haunted houses and other haunted things are scaring people. This “older kid” was asked to remove his mask of a face with President Obama with a noose around his neck.He was attending a football game at the University of Wisconsin. Not funny. Scary and intimidating. We know what he meant.

Last night we were at a movie theater which is near a haunted ore boat that dresses up every year with all kinds of haunting music and displays of “brains”, “eyeballs” and other such scares inside. It is very popular with residents and visitors alike.

I am not so scared of things like that though I don’t particularly enjoy these kind of displays. I’m afraid of some of my fellow Americans. It’s just not funny or clever when hateful people display inappropriate halloween displays that mean something other than they look. Or maybe they do look exactly as intended.  A Florida resident got himself into some trouble by hanging 2 dummies from a tree:

There needs to be a hell of a lot of hate in your heart to think lynching people on Halloween is funny. And yet, here we are, Miami. A homeowner in Three Lakes, a small community in suburban Kendall, is celebrating the holiday by lynching two black-looking dummies in his or her yard. It’s also impossible to ignore what’s just in front of the display on the same lawn: A “Trump/Pence 2016” sign.

The Trump sign just seems to go with the display doesn’t it? Donald Trump is one scary man whose frightening rhetoric has reduced our election to its’ lowest point in decades.

I think it’s safe to say that this has been one of the craziest and mind blowing elections in modern memory. With 10 days to go, “bombs” are exploding all over the place with misinformation and total melt-down of some in the media and most on the Republican side of the aisle over a report issued by FBI Director James Comey.  Reasonable people can argue about this but there are also facts. The scary thing is that Trump and his GOP buddies are distorting it out of all proportion and as we learn more we learn how wrong they have been. It’s downright scary that a lie can travel this quickly and that this late election cycle report happened in the first place.

But there are a lot more scary things going on this election season.

Trump says the election will be rigged with no evidence to support the allegations. This has led to some of his supporters believing they can resort to violence if their candidate doesn’t win. Or, as an aside, actual voter fraud by Trump supporters. An Iowa Republican voter tried to vote twice, fearing that her first vote would not be counted. She was arrested for fraud. Now that is a rigged election.

But back to the potential for violence in this election. Some Americans are talking about taking up arms on election day and the day after they will start the revolution. And with so many militia and other hate groups already formed, that is certainly a possibility.

Americans in general are heavily armed with some owning arsenals:

Overall, Americans own an estimated 265 million guns – more than one gun for every American adult, according to the study by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities. Half of those guns – 133 million – were in the hands of just 3% of American adults, so-called “super owners” who possessed an average of 17 guns each, it showed.

It is not difficult to imagine that those with hyped up fear of their own government are ready to fight against it or start a revolution when they don’t believe in the results of a democratic election. The corporate gun lobby has promoted this kind of fear and paranoia for years. And, militia groups and hate groups are at an all time high.

 

Former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh, not known for his subtlety or  common sense, said this past week that he would be taking up his musket the day after the election if Hillary Clinton wins. He tried to excuse his hyperbolic and threatening comments by saying this:

The former Illinois congressman said he’s used the phrase “grab your musket” multiple times over the past several years but never meant that Donald Trump supporters should literally reach for their firearms.
“If I wanted people to take up arms, why would I recommend people take up an antique like a musket?” Walsh asked. “That’s just silly.”
We know what he meant. It was a not so subtle suggestion that he would take up arms and that he wanted others to do the same. There are no excuses for this kind of talk during an election. I wonder how closely he will be watched by law enforcement authorities? I’m just saying.

I’m pretty sure this kind of public talk about violence and taking up arms during and after a democratic American election is not a first but its’ frequency and boldness is. And it has never been promoted by a major party candidate for President before. But Trump is no ordinary candidate.

Which came first, Donald Trump’s paranoid and frightening rhetoric or the rhetoric of his supporters, some of them white supremacists and racists?   What we are now seeing is encouragement of these types of groups and sentiments rising to the surface. It’s an ugly side of America that has the rest of the world worried. Other countries have seen the result of these kind of dangerous despots and “patriots”.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, militia and insurrectionist groups are on the rise. Check out the hate map on their site. 894 hate groups are living amongst us. Just last week I came across this article about a group of folks fomenting fear and possible violence in my own state of Minnesota:

“Are you prepared?” Guandolo called out. “Are you prepared for the two or three dozen jihadis in, pick a city in Minnesota, with mortars or shoulder-fired rockets? You don’t think they can get those in the United States?”

North and central Minnesota have become fertile ground for traveling speakers who have built national careers spreading alarm about the danger they say Islam poses inside U.S. borders. At dozens of rural churches and schools, speakers have warned crowds about refugees and called on them to be prepared to oppose Muslims in Minnesota. This comes at a time of mounting political tension over immigration ahead of the contentious presidential election.

Thanks to Donald Trump, the anti-Muslim fear has risen to the surface and been exaggerated to the point of possible violence.  And more, from the article:

“Islam is not a religion,” he said, highlighting one of his frequent talking points. “It’s a savage cult. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for a Muslim to practice Islam in America.”

Dakdok argues for the mass deportation of Muslims from the United States. He wears a Donald Trump pin on his suit jacket. He warns of the end times.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Guandolo often works with ACT!, which they call the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.

Dakdok holds the bulk of his Minnesota events in small northern towns — places with few, if any Muslims. So does Guandolo, and he said that’s intentional. The Twin Cities, he told the Warroad crowd, are overrun with Muslims.

Where is common sense? Why do Americans believe such hyperbole and fear? Without proselytizers like Trump and Dakdok, this would not bubble to the surface but be held at bey by those with integrity and the best interests of our democracy in their hearts and minds. But when hatred and venom against and fear of someone who could become the first  woman President in a free and fair election take over hearts and minds, this is what some believe is justified. From the linked article by above: by Bill Moyers:

A Democrat running for president is going to be smeared by the Republicans. This goes without saying. But a Democratic woman running for president gets extra layers of smear, though the smear required new material to work with. Clinton could still be viewedfavorably when she ran for the presidential nomination in 2007-08 — consistent, overall, with how she was viewed during the more than two decades between 1992 and 2014. Benghazi and emails were not yet in the picture. Now, should Clinton get to the White House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will be ready: He’s sharpening his pencils and knives, planning “years” of hearings on Clinton depredations. (…)  So much for the traditional political niceties. I suppose it’s remotely possible that a male potential president would be treated this way — but none has been. Ever.

Moyers is right. No male candidate has been treated to the abuse that Hillary Clinton has endured. President Obama was certainly treated to racism and a fear of our first Black President in addition to the decision by Republican leadership to refuse to work with him. We will look back on this time period in our history and hang our heads in shame.

Its no secret that I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I agree with her policy statements and her embrace of the gun violence issue to represent the majority of Americans who want stronger gun laws. I find what is happening now about Wikileaks and James Comey’s letter to Congress to be frightening for our democracy. This Washington Post article gets to the core of why the email “scandal” should be an eye opener to all of us and not because of anything Hillary did wrong but because of an invasion of privacy that could affect all of us. From the article:

A question we need to ask is why the leaked emails have been embraced as acceptable contributions to public discourse, rather than shunned as stolen property, and what this means for how we think about politics and privacy. Richard Nixon faced impeachment as a result of his coverup of the Watergate break-in, a parallel attempt to steal private communications from an opponent’s campaign. Somehow, a physical break-in sparks visceral repugnance in a way that hacking into computer accounts does not. That should give us all pause, because it is a testament to a frightening new reality: That communication technology has steadily amplified the breakdown in the line between public and private. Without a zone of privacy in which we can talk freely to those who are close to us, no one is safe. That’s the sense in which WikiLeaks is a threat not only to the presidential campaign of a particular candidate, but to us all.

I get this one. My computer has been hacked and there are people in the gun rights community who hate what I write and stand for. Some years ago, one of them threatened to post my home address. Someone tried to take over my blog as well. And I have been on the receiving end of some not so subtle comments intimating violence and threats. Many people working on gun violence prevention have had this experience. Why? Take a guess. This kind of invasion of privacy and intimidation is scary. There are actual trolls out there waiting to do harm and not just on Halloween.

Social media has made all of this even scarier. There are obvious benefits to the use of social media and email to organize people and voters. But when it is used to intimidate and interfere with free and fair elections, that is scary.

And speaking of scary, some elementary school polling places have canceled classes on election day because of fear of violence and whatever the far right element of our country have in mind for the day. Our kids and teachers should not have to be scared on election day. That is for third world un-democratized countries.

And speaking of third world countries, some Americans have given notice that the revolution will begin if the vastly under qualified Donald Trump does not win. You can’t make this stuff up. But here, from the above linked article:

Jared Halbrook, 25, of Green Bay, Wis., said that if Mr. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton, which he worried would happen through a stolen election, it could lead to “another Revolutionary War.”

“People are going to march on the capitols,” said Mr. Halbrook, who works at a call center. “They’re going to do whatever needs to be done to get her out of office, because she does not belong there.”

“If push comes to shove,” he added, and Mrs. Clinton “has to go by any means necessary, it will be done.” (…)

 

No question about what Mr. Halbrook means here. These are the guys with the guns talking  big and making threats. Their fear and paranoia, stoked by the NRA and the corporate gun lobby and now their very own candidate Donald Trump, have taken over any reasonable thinking about the issues of the country and what democracy means. It’s frightening stuff at the least.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We are a democracy. Power is passed from one party and one President to another without violence or threats of violence. It has been since the birth of our democracy. What makes the people whose thoughts are so contorted believe that democracy includes this kind of violence? What makes them believe that our democratic election will be rigged causing them to want to overthrow the results? We know the answer to that. Donald Trump. His suggestions about voter intimidation and suppression have now been legally challenged by the Democratic National Committee.  This is not what we do in a democracy. Why do they believe they can get away with this?

Arrogance? Fear? Ignorance? Paranoia? Desperation?

On this Halloween eve, let us all hope for non-violence and common sense. Working together towards peaceful and reasonable solutions is the way to solve our nation’s most pressing problems. We have been treated to some pretty scary tricks during this election season. Violent solutions would be frightening to say the least.

We are better than this.

This election can’t be over soon enough. But even after it is over, I am scared that threats against our first woman President and total obstruction to her agenda will lead to an inability to work together and make our country worse.

I want my country back.

After publishing this post, I ran across this amazing song written by Sara Barreilles and Leslie Odom, Jr. for This American Life. Please watch and listen:

Toddlers and guns

dartgunGuns are not toys. They are deadly weapons designed to kill other human beings. Children sometimes think they are toys or their curiosity about guns, perhaps natural for some reason, can lead them to pick guns up. Children, and especially very young children and toddlers just can’t be taught to be responsible with guns no matter what the gun lobby may say. About 7 children a day die from gunshot injuries in America. And what are we doing about it?

In the last few weeks, a host of articles, PSAs and other information have been released about toddlers and guns and kids and guns. In what other country would anyone even think they had to alert the public to the dangers of toddlers with guns? This is insanity. It’s also dangerous to ignore it but ignore we have.

Let’s start with this article written by Zak Cheney Rice for Mic.com:

According to the Washington Post, our nation’s nurseries are housing more than just unbearable levels of cuteness: Twenty-three people have been shot by toddlers in the U.S. since the start of 2016 — exactly 23 more than have been shot by Muslim terrorists over the same period.

Cheney Rice’s article was written to compare the ugly rhetoric about Muslims during this election in which one Donald Trump has raised the idea that all Muslims should be banned because of course, they are dangerous to Americans. Are they? Sure there have been some recent terror attacks committed by people who happen to be Muslim extremists. But there have also been far more home grown terror attacks committed by Americans who are not Muslim.

So let’s get back to kids, and particularly toddlers with guns. How do toddlers get their hands on guns? Are they dangerous human beings who should be prohibited from guns? Not unless their parents or another adult make them so. For without the adults, toddlers would not be anywhere near loaded guns. So keeping toddlers from getting guns is the responsibility of “law abiding” gun owners.

A new PSA was released on this subject last week. Check it out:

This edgy PSA may be scary and some may say, too much. But you can’t miss the point. A Washington Post article talks about the PSA:

“This PSA is satire,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, said. “But the public health crisis it calls attention to is anything but. Whether the trigger is pulled by a toddler, a convicted felon, domestic abuser, or terrorist, we have a problem in America with guns too easily falling into the wrong hands. And that translates to hundreds of lives lost or changed forever every single day.”

There is so much here to write about that it’s difficult to unpack but this quote from the above linked article refers to yet another article written about this public health epidemic:

Last week, the Associated Press and USA Today released findings from a 2½-year analysis of minors killed by firearms. The study — which looked at accidental shootings involving children ages 17 and younger from Jan. 1, 2014, to June 30 of this year — analyzed more than 1,000 incidents in total, according to USA Today.

So now let’s look at this USA Today article:

The findings: During the first six months of this year, minors died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate.

Tragedies like the death of Bryson Mees-Hernandez play out repeatedly across the country. Curious toddlers find unsecured, loaded handguns in their homes and vehicles, and fatally shoot themselves and others. Teenagers, often showing off guns to their friends and siblings, end up shooting them instead.

This is an American tragedy.

Two friends have started a new campaign to call attention to toddlers and children who kill with guns. They are determined to prevent these shootings. The Childrens Firearm Safety Alliance has been launched to find solutions to this under reported epidemic. From the link:

The prevalence of these incidents is astounding, even though we don’t have anything near adequate data on this type of tragedy. Reporting by the Washington Post has found about one shooting by a young child a week in America. This is likely an undercount, as many instances do not make the news unless it’s a parent or a sibling who dies. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention finds that at least six children are injured in an unintentional shooting every day. (…)

A new national initiative announced in mid-October seeks change. The Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance is coordinating physicians, law enforcement, prosecutors, lawmakers and other advocates to look at what can be done nationally through policy work, legislation and education around gun safety.

It has promoted the hashtag #NotAnAccident and propagated this disturbing tidbit: You are more likely to be shot by a U.S. toddler than by a terrorist. The ongoing psychological trauma of these shootings shouldn’t be discounted. What an awful burden it must be for someone to carry through life knowing that, as a young child, he or she took a life or caused serious injury.

Keeping a loaded gun unsecured and within easy reach of a toddler ought to be considered a criminal act of negligence. A portion of the law that was struck down in Heller understood this. It’s time to admit that upholding a person’s right to own a gun doesn’t need to conflict with efforts to keep young children’s tiny hands away from pulling triggers.

Tiny hands can pull triggers.

Others have entered the messaging about toddlers and guns. Gary Younge  who writes for The Guardian, has a new book out about kids who have been shot. I listened to an interview with him yesterday on Minnesota Public Radio. The title of Younge’s book says it all- Another Day in the Death of America. Younge is not writing in general about kids all over the world and guns. He is writing about the particular tragedy of kids and guns in America. While on air yesterday, he made that point. This is not happening in other countries and he should know as he is British. From the linked article:

Samuel is one of the 10 people known to have been killed by guns on 23 November 2013. That’s the day Guardian journalist Gary Younge randomly selected for this book, after which he spent 18 months unearthing the stories that lay behind these young lives and their premature deaths. It is a gripping account that leads the reader through places as disparate as the vast corn and soya fields of Michigan and the killing fields of Chicago, where gunfire is now so common that dogs are said to have stopped barking at it. It’s a journey through a deeply troubled America that will make its reader want to join the author in howling at the moon.

Howling at the moon. Indeed, that is what we all should be doing and in fact many of us have been. But our howls have been ignored by those who could make a difference by passing policies that could prevent some of the shootings and by awakening the country to the problem that is that kids and guns do not go together. The corporate gun lobby would have us believing otherwise which is deceptive at the least and has led to way too many parents and adults thinking a gun in the home will protect them from evil. But the evil is coming from their own guns found by children and used in “accidental” shootings.

Changing the conversation and changing the gun culture to reflect what the majority of Americans actually believe and practice rather than what the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre espouses, would result in fewer gun deaths. Because safely storing guns away from the hands of children and teens will make everyone safer. Because even though telling children not to touch guns is not enough.Because guns are deadly weapons designed to kill and with rights come responsibilities. Because more guns have not made us safer.

But, not to be forgotten, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre has a new warning and more lies for voters just before the election.

Yikes!

Take a look at the fear mongering in the video produced by the NRA and almost total hysteria about guns being taken away and the end of the world, apparently, if that were to happen. It won’t of course but fear sells and that’s the point. More fear for some people equals more gun sales. And more gun sales and more guns in more homes can lead to more small children shooting themselves or other kids ( or even parents).

Good grief.

Nuts.

We simply cannot sit back and let our children’s lives be placed at risk when there are solutions. Even responsible gun owners make mistakes and/or listen to the wrong message about what owning a gun means.

We need to tell the truth about the dangers of loaded guns in our homes.

Parents and adults can do something pro-active about the kids and guns epidemic. One common sense solution is to ASK if there are unlocked, loaded guns where children play. The Brady Campaign’s ASK campaign gives language to parents to have the difficult conversation that could save lives. Asking saves lives.

Also at the Brady Campaign web site, you can find this great report called The Truth about Kids and Guns.

The Trace is also keeping track of kids and guns incidents and other articles concerning gun safety for kids.

Kids can take a pledge to help end gun violence through this Student Pledge to End Gun Violence:

The Student Pledge Against Gun Violence is a national program that honors the role that young people, through their own decisions, can play in reducing gun violence.

Why not get kids involved in decisions that can make them safer?

Everytown for Gun Safety has also been collecting information about child gun deaths and solutions that can prevent the devastating loss of a child to an avoidable death.

The American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have been on board with child safety and guns for a long time. Gun violence is a national public health epidemic and needs to be treated as such.

And we can’t forget the years long push by the Children’s Defense Fund to talk about kids and gun violence and the need to prevent our children from dying from gunshot injuries. Their long time slogan- Protect Children Not Guns says it all.

The Gun Violence Archive has become the source that collects the necessary data for us all to understand the American tragedy of gun deaths and injuries. According to their charts, 553 children from 0-11 have died from gunshot injuries in 2016. Teens from 12-17 who have been killed or injured accounts for 2571 incidents. This is stunning and simply unacceptable. The fact that we do accept this without howling says a lot about America.

But the fact that so many are finally uncovering the facts and exposing them can only lead to stronger policy solutions and a change in the conversation. As a result, our kids will be safer from gun deaths and injuries.

If we can’t protect our children from avoidable unintentional, or even intentional, injury and death who are we as a country?

With all of this evidence and research, we know we have a serious problem that must be addressed.

We can do much better and we must do much better if we truly care about the health and safety of our children.

 

Travel, guns and politics

templeI have been away from my blog because of a wonderful 2 week trip to Sicily and the Puglia region of southeast Italy- on the heel of the boot. To say the trip was amazing is an understatement. Sicily is a land of amazing beauty with small villages and even larger cities perched on the tops of mountains and hills. Mt. Etna is in the background of many cities sending it’s daily smoke and steam into the air as a warning that an eruption could happen soon but rarely does.mt-etna

We visited ancient Greek ruins, so old it’s hard to imagine the 7th and 8th century BC still showing in beautiful theaters, temples and other buildings. Sicily in particular and Italy in general is a melting pot- the land of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks and others who in century after century conquered and left behind different cultures and people of different heritages.

Our guides were amazing scholars and historians who knew this wonderful history and cone-roofsshared it with us as we toured castles, theaters, middle-ages hunting lodges ( castles of sorts), Roman temples, cities built with conical shaped roofs of the trulli in Alborobello and the Sassi built into cliffs and rocks of Matera and then Romanesque towns and villages ( Lecce) and volcano craters ( Taormina). The amazing ancient and more modern ( middle-ages to 18th century) churches were full of relics ( yes, real bones of saints and martyrs), beautiful mosaics, statues, columns, nitches and chapels, high wooden ceilings ( one made of papier maché) and other religious ornaments and details.

Among all of these were several UNESCO World Heritage sites and others to be named soon.

cielingThe gnarled ancient Olive trees, the cactus plants, snails that grow on stems, beautiful wild flowers and unusual varieties of pines and birch trees along with Italian oak trees lined the streets and countryside. Pistachio nuts, pine nuts, olives, almonds, grapes, walnuts and prickley pears theatergrow copiously along with the the usual vegetables. Orange and lemon trees were found in ancient ruins as well as hotel courtyards. The seaside towns were very beautiful and spoke also of ancient historical battles and discovery by other cultures. We discovered beautiful ceramics, linens, pottery, leather goods and art of the area that took its’ toll on our charge cards.

A group of 3 couples, friends who have traveled together on other European adventures, felt comfortable walking in the wide and very narrow streets and squares. Ristorantes, shops, trattoria, hotels and historical markers captured our attention. As in all of Italy, the food was served beautifully- much pasta, seafood, unusual combinations of spices and sauces, gelato, olives, cheeses, meats and cannoli filled us up and gelatotreated our taste buds to new sensations. And the wine- locally grown and served everywhere for lunch and dinner and in between. Italians love their wine. And so did we.

Since it is widely known that Sicily is the island of the Mafia, we asked questions about it and got a uniform response. The Mafia was much more of a violent and threatening force during the days of the 1920s and 1930s during the times of Victor Corleone who was made famous by the Godfather movies. Near Taormina, the town of Corleone exists but that is not where the movie was filmed. We saw the small village of Sacova perched high up on a hillside on our way back from our trip to Mt. Etna, where our guide told us the movie was filmed. There are even organized Godfather tours which we did not take.

Today the mafia appears to be more involved in politics and with business and corporate deals according to our guides. They are not seen and there are not shootings and other awful incidents associated with the earlier version of the mafia.

We know about the violence of the mafia from our own history when Al Capone was exacting revenge and carrying out “business” deals at the end of a gun barrel. Many lives were taken, even of close family members, to keep it in the family and seize power and control

Such is the case with guns. They make seizing power and control much easier and many wars have been fought to that end. In America, we have daily shootings, many domestic in nature, that are about control. The men ( and it is mostly men) who shoot spouses, girlfriends, significant others and family members do so out of anger and the need for control. Such was the case when my sister was shot by her estranged husband.

October is domestic violence awareness month. Many daily shootings in America are domestic in nature and often police officers get caught in the middle. Two such recent incidents that happened while I was traveling are reminders of the danger of domestic abusers with guns. One in Boston killed two officers. A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the danger of guns for domestic abusers.

If only our elected leaders would also recognize that we would be a much safer country and our families would suffer less devastation if we enacted stronger laws such as those in place in most other countries in the world. One of our guides was a scholar of the American constitution and knew a lot about the second amendment and the influence of the corporate gun lobby on our gun laws. He was astounded that we could not pass laws to keep guns away from people who should not have them. Recent police shootings were also something of concern to this guide and other Italians as they watch in concern and horror as young black men are shot by officers.

We have a problem not seen in most other democratized countries not at war.

In Italy, one must be licensed to own a gun and the gun must be registered. In addition, few people are allowed to carry guns outside of the home.

Back in the USA, the violence and carnage continues unabated in most places except for states that have passed strong gun laws. Political leaders and candidates are not running from the issue of guns and gun violence in this election though and the majority of Americans are beginning to use their voices to seize control of the violence. Americans have said in polls over many years that at the least, they want every gun buyer to go through a Brady background check.

We are on the rim of of the volcano of gun violence and need to get off to safety before more people are injured or killed by the eruptions. rim-of-volcano

As I reflect back on my wonderful trip, I realize that I was away from the daily news of shooting. The news in Italy was about Donald Trump and worry that he could actually be elected President of our country. One guide mentioned to us that Taormina in Sicily will be the sight of the G7 conference next May. We all hoped it would be President Hillary Clinton representing the USA at the conference. There is much worry in Italy about the American election and the recent video released about Trump’s sexual assaults. Italians are watching carefully. The second debate ran on Italian TV and the news was on the front page of all of the papers there.

Trump’s talk about a rigged election is leading to worry about actual violence on election day and afterwords. His failure to reign in the violent talk and false statements and insinuations about about Hillary’s views on guns and jailing her if he was elected is causing armed citizens to strap on their assault rifles and intimidate Democrat campaign headquarters in several places. ( And, oh yes, this is legal)This is not how elections work in America. The transfer of power does not happen at the end of a gun barrel.

Insanity.

What has happened to civility and common sense? It’s unsettling to read the news while traveling outside of the country and realize that the rest of the world is afraid of a major candidate for President because they don’t what it will mean for world stability and peace.

So as we move towards the election, we must all stand up for what is right and against the lies and hysteria that have not been seen in previous American elections. We all know that elections can be brutal but this time around, there is something very wrong. We all need this to be over and move on to governing a country full of citizens from all over the world who want to live an American dream that does not involved violence, intolerance, hatred, discrimination, racism, sexual assaults, talk of women’s private parts, terrorism, white supremacists, armed citizens patrolling the streets looking for something that has been hyped up by a candidate whose increasingly bizarre behavior should be a serious red flag to all of us.

We have work to do and it will take a while to recover from the ugliness of this campaign. Meanwhile, I have my memories of a trip to a beautiful and mostly peaceful part of the world. It wasn’t always so and the history of violence perpetrated by Italian rulers, most especially Mussolini, is not forgotten by Italians. But what they don’t have is gun violence. That’s an American thing and something about which we should not be proud.

Ciao for now.

More photos below:

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seaside

mosaics

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