Taking sides on guns

NRA with ear muffsWhen it comes to innocent people being shot or taking their own lives with a gun or a child shooting someone or him/herself with a loaded unsecured gun, I thought there was only one side- common sense and safety. That was, of course, before I got involved in the gun violence prevention movement. In this movement we are all on the side of people not getting shot for really much of any reason. But we also recognize that guns are made to kill people and so, when there a lot of guns around and many of them unregulated and many of their owners also unregulated, there will be a lot of deaths and injuries.

But the silence from the gun lobby is deafening when it comes to actual people being shot and the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Is it on purpose? Is it just lack of empathy and compassion? Is it only political and in the interest of profit? Is it really true fear and paranoia that the government will come knocking on the door for their guns? Is it fear of zombies and the other? Is it just the second amendment which doesn’t say anything about guns for anyone who wants them no matter what? Is it avoidance of the truth? Is it ignorance of the laws or willful refusal to believe that gun laws can work? Is it some sort of fear of freedom being taken away when the lives lost were freedoms taken? Is it all about profits over lives? Is it about a culture change happening and fear of that change as fewer people hunt and fewer households own guns?

I don’t know that answer. I think all of the above are true actually. All I know for sure is that too many lives are taken every day by bullets and we can change that if we have the will and the political courage to do so. From the linked article above:

Is it too much to hope that America may be nearing the point of progress over the urgent — and long overdue — issue of gun violence? More than 5,000 people have been killed by guns since the start of this year. More than 10,000 have been injured. There have been more than 112 mass shootings. Just this week, amurder-suicide claimed two lives on the UCLA campus. In 2013, the U.S. saw more than 30,000 gun-related deaths. There’s cause to believe that 2016 will see a similarly horrifying tally.

Whose side are you on? Stopping some of these shootings or turning away from the carnage under our noses every day?

Thursday was #WearOrange day. By all standards, if counting many thousands of people participating in various events and posting photos of themselves on social media, it was a huge success. I was involved in organizing 2 of these events in my city. As always, we have speakers talking about why they are involved and why we need to deal with our public health epidemic. The Mayor issued a proclamation making my city orange for the day in memory and honor of gun violence victims. She held up a picture that a young boy had sent her with the words, “no more guns.” The Police Chief spoke about gun safety and the importance of storing guns safely to prevent them from being stolen and becoming crime guns. A woman spoke about the pain of losing her father when he took the gun he bought for self defense and used it to kill himself, leaving their family without a father.

And then a gun owner and hunter spoke about the need for putting our heads together and forgetting about our differences so we can save lives and prevent at least some of the gun violence. He is a strong proponent of requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales with the understanding that his own guns will NOT be taken from him nor will his rights to shoot those guns as long as he doesn’t shoot another human being.

It turns out that on the same day as our events, a Minnesota woman was found shot dead in her home, shot by the same man who had traveled to UCLA and shot a professor dead and then himself. The shooter had a hit list and he had 2 semi automatic guns, presumably bought legally. And that is the conundrum. Many people can buy guns legally and may never use those guns to shoot another human being or themselves. They may never bring it out to play with or show to someone and have it discharge. They may never drop their gun in a public place where it “accidentally” discharges. They may never leave that gun unattended, unsecured and loaded for young children or teens to find to use in a shooting.

But the fact is, far too many of these people are not safe with their guns. And we don’t know who will become unsafe or when they might become unsafe. That is the problem with our sides. My hunter friend spoke of how in other democratized countries that allow private ownership of guns, there just are not a lot of the incidents I described above. Does that mean that those folks are more careful and more safe? Maybe. But we do know that laws exist in those countries that make gun ownership a very awesome responsibility and difficult to get in the first place.

I maintain that stronger laws change the way in which people look at guns. People are less cavalier when their gun is harder to obtain and they have to go through more regulations to get a gun. They understand that they have to be safe given that they have been carefully vetted and can’t just get guns willy nilly with no background check through the internet or on the streets.

Let’s compare gun ownership to driving a car. We seem to have a common understanding that there are certain rules that everyone who wants to drive one has to follow- no exceptions. Everyone has to take drivers’ training. Everyone has to be at least 16. Everyone has to take a test. Everyone has to purchase insurance ( though some don’t). Everyone needs to wear a seat belt and follow the traffic laws. Most people actually do follow traffic rules as it turns out. Without laws and rules, our streets would be chaos.

And surely we can say that our gun culture causes chaos. Our inner city areas are chaos. Losing a loved one to a bullet causes not only grief, but chaos in one’s life. Mass shootings cause chaos. Shooting young children causes chaos. A gun suicide causes chaos in the family.

I spoke at our local event about the reason for the day, which I wrote about in my last post. Some of my readers will ask why there are so many gun deaths in Chicago like that of Hadiye Pendleton, when Chicago has strict gun laws. It’s the classic excuse given for doing nothing about stopping gun deaths because there are so many gun deaths. This illogical reasoning has been allowed to be a part of our discussion for far too long. It’s not difficult to understand when the neighboring states of Indiana and others flood the state with guns that can’t be bought in Chicago or Illinois. A brilliant article from The Trace shows us where the guns come from. From the article:

Not coincidentally, as the visualization above shows, in 2010, 2011, and 2014, the annual count of Illinois crime guns originating in Indiana topped 1,o00 guns per year. (In 2012 and 2013, there was a big dip in Illinois crime guns coming from Indiana, though the ATF isn’t sure why.) Mississippi was next in line, trafficking about a third as many guns into the state. At least four others exported more than 500 guns to Illinois during 2010–14. Five more states sent more than 400 each.

So if we follow the logical conclusion here, shouldn’t we make sure that there are uniform laws in all states to keep places like Chicago and some of our other large urban cities from providing the guns that kill innocent 15 year old girls (Hadiye Pendelton in Chicago)  and grandmothers (Birdell Beeks in Minneapolis) in their neighborhoods?

And then there’s Chuck’s gun shop in Chicago – a bad apple gun dealer. The shop has been the “target” of many protests over the past few years as the Brady Campaign and others have drawn attention to the loose practices of Chuck’s that allow crime guns to get into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. Shouldn’t we do something about bad apple gun dealers? People are getting shot. But the gun lobby has pressured Congress to underfund the ATF which is the agency responsible for monitoring gun dealers like Chuck’s to make sure they are following the laws. Let’s enforce the laws already on the books.

There is some good news here, though. In spite of the gun industry immunity law (PLCAA) lawsuits filed against bad apple gun dealers (Badger Guns in Milwaukee) and others are winning in our courts.

Whose side are you on?

Watch here as President Obama answers a question from a man who is concerned about his gun rights, at a PBS Newshour town hall. His response is exactly mine and the millions of Americans who agree that doing something about people getting shot will not take away the rights of people to own guns. And this exchange shows the sides taken by Americans on the issue of guns and gun rights. There should be no sides when it comes to saving lives. But when it comes to guns, there are sides.

Whose side are you on?

Massachusetts is having a similar problem. Lots of the states crime guns are coming into the state from Vermont where gun laws barely exist:

Many local officials say inconsistent gun laws are fueling the trade. Most northeastern states have enacted laws that extend background check requirements for gun purchases to include firearms sold at gun shows and unlicensed dealers. But Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine do not require such checks on private sales, making it easier for people with criminal records to buy guns in those states, and move them around New England.

“We have good gun laws in Massachusetts, but our problem is most of the guns that seem to be coming in and being used in crimes are coming from other states,” Boston Police Commissioner William Evans tells The Trace. “It’s hard for us when so many come from our border states that have lax laws.”

The gun extremists like to talk about Vermont having few gun deaths in spite of loose gun laws. They are ignoring the fact that Vermont has high gun suicide and domestic shooting death rates. In addition, weak gun laws are allowing people to be able buy guns that end up in other states where it’s more difficult to buy a gun. From this article:

Again, in universal terms, the total number of homicides, domestic violence cases, and gun-related deaths is indeed small, which can make some of these rate statistics seem exaggerated. But the argument can be made that they’re also less deceptive than the happy reports of a Second Amendment oasis in the heart of New England. A truer picture lies in this final statistic: Vermont, which is virtually impossible to traverse without a car, is a state where firearms deaths outnumber traffic deaths.

So back to my original question- Whose side are you on? The side of public health and safety? Or on the side of allowing anyone to get a gun, including many who shouldn’t?- felons, domestic abusers, those adjudicated mentally ill, fugitives, terrorists, etc. Interestingly many on the side of unfettered gun rights actually don’t think criminals should have guns- or so they say. So how do they think we can stop them from getting guns if we don’t actually stop them from getting guns?

We don’t have to take sides. Gun owners and NRA members are actually on the side of common sense with me. You’d never know it though from the general rhetoric that the gun lobby spews and often gets away with because they go unchallenged. Why? Good question. Some of the arguments and statements by the gun lobby are being taken apart by more people who are doing the research the corporate gun lobby hates and has tried to stop. This is shedding bright light on the real problem in America. Too many people are getting shot.

Orange is a bold and bright color. It makes a statement. Hunters wear orange to protect themselves from being shot by other hunters while out in the woods. Last fall my grandchildren were at our cabin during deer hunting season. We could hear gunshots in the woods nearby. When they were outside, I insisted that they all wear bright orange hats which they happily did since it was also cold outside. We turned America orange to make a bold and bright statement on Thursday. Monuments all over America turned orange including the Enger Tower in my city of Duluth.  Enger tower orange

We rang the bell at Enger Park for victims of gun violence- domestic murders, suicides, a young Minneapolis girl who was just sitting in her house doing homework when a bullet flying in her neighborhood snuffed out her young life; and many others. We shouldn’t be surprised but always are at the number of people who ring the bell for relatives or people they know who have died from gunshot injuries. People who shouldn’t have been shot.

We just can’t continue on this trajectory or this level of violence. The time for action has long passed. My side of the issue can be blamed for some of this. But the bold and bright truth of the matter is that when people are getting shot and the problem is being ignored and the conversation is being stifled by those with a vested interest in selling their products, we have a big and deadly problem. No one wants to get shot. We will wear orange, have marches, turn monuments orange and continue to demand the changes in our laws and the conversation that all of the victims and their families deserve. We are Americans against being shot. #Enough now.

 

Gun laws and enforcing the laws

speed limit cartoonOne of the excuses given by the gun lobby while resisting common sense attempts to expand and strengthen gun laws, is to insist that we are not enforcing the laws already on the books. Let’s take a look at this excuse. A CNN article about President Obama’s January town hall on guns talks about the enforcement of laws like this:

 

The President expressed frustration at the “Guns in America” forum hosted by CNN on Thursday night at his opponents telling him to enforce existing laws, saying those same opponents are trying to undermine them.
“One of the most frustrating things that I hear is when people say — who are opposed to any further laws — ‘Why don’t you just enforce the laws that are on the books?'” Obama said. “And those very same members of Congress then cut (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) budgets to make it impossible to enforce the law.”

Obama said some of his new proposals are designed to get at the issue of resources and the difficulties using existing law, including adding ATF agents and clarifying statutes to make them more usable. (…)

Pro-gun-control experts and some former law enforcement officials say that a lack of resources combined with vague and toothless laws make federal gun prosecutions difficult. And they accuse gun lobbies of intentionally watering down legislation and hamstringing agencies so the laws are useless, a point lobbyists contacted by CNN declined to address.
Further into the article, it is revealed that there are, indeed, laws that are not enforced as they should be. Why is that? Does that happen with other things? Are speeding laws always enforced? Are littering laws always enforced? Are penalties for underage smoking or driving while drunk always enforced? And if they aren’t does that mean we shouldn’t pass new laws? I don’t think so. But further, from the article:
One is simply a resource problem: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, which investigates licensed gun dealers, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System are woefully understaffed and replete with red tape, gun control supporters say.
The groups also say the federal laws themselves have such high standards to meet in court that it’s a disincentive for resource-strapped federal prosecutor offices to bring cases, as they don’t want to waste their time on cases they are not likely to win.
“It is true that gun laws are vastly under-enforced, but the reason that they’re under-enforced is not because the administration or law enforcement has failed: It’s because they’re written in a way that makes them impossible to enforce — intentionally,” Trumble said. “They’re too vague to prosecute, the standards are too high to meet, the penalties are too low to be a deterrent and there’s too little evidence to prosecute.”
The Gun Control Act requires those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms to obtain a license from ATF, and licensed dealers are required to run background checks and follow federal laws on dealing weapons. But what constitutes “engaged in the business” has been unclear, and prosecutors say it can be tough to prove unlicensed individuals who sell multiple weapons online and at gun shows have broken the law.
Who writes our gun laws? Why are they vague and the standards too high and penalties too low? We know the answer. The NRA is busy helping legislators write the laws and it’s true that the wording is often vague and difficult to enforce. If you don’t want laws to be enforced because of an ideological position on gun rights, this is what happens. I have long thought that passing laws also changes the cultural norms as it has with drinking while driving and smoking inside of public places. It goes both ways, changing the cultural norms can also lead to changes of hearts and minds amongst our legislators so they get brave enough to pass strong gun laws just as they passed strong traffic laws, strong drunk driving laws, strong laws banning smoking inside, strong laws for safety of our food and water. We expect that most people will follow the laws for the benefit of public safety.
So this comment, also from the above article, reflects the truth:
“So much about law is about setting cultural norms,” Alcorn said. “Just like the reasons you stop at red lights and don’t speed isn’t because there’s a traffic cop behind every corner.”
Instead, he said, it’s “the sense that a law is legitimate, that it enforces public safety that we all share and all appreciate, and a sense of ownership and mutual responsibility are sort of ultimately self-fulfilling.”
Traffic laws are not just in place to punish “law abiding” drivers. They are there to keep us safe and keep others safe from people who could be dangerous and stupid while driving. Most people follow those laws as it turns out. These laws save lives and also cut down on litigation, insurance and health care costs. The same is true of current gun laws. They are there for all to follow and if a gun owner is law abiding, then there will not be problems. But for those who could be stupid and dangerous with their guns and their rights, the rest of us need some public safety measures to keep us all safe. And that is all this is about in spite of what the gun rights extremists like to claim about the agenda of passing stronger gun laws.
Let’s look at an example of a state where laws are now being better enforced and it’s working. An article from The Trace documented where state laws are not being enforced as they should be and efforts to change that:
Submitting false information on a background check is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. But as many as 160,000 people are denied a gun purchase each year because they failed a check. Few are ever apprehended, much less prosecuted. Available federal and state data suggest that the percentage of arrests as a proportion of denied sales is extremely low — likely in the single digits.
Pennsylvania is one of eight states where lawmakers and police have sought to boost arrests and prosecutions by passing laws and implementing so-called “lie and try” policies requiring local law enforcement agencies to be notified whenever someone fails a background check. The goal is to give police a tool they can use to arrest dangerous individuals before they can secure a gun and possibly harm someone. In 32 states, a person who is blocked from buying a firearm at a licensed dealer can turn to a private seller who is not required to run a background check. One 2009 study found a strong proclivity towards further illegal behavior by denied gun purchasers, determining that a third of convicted criminals rejected when attempting to buy a gun are caught breaking another law during the next five years.
So it appears that some laws have not been enforced. The thing is, many in the gun rights community say that the denied background checks are false positives and not actual prohibited purchasers who try to buy the guns. This new effort may just prove that wrong. If people are arrested immediately, they will know that continuing to try this route to getting a gun won’t work and we can save lives. More from the article:

Pennsylvania state police have investigated at least some denied gun purchases for over a decade, but until recent years, it was only a small percentage of the overall number. Then in late 2013, police there decided to investigate every failed background check, says Scott Price, a state police major. If a purchaser is denied because of an outstanding warrant, state police now immediately dispatch local officers to arrest the individual at the gun dealer, Price says.

Before the new policy was implemented, Price says, only blocked sales that raised the biggest red flags — like those for mental health commitments — were pursued. “But that left a whole body of denials that weren’t investigated,” he says. “So, we didn’t feel that that was the best public safety policy.” (…)

By acting quickly on notifications of denied sales, Price says, officers are often able to nab “lie-and-try” offenders before they get very far. “We’ve had a great deal of success in actually making these arrests at the point of attempted purchase.” He adds that his officers have encountered people disqualified from firearms ownership for the gamut of reasons. “Anything from a minor offense — a DUI warrant or a failure to appear in court — up through armed robbery.”

Most states with laws or policies for clamping down on “lie and try” buyers require only that law enforcement is notified about a rejected purchaser — there’s no mandate that police act on that information. But Virginia and Oregon join Pennsylvania in compelling police to investigate every denied sale. Last year in Virginia, police arrested 1,265 denied purchasers. Oregonpolice arrested 40 buyers on the spot, and referred hundreds more cases to local departments for investigation.

So what does the gun lobby have to say about enforcing the laws already on the books? From the article:

The National Rifle Association has never officially endorsed a “lie and try” policy, though in the past, the gun group has called on the federal government to address the low prosecution rate for prohibited persons who attempt to buy firearms. Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the gun lobby’s representatives asked the White House’s gun violence prevention task force to enforce federal laws that make it illegal to lie on a gun background check form.

“This is a program that I believe is largely something people on both sides of the aisle support,” says Scott Price, the Pennsylvania State Police major. “Even the NRA has always been a proponent of enforcing the laws that are on the books.”

Time will tell if this is true. The gun lobby opposes pretty much any measure that would make it very difficult for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them anyway. It’s hard to know what to make of that inconsistency in thought. Unless it’s more about profit than about saving lives.

Unfortunately, sending these cases to the ATF for further action is difficult, according to the article. Not many cases get prosecuted. But if we remember that, at the behest of the NRA and the corporate gun lobby, Congress has denied funding to hire more ATF agents so they can do their jobs properly and efficiently then we can understand what is happening

Shouldn’t we be enforcing laws that clearly state that loaded guns cannot be carried in carry-on luggage on planes? What’s the penalty for doing the same stupid thing twice? Shouldn’t this man’s permit to carry be pulled? If not, why not? If he is this careless with his gun, why do we know he is safe at all with it? From the article:

An Omaha pastor was stopped at an Eppley Airfield’s security station with a loaded handgun in his carry-on and is facing prosecution Sunday night because it’s not the first time he’s done it.

[Video: Omaha pastor stopped for second time at airport with gun in carry-on]

“I had to pay a fine,” the Rev. Alvin “Dobie” Weasel said. “I had to meet with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and do an interview with two officers. I had to do an interview with a Transportation Security Administration officer.”

Weasel, who has a concealed-carry permit, said he told authorities it was an honest mistake when he showed up at the airport with it in his bag, saying he thought his gun was at home in a safe.

“It’s about 40 pounds and it’s stuffed with everything,” Weasel said. “(I) think what happened was the gun fell in between two of the larger books.”

The slip-up on New Year’s Eve wasn’t the first time Weasel has made the mistake; in 2014, the same bag was found to contain a different gun.

“When it occurs twice with the same individual, it warrants prosecution,” Omaha interim city prosecutor Tom Mumgaard said.

So it looks like he will be prosecuted and they expect it could be a misdemeanor. And then what? Here’s a law that clearly needs enforcement. The TSA is finding more and more loaded guns in carry-on luggage now than ever before? Why? Because more people are carrying guns around and therefore there are more potentially dangerous and stupid people with guns around in public. Given that, let’s hope that offenders and repeat offenders like the Pastor in the article are prosecuted and held responsible for violating the law.

What if the law to take guns away from known domestic abusers worked as it should? What if we enforced it better? A man in Maryland urned his guns over to law enforcement but kept one and that one was used in a shooting spree in Maryland that left 3 dead and 3 injured.  From the article:

Two months earlier, according to local authorities, he had surrendered at least 10 guns under a judge’s order issued after Tordil’s wife accused him of physically and sexually abusing his family.

But Tordil, a Federal Protective Service officer, kept at least one weapon when he handed in the rest of his arsenal: a .40-caliber Glock he allegedly used to carry out the shootings on May 4 and 5.

Tordil bought the gun legally in Las Vegas in 2014, said State’s Attorney John McCarthy at a hearing on Monday where Tordil was denied bond.

Tordil kept the weapon by exploiting a weakness in state and federal laws designed to keep domestic abusers from using weapons: Local law enforcement had no way of knowing he owned it.

A “weakness if state and federal laws” has left a senseless tragedy that devastated several families. When it comes to deadly weapons owned by people who shouldn’t have them, there should be no weaknesses in the law. Why was there a weakness in the law? From the article:

Maryland has a handgun registry. But Nevada, where Tordil purchased the Glock, does not. Nor is there a federal registry of firearms, the spectre of which the National Rifle Association and its allies have used to knock down a range of legislation.

David Cheplak is a spokesman for the Baltimore Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which traced the gun, found in Tordil’s car, to a federally licensed dealer in Las Vegas. He said that if Tordil had bought the weapon in Maryland, he would have been required to register it there with state police.

Ah- registration of guns would have saved lives. And before you gun rights folks wet your pants about the mere suggestion of gun registration, maybe you ought to think about why it might be important for saving lives. It has nothing to do with the government taking YOUR guns away. It is to make sure we know if dangerous people have guns so we can save lives. I am raising it because we may need to have this conversation given cases like the one in Maryland. It is doubtful that anything like that can happen given the fears of gun rights advocates. But it could be helpful to talk about the fears and the implications in a civil manner. I’m just saying….

More from the article about the laws:

Maryland has a relatively robust law aimed at alleged domestic abusers. The authority to require suspects to give up guns has “enormous benefits for victims of domestic violence,” Taylor says, but is limited by the lack of a totally effective gun registry.

If Gladys Tordil or other family members had known of the extra gun Tordil kept, or if a record existed, then the sheriff’s office could have obtained a warrant from the judge and confiscated it as long as the protective order was still in effect.

But authorities had to rely on the word of a man accused of threatening to kill his wife that he was giving up his means to do so. That left Tordil free to stay armed and murder Gladys Tordil and two others.

So our laws rely on the abuser or the offender to be honest and say how many guns they have? Or to check on a form when purchasing a firearm that you are not adjudicated mentally ill, a felon or a domestic abuser? That is why we need to do background checks on all gun sales so that can be checked out by authorities. Lives depend on our getting guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. Stronger laws can do that.

Just to throw in another thought, what should we think when Uber drivers in Austin, Texas threaten to pull their business because of a new law requiring universal background checks on all drivers? Uber drivers are not always safe and law abiding as we see from the article:

Uber’s explosive growth has been met with concern about safety in many places where it has disrupted the existing order of transportation services, especially as incidents involving passengers being assaulted by drivers have been publicized. In 2014, Uber unilaterally decided to increase scrutiny in background checks for drivers, requiring all new and existing partners to undergo federal and county background checks. But those checks are not always effective. That was at least true in the case of John Dalton: an Uber driver in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who went on a killing spree in February while on the job. Dalton passed a background check because he had no criminal record. Uber does not collect fingerprints for drivers, or even require any face-to-face meeting before they are permitted to start accepting fares with its app.

Public safety is too important to let some people slip through the cracks. Lives depend on our getting this right.

I’m sure I don’t have to mention the irony of requiring universal background checks on Uber drivers but not on all gun sales.

So let’s enforce the laws on the books and make sure we are funding the efforts to do so. And then let’s pass stronger gun laws that are simple and direct so that it’s very clear what’s in the law. When that happens everyone will understand what the law means and what can be done to stop some from getting guns and make us all safer. In the end, that is the bottom line. Laws can change our dangerous gun culture. Changing the gun culture can lead to better laws to prevent gun injuries and deaths. That should be supported by everyone who cares about saving lives.

 

 

 

About flying bullets

bullet holesYes, it’s true. There are bullets literally flying around in some of our neighborhoods at will with no end in sight. Eventually they stop but they really don’t know where to stop and sometimes stop in an unintended place. Of course, if bullets stop at an intended target, that is also very bad and often deadly.

The gun rights advocates love to refer to Chicago and all of the gun deaths there to make their case that Chicago ( and Illinois) have strong gun laws, so why all the deaths? That’s a good question.

A recent senseless shooting, as if they all are not, points to the ease with which guns fall into the hands of those who intend harm. A young Chicago area teen who had participated in a campaign to end the violence, was shot in the back by a stray bullet in his neighborhood. The bullet was apparently intended for someone else who could have also been killed or injured. This young boy will never be the same. Nor will his family and friends. He was trying to stop the very thing that happened to him from happening. From the article with a quote from the shot boy- Zarriel Trotter:

In a 2015 public service announcement, Trotter spoke out against gun violence.

“I don’t want to live in my community where I have to keep on hearing of people getting shot and people getting killed,” Trotter said in the video.

Good grief.

Why are so many bullets flying in some of our communities? Where are the guns and bullets coming from?

For one thing, all guns start out as legal purchases. Guns go from manufacturers to licensed gun dealers where they are sold with background checks. Private sellers get their gun collections (hopefully) by undergoing background checks at a federally licensed firearms dealer and then often sell them to people who are not required to undergo a background check in most states. It’s easy. Just like that a transaction is made with no background check and the seller has no idea to whom he/she is selling a deadly weapon.

For some reason, the gun rights extremists love to claim that this does not happen. But in most states, in fact, it does. In Illinois, since I brought it up earlier, all gun sales require background checks or verification of a Firearms Owner Identification card at gun shows-even private sellers. So then, where are the guns coming from that are used in the many shootings in Chicago neighborhoods? Presumably the shooters and those committing crimes are not law abiding gun owners?

Gun trafficking from states with looser gun laws, is, of course, the undeniable answer to the question. This great article from The Trace shows the map of recovered crime guns and from where they enter the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois. A small number even come from my state of Minnesota. Apart from private no background check sales, straw purchasing and allowing illegal sales also provides guns to our streets. So “bad apple” gun shops like Chuck’s Gun Shop and Pistol Range in Riverdale outside of Chicago provide many of the crime guns used to kill innocent people inside the city of Chicago. A small number of gun shops like Chuck’s in states all over our country, knowingly allow straw purchasing or other bad practices that provide guns to those who shouldn’t have them. From the article:

The suit claims that the stores are not forced to be vigilant about sales to minors and to straw purchasers—those who buy guns for others who aren’t allowed to. The stores are immune from lawsuits for the results of their gun sales thanks to a law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, pushed through Congress in October 2005 at the behest of the gun industry. So the plaintiffs are going after the cities where the stores are located to force them to institute common sense rules to prevent improper gun sales. In Illinois, municipal governments, not the state, are responsible for making such laws.

But something can be done about this. So why not? If the gun lobby is correct that criminals can always get guns, why would they object to common sense measures to make sure they don’t get them?  Here are the measures demanded in the above mentioned law suit against the bad apple gun dealers:

The suit suggests several changes in the cities’ gun ordinances. As outlined by the Tribune, they are:

–Mandating background checks for all gun store employees;

–Deterring theft through adequate surveillance and exterior lighting;

–Training managers and employees to identify signs of straw purchasing;

–Requiring dealers to maintain an alphabetical log of all gun sales where the gun was later recovered at a crime;

–Requiring mandatory inspections of a store’s inventory to help detect theft and trafficking of guns, and;

–Requiring video cameras to record the point of sale to discourage buyers who may use false identification.

But in a depressing admission to reality, here is a quote from the article: “The suit will be a tough one to win, according to George Mocsary, a law professor at Southern Illinois University who specializes in firearms law. He told the Tribune that for a civil rights claim to work, there generally has to be an intent to harm a particular individual or community, such as African-Americans.  “I suspect that it will be dismissed,” he said.”

Sigh.

Further, the gun lobby has made sure that the ATF- the agency responsible for monitoring and regulating licensed dealers, is vastly understaffed and underfunded. Why? Good question for which I don’t have an answer. From the article:

“If you want an agency to be small and ineffective at what it does, the ATF is really the model,” says Robert J. Spitzer, author of The Politics of Gun Control. Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, says the ATF’s critics, in particular the National Rifle Association (NRA), have been “extremely successful at demonizing, belittling and hemming in the ATF as a government regulatory agency.” The result, he says, is an agency with insufficient staff and resources, whose agents are “hamstrung” by laws and rules that make it difficult or impossible to fulfill their mission.

So we have an agency that could make this better but thanks to the ever deceptive gun lobby, they are “hamstrung” in their job. Lives are being lost every day thanks in part to these ludicrous efforts to actually stop us from preventing gun deaths and injuries.

The sad reality is that young people in communities of color in large urban cities are affected by gun violence in greater numbers than their counterparts. This is not OK. We know that gun violence can strike anyone of any race, age, or socioeconomic level. Domestic violence, suicides and homicides occur everywhere. But we also know that we must address the availability of guns in affected communities if we are to be serious about saving at least some lives. In my state of Minnesota, young children of color have been killed by stray bullets flying around in their neighborhoods, leaving families to mourn the lost potential of their children.

One June night of 2012, Terrell Mayes, Jr., 3 years old, of Minneapolis, was hit by a bullet that came through the siding of his home. He died. From the article:

“You keep ’em in, you keep ’em in, but yet and still that bullet, that devil, came right through the wall and took my baby,” said Marsha Mayes,…..”

Babies dying from bullets…..

This article suggests that gunfire is common in the neighborhood where 3 year old Terrell was shot and killed. Are we at war? Gunshots should not be common in any of our communities. Is there any explanation at all for how an 11 year old girl can be shot and killed by a stray bullet while she is sitting in her home doing her homework as happened to Tyesha Edwards of St. Paul in 2002?

There is no explanation for this kind of senseless violence. Even passing stronger gun laws will not change some of this. We don’t have throw- away lives. Our children are our future. We must protect them from violent and avoidable deaths.

A gun culture that has been formed over many years’ time and with the help of a corporate gun lobby that wields too much money and influence will be difficult to change. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It’s past time for far too many. But lives can be saved with common sense and resolve. No one should be afraid to challenge the false notions that we shouldn’t do anything about our national public health epidemic because it won’t work. If that were the case, we wouldn’t try to solve any of our public health and safety problems. Life would be a free for all with no laws or rules for anything. People would be dying from all kinds of preventable diseases and accidents. That is not who we are as Americans.

It’s a ridiculous deception that nothing can change because of the second amendment. The second amendment to our Constitution was written before 90 Americans a day died from gunshot injuries due to homicides, suicides and “accidental” discharges or shootings. It was written before the common sale of semi-automatic assault type guns to average citizens. It was written before there were 300 million plus guns in the hands of Americans. It was written before regular mass shootings in our schools and public places. It was written before some of our leaders decided it was a good idea for just anyone to be able to buy guns without making sure they are people who should be prohibited from having a gun. It was written before the “wisdom” of the corporate gun lobby pushed our state legislators to pass laws to allow people to carry loaded guns around into every nook and cranny of our communities. You get the picture.

We’ve had #Enough of this. Communities and organizations working together can change the conversation and change the culture about guns and gun violence. As long as guns and bullets are so available and seen as “necessary” in some communities, our children will be at risk. Perhaps when children and teens see adults getting serious about addressing the violence epidemic, they will model what they see. For
every gun in the hands of a child or teen must first come through the hands of an adult.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Stand up and demand change.
  • Join an organization working for change.
  • Talk about the risk of guns in the home.
  • ASK if there are guns where your children or teens hang out.
  • Store your guns safely away from children and teens and to keep them from being stolen.
  • Talk to your friends during difficult domestic issues to make sure guns are not readily available.
  • Tell your legislators and Congress members that you expect them to support legislation to require background checks on all gun sales.
  • Support other legislation to make sure guns are not easily accessible to domestic abusers, felons, those adjudicated mentally ill, gang members, and others who should not have guns.

 

Together we can do this.

 

UPDATE:

Of course, it was a holiday week-end but one wouldn’t anticipate that 5 people were shot in Minneapolis over the holiday. It’s true. And some truly stunning facts:

The shooting comes as gun-related violence has risen in Minneapolis — much like in other Midwestern cities, such as Cleveland and Chicago.

Fifty-four people have been shot in Minneapolis through March 21, the last day for which police data were available, an 86 percent increase over the same period last year. In north Minneapolis alone, 43 people were injured in shootings, compared with 15 last year, police records show.

Meanwhile, the city is also coping with a rise in violent crime, which has jumped 5.3 percent compared to this time last year. In downtown, serious crimes like aggravated assaults and rapes have increased 21 percent, while the Second and Third police precincts have seen a sharp rise in the number of robberies, records show.

Bullets flew in Minneapolis last week-end. One dead and 4 injured. It’s time for that to stop.

Lies about President Obama’s executive orders

Daily News coverYesterday was an overwhelming and emotional day for people like me who have been working for so long on the issue of preventing senseless gun deaths and injuries. Those of us who have been affected directly by gun violence only want to prevent at least some of the senseless shootings. And what President Obama has done with his executive orders will do just that.

I cannot even describe my feelings adequately for what I consider to be a very bold, emotional, brilliant and amazingly cogent speech by President Obama. The room was filled with people I know personally or through social media. Standing behind the President were people I have met, heard speak at meetings and with whom I have shared stories. I saw Lucy McBath, Daniel Hernandez, Richard Martinez, Mark Barden, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, Jennifer Pinckney, former Rep. Gabby Giffords and many others who had been affected by mass shootings, domestic shootings, suicides, gang violence. I saw many many advocates who have worked tirelessly to get something done to stop the carnage.

And that is what made me cry. A friend said yesterday, ” Today the President cried. Why aren’t we crying every day?”

crying President

Good question.

While the speech was on TV, I was on BBC radio live talking about the reaction to the speech as a gun violence prevention activist. It was an interesting experience for me to say the least. I was contacted early yesterday morning to ask if I would be on the show World Have Your Say.   It starts about half way through the show. Other participants were a man named Marshall from California and Brian Jeffs from Michigan who co-authored a book titled, “My Parents Open Carry”. Yes, you read that right.

There were several political commentators as well. The BBC and the world was very interested in what the President would have to say and the reaction. Some of my friends were also on different BBC shows, or Australian TV or Al Jazeera. That’s because the world understands that what is going on in America is simply beyond the pale. No other civilized country not at war sees the daily carnage experienced here in America.

While we were live on the BBC program, we listened to President Obama’s speech, also live. I watched on my TV with the mute on so I could also see what was happening.

And so my reaction to the President’s speech was total delight and a sense of relief that finally something was going to happen. This is huge for the gun violence prevention movement no matter what the gun rights extremists want to say about it. The predictable reaction of the gun lobby’s lapdog politicians was on display of the front page of the New York Daily News ( as seen above)

Here are the myths coming from the NRA and gun lobby in a Media Matters article.

While I was on the BBC program yesterday, one of the gun rights activists kept saying that under the new regulations he would not be able to sell a gun to his brother. He is wrong. I have been on 4 conference calls Monday, yesterday and today about the President’s executive orders to better understand them. Today I asked that question of one of President Obama’s staffers who had worked on the orders. Her answer was that unless he sells guns to his brother and then to several of his neighbors and some other folks he knows privately so that he is actually doing business as a seller of firearms, he will not be affected by this.

Also during the BBC program I said that if you are a law abiding gun owner, you would not have to be worried. The BBC tweeted out the meme below with that quote from me (below)

BBC twitter

The gun rights activist on the program really couldn’t answer the BBC show host when she asked him why he is worried if he is law abiding. That is because he likely knows that he, himself, will not be affected by tightening up the laws already on the books. He buys most of his guns from a federally licensed dealer where he has to comply with the regulations and get a background check. He mentioned that sometimes he just likes to get his guns from a private seller. Never mind that he doesn’t need to buy guns this way. So this guy will still be able to buy his guns in spite of what Donald Trump has proclaimed in his response.

What I suggest is that we all have some common sense as even conservative Fox news host Bill O’Reilly has suggested.  The NRA could hardly wait to issue a statement discrediting the President’s comments with the usual talking points that make little sense given what is actually contained in the regulations and orders. Please read the executive orders.

Here is an explanation from Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign on the Bill Press radio show today:

All I know is that we are celebrating because we know that what just happened is huge. This has never been done before. The gun issue is rising to the top of the issues to be discussed in the upcoming Presidential election and down ballot elections. There is much interest. There is also much misinformation- some just from ignorance or not knowing what is in the orders. Other is purposeful deception and disinformation combined with the usual fear and paranoia.

I look forward to the discussion in 2016 and to the melt down of the gun rights folks and corporate gun lobby as more and more people come on board with the idea that we can actually do something to prevent some gun deaths and injuries. Gun owners and NRA current and former members are coming on board now. Check out this CNN interview with Mark Carmen who is a Republican gun owner and never voted for President Obama. He is also a veteran and a former police officer. Mark knows what he is talking about and he intends to get responsible gun owners to join his cause. He was at the event yesterday and sang high praises for the President. He’s on board. He will base his vote on the gun issue.

And do please watch the upcoming CNN town hall meeting with President Obama and a lot of people I know tomorrow night at 8:00 P.M. Eastern time. It should be another good chance to educate the public about the proposed regulations and about what they will mean. By the way, the President, Attorney General and the ATF have already sent letters to Governors and appropriate state and federal agencies to let them know what to expect and how to carry out the new regulations.

But the NRA has declined the invitation to participate in the town hall meeting. I guess they don’t really want to be part of the discussion or the solution. They would rather lob verbal and visual bombs at the President and anyone who is proposing common sense. Raising money with their incessant fear mongering and ugly memes about the President like the one Ted Cruz put out for the purpose of fund raising is what they are good at. Trying to save lives? Not so much. If they can’t be nice, I guess we ignore them.

We’re on our way to changing things in America at long last. This is great news and it will save lives. It’s all good for our children and our communities. We’ve had #enough and we thank President Obama for his courage, for his commitment, for his passion, for his strength and for his caring about the daily carnage.

enough President Obama

 

 

 

The Brady Campaign on the march

tipping pointI have been away from my blog while attending the Brady Summit in Washington D.C. hosted by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Public Health Association. Hundreds of attendees were inspired, saddened, educated and energized by like minded people on a mission. The tide is turning. We can feel it and we know it by the public responses to the recent tragedies. We see the testimonials. We hear the speeches. We watch as the news media is changing what they are saying about the issue and at least some politicians are finally speaking the truth about our national gun violence epidemic. Thank goodness. It’s far far too late for way too many. But it’s a step. And I hope it will be the slippery slope towards common sense.

I wrote in my last post about the article on the CNN website written by Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign. We have reached a tipping point on the issue of gun violence.

A recent shooting in Virginia which ended with the murder of 2 journalists on live TV was a tipping point. At the Brady Summit, one vey inspiring and emotional moment came when Andy and Barbara Parker, parents of Alison Parker, one of the Virginia journalists, spoke to the attendees. Here is a video of Andy Parker’s remarks:

Let’s do this for Sarah and Jim Brady and for Alison. Let’s not let our mission be derailed by those whose interests are in keeping gun industry profits high and keeping gun lobbyists in business. For too long, those voices have drowned out the voices of victims and survivors. Not any more. We will not be silenced.

Meanwhile, as advocates were learning from the experts in public health and safety, suicide prevention, physicians, attorneys, elected officials, victims, state advocates, and others-   these are the things that went on in our country while we weren’t paying attention:

Insanity.

You can read much more about the world of firearm accidents and intentional deaths at several good sites:

Accidents Happen Guns Kill

Ohh shoot blog

Gun Violence Archive

The Daily Kos- Gun Fail

Don’t you find it amazing that there are so many sites reporting on accidental and intentional gun discharges? Only in America. But much of the research and reporting is coming from sites like this. Since the NRA owned Congress members made sure government agencies can’t research the causes and effects of gun violence, it’s good news that others are stepping up.

One of the best sources of information outside of the public health researchers is the on-line publication, The Trace. In one of today’s articles, we learn that the ATF only monitors 7% of gun dealers in a year. That is a crime, actually.

Where are crime guns coming from? Many from “bad apple gun dealers”. You can read more about that in this piece from the New York Times today:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has pledged to throw his weight behind the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the country’s most prominent gun control groups, in an as-yet-unannounced effort demanding that the Justice Department more closely scrutinize so-called bad apple gun merchants, according to people familiar with the campaign.

Mr. Cuomo, in an interview about his plans to work with the Brady Campaign, promised that his involvement in national gun politics would continue to deepen. He said he would hit the campaign trail in 2016 to emphasize the issue of gun violence, which he repeatedly called “the big issue” in national politics. (…) To start, Mr. Cuomo will be among the chief signatories of a letter to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, to be released as early as next week, urging the Justice Department to punish what the Brady Campaign describes as a small fraction of gun dealers who sell an overwhelming share of weapons used to commit crimes. He has promised to lobby other governors around the country to join in the push.

Yes, we can do something about gun trafficking and crime guns and we will.

And you can watch 60 Minutes on Sunday for information about Smart Gun technology that has the potential for saving lives. The gun lobby opposes Smart Gun technology. Why? They need to explain how they can be against new technology that could prevent a toddler from pulling a trigger to kill or hurt themselves or somebody else. They need to explain how they can be opposed to a technology that could keep a teen from accessing a gun to use in a suicide or a school shooting. They need to explain why they oppose technology that could prevent a robber from using a stolen gun in a crime.

But I digressed. I sat at a table with a BBC reporter at the Brady Summit on Tuesday. She was doing a story on America’s fascination with guns and the lack of ability to change the minds of Congress when so many Americans want change. She was stunned at the American gun culture and our seeming tolerance for the carnage. It was unfathomable to her that we have failed to act. These things are just not happening anywhere else in the world. But she was also encouraged that groups were working state by state to change the gun laws that don’t get passed in Congress. That was news to her. As Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy spoke to the summit attendees, she paid attention to his remarks about how hard it was to get new laws passed even in the state where the massacre of 20 small school children occurred.

I explained to her about the insidious corporate gun lobby and the fear of said lobby affecting too many of our elected leaders. The lies and deceptions keep coming as the influence of the gun lobby wanes. You can read about the latest from the NRA’s own Mr. Wayne LaPierre in this Media Matters article:

The NRA’s lie is brazen given widespread reporting explaining how the gun group interferes with ATF operations. As USA Today reported in 2013, “lobbying records and interviews show the [NRA] has worked steadily to weaken existing gun laws and the federal agency charged with enforcing them.”

According to The Washington Post, “the gun lobby has consistently outmaneuvered and hemmed in ATF, using political muscle to intimidate lawmakers and erect barriers to tougher gun laws. Over nearly four decades, the NRA has wielded remarkable influence over Congress, persuading lawmakers to curb ATF’s budget and mission and to call agency officials to account at oversight hearings.”

The NRA’s opposition to the ATF has been extreme. The gun group has threatened to attempt to abolish the agency all together and LaPierre infamously called federal law enforcement agents “jack-booted government thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.”

Sigh.

While lobbying on Wednesday at the Hart Senate office building, a group of us were standing with our”Background Checks Save Lives” stickers on and managed to attract attention and comments from quite a few people. One of them was a Senate staffer who was not American born but worked for a Senator who he said did not agree with us. The thing was- he himself agreed with our views and shook his head as he tried to figure out why America is so gun crazy and so violent. I told him that the majority in his Senator’s state agreed with us and he should go back and check the polling date to share with his boss.

For if our own leaders fail to represent us- the majority and the victims, survivors, experts, researchers, law enforcement, clergy, youth, gun owners, health care providers, educators, hunters, and others who want gun safety reform, what else is there? Congress must act. Our state legislators must act. They are now hearing from the millions who want to get this job done in the name of the victims.

We are marching forward towards saving lives in spite of stiff resistance. We are holding our elected leaders responsible and asking them to commit to measures to keep us all safer in the halls of Congress and state legislatures. The tipping point is here.

We have had #enough. If you have also had enough, check out the #enough campaign on the Brady Campaign’s website.