Stolen guns, stolen lives

It should be a no brainer that all guns need to be locked up away from the hands of those who should not have them. Those hands would be children, teens, those individuals having a crisis in their lives making them dangerous with guns and thieves. Guns are one of the most stolen items from homes. I just read an account from someone on a local neighborhood site letting neighbors know that there was someone breaking into homes and that a gun was stolen from one of the homes. Hopefully the gun owner reported the gun stolen because it is now in the illegal market for guns leading to more guns on our streets.

And then there is this from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about crime guns in the city of Minneapolis:

“In October, police were called to an apartment complex across the street from the police union’s headquarters in Northeast, after the worker found the bag of guns inside a room that’s used to access the building’s HVAC system, according to filings in the case. Peeking inside, he counted seven handguns.
Police say the firearms were traced to a burglary last July at an Ashland, Wis., pawnshop where more than 30 guns were taken. No arrests have been announced in the case, which is being investigated by the ATF.
Another of the stolen firearms — a Ruger .380-caliber handgun — was apparently recovered last September at a south Minneapolis gas station.”

Gun dealers and pawn shops also need to store their guns safely and institute safety measures in their businesses to keep guns from being stolen. Stolen guns increase the risk that one will be used in a crime or get into the hands of kids on our streets who use them against each other in gang situations. And too often innocent people, not involved in this activity, are shot and killed as was a woman named Birdell Beeks, shot while sitting in her car with her granddaughter:

The fatal shooting of the 58-year-old grandmother a year and a half ago stirred outrage. Investigators say it was set into motion when a gang rival crossed over an invisible territorial boundary on Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis.
Tipped off to the rival’s presence by a 165-second phone call, Ezeka went outside and fired a handgun nine times towards the rival’s car. One of those bullets hit and killed Birdell Beeks, whose van was stopped at an intersection across the street. (…) “When you point a gun and you fire it, you do so with the intent that you’re going to destroy whatever you’re firing at,” Mathews said. “We all know what guns do.”
Mathews also argued that if Ezeka really meant to scare his rival, he could have fired the gun in the air or waved it around. Mathews says nine shots fired in just a couple seconds “doesn’t sound like shots that are meant to scare.”

The problem with this argument is that the person who wanted to “scare” his rival should not have had a gun in the first place. And firing a gun into the air is a really bad idea. What goes up always comes down. Don’t wave a gun around either. Guns are dangerous weapons designed to kill. We should be working really hard to prevent such easy access to guns in our communities with no excuses for those who use them dangerously.

We can’t get our loved ones back after incidents like this as Birdell Beeks’ daughter (who I have come to know well) says ( from the article):

Members of the close-knit Beeks family have packed one side of the courtroom each day of the trial, comforting one another during the sometimes graphic testimony or chatting quietly during court delays. Birdell Beeks’ daughter Sa’Lesha testified that her mother was a “pillar of the community.”
After the verdict, Beeks said she didn’t see any remorse from Ezeka, and she can’t forgive him, but the prospect of Ezeka spending his life prison is bittersweet.
“It doesn’t bring my mom back, but we got justice,” Sa’Lesha Beeks said, “almost in a sad way, because two lives were lost.”
Granddaughter Ne’Asha Griffin, who is now 17, told the court that her grandmother had always been her “cheerleader.” Griffin, who’s heading to college in Florida this year, said she’s set her college acceptance letter next to the urn containing her grandmother’s ashes.

Lives are stolen. Innocence is stolen. Future plans are stolen. Productivity for the shot person is stolen. Family members are stolen. Peace and tranquility are stolen. The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is stolen because guns are stolen and end up in the hands of people who should not have them. (other loose laws contribute to stealing lives as well)

The latest school shooting came about as a result of a gun “stolen” from home by a teen-ager who wanted to shoot up a school:

Two sources with knowledge of the investigation told Denver7 on Wednesday that investigators believed the guns were stolen from the parents. But Denver7 could not report at the time the manner in which the weapons might have been secured.
The sources said Wednesday they believe the parents of the 18-year-old suspect bought the weapons legally and that the guns were stolen by the suspects. People under age 21 are not allowed to purchase handguns in Colorado.

Earlier in the article it was reported that the students smashed the gun safe to get into it. If the guns were in a glass case, it would be easy to smash it open and certainly the teens would have known the guns were there. A more secure gun safe would have been almost impossible to smash. I would not say the guns were “stolen”.

Most school shooters are teens who got their guns from home and are affiliated in some way with the school. And yet, some would have us believe otherwise as did this active shooter training video made in Pennsylvania to train officers for school shootings. They got it very wrong:

A video of an active shooting drill at a Pennsylvania school has received sharp criticism over the decision to dress an actor playing a would-be shooter in what appears to be a Middle Eastern-style headdress.
The simulation video, which was made in January and only intended for internal training purposes, shows an actor abruptly entering a classroom and firing a shot, followed by a loud scream and students ducking their heads. The school said that two actors were used during the filming.

In the first scene, it’s not clear if an actor is wearing a headdress — but a few minutes later, after police officers have caught up with him, there’s a clearer picture of him wearing a headdress with his hands up.

The extremist gun lobby and some lawmakers and our very own President would have us believe that this is the way school shootings occur in America. Further this is who we should be very afraid of and why we all need to have our guns for self protection. People like this are lurking in every shadow waiting to attack us. We should be afraid of someone in middle eastern style head wear with a mask on his face. We should be a afraid of a person of color.

What we should be afraid of is the recklessness with which parents and adults store their guns in their own homes. We should be afraid of the frequency of unintentional shootings with guns found by young children. We should be afraid of how often guns for “self protection” are used to kill others in homes or for suicide.

This article highlights a study in the JAMA Pediatrics about safe storage of guns and suicides and unintentional gun deaths:

How guns are stored matters. A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics has found that even a modest increase in owners who lock up their guns would pay off in an outsize drop in gun deaths. (…) Last year, a study based on a national survey in 2015 found that about one in three of all households in the United States owned at least one gun. Of those households with both guns and children at home, more than 20 percent reported storing them both loaded and unlocked — the least-safe way. An additional 50 percent stored them either loaded or unlocked. (…) This meant that about 7 percent of all children in the United States lived in a house in which at least one gun was stored in an unsafe manner. This was about twice the number reported in the previous national survey, published in 2002. Other research suggests that many people in gun-owning households, typically not the primary owner of the gun, think they are safely stored when they are not.

Yes, some gun owners believe they need easy access to their guns in case of a home invasion ( or whatever other reason they may have). But they don’t seem to be thinking about easy access to those same guns by kids, teens and others who should not have them.

Guns are a risk because they are deadly weapons designed to kill people. If you or someone you know decides to bring a gun into your home, please think about the chance that that gun will be used against you or someone you know.

There are things we can do about all of the above. The sad and disturbing fact is that we aren’t doing what needs to be done. Common sense informs us that dangerous things in homes need to be made safer for our children and others living in the home. We lock poisons, hopefully medications, cleaning supplies and other such things away. We put covers over electric outlets when toddlers are crawling around. We use gates to keep kids from falling down stairs or getting into things that would be dangerous. We put kids in federally approved car seats and have to follow the laws about when kids can go without the seats. Kids wear bike helmets and safety gear for sports for good reasons.

But guns? Not so much.

I will end by again shining a light on End Family Fire (endfamilyfire.org) which is designed to educate parents and adults about the risk of guns in homes and bring more awareness to those risks. Saving lives is the bottom line.

Check out this video about how kids find everything ( and we all know they do):

Kids find anything. Kids do anything. Some kids get their hands on guns by taking them from their parents or another known adult. Some get guns by stealing them or getting them from someone who stole them. Some guns get into the hands of kids in other ways. But remember this- guns don’t fall from trees. They start out as legal purchases and then pass through other hands in various ways. And that is why we need to pay attention, be responsible, educate others, be more aware, pass stronger gun laws and make noise about keeping our kids safe.

Our children are losing their lives. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Carnage in Minnesota

Bloodshed Word Represents Wordclouds Bloodletting And FightingThis past week-end was a stunning example of our urban gun violence epidemic. It happened in Minneapolis and St. Paul where 17 people were shot and 2 of them died of their gunshot injuries.:

 

 

So far this year, 229 people have been struck by gunfire citywide — roughly 21 percent fewer than this time last year — most on the North Side. If the pace continues, Minneapolis will log 283 shootings this year.

Many of the assaults have been attributed to gang disputes.

In 2016, Minneapolis had 341 gunshot victims, after averaging 243 per year over the previous decade, according to department figures. The number of juvenile gunshot victims has also risen in each of the past five years. Four of the 14 people shot in Minneapolis last week were 18 or younger.

Meanwhile, on a national level shootings continue unabated. Check out the Gun Violence Archive’s latest information.

2545 Americans have been shot since the Las Vegas massacre according to the Gun Violence Archive.

As with other causes of death, injury or illness, we must deal with the evidence and the facts in order to understand what is happening. In Minnesota the facts are that urban gun violence is killing and injuring too many people.

Sigh.

772 have been killed.

Sigh.

Why does this carnage not get the attention it deserves? Simple- the NRA and corporate gun lobby are extremist organizations that have a hold on our country and our leaders. Why in the world our leaders are afraid of a distinct minority of Americans is not a puzzle. Follow the money. Follow the influence.

But the puzzle is solvable.

Corporations, including that of the corporate gun lobby, are in control of our Democracy. They are eroding our freedoms, our dignity, our rights to be safe and to solve the most important problems facing us as a country. As long as we continue to elect people who are beholden to these minority interests, we will contribute to the demise of the country our founders envisioned.

And those very people who are beholden and who influence our leaders blame everything on gangs. Yes, gangs are responsible for much of our urban gun violence. And black men account for 50% of homicide victims according to this 2015 report from The Trace. I recommend reading the linked article for other statistics about gun violence in the year 2015 since it addresses the issues I have mentioned as concerns and puzzles that we can solve if we make some new laws, improve old laws and change the culture and the conversation around gun violence in America.

But to just cast blame and then claim that their lives don’t matter is cynical and mean. Much of the urban gun violence is due to gang activity. It is among people who know each other for the most part except when an innocent person gets caught in the crossfire like the Birdell Beeks whose daughter I have come to know.

Domestic violence is also in urban areas as are suicides. Children find guns they shouldn’t find in urban areas as well as rural areas.

The bottom line is the easy access to guns. That we can change by changing the conversation, getting involved with efforts to intervene in urban areas by offering services that will help our youth get out of poverty, make sure they have access to health care, education and other basic needs and to interrupt the cycle of violence.

And we can pass stronger laws to make sure all gun sales have a background check, to strengthen straw purchasing, stolen guns and trafficking laws and Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

Finally we can and should elect politicians who actually care about public safety and saving lives lost to gun violence. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American public health epidemic being ignored by our leaders.

Make the gun issue one of your issues. Demand answers from candidates about what they will do to prevent some of the gun violence in America. Don’t let them hide behind the second amendment. This is not about the second amendment and gun rights. This is about the rights of Americans to live free of insidious and devastating gun violence that affects dozens of families every day and it comes as a total shock.

After the Las Vegas shooting it should be a no brainer to do something about the carnage. If candidates avoid the issue, you will have your answer. Vote for the other person or persist in asking the question. What will he/she do about urban gun violence? What will he/she do about gun suicides? What will he/she do about small children getting access to guns and shooting themselves or others? What will he/she do about stolen guns that contribute to crimes and violence? What will he/she do about easy access to guns on our streets? What will he/she do about assault weapons? What will he/she do about high capacity magazines and accessories like silencers and bump fire stocks?

And then expect answers.

Gun violence is destructive to families and communities. People should be able to sit in their cars, walk in the streets, go to work and school, play on playgrounds, go to public places and be in their homes without encountering bullets.

It wouldn’t take too much common sense to change things. The current atmosphere, however, is far from common sense.

As a country, we are better than this.

 

 

 

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.