Not rocket science

rocketscientist_01So where were we? Oh yes, talking about why it’s a myth that more guns make us safer.

It’s difficult to discern and predict who may become dangerous with a gun. I know that from personal experience. But there does come a point where we ought to err on the side of preventing a potential tragedy.

There really are some people who should not have guns. One would think that would be a no-brainer and an area of agreement. One would be right. Even NRA members- 74% of them or so- believe that all gun sales should have Brady background checks to keep guns out of the hands of people who could be dangerous with them or who have abused them in the past, committed a felony, abused a partner, spent time in a mental institution, a fugitive from justice, or a teen-ager.

So who opposes such a reasonable measure? The corporate gun lobby of course. Their reasons? A lie.

Not selling guns to prohibited individuals is really a good idea for the public safety and health of our citizens. But sell them we do. Private sellers can set up tables at gun shows and flea markets or sell guns through on-line sites like Armslist.com And they can sell their guns to anyone they want to without asking them for ID or requiring a background check. Whenever this comes up the gun lobby insists that having private sellers do the same background checks that federally licensed dealers have been doing now for 23 years now ( enactment of the Brady law) it will lead to certain gun registration or ( YIKES!!) confiscation.

Such nonsense has filled the void of reasonable conversation for so many years that some actually believe this lie. But I have also found that the other lie perpetrated by the gun lobby that all gun sales do require background checks is believed by many.

They do not of course. Private sales account for about 40% of gun sales. No background check, no ID, have gun will travel. That is simply not OK and makes no sense.

So making sure we are not dealing with alternative facts but rather the truth and the facts will make us safer. Of course, the other lie is that any research into the causes and effects of gun violence are fake news or fake science. That is because those kinds of studies do not support the idea that more guns make us safer and everyone should have one.

This is not rocket science. This is about safety and stopping shootings. It’s that simple.

Take, for example, the oft repeated lies of the gun lobby and those who believe them about Chicago gun crime and/or other crime. There is an insistence that Chicago and Illinois have strong gun laws but the crime rate and shootings are high so, obviously ( to them) strong gun laws don’t work.

They would be wrong. In spite of stronger gun laws than some neighboring states, Chicago’s murder rate is high. The overall crime rate is not,  as President Trump asserts ( and lies about) the highest it has been in 45-47years. In fact, it is at it’s lowest with a peak last year. Why? There are many reasons for what is happening in Chicago. One of them is that 60% of the guns come in to the city from surrounding states with looser gun laws.

Maybe this chart from The Trace will explain things even better. Note that Chicago has fewer gun crimes than many other cities in America. Why does the administration and Republicans as well pick on Chicago? Shall we take a guess given where the other cities are? I’m just saying.

chicago-murders

If we don’t try to stop some of this by passing a national law to require Brady background checks on all gun sales, cities and states that have strong gun laws cannot stop or prevent some of the deadly carnage resulting from guns coming in from somewhere else.

In my own city, there have been 5 shootings in 2 weeks.Read what the police chief had to say about this:

Sunday’s incident is the fifth shooting in Duluth that resulted in injuries in the past 16 days, with at least two additional armed robberies reported during that time. Duluth officials have called the latest outbreak of gunplay a statistical anomaly, noting overall crime rates are dropping. Police Chief Mike Tusken, however, has said there has been an uptick in gun-related activity. Police confiscated more than twice as many firearms from criminals in 2016 compared to 2015, the chief said.

Tusken did not comment to reporters Sunday but did post on his Facebook page: “I empathize how these incidents create fear and angst. Those who use guns to settle disputes harm not only their intended victims but also rob our neighborhoods of a sense of security. For these reasons, we pursue these criminals with great vigor.”

In this article, Chief Tusken is quoted:

“What concerns me is that you have a proliferation of more guns accessible by more people who should not own them, and then that human factor that there’s a propensity — and what appears to be no reluctance whatsoever — to use them,” he said.

Tusken, though, reiterated that he considers the recent rash of gun crimes to be a “tremendous anomaly.” He stressed that none of the shootings were considered random.

Yes, there are people who should not own guns. And yes, most shootings are not random but rather among people who know each other. I know that from personal experience. And facts and research show it to be true. From the linked article:

This is, in many ways, intuitive: The prevalence of guns can cause petty arguments and conflicts to escalate into deadly encounters. People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get angry at an argument, pull out a gun, and kill someone.

These three studies aren’t the only ones to reach similar conclusions. Multiple reviews of the research, including the Harvard Injury Control Research Center’s aggregation of the evidence, have consistently found a correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths — including homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings — after controlling for other factors.

So arguments among friends and family members can lead to deaths by firearms which cause the majority of homicides.

So to another myth- buy a gun for self defense and you will be safer. Fake news. Buy a gun for self defense and you and your family are more at risk for being shot:

Tragically, a record number of Americans subscribe to some version of this mythology, with 63 percent (67 percent of men polled and 58 percent of women) believing that guns truly do make them safer. The public’s confidence in firearms, however, is woefully misguided: The evidence overwhelmingly shows that guns leave everybody less safe, including their owners.

 

A study from October 2013 analyzed data from 27 developed nations to examine the impact of firearm prevalence on the mortality rate. It found an extremely strong direct relationship between the number of firearms and firearm deaths. The paper concludes: “The current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer.” This finding is bolstered by several previous studies that have revealed a significant link between gun ownership and firearm-related deaths. This international comparison is especially harrowing for women and children, who die from gun violence in America at far higher rates than in other countries.

Facts matter- or they should. But we are living in a new country now where alternative facts and fake science have risen to new prominence and it comes right from the top.

Do the gun rights advocates think this is OK? I’m just asking. Because it sure seems like it. If they don’t think it’s OK, why are they not insisting that we make common sense changes to keep our families and communities safer from devastating gun violence.

Do gun rights advocates think the man who shot into a crowd of Black Lives Matters protesters in Minnesota because he was a racist and wanted to prove a point is OK with a gun?  Remember, he was a “good guy” with a gun. From the article:

Texts and photos taken from Scarsella’s cellphone and computer, many of which were not presented at trial, show a deeply racist man who talked about being part of a “reserve militia.” He took selfies with his gun in his waistband, wrote frequently about shooting blacks and was passionate about the gun he would eventually use to shoot protesters.

Frightening at best. Some people should not have guns. And when they use them in this way, they should not be able to claim self defense and get away with it. But the gun lobby thinks it would perfectly OK for someone like this to get away with shooting someone because…. Stand Your Ground– coming up for consideration in a state near you, including Minnesota.

Communities of color are rightly concerned and fearful of these kind of alternative facts and lies. They are more at risk now because we are not dealing with science and facts.

(I am editing this to include another great article about the dangers of guns compared to the dangers of terrorists). Nicholas Kristof New York Times writer) wrote this today:

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves.

Yet Trump is raging about a risk from refugees that seems manageable, even as he talks about relaxing rules on another threat, guns, that is infinitely more lethal.

“I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools,” Trump said last year. “My first day, it gets signed, O.K., my first day.” Trump hasn’t in fact signed such an order, but his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, backed him up at her confirmation hearing last month, saying that guns might be necessary in schools because of “potential grizzlies.”

Domestic violence takes more lives than grizzly bears or terrorists. This is not rocket science. It doesn’t have to be this way and we must demand the truth and the facts.

It is so clear that more guns are not making us safer and particularly more guns in the hands of people who clearly have no business with a gun anywhere. So why are some of our leaders supporting measures to make it so easy for loaded guns to be in the hands of so many people?  It doesn’t seem to matter that the public is not demanding armed people in every nook and cranny of their communities. The public really is not comfortable with armed people with little or no training and no vetting via a background check walking around everywhere with their guns strapped openly to their bodies.

This is home grown terrorism. We lose more people to gunshot injuries that occur because of even law abiding gun owners who shoot a loved one, allow a toddler to get their small hands on a gun, or leave a gun available for a teen to use in a suicide than to terrorists coming in from other countries. And we are going to perform “extreme vetting” on immigrants, most of whom are not coming across our borders to do harm to others, but not on people who buy guns that are used to shoot another human being?

This is not rocket science. But it is science and fact that America is a country where more citizens own guns than any other democratized country not at war and also a higher gun death rate than almost any other nation:

Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries, a new study finds.

There you have it. Facts. Science. Proof.

Until we are allowed by those in charge to deal with facts and science, nothing will change. It is downright frightening that facts are being changed or denied to suit the agenda of those who believe in the lies. Or do they? Is this about money? Likely. Is it about power and influence over elected officials and the voting public? Likely.

We are better than this. The pressure to tell the truth will continue with those who believe we are not safer with more guns everywhere carried into places where we hang out with our families and friends. And that happens to be the majority of Americans.

We will raise our voices. We will make noise. We will demand the truth and the facts and hold our leaders responsible for their choices that make Americans less safe.

 

 

A stormy time for the gun lobby

tree damageWe were without power for 3 days following a terrible and violent summer storm in my city of Duluth. We were awakened at 3:30 a.m. on Thursday morning by hurricane force winds, violent thunder and constant and bright lightning. To say it was scary is an understatement. We heard trees cracking along with all of the other noises and were not sure if we would have to seek shelter. The photo here showing one tree down on a wire is minor compared to the destruction that happened all over in my part of town.

A majority of Duluth residents lost their power during the storm due to trees on wires and twisted power poles. Upon waking on Thursday morning, I checked on my friends to make sure all was well. Many had huge Spruce and other old growth trees down in their yards. A friend and I drove around a bit looking for coffee and were stunned at the awful damage done by this storm. Many streets were impassable because of downed trees and wires and debris was all over. Traffic lights were not working causing long lines of cars on the streets.

The city is recovering though many are still without power as I write. Neighbors are helping neighbors and the city has risen to the occasion. We are not used to these kinds of storms in our area. We have blizzards that cause power outages and sometimes downed wires. But this is something most of us have not seen in our lifetimes. The weather has been generally more tumultuous this summer. With many torrential rain falls and severe storms, I am convinced that climate change is real.

Also what is real is the summer of shootings of young black men and police officers. In Minneapolis, shootings have risen to one of the highest levels of recent years. This Star Tribune article revealed a different law enforcement policy to stop some of the straw purchasing that accounts for many crime guns getting into the wrong hands. From the article:

Amid signs of a rise in illegal firearms trafficking, federal prosecutors in Minnesota have hit on a novel strategy to crack down on gun violence and get shooters off the streets. Instead of prosecuting suspects for murder, where convictions can be difficult to obtain, they charge multiple defendants with conspiracy to buy and possess guns illegally.

The strategy is rooted in the successful prosecution of 11 gang members in 2014, after what authorities called an “all-out shooting gang war” in the Twin Cities. Prosecutors built a conspiracy case that produced 10 guilty pleas and a jury trial conviction of the gang’s leader, Veltrez Black, who was sentenced this spring to 15 years in prison.

Now a Minnesota prosecutor has been asked to share the strategy with Chicago authorities, who are grappling with near nightly volleys of gunfire throughout their city.

Such crimes often go unsolved because witnesses refuse to break a code of silence, prosecutors say, but firearms conspiracy cases can be easier to build.

What we know is that crime guns don’t fall from the sky. Guns start out as legal purchases and get into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them in various ways. It’s easy for anyone to buy guns legally or not, by not undergoing a background check at gun shows, flea markets or on-line sites such as Armslist or Facebook.

Straw purchasing is another way that allows the flow of guns into our streets and neighborhoods. We can do something about this if we have the will and think together about how to stop the guns that get used in shootings. Too many people are dying. There should be no excuses for not doing whatever it takes. More from the article:

The strategy is timely, given the recent surge in local gun violence. Minnesota gun deaths hit a 10-year high in 2015, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and represented a greater share of all homicides (61 percent) than in 1995, when Minneapolis was dubbed “Murderapolis.” (…)

And a new federal report shows that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recovered and traced 2,780 firearms in Minnesota last year — up 14 percent from a year before and also a 10-year high. That total doesn’t include all guns recovered by other law enforcement agencies; Minneapolis police inventoried an average of 681 guns as evidence per year from 2013 to 2015.

In the article there was mention of the problem of stolen guns. Some states have passed lost and stolen gun legislation to require people to report a stolen gun(s). We can see why from this: “The office also charged two people with buying up to 10 weapons for others in the group and later reporting the guns as stolen.”

And this, from the article, shows that many gun dealers are doing their jobs well:

At Bill’s Gun Shop & Range, owner John Monson is among the numerous Twin Cities sellers to occasionally find that a straw buyer passed through their doors. Monson said each of his five locations logs suspicious activity from any of the 100,000 customers who visit each year and passes along information to law enforcement agencies when necessary. Investigations can also evolve from mandatory reports to local police and the ATF whenever a customer buys two or more handguns in a week.

“We can’t stop all [straw purchasing],” Monson said. “But we can stop it in conversations in the process that happens before they do buy the gun.”

Prevention is what this is all about. If we can prevent guns from getting into the hands of those who intend harm, we can prevent some of the way too many shootings. Working with gun dealers is an important part of this process.

A new approach to preventing the proliferation of weapons onto our streets is needed given that many of our elected leaders are so beholden to the corporate gun lobby causing inaction in passing new laws or strengthening the ones we have. But we are seeing a new boldness amongst our politicians who are willing to speak out against the gun lobby publicly. One such statement was made by Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine on Saturday at his introductory speech. He spoke out and has spoken out before on the need for passing reasonable gun laws and has won all of his elections anyway.

The gun lobby is going to experience a stormy time now that their hypocrisy and rhetoric of fear are coming back to haunt them. Talk has turned to the nonsensical idea that citizens should openly carry assault rifles at public events and rallies such as the Dallas Black Lives Matter rally that turned violent. Others are wondering about conceal carry policies and how they work to protect people given that Philando Castile was armed with a legal gun when he was shot. There is some confusion over this confirmed by a local police officer at a meeting I attended about community safety. There are some interesting comments in the above linked article:

Thoughts on concealed carry: “If you’re a concealed-carry permit holder and you’re carrying, you assume some risk, you know? Things happen. Whether it’s on accident or intentional—you’re carrying a firearm. You’re assuming some risk in carrying a firearm. You have to assume some risk—it’s just like when you drive a car.”

How the Philando Castile situation will affect his work: “Will we change the way we do the training? No, because we believe we’re teaching it correctly. Will we emphasize this part of the training more? Yes. Will it come up for discussion? Guaranteed.”

It is undeniable that risk is involved when someone chooses to own and carry a gun. Guns are lethal weapons designed to kill others.

 

There is a perfect storm coming. More and more people are getting involved. This latest action to get in the way of Crossfit Reebok giving away Glock pistols to the winner of the  annual Crossfit games worked to call attention to the idea that gun giveaways are just not a good idea and obviously promote gun company profits. After the Orlando shooting, the GLBTQ community is not going to sit back and be silent. From the article:

“It is an outrage that an organization like CrossFit Reebok, who purport to be about health and fitness, are giving away a weapon of death and destruction as a prize,” said New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Executive Director Leah Gunn Barrett.

Why give guns away? Promotion of weapons of death just does not fit with exercising.

A new AP poll shows, again, consistent support from gun owners and non gun owners alike for universal background checks and stronger regulation of assault weapons.

From the above article:

Nearly two-thirds of respondents expressed support for stricter laws, with majorities favoring nationwide bans on the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons such as the AR-15 and on the sale of high-capacity magazines holding 10 or more bullets.

The percentage of Americans who want such laws is the highest since the AP-GfK poll started asking the question in 2013, a survey taken about 10 months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators.

High-profile shootings also appear to have taken a toll on Americans’ sense of safety. Strong majorities of those polled expressed some degree of concern that they or a relative will be a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting.

What I love about this poll is that it reveals that public opinion has not changed regarding support for doing something about the proliferation of guns in America. And when politicians and the public are in no mood for the increase in mass and every day shootings, things are going to change. The gun lobby may experience some stormy times and it would be past time for that to happen.

As my friend and writer, Sam Cook, wrote for the Duluth News Tribune, there is a hole in the sky left by the fallen trees.

But guns are not falling through that hole.

The public has shown over and over again over many years that they want our leaders to act to prevent at least some of the heinous shootings. More guns are clearly not making us safer.

I leave you with the latest mass shooting at another nightclub in Florida where teens were gathered for a pool party.  Two killed and 17 injured.

Teens should be able to attend a pool party without being shot and killed.  Guns make every situation more likely to end badly. They make for the perfect storm.

#Enough. We are better than this.

It’s about the guns

little boyThe last few days have been difficult and heart-breaking to say the least. In my home state of Minnesota of course, a black man was shot to death by a police officer after being stopped for allegedly having a broken tail light. Really? So much to say here that I can hardly say it all. The victim had a legal permit to carry a gun around. He announced that he had that permit. Why? He didn’t have to according to Minnesota law. But he was a black man with a gun. Perhaps he was afraid that if he was found with a gun on his person, things would get hairy for him. He was right.

Would he have been alive had he not had that permit to carry and announced that he did to the officer? We don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud.

Philando Castile was his name. He was a beloved cafeteria worker in a St. Paul Montessori School. A role model to children.

Now he is dead.

So many unanswered questions. We don’t know why he kept saying that he had this permit to carry, or so his girlfriend said he was saying.

The gun lobby has been working hard to arm every American just in case….. Castile must have thought his gun and his legal permit would protect him from harm. It didn’t.

Where is the gun lobby’s outrage over these shootings? Are they standing with the Black Lives Matters protest in St. Paul because a man with a legal permit to carry was shot to death by an officer? Nope.

We don’t know why the officer fired his gun when Philando allegedly moved his hand towards his pocket for his ID.

We just don’t know everything. People react to situations in many different ways.

We do know that when a gun is present, things often go wrong.

We do also know that more guns are not making us safer.

We understand that there is racism abounding in our American communities fomented by fear and paranoia of “others”. We do know that the gun lobby is making it worse.

We do know that one Presidential candidate in the name of Mr. Donald Trump has said that the Orlando tragic shooting could have been lessened or averted if only someone had been armed.

Ludicrous.

And then came Dallas last night. Armed officers were gunned down by a couple of citizens ( or that is what we know so far) who seemed to have been upset by the peaceful Black Lives Matters protest over the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings of black men.

Four guys with assault style weapons and high capacity magazines were like snipers gunning down officers on purpose- armed officers.

We know that it is easy to get assault rifles and high capacity magazines in America- far too easy. We have made it easy. We allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to expire. What has happened since? Numerous shootings of innocent school children, movie goers, military members, officers, LGBTQ citizens, and others. That’s what our lack of common sense has done.

And, as a reminder to my readers, most of these guns were legally obtained by otherwise “law abiding” gun owners.

Hypocrisy.

Good guys with guns are as bad as bad guys with guns.

The least we can do is to keep guns away from the “bad guys”. But what do we do about the good guys?

Only in America. It’s about the guns. It’s about a gun culture and a culture of fear and hatred that, when combined, leads to tragic shootings and senseless loss of lives. From this editorial in the Baltimore Sun:

We are in the deep end, my fellow Americans, drowning in anger and frustration, guns and violence. I don’t know about you, but when I woke up this morning and read the news from Dallas, I felt like the country had tipped toward anarchy.

The U.S. is an exceptional country, all right. Exceptional for its political, social and racial polarization. Exceptional in its acceptance of gun ownership.

You can feel despondent. You can feel hopeless.

I am despondent but not feeling hopeless. As someone who has lost a sister in a domestic shooting, I have been re-traumatized by these latest shootings. I watched the now viral video taken by the girlfriend of Philando Castile. I watched the blood ooze from his shirt. I heard his dying moans and breaths. What if there was a video of my sister’s last moans and breaths? What if?

What if this was your loved one as President Obama said in a speech given last night before the Dallas shooting. What if? What if our elected leaders were made to watch videos and see photos of the victims’ last dying breaths? What if this was one of theirs?

And who will protect the children as I asked in my last post? There was a 4 year old girl in the back seat of Philando Castile’s car who saw him shot and watched him die. How can we forget the children who witness such awful murder in their young lives?

What if Congress just straight up passed stronger gun laws without pandering to the corporate gun lobby as House Speaker Paul Ryan just did:

“We’re not going to rush it,” the Wisconsin Republican said at a news conference. “We’re going to get it right. And that’s what we’re working on with our members.”

No rush. Every day 90 Americans die from gunshot injuries.

No rush. 5 officers were just gunned down in Dallas.

No rush. 49 LGBTQ Americans were just gunned down at a nightclub in Orlando.

No rush, Speaker Ryan.

Shame.

Heartbreak.

Outrage.

Tears.

Sorrow.

Before the Dallas shootings but after the Minnesota shooting, the words of Protect Minnesota’s Executive Director Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, were sent out to supporters. She was urging us to look at the Philando Castile shooting from many perspectives. But in the end, it’s all about the guns. Here is the email sent out last night titled “Thoughts on the death of Philando Castile:

 July 7, 2016
Posted by Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, Executive Director

“Another terrible tragedy occurred last night, this time in our own backyard, when Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer in Falcon Heights. Philando was a much loved 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor at a St. Paul Montessori school who was black. According to police reports, he was pulled over for a tail light violation and a handgun was “recovered at the scene.” According to his girlfriend, the officer shot Philando as he reached for his identification as per the officer’s request. Philando was armed, but had clearly announced that he had a permit to carry a handgun. His girlfriend, sitting next to him in the car with her young child in the backseat, streamed a video of Philando as he slumped over, bleeding, having been shot four times point blank. The video allows us to hear the officer yell at her and then handcuff and detain her, while she narrates, weeps and prays that Philando will survive. It is difficult to watch.

Because this awful incident involved gun violence, Protect Minnesota is expected to make a definitive statement and “take sides” on the issue. At this time, with so much still unknown, I am not prepared to do either. But I do have some thoughts to share. What follows isn’t short and pithy–I’m a pastor after all!– but I hope you’ll find it helpful.

1. On Racism
This was the second questionable shooting of a black man by police in the U.S. in as many days. According to the Washington Post, there have been 509 police killings in America so far this year, with African Americans being killed at a rate 2-1/2 times greater than whites. President Obama today said that African Americans are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over and three times more likely to be searched by the police. Whatever other particulars arise, racism cannot be discounted as a key element of this tragedy. Often-hidden but always present, racism is like a strand of barbed wire woven into the fabric of our society. Its barbs catch, tear and hold back every institution, organization and individual as we strive to move forward towards justice. Since it would be naive to think that law enforcement does not reflect the racist attitudes that permeate our culture, this incident cries out for a full investigation by the Department of Justice. But nothing is black and white: according to Philando’s girlfriend in the video, the officer was Asian American. It’s safe to assume that he also experiences racial discrimination on a regular basis. At this time we cannot know how that factors into the equation.

2. On Police
There are approximately 1 million working police officers and law enforcement professionals in the United States, the vast majority of whom honorably serve and protect their communities. The risks they face have increased in recent years due to the ubiquity of firearms. More guns are being carried around in public now than at any time in our history, including during frontier times and the days of the “wild west”. Police officers now have to assume that anyone they detain may be carrying a gun and present a threat to their life. And the threat is real. According the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, shooting deaths of members of the U.S. law-enforcement community have increased significantly in recent years. For the first time in 2014, shootings comprised the leading cause of death for law enforcement personnel on the job, with ambush-style shooting attacks increasing the most. According to a 2010 press release issued by the San Mateo County, California, Sheriff’s Office,

“the law enforcement response is one of ‘hypervigilant urgency’… Should the gun carrying person fail to comply with a law enforcement instruction or move in a way that could be construed as threatening, the police are forced to respond in kind for their own protection. It’s well and good in hindsight to say the gun carrier was simply “exercising their rights” but the result could be deadly.”

That is a perfect description of what appears to have happened last night. Philando Castile was exercising his right to carry a firearm in Minnesota with a legal permit. He was totally within his rights and fully complying with both the law and the officer’s instructions when he was shot. The officer seems to have reacted with lethal “hypervigilant urgency” when he heard Philando announce that he had a permit to carry. Sadly, this is not unusual in the circumstance. According to gun violence expert David Hemenway in his book Private Guns, Public Health,

“Police officers, who receive large amounts of training, are still often inadequately prepared to handle ambiguous but potentially dangerous situations. Intense stress, confusion and fear are inherent in most possible shooting situations. Heart rates skyrocket, and it’s difficult to think clearly and to act deliberately. Not surprisingly, even police make serious mistakes.”

So even as we demand justice for the killing of Philando Castile, we can have compassion for the frightened officer who shot him.

3. On the NRA and the gun lobby.
In its continuing efforts to arm America in order to generate more profits for the gun industry, the gun lobby has done much to perpetuate two distructive myths that I believe may have played a role in Philando Castile’s tragic death.

Myth number 1: Gun violence is really just a “black on black” violence problem.
The NRA loves to quote statistics about how many black people kill other black people. Why? Because it feeds the fear that blacks are dangerous so we must carry guns to protect ourselves against them. In reality, according to FBI’s most recent statistics, 84% of white murder victims are killed by white people, compared to 90% of black murder victims who are killed by black people. Whites are six times more likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person. And here’s the kicker: 82% of gun deaths in Minnesota are suicides, an overwhelmingly white phenomenon. Unfortunately, we never hear about the epidemic of “white on white” gun violence, but the “black on black” myth has been swallowed whole by the media. The image of the scary black man with a gun has become a psychological meme in white America–and the gun lobby seems to be fine with that. How do I know? Listen to their deafening silence in response to Philando’s shooting. A permit-holding, law abiding American who was exercising his 2nd Amendment right was shot point blank by a police officer for no other reason than stating that he had a permit to carry. Where is the NRA’s outrage? Have they joined the Black Lives Matter protesters outside the Governor’s mansion?

Myth number 2: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
We hear the NRA trumpet that after every terrible shooting. Well, this time it was a “good guy” with a gun who did the terrible shooting. If a licensed police officer who has completed many hours of firearms training and testing on justified and unjustified shootings could over-react to such deadly effect, how can we expect untrained “amateurs” to respond with measured self-control when faced with a real or imagined threat? This is the aspect of Philando Castile’s death that falls within the missional scope of Protect Minnesota. Our task is to counter the myth that more guns equal more safety. They don’t. More guns equal more gun tragedies. More gun crimes. More mass shootings. More domestic gun murders. More black on black gun violence. More white on white gun violence. More gun suicides. More unintentional gun deaths of children. And yes, more police shootings. The common denominator is the gun.

We at Protect Minnesota join President Obama, Governor Dayton and the larger gun violence prevention community in expressing our deepest condolences to the family of Philando Castile. We grieve at the senseless loss of a good man who was loved by the children at the school where he worked. We weep at the thought of the trauma that his girlfriend and her young child have experienced and will relive every time the video is played. Our prayers are with all people of color in our community who have been wounded by yet another apparently unjustified shooting of a black man by law enforcement. Our hearts are open as well for the dedicated and honorable police officers throughout our state and nation who will now face greater suspicion and increased risks.

There is no easy, definitive statement to make except this: In the wake of this tragedy, we will continue to do our job. We will counter the false claims of the gun lobby. We will build a statewide network of people and organizations who support sensible gun legislation. We will speak out against and work to prevent gun violence in Minnesota. I invite you to join us.”

The false claims of the gun lobby have us in this position. How do officers deal with armed citizens? Often they are outgunned by people on the streets. How do communities deal with more heavily armed young men in their communities? How do the young men in affected communities get their guns so easily and why do they feel like they need them? Why are officers so quick to stop people of color for minor traffic violations? Why are officers more afraid of black people with guns than white people with guns?

Governor Mark Dayton boldly said it like it is in his press conference yesterday:

“Would this have happened if … the driver and passenger were white?” he asked. “I don’t think it would’ve. So I’m forced to confront and I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

Today, President Obama said it like it is in his statement:

“Let me just say, even as yesterday I spoke about our need to be concerned, as all Americans, about racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. I also said our police have an extremely difficult job and the vast majority do their job in outstanding fashion,” he continued. “We also know when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well.”

Realities. More guns are NOT making us safer. The gun lobby is dead wrong.

This is about racism. This is about intolerance. This is about fear. And this is, at the least, about guns.

 

UPDATE:

We now know that there was a single gunman in Dallas. He had served in the military. He had lots of guns. He claimed he wanted to shoot white people ( he was black). One lone man with extreme  and out of the mainstream ideas( and a loner according to neighbors) could do this much damage because he could buy an assault style rifle with many rounds of high capacity magazines. He knew what he was doing. He knew he could inflict a lot of damage on a lot of people. From the article above:

Micah Xavier Johnson didn’t have a criminal record and apparently acted alone in the carefully planned ambush during a march downtown, a law enforcement official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, told USA TODAY earlier Friday. Seven other officers and two civilians were also wounded.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Dallas police confirmed the identity of the gunman and said he was described as a loner by some who knew him. Detectives were in the process of analyzing the information in the journal, the statement said. (…)

Johnson’s Facebook account included the names Fahed Hassen and Richard GRIFFIN or Professor Griff, the Dallas Police Department said in the statement. GRIFFIN, who embraces a “radical form of Afrocentrism,” police said, also authored a book titled A Warrior’s Tapestry.

Extremism of any kind and guns and ammunition are a lethal mix. We have proof of that over and over again. But we are still waiting to act.

Why?

 

 

Peace and justice on Thanksgiving

Puzzle Pieces: Justice Concept.

As Thanksgiving approaches we should all pause and think about what is going on right now in our country. The Paris terror attacks have elevated the fear, anger and paranoia of Americans for good reason. But since the terror attack, some of the reactions have been amazingly uneducated and utterly frightening. I have been writing about this in my last few blog posts.

But now terror has hit Minnesota in the form of an attack by armed (alleged) white supremacists in Minneapolis against members of the Black Lives Matters protest over the shooting of a young black man by police last week.

This is a domestic terror attack- there is not another word for it. When so many people have been encouraged to arm themselves for perceived threats to their safety, this is inevitable. When so much hate, anger and fear is spewed on the air waves every day, what do we expect? More guns have definitely not made us safer or more polite. We have a violent and racist society.

Mike the Gun Guy has written about the Minneapolis shooting. It’s something to consider. From his post:

If you don’t think there’s a connection between the Black Lives Matter protestor who was beaten up at a Trump rally in Alabama and the attempted killing of peaceful demonstrators in Minneapolis, then you haven’t been paying attention to the news or the Trump campaign.  When you stand up in front of a cheering-jeering audience and call someone a ‘jerk’ or a ‘dope’ or a ‘crazy’ because they yell something during your speech, you’ve abandoned any degree of public civility and are now just pandering to the lowest and meanest folks in the crowd. (…)

But they don’t have to keep quiet if they can go to a rally headlined by Trump.  And they don’t have to keep quiet when they walk up to a demonstration held by Black Lives Matter because another Black man may have been gunned down by the cops.  After all, these guys have a Constitutional right to call someone a name and they also have a Constitutional right to walk around with a gun.  Put those two rights together and you know what you get?  You get three young Black men in the hospital with gunshot wounds and the cops, in a shooting which took place right outside a police station, still looking for the guys who pulled out the guns.

It happened right outside the police station.  Think about that.

Didn’t these armed thugs know that armed police officers were nearby? Of course they did. They didn’t care. Their hate, racism and anger fueled them and combined with guns, it didn’t go well. The suspects have all been arrested.

We don’t know yet what exactly happened in the case of the shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. Both sides have a story to tell and evidence to bring. An investigation will hopefully bring some justice and peace to citizens of the 4th precinct.

No matter what happened to Jamar Clark, one can understand mistrust of officers by people of color given the incidents that have happened over many years’ time. The tenuous relationship between people of color and law enforcement has been much in the news all over our country.

A Chicago officer just turned himself into police over the shooting of a black teen in October of 2014. It turns out that the officer shot the teen 16 times, many of the bullets shot after the teen was lying dead on the street.

These are difficult times for America. When there are so many guns on our streets and in our homes, the inevitable result is mistrust of others. Yes, black teens and young men are dying in greater numbers than their white counterparts. Yes, white men are dying more often than their counterparts of color in gun suicides. Toddlers and small children are “accidentally” shooting themselves and others at an alarming rate. Mass shootings occupy our media spaces on a regular basis. Yes, white radicalized home grown terrorists are shooting people of color. Stand Your Ground laws are unmistakably aimed at people of color and affect them at a greater rate than white people.  And yes, black young men are also shooting each other and innocent people in gang related shootings all over America. Police officers are being shot by others in various scenarios. And police officers are sometimes shooting  young men of color in sometimes justified shootings, sometimes not.

The issue of race and guns needs to be examined so we can understand the issues faced by our communities of color. It is not without controversy as nothing is with gun rights and gun violence prevention. The Trace has written about the history of race and gun rights. It’s worth the read for a better understanding of what is going on in our own country right now.

It’s impossible not to connect the dots from this article with the summer shooting of 9 Black people at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina. It was an act of terror and it was an act of overt racism.

Home grown extremists are shooting Americans on a pretty regular basis.

We have a gun problem that is contributing to all of the above.

Minnesota has had a rough year for shootings. There have been many shootings in the communities of color. There have been horrific domestic shootings and the usual suicides which account for 80% of gun deaths in Minnesota. Just yesterday, a man in a domestic dispute was shot and killed by officers in a Minnesota suburb. Domestic cases are among the most dangerous for officers.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Getting a handle on our nation’s public health and safety gun violence epidemic won’t be easy. But we shouldn’t stop until we have the conversation we deserve about the causes and effects of devastating gun violence. Common sense and resolve have to lead the discussion.  Facts will be important but our sense of justice and common values should be at the forefront of the discussion and decision making.

You may have conversations around your Thanksgiving table with family and friends about the many controversial  topics surrounding us. There are terror attacks, Syrian refugees, what to do with old aunt Sally, how to deal with cousin Peter, what to do about Uncle Joe’s drinking, where to go shopping on Black Friday and other important and not so important topics. If shootings and gun violence come up there are some answers to some of your gun toting relatives in this article in The Trace. “Arming” yourself with the facts rather than arguing at an emotional level may make your Thanksgiving table conversation less confrontational.

This Thanksgiving is going to be very difficult for a lot of people who are missing a family member because of a deadly shooting. Please think of them while you are with your own family and friends. And stay safe this holiday season.

God help us all. We will need all the help we can get to deal with all of the tragedy and unrest surrounding us.

Reactions and inertia after too many shootings

inertiaOnly in America do we have 24/7 coverage of high profile shootings happening weekly or more often without the accompanying obvious national discussion about solutions. We lurch from one shooting to the other in just a few hours or days. Our Congress is hoping that people will forget about the daily carnage and not push them to do anything about it. It seems to be working if the goal is to ignore a very serious public health and safety epidemic. Inertia sets in. But the shootings continue unabated. It’s hard to even know where to begin.

Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer  Darren White in Ferguson, Missouri. How can we forget that time period after the shooting and the verdict of the grand jury to not charge White for the shooting, when Ferguson erupted and we all watched the damage happening before our very eyes? It was the birth of Black Lives Matter– a movement that continues to occupy space in our political and social networks. The fact that we even have to name a movement with this name says everything about where our country is in regards to racial justice issues.

What has happened since the Ferguson shooting of a black youth by a police officer? Since Ferguson, unfortunately “officer involved shootings” continue.  I am not making any accusations here aside from reporting the incidents.

There’s the Tamir Rice shooting.

There’s the shooting of Walter Scott.

According to this source, there were 100 shootings by officers of unarmed black people in 2014.

So this one just happened. An officer near Dallas shot an unarmed college football player an altercation that will get more investigation.

And officers themselves are being shot at and shot in increasing numbers.

Too many guns mean too many shootings. Officers in other democratized countries don’t carry guns for the most part, but then neither do citizens:

The US, to be sure, is a different country. Some argue that the ubiquity of guns in America is a major reason that many seemingly innocuous incidents escalate into fatal shootings. At the same time, racial tensions in the US are more pronounced than in many other countries. Yet analysts believe that other nations have adopted a number of practices that contribute to less-contentious relations between police and residents – and might make a difference on US streets. These range from more-rigorous police training, to changing the way officers interact with residents, to requiring more education for cops.

The thing is, shootings are happening all over America every day. 88 lives are taken by gunshot injuries daily. For young black males, homicides are taking way too many lives:

For most young adults, aged 20 to 24, the No. 1 cause of death is car accidents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. For black men in that age group, though, the top cause of death is gun violence; they are four times more likely to be shot and killed than they are to die in a car accident.

A young black man is nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young white man and 13 times more than an Asian American man. These numbers, dramatic as they are, actually understate the problem. If a black person is killed by a gun, it is judged a homicide 82 percent of the time. For the broad population, most gun deaths are ruled accidental or the result of suicide; only 34 percent of gun deaths are attributed to murder. (…) For all other races, the gun homicide rate went up in the 1990s, though not much, and then it came back down. For young black men, it more than doubled and still hasn’t completely recovered to earlier levels.

This is an American tragedy. Young black males are being killed in great numbers. Way too often we read about the shootings of gang members by other gang members in our large urban areas. Sometimes the bullets kill innocent people in cross fire. And we read about young black men who have accessed guns they may believe they need to protect themselves in their violent neighborhoods. It’s a vicious circle of violence.

Why are we not asking how these young people get their guns? A very sad story in St. Paul, Minnesota about a 16 year old black teen who was shot and killed by a gun permit holder in a robbery attempt highlights the stolen gun problem in our country that contributes to many crime guns. The victim had become a violent teen, involved in gang activity and crime. He and his “friends” had stolen a car earlier the day of the shooting that contained 2 loaded guns. This is a sad story all the way around. The shooter did appear to act in self defense and will apparently not be charged.

But what can we say about the guns stored in a car that ended up in the hands of a 16 year old who shouldn’t have guns? If we are to solve the problem of too many shootings, it is important to understand where the guns used in shootings come from in the first place. In this case, a 16 year old boy obtained a gun from someone else’s car. Every gun in the hands of a child or teen must first pass through the hands of an adult. The permit holder appeared to act in a responsible way though the investigation continues. He made sure a “911” call was made and then he tried to help the teen. The owner of the stolen car? Perhaps he will think twice about storing guns in a car away from himself where he could better keep an eye on them.

Stolen guns, according to this article, account for 10-15% of crime guns. The article then goes on to state that straw purchases actually provide the majority of crime guns. There was a recent case, also in Minnesota, of a woman straw purchasing guns for a Somali gang who used the guns in a crime spree in the Twin Cities area:

For months, authorities say, a young woman calmly walked into a Robbinsdale gun store and legally bought guns big and small, including a Lady Lavender model Charter Arms .38-caliber revolver.

She apparently didn’t keep them long. Investigators say she quickly — sometimes immediately — turned the weapons over to Fausi Mohamed, a member of the well-known Somali Outlaws gang, and some were used in a violent crime spree across the Twin Cities this summer. (…)

The federal search warrant states that there is probable cause to believe that between February and June the woman and Mohamed had unlawfully and knowingly made false oral and written statements intended to deceive the gun dealer about the lawfulness of the sale of firearms.

Charges are fairly uncommon against straw buyers, people who buy guns legally on behalf of people who cannot. But gang-related crimes involving guns bought that way are a recurring theme. In November, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger charged members of two rival Minneapolis gangs for receiving illegal guns used in some 15 killings or shootings.

A mentally unstable man who was shot and killed after firing at officers at New Hope City Hall in January received a gun from a straw buyer.

The Minnesota legislature voted to strengthen the Minnesota straw purchase law in another gun bill that passed and was signed by Governor Dayton.  This is timely given what is happening in real time. Gun laws can make a difference one way or the other. So when the gun lobby and the gun extremists say that stronger laws won’t make a difference, they are not telling the truth.
When there are so many guns in circulation it makes sense that there are more shootings and more gun crimes. Police officers are shooting people. People are shooting police officers. Gangs are shooting at themselves and others. Some officers and citizens are shooting at gang members. Young white males are shooting up movie theaters, schools, shopping malls, schools and churches. Older white males are also doing some of the mass shootings. People with anger issues can get guns and shoot others over things that shouldn’t result in death. People who are dangerously mentally ill can easily access guns and shoot up theaters or public shopping malls during a “Congress on your corner” event.
Men with domestic abuse charges or orders for protections can get guns and shoot their spouses, partners. Teens can access guns to kill themselves or others. Small children can find guns in their homes or the homes of others and shoot themselves, a sibling or a friend. People can discharge guns at a Ronald McDonald house where family can stay while a loved one undergoes cancer treatment. Dads can shoot their daughters while giving them gun safety lessons. And no arrests in either case. Good grief. Where is common sense? And where are responsible gun owners?
If this doesn’t sound like the definition of insanity, I don’t know what does. We have timid reactions to the many shootings in America because we are afraid to offend the corporate gun lobby. When money and votes are given in exchange for not passing common sense gun laws, that is insanity. Inertia sets in. Let’s move on shall we? We would hate to inconvenience our politicians with the raw facts and the names and faces of the victims.
Facts and research into the causes and effects of gun violence would be hugely important to discussing the problems and the solutions. If only the gun lobby hadn’t bottled up funding for the CDC to keep the agency from studying gun violence. 
Sigh.
But others have stepped in. This blog post at Armed With Reason discusses the insistence by the corporate gun lobby that if only we do something about those with mental illness we will solve our nation’s gun violence problem. This is their immediate reaction and if left alone without fact checking, it will be believable. But it’s not true. Let’s take a look from the post:

Additionally, in 2015, Wintemute discovered that firearm owners who drink excessively had a history of risky behavior, including higher rates of non-traffic offenses, an overall higher risk of arrest, and greater reported “trouble with the police.” Alcohol abuse, the 2011 study found, also leads to risky behavior with guns: For instance, alcohol intoxication is likely to impair a firearm owner’s “decision-to-shoot” judgment. And while Wintemute didn’t seek a direct link between alcohol abuse and gun violence, he did conclude that of the nearly 400,000 firearm-related deaths between 1997 and 2009, “it is probable that more than a third of these deaths involved alcohol.”

These findings have profound implications for crafting policy to avert future tragedies. In the wake of mass shootings, politicians from both sides of the aisle often call for including better mental health records in background checks. Though a worthwhile sentiment, the evidence suggests that these efforts would be better spent focusing on alcohol abuse instead.

Don’t let a red herring cause inertia in the important discussion about gun violence prevention. We need to be “armed” with research and facts.

We can do a lot more to make a difference in lowering gun deaths and injuries and the number of shootings. Some stronger laws have been passed and some weaker laws have been passed. They are all addressing issues mostly on the fringes of our gun laws but don’t get to the core of our problem with the proliferation of guns and the increased number of shootings. What about the suggestion offered by this writer to allow loaded guns inside of our national Capitol and the offices of our Representatives and Senators? Good idea? From the article:

These issues have not gained traction in Congress and this inertia claims responsibility for deaths. Political obstinacy has brought the issue into funeral homes across the nation. Congressional silence and inaction regarding the epidemic of gun violence have veered our gun control conversation rightward. Now, in too many states, white supremacists, mentally ill ideologues, and other threats to safety may purchase guns at their leisure. Inaction has acted to create a nation where hardly any person, save perhaps a Senator, can claim safety from a rogue gunman’s bullets. Moviegoers. Churchgoers. Malls. Elementary schools. Sikh temples. University students. Spas. This list, already extensive, excludes those people of color targeted every day by law enforcement agents. Most Americans do not have the capitol police, the secret service, and innumerable bodyguards to protect them from insane,predominantly white male mass shooters. Certainly they do not have the protection of a Congress whose tenderheartedness has been purchased by the National Rifle Association.

These Senators, so absolutely committed to extensive gun proliferation, should favor such measures. They have not thought fit to vehemently object to unthinkable access to guns in their constituents’ hometowns. What sets apart the Capitol building? The Congressional offices, for that matter? If NRA-owned senators truly believe in practically uninhibited access to guns and gun-positive spaces, they should extend that freedom to grateful constituents knocking on Congress’ literal doorstep, regardless of any potential security concerns. Proper senatorial self-defense lessons could certainly assuage any fears. Indeed, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) believes that a gun-carrying teacher could have prevented the Sandy Hook elementary school atrocity. Sen. Paul should then support mandatory mass-shooting bystander training for all senators. Perhaps then, when someone inevitably – as inevitably as they have in countless public spaces in this country – pulled a gun on the Senate floor, Sen. Paul could put his advice to use.

Why not? There are few public places where guns are actually not allowed. In general schools remain “gun free zones” but efforts to change that have been successful in some states. Luckily for the country, many of these proposals have been turned down because of the common sense thinking that our children really don’t need to see adults in their schools carrying guns around. There is no proof that this would work and, in fact, in instances of mass shootings, it is very rare that an armed citizen has stopped one.

Other “gun free zones” are allowed under state carry laws, such as some public buildings, private businesses, colleges and universities, hospitals, sports venues, etc. The gun extremists will say that posting a sign won’t stop them from carrying inside. Great. It won’t stop anyone from bringing a gun inside actually. But think about it. I recently attended a Minnesota Twins baseball game. There were metal detectors and paid employees checking bags and purses similar to airport screenings. So the safest places in our country are professional sports venues, airports and the US Capitol and office buildings.

The gun lobby of course, wants guns in all of these places. Why not? Because surely only law abiding citizens will carry their guns inside and if someone who is not law abiding dares to bring a gun in and attempt a shooting, those law abiding citizens will be in the right place at the right time to defend us all from being shot.

Consider this- who will defend children in their homes, not considered to be “gun free zones” since anyone can buy a gun and bring it home with them? Every day in America an average of 8 children die from gunshot injuries due to homicide, suicide or an “accidental “shooting. I write about them often on this blog. Here’s just one recent incident of an “accidental shooting” of a child in the state of Alaska where there are more gun owners than almost any other state and some of the weakest gun laws.

Who will save women from domestic shootings in their homes? For that is most often where they take place. Homes are not “gun free zones”.

Who will save us from ourselves? Police shootings or “officer involved shootings” are the highest in the US of any other high income country. Young black men are losing their lives in great numbers in our large urban cities in alarming numbers. Our streets are not “gun free zones.” Suicide by gun accounts for the majority of gun deaths in America. Many of these, again, occur in homes where guns are available and accessible. Some of these are mass shootings where the shooter shoots himself ( mostly male shooters).

Gun deaths and shootings are on the rise. Obviously the solution is not to allow more guns for more people in more places. We are over saturated with guns, many owned by law abiding citizens and almost all, if not all, originally legal gun purchases. More guns are accessible to more people who shouldn’t have them than in any other high income country not at war.

No solutions are genuinely offered by those in charge of public safety. Instead, many of these folks in charge of our safety are voting in favor of weakening our gun laws in the face of rising numbers of dead Americans. And they don’t seem to care. The solutions will have to come from the public who favor doing something about our national gun violence epidemic. Don’t just sit there chewing on weeds. Get up and do something and demand a vote in Congress for a stronger background check system that could save lives.  That’s a start in the right direction.