25 years later- unhappy anniversary

crying womanThis will be a long post. But then again, 25 years is a long time since the death of my sister. It’s a long time to have worked on gun violence prevention. It’s a long time living with the fact that we seem to be febile in the face of the gun lobby influence and have allowed lapdog politicians to do their bidding. And while the fight to prevent gun violence continues so do the deaths due to firearms injuries.

Too many families  mark the anniversaries of the death of a loved one to gun violence. What an unhappy anniversary. It brings back the memories of the phone call and/or the visit from law enforcement announcing that a shooting had taken the life of your child, parent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandchild or grandparent or a good friend. Gun violence has a ripple effect so the broader community and sometimes the entire country is affected by heinous shootings. It is in our consciousness and our collective memories and our collective culture.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the shooting death of my sister, Barbara. She was a beautiful lively, talented artist and pilot. She was a biker, a very good downhill skier, a tennis player, a beauty queen, a mother and step-mother, very involved in her community and a world traveler. In high school her friends called her Bugs. I still am not sure why. Because she grew up in Duluth, some of her friends still live here and I run into them occasionally. They always have fond memories to share of her as she was loved by many.

In spite of the fact that her estranged husband ( 2nd husband) killed her, the adult children from her first marriage and adult child from her second marriage along with the adult children from his first marriage remain close to each other. His first wife has taken on the role of grandmother to the grandchildren my sister never met. My husband, my children and I all remain close with all of them. It was because of my sister’s ability to love and draw people together that we have remained a close family.

We could have been angry and divorced ourselves from his family, but my mother was forgiving to a fault and kept them all close. The thing is, we loved them all and had no idea that my soon to be ex brother-in-law was capable of shooting and killing two people. That is how it often is. Family members are surprised proclaiming that the shooter was such a nice person or a quiet guy or the family seemed to be so happy. What went wrong? It was so unexpected. That is the risk of having a gun so accessible in situations of anger and domestic disputes.:

DID YOU KNOW?  Keeping a gun in the home raises the risk of homicide.

    • States with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114 percent higher firearm homicide rates and 60 percent higher homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership (Miller, Hemenway, and Azrael, 2007, pp. 659, 660).
    • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms (Kellermann, 1993, p. 1084).
  • Higher gun ownership puts both men and women at a higher risk for homicide, particularly gun homicide (Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 2009).

Stunning.

I will always remember the night of the phone call about my sister’s death- actually on August 6 because her body and that of her friend were not discovered until the next day. When my nephew told me that my sister had died I assumed it was a plane crash since she was a pilot. Or anything else besides a shooting. How can one imagine that happening to a loved one? The violence. I often wonder how it would have been for her in the seconds before death after 1,2 and then a third bullet entered her body. Unimaginable. I can’t go there.photo of Barbara

Guns are deadly weapons designed to kill people. I won’t repeat the figures here again but we know that a lot of people die needlessly from firearm injuries. We also know that we are NOT helpless to change the trajectory of the number of gun deaths. More guns means more gun deaths. That is just a common sense fact.

We are not dealing in common sense though. Tragically we are dealing with a powerful and well funded corporate gun lobby that has become an arm of the extreme right wing of our nation. They use the second amendment as cover for their ever increasingly extreme agenda, aimed at arming anyone everywhere. We will not be safer as a country.

On this 25th anniversary of my sister’s death, I want to also remember the 5 year anniversary of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin,   6 died that day because of a hate filled white supremacist who killed just because. That is the American tragedy playing out regularly every day, week, month and year.

This shooting was just one of the very many mass shootings in America. Only in America is this a regular part of a nation’s culture. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have some suggestions:

Stop making this about the second amendment. It is about preventing gun deaths and injuries.

Stop the ludicrous assertion that passing a universal background check to require Brady background checks for all gun sales will inevitably lead to gun confiscation. That is a lie.

Challenge the NRA and other extreme gun rights groups when they cross over a line and stoke up lies and fear. Take this latest from Dana Loesch of NRA TV, for just one example:

Dana Loesch, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, is yet again making headlines for controversial reasons. On Friday, during an interview with Grant Stichfield on the NRA TV channel, Loesch equated penalizing gun owners with shaming rape victims. Her comments were in response to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress indicating an increased rate of gun thefts in Southern states — with most of the stolen firearms ending up illegally trafficked and utilized in robberies and violent crimes. Texas, Georgia, and Florida topped the list with over 8,100 thefts of licensed firearms between 2012 and 2016. The Center for American Progress suggested implementing laws enforcing stricter storage guidelines for gun owners.

Loesch argued that focusing on gun owners rather than on those stealing the guns is analogous to shaming victims of sexual assault:

Good grief. What nonsense. No wonder some gun owners are moving away from this organization.

So we should encourage more reasonable gun owners who generally agree with the gun violence prevention groups to raise their voices. Many believe the NRA has become too extreme for them and have left the organization. Here is just one who wrote about his displeasure with the NRA:

As a gun owner and defender of the Second Amendment, I’m here to tell you the NRA has lost its ever-loving mind.

The nation’s largest firearms organization began its slide into moral degeneracy as late as the early 2000s, when actor Charlton Heston became its five-term president (a feat for which the NRA’s rules had to be changed to allow him to serve longer), before going public with his battle with Alzheimer’s disease and retiring. Under Heston’s firebrand leadership, the NRA’s rhetoric shifted its focus from working with lawmakers across the country to defend Second Amendment rights, to recasting the group as the front-line warrior in a crusade against the entire progressive movement in a culture war that they claimed had engulfed the country. (…)

A responsible NRA would be working for, not against, universal background checks on all firearms sales. As a responsible gun owner, it’s my job to ensure anyone I transfer a weapon to is in fact legally permitted to possess one. That’s the bare minimum due diligence that should be expected of me, and the vast majority of Americans and even gun owners agree. But not the NRA.

Pass the law to close the gap with Brady background checks that now allows private sellers to sell guns without knowing whether the buyer is a felon, a domestic abuser or someone dangerously mentally ill.

Pass laws to require safe storage of guns.

Strengthen gun trafficking laws.

Crack down on straw purchasing. The Brady Center won a settlement against a Florida gun dealer and announced it today. The message from the gun dealer who sold a gun through a straw purchase which was used in a fatal shooting:

“We must exercise great caution and due diligence with great responsibility in preventing firearms from getting in the wrong hands of people who seek to harm us all. I support laws that protect our Second Amendment and the laws that protect our society from criminal elements who would abuse that right to the detriment of others. I encourage all gun dealers, including the new owner of my gun shop, to implement such measures.”

Hold every gun dealer and every gun owner responsible for being safe with guns and business practices. Lives can be saved.

Educate parents about ASKing if there are loaded, unsecured guns in homes where their children play. One big question could save a life.

Form coalitions of like minded people who are interested in keeping people from shooting themselves or others such as faith groups, gun owners, law enforcement, mental health organizations, domestic violence associations, health care providers, communities of color, LGBTQ community, educators, parents, business leaders and other gun violence prevention groups.

Crack down on irresponsible gun dealers. (See above article about the Brady Center settlement against an irresponsible gun dealer)

Don’t loosen gun carry permit laws. New research suggests that the passage of the conceal (and open) carry laws have led to more gun violence.

Change the conversation about the risks of guns to families and communities. Push back when bad advice or faulty information is in the public domain like the recent Dear Abby column about kids and guns. After the Brady Campaign and other organizations and volunteers weighed in Abby wrote a column with new advice and changed her mind. 

Remember the victims and survivors and make sure their stories are told. They are the voices of the movement to prevent shootings.

Stop saying our thoughts and prayers are with you and do something about the gun violence epidemic. TAKE ACTION.

Join one of the many gun violence prevention groups working to end gun violence at the local, state and national level. Join them in sending emails, postcards, making phone calls, lobbying at offices, tabling, speaking out, going to rallies, bell ringings, other events. They need you.

Work together for common sense.

I will end by suggesting that the current culture of incivility, sometimes including our own friends, on social media is disturbing. It starts from the top. With a President who has mentioned violence at rallies and said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing supporters, we have hit some new lows in civility. With trolls making rude and offensive comments when they disagree with someone, how can we have a civil society? It’s a frightening trend.

With members of both parties attacking each other and then the other party, how can we expect civility? With more armed people walking around with loaded guns in public, can we expect civility?

Social media allows a platform for organizing and promoting causes as well as keeping in touch with each other. But when it also becomes a platform for open criticism of even other friendly organizations or candidates or friends and family members, how can we expect people to settle disputes peacefully and without use of force? With the wide gap between Americans politically, the fear and paranoia is real. What we don’t need is ramping it up to include the idea of violence against each other and particularly with guns. Gun rights and the second amendment go only so far. The NRA’s leaders and lobbyists and other gun rights organizations have increasingly associated themselves with one political party in our country. The rhetoric has become more violent and suggestive of “second amendment remedies”. Why? The question should be asked and answered.

We are better than this. I am sure we all want to leave our country and the world a better and safer place for our children and grandchildren. That is what my sister would have wanted and that is why I am persisting. In her name I carry on. I stand on the legacy and lost lives of the 825,000 Americans who have died from gunshot injuries since 1992. That’s right. 25 multiplied by 33,000 is that much. In 1992 when my sister was shot and killed gun deaths were actually higher than 33,000 per year.

And last, I want to pay tribute to Jim Brady who died 3 years ago yesterday. I met him once and immediately was taken by his sense of humor and engaging personality even as he suffered from the decades long firearm injuries he suffered in the assassination attempt on the life of President Reagan. Jim and his wife Sarah persisted in spite of the terrible situation in which they found themselves, and got the Brady Law passed. Lives have been saved as a result.

I honor all victims of gun violence on this anniversary of my sister’s shooting death. Many things have changed since her death but one thing has not- gun violence is a thing. It’s a thing that needs fixing.

Shed a tear. Ring the bell. Light a candle. Pick a flower. Think for a minute the horror of losing a loved one in a shooting. And then take action and do something about it.

Minnesotans and background checks

state-fair
Google image

Minnesota State Fair attendees, a pretty good cross section of Minnesotans from all over the state, have once again confirmed that requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales is something that ought to happen. From the report released after the Fair closed:

 

2. Should criminal background checks be required on all gun sales, including private transactions and at gun shows? Yes…………………………………………… 86.2%……………… (5,556) No……………………………………………. 11.5%………………… (739) Undecided/No Opinion ………………. 2.3%………………….. (150)

These poll results are consistent with all other polls taken about this issue both in Minnesota and nationally. Not once have a clear majority of Minnesotans said they don’t want background checks on all gun sales. That being the case, what has been the response of our Minnesota legislators?

Sigh.

In 2013 the Minnesota legislature had an opportunity to pass a law to require background checks on all sales at gun shows and on-line. In spite of several polls showing strong support from Minnesotans taken by the Star Tribune and by KSTP news network, the bill never got a vote in the House.

Aren’t we better than this? A small minority of Minnesotans think, apparently, that felons, domestic abusers, those adjudicated mentally ill, fugitives and others who definitely should not have guns should be able to buy them anyway- and buy them legally. Or, is this denial? Or is it something else? What could it be?

Selling guns without background checks is not illegal if one is a private seller. Why? Because we have allowed our legislature to be bullied by the gun lobbyists and leaders who make false claims that requiring the very same background checks now performed by federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs)extended to private sellers would lead to gun registration and confiscation. This kind of ludicrous claim should not be accepted by our legislators any more.

Why have they believed it before? Fear. Fear of whom? Money? Influence? Fear of losing? The small minority of noisy gun owners who have drunk the kool aid of the far right have kept up this mantra of fear and paranoia for so many years that it is hard to break through it with the truth.

The truth is that Brady background checks will save lives if applied to all gun sales. The gun lobby hates the fact that over 2 million gun buyers have been prohibited from purchasing from federally licensed dealers since the Brady law took effect in 1994. What don’t they like? They have made false claims that those who have been denied shouldn’t have been. But this article from The Trace highlights the numbers and the reasons why someone was denied purchasing a firearm. Felons, fugitives, domestic abusers, illegal aliens, someone under indictment, unlawful users of controlled substances, and others have not been able to purchase guns from FFLs.

We should be thankful and relieved that these prohibited purchasers who tried to buy guns were denied. But they are NOT denied if buying from a private seller at a gun show, an on-line site, classified newspaper ad or flea market.

This is stupid, dangerous and ludicrous. It makes no common sense.

No one is saying that requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales will lead to no gun deaths. We know better. There are many ways for prohibited people to get guns. This is but one way to cut off an easy market for those who shouldn’t have guns. Not closing down this “loophole” is insanity at the least and dangerous and irresponsible at the most. And, of course, requiring background checks IS constitutional and has been for over 20 years.

It’s time for a change. The public understands this issue very well. Some in our Congress and legislatures are in denial and in the pockets of the corporate gun lobby and those who believe their gun rights include the potential need to overthrow their own government. These are strong views believed by some and they can have these views whether or not we require background checks on all gun sales. But they should not prevent us from passing laws that will save lives and change a culture that has included allowing easy access to guns by people who should not have it.

If we but follow the money we also see the influence of the gun manufacturers on the gun lobby and vice versa. If sales of guns are important enough to prevent our passing laws that will save lives, we need a change in the conversation, the culture and policy. There is no proof that gun sales will go down if background checks are required on all sales. Is there proof that law abiding gun buyers will stop buying guns from private sellers if they have to undergo a background check identical to the one they undergo at an FFL?

Questions need to be asked and answered. We’ve had #Enough.

On-line gun sales

Live Chat on Orange Keyboard Button.

A new market place has opened up for gun sales since the Brady law took effect in 1994. Like everything else, guns can be purchased on-line. Unlike anything else, no other item for sale on-line rises to the definition of a deadly weapon. I buy a lot of things on-line and I like that convenience. I don’t think any other item I buy on-line requires a background check because a sweater, a pair of shoes, a camera or a rug do not kill people. Guns do.

Armslist.com sells guns on line. I checked out what was available today in Minnesota. Many handguns, hunting rifles and also AR-15s are there for people who choose to purchase guns this way. Some sellers do say they will only ship to an FFL and one must have a Minnesota permit to purchase or carry. That’s good news. But many are sold by private sellers with no background check required. When these kinds of gun sales became available , those in the gun violence prevention movement raised concerns about this new market place for guns. Many gun rights extremists claimed that guns could not be bought on line with no background check. What they thought, or said, was that all guns sold on-line went through sites like Gander Mountain, for example, which has strict policies about shipping the purchased guns to a federally licensed firearms dealer for pick-up. There a background check would be required.

Were these folks in denial, lying or didn’t they realize that sites like Armslist.com allowed private sellers to post their wares and sell with no background checks just as they do at gun shows?  Someone I know once spoke with a reporter from the Star Tribune who said that some of the gun folks told him we were lying when we said this was possible. She directed him to Armslist.com and while on the phone call and asked him to click on Minnesota and then take a look at what was available. He admitted that we were right and the gun folks were wrong.

Radcliffe Haughton bought his gun from Armslist.com with no background check. He was a prohibited purchaser. Soon after the purchase, his estranged wife and 2 other people were dead after he shot them all in a fit of rage over a separation. Several others were injured. From the article:

Haughton was able to buy a gun despite a Milwaukee County judge issuing a restraining order against him just three days before the shooting. The restraining order barred him under federal law from owning a firearm or buying one from a gun dealer.

Haughton sidestepped the federal law by purchasing the gun privately.

Private sellers are not required to run background checks and do not have to follow a 48-hour waiting period, required at the time of the shooting for gun dealers in Wisconsin. The waiting period was intended, in part, as a cooling-off period in domestic violence cases. That waiting period was eliminated in a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker over summer.

The lawsuit says Armslist, and its owners, were liable because they created the marketplace that could facilitate such a transaction.

Facebook allows private groups to buy and sell guns to each other. No background checks are required. The transactions are made, as they are on Armslist.com when the seller and buyer choose a place to make the transaction and the cash is exchanged for the gun(s).

It was just a matter of time before people started getting caught trafficking in guns bought and sold on-line. This Minnesota man is one of them.  From the article:

“Feldman’s actions in this case put firearms in the hands of criminals in the Twin Cities and jeopardized public safety,” said James Modzelewski, special agent in charge of the St. Paul field division for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “[The] ATF is committed to working with local police and prosecutors to identify illegal sources of firearms, and hold them accountable. If we’re going to impact gun violence in our communities, we all need to work together to prevent criminals from getting guns.” (…)

The ATF found evidence linking Feldman’s sales to several handguns used in serious crimes.

The indictment said Feldman regularly bought firearms — mostly handguns — from licensed out-of-state sellers using an online auction site, had the weapons transferred to a Burnsville gun shop where he received them, and then quickly advertised them for sale on another website that facilitates gun sales without criminal background checks.

The allegations span two years, with Feldman’s last sale (of more than 50) coming in January at a shopping mall parking lot to an undercover officer used by the ATF.

His indictment came soon after Obama announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would toughen federal gun control efforts, including a warning that “a person can be [considered to be] engaged in the business of dealing in firearms” even if they conduct transactions only at gun shows or online. Those doing so, Obama said, must be licensed, just like dealers who run their businesses out of a traditional storefront.

Feldman advertised on Armslist.com to sell guns he had earlier bought from licensed dealers online. He first had the firearms transferred to L.E. Gun Sales in Burnsville, where he would receive them after completing required paperwork and submitting to a background check.

So much for the “law abiding” gun owner. He was able to purchase the guns legally, going through a background check himself but then turned around and sold them with no background checks. He was acting as a gun dealer and not requiring background checks. This is why we need background checks on all gun sales. These kinds of transactions help provide crime guns. And we need to enforce these laws, already on the books.

Why do some people believe that it’s OK to sell guns with no background checks? How do they know who is on the other end of the transaction? They don’t. It could be an ex-felon who can’t have guns. It could be a domestic abuser or someone who had been adjudicated mentally ill at some point. It could be a fugitive or a terrorist ( who can buy guns legally in the U.S. and we can’t stop them from doing so, thanks to our lax gun laws.)

This just makes no common sense. The corporate gun lobby continues to resist measures to require background checks on all gun sales. Why? They claim that these kinds of sales will lead to gun registration and confiscation even though the very same background checks that have been in place for over 20 years now have not done this.

The gun lobby is wrong of course. But some of our leaders seem to believe them and the minority of gun rights activists in league with the gun lobby cry wolf any time proposed bills come up.

The times are changing however as more Americans are now educated as to the fact that some gun sales do go without background checks. In fact, about 40% do. So the analogy that seems to work best is to think about going through the TSA checkpoints when traveling by plane. And then think about 40% of people who can just walk through without having their bags checked or going through the metal detector. And this analogy becomes even more scary considering how many guns are found in carry-on bags by the TSA.

So the long and short of it is- in order to protect the public from at least some of the daily shootings, the very least we can do is to require background checks on all gun sales and do what the majority of Americans have agreed is the right thing to do. Why not treat every sale the same? Just like all on-line sales of books, cosmetics, clothing, toys, etc. are treated the same for all, sales of guns should be uniform. No one can buy Sudafed without asking the pharmacist- there are no exceptions.  Many states require controlling the substance contained in Sudafed:

Pharmacy is one of the most highly regulated professions.3 Pharmacists are the gatekeepers of dangerous drugs. As such we are in a position to control access to one of the most dangerous of the drugs of abuse. We are at the end of the protected, closed loop of drug distribution. When it comes to protecting society from the illegal traffic in harmful drugs, we can make a difference. In so doing, pharmacists not only follow the law but fulfill our duty to protect society.

Hmmmm. This is a strong statement. Why doesn’t it apply to gun dealers- even private sellers?

Sales of tobacco products require an ID if a young person appears to be below the age of 18 and sellers can be fined for selling to a minor. Selling alcohol to a minor can result in severe fines as well as jail time. We all know that drugs are illegally bought and sold all over the world and that that is a huge problem in our country. The penalties are stiff if someone is caught and we have put a lot of resources into the efforts to stop drug trafficking but it is still happening.  It’s not easy to stop illegal activity like this but the fact that we are putting up no obstacles to dealing with the sales of guns to people who shouldn’t have them is ludicrous and dangerous.

There are exceptions for selling guns to those who can’t legally own them. It’s called legal private sales with no background checks. Gun dealers are required to be licensed but are not monitored as they should be, by design of the corporate gun lobby.

We are talking about allowing deadly weapons to fall into the hands of people who can’t buy them legally from licensed dealers.

This is the opposite of protecting Americans from public health and safety problems.

As Congress finally comes back from its’ longest break ever, lots of important things will be on their plates but little will happen because it’s an election year and they are afraid of their own shadows. We won’t expect much. But we will be watching to see how Congress will avoid dealing with a public health and safety crisis of gun violence not seen in any other country.

Congress needs to act. Ask them to act. If they don’t ask them why not? And keep the pressure on. We can’t let them ignore the fact that over 30,000 Americans die each year from gunshot injuries. Too many families are devastated daily by the carnage. It’s time for that to change.

#Enough.

Who do you trust?

PrintApparently there are many in America who trust no one but themselves. Trust in government has been eroded over years, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. But it’s clear that the minority of Americans who oppose background checks on all gun sales actually believe it will lead to confiscation of their guns.

The Trace has again done some research into who the people are who oppose those on the terror watch list from being stopped from getting guns and those who oppose background checks on all gun sales. Results were interesting but not necessarily surprising.From the article:

The Pew Research Center provided The Trace with a breakout of respondents to a July 2015 poll who indicated opposition to expanded background checks. The numbers show that people who oppose requiring checks at gun shows are more likely to be male, white, and lack a college degree than those that support such laws.

Among opponents of expanded checks, the gender split is 57 percent male to 42 percent female.

Forty-nine percent were white, 15 percent were black. In that same pool, those whose schooling stopped at high school were nearly five times as likely to oppose background checks at gun shows than those with a college degree.

By a nearly two-to-one margin, opponents of background checks at gun shows are also less likely to say that they do not live in a gun-owning household.

I have a question for these folks. Do you honestly think that those who have been identified as known terrorists should be able to purchase guns legally from licensed dealers?

Do you really think it is more important to protect the rights of those few who are on the list by mistake than to protect the next 50 people gathered together in a public place from being shot by someone who has terrorist leanings?

The Orlando shooting is still being investigated as to whether the shooter was a terrorists but he clearly had some leanings in that direction. There is no proof that the shooting was directed by any terror group.

That being said, the shooter was also mentally unstable according to many, angry, according to many, and a domestic abuser according to his first wife. There are many reasons why this guy should not have had a gun. But we have made it easy for anyone to get a gun no matter what. The Brady law had a built in loophole put there on purpose by the gun lobby. It allowed for private sellers of guns to not have to require background checks on sales.

So do you honestly believe people who shouldn’t have guns should be able to get them anyway with no background check?

Do you really believe that the very same Brady background check you have been getting for many years now when you buy a gun from a licensed seller will lead to gun registration or confiscation if a private seller requires the check?

Do you honestly believe that only “good guys” with guns can stop “bad guys” with guns?

Do you believe that everyone who legally buys a gun will be safe with that gun?

Do you really believe the government is coming for your guns?

Do you actually believe that your small arsenal of guns would protect you against that scenario should it actually happen?

Do you understand that your guns are more likely to be used to shoot someone close to you than to be used in self defense?

Do you really believe in the fear and paranoia foisted on you by the corporate gun lobby?

Do you trust that this guy is telling you the truth?:

I’m just asking.

Common sense indicates that background checks on all gun sales will only affect those who shouldn’t have guns. It also is proven that in states ( and in countries) where background checks on all gun sales are required, lives are saved. Yes, it’s true. Lives are saved.

Do you honestly want to save lives and prevent gun violence? Do you want to prevent your teen-ager from committing suicide with one of your guns? Do you want to keep your child from getting your loaded gun and shooting him/herself or a friend or sibling? Do you want to keep someone from stealing your gun and using it in a crime? Do you care about the lives of young black people who are dying in great numbers from bullets because guns are so readily available to them? Do you want to keep your neighbor from “accidentally” discharging his/her gun and having the bullet come flying through your wall, or hitting you in the leg in a public place? Do you trust that your child or grandchild will absolutely not pick up a loaded gun and fire it?

Who do you trust? Do you trust everyone with a gun? Do you trust people who have bought their guns legally though they shouldn’t have one? Do you trust that your armed neighbor is not going to have too much to drink and bring out his gun and shoot you? Do you trust the young man next door who just might have terrorist leanings, with his gun? Do you trust the mentally unstable young man who lives down the street with guns?

It comes down to what we are willing to do to save lives and keep our children and communities safe from mass shootings like that that just happened in Orlando and from the tens of thousands of suicides, domestic homicides, gang shootings, “accidental discharges” of guns leading to death and injury, home grown terror attacks, actual terror attacks, and other shootings. I trust that passing stronger laws will save lives and prevent shootings. My trust is backed up by the facts.

I happen to trust the government. I am not afraid of the government. I am not afraid of armed people lurking around every corner to shoot me. Government is not perfect. But going it alone and living life with the fear and paranoia so many people experience must be exhausting. By nature I am a positive person. I have lost a sister in a domestic shooting that should have made me distrustful but instead it made me resolved to do something to keep other families from experiencing what my family has.

And I trust that the Senate Democrats did the right thing when they forced a vote on Monday. The amendments failed but their resolve is a model of what can be done when there is resolve and a moral imperative from the majority of Americans on your side. I trust the House Democrats who are, as I write, having a “sit-in” on the House floor to force a vote on the no-fly, no-buy bill and an expanded background check bill. It sounds like a vote will happen:

In a move rich with historic symbolism, Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia, and fellow Democrats sat down at the front of the chamber in an unusual demonstration of civil disobedience challenging Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Sometimes you have to do something out of the ordinary. Sometimes you have to make a way out of no way. We have been too quiet for too long,” Lewis said. “There comes a time when you have to say something, when you have to make a little noise, when you have to move your feet. This is the time. Now is the time to get in the way. The time to act is now. We will be silent no more.”
I trust Representative John Lewis because he has brought the issue of gun violence right where it belongs- at the forefront of our political arena. Just like Senator Chris Murphy did last week when he began the successful filibuster that led to the Senate votes this week.

I trust that eventually we will get this right and sit down and stand up for victims. I trust that this time, the gun lobby and its’ minions are not going to dominate the conversation. Why? Because Americans have had #Enough and want to #DisarmHate.

Who do you trust?

Do you trust those who are standing ( or sitting down for) the victims who want the carnage and massacres to stop or those whose profits depend on selling guns and keeping people fearful and paranoid about gun confiscation?

#NoBillNoBreak

Watching the House members who are sitting in the House chamber is inspiring to the millions of Americans who want stronger gun laws. We have lost trust in our leaders and the system to do something about the daily carnage and regular massacres. There is no excuse for doing nothing except in some sort of twisted belief in the corporate gun lobby’s lies and deceptions.

And I am very proud of some of my Minnesota delegation for taking part in this historic action. Times are changing and the voices of the majority are being heard loudly and clearly.

It’s about time. How many tens and hundreds of thousands more Americans will need to die before our leaders vote for common sense?

Worlds collide

I remember the episode of Seinfeld where the character “George Costanza” chastised Jerry Seinfeld for inviting his fianceé, Susan, to a movie. George was upset because he wanted to keep Susan away from his world with his friends. Here is the segment:

I had an exchange on my last post with one of my readers about the lawful ownership of tanks by private individuals. In my world, the people with whom I associate would find this to be just plain ridiculous and would wonder why in the world anyone would want to own a tank much less the legality of such ownership. One can assume that these tanks are not operational and only for the purpose of collecting them. But again, why?

An article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted this world of tank owning:

When their insurance agent inquired about their plans for the tank, the Neal brothers emailed back, “We are going to use it to take over the world.”
Says Ken Neal, 45: “A tank is cool.”

A tank is also expensive, with good ones going for the price of some houses.

Sigh.

In Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine he asks if the right to bear arms should be extended to nuclear bombs and other such military armaments. Does it? How far can we go with the amendment that was written more than 200 hundred years ago by the founding fathers that are so often “quoted” or mis quoted by gun rights extremists. From the film:

Is this the world envisioned by our founding fathers?

A Facebook friend, involved in gun violence prevention, posted this photo of a quote from the Jefferson Memorial while on a recent trip to Washington D.C.

Thomas Jefferson quote

 

The world has changed since Thomas Jefferson wrote this quote while reflecting on the Constitution. I think everyone can recognize that. Since then several wars have occurred leaving behind new types of arms. ( and by the way, more Americans have died from gun violence just since 1968 than from all Americans killed in wars since the Constitution was written). Now some of these arms ( weapons) are marketed as “common sporting rifles”. AK 47s have been converted to become an ordinary civilian weapon for mass shooters or those who believe the government is coming for their guns.

The inventor of the AK 47 expressed regrets for how his invention has been used in wars and in civilian deaths around the world:

“I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” he wrote.

“The longer I live, the more this question drills itself into my brain and the more I wonder why the Lord allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression.”

AR 15s are also used by mass shooters such as at Sandy Hook Elementary school where a teen shooter knew perfectly well that using an AR 15 would inflict as much damage as possible in a very short time in order to kill as many first graders as he could. From the article:

“It’s a favorite among sportsmen, target shooters and competitors,” Stewart told CBS News. “It’s also popular as a home defense platform.”

Lightweight and easy to master with about 30 minutes of instruction, the AR-15 was invented in 1959 for the military, but was modified for civilian use beginning in 1963.

“The AR-15 is America’s rifle,” Stewart said. “You’re going to find more of those in safes at home than you’ll find of any other rifle in the country.”

Civilian use of the weapon is an abiding issue though.

There once was a nationwide ban on such assault weapons, imposed in 1994 following a number of mass shootings in the ’80s and ’90s.

When it was lifted ten years later, gun rights advocates cheered and sales rose.

Now the parents of those first graders and the relatives of the adults also killed in that heinous shooting are suing the manufacturer of the AR 15 because said manufacturer knows that these types of semi automatic rifles originally designed as war weapons that can take large capacity ammunition magazines are actually not common sporting rifles but meant to kill a lot of people in one place at a time in short order.

Worlds collide. The world of gun rights extremists is not understood by those of us who want safer communities and fewer people shot to death or injured by the many guns that are now accessible to average Americans. And vice versa. Was this the vision of our founding fathers? Doubtful. They had the common sense to realize that the world would change long after their own deaths and that the country and its’ Constitution should also change to reflect different times. They set down some principles that have helped govern our country for the last 200 plus years. For the most part they have worked well. But when it came to only white property owners having the right to vote, the new world had to change. Slaves were no longer. Black people were freed and demanded the right to vote. Women decided that they had the same rights as men to vote and demanded that right. It took a long time to get there which, looking back, seems almost surreal.

And so we plod along trying to make the world a safer place and hoping that gun deaths and injuries can be prevented with stronger gun laws to reflect the current world. The internet has provided a new market place for the sale of guns where private sellers can connect with private buyers and exchange guns for money with no background checks. Let’s look at just one of many hidden camera videos of how easy it is to buy any gun on-line.

“When you need the money you need the money.”

Sigh. Follow the money.

The founding fathers did not anticipate this world. When the Brady law was enacted, there was a provision for private sellers to be able to sell collections of guns at gun shows and other places without having to ask for background checks. The world has changed since 1994. Private “collectors” now set up tables at gun shows with the same types of guns and as many sometimes as licensed dealers. And they don’t have to require background checks from buyers. Another Brady Campaign hidden camera video to show the real world of private sales at gun shows:

Colin Goddard (in the video) was shot and injured at the Virginia Tech mass shooting.

Guns don’t fall out of the sky. They are not powder rifles any more. One more video from States United to Prevent Gun Violence to show you what I mean about the changed world of guns since the second amendment was written by our founding fathers:

 

Mass destruction is possible with the weapons developed since the 2nd amendment was written. Weapons designed for military use are now available to citizens. And some gun extremists actually believe they will be at war with their own government. This kind of fear and paranoia is stoked by the corporate gun lobby where profits are the bottom line. And so resisting all common sense measures to stop guns from going from the legal market to the illegal market are stopped by their nonsensical rhetoric.

And so the devastation continues with almost daily reporting of toddlers accessing loaded guns owned by their parents or other relatives who think their rights to own guns apparently don’t come with the responsibility to keep others safe from shooting themselves or others. Domestic shootings continue unabated. Gang shootings are taking the lives of young people of color in our large urban cities. Gun suicides are taking the lives of too many older white men and young (mostly) men and teens.

Worlds do collide. Truth is often stranger than fiction. Just look at the Presidential race if you don’t believe me. Presidential candidate Donald Trump is ramping up the nonsense and fear by making claims that if Hillary Clinton is elected as our President she will methodically order the confiscation of all of the more than 300 million guns in circulation in America. If you believe this, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. 

So what now? Will we ever be able to convince a majority of our elected leaders to support the views of the majority of Americans without fear of being attacked by the minority but well funded and mythically powerful corporate gun lobby. Yes, a lot of Americans own guns but fewer homes have guns than in many years. Some Americans own many guns. Yes, a lot of Americans hunt and use guns for recreation but they don’t oppose stronger gun laws. Yes, a small minority of Americans like to carry loaded guns around in public and seem to think they have some sort of constitutional right to do so (can you find that in the wording of the second amendment?) But do they realize that carrying a gun in public is more often to result in incidents like those below than actually using that gun in self defense?

Kentucky concealed carry permit holder discharges gun “accidentally” in hospital.

South Carolina student “accidentally” discharges gun in a school and shoots himself.

3 year old finds gun in Dad’s backpack and shoots and kills himself.

This is the real world. It is not fiction. This is where the world of the gun extremists and gun lobby collide with the world of actual daily shootings that could be avoided and prevented if we put our heads together to make it happen.

Slowly but surely, the public is recognizing that we can do something about the devastation of gun violence in America. As more people are affected by gun violence or are made aware of the truth of the matter, they are joining the many organizations and individuals working to prevent gun violence. And politicians are recognizing that supporting reasonable gun laws that don’t affect law abiding gun owners or take away rights is a winning issue.

We are better than this. Let’s get to work because we’ve had #Enough and refuse to be intimidated by those who make claims that are not true. We may never bring the two worlds together but we can bring the majority who reside in the middle and believe we make changes together to save lives.

 

Why background checks on all gun sales are essential

Let's leave our guns in the lobbyUnless you have been living under a rock, on a vacation with no news available or just plain in denial, you know that our nation has been experiencing an epidemic of gun violence that is really not new. This time, however, there seems to be more talk about it and even politicians are being pressed by the media and constituents to talk turkey about gun violence and what to do about it. It’s a topic that most want to avoid. Why? Because if they say what they really know to be true in their heart of hearts, it will p#$$ off the corporate gun lobby and the gun extremists and no one wants to go there. If it p&^%es off the rest of us? Apparently we don’t count and we are the majority. We are the 92% of even gun owners who want our politicians to pass a law to require background checks on all gun sales. I guess we don’t count.

So let’s look at the past month or so.  The shooter of the 9 Black Charleston residents at Mother Emanuel church should not have had a gun. How did he get it? He bought his gun from a licensed dealer after an incomplete background check. This was admitted to the public by the FBI Director:

Comey said the FBI made the error due to a breakdown in the background check system and confusion with paperwork between the FBI, local police departments and county jurisdictions.

Due to Roof’s admission during an arrest in late February that he was in possession of drugs, he should not have been permitted to buy the gun he used in the massacre. However, an agent working for the FBI’s background check system who was performing the review on Roof failed to contact the Columbia, South Carolina, police department which arrested Roof, in part because of a clerical error in records listing the wrong agency.

Because Roof’s background check took longer than three days to complete, the gun shop owner was allowed to sell the gun to Roof. The law permits gun sellers to sell guns if a background check takes longer than three days to complete.

Houston, we have a problem. Lives depend on our fixing this flaw in the background check system brought to us by the corporate gun lobby. This great article in The Trace explains how this happened in the first place:

It was called House Amendment 390, and it radically altered the implementation of the Brady background check bill. It was backed by the NRA. Twenty days later, it was the law. And 22 years later, one of its elements allowed Dylann Roof to get a gun.

Last week, Jim Clyburn, a Democratic Congressman from South Carolina, filed legislation that would close the so-called “default proceed loophole,” which allows federally licensed firearms dealers to proceed with a sale if a background check — as in Roof’s case — takes more than three business days to complete. Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal echoed the call, urging President Obama to take executive action to extend the window that federal examiners have for making a determination on a purchaser.

Here is more from this article about how this provision to proceed with a sale after 3 days even without a record of a background check made it into law:

His amendment was initially rejected, but when he tweaked it slightly and requested a floor vote on November 10, 1993, it passed the House 238 to 192, with 122 Republicans and 84 Democrats voting “aye.” The full Brady bill passed the House later that day. When the Senate took up the legislation, lawmakers were faced with Gekas’s one-business-day time limit, which would go into effect five years after Brady’s enactment, along with the instant check system. But after further maneuvering in the Senate, the investigation period was raised to three days.

On the night of November 20, 1993, the Brady Act passed the Senate 63 to 36, with 47 Democrats and 16 Republicans voting yes. President Bill Clintonsigned it into law on November 30.

Charles Schumer, who shepherded the legislation in the House, would later testify about the “tortuous negotiations” necessary to get the Brady bill to Clinton’s desk. Though he called  the instant check provision (which would come to be known as the National Instant Criminal Background System, or NICS) “unworkable,” he conceded that “it was a necessary compromise to pass the most  important gun control legislation since 1968.”

Five days before the bill signing, Wayne LaPierre gave his own assessment of the outcome, reiterating his group’s stance: “The waiting period is unfair to honest, law-abiding people. The criminals won’t wait.” But in actuality, the group had triumphed. It managed to maintain political cover with supporters by fighting an unflinching war against the bill in the public arena while simultaneously watering it down from within. And more than ever before, it proved that it could mobilize its three-million-strong membership in the process.

Ten months before NICS was scheduled to go online, Clinton floated the idea of indefinitely extending the five-day investigation period used by the interim manual background check system. But the Republicans who had taken over control of Congress proved inhospitable to any further alterations.

And so 9 people are dead because of the corporate gun lobby’s totally irrational fear about “law abiding” citizens having to wait to get their guns. What’s the rush I ask?

Regarding the shooting in Chattanooga, there’s so much it’s hard to know where to start. The shooter obtained some guns “legally” whatever that means given his alleged problems with drugs and mental illness. One of the guns was purchased at the on-line site called Armslist.com that connects shooters  buyers with sellers. And yes, this is legal because we have not made it illegal. Until states and the federal government pass laws requiring background checks on all gun sales we will have more of these shootings. Do we care?

( To deflect the real problem of easy access to guns, some state Governors have issued orders for our at home military to be armed. Of course, we now know that at least one of the victims of the Chattanooga shooting was likely armed. Never mind. Armed citizens are showing up at military centers to “guard” our military. I wrote about this one in my last post. It’s not going well so far.)

Every time another of these shootings occur, a whole population of Americans have flash backs and PTSD. It happens. A friend wrote this article about her own experience with gun violence and why the shootings cause her to experience PTSD:

I started working as an activist to prevent gun violence in December 2012 after the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in which a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff. I felt I could no longer sit idly by as this epidemic ravaged my country — especially after my own experience more than a decade earlier. My PTSD-fueled visions were turning into nightmares of guns pointing at my own children’s heads. And that’s when I knew I had to do something.

What makes my job so damn hard — aside from the powerful and greedy gun lobby — is that I’m caught in what seems a never-ending cycle of gun-related violence, and it seems I can’t do it. I am caught in a perpetual state of drop-everything-and-rapidly-respond to another shooting.

My typical response, like many I know, is to feel a rush of anger at yet another shooting. Our legislators need to recognize that our system is bleeding — quite literally shot to hell. (…)

But this time, I am not angry. And that scares me. This time I feel helpless and I want to run away. Maybe it’s because I’m hosting a friend from New Zealand where they don’t have the epidemic of gun-related violence like we have here.

It has made me think about moving, about leaving the country.

Imagine what life would be like not having to worry whenever I take my kids to see a movie or send them off to school.

Imagine life without gun violence.

“Imagine a life without gun violence.”

Sigh.

But I digress. I got to thinking about the victims, PTSD, violence, epidemics, hapless politicians, the poisonous corporate gun lobby, my sister, families of victims of domestic violence who I know, families of victims of mass shootings who I know, families of victims of gun suicides who I know……

Where was I?

Oh yes,- the Lafayette theater shooting. The shooter was a prohibited purchaser but supposedly bought his gun legally. What does that mean? Let’s look at this article:

In between, Houser assembled a file that will tell one of two important policy stories when the still ongoing investigations are incomplete. Either Houser will stand as a case study in how far a person can go without being barred from gun ownership — or become the latest reminder of the missing records that hobble the federal background check system. (…)

But on its own, the emergency petition that led to H0user’s stay at West Central would not necessarily prohibit him from gun ownership under the federal law that regards involuntary psychiatric commitments as grounds for banning someone from possessing firearms. For that to happen, a judge must take the next step and order extended hospital time. And for Houser, the records trail (at last for now) goes cold at that critical juncture. The relevant probate records are sealed and cannot be made public by the court.

While Houser’s family was asking that he be committed for psychiatric care, they were also seeking a temporary protective order barring him from any contact with them. That court filing cites “various acts of family violence” and states that Houser’s wife had “become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”  A subsequent, handwritten court record indicates that the temporary protective order was lifted on May 8, 2008. 

Some states have laws that command persons subjected to a protective order to relinquish their guns while the order is in place. Georgia, the state where Houser’s family lives and the order was filed, is not one of them, according to a 2014 report from the Center for American Progress. Houser’s home state of Alabama has a similar lack of restrictions. In 2014, the Louisiana State Legislature passed a law prohibiting the possession of firearms “by persons who are the subject of protective orders or permanent injunctions involving domestic violence.” However, the law only applies to cohabitating spouses and permanent restraining orders. Houser, who was estranged from (but allegedly sometimes stalked) his family and had only a temporary order against him, would not have been affected.

The shooter was denied an Alabama permit to carry a gun in 2006. But:

With the 2013 passage of legislation backed by the National Rifle Association, Alabama went from a “may issue” to a “shall issue” system for concealed carry permits, taking away some of sheriffs’ discretion. And none of the behaviors that led the sheriff’s office to reject his bid for a pistol permit would have caused him to fail a federal background check before buying a gun.

What might — might — have was a judge’s order of involuntary psychiatric commitment, which brings the events of April 2008 back to the fore.

If the judge in the case didn’t order more hospital time, that could explain Houser’s legal gun purchase in 2014. The other possibility: The involuntary commitment was ordered, but the record never made it into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Georgia is among the worst performing states when it comes to forwarding mental health records to the federal database, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety. (Everytown is a seed donor to The Trace.)

2 are dead and at least 7 injured as a result of a fatal flaw in our background check system.

Where is common sense?

Governor Jindal?

Congress?

That’s what I thought. Silence. Denial. Pandering.

Disgusting and shameful.

We are better than this.

Here is what LouisianaGovernor Bobby Jindal, Republican candidate for President, said about gun laws and the loopholes that allowed for the shooter to get his gun:

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana called for tougher gun laws in other states on Sunday, breaking his silence on the issue three days after a gunman with a history of mental illness and violence opened fire in a movie theater in the state’s fourth-largest city.

Gun control has become a prominent subject on the presidential campaign trail after the shooting on Thursday in Lafayette became the third mass shooting in six weeks in the United States. Mr. Jindal, who received an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, is one of 16 candidates seeking the Republican nomination for 2016. (…)

Until Sunday, Mr. Jindal and most of his Republican rivals had deflected questions in recent days over whether the killings reflected a need for tighter gun control laws. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Jindal called for states to adopt laws similar to Louisiana’s that feed information about mental illness into a federal background check system for potential gun buyers.

“I think every state should strengthen their laws,” he said. “Every state should make sure this information is being reported in the background system. We need to make sure that background system is working. Absolutely, in this instance, this man never should have been able to buy a gun.”

Hmmm, OK. We could give Governor Jindal credit for at least attempting to say the right thing under pressure. What he didn’t say might be more important to the discussion. Clearly the Lafayette shooting exposes the flaws in our system brought to us by gun lobby bought and paid for politicians like Jindal. Does he really think we will turn the other cheek and pretend he didn’t just sign into law some of the weakest gun laws in the country? Does he think we don’t know that Louisiana has one of the highest gun homicide and gun death rates in the country? From the linked article above:

The state doesn’t require background checks on private sales, even for assault weapons; doesn’t require gun owners to register their firearms; and doesn’t have a limit on the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As for gun violence, the state has the second-highest gun death rate in the nation, according to an analysis of the latest National Vital Statistics report. Louisiana’s lax oversight also enables firearms trafficking to other states, in which it ranks fifteenth in the nation, and 28 percent of guns wind up in criminals’ hands within two years of sale—almost six points above the national average.

Jindal has worked to weaken the state’s already lax gun control by signing a wave of bills in 2013 and 2014. He broadened the “Stand Your Ground” law to protect shooters who hurt, but don’t kill, someone they feel is threatening. He allowed concealed weapons in places that serve alcohol. He banned public access to the personal information of concealed handgun permit owners. He approved guns in churches. And he allowed Louisianans to apply for lifetime concealed-carry permits.

The hypocrisy oozes out of his mouth. Will he get away with it or will the public and the media keep asking questions and keep making politicians responsible for their own actions.

The time is NOW to talk about our gun violence epidemic. We don’t need lying and pandering. We need action. But of course the gun lobby and its’ bought and paid for politicians think we will believe them when they say the time to talk about gun violence is not after a wave of gun violence. A Washington Post article talks about why now is the time:

There are good reasons for legislative restraint in the aftermath of emotional tragedies. You probably don’t want lawmakers drafting bad legislation in a panic to do something, anything, in response to a public outcry.

On the other hand, as the shootings continue and the body count rises, the inevitable counter-argument becomes: if not now, when? Jindal didn’t want to talk gun laws last month, after Charleston. He doesn’t want to talk about them this month, after Lafayette. It’s only a matter of time before the next national tragedy strikes and sets the national gun clock back to zero again. And it will likely happen sooner than you think.

The Mass Shootings Tracker, a crowd-sourced tally of mass shootings maintained by the GunsAreCool subreddit, shows that we haven’t gone more than eight days without a mass shooting in the U.S. since the start of 2015 — that doesn’t leave a lot of time to grieve and regroup between shootings. We’ve averaged exactly one mass shooting per day since the start of the year. Forty eight days saw more than one mass shooting take place. On 18 days there were at least 3 shootings. On three days this year — April 18, June 13 and July 15 — there have been five shootings. (…) In the end, it often seems that the goal is to put off the conversation about the role of guns in America or quibble about methodology while the number of people killed or injured by guns rises. On the other hand, some people, like the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, argue that we’ve already had the conversation, and that it’s already over. They may be right.

Here is what Dan Hodges tweeted that got the attention of the writer of the article above:

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.12.30 PM

Indeed. Have we decided that the massacre of 20 small school children is bearable. What have we become in order to satisfy a well funded corporate gun lobby’s appetite for power, influence and sales of weapons? Have we become the country reflected in the cartoon at the top of this post? The question has to be asked and answered. For what we do about this epidemic of gun violence reflects our values and who we are as a country.

We just have to decide what the price is for our insane gun culture as this writer is wondering: 

How much is one innocent life worth? Ten gun buyers waiting a few minutes longer to purchase a firearm? 25 buyers? 100?

I’m not going to tell you about how other countries have faced similar crises and collectively made the decision to enact reform. We aren’t other countries. As Americans we deal with issues at our own rate based on our own values.

Instead, I’ll point to an issue that the South just tackled: the Confederate flag. Since revisionist historians started to recast the role of the South in the Civil War in the late 1800s, it was pretty much an accepted fact that people were too divided over the flag for anything to ever change.

…and then it did. In a matter of weeks, the Confederate flag was relegated to the dustbin of history in South Carolina and companies that understood its harmful symbolism to so many Americans began pulling products from their shelves.

The change came at the cost of nine more innocent lives, but it happened. (…)

Our lack of action as a country suggests that we don’t value the lives of innocent Americans over the minutes of inconvenience that potential gun buyers might face. So unless we are willing to start telling our elected leaders to pass background check reform, we might as well continue to just haggle over the price of innocent lives.

Lives matter. Laws matter. Background checks or lack thereof matter. The proof is screaming at us. Are we listening?

We could listen to the voices of the victims. How about the video of one of the Lafayette shooting victims, Jillian Johnson, singing with her group in this lovely and moving tribute to her and her life. The victims have names. They have families. They had jobs, husbands, aspirations, opinions….. until suddenly they don’t.

We just have to be better than this.

Law suits and the gun lobby

??????

In 2005 Congress passed a law opposed by many, including the gun violence prevention organizations around the country. It was difficult for the general public and Congress to really grasp. But when the “guys with the guns make the rules” that is often the case. This law is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms law, aka the Immunity Law ( Gun Industry Immunity). Here is what this law does:

In the years before passage of the act, victims of firearms violence in the United States had successfully sued manufacturers and dealers for negligence on the grounds that they should have foreseen that their products would be diverted to criminal use.[2] The purpose of the act is to prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products. However, both manufacturers and dealers can still be held liable for damages resulting from defective products, breach of contract, criminal misconduct, and other actions for which they are directly responsible in much the same manner that any U.S. based manufacturer of consumer products (i.e. automobiles, appliances, power tools, etc.) are held responsible.

Here is more about the law:

While opponents of the measure said it singles out the gun industry for special protection, Mr. LaPierre said the protection is necessary because, unlike auto manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies, American firearms makers “don’t have deep pockets,” and the industry would be at risk simply from the cost of fighting the lawsuits.

But opponents called the bill shameful — “bought and paid for by the N.R.A.,” in the words of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, whose constituents include victims of the 2002 sniper shootings in Washington and its suburbs, called the measure “a cruel hoax” on victims of gun violence.

“I went to a lot of memorial services during that period of time,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “I’ve met with family members. To tell them that their cases were frivolous is, I think, to add insult to injury.”

Eight of the sniper victims or their relatives won a $2.5 million legal settlement from the manufacturer of the gun used in the shootings and the dealer in Washington State who sold it. Mr. LaPierre said that suit would have been permitted under the law passed Thursday. But the lawyer who brought it, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, disagreed.

Mr. Henigan said that while the dealer had violated federal law, the bill would have prevented the suit nonetheless because the violations did not pertain directly to the weapon used in the sniper shootings. He said he intended to challenge the bill on constitutional grounds, arguing that it deprives states of their right to legislate and deprives victims of their right to sue.

As our country is experiencing more, not fewer, gun deaths and injuries and as the mass shootings keep piling up, this Media Matters article wonders why we aren’t paying more attention to this gun lobby law. From the article:

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act favors an industry that, at best, turns a blind eye to business practices that place profit over victims. As Forbes admits, the result is that “gun manufacturers have won double-barreled protection from Congress against the type of lawsuits that bedevil the makers of everything from toys to tractor-trailers.” Although legal experts like Andrew Cohen, posting in The Atlantic, are starting to highlight this unnecessary and unprecedented immunity for the gun industry, further attention would better inform current calls to hold gun companies accountable in court. As leaders of Congress state that “every idea should be on the table” in attempting to prevent another tragedy like the Newtown massacre, major news outlets should investigate why the gun industry remains shielded by law from the consequences of its irresponsible business practices in a way that other industries are not.

For example, the same type of gun used in the Newtown shooting was used by the 2002 Washington, D.C., snipers to shoot more than a dozen people. But if it had been in effect at the time, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act would have blocked the lawsuit filed by the victims against the gun maker and dealer, and prevented the settlement they received. On this point, the questions of Denise Johnson, the widow of one of the snipers’ victims, are still relevant:

I’m confident that the criminal justice system will work to punish the people who killed my husband. But the civil justice system must also be allowed to work. Those who share responsibility for my husband’s death must also be held accountable.

[…]

I and families of other sniper victims have sued these gun sellers. I hope that by holding them accountable, we can cause others to behave more responsibly, and that future tragedies such as mine will be prevented. I understood when I filed the case that I was not guaranteed victory, but that’s OK. All I wanted was my day in court. But if [the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act] is enacted, the courthouse door will be slammed in my face.

No other industry enjoys the protections that the gun industry is seeking. Gun sellers and manufacturers shouldn’t be above the law. If any other product injured my husband and irresponsible sellers played a part, I would be able to bring a case in court. But because Conrad was shot with a gun, my lawsuit would not be allowed. Those who sell guns that are sought by criminals need to be more careful than sellers of other products, not less careful.

I call on Congress to protect my rights and the rights of other victims of gun violence. There’s nothing frivolous about how bad gun dealers behave. And there’s nothing frivolous about my case.

The gun industry does not need to be more protected than any other industry. If victims file law suits, the courts can sort it out like they do for other industries who are sometimes sued by victims who are harmed by a product. The tobacco industry was found to be liable for deleterious health effects caused by their products. The same with the auto industry. Why does Congress treat the gun industry differently?  The corporate gun lobby may complain that they don’t have deep pockets but that is really not the case. The gun industry seems to be thriving thanks in part to the protections it has received from our own elected leaders who are afraid to stand up for the victims. And also thanks to the fear and paranoia sold to some in America that fuels the sale of firearms. And in a sick twist, many of these firearm sales increase after high profile mass shootings.

At some level, our elected leaders must know and understand this information. Do they also know how much gun deaths and injuries cost Americans?  Our leaders need to know it all in order to make informed decisions. There has been controversy in the past week or so about one such leader who happens to be running for President- Senator Bernie Sanders.  Sanders voted in favor of the 2005 law that protects the gun industry and has been having problems because of it. He also voted against the Brady Bill.

The 2005 law has come to the forefront in a recent lawsuit filed by the parents of one of the Aurora theater shooting victims against an ammunition company.  From the article:

A federal judge ordered the parents of a Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting victim to pay court costs and attorney fees as a result of a lawsuit filed last year, and the defendants in the case say the family owes around a quarter of a million dollars. (…)

The lawsuit was part a larger effort by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence to expose unscrupulous gun dealers that ignore obvious warning signs and sell to customers with malicious intentions.

The plaintiffs, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter, 24-year-old Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the shooting, filed suit in September, but a senior district judge dismissed the claims last month.

The judge cited the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in the ruling, a law passed in 2005 to shield gun makers and retailers from liability for injuries caused by a third party with their products.

On-line purchases like this are way too easy and come with no background checks:

“We’re different than other cultures,” said Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which advocates for firearms owners’ rights. “We do allow Americans to possess the accoutrements that our military generally has.”

Gun rights activists like Brown celebrate that freedom, but even some involved in the trade are troubled by how easily Holmes stocked up for his alleged rampage.

Chad Weinman runs TacticalGear.com, which caters to police officers looking to augment their equipment, members of the military who don’t want to wait on permission from the bureaucracy for new combat gear, and hobbyists like survivalists and paintballers. The site receives “thousands” of orders daily, sometimes from entire platoons that are about to deploy to war zones.

On July 2, Holmes placed a $306 order with the site for a combat vest, magazine holders and a knife, paying extra for expedited two-day shipping to his Aurora apartment. The order, Weinman said, didn’t stand out.

“There’s a whole range of consumers who have an appetite for these products, and 99.9 percent of them are law-abiding citizens,” Weinman said. But he said that “it makes me sick” that Holmes bought material from him. He added that he doesn’t sell guns or ammunition and that he was “shocked” at the amount of bullets that Holmes allegedly bought online.

Authorities say all of Holmes’ purchases were legal – and there is no official system to track whether people are stockpiling vast amounts of firepower.

This statement ( above) should concern us: “”There’s a whole range of consumers who have an appetite for these products, and 99.9 percent of them are law-abiding citizens,””. Law abiding or not, why is there an appetite for these products in the first place? Doesn’t that tell us something about our insane American gun culture? Who needs these kinds of products? And if you are law abiding and want them, a background check or further scrutiny should not be a bother to you. But…rights.

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips lost her daughter, Jessica, that night in a movie theater. Her right to live was taken from her in just seconds by a man who could buy hundreds of rounds of ammunition on-line because- rights:

That’s right. Not only does U.S. federal law protect gun makers and sellers from being held responsible for selling arms to nutcases, terrorists and murderers, but the state of Colorado requires plaintiffs to pay them court costs for having the nerve to sue them! (…) The other problem, which Sachs does not specifically mention is that our nation’s lax gun laws — along with laws protecting gun makers and sellers — allow no recourse to victims of the weapons industries and the NRA gun lobby.

Americans can buy anything they want on-line no matter who they are. Guns and ammunition should be treated differently than other products because they are the only product designed to kill people. Why can’t we get this right? High profile shootings often highlight our weak gun laws. The recent Charleston shooting has exposed a flaw in the FBI’s national instant check system:

That is something that should outrage all Americans, black or white, gun owner or non-owner. Polls show voters overwhelming support a background check system that prevents serious criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from owning firearms. Yet the NICS isn’t getting the job done — failing about 228,000 times per year based on the latest FBI numbers. And that’s not even counting the sales from private sellers to private buyers (including those conducted in conjunction with gun shows) that, while restricted in Maryland, are unrestricted in 33 states by last count. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, background checks only cover about 60 percent of gun sales. (…)

As troubling as the Confederate flag may be as a symbol of racism and oppression, a gun in the hands of a criminal or a dangerous psychotic poses a far more imminent danger. Fixing the background check — and closing the private sale loophole on a national basis — is no assault on Second Amendment rights. Rather, it would be a case of making existing law, one that’s been on the books for 22 years, function in the way that Congress intended. And qualified gun owners would have nothing to fear as they’d face no additional burden beyond a meaningful criminal background check while gaining the comfort that terrible armed rampages like the one that took place in South Carolina might be made less frequent.

Sometimes overlooked in discussions of this nation’s falling violent crime rate (and it’s fallen every year since 1994 on a per capita basis) is the role of Brady background checks that have denied guns to 2.4 million prospective buyers who were either convicted of felonies, were fugitives from the law or were determined to be dangerously mentally ill. Surely fixing the system will yield even better results, making it just a bit more difficult to walk into a church and kill six women and three men gathered for a Bible study. As important as taking down the Confederate flag may be on a symbolic level as a repudiation of the kind of white supremacy that Mr. Roof embraced, fixing the leaky background check system would save lives of all kinds and likely in large numbers.

Background checks on all gun sales can save lives.

We need to Finish the Job and require background checks on all gun sales. It’s the bullets and ammunition that actually kill.

Back to the gun lobby and lawsuits. Some lawsuits have worked in spite of the 2005 law. This Kansas lawsuit  puts gun sellers on notice that they need to make sure those who are buying their guns can pass a background check. From the article:

The owners of Baxter Gun and Pawn say they didn’t know Graham was a felon, and that they were convinced the grandmother was buying the gun as a gift for young Zeus. She filled out the form and passed the mandatory federal background check, as Graham waited.

“He paid cash for the gun, he carried out the gun, and he purchased the ammo,” Shirley says.

And just hours later, he used it to kill the boy, and himself.

“I lost my son,” Shirley says. “At the time, my only child. At the age of eight.”

She filed a negligence suit against the gun shop, and the Kanas Supreme Court eventually ruled that gun dealers must exercise the “highest standard of reasonable care” to keep weapons away from felons. That’s higher standard than had been in place.

She recently settled with the gun shop owners for $132,000.

“This case is hugely important,” says Jonathan Lowy with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

He argues that gun control advocates face a veritable brick wall in Washington, where he says powerful gun rights lobbying groups consistently block gun control legislation. Civil litigation, he says, offers a chance to move the needle on restricting sales.

And more from the article: ” “Gun dealers can be held accountable when they irresponsibly supply a dangerous person. That is a powerful message,” he says.”

And what follows is a comment from a gun dealer about how this is not the norm and most gun dealers are responsible. It is only about 5% of gun dealers who are responsible for 90% of the crime guns. But that 5% comes with innocent victims losing their lives. There should be no tolerance for “bad apple” gun dealers. Clearly stopping these dealers from careless and dangerous business practices can save lives. It won’t bring the ones who were shot back and it won’t stop their families and friends from grieving for them, but if it will stop another family or more than one family from experiencing the devastation of gun violence, it is important and worth doing.

Lawsuits matter.

Reasonable people can agree that we need to keep people from being shot in any way we can. That being the case, our laws need to be stronger, not weaker. And our conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in our communities needs to involve a discussion about everything we can do to stop the senseless violence that is devastating our communities. Common sense tells us we must have that conversation.

The thing is, we shouldn’t have to beg for our leaders to pass laws that can save lives. We shouldn’t have to sue bad apple gun dealers to get them to do the right thing. We shouldn’t have to remind gun owners to keep their guns locked away, unloaded, from kids and teens so they can’t “accidentally” shoot someone or themselves. (According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 994 “accidental shootings since January of this year; 371 children killed/injured in the same time period; 1269 teens (12-17) killed or injured since January.) Something has to change.

We are better than this.

Other countries have managed to get it right. We can too if we have the will and if our leaders do what they know is right in the face of a well funded and fierce corporate gun lobby.