Thanksgiving memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it is in America.

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “elephant in the room”

elephantWe are at a crucial tipping point. Will the terror attacks in Paris at long last lead us common sense solutions to gun violence prevention? I say this broadly because what happened in Paris has already led to a lot of discussion about how we in America can prevent a similar attack. Of course there is the strident and paranoid hyperbole and fact free discussion about what to do with Syrian refugees. It’s disturbing to watch and listen to political candidates and politicians pander to the hysteria.

Do we really want to target one religious group by asking them to register in a data base meant to keep track of them?  Apparently candidate Donald Trump would consider this:

That’s more Trump bluster, of course. Forcing every Muslim in the country to register for some sort of database would do nothing to secure the borders or stanch the flow of undocumented migrants. It also wouldn’t prevent the possibility of some radicalized and disaffected American youths deciding to join the jihadi cause. Indeed, by stigmatizing an entire religious community, it would make such behavior more likely. Trump must know that his proposals don’t make sense, but he’s pushing on regardless. He has moved from rabble-rousing to demagoguery, or something even uglier. And this time, sadly, we have no option but to take him seriously.

Can we be that intolerant now? Can we tolerate one candidate’s calling a religious group “rabid dogs”?:

While speaking at a campaign event in Mobile, Alabama, Carson compared the need to screen refugees before they enter the U.S. with the steps a community would take to protect children from rabid dogs.

“If there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog. And you’re probably going to put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs, by any stretch of the imagination. But, you’re putting your intellect into motion and you’re thinking, how do I protect my children?”

This is ugly and self serving rhetoric that makes us worse as Americans and dumbs down a very important discussion about how to protect our own country from a future terror attack.

Here is what we should be considering and talking about. We can stop a potential terror attack by making sure those on the known terror watch list can’t legally purchase guns from licensed firearms dealers:

Currently, some known or suspected terrorists are prohibited from boarding airplanes by the government’s no-fly list — but all are allowed to buy assault rifles and other weapons.

While the bill remained a nonstarter, more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist bought weapons in the U.S. over the last 11 years, according to the federal Government Accountability Office.

The GAO reported that 91% of all suspected terrorists who tried to buy guns in America walked away with the weapon they wanted over the time period, with just 190 rejected despite their ominous histories.

In 2013-14, the number of successful buyers rose to 94% — with 455 suspects buying weapons and just 30 denied as allowed under current laws.

“It is hard to believe that anyone could defend that someone on the Terrorist Watchlist should get a gun, no questions asked,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “I can’t believe that our Republican colleagues would block this now.”

Will the Republicans and rural Democrats  block a measure to stop this? Will terrorists continue to be allowed to buy guns in the US? Let’s see how much power the gun lobby will have now. And if Congress doesn’t act, we will know that they are too weak to stand up for the safety of Americans at the behest of the corporate gun lobby.

Senator Harry Reid has common sense, thank goodness. His statement challenges the Republican Senators to put their money where the mouths are when it comes to protecting us from terror attacks. From the article:

“Republicans care more about kowtowing to the NRA than preventing terrorists from legally buying assault rifles and explosives like the ones used in the Paris attacks here in America.

“Shockingly, Republicans continue to preserve a loophole that allows FBI terror suspects to buy guns and explosives legally, without background checks. As we speak, a terrorist on the FBI’s terror watch list can walk into a gun show in your hometown and buy as many AK-47s and explosives as they need to commit the kind of mass, heinous slaughter of innocents we witnessed in Paris and which we know terrorists want to perpetrate here in America. Al Qaeda openly urges militants in the United States to purchase firearms through this loophole.

“Democrats have sought to close this loophole for years but have been blocked by Republicans blindly doing the bidding of the NRA. In the wake of Paris, closing the loophole that allows FBI terror suspects to buy guns and explosives should be an obvious step. Legislation to close the loophole has existed for years. But Republican leaders in both Houses of Congress continue to block legislation to close this terrorist loophole.

And in the height of hypocrisy, Erick Erickson of Redstate.com   proclaimed ( as quoted in a Paul Krugman editorial for the New York Times) that he wouldn’t go to a movie theater to see the new Star Wars movie because there are no metal detectors at theaters. Really? This is coming from the mouth of someone who, along with the gun lobby, supports gun extremists who want the carrying of guns into every public place in our country.

How does his statement square with the idea that gun carriers believe they need their guns to protect themselves from terrorists and other scary things? It doesn’t of course. Guns would not be allowed if we had metal detectors in movie theaters. But never mind common sense. You just can’t make this stuff up. Erickson got caught with his “pants wet” as this writer wrote for Salon today about Erickson’s ludicrous statement:

Erickson got caught with his pants wet and has had to backtrack. He now says that he is not afraid to go to the movies because he will be carrying a gun and assumes that others will too. If that’s true, a lot of people should rethink their plans to attend Star Wars. With theaters full of armed men who are quivering in fear and ready to fire at the first loud noise, does seem wise to avoid that situation. Those fellows are dangerous even when they aren’t on edge from terrorist attacks that happened on other continents.

Oopsie.

But back to my main point. We should also pass a bill to require Brady background checks on all gun sales. Why? Because it will prevent those who shouldn’t have guns from being able to get them anyway. Yes, even terrorists. Because if terrorists are stopped ,by closing the terror gap, from legally purchasing guns from licensed dealers they know where to get guns very easily- from private sellers at gun shows, flea markets, on-line and other places:

It is also worth noting that this gap in the law is compounded by another huge loophole in federal gun laws—the one that allows individuals to buy guns from private sellers without a background check. One of the Garland shooters was a convicted felon and therefore prohibited from gun possession under federal law. While we don’t yet know exactly how he obtained the guns used in this attack, he would have had little trouble buying one without a background check through a private sale, online, at a gun show or anywhere else.

This weakness in our gun laws is not a secret. In 2011, America-born Al-Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn urged his followers to take advantage of our weak gun laws to arm up, explaining, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The question for the rest of us is: What are we waiting for?

What are we waiting for indeed? Haven’t we had #enough of the hyperbole and fear mongering based on false information? Why not do something about what can actually stop the next terrorist from getting firearms and explosives?

Stopping refugees from coming to America will not solve the problem. America has the most stringent screening process for refugees of any country in the world. That’s a fact. Few if any refugee has committed an act of terror in the US:

The history of the refugee resettlement program has a nearly spotless record when it comes to ensuring that those offered a place in the U.S. are not inclined towards committing acts of terrorism.

“The United States has resettled 784,000 refugees since September 11, 2001,” Newland wrote in a recent op-ed. “In those 14 years, exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”

Two of the men were indicted and jailed for plotting to send weapons to terrorist organizations in Iraq. One Uzbek man was convicted of terrorism-related charges for possessing explosives and supporting a terrorist organization in Uzbekistan.

The Syrian refugees are mainly families who are fleeing the terrorists who are now attacking innocent people in the Western world.

But the U.S. House of Representatives has taken a vote that is political and claiming it will keep us safer, potentially worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected countries all over the world. Even France has said it will take up to 30,000 Syrian refugees after one of the worst terror attacks suffered by their country.

The terrorists who committed the heinous act of violence in Paris are almost all home grown. They were all born in France or Belgium with the possible exception of one who may have used a fake Syrian passport which was left at the scene of terror.  They did not come out of a Syrian refugee camp.

Hysteria and fear has caused Americans to make inhumane decisions in the past. Have we not learned from our mistakes?  Think the Jews trying to flee the Nazis during World War ll. Think Japanese interment camps during World War ll. 

Things are getting ugly in America. Knee jerk reactions  won’t solve the real problems. Acting without thinking through the consequences will haunt us as we look back at this period of our history. There are measures, like closing the terror gap in our gun laws, requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales, altering  our temporary worker visa program as is now considered in the U.S. Senate:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is introducing a bill along with Flake to restrict that visa waiver program, which allows citizens and foreign nationals from mostly European countries—like France and Beligium—to come to the U.S. for 90 days without visas. Their legislation would bar visa-less entry to people from those countries if they had been to Iraq or Syria in the past five years. Flake is joined by at least one other Senate Republican in not being totally insane about refugees. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said, following the briefing, that “the visa waiver program potentially is the place where there’s greater gaps, possibly, than the refugee program itself.”

Where Republicans are not working with Democrats, not at all shockingly, is on the gun part. The part wherepeople on the FBI terrorist watch list can buy guns. According to the General Accounting Office, between 2004 and 2014, “suspected terrorists tried to purchase guns through the loophole at least 2,233 times, and were able to do so in 2,043 of those cases.” That’s comforting, huh? Thus far, Feinstein has no Republicans wanting in on that proposal.

Who is Congress more afraid of- terrorists or the gun lobby? Ignoring a safety risk in front of our own noses will make us less safe and so far, that is what Congress is doing. This article from The Trace highlights the hypocrisy of the gun lobby bought and paid for Congress members:

Yet legislative stonewalling does not solve the political problems that the events in Paris present for the NRA and its conservative allies, who find themselves in a double bind: They must decided (sic) whether or not a no-compromise interpretation of the Second Amendment supersedes U.S. national security. The gun lobby and Republican leaders each positions themselves as stalwart defenders of the former as well as the latter. On the question of the so-called terror gap in gun background checks, there is no clear way to be both.

And further, from the article:

In 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine published a poll that asked Americans whether they supported prohibiting suspects on the watch list from buying guns. Eighty-six percent of respondents answered in the affirmative. That included 82 percent of gun owners surveyed and 76 percent of NRA members.

“There have been all of these extreme efforts to deter terrorists in this country,” says Karen Greenberg, the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University. “And yet we’ve missed this huge elephant in the room, and that’s access to firearms. By not enhancing background checks, you’re taking an essential piece of prevention out of the hands of law enforcement.” She notes that with respect ISIS, which was responsible for the rampage in Paris, there is a call for “local attacks in a kind of ad hoc way. In the U.S., guns are easy to get. Explosives are tough to make.”

The public wants Congress to act on whatever measures will make us safer. Will they do the right thing? The real problems are staring us in the face but Congress and others ( Governors) are ignoring the facts before them in order to score political points.

We’ve had #enough.

Common sense, facts, calm decision making and courage are needed. It’s time to stop the pandering and get down to the business of keeping us safe from terrorist attacks from foreign fighters who mean us harm, from our own home grown terrorists, and from the devastation of every day gun violence in our own country.

We are better than this.

 

UPDATE:

The Center for American Progress has put together some information about the terror gap. Below is a graphic that explains things pretty well:

CAPAF-TerrorGap

In addition, they have provided a great fact sheet so that Americans can understand this potential risk to our national safety. I suggest if anyone doesn’t get it, they will after reading this information.

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month

3d Concept diagram wordcloud illustration of domestic violence

Domestic violence takes the lives of many every day. Domestic abuse that leads to loss of life can be prevented if we attempt to prohibit domestic abusers from getting their hands on guns since the majority of domestic deaths are by bullet. Domestic abusers by federal law are prohibited from buying guns. In 1997 the Lautenberg amendment added domestic violence misdemeanors to the category of prohibited gun purchasers.

But these purchases only apply for licensed dealers as was written into law in the Brady law. There are plenty of places where domestic abusers with intent to harm a partner, spouse, dating partner to get guns. These would be from private sellers at gun shows, flea markets and on-line sites like armslist.com which allow for gun purchases with no background checks. Do these sellers know anything about the buyers? Do they care? If no background check is required, how would a seller know whether the person to whom they are selling means to kill someone with their lethal product?

When Radcliffe Haughton bought his gun on Armslist.com, did the private seller know anything about this prohibited purchaser? Did the seller know that Haughton’s intent with that gun was to shoot his wife and in the process kill 3 others at a spa near Milwaukee? 

Women in America are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high income countries. Why do we tolerate this?

Our nation’s lax gun laws contribute to the ease with which domestic abusers can acquire the weapon used to kill someone they know, love or loved previously. A gun is the ultimate power and control. We can do something about this and some states are. Minnesota is one of the states that passed a law two years ago to make it possible to take guns from  known domestic abusers with orders for protection, restraining orders or stalking. From the linked article:

Around three U.S. women a day are killed by intimate partners, according to several domestic violence advocacy groups, including the National Network To End Domestic Violence. Experts on the topic say that women are in the most danger when leaving a relationship — and that’s why it’s imperative that authorities prioritize disarming abusers once a restraining order is granted.

“Often times, when she takes out that order of protection, she’s testing the relationship to find out if she can safely leave, and she’s testing the system to find out if they honor and respect what she says she needs help with,” said Kit Gruelle, an advocate who has worked with domestic violence survivors for 30 years. “Unfortunately, for some women these pieces of paper do become their last will and testament.”

There are no national statistics on the percentage of domestic homicide victims who had restraining orders against their killers at their time of death, but research has indicated that restraining orders are violated around 40 percent of the time. There’s also some evidence that strengthening gun laws for abusers may save lives: According to one study, states that restrict abusers subject to restraining orders from accessing guns have been associated with reduced rates of domestic homicides. (…)

“Having interviewed killers about this, there’s a moment of time and a window of opportunity for them to kill,” he said. “Many of the killers said something to the effect of ‘24 hours before the incident, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,’ really obsessed. If they have a gun during that opportunity and access to her, it was going happen. If they didn’t have a gun, that moment may have forever passed.”

One study found that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes itfive times more likely a woman will be murdered by her abuser. Over half of all women killed by intimate partners between 2001 to 2012 were killed using a gun, according to the Center for American Progress.

Why would we make it easy for those who mean harm to be able to get guns? Good question. One has to wonder what the gun lobby and gun extremists are thinking about when they strongly resist laws to require Brady background checks on all gun sales? Are they actually thinking about the potential for the loss of human life? Or is making money more important? I think we know the answer. Any common sense suggestions about keeping guns away from those who shouldn’t have them ends with abject rejection and no middle ground possible.

Two days ago I spoke at an Americans for Responsible Solutions titled: “Harnessing the Advocacy of Women for the Safety of Women.” Women understand that when a gun is in the home, they are less safe. Day after day we are “treated” to stories about men who, in a moment of anger, jealousy, rage or depression, kill women, children, aunts, uncles, boyfriends, spouses, ex spouses, ex girlfriends, ex boyfriends and other sometimes innocent people who happen to be in the vicinity of the shooter.

My panel was about telling stories. I told the story of my sister’s shooting in a domestic dispute over a contentious divorce. My remarks started with one of my favorite sections of Anne Tyler’s book, the Accidental Tourist. Here is what I said:

Stories are important. Without them, I’m not sure the public would believe what goes on inside the homes of so many Americans. I often think of the scene in Anne Tyler’s book- The Accidental Tourist, when the protagonist, Macon Leary, a travel agent who hates to travel, goes on a business trip. Macon is lonely and wants every place he visits to feel like home. As he looks out the window of his plane taking him out of his comfort zone, Macon remarks that he can see the little houses below and wonders what is going on inside of those houses. He then concludes that we can never know what is happening in the privacy of people’s homes even while we are looking.

Macon’s son was also shot in a fast food restaurant and his marriage disintegrated as a result. This book mirrors real life even though fiction.

The other story tellers were Lucia McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot in Florida after a permit to carry holder decided he didn’t like the loud music coming from a car full of kids so he shot at the car and killed Jordan. So incredibly senseless and tragic. The shooter was unable to get off on a Stand Your Ground law and was convicted. Lucia is a beautiful composed woman who is a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety. Following Lucy was Barbara Parker whose daughter Alison was shot and killed in Roanoke ,Virginia on live TV. Amazingly this mother could stand in front of a room full of people and speak with grace and dignity about this heinous shooting. And next was Ruth Glenn, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She was shot twice in the head by her husband- her abuser- and survived. Her son observed the shooting. Six months later, he shot and killed himself.

Since women are the majority of Americans at the moment and are affected greatly by domestic abuse and domestic violence, activating that group will change the way we are doing things. The gun lobby understands this about women. And that is why they are deceiving some into thinking buying a gun will allow them to defend themselves against a man who intends harm. They are wrong. Few, if any, examples of this occur. But we do know that many examples of women being abused and killed by guns are in the news every day.

We’ve all had #enough. It’s time for action.

Join me and the organizations working on the issue of domestic violence, domestic abuse and gun violence to make the changes we deserve. Saving lives is the bottom line.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs

Americans for Responsible Solutions

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Everytown for Gun Safety

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Violence Policy Center

Center for American Progress

And the many many others in states and cities all over America. Together we can make a difference.