Thanksgiving peace and safety

Happy Thanksgiving DayHappy Thanksgiving. May it be a peaceful and safe holiday for all of us. In my neck of the woods, there is no snow forecast so hopefully the roads will be more safe than is often the case at this time of year for traveling. I will be traveling to celebrate Thanksgiving with my son, daughter and families. As our family celebrates I will know that some will not be as lucky as ours. Poverty and homelessness affects many families in our country.

So going into the holiday, I want to talk about some things that did happen with guns and some that didn’t. A man, another man in a domestic abuse situation, threatened to shoot up a church and a casino in Las Vegas but was stopped before he had the chance to carry it out. Why does this sound familiar?

From the article:

A man was arrested after he threatened to open fire at a local church, along with the Las Vegas hotel casino where his estranged wife worked, according to the FBI.

There is no question any more that domestic abusers frequently end up as mass shooters. Why? Anger issues mostly. This man was angry that he wasn’t getting a green card. Why he thought shooting up a church and a casino would accomplish that is the question. But when a gun or guns are available, men ( mostly men as it turns out) use them too often to take out their anger on others. It’s the guns stupid.

Had this man carried out his threat we would have been talking about another heinous mass shooting in America. Be thankful we aren’t talking about it.

And then there is the continued irresponsibility of gun owners ( gun rights advocates love to say that most “law abiding” gun owners are responsible but then that isn’t true is it? For example, this latest example of a Minnesota gun owner apparently leaving his/her gun accessible for young children who, like children do, handle the gun and shoot someone:

 A 3-year-old northern Minnesota child was apparently shot by a 5-year-old Sunday morning, Nov. 19, the Otter Tail County sheriff’s office said.

The victim is in stable condition at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, the office said without releasing any names.

A dispatcher got the 911 call around 7:30 a.m. and learned about the shooting in Deer Creek from a caller, who said it was an accident.

There are no accidents when it comes to incidents like this. Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult.

That family is thankful that no one was killed in the “accidental” shooting and maybe they will have more common sense now.

Also in Minnesota a literal good guy with a gun managed to cause a local mall lockdown when he walked in the mall with a gun in a case looking for a store to service his gun. 

Naturally people reported a guy with a gun walking around in the mall. We understand that shootings happen in malls and everywhere else. From the article:

Eden Prairie police said they received a report at about noon that a person with a weapon was inside the mall. Police put the mall in lockdown and searched the building.

A mall employee reported to police during the lockdown that a man carrying a gun case had entered the Scheels store, where he intended to get his gun serviced. He left the mall after being told there were no gun services at that Scheels location, according to a statement from police.

So this is the problem with a “good guy” with a gun theory. No one knows who is a good guy or a bad guy because they often look the same. The public understands that too many “law abiding” gun owners commit mass shootings and everyday shootings. We have experienced weekly.
This incident was not an incident. We can all be thankful for that.

A man accidentally shot himself and his wife in their Tennessee church after he had taken his gun out during a discussion about weapons in places of worship, police said.

The man, 81, and his wife, 80, both suffered non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

The incident happened Thursday afternoon as members of the First United Methodist Church in Tellico Plains — about 60 miles southwest of Knoxville — were gathered at the church for a pre-Thanksgiving lunch, Tellico Plains Police Department Chief Russ Parks told ABC News.

The church members were discussing weapons in places of worship on the heels of the shooting at a Texas church earlier this month that killed over two dozen people, Parks said, and “one of the gentlemen said, ‘Well, I take my gun with me everywhere.'”

Just another instance of the myth of law abiding good guys with guns and how they will save the day in public places. Don’t believe it.

I hope that all in that church discussion are thankful nothing worse happened when the man irresponsibly showed off his gun and then pulled the trigger “accidentally.” It could have so much worse. Perhaps they will have more common sense when thinking that a gun in church could be the ticket to safety.

This Army Veteran set things straight about the risks of carrying guns everywhere and the “good guy” with a gun myth in this piece:

The problem with this narrative (besides a lack of research or data suggesting more guns does indeed prevent violence broadly) is that killing another human being, even a “bad” one, is not easy. This is not “Call of Duty”: Despite the damage that modern weaponry can inflict, there is a reason that soldiers and law enforcement officers receive thousands of hours of training in firearms and tactics. This training is physical, mechanical and, most importantly, psychological, because in order to efficiently and effectively kill other human beings in high-stress situations, one must be conditioned to negotiate that stress. (…)

When I see a young man openly carrying a firearm in public, whether to prove a political point or because he honestly believes at he could be called upon to stop an active shooter, I can only think of how much could go wrong. I do not see a “good guy with a gun”: I see a naive human who is more likely to exacerbate a tragedy than stop it. Is this person a civilian who has forgot to clear their weapon? Are they disciplined enough to avoid accidents? And if a mass shooting does occur, how do I know they will have the skills to take out the bad guy rather than, say, an innocent bystander?

I am a gun owner, a military veteran and a proud American. I believe in the essential right to bear arms, but with that right comes the obligation of responsible ownership. If a young man is brazen enough to brandish a powerful weapon just to attract attention, why would I trust they have the maturity to use it responsibly?

Exactly. There is no way of predicting what will happen in a mass shooting and someone with a gun who decides to take action to save the day could cause many more problems that he would solve.

This article from Vox explains it in charts and graphs:

If Texas is an example of this concept in action, though, it sure doesn’t seem to work. Before another armed person intervened against the Sutherland Springs gunman, he had already killed at least 26 people and injured approximately 20 others. He managed to shoot more than 40 people before “a good guy with a gun” reportedly helped stop him.

Not to mention that if the gunman didn’t have access to firearms, “a good guy with a gun” wouldn’t have been needed in the first place.

But the theory has remained prominent in conservative circles — as the NRA has argued that the right to bear arms and lax gun laws are necessary not just to stand against government tyranny but also for self-defense and protection.

 What I am saying here is that the NRA and corporate gun lobby myths are easily debunked and fewer and fewer people believe them. When virtually almost everyone in the country wants background checks on all gun sales, I would say that the NRA myths are failing. And for that I am thankful.

The public has common sense. The public also feels less and less safe with people with guns around everywhere they go. We are all vulnerable to gun violence. It happens everywhere but the answer is not more guns everywhere. The answer is to make sure that guns are less accessible to people who could be dangerous to themselves or others. Guns are a risk to their owners and those around them. I have given enough examples in this blog but so far the NRA, an arm of the Republican party, believe they are in charge.

That will change. We’ve all had enough of the constant gun violence and mass shootings.

Be thankful this holiday if your family has not been affected by gun violence. It is coming to  a point where almost every family will have been affected by gun violence in one way or the other. I can’t tell you how often I hear stories about someone’s family member who has committed suicide by gun or a friend who was murdered in a domestic shooting. it is so common now that it’s become part of our lives.

That is something we need to reject. It is NOT normal nor is it inevitable that the carnage that takes the lives of 100 Americans a day occurs without credible solutions offered by our leaders.

I will be thankful for my family around me and know that one person is missing from the Thanksgiving table of her adult kids and her grandchildren. She will be missed. My sister loved holidays and entertaining and did it well. We are thankful for that happy memory of her.

I urge you all to have a thoughtful discussion over Thanksgiving as inevitably the conversation will turn to politics. How could it not with the daily chaos and tweeting coming from our President? One of the discussions you could and should have is about asking if there are unlocked, loaded guns in the homes where kids and grandkids play and hang-out. ASKing saves lives. Safe storage of guns is key to public and private safety. More on this in my next post as new information has come out about lack of storing guns safely leading to stolen guns used in crime.

And one last thing- please remember the day 54 years ago that President John F. Kennedy was shot by an assassin in Dallas, Texas. I will never forget that day.

Stay safe everyone. Be responsible. Be thankful. And be safe.

The world is beautiful and scary

gooseberryLast Sunday, my minister said that the world is both beautiful and scary in a sermon relating to one of the readings of the day. She is so right. Most of the time, I find the world to be beautiful. In spite of my family’s having dealt with the domestic shooting of my sister, we have all moved on the best we could living around the hole left by my sister’s death. Life seems beautiful and we are lucky for that.

But then something happens to bring the grief and sadness to the surface again. Recent shootings, especially the very public shooting of 2 reporters in Virginia, brought those scary feelings back instantly. Gun violence is so unexpected and violent. Thoughts of a loved one experiencing that horror, pain, violence and fear are hard to push back down again. People die from auto accidents, household accidents, diseases, and sometimes by homicide. But gun deaths for the most part are so senseless and preventable.

So maybe we should all put our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. We could roll ourselves up in a ball and move on. But many of us have not done that. We have made ourselves advocates for preventing the awful effects of gun violence on other families. So I read. I act. I write. I talk.

The daily news of gun incidents is hard to ignore. But it’s important to keep writing and talking. Most people become numbed to the issue and just want to live their lives without thinking about gun violence. But just as with auto accidents, diseases and other causes of injury and death the majority of parents do what they can to keep their families safe and healthy. Gun safety reform and awareness of the dangers of guns should be a part of the safe and healthy life styles that we all practice . We, as adults, will not be here forever. Our children will be around longer than us and  we owe it to them to keep them safe and teach them healthy habits. We should do #WhatEverItTakes. When 8 children a day are dying from gun homicides, suicides or accidents, we can’t take it lightly. And many more are injured and suffer life long disabilities and/or emotional distress.

Given that, how can a parent shoot a one month old child? Now that is downright scary. A man brought a gun to a church in Selma, Alabama on Sunday but was noticed before he could get off a lot of shots. He wounded his wife, his one month old son, and a man who tried to get the gun away from him. This was yet another case of a domestic dispute gone terribly wrong. From the article:

Earl Carswell said Sunday’s incident could have been much worse.

“If (Minter) had been aiming, and wasn’t somebody pulling on him, he could have killed three, four or five folks,” Carswell said. “But thank the Lord he got pulled off. As soon as that gun appeared, they grabbed a hold of it.”

Despite struggling with several churchgoers, Carswell said Minter was able to squeeze off seven rounds.

“Bullets don’t got any sense, they just go whichever way,” he said. “It could have been a hairy thing quick, I mean sure enough.”

(…) “When I think about it (today), I get jittery,” he said.

Jackson said he believes residents “are still in shock that something like this could happen in Selma.

This is probably the first church shooting we have had, but unfortunately this is the world we live in now,” he continued. “Church used to be off limits, even to the worst criminals, as far as committing a crime in the church. Now times have changed.”

Carswell said he has lived in Selma for 61 years and many churchgoers have been known to carry guns into worship service. Carswell said himself carried one into church for 10 years.

“This is the first time anyone has ever pulled it and even showed it,” he said.

“…. but unfortunately this is the world we live in now.”” Yes. It’s unfortunate but not inevitable. It’s hard to believe that this is the first time there has been a problem with guns in worship services in Selma given that people have been carrying guns into churches for years. Why? Why are guns needed during church services? What are people scared of in church? Church services are mostly beautiful and peaceful or joyous. If we are scared of people with guns coming into churches, it’s because we, as a country, have allowed our laws to be weakened to the point of allowing guns in our churches.

And why is that when people “snap” it’s a gun that they turn to to “solve” their problems?

Our gun culture encourages almost everyone to own and carry guns and we don’t make serious attempts to stop people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them. When someone like the man in the Selma church “snaps” a gun changes everything in an instant from normal, beautiful, calm, happy,…. to scary. The shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston was scary not only because 9 people were shot but because of the shooter’s motives. He was associated with white supremacists and had racist sentiments. The recent fomenting of racism and anti-Muslim statements made by Republican Presidential candidates is making our world scarier. Combined with people who shouldn’t be able to own guns, we have a potential “perfect storm”.

Part of this is the consequence of a culture of guns that is based on fear of others who are not like us and fear of others with guns. It’s a vicious circle.

Bullets don’t have any sense of course as is mentioned in the above linked article. That’s the point.  They have trajectories that can be predictable or not. Guns with bullets in them are dangerous and people who carry guns and own them can become dangerous in a split second.

Speaking of becoming dangerous in a split second, we really do need to have a very serious discussion immediately about kids bringing guns to school. Going to school should be a positive experience. We all know that is not the case for all children given their race, religion, home life experiences, intellect, etc. Many factors can make learning difficult for some. But school, at least, is supposed to be a safe place. Not so any more. From this article in The Trace, we learn that:

Since the school year began roughly one month ago, there have been at least 29 incidents in which elementary, middle school, and high school students were caught bringing firearms to school, according to a survey of media reports. Most have involved teenagers.

This bears repeating- “…there have been at least 29 incidents in which elementary, middle school, and high school students were caught bringing firearms to school....” Very frightening. What are we going to do to keep our kids and students safe? Every gun in the hands of a child or teen must first pass through the hands of an adult. What in the world are adult gun owners thinking? The problem appears to be that people have such a cavalier attitude towards guns that they don’t seem to realize how dangerous they are. Guns are mostly not used for self defense. When will we get this into our collective heads? When will we stop listening to the gun lobby who tells people the opposite?

Scary to say the least. And the problem comes from easy access to guns. We now have more guns around than ever before. It is inevitable that they will make it into the wrong hands. There is just no common sense to our gun culture and our gun laws.

Yesterday I took a little time away from the cares of the world and this blog and gun violence prevention. I drove up along the North Shore of Lake Superior on a gorgeous day to enjoy the beauty of the nature around me. I was not scared of anyone or anything. I saw no guns. I saw no one who looked like they were scared about some idiot with a gun in the parking lot or along the trail. What I saw was people enjoying the beautiful day with cameras carried instead of guns. Thanks goodness most people don’t carry guns or feel the need to own them. At least not where I live. And not the people with whom I am friends. And if they do have guns, they use them mostly for hunting in the beautiful woods that are all around my area of northern Minnesota. Not only do people hunt, they love the beauty of the woods in the fall and the sport of hunting.

Until we get to the point of of a serious national discussion about the dangers of guns, even for “law abiding” gun owners, the incidents I read and write about will continue. The corporate gun lobby is aiding and abetting our insane gun culture to boost sales and preserve a narrative that is just not based on the truth. Maybe some of those folks should take a walk in the woods and enjoy the beauty around them instead of thinking of ways to sell guns.

The balance between gun rights and responsibilities

scalesShould people who attend church services ( or services at a synagogue or mosque or any place of worship) need guns? I mean, what is the fear about sitting in a church without a gun? Yes, there have been a few shootings at churches (here and here). (More on this later) The most recent being the shooting at the Charleston Mother Emanuel church where 9 innocent people were shot and killed by an unhinged young man who shouldn’t have a gun. Most of the church shootings have been racially or politically motivated or arguments between people.

But then, there have been shootings just about everywhere in the US. 88 American citizens die every day from gun injuries in “everyday” shootings. We tend to pay attention to the high profile mass shootings because they happen often enough to capture our attention.

In fact, the US has had more mass shootings than any other country over the last 5 decades according to this article:

Nearly one-third of the world’s mass shootings have occurred in the United States, a new study finds. Adam Lankford, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, has released the first quantitative analysis of public mass shootings around the world between 1966 through 2012. Unsurprisingly, the United States came out on top—essentially in a league of its own.

Over those five decades, the United States had 90 public mass shootings, defined as shootings that killed four or more victims. Of the 170 other countries examined in the study, only four even made it to double-digits: The Philippines had 18 public mass shootings, followed by Russia with 15, Yemen with 11, and France with 10.t’s no coincidence that the US has the laxest gun laws and the most guns of any other democratized countries not at war. Connect the dots. This article only addresses mass shootings which, in fact, have taken fewer lives than the “everyday” shootings which result in the loss of 88 Americans a day. No other country can “brag” about something like this.

We are out of balance with the rest of the world and with public safety. It’s no coincidence that the US has more guns, laxer gun laws and more gun deaths and injuries than other democratized countries not at war. Our gun laws are not balanced in favor of public health and safety. There is a fear and paranoia factor fostered by an American out of balance gun culture that has moved us in the direction of rights over responsibilities. There are a certain number of people who believe that there are armed “good guys” with guns who will just take care of any situation presented to them. We should all remember Wayne LaPierre’s now infamous speech after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

In fact, Mike the Gun Guy has written this piece about the American heroes without guns who most likely saved a terrible mass shooting on a train headed to Paris last week. Mike looked into whether armed citizens have stopped mass shootings and here is what he found:

Last year the FBI released a detailed analysis of 160 shootings between 2000 and 2013 in which the gunman killed or wounded multiple victims.  The definition of these events, known as ‘active shootings,’ was that the shooter “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”  The FBI found that exactly one of these active shootings ended when an armed civilian opened fire with a gun.  But 21 of these shootings came to an end because unarmed civilians intervened.

Want to show me any place that is more confined and populated than a high-speed train?  If that gunman had been able to shoot up the train we’d be hearing nothing but endless “I told you so’s” from the NRA.  But not a word out of them when three young Americans, two of them active military, got the job done without using a gun.  Frankly, the silence is refreshing.

Silence when it comes to allowing young kids to use automatic weapons resulting in the death of a gun instructor. Silence when it comes to the heroism of unarmed citizens in stopping potential shootings or shootings in progress such as the armed Arizona permit holder who realized if he used his gun at the site of the Tucson mass shooting it would have had a bad result. An article in The Trace debunks the idea that an armed citizen can change results during a mass shooting or prevent one from happening:

When a “good guy with a gun” does intervene in an active shooting, things can go terribly awry. On June 8, 2014, an armed couple burst into a CiCi’s Pizza in Las Vegas screaming, “This is the start of a revolution!” They quickly gunned down two police officers eating lunch, and then moved to a nearby Wal-Mart. One customer, a concealed-carry license holder, drew his gun rather than flee, but was immediately shot. As it would turn out, all three of the couple’s victims that day were armed.

Another example: On Jan. 8, 2011, a gunman opened fire on an outdoor meeting between Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her constituents in Tucson, Ariz., killing six and wounding 13. When the killer was forced to reload, he was tackled by a bystander. Having heard the gunshots, an armed man ran to the scene. He saw two men wrestling and assumed the wrong man was the shooter. Had it not been for other bystanders quickly correcting him, he could have ended up shooting the wrong person. Afterwards he stated: “I was very lucky.”

Lucky. Yes. There are a lot of unlucky people in America.

People who own and/or carry their guns everywhere have the responsibility to take care with their guns so others don’t get access to them, or they, themselves don’t “accidentally” discharge them or shoot the wrong person in a crisis.

Sadly, a man who was handling his .22 rifle in his home near Duluth, Minnesota dropped his gun and it discharged, killing him. These kinds of gun deaths are avoidable and senseless. It is amazing to me that this happens so often in our country. Where there are guns, there will be gun injuries and deaths. But why is it that so many otherwise safe and responsible gun owners have problems with accidental discharges? Is it a problem with the design of guns or is it a problem of too little training or is it just the cavalier attitude too many gun owners have towards guns, believing that nothing bad will ever happen to them?

More news of irresponsible gun owners brings us this one- On Sunday, a 4 year old found a gun in the bathroom of a church. Why allow guns in the church in the first place? Kids should not be finding loaded guns in bathrooms but this is not the first time guns have been left in bathrooms as I have written about before here and here. In the last linked article, an officer’s gun was stolen from a bathroom and used in a shooting within hours. And this one is classic. One of Speaker Boehner’s security guards left a gun in a bathroom where a small child found it. There are more where these came from. Leaving a gun in a bathroom or anywhere else, for that matter, is just not the same as leaving a purse or keys or a wallet behind.

How about a young Texas man shooting off a gun from the roof top of an elementary school? The gun was stolen. Make any common sense to you? Everyone was lucky that no one got hurt. Only in America.

On this one year anniversary of the shooting death of a Nevada gun range instructor by a 9 year old girl who was allowed to shoot an automatic weapon, the victim’s family is calling for change to the law:

She further told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday that their father often schooled them on gun safety when they were younger, telling them “how to be safe with guns, but he never let us fire them because we were too young.”

It’s unreasonable, she said, that children smaller than her little brother are able to handle automatic weapons “that military personnel are trained for weeks to handle.”

“It’s time for a change. We have a voice, and so do you,” the children said on the petition’s website.

“The adults haven’t been able to keep people safe, so it’s time for us to speak up,” 15-year-old Tylor said.

On August 25, 2014, Vacca was teaching the 9-year-old girl how to shoot an Uzi at the Bullets and Burgers shooting range in Arizona. The gun range, which caters to Las Vegas tourists about an hour away, has said on its website that children between the ages of 8 and 17 can shoot if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Guns are dangerous, obviously. 9 year old children should not be allowed at gun ranges, period. This is not the first time something like this has happened with a young child shooting a machine gun. A Massachusetts 8 year old shot one and killed himself with his father standing by. This is serious stuff and totally senseless and avoidable. Where is the balance between rights and responsibilities? Why anyone would think it’s perfectly fine for a young child to shoot off a gun meant for the military is so beyond the scope of common sense that there are hardly words for this wrong-headed practice. The gun lobby should heed the advice of the victim of the Nevada shooting range incident when he taught his children about being safe around guns but didn’t let them shoot them. This cynical promotion of pushing children shooting guns that are clearly not meant for them is all about profits over saving lives. If children are exposed early, they are future customers, as are their parents. Kids and guns just don’t mix. How many times do I write about small children “accidentally” shooting someone when they access a gun?

As always, just as soon as I publish a post, another ridiculous incident gets called to my attention. The school year has barely begun and we have a shooting in a Georgia elementary school. A young student with a gun (where did he get the gun?) allegedly was “playing” with a gun in school and it “accidentally” discharged hitting a female student. I suggest that our priorities are out of balance. This is the definition of insanity. In most shootings like this the gun comes from the child’s home. Where are the “responsible” adults? Were they thinking their rights to have a gun trumped their responsibilities to keep the gun away from a young child?

So what’s the take-away? There are over 300 million guns in circulation in our country. Some are owned by responsible citizens who will never do anything wrong with their guns. They may be used one or two times a year for hunting for example. Or maybe they are used at a shooting range for recreation and used responsibly. But because we have this idea that gun rights trump any responsibilities to make sure the public and our families and communities are safe, this is the situation. The corporate gun lobby is unyielding in its’ stance that no stronger gun laws can pass in Congress and in many states. Gun violence prevention groups only want safer communities and gun safety reform. It’s too important for us not to put our heads together to do the right thing in trying to prevent some of the senseless shootings occurring every day.

Responsible gun owners need to come forward and speak up for common sense gun reform. In all polling data taken for decades we know that the majority of them want stronger gun laws. We should err on the side of saving lives as we move forward towards a balance between rights and responsibilities.

UPDATE:

Sadly I am updating this post to include the shooting death of a 21 month old baby in the St. Louis area:

It is unknown how the child came to be shot. No one is in custody at this time.  Police do not yet know if this was an accident or a homicide.

Last week in the same area a 9 year old girl was shot and killed while sitting inside of her home doing her homework. ( you can read about that one in the linked article). Could things be more out of balance? Where do they get the guns? As I said before, our priorities concerning the role of guns and gun violence are very out of whack. Time to get to work and do something about it. We just have to be better than this.

UPDATE #2:

Wow- I didn’t think I would  be adding to this post. But when a 14 year old West Virginia student holds a classroom hostage with a pistol, it must be talked about. Why? Where did he get the gun? Who is responsible for this boy’s behavior? What is it about kids bringing guns to school? What are we doing wrong? Why are we so out of balance with the rest of the world and with public health and safety? What do the gun rights extremists have to say about this? More silence?