Shootings in the whirlpool of controversy

Tunnel lights or vortex glowThe controversial shooting death of a woman in Minnesota has been the subject of national and international concern and alarm. An officer shot a Minnesota woman for what appears to be no reason. She was not armed. She had called 911 to report a possible assault in the alley near her house. For some reason, she herself, was outside when officers arrived and apparently approached the squad car. After that, things get more fuzzy. The woman was shot and killed by a gunshot wound to her abdomen. An officer, two years on the Minneapolis Police Department, allegedly leaned over this partner to discharge his weapon upon reportedly hearing a loud noise. Some report it to be fireworks. Did others hear fireworks?

This shooting cries out for an investigation and answers. It appears to be inexplicable. But when someone, even an officer, shoots first and then thinks about it later, the victim doesn’t get to tell his/her story. What could possibly have gone wrong? What prompts and officer to be so fearful of an unarmed citizen who, by most accounts, was not a threat?

In Minnesota, this is the third such recent incident of officer involved shootings that have raised eyebrows and caused protests and even trials of officers. First there was Jamar Clark. Then Philando Castile. And now Justine Damond.

Some explanations are rolling out but don’t seem to provide good answers so far. From the linked article above:

“It’s certainly reasonable to assume that any police officer would be concerned about a possible ambush under these circumstances,” Bruno said. “It was only a few weeks ago when a female NYPD cop and mother of twins was executed in her car in a very similar scenario.”

Bruno was referencing the case of New York City police officer Miosotis Familia, 48, who was killed July 5 after a mentally ill man shot her in the head while she sat in her squad car in the Bronx.

Officers do have justification to be fearful of ambushes because they have happened with some frequency in America. (Pittsburgh, Tacoma, NYC, Their lives are on the line whenever they are on duty.

And then, this:

On Tuesday the BCA released some information, based in part on an interview with Harrity, who said the two were responding at 11:30 p.m. to a call of a possible assault in the quiet Fulton neighborhood when he was startled by a “loud sound.” Damon, who was the 911 caller, approached Harrity in the driver’s side window of the squad car “immediately afterward,” according to the statement.

Noor, who was in the passenger seat, then fired across his partner, striking Damond in the abdomen.

A loud noise sounding maybe like gunshots? Did anyone else hear that noise? Would that be enough to shoot someone? Especially an unarmed woman?

She first called officers trying to help someone she thought was being raped:

Justine Damond spent her last moments trying to help a stranger.

At 11:27 on Saturday night, Damond called police to report a possible sexual assault, according to a 911 transcript obtained by the Star Tribune Wednesday.

“I’m not sure if she’s having sex or being raped,” Damond told the operator. After giving her address, Damond continued: “I think she just yelled out ‘help,’ but it’s difficult the sound has been going on for a while, but I think, I don’t think she’s enjoying it.”

“OK,” said the operator, “I’ve already got an officer on the way.”

About eight minutes later, Damond called 911 again to make sure they got her address right. She repeated the report of hearing a woman screaming, and the operator assured her the officers were en route.

“Thank you,” said Damond.

Moments later, one of those officers would fatally shoot her.

Wow. This just does not make sense.

And now the controversy is swirling with not enough answers. They will hopefully come. A family in Minnesota and Australia and several communities are devastated. The family and community of the officer is devastated. The Somali community in Minneapolis has had problems with violence, intolerance and gun violence. This just can’t help.

Several letters to the editor in today’s Star Tribune deserve to be read and re-read about the shooting of Justine Damond. Here  is the first:

Thirty-some years ago, we were the owners of the house Justine Damond lived in when she was killed. One New Year’s Eve we let our 13-year-old son baby-sit his younger brother and sister for the first time while we celebrated less than a mile away. We’d been calling hourly to see how things were going when right after midnight our son answered and said, “Was it OK that I answered the door for the police?” My heart stopped momentarily. It turned out that the elderly woman across the alley had her back door kicked in by two men who then robbed her, and the police were canvassing to see if anyone had heard anything.

We rushed home, not wanting to leave our kids home alone with possible bad guys in the neighborhood. Then, it was the bad guys people were afraid of, not the police.

Something has gone terribly wrong. Then, as now, the Fulton neighborhood was a pretty quiet, fairly upscale area with some property crimes but not much else. But, other things have changed significantly. There has been a continual push in the U.S. for more access to guns and gun freedoms like conceal-and-carry. It is no wonder most police are fearful when they never know who might pull out a gun. Their training has conditioned them to always believe the worst of everyone and every situation. Tensions and fear are high when someone always expects the worst. But that fear is no excuse or defense for the increasingly common case of police officers who are trigger-happy.

Today, unfortunately, I’d be as afraid of having my young (white) son answer the door for the police as I would be of the bad guys. We citizens have to demand better.

And here is the second:

Two immigrants came to the United States searching for the American dream. One came to heal; the other, to protect. Now due to the fear and violence surrounding firearms, both have realized the American nightmare.

State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie

These shootings reveal tensions between law enforcement and communities of color. They also reveal the need for better training for officers. And the “elephant in the room” that gets swept under the rug is that there are just too many guns around in our country and that is leading to too many gun deaths.

This is of international interest because Justine Damond was Australian. They just can’t wrap their heads around the American gun culture. I’m with them. This article calls the shooting the  “American Nightmare”. From the article:

In Justine Damond’s native country, news of the meditation teacher’s baffling death has dominated the airwaves, newspapers and websites for days, feeding into Australians’ long-held fears about America’s notorious culture of gun violence.

In this image made from video, John Ruszczyk, father of Justine Damond, an Australian woman who was shot dead by a Minneapolis police officer, holds a press conference with his family in Sydney Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The death of Damond, a 40-year-old meditation teacher who was reportedly dressed in her pajamas, was shot late Saturday. The story has led Australian network newscasts and was splashed across newspapers' front pages on Tuesday. (Channel 9 via AP)
In this image made from video, John Ruszczyk, father of Justine Damond, an Australian woman who was shot dead by a Minneapolis police officer, holds a news conference with his family in Sydney on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (Channel 9 via AP)

“The country is infested with possibly more guns than people,” said Philip Alpers, a gun policy analyst with the University of Sydney who has studied the stark differences in gun laws between the nations. “We see America as a very risky place in terms of gun violence — and so does the rest of the world.”

While police officers carry guns in Australia, deadly shootings by police are exceedingly rare; only a handful are reported each year, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology. And though the U.S. doesn’t keep a national database of deadly police-involved shootings, even incomplete statistics show there are hundreds every year.

America’s reluctance to strengthen its gun regulations and its seemingly endless stream of shooting deaths have long been a source of confusion and concern in Australia, which instituted tough gun ownership laws in 1996 following a deadly mass shooting. At the time, then-Prime Minister John Howard — a conservative — warned Australians against following America’s lead on gun control, saying: “We have an opportunity in this country not to go down the American path.”

The “American path”….

I have a theory. Ever since conceal carry weapons permits laws have passed, there are more people on the streets armed with guns. It is truly difficult to know when someone could be a danger to themselves or others and it’s also difficult to sift out who could be a “good guy” with a gun or a “bad guy” with a gun. Officers often respond with fear and excess violence when fearing for their own lives. Too often, innocent citizens are killed by officers and then the officers are found to be not guilty because they were justified out of fear for their own safety.

We have a circular problem. More guns carried by citizens means officers need more guns. When officers have more guns and citizens have more guns everyone feels unsafe.

And when the NRA ramps up that fear of others as they have in the last few weeks, we have volatility in our public interactions. The most recent NRA TV screed came close to urging violence against the media. Our very own President has verbally attacked many media sources calling them fake news and lying about their motives.  He skirted suggesting violence against the press ( from the article above) which fits right in with what the NRA is doing. When a free press is vulnerable to attack, physical or verbal, our democracy is at risk. As I wrote in my last post, when protesters are not safe from the ramped up encouragement of violence against them by the “guys with the guns”.

By the way, does anyone think that this NRA is representing average gun owners? This is an extremist organization seemingly representing the right wing of the Republican party. Is this even about guns any more? Or is it a not so subtle way for the guys with the guns to think about their enemies as those who are not like them or those who criticize them and their leaders?

Frightening.

None of this is OK. None of this is good for democracy. None of this is making us safer from violence and gun violence. No one is safe until everyone is safe is the slogan of the Women’s March from the NRA to the DOJ last week-end said. Someone picked a great slogan to describe the “American nightmare.”

There needs to be common sense when it comes to guns. Guns are dangerous weapons designed to kill other people. And they do that every day in the hands of officers and citizens alike.

More guns are not making us safer. We are being sucked into the vortex of a place that we must get out of before it destroys us. The path is going towards more senseless gun deaths and injuries and leaves many families living the American nightmare.

Time to wake up.

 

Idiots trying to get on planes with guns

Red metal luggage for travelReally, you can’t make this stuff up. The week before my friends and I traveled home from our trip to Italy, the TSA posted this blog post. Read it and tell me that we are a sane country. Let’s consider this ( from the post):

TSA discovered 75 firearms this week in carry-on bags around the nation. Of the75 firearms discovered, 66 were loaded and 25 had a round chambered. All of the firearms pictured were discovered in the last week

OK. Having just traveled abroad and carefully packed my checked luggage and my carry-ons knowing the “rules of the road”, I know that this is not just carelessness. It is insanity and stupidity. Everyone knows how carefully all bags are checked and re-checked. Everyone knows that liquids have to be 3 ounces or less and placed in a small plastic baggie. No knives. No guns. No sharp objects. Knowingly packing a loaded gun with a round in the chamber is sheer irresponsibility. Where are those “law abiding gun owners” who got their legal permits to carry?

Does anyone remember September 11, 2001 after which everything changed about traveling on planes?

Simply put- our laws are too loose and too many people who shouldn’t have guns in public places get them anyway thanks to our loose gun laws that the corporate gun lobby is trying, and succeeding in some states, to make them even looser- because…. rights.

In America all of this is allowed and legal.

Sigh.

Where is common sense anyway?

Remember in my last post when I mentioned the Italian tour guide who thought our country was crazy for not passing stronger gun laws?  He is right. I doubt that the check points at Italian and European airports find guns in carry-on bags. The laws are strong and don’t allow anyone who does not have a very good reason to carry a gun in public to carry one. Therefore, the chances that someone would try to check a loaded gun onto a plane are slim.

In my opinion one of the worst things to happen in America is the passage of laws that allow any idiot to carry loaded guns around with them in their pockets, purses, carry-ons, backpacks, on their shoulders or holsters on their waistbands or on their legs or even in their bras. I have written many times about intentional and unintentional shootings of guns in public when they drop out of pockets, when purses are dropped to the ground, when a toddler finds a loaded gun in his mother’s purse and kills her with it, when a woman with a gun in her bra “accidentally” shoots and kills herself with said gun…. The list goes on and on.

This is the American gun culture we have. It is not the American gun culture we need to accept. Until our elected leaders stop listening to the false claims of the corporate gun lobby that more guns will make us safer, we will be stuck with the current situation. Guns were not found in carry-in luggage previous to the passage of gun carry laws. Anyone who thinks they can get away with carrying a gun onto a plane shouldn’t be traveling with the rest of us. And anyone who claims it was a mistake or that they forgot shouldn’t get a permit to carry a deadly weapon around with them.

This is insanity. It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s past time to pressure our leaders to make changes to our laws to keep us all safe from stupid and dangerous people with guns. Guns are not needed everywhere. Guns are dangerous on planes for obvious reasons.

Happy travels everyone.

Drive by shootings and gun policy

bonnieclydeRemember Bonnie and Clyde? I do. There were a lot of drive-by shootings and road rage shootings committed by the infamous couple who died in their car of multiple bullet wounds at the hands of law enforcement. Those were the “good old days” when bullets were flying and machine guns were easily available to those who shouldn’t have had them. Revenge, gangs, anger, too much alcohol and guns- bad combinations.

Bonnie and Clyde were killed in 1934.

Remember Elliott Ness and Al Capone and the mafia era? The years of prohibition created mayhem on the streets of some of our cities. It was just after this time period that Congress decided that machine guns and silencers should not be available to average citizens without very strict regulations. In 1934, the National Firearms Act was passed:

With the passage of the NFA, these guns immediately faced severe restrictions.  While owning them is still technically legal, they must be registered (which isn’t exactly easy) and they are taxed more heavily ($200 for owning a silencer, for example, or as low as $5 for some smooth bore pistols, like the Serbu Super Shorty pictured earlier).  Anyone wanting to own one or manufacture one has to go through the BATFE for approval. (…) But firearms enthusiasts should look at it from a cautionary perspective, as well.  This was possible.  In fact, it is one of several legislative acts that govern the way we think about firearms.  And the NFA will be the cornerstone on which new restrictions will be built.

Few, if any, crimes are committed with these weapons because so few people own them and those who do go through a long and expensive process to get them. But it could only be a matter of time as the corporate gun lobby is driving by to get laws passed in many of our states to allow people to purchase silencers. When more people own silencers, will they, too, end up in the illegal market? How will they be used? Keep track of this as the push is on to get them into more hands. My own state of Minnesota passed such a law a few years ago:

Anderson, who sometimes carries a weapon to the Capitol, says that he intends to buy silencers for some of his guns. He outlined the process he’ll have to go through: He’ll have to get approval from the Cass County sheriff; pass a state background check; apply to the federal government to possess the silencer, sending $200 along with his application (which needs to include the serial number of the silencer he intends to purchase); go through a federal background check that might take months; and finally, make the purchase of an item that is fairly pricey (upwards of $700).

“It’s ludicrous that we have to go through all of this at the federal level,” Anderson said. “This is an item you should be able to walk into a store and just purchase. We need to work on the federal law. But still, this is a pretty big step.”

Yup. It’s just a matter of time before silencers are available with no background checks from private sellers and on-line just like guns are in most states. That is why we need to stop the drive-by policies of the corporate gun lobby and put the brakes on these bills. What we need is to make sure ALL gun sales, including ammunition and paraphernalia go through Brady background checks.

Why the resistance to this? It’s a minority who oppose it. Their reasons make no sense and aren’t even true. Time to make sure we do the right thing and stop people from getting shot in their cars, in their homes, and anywhere else.

Today, we have more guns than any other democratized country in the world. Over 300 million. We also have the highest number of gun deaths per capita and the weakest gun laws. Other countries don’t have a second amendment or a corporate gun lobby like ours. Sure there are some people in other countries who want to loosen the laws that have been passed. But it isn’t happening because other countries are watching our mass shootings and every day carnage and understand that our loose laws contribute.

The NRA and others in the corporate gun lobby have flown or driven into almost every state of the union and left us with the worst gun policies in the world.  This was done very purposely to drive up profits for the industry and deceive the public into believing that the second amendment includes allowing anyone to buy a gun and carry it everywhere. That is NOT what the founding fathers had in mind when the amendment was written. And, of course, we need to remember why the founding fathers wrote that amendment into our Constitution in the first place. From this Mother Jones article with an interview with author Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center:

MW: Yes. And that might be noteworthy for some. There were plenty of guns. There was the right to defend yourself, which was part of English common law handed down from England. But there were also gun restrictions at the same time. There were many. There were limits, for example, on where you could store gunpowder. You couldn’t have a loaded gun in your house in Boston. There were lots of limits on who could own guns for all different kinds of reasons. There was anexpectation that you should be able to own a gun. But they didn’t think they were writing that expectation into the Constitution with the Second Amendment.

MJ: So then why focus on the Second Amendment and not the English Bill of Rights or other things the framers drew on that more clearly address individual gun ownership?

MW: We are not governed today, in 2014, by British common law. Law evolved, the country evolved. It was a very rural place. There were no cities. There were no police forces. It was a completely different way of living. So gun rights activists turned this into a constitutional crusade. Those who want more guns and fewer restrictions realized they could gain some higher ground if they claimed the Constitution.

Has the world changed since the second amendment was written? Of course. Check this video from States United to Prevent Gun Violence for a graphic image of how much guns have changed since the amendment was written.

I happen to believe that the Constitution is a living document that can change when change is required to keep Americans safe and healthy.

Ever since the 1977 Cincinnati NRA convention revolt (see article above), the gun lobby has changed -transformed itself into a lobby group that doesn’t represent its’ original purpose nor its’ members. They changed to a group that protects and supports the gun industry profits and vice versa. As a result, the landscape changed as well regarding gun policy.

One of the goals of this change  was passing laws in almost all states to allow people to carry guns in their cars and public places. The charade was that people needed guns for self defense everywhere they went. Our legislators bought it because-  rights. Never mind that the second amendment does not mention the right to carry guns for personal protection. These laws had the effect of changing the culture around guns. It became OK for people to have guns with or without a permit on their person.

Former Representative Gabby Giffords spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Her appearance caused a stir in the hall as well it should have. Her speech was simple and short because of her brain injury. Do you remember that her shooter had a gun with no permitting process as is allowed by Arizona law? I do.

It wasn’t so many years ago that it would have been unusual for guns to be found in cars and used in drive-bys or accidental shootings. Two recent examples in my own state:

Man follows couple on local road and shoots and injures one passenger:

Jesse Jay Bohanon was charged in Carlton County District Court Tuesday with three counts of second-degree attempted murder while committing a drive-by shooting, three counts of second-degree assault, one count of drive-by shooting, one count of dangerous weapons-intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and/or ammunition.

Where did this felon get his gun? It’s easy in our country for that to happen.

Man shot and killed in bar by someone  who allegedly fired shots car at the bar. “The man, yet to be charged, is jailed on suspicion of assault and second-degree murder during a drive-by shooting, suggesting that he fired the shots from a vehicle.”

Many other examples of drive-by shootings exist. The city of Des Moines, Iowa has seen an increase in drive-by shootings as just one example.

Many examples of road rage involving gun violence exist as well with some dead victims.

Here is one. And another. And another. And another.

Common sense suggests that having guns in cars is not a good idea. Small children find them in the glove box or the back seat and shoot them. I have written about more than a few of these recently- a small child shot and injured his own mother, a gun loving person. Another toddler killed his own mom with a gun found in the car.

And then there are the people who get caught for illegal drugs and guns like this case in Daytona, Florida:

Of the 29 people, 18 were arrested on Tuesday. Nine were arrested in the course of the operation.

And police are looking for two others who are targets of the operation: Tiffany Malcom, 33, and Robert Smith, 27. Smith, Chitwood revealed Wednesday, is a person of interest in the murder of Deandre Smith, who was shot to death as he drove his car on the Oakridge Boulevard Bridge on May 10, 2015.

Eleven people were charged with federal firearms violations. Nine were charged with state drug and firearms crimes.

What is it about criminals shooting each other in cars? Don’t they know that stray bullets hit innocent people?  A beloved grandmother was shot and killed by a stray bullet in Minneapolis in May while sitting in her car minding her own business. They don’t care really when they have anger and vengeance on their minds. Bullets don’t know where to stop and there are way too many of them flying from and into cars all over America. And the gun lobby doesn’t seem to care that people like the 29 arrested in Daytona found guns so easily to traffic drugs and kill other people.

Drive-by gun policy comes from the corporate gun lobby who send NRA or other representatives into states to lobby and write bill language. And then they leave us with bad policies that have led to more gun deaths and injuries. Lives are too precious to leave gun policy to those whose interest is in selling their product. Finding new markets for new guns leaves us with too many grieving families and devastated communities.

It takes a while for new policies to change the landscape and become effective. So about 11-12 years after many states passed conceal ( or open) and carry laws, we see how they are working. Most gun permit holders are safe with their guns and do not misuse them. But enough of them have been dangerous- either intentionally or accidentally that an argument could be made that we need to strengthen these laws.

Rather than people needing to use guns for self defense, those guns are being used in shootings- drive-bys or other shootings. Few instances of defensive gun uses make the case for conceal and carry weak.

We are just plain not safer with more guns on our streets, in our cars and in our homes, schools, places of work and where we play. Using guns for hunting and sport shooting is one thing. Having them around in places where we gather or drive our cars makes no common sense. But because the NRA and corporate gun lobby drives by our states and promotes weakening our gun laws, the result has been the devastation in communities all over our country.

Last night I watched Hillary Clinton accept the nomination of the Democratic party to be the first woman to have that honor. It was thrilling to know that I have lived in a time when a woman can be nominated for and hopefully win the Presidency. Among other things she said in her acceptance speech was this ( meme by Brady Campaign):

Hillary and guns

Thank you Hillary. We are just trying to keep people from getting shot by people who shouldn’t have guns. Let’s get to work to make the changes we all deserve.

 

 

Road rage in Minnesota

RoadrageIt’s happened again. Someone decided to take out their anger over a traffic problem with a gun. Why do people carry guns in their cars? That is the question. Let’s look at what happened in Minneapolis yesterday:

 

A 39-year-old woman who honked at a vehicle that cut her off was shot four times in rush-hour traffic on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis Tuesday.

Police spokesman John Elder said the woman was southbound near Groveland Avenue at 5 p.m. when she was cut off by a beige four-door Jeep Cherokee with tinted windows.

She honked at the car, which then slowed down next to her driver side, and a passenger shot at her multiple times with a black handgun, Elder said. The victim, who was shot three times in the arm and once in the stomach, drove several blocks and called 911. She is hospitalized and expected to survive her injuries, police said.

The shooter has not been found yet but no doubt he will be. When he is, many questions need to be asked. Was he a law abiding permit holder? Was the gun legally obtained or illegally obtained. How did he get the gun? And the biggest question- why shoot someone over a honk?

This is not the first time road rage incidents have ended in injury or death by gun and not the first time in Minnesota. Five women were shot at in January as they were being driven on a freeway in an Uber car- just in January of this year. The shooter has not yet been found.

I could list many more in Minnesota and in states all over the country but you get the picture.

So shouldn’t we be able to drive on roads and freeways without fear of being shot? I say the answer is a resounding YES. So why allow guns in cars in the first place? Before Minnesota passed a law in 2005 to allow “law abiding” gun owners to carry guns around with them wherever they go, this was just not happening. Or if it was, it was pretty rare. Sure, some who have illegal guns have likely been carrying guns around all along. But now we have made it part of our every day culture as if it is normal. It’s not.

Further, we have not even discussed children finding guns in their parents’ cars or permit holders shooting themselves while fiddling with guns in their cars. It happens often and I have written about this before. Most recently a Florida child found his mother’s gun in her car and shot it off “accidentally” sending a bullet flying through the front seat, injuring his gun loving mother in the back.

Senseless.

If you look at the image in this post, you can see a man shaking his fist. No one died or was injured as a result. But when a gun is there at the ready, the result is very different. And that is the problem with allowing guns everywhere we play, drive, live, learn, work, eat and walk.

No wonder 141 public health institutions, including the Minnesota Public Health Association, have signed a letter to Congress asking for an end to the funding prohibition for the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes and effects of gun violence. It is the health care providers who treat the injured and deal with the deaths. They understand perfectly well that bullets cause death and injury. They deal with health risks every day and they want some answers. They also understand that, like other public health epidemics, we can do something about it if we understand how it is caused. That is the American way. It’s all about common sense. We all deserve the questions and the answers and most importantly, the victims deserve a chance at live so their families will not be left with a large hole in their lives due to the shooting of a loved one.

If you believe its normal for people to be shooting at innocent drivers and passengers while they are going about their daily business, you are part of the problem. But since I know that most of you agree with me, the time is now to express your frustration and concern over a public health and safety issue that many of our leaders have chosen to ignore. Lives can be saved. And lives are taken every day in senseless avoidable incidents like the ones above.

If you’ve had #Enough of this craziness, let your legislators and Congress members know that you expect them to stand up for the victims and not the gun lobby whose interest lies in profits over saving lives. Get involved. Speak up. Write letters. Send emails. Make phone calls. Join a gun violence prevention group. That is how change will happen. A bill to require background checks on all gun sales is sitting in the Minnesota legislature waiting for a hearing. Protect Minnesota supports this legislation and is asking legislators to sign on and bring it to a hearing. It won’t get a hearing if you don’t make some noise. Similar background check bills are sitting in Congress waiting for enough co-sponsors to bring them to committee hearings. That won’t happen if you don’t make noise.

Under the gun- getting our heads out of the sand

head_sand_110731When Congress and the gun lobby can decide for the nation that an agency that studies and makes recommendations about public health issues should not study gun violence, we have a serious problem. One wonders why it has taken so long for this national disgrace to get the attention it deserves? Why have we let this happen? Because this stuff flies under the radar and the public does not know or understand the extent to which the gun lobby has gone to get its’ way.

After the Sandy Hook shooting in December of 2012, something changed in this country. The gun lobby has been under more well deserved scrutiny than ever before and that scrutiny is not complementary. I’m talking about the fear of retribution about even mentioning the idea that we should study the causes and effects of gun violence, of course.

An article from The Trace examined what is going on at the CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) and found some known and unknown facts that should concern us very much if we care about saving lives and preventing the devastation of gun violence. From the article:

“It was the leadership of CDC who stopped the agency from doing gun violence research,” Mark Rosenberg, a founder of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the division of the agency responsible for its work on the subject, tells The Trace. “Right now, there is nothing stopping them from addressing this life-and-death national problem.”

How much latitude the CDC has to pursue gun violence research is hardly an academic argument. The CDC is the nation’s leading public health agency, with a yearly budget of more than $11 billion. The failure of the CDC to invest in studies of gun violence has greatly inhibited the ability of social scientists, law enforcement agencies, and policymakers to understand the scope and causes of shootings — while also limiting understanding of interventions that might save lives.

How could this happen in a country that values research and being on the leading edge of solving public health problems?

The CDC was one of the first agencies to study gun violence as a public health issue. In 1992, Rosenberg and five colleagues launched the Division of Violence Prevention at the Injury Center, operating out of a converted men’s room with a yearly budget of around $260,000. Without any political impediments, they began to focus on identifying the root causes of firearm deaths and the best methods to prevent them.

One of the first studies that the division funded was “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home.” Published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, the research found that the mere presence of a gun in a home increased the risk of a firearm-related death by 2.7 percent, and suicide fivefold — a “huge” increase, according to Rosenberg.

The NRA was furious about the findings, which it viewed as biased. The gun organization launched a campaign to shut down the Injury Center, an effort soon joined by two conservative groups led by pro-gun medical professionals,Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership and Doctors for Integrity and Policy Research. The latter famously called CDC investigators “liars masquerading in lab coats.” The NRA and the conservative doctors’ groups began pressuring members of Congress to stop the CDC’s gun violence research. By 1995, eight senators had signed on to the cause. The next year, 1996, Republican Representative Jay Dickey of Arkansas introduced the amendment bearing his name as a rider to an appropriations bill.

Notably, the Dickey Amendment did not immediately lead to a total stoppage of gun violence research by the CDC, as Satcher kept a few existing initiatives alive. But when Satcher left the CDC in 1998, Rosenberg says, his departure marked the end of substantive gun research at the agency. The new director, Jeffrey Koplan, had little interest in continuing the agency’s work on gun violence prevention, Rosenberg says.

 Ah. Now it makes sense. Or not. More…

In his 2017 budget request, President Obama requested $10 million specifically for gun violence research at the CDC — which works out to roughly 0.1 percent of the agency’s total funding allotment. Rosenberg believes that rather than waiting for a Republican-controlled Congress to grant Obama’s request, the CDC could immediately divert that sum from other programs to jumpstart new studies.

“They could do that in the blink of an eye,” he says.

Satcher, the CDC director who sought to shield gun research from cuts, says he understands Rosenberg’s viewpoint — but also knows firsthand how political realities can shape agency policy.

“I think it could be feasible, but the question is, how would it affect their budget?” he asks. “How would Congress punish the CDC for that? It would be easy for me to criticize the CDC, and I’m tempted to do that. But I also know the kind of risks they’re facing.”

Ok. Now we are getting at the truth of the matter. The CDC would be punished by Congress for using money in its’ budget for research into the causes and effects of gun violence.

Sigh.

So it’s a risk to study gun violence? And if the research shows that it’s a risk to have loaded guns lying around at home, what does that mean for the public health and safety? What does that mean for the corporate gun lobby and gun manufacturers? What does that mean for the American gun culture? And most important of all, what does that mean for saving lives? Hmmm.

Where is common sense? Why would one lobby group get to decide on vital national research into the causes of one of our nation’s most serious national public health epidemics. For what other cause takes the lives of 30,000 Americans and doesn’t get the attention and the concern it should have? And why is a lobby group so afraid of what the research would divulge if given a chance? What would be the result? Would Americans begin to take their heads out of the sand and see that guns in homes are an actual risk to their families and communities? How awful would that be? Perhaps only 20,000 Americans would lose their lives to bullets or suffer from fewer injuries that cost us all billions every year. Would that be so bad?

We already know that the gun lobby does not like Physicians talking to their patients about the risks of guns in the home. They have done in Florida what they would like to do everywhere- punish Physicians for doing their jobs. From the article:

When a Florida pediatrician asked the same question — “Do you have guns in the home?” — during a checkup in 2010, the reply from a mother of three was sharp: None of your business. She objected to the query as “very invasive,”complaining to her local newspaper, “Whether I have a gun has nothing to do with the health of my child.”

And so began what’s come to be known as the Docs vs. Glocks dispute. In 2011, after a lobbying push by the National Rifle Association, Florida passed the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, restricting physicians from asking about gun ownership and from counseling about gun safety in routine appointments. Potential penalties include fines, suspension and loss of a medical license. A federal judge blocked the law as an unconstitutional restriction of doctors’ speech. Then an appeals court panel overturned the ruling, emphasizing patients’ rights to own guns and to privacy.

This Florida case is just the latest example of how the politics of guns have affected physicians’ ability to bring science to bear on what experts can see plainly: That gun violence is a public health issue. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is now preparing to hear the case, and legislators in at least 12 states have expressed interest in similar bills. So it’s worth correcting what lawmakers and the court panel misunderstand about the doctor-patient relationship and about the relevance of firearms to pediatric care — in a country where more than 2 million children live in homes with unsecured guns.

There are reasons for health care providers to discuss common safety and risk factors with their patients and patients’ families. More from the article ( written by a Pediatrician for the Washington Post):

But beyond responding to immediate warning signs, responsible doctors need to be able to counsel patients on matters that pose the greatest statistical risks to their health and well-being. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans 65 years and older, so doctors talk to their elderly patients about healthy eating habits, regular exercise and smoking cessation. For children between the ages of 1 and 14, the leading cause of death is unintentional injury, a category that includes car accidents, suffocation, burns, drowning and gunshot wounds.

As pediatricians, we counsel parents about all of these issues. We explain how to properly install car seats. We caution against children playing with plastic bags. We teach about safe water temperature. We discuss safety around pools.

Gun safety is no different from any of these topics. Comprehensive numbers on gun accidents are hard to come by, in part because National Rifle Association lobbying and limited funding has deterred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting firearm research. But outside research found that in 2015, children accidentally shot themselves or someone else at least 278 times, averaging more than five times a week. By some estimates, keeping guns locked up and unloaded could prevent 70 percent of unintentional shooting deaths among children.

Sometimes parents aren’t aware that their gun storage practices are unsafe. During one recent appointment at our clinic, a mother said she wasn’t sure if there were any guns in her home. Her father is a police officer, she said, and there might have been one or two in a closet. In a 2006 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, nearly a quarter of parents who reported that their children had not handled a household gun were contradicted by their children.

Would it be so bad to recognize that suicide by gun takes more lives than homicide by gun? Would it be so bad to admit that too many self proclaimed “law abiding” gun owners are leaving guns out for children and teens to access, causing avoidable and totally senseless loss of life? Would that be so bad?

Until we make this one of our most important issues and the focus of attention and research, the devastation of gun violence will continue unabated. Until the corporate gun lobby comes forward to help do something about this public health and safety epidemic, they can’t be taken seriously when they claim that they teach safety with guns.

In case you haven’t noticed, it isn’t working. Kids are still getting their hands on guns and killing or injuring themselves and others. Domestic abusers are still gaining access to guns and shooting intimate partners on a regular basis. Teens and older males are still shooting themselves in suicides that don’t have to be but continue because of easy access to guns- the method most often used and most effective for the taking of one’s own life. Our military members will still be shooting themselves because of lack of services, PTSD, depression and battle wounds. In this article about the Minnesota National Guard and the high number of suicides, this quote says what we know but don’t talk about often enough:

Most have been men. The average age of victims was 26 — much younger than the middle-aged males in the general population who kill themselves. The most common cause of death — a self-inflicted gunshot.

Can we talk about this openly without fear of being attacked by the gun lobby? Lives depend on the answer.

Meanwhile, gangs will continue shooting at each other and often taking innocent lives in the process. Law enforcement will still shoot innocent people when it’s not necessary. Armed citizens will roam our streets with guns so law enforcement officers feel the need to protect themselves. People will still come up with ways to manufacture ever smaller, more concealable pistols for public use. The gun lobby will still convince elected leaders with their heads planted firmly in the sand and in the campaign money trough that guns should be carried everywhere we go. Researchers will still be fearful that if they dare consider the idea that we should have a better understanding of what causes most of our gun deaths and how we can prevent them, they will lose their funding or suffer from the offensive and vile vendettas against them from gun extremists.

And those of us who are publicly writing, speaking and taking actions against the gun violence that is so obviously a public health epidemic will still be called names and suffer from the hateful comments from the gun extremists.

But the majority of Americans are now on the side of common sense. That is little solace when their leaders refuse to act on behalf of victims and survivors and do the right thing. Elections are coming soon. Vote for #gunsense and make sure you know how your candidates stand on saving lives and supporting the public health and safety of their constituents. We can’t let the gun extremists win any longer. Threats of violence, fear of a minority of gun owners, attacking candidates who stand with the majority- not acceptable any more.

Take your heads out of the sand. Lives depend on it. We have had #Enough of this nonsense in the name of profit and power. Let’s get to work and demand the change our country deserves.

Guns in schools?

school lockdownThe corporate gun lobby loves to think that teachers or others should be allowed to have guns in our schools to protect children from insidious and tragic assaults by dangerous people with guns. Proclamations and myths about “gun free” zones being more dangerous than places where guns are allowed are the mantra of the gun rights extremists. And, stupidly, many of our politicians parrot these dangerous talking points. They are not based on fact or reality. Most gun deaths and injuries actually occur in “guns allowed” zones, like homes, on our streets and many public places where guns are allowed. Police officers are shot on a regular basis even though they are armed and those who shoot them know they are armed. It’s a myth.

One of the myths is that teachers will be safe with guns in our schools and will be prepared to confront a shooter.  This South Dakota elementary teacher was dangerous to himself when the gun he had in his coat pocket discharged as the coat was put on the floor:

An elementary teacher at Wagner Community School is expected to make a full recovery after accidentally shooting himself in his home, law enforcement said.
Travis Barthel, a third-grade teacher at Wagner Community School, took a bullet from an accidental discharge of a 9 mm pistol on Feb. 26 in his home on the outskirts of Avon, according to Bon Homme County Sheriff Lenny Gramkow. Barthel declined to comment on the matter Monday.

According to Gramkow, Barthel had the pistol in his coat pocket. At about 6:20 p.m., the coat fell to the floor after Barthel took it off, and the pistol fired one bullet upward into Barthel’s stomach and through the back of his left shoulder.

Why would we think this teacher would be any safer in a classroom with that gun? There are other examples of “accidental” discharges in schools by gun carriers that, luckily, did not result in death. I have written about them many times in this blog. Remember that these are the people the gun lobby wants carrying guns or having guns somewhere in our schools to keep our children safe.

Remember when a Utah elementary school teacher ( where guns are allowed in schools) “accidentally” discharged her gun in a school bathroom?

There was a time when gun permits were only granted to those who showed a need to carry a gun ( for work or under conditions of necessary self defense) and law enforcement was given the authority to decide who, in their communities, should be granted a permit to carry a loaded gun around. All of that changed in 1987 when Florida, the laboratory for the gun lobby, passed a “shall issue” carry law. A few other states had passed such laws before that but Florida is a laboratory for the gun lobby so what happens in Florida can be expected to show up in state legislatures all over the country. Every state now has some version of a law allowing private citizens to carry guns in public.

But the slippery slope has moved the needle in favor of more guns in public, thanks to our bought and paid for politicians, ever ready to do business with the corporate gun lobby. So, again in Florida, the first Stand Your Ground law was passed in 2005 , signed by Governor Jeb Bush. So now gun permit holders in states with this law can shoot someone and claim self defense, getting away with murder. From the article:

“Our study finds that, that homicides go up by 7 to 9 percent in states that pass the laws, relative to states that didn’t pass the laws over the same time period,” he says.

As to whether the laws reduce crime — by creating a deterrence for criminals — he says, “we find no evidence of any deterrence effect over that same time period.” (…)

Hoekstra obtained this result by comparing the homicide rate in states before and after they passed the laws. He also compared states with the laws to states without the laws.

“We find that there are 500 to 700 more homicides per year across the 23 states as a result of the laws,” he said. There are about 14,000 homicides annually in the United States as a whole. (…)

Still, based on the available data, it appears that crafters of these laws sought to give good guys more latitude to defend themselves against bad guys. But what Hoekstra’s data suggest is that in real-life conflicts, both sides think of the other guy as the bad guy. Both believe the law gives them the right to shoot.

In a separate analysis of death certificates before and after stand your ground laws were passed in different states, economists at Georgia State University also found that states that passed the laws ended up with a higher homicide rate.

The slippery slope continues today as more and more states are now following the path of the gun lobby’s agenda in passing laws that will let citizens carry those loaded guns around in public places with no permit or training. Common sense? The Governor of West Virginia thought not when his legislature passed this stupid and dangerous bill which he vetoed. But never mind public safety. The lapdog politicians went along with this really bad idea and overrode his veto.  From the linked article written for The Trace:

Collectively, the bills seek to upend a concealed carry system that the National Rifle Association spent the past four decades building, and which now stands at the center of American gun culture and commerce. Under that system, permit applicants in most states must pass a background check and pay a fee to the state; there can also be mandatory training courses and tests, often administered by NRA-licensed instructors.

The push for permitless carry is part of the larger movement that seeks to establish new norms for the carrying of handguns in American society, wherein the ideal is a country that places no restrictions on gun owners. Proponents believe the mere existence of the Second Amendment nullifies the necessity for a permit requirement. “People don’t want to pay a fee to the state for a right that is guaranteed by the constitution,” Mike Mosher, a police officer in Kansas who owns a firearms training company called Tactical Simulations Solutions, tells The Trace.

The gun rights extremists want us to believe that the new normal is seeing people with holstered (or not) guns in public and we should not “wet our pants” about it. When that person could be anyone- with no training or even a permit with a background check requirement- we are supposed to trust this person to be safe in public? I don’t think so. Why would any reasonable person believe this is a good idea?

I saw a man just the other day outside of a McDonald’s restaurant where I was sitting with my grandchildren and some friends. Needless to say, the boys noticed immediately that the man was carrying a gun openly and were fascinated by the gun. Our children don’t need to observe adults carrying guns around in public. It is NOT normal.

The thing is, gun use for self defense is so minimal as to be hardly on the radar. The incidents of someone using a gun for legitimate self defense are just not making the news. Or at least not as often as mass shootings, domestic shootings, “accidental” discharges and other gun incidents. They aren’t making the news because they are so infrequent comparatively.

So back to the incident of the school teacher whose gun discharged and injured himself- this happens far too often in our country. I write about these incidents frequently. In fact, my news feed and Twitter feed are littered with articles about kids finding guns and shooting themselves or someone else or “law abiding” citizens shooting a loved one(s) , themselves or someone else by “accident” or in a dispute that would not end in death if a gun was not at the ready.

Mandatory training, background checks, permits and even licensing and registration are required for so many other every day things Americans do. The idea that because gun rights are deemed to be sacrosanct by the gun lobby there should be  absolutely no accountability is ludicrous. And dangerous.

Guns in schools will not lead to safer children unless they are carried by law enforcement or legitimate security personnel. Or not. Check this out. And this. It’s important to think through what we are doing to keep our children safe from gun violence. The most important thing we can do is to prevent shooters from gaining access to guns in the first place. That will not stop all shootings, of course. But the fact that we aren’t really trying is a national shame.

Satire is often needed to make the point that America is doing virtually nothing to address its’ public health and safety epidemic. Check out comedian Samantha Bee’s video about school shootings and the corporate gun lobby.  As always, the language is ripe and provocative. But the message is clear. What are we teaching our children about safety in schools? And why are children exposed to lock down drills and ways to stop shooters? They are children. They are in school to learn. Parents should expect that their children will come home alive after school every day.

Americans have had #Enough. Changing laws, changing the conversation and changing the gun culture will lead to safer communities and fewer gun deaths and injuries. Education, awareness, training, proper storage of guns and common sense is what is needed to keep families and communities from the devastation of insidious gun violence.

 

 

 

What price guns and gun violence?

Rendered image of Dollar sign crumbling

There is a price ( in dollars) for getting a permit to carry a gun around in public as well there should be. It varies from state to state. The laws passed do require law enforcement and agencies to spend time and do the paperwork to allow people to carry their weapons around on our streets. Thus people pay for their permits. And training classes are offered, at least in Minnesota, by people who are in the business of providing the mandated training. Thus people pay for the training.

In my state of Minnesota, the cost for a permit from local law enforcement is $100. And then the cost of taking a class to get the required training is $99 plus an added cost to go to the gun range which is the business of providing a place for people to practice their shooting skills or just go to enjoy shooting their guns.

Take a look at this “grabagun” online gun site to see the general cost of a handgun. It looks like about $400-$500 for one of these. Assault type rifles are more expensive starting at around $800 and much more for some depending on accessories. And then there is the ammunition which can also be quite expensive. On this site, you can “shoot now and pay later” in order to finance your purchase of a firearm. This site does require the firearms to go to a federally licensed firearms dealer near the buyer where a Brady background check will be conducted for another $10-$30 or so. We all know that private buyers who don’t go through a licensed seller don’t pay that fee.

I found this site which attempts to summarize the cost of buying and owning guns. It is not cheap to get involved with shooting sports. But then, it’s not cheap to get involved in running, hockey, skiing, biking and all of the other things that people do for recreation and sport. It’s not cheap to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol or do drugs. The difference being, of course, that firearms are designed to kill or harm another human being or animal ( if used for hunting).

As an aside I would like to point out that we are at the least attempting to cut the costs and the harm,, injury , health care costs and liability from most of the other things I listed above. Not so much with guns and shootings.

And the cost in dollars to our country for gun violence, according to this Mother Jones article? $299 billion:

And solving a crisis, as any expert will tell you, begins with data. That’s why the US government over the years has assessed the broad economic toll of a variety of major problems. Take motor vehicle crashes: Using statistical models to estimate a range of costs both tangible and more abstract—from property damage and traffic congestion to physical pain and lost quality of life—the Department of Transportation (DOT) published a 300-page studyestimating the “total value of societal harm” from this problem in 2010 at $871 billion. Similar research has been produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the impact of air pollution, by the Department of Health and Human Services on the costs of domestic violence, and so on. But the government has mostly been mute on the economic toll of gun violence. HHS has assessed firearm-related hospitalizations, but its data is incomplete because some states don’t require hospitals to track gunshot injuries among the larger pool of patients treated for open wounds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also periodically made estimates using hospital data, but based on narrow sample sizes and covering only the medical and lost-work costs of gun victims.

Why the lack of solid data? A prime reason is that the National Rifle Association and other influential gun rights advocates have long pressured political leaders to shut down research related to firearms. (…)

In collaboration with Miller, Mother Jones crunched data from 2012 and found that the annual cost of gun violence in America exceeds $229 billion. Direct costs account for $8.6 billion—including long-term prison costs for people who commit assault and homicide using guns, which at $5.2 billion a year is the largest direct expense. Even before accounting for the more intangible costs of the violence, in other words, the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. And we pay for 32 of them every single day.

Indirect costs amount to at least $221 billion, about $169 billion of which comes from what researchers consider to be the impact on victims’ quality of life. Victims’ lost wages, which account for $49 billion annually, are the other major factor. Miller’s calculation for indirect costs, based on jury awards, values the average “statistical life” harmed by gun violence at about $6.2 million. That’s toward the lower end of the range for this analytical method, which is used widely by industry and government. (The EPA, for example, currently values a statistical life at $7.9 million, and the DOT uses $9.2 million.)

In Arizona, if one legislator gets his way, those who want a permit to carry will be paid by the state to get one. Yes. You read that right. From the article:

Saying it promotes safety, the No. 2 House Republican wants the state to pay for Arizonans to get licensed to carry concealed weapons.

The proposal by House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, would provide a dollar-for-dollar credit against state income taxes owed for the cost of training to get a CCW permit, up to $80. Put simply, any Arizonan who gets a permit could deduct that much from what he or she owes the state.

And if that person owes less than $80 at tax time, the difference would carry forward, reducing future tax liability.

Arizona law allows any adult to carry a concealed weapon.

I suppose we could also pay for drivers’ licenses and license plates and tabs as well. Why not? Would that promote citizens’ safety? And what, again, would this cost the state of Arizona? But never mind common sense because…….rights. This idea is so ludicrous that one wonders why it has even been floated. But then, the big gun lobby is always floating bills and ideas that will work to make our communities less safe. When profit comes before saving lives, this is what happens.

The cost of owning guns and getting a permit to carry is not cheap. And the cost to citizens in lost lives and the many other costs associated with shootings is also very high. Balancing rights with the rights of all of us to be safer in our communities is rarely part of the conversation we need to be having here. The public health approach and research would do a lot to advance the discussion in a way that would get people more on the same page. I think we can all agree that on one wants to be shot or to shoot someone else or to lose a loved one to bullets. It’s how we get there that leaves us with the gap in our thinking.

We can do better than this. A recent opinion piece in the Star Tribune asks us to do just that and the responses today mostly agree- even a gun permit holder. From the opinion piece:

Apples and oranges — comparing smoking to guns? (One is a choice, and the other is a “right,” protected by the Second Amendment.) No, not really; it’s about mind-sets. Because, taking that page out of the nonsmokers’ guide, even adults with “rights” can no longer smoke on an airplane or at church or in hospitals. Shopping malls have designated areas for smoking. That’s all because of the — wait for it — common good.

A person cannot smoke on school grounds, but in 18 states adults can legally carry guns onto school property — not to mention the likelihood that students illegally bring guns into schools. And there is no smoking in most religious institutions, and many have “no guns” signs posted, yet, let’s all pray that handgun is locked when it hits the floor or falls out of a purse. Or becomes an item to be investigated by a curious child.

We’ve managed to get a lot done when we’ve united for the health of all Americans. We took on the big tobacco companies. Clean indoor air is an example of what we can do when we put the common good ahead of the “wants” of a few. The National Rifle Association (NRA) wants more guns available and accessible; it “wants” less regulation and oversight. Bigger, faster and better weapons, more rounds. I and many people like me just want an end to the violence. I want lockdowns in classrooms to become obsolete.

You want a smoke? There is a time and a place for it, just as there is a time and a place for guns: at shooting ranges, at clay targets or tin cans on fence posts in the middle of nowhere, and during long-held family traditions of hunting.

So what can we all do to take the violence out of the guns? We desperately need to curb the “you can’t make me” attitude.” The “come and get it” grandstanding. (Thank you, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and how much good did that little tantrum do? Another donation from the NRA?) That type of divisive rhetoric is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Gun owners and gun safety advocates should be able to sit down together, to look for reasonable compromises to end gun violence without resorting to name-calling and intimidation. I think we can agree to disagree on some issues; however, children shooting children is unacceptable. This is about the common good.

Where does the common good trump rights? It’s a good question. When 33,000+ Americans die yearly from gunshot injuries, something needs to be done. When children are shooting each other and themselves weekly or more, something needs to be done. When women and children are at risk for domestic shootings daily, we have a problem that needs addressing. What we are doing now is clearly not working. When young men of color are affected daily by gun deaths and injuries and have easy access to guns, something needs to be done. When the majority of gun deaths are because of suicides, something has to be done.

It’s past time to change the way we deal with gun safety and gun violence. We’ve had #enough. Let’s get to work.