Women marching for freedom from gun violence

march-photoI marched in the Women’s March on Saturday for my sister. I marched in the Women’s March in DC for all of the women who have been shot and killed by firearms. I marched for friends who have lost daughters, sisters, brothers, parents or children in senseless gun violence. I marched because I don’t want families to lose loved ones in a sudden and violent death. I marched because Congress and state legislators have not been listening to the voices of the victims. I marched because I know women and men all over America who are members of a club we didn’t choose. I marched to raise my voice loudly and clearly and to join with others in solidarity for women’s rights to be safe in their homes.

My sister was a feisty woman. She would have marched with me or for me if she had not been shot and killed in 1992 by her estranged husband. Women are 11 times more likely to lose their lives to gun violence than women in other countries. Why is that? Because Americans have more more guns in their homes than in other countries and they are not often stored safely locked and unloaded. Why is that? Because the corporate gun lobby has deceived us by making the case that guns in homes for self protection will protect people from harm. Instead, those guns get used more often to kill someone in the home than to be used to scare off a home invader.

As a Brady Campaign chapter leader, Brady Campaign/Center Board of Trustees member, Board member of Protect Minnesota and Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, I carried many people’s names with me because they wanted to be part of the march. I asked and they answered. Over 100 of my friends and family members asked to have their names on my sign. It was because of my passionate advocacy to prevent gun violence and in memory of my sister that so many wanted to “march” with me.

Thousands of Brady Campaign chapter members marched in cities all over America and came to DC to be a part of the most historic march in our country. Many of them were victims who were marching for loved ones. The surreal crush of marchers prevented us from meeting up as I had thought I could do. If I could have polled the marchers, I am certain that every one of them would have supported requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales. We know that a vast majority of Americans agree to that.

About 100 women were willing to endure 2 nights on a bus with little sleep, living on snacks and fast food and cramped quarters to become a part of this large movement.It was a movement created by @realDonaldTrump himself:

That man is in power now. He is slowly reshaping his press coverage to his specifications, floating the idea of “putting in his own security and intelligence community,” whatever that might mean, and praising authoritarian leaders who crack down on dissident populations. The Women’s March will be remembered as a global rebuke to this administration and the manifestation of a massive political will to resist. But if it does what protests should — if it provokes a response — much more will have to come from it.

But I digress.

Before I left on the bus, my family expressed concern about my safety considering that sometimes “protests” and marches turn ugly and violence breaks out. I was more concerned about finding bathrooms and making sure I would not lose my friends. But as we walked from our where our bus was parked at RFK stadium to the beginning of the march, it was obvious that this was going to be something huge. I will never forget all of the bus riders starting their own march as we found our way to Independence Avenue. I will never forget the residents of the row houses standing on their lawns thanking us for coming. I will never forget the man who asked if he could hug me as I walked by his house. I will never forget the volunteers of a neighborhood high school opening up the school for marchers so we could use their bathrooms and get information.

And I saw no guns anywhere, thankfully. Guns in a large crowd would be a recipe for an accident or senseless tragedy. But the corporate gun lobby, of course, would have encouraged armed citizens to march. Because….rights. Marches all over the country were peaceful, polite, almost cheerful and very friendly events. That was one of the hallmarks of the march. Police officers thanked us for coming and we thanked them for being there to protect us, to answer questions, and to control the very large number of marchers.

Marching in DC on Saturday was an honor and a truly overwhelming experience for me. Like the Million Mom March, the Women’s March changed my life. I know that my advocacy is not for naught. I know that Americans with common sense –safe families and safe communities free of devastating gun violence. I know that we can all make a difference if we stand together and make our collective voices heard.

It was clear to me that the only way to make that happen is take steps to make it happen- both large and small. This is not the time to sit back and let others do the work. This is the time to get involved. The Brady Campaign and Protect Minnesota have been my way to be involved. As a victim of gun violence I have spoken out for many years as a chapter activist and worked hard to advocate for victims and survivors. I know many who have done the same. And now I know that millions more activists were born last Saturday and they are ready to act on the many issues that @realDonaldTrump is determined to affect.

If you marched anywhere in the country, thank you.

If you marched or if you didn’t march, this is no time to be silent. Now is the time to speak up and contact your local, state and federal elected leaders about what your concerns. Tell them in a simple message about what you want to see happen and say you are a voter and so are your friends and families.

This is how change will happen. Let’s get to work.

Active shooters

shooting fingerYesterday a report of an active shooter at Andrews Air Force Base was reported on the news. For a while, the facility was put on lock-down while things were checked out. It was discovered that the base was having an active shooter drill. Someone at a medical facility on base reported seeing two men walking around with rifles and called 911 to report it.  As it turns out, the two men were apparently part of the drill.

This is America. Guns are everywhere and are encouraged to be carried everywhere. We really don’t know the difference between a “good guy” with a gun and a “bad guy” with a gun even though Wayne LaPierre has some people believing there is a difference at first blush.

This is America. “Good guys” with guns kill people every day. Take the recent Orlando shooting for instance. The shooter was not prohibited from buying a gun at a federally licensed firearms dealer. There were some warnings- many in fact- but none that would rise to the prohibited purchaser category. There’s the terror watch list on which the shooter’s name was placed for a while. But such people can get guns in America.

The shooter was a domestic abuser and had mental health problems according to his first wife. It’s easy for those people to get guns in America since we don’t require Brady background checks on all gun sales so anyone can get a gun easily.

It’s easy to get guns in America. The bar is low. By definition the Orlando shooter was a “good guy”. How does Mr. Wayne LaPierre explain that? He is not asked that question because he doesn’t answer questions like that. There is no logical explanation and so he gets away with spewing his hate, fear and paranoia and, stupidly, some people believe what he says.

Take this Texas mother. She believed the fear, apparently. Having posted on social media that she didn’t want her guns to be taken from her, she was a proud American gun owner:

Christy Sheats wrote often online about her faith, and on several occasions she posted about her support of the Second Amendment and her right to bear arms.

“I have 10 guns. Obama wants 8 of my guns. How many guns do I have?” said one meme, over a photo of bullets and a gun. “That’s right, I have 10 guns.”

She captioned the photo: “That’s right! #merica.”

Yes. “#merica.”

And then, in the heat of anger and mental illness and marriage problems, she took the anger and her guns out apparently on her husband by killing the people he loved the most. When officers confronted her, she aimed at them so they shot her.

Should this woman have had a gun given 3 admissions to a hospital for mental illness and suicidal behavior? (see article above)

This is America. She was a “good girl” with a gun apparently.

She was an active shooter.

Today I attended a panel discussion at Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs  in Duluth for visitors from Moldova. DAIP is an internationally recognized program training communities all over the world about the Duluth model and the coordinated community response. The Chief of Police, the Mayor, the County Attorney, the County Sheriff, a local judge and someone from a local corrections facility explained their own role and then answered questions.

What do you suppose one of the questions was from the Moldovans? Are there weapons often involved in domestic disputes? What happens if there is? Do you take them away? What happens to those weapons if you take them from the abuser?

The answer from the Chief- we have to assume that everyone is armed! Yes. The visitors laughed nervously but then realized he was not making it up. He said that with 300 odd million guns in America, we can guess that many of the domestic abusers will be armed and that officers go prepared for that realization; that there will be an active shooter.

Women are more at risk to die when there is a gun in the home. Domestic disputes are the most dangerous calls for law enforcement. Actually everyone is more at risk when there is a gun in the home according to many studies:

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

This is America. We have active shooters everywhere- in our homes, in schools, malls, airports, nightclubs, movie theaters, on the streets, at air bases- everywhere.

We have good guys with guns who shoot people every day intentionally or by “accident”. Check out the site, Gun Violence Archive, that is keeping track of shooting incidents ( active shooters) all over the country.

I don’t know what you call children who regularly find their parents’ guns and shoot themselves or someone else by “accident”. A bad boy or a bad girl?

What do you call a teen or an older white male who shoot themselves with guns in great numbers in America? “Bad kid”? “Bad man”? Active shooter? Or Veterans whose suicide gun rate is very high and we are doing little to stop it? Are they “good guys” with guns?

This is America.

Two days ago Americans all over the country went to visit their House members while they were at home in their districts. They delivered beach balls ( Protect Minnesota), letters, sat-in, asked for common sense, thanked them for standing up for victims during the “sit-in” last week and made some noise. It turns out that most responsible gun owners don’t belong to the NRA which is the main lobby group opposing anything that might make us all safer. We asked our Representative to represent the more than 80% of us, even gun owners, who want them to act.

After Orlando, things changed. Votes may happen. Even Speaker Paul Ryan is feeling the heat. He knows he has to at least stop terrorists from getting guns. I mean, that is a no brainer but you’d never know it from the reaction of the Republicans in the House and Senate. They act as if stopping terrorists and others who shouldn’t have guns from getting them is un-American. I mean- everyone has a “sacred” right to own a gun, right?

But when the NRA writes gun policy legislation, as this vote (above) would be, it’s like the fox guarding the hen house:

“House Democrats will keep up our efforts to push for the majority to allow a vote on gun violence legislation, but bringing up a bill authored by the NRA just isn’t going to cut it,” said Drew Hammill, an aide to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. The NRA denied writing the legislation.

Let’s have some legislation that will actually work rather than weak legislation that may not work so the pro gun lobbyists and leaders can say the laws don’t work anyway so why pass any. This kind of cynicism is not OK and will not save lives but rather is window dressing. Time will tell what will take place.

Many of our leaders know this. They are afraid of the wrong people. They are afraid of the guys with the guns. They should be very afraid of the families and friends of the victims and those who know that we can do better.

So back to active shooters and the Moldovans.  Moldova has a rate of firearm deaths of .79 per 100,000. No wonder they were nervous when the Police Chief gave his answer. Active shooters are very rare in their country.

Only in America do we have regular active shooter drills in businesses, military bases, tourist attractions, medical clinics, schools, etc. If this is the new normal, it puts the onus on our leaders to make sure we are safer from active shooters by making sure there are far fewer of them just like we did with air raid drills when I was a child. From this post by Mike Weisser at Mike the Gun Guy:

Crouching under a wooden desk is about as much of a positive response to nuclear attack as giving someone a week-long course in armed force and then have them walking through a school hallway looking for a kid with a gun. The whole point of nuclear non-proliferation is the recognition that once the weapon is out there, the chances of it being used go way up. Trump seems to be unaware that this is why a basic consensus exists that the world needs to be a nuclear-free zone.

The same argument can be made about gun-free zones which, despite the nonsense peddled by the NRA, make every place safer if guns aren’t allowed. And it’s no violation of anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights to leave the gun at home.

We did something about regulating and controlling nuclear weapons to make the county and the world safer from those kinds of attacks. Not one has happened since our own country bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Let’s take back our country and stop the fear mongering. We do have active shooters every day. But arming more people to try to stop the shooters makes no common sense given reality. More guns and more armed people have clearly not made us all safer.

#Enough. #DisarmHate

 

Christmas murder/suicides

broken homesWhat an awful title for a blog post. In America it has come to be expected that shootings happen no matter the day, time, or holiday. When anguish, anger, mental illness, revenge, domestic difficulties, or economic difficulties happen in the lives of average people some “solve” the problem by picking up a firearm. Yes, sometimes broken homes, broken relationships, broken hearts, and broken minds lead to arguments or fights or abuse and physical, emotional, financial and psychological injury. But way too often, they also end in death. In domestic deaths, firearms are the most used method to kill.

That is the story of my sister’s death in a shooting over difficult divorce proceedings. No one thought it was possible. He was eccentric but not violent. He had issues unknown to most on the outside. He seemed like a nice quiet guy who couldn’t harm anyone. But he did. He had several guns and lots of ammunition. Two died when he shot them in his anger and misplaced concerns over difficult divorce proceedings. Why not just shoot those who you believe were causing the problem? That will solve everything, right?

Wrong.

Our family is without a loved one forever.

I have run across at least 3 murder/suicides during the last 2 days alone that were reported in media sources. There are surely more.

A New Jersey family is dead in an apparent murder/suicide. This one looks like an example of something going on that outsiders did not sense. From the article:

A New Jersey man shot and killed his wife and 8-year-old daughter before turning the gun on himself at a luxury high-rise apartment building, authorities said.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said the bodies of Michael Stasko, 53, his wife, Melissa, 49, and daughter, Nellie, 8, were found Friday night at the Windsor at Mariners Tower, an apartment building on the bank of the Hudson River in Edgewater. (…) “We don’t know whether it was financial, we don’t know whether it was familial, we don’t know really perhaps what was going through Mr. Stasko’s mind for him to do this,” Molinelli said.

We don’t know. That is often the case. A seemingly normal family obliterated because of a firearm in the home.

Closer to where I live this happened in Ashland, Wisconsin:

Police Capt. Jim Gregoire told the newspaper that officers responded and found a man with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officers also discovered in the home two women dead of gunshot wounds. The weapon investigators believed was used in the shootings was found next to the dead man.

Authorities have withheld the dead people’s names pending notification of family. Gregoire told the paper that process could take days. One of the women is from overseas, and the department will have to go through federal agencies to reach her family. Those agencies are closed for the Christmas weekend, he said.

Gregoire said there was no indication of what could have led up to the shootings. No one left any messages behind, he said.

No indication. Nothing appeared to be wrong. Further investigation may show something else but for now, it is a mystery.

A young Arizona father shot and killed his 2 young daughters and then himself in a domestic dispute with his estranged wife. From the story:

Two young girls were killed Wednesday night by their father, 37-year-old Levi J. Parker, according to Sheriff Chris Nanos. Parker then shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at 12:10 p.m. Thursday.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call just before 7:00 p.m. Wednesday night from a mother who said the father of her two young children threatened their lives.
“He made statements to her that basically led her to believe this was her last chance to talk to the kids alive,” Sheriff Nanos said.

Some people should not have guns. With rights come responsibilities and safe gun ownership is one of these. There were red flags and warning signs. Power and control over others motivates many men to kill their current or ex spouses, girlfriends and/or partners. The ultimate power and control is a gun.

I link to the website of Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs where power and control wheels show how various ways of using power can end in tragedy when taken to the extreme. The post separation time can lead to abuse and using children to gain power and control as we see in this wheel from DAIP.

These are the stories of Americans who have access to guns, some maybe for self defense or for whatever reason people feel the need to own pistols. In the end, loaded guns in homes are more likely to be used to kill those inside than in self defense. Or were the weapons purchased with killing in mind? We don’t know why people buy guns in America. We just know that they do in greater numbers than in any other civilized society not at war. Guns are seen by some as security- as a way to keep themselves and their families safe from whatever fears are perceived to be lurking outside of their homes. By others they are used for purposeful crime and revenge.

This is our American tragedy. Domestic shootings happen daily. Suicides happen in large numbers. Our young people are shooting each other in urban areas. Toddlers are shooting people at a rate of once per week. Accidental discharges by “responsible” gun owners continue- mostly outside of the main stream media but reported in local news stories.

And we shrug our collective shoulders. We say we can’t do a thing about this. The gun lobby usually responds that people will find another way to kill themselves or others if they didn’t have guns. The thing is, that really isn’t true. Stabbings kill people but not nearly at the rate of firearms. Same with blunt objects. Suicide by gun is the preferred method because it is known to be the most lethal and effective. And it turns out that in states where more people own guns, more people kill themselves with a gun.

Laws can’t stop all of these shootings. But awareness can. Culture can. Changing the conversation can. Challenging the gun lobby’s myths that guns will keep us all safer can. Asking if there are loaded guns in homes where your children play can. Storing guns safely unloaded away from ammunition can. And laws can stop some of these shootings. As long as there is easy access to guns with no Brady background checks for domestic abusers, adjudicated mentally ill people and others who are denied purchases by licensed dealers who require these background checks, we can expect to see high numbers of dead and injured Americans.

Common sense has worked in other countries where stories like this at holiday time and every other day of the year are not in the news.There may be other problems in our neighboring countries and our friends across the oceans but gun violence is generally not one of them.

We are killing each other in great numbers here and doing nothing about it. We don’t do the research necessary to help with the causes of the violence and then we do little about the effects and the consequences. Thanks to the NRA and the corporate gun lobby, we allow people who shouldn’t have guns to buy them anyway. Thanks to our corporate gun lobby, guns are the only product unregulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Thanks to the corporate gun lobby, lawsuits are very difficult and almost impossible against gun manufacturers and dealers that could help right some wrongs. Thanks to the corporate gun lobby, average Americans walk out of gun stores with absolutely no training on how to use a gun or to the risks involved in owning one. Thanks to the corporate gun lobby and its’ friends in Congress and state houses, people with no training or permit or background check can openly or concealed carry guns around in public places. And as a result, guns are discharging accidentally or on purpose in places where families spend time. Like these at Accidents Happen Guns Kill 3 at Christmas time alone. Lunacy.

Thanks corporate gun lobby.

We are better than this. We can also do something about this but we need our leaders to think straight about our national public health and safety epidemic without the interference of those who profit from selling the firearms used every day in incidents like the ones I included above.

Let’s get to work and make 2016 a safer year from gun violence than 2015 was.

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month

3d Concept diagram wordcloud illustration of domestic violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs

Americans for Responsible Solutions

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Everytown for Gun Safety

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Violence Policy Center

Center for American Progress

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

Anniversaries and actions

photo of BarbaraAnniversaries are important. Couples know that it’s important to remember each other on their anniversary. Forgetting is not a good idea for obvious reasons. My wedding anniversary is in August. It just happens that it’s on the same day our 3rd grandchild was born so we never forget this one.

August is a month, like all months, of shooting anniversaries. The one that is most important to me is the day my sister was shot and killed by her estranged husband. That would be Aug. 5th- 23 years ago. It might seem like it was really a long time ago. It was. But I can remember the details as if it were yesterday. I can remember the phone call. I can remember the feeling of disbelief and then of a slow reality that this was happening to my family- to my family. Not someone else’s. But mine. How could that be? Things like this only happen to someone else.

I can remember how painful it was to have to inform my mother that her oldest child had been murdered. That was for me. Only I couldn’t do it. She was at her cabin far away in a remote place with a visiting relative. It was night time. It was a 3 hour drive. What to do? We waited until morning and my husband made the call. It was so difficult. She was brave. And she came right home to be where she needed to be. With family. Now what?

We huddled. We cried. We railed. We read the newspaper accounts since the shooting was committed by someone well known in the city where he lived. They were getting a divorce. He was resisting. He was in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate. This had been going on for several years. My sister was moving on to a new relationship. He had already moved on to a new relationship. Things were not going well legally. She and her new guy were delivering legal papers that came to my sister’s house ( he had moved out some time before the shooting). He must have asked them to come inside. They did. She felt protected by her man friend. That didn’t work. He shot and killed them both.

But I try not to remember these kinds of details. What good does it do? My sister is not here any longer to enjoy the grandchildren she would never know and love or my grandchildren that she will never know. She didn’t get to be at her oldest son’s wedding or be the beloved aunt at my own children’s weddings. She didn’t get to see her life through to actually be divorced from the man who shot her and move on to a relationship with a man who loved her and was ready to be with her as they grew old together. Her potential was never reached. Lives lost are lives not lived and lives of people who had much to give to the world and their families and communities. Memories can’t make a difference in the world.

My sister was a beautiful woman- an actual beauty queen. She was intelligent, athletic, educated, caring, daring, creative and loving. She was an artist. She was a pilot. She played tennis well. She was a biker. She loved music and plays. She loved her children and her family and welcomed everyone in. She was a bit frenetic, talking as she did other things and creating some chaos in her wake. It was always interesting and exciting being around her. She attracted a lot of attention and was loved by many. She was a strong and independent woman as well. And she knew her marriage needed to end. She stood up for herself in the divorce process and that is what makes for trouble sometimes. She was trying to leave this relationship. It often takes women 7 or 8 times to get out of an abusive relationship and it is while they are trying to leave that can be dangerous for women. Abuse takes many forms. It was not physical abuse in my sister’s relationship. It was rather more emotional and financial abuse. You can check out the Power and Control wheels developed at Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs for more information.

The majority of women killed in domestic disputes are killed with a gun.

So it is in my sister’s memory that I do what I do. Her shooting death changed the lives of her family and friends forever. For me, it launched me into advocacy to prevent senseless gun violence. I have been working towards common sense gun laws and changing the gun culture for the last 15 years since I marched in the original Million Mom March on the National Mall. It’s been an interesting ride. There have been challenges, some defeats and some victories. I am part of a movement that is changing every day.

One of the big changes that has not been achieved is making sure all gun sales go through background checks. The Brady background check law came into effect after my sister was shot. It would not have made a difference in her case because my now ex and dead brother-in-law would have passed one. He was a “law abiding” gun owner until suddenly he wasn’t. He was a “responsible gun owner”. Or was he? He had loaded guns sitting around all over his house- a fact we learned after the shooting. He was a gun nut. He loved his guns. My sister was nervous about this. No one thought anything about it because- well just because. Awareness of the danger of guns in the home came for me after this happened to my family. I grew up in a house with guns. Hunting guns. Not handguns or AR-15s. No one had those where I grew up. I learned to hunt. My husband is a hunter. We are gun owners. But we are more savvy now about the facts and we understand that a woman in the US is 11 times more likely to die of a gunshot injury if she lives in a home with a gun than women in other high income countries. We know that children are also at risk when loaded guns are accessible to them. Women and children were not being shot in the numbers they are today as when I was growing up. The organization founded to support hunting and gun safety has turned into a huge and well funded lobby organization in large part supported by the gun industry that makes profits with every gun sale.

But I digress.

Just because an expanded background check system would have unlikely affected the outcome in my sister’s shooting does not mean it won’t for many others. We also now know about the effect of the private sale “loophole” in the Brady law. Occasional sellers have become much more than occasional. It is estimated that about 40% of gun sales go without background checks through private sellers at gun shows, flea markets, classified ads, and now, on-line sales.

A great and informative article about how easy it is for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them anyway was written by a Tennessee woman. This woman goes through the process of how easy it is to get guns from sites like Armslist.com. We know now that the shooter in Chattanooga got 3 of his guns through this site- no background check, no questions asked. You can do your own research like this woman did and find out for yourself what she found out. The majority of gun sales on this on-line exchange are through private sellers.

I did my own exercise looking at the number of handguns for sale just in the Minneapolis area on Monday of this week. I narrowed my search to private sellers. I found that there were 45 handguns for sale in the area and 27 of them were private sellers. That means that 60% of the handguns for sale on Monday, August 3rd in Minneapolis alone were offered by private sellers. Who knows who the buyers might be? Private sellers don’t have to find that out. As the author of the above blog says, some private sellers sell guns to people they know shouldn’t have them and many sell these guns “inadvertently” to people who shouldn’t have guns. But when you are a private seller, you must understand that people who are buying from you could very well have an order for protection out for themselves and their intent just may be to use that gun to kill a spouse/partner. It happens every day. That person could be like the shooter of the Lafayette theater who was only voluntarily committed to a mental institution.

The only way someone like the Lafayette shooter gets his/her name into the FBI data base is when they are involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.  A voluntary commitment doesn’t rise to the level of concern apparently for a gun purchase. Who got that provision into our gun laws? Who got the provision about no background checks for private sellers? Who got the provision that a gun has to be handed over to a seller after 3 days even if a background check was not completed because of something called a “default proceed”?

These questions are finally being asked and some are being answered. What we have is a flawed system, in part written and supported by the gun lobby and its’ bought and paid for politicians, that is allowing guns to get into the hands of people who should not have them. All the way around, something is wrong. Something is wrong with all of the shootings happening every day in America no matter where the shooter got a gun or who the shooter is. The fact that this is not more alarming and immediate to our leaders is shameful and downright inexcusable.

So the effort to make families and communities safe from devastating gun violence goes on. People like me with stories to tell will keep telling them to call attention to the scourge of gun violence all over our country. Many groups and individuals are successfully pushing back efforts of the gun lobby to get guns everywhere and in the hands of anyone. We will succeed when politicians feel the pressure from even the gun owners and NRA members who are fed up with the shootings. Most gun owners are nice people who own guns for sport, recreation or maybe even for self defense. They are hopefully practicing responsible gun ownership. But even responsible gun owners have episodes of anger, depression, relationship problems, too much alcohol or leave a gun unsecured for a child or teen to find.

It’s about laws. It’s about culture. It’s about the guns. It’s about the memories of lost loved ones.

Today I dedicate my blog post to my beautiful sister who was shot and killed 23 years ago.

UPDATE:

I want to add that today is also the anniversary of the Sikh Temple shooting that took the lives of 6 inn0cent people in a terrible mass shooting. From this article:

Members of the Sikh community and the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin say they’re using the tragedy to teach others about understanding and compassion for others.

“We have a lot of shootings going on around the city, around the world, around the nation. How we can make a bigger impact — so that we can spread message of love and compassion?” Dubey said.

Love and compassion rather than hate and intolerance of others can make a difference. Keeping guns away from those whose anger and intolerance is dangerous will make a difference.

%d bloggers like this: