Virginia Tech-moving stones

Virginia TechIt’s Easter tomorrow for those who practice the Christian faith. It’s also the Passover season for Jews. What will the victims and survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting be doing and thinking about on the 10 year anniversary of what was our nation’s most deadly and heinous mass shooting until the Sandy Hook shooting took the lives of 20 first graders and 6 educators and the Orlando nightclub shooting took the lives of 50- yes 50 innocent Americans?

When will we ever learn?

The grief of the Virginia Tech shooting victims is matched by the grief of 90 families a day after a gunshot injury became a gun death due to homicide, suicide or an “accidental” gun discharge. This is the daily carnage and the daily news in America in spite of holidays, families pleading for common sense and brave elected leaders willing to stand up to the corporate gun lobby and demand that the devastation be, at the least, reduced and at the most prevented.

We know there is no way to stop all shootings but shouldn’t we at least try? When a public health epidemic that takes the lives of so many people every year (32,000-33,000) we always get busy to study why and then recommend changes or cures that can prevent the cause of the disease or cause of death.

In America, instead, we are making things worse by loosening gun laws at the state and federal level. Why? Good question. I don’t really believe that the gun lobby wants people to die. They couldn’t could they? They must be affected by the photos and videos of all of the shootings that take place on a regular basis everywhere.

So why do they resist gun safety reform and efforts to prevent shootings so vigorously?

It’s a question that we must ask and it needs an answer.

Following the money is one answer. Power and control is another.

Meanwhile, while we are trying to figure out how to work around the money and profits of the gun industry and the outsized power of the NRA and other organizations, mass shootings continue unabated:

Perhaps because Virginia Tech’s fatality count was so high, most of the school shootings that followed didn’t receive the attention they might have in the decade prior to the massacre.

Are these kinds of shooting becoming normalized to the public or is it they don’t want to hear about them because they feel helpless to do anything about them? They are NOT normal and we can’t let them become normal. It is simply not normal for someone to walk into a school and spray bullets around killing random, or sometimes, selected victims.

And of course, the “everyday” shootings happen without much media coverage and every day, ordinary people’s lives are changed forever. You may know some of these people. They are living close to you- in your neighborhoods and communities. They are remembering lost loved ones every day. This is not normal.

Memorials to victims have become normal. Flowers, candles, teddy bears, hearts, cards, bell ringings, stones.

Memorials sprout up all over the country. In the case of Virginia Tech it was stones. From the article in The Trace:

Without realizing it, the kids at Virginia Tech were propelled by the same instinct that leaves mourners in America’s cities searching their surroundings for a way to honor shooting victims whose deaths often go unnoticed outside their neighborhoods. In Lexington, Kentucky, last fall, high schoolers laced track shoes to a chain link fence in homage to a slain 15-year-old runner, Trinity Gay. After a homicide in New York City, lampposts sprouted roses and sidewalks glittered with liquor bottles. In Cincinnati, a menagerie of stuffed animals was deployed to guard the home of a 9-year-old. (…)

The permanent memorial was dedicated with a ceremony on August 19, 2007, four months and three days after the massacre. Thousands of people gathered on the lawn that day, sporting their Hokie colors of maroon and orange. The university president spoke. A bell tolled 32 times. Each original stone had been placed in a mahogany box with a hinged lid, like a miniature coffin. Later, the boxes would be delivered to the families of the victims.

Uma Loganathan can hardly remember the dedication; grief seems to have blurred many of her memories from that time. What she does remember is that first semicircle of stones set earnestly upon the grass, their rough edges befitting of her sorrow.

“Befitting of her sorrow”…. Can anything befit the sorrow we all feel after losing a loved one to gun violence? Or having a close call as did my friend Lori Hass, mother of a Virginia Tech survivor?

Like other survivors, I got into this GVP movement because of what happened. But that’s in the past and what we’re working for is a future where there’s less gun violence and where we’re doing more to prevent it. Our goals are to take the evidence and the policies that work and begin to apply as many as are appropriate. For example, we understand that domestic violence situations become exponentially more lethal when there’s a firearm introduced. Road rage with a firearm can turn lethal. Confrontation in the streets become lethal when there’s a firearm. Toddlers have killed more Americans than terrorists if you look at the numbers over time — all because somebody was careless and left firearms out and unsecured.

Lori Haas speaks during a vigil outside the U.S. Capitol on April 16, 2013, to remember those murdered and demand congressional action on gun legislation.

ALAMY

We want policies that make us all safer. We think domestic abusers shouldn’t have access to guns. We think that there should be a background check on all buyers — how do you stop a prohibited buyer from purchasing a gun if you don’t do a background check to figure out if he or she is prohibited? We believe that you should have to have hands-on training around concealed carry. We think there should be penalties so that gun owners must properly store and secure their firearms so that children can’t get access to them. We think there should be limitations on the type of firepower that everyday citizens can carry on our street. The efficacy of a lot of those policies have been proven in other states and those states have fewer deaths. New York’s gun death rate per 100,000 is in the low, low single digits. Virginia’s is 10.9.

It’s devastating for all of the families, me included, to relive the trauma each time another school shooting occurs. And you can’t help but relive it. What we’re also really traumatized by is the fact that someone else is now added to the club nobody wants to be in: the one where your loved one’s been shot and killed or injured. But [that] club is strong, the club is active, the club is compassionate and supportive. I know dozens of families from dozens of mass shootings. Every day we have gun violence in America, so there is a camaraderie that’s very understood by those [who have experienced it].

Ten years ago tomorrow, the feelings will re-emerge of how things went down that day ten years ago. Lori gives a very moving testimony to how one family experienced the horrendous shooting of 32.

Tomorrow will also be Easter. A stone figures prominently in the Easter story. Stones can be moved but they are hard to move and they are hard to destroy. Tombstones are made of stone for a reason. They signify a marker where a loved one is buried and they are there mostly forever. So are the memories of our lost loved ones.

Tomorrow, please remember these 32. See their photos. Say their names.

We Will Not Forget

Families have approved and released these official biographies and photos of our 32 fallen Hokies. Please join us in remembering and honoring their lives by clicking on their names or photos.

And then work with Lori Hass, Colin Goddard, Andy Goddard and the millions of us involved in preventing the next one of these shootings. Colin has been an advocate for gun violence prevention since he was shot and injured in the shooting. The film, Living for 32, features Colin’s story and his efforts to expose the lack of Brady background checks on all gun sales.

We should not have to erect stone memorials to victims. We should not have to move stones to get the attention of the public and elected leaders about our deadly gun violence epidemic. We should expect that our leaders do this without question in the name of the victims and common sense. If we are to change the conversation and change the culture, we need more than memorials, thoughts, prayers, flowers, etc.

WE NEED ACTION. Get involved in the name of the victims and just because losing 90 Americans a day to gunshot injuries is not normal and not acceptable. Let’s get to work.

 

The yin and yang of gun policy

yinJust like the current political situation has left many of us, and I would suggest, the entire country reeling in confusion and chaos, so, too, gun policy has done the same. The gun  lobby is set to overturn just about anything that makes common sense when it comes to gun policy. A bill which passed through both houses of Congress and set to be signed by our current President, undid something our last President did to try to stem the tide of gun violence. President Obama’s executive order was meant to keep people with very serious mental health disabilities from being able to legally purchase guns by placing their names on the list of prohibited purchasers in the National Instant Check System. It was not meant as an evil attempt to confiscate guns or take away anyone’s rights to own guns who should be responsible with guns.

But, as these things go, it got caught up in the politics of gun policy. I found this article by Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence to be a very good summary of the provision and where we are now. Let me quote from what he wrote for Huffington Post:

I have felt this discomfort listening to the recent public debate about the Social Security Administration (SSA) rule that prohibited those with a mental health disability and an appointed representative payee from purchasing or possessing firearms. The policy, which Congress recently voted to repeal, was the Obama administration’s effort to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for doing everything in his power to reduce America’s gun violence epidemic. Unfortunately, by focusing the prohibition directly on a mental health disability, the rule furthered the mistaken belief that mental illness is a major cause of violence. (…)  I have felt this discomfort listening to the recent public debate about the Social Security Administration (SSA) rule that prohibited those with a mental health disability and an appointed representative payee from purchasing or possessing firearms. The policy, which Congress recently voted to repeal, was the Obama administration’s effort to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for doing everything in his power to reduce America’s gun violence epidemic. Unfortunately, by focusing the prohibition directly on a mental health disability, the rule furthered the mistaken belief that mental illness is a major cause of violence.

Certainly the efforts of the gun lobby to overturn a provision meant to be life saving are fraught with the past history and statements of those in the lobby who have claimed that we ought to just center our efforts to prevent gun violence on mental illness:

Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, envisioned people with “an eating disorder” being barred from buying a gun. To the contrary, the rule was focused narrowly on disabled individuals who require a trustee for personal management. They would have had the right to appeal. Senator Grassley himself noted last year the flaws in the background check database when he proposed greater cooperation among federal agencies with relevant information.

“The Republicans are so hypocritical on this issue,” said Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. He has fought for both stronger gun controls and better mental health care in the aftermath of the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. A mentally troubled individual used a legally purchased assault weapon and shot to death 20 children and six school workers. The disability rule was a response to that tragedy after Congress refused to tighten gun safety laws.

Ah- the hypocrisy.

Sigh.

And so, this provision, though not perfect, was centered on the concerns that some people are, indeed, potentially dangerous to themselves or others. There are ways to deal with this conundrum and public health and safety concern without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Horwitz suggests Gun Violence Restraining Orders or, in Minnesota, a proposed Gun Violence Protection Order bill, to deal with concerns that family members have about a loved one who could become dangerous if they have access to a firearm.

The article ends like this:

Prohibitions on gun ownership are critically important. The United States’ gun laws include far too many loopholes that allow dangerous people to do harm. But the laws we support should be based on research and focused on dangerous behavior – not genetics, not diagnoses. If we want our movement to succeed, a data-driven strategy is the only way forward.

Yes. We have work to do. It does not have be either/or. It should be a rational discussion about how we can save lives and protect families and communities from insidious gun violence that takes the lives of 33,000 of us- most due to suicide.

All of this is the opening salvo in what will surely be attempts by the corporate gun lobby to weaken gun laws in the states and through federal legislation. We will not be safer as a result.

And that is why we need to recognize the risk of guns in the home and guns in the hands of people who could become dangerous to themselves or others. So the other side of this week’s gun policy was a Florida court decision that overturned a previous Florida court decision that allowed the bill, nicknamed “Docs vs. Glocks”, to stop physicians and healthcare providers from talking to patients about the risks of guns to their families. Just as physicians, physician assistants, nurses ask questions about whether we feel safe in our homes when going for our annual physicals, they should be able to ask about guns. They ask about smoking, alcohol use, bike helmets, stored poisons, seat belts, child car seats, and many other things that could cause harm to our health or well being.

From the above-linked article:

Stop for a moment and consider that the Second Amendment injury here lies not in the possibility that a physician can do anything to take away anyone’s gun, but in the outside chance that she will use her knowledge of actual medical evidence to suggest that guns can kill people and her patient might listen to her. This is literally an argument for a constitutional right not to learn stuff from people who know stuff because you might then feel bad about the stuff you own.

It is a fact that firearms injuries take the lives of almost as many, if not more of us than auto accidents. Domestic shootings take the lives of far too many (mostly) women. Gun suicides are a very real risk to families.

So the recent ruling was a victory for common sense and first amendment rights of those who provide healthcare to practice their profession as they were taught and as they are charged to do by their Hippocratic Oath.

Lawyers for the Brady Center were involved in this case and did a great job of defending the rights of professionals to do their jobs and to keep us safe from devastating gun violence. More toddlers have shot Americans than terrorists. Isn’t this a national public health and safety epidemic? Is there any rational reason to keep this from happening however we can?

Below is from the Brady Center’s statement, in its’ entirety,  about the ruling:

Today, in a landmark decision with national repercussions, a federal appeals court struck down an NRA-backed Florida law that restricted doctors from talking to their patients about the risks of guns. The decision by the full panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta is a victory for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Ropes & Gray, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of doctors who believed the law violated their First Amendment rights.

Wollschlaeger v. Scott was filed on June 6, 2011, challenging the Florida law, under which doctors can be censored, fined, and have their licenses to practice medicine revoked if the Florida Board of Medicine found they violated the law.

Dan Gross, President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The gun lobby and its lap dogs don’t want Americans to know the truth about the danger of guns in the home because it will hurt their bottom line. The fact is, guns are far more likely to kill a child or family member than protect them. We are pleased the Court recognized Americans have a constitutional right to hear the truth about guns, and the gun lobby has no right to silence doctors or keep patients in the dark. We will continue to work with the medical community to get the truth out, to protect American children and families from the scourge of gun violence.”

Jonathan Lowy, co-counsel in the case and Director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project, said: “Today’s ruling is an important victory for public safety and free speech rights, and a crushing defeat for the corporate gun lobby and the politicians who do its bidding. Politicians and special interest lobbies have no business standing between doctors and their patients, or keeping doctors from telling people the truth about the risks of guns or other products. Doctors have the right to decide how best to advice patients about risks that may endanger their families, and parents have a right to full information so they can make smart, informed decisions about how to keep their families safe.”

Ropes & Gray partner Doug Hallward-Driemeier said, “This decision is critical to the health and safety of Florida families. It makes clear that the First Amendment does not allow the government, on the basis of politics, to interfere with a doctor providing her best medical advice to her patient.”

Nancy Evans, Brady Campaign Sarasota Chapter president, said, “This is an incredible victory not only for Florida doctors but for our entire nation. I joined the fight a year ago because I believe our doctors should be able to have any conversations necessary to keep their patients healthy and safe. I am so thankful the court struck down this terrible law.”

The lawsuit was brought by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the firms law Ropes & Gray LLP and Astigarraga Davis, on behalf of individual Florida doctors, as well as organizations representing 11,000 Florida health care providers, including the Florida Pediatric Society/Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Chapter, and the American College of Physicians, Florida Chapter. Douglas Hallward-Driemeier of Ropes and Gray argued the case as lead counsel for the Plaintiffs.

In 2012, a trial judge in the Southern District of Florida held that the law was unconstitutional and granted a preliminary injunction. In 2014 a divided three judge panel of the 11th Circuit reversed. The full 11th Circuit heard the case en banc in 2016.

Numerous studies have proven that a gun in the home actually makes its residents less safe — 89% of unintentional shooting deaths of children occur in the home. The reality is that a gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or accidental shooting, than in self-defense. Recent research has shown that one third of all households with children under the age of 18 have a firearm, and more than 40% of these households store their guns unlocked.

So there we have it. The yin and yang of gun policy in America. I believe these opposing views of our world affect almost all of us. Who among us does not have a family member or a close friend who we feel could be, perhaps temporarily, potentially dangerous if they have access to a firearm? Who among us does not trust their physicians or healthcare providers to do what they were trained to do professionally to keep us healthy and safe?

If you want to understand the wide ranging ripple effect of gun violence and the financial, emotional and physical toll it takes on individuals, families, communities and our health care system ( which costs us all financially) take a look at this amazing story of a man who received a face transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota after attempting a gun suicide. Ironically his new face came from another young man who died from gunshot injuries in a gun suicide.

This is an emotional story at the least…. the ripple effect of gun violence.

There are no evil motives here. There are only sincere and fact-based attempts to prevent gun violence and the effects it has on our families and communities.

But we have a world where it’s us vs. them with no common sense conversation or policy in the middle. We are talking about our families and our children and grandchildren. Let’s look at what the true interests are on both sides of this issue and come down on the side of public health and safety, not profits or power.

 

 

New Years Resolutions

new-year-resolutionsHappy 2017 everyone. I have been avoiding the fact that in just  few short weeks, @realDonaldTrump will become our next President. And so I have also been avoiding other things in my life as I grapple with what is going on around me. Time has flown already since the New Year’s holiday. Family time and taking care of things for a relative who has a disability has not allowed me to think much about the new year. But I was drawn back in upon seeing some tweets and Facebook posts about shootings around the new year. It happens every year and, as I have written many times, gun violence does not take a holiday.

In spite of those facts, Congress and legislatures in many states, controlled by gun lobby lapdogs, will disappoint us with their resolutions to loosen laws that save lives and prevent shootings.

Let’s start with the Texas lawmaker who was the victim of celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve. Every year, irresponsible gun owners and carriers don’t think about the great risk to others when they decide to shoot loaded guns into the air. Bullets, as we know, have certain trajectories and so when they go up, the natural physics is that they come back down. Whoever or whatever happens to be under the trajectory will be hit.

It seems that the lawmaker is OK and luckily for him, will not suffer from a life long debilitating injury like my friend Joe Jaskolka has. In fact, he is now ready to support a law to deal with celebratory gunfire:

“If my legislation could help save a life, you know, then definitely that’s what we’re gonna be looking at doing,” the Weslaco Democrat said Monday in a phone interview from the Valley Baptist Medical Center shortly before he was released.

That’s what I’m talking about- saving a life ( or lives). Is there something bad about that?

When people are affected by gun violence, it often changes things and makes them realize that this could happen to anyone.

Common sense is what it takes to save lives and keep citizens safe from gun violence.

Some are not as lucky as this lawmaker. Take my friend Joe Jaskolka, for instance. His life has been affected greatly and negatively since a bullet landed in his head from celebratory gunfire:

I got maybe a half-block away from my Grandmother’s home before a “Celebratory bullet” pierced my skull. Better yet, when my cousin Jeff ran back in the house to report to an adult to call 911, “Joe’s just lying on the ground, everyone must have thought I was joking”, but a child with a bullet-hole in the top of his cranium, when my parents (and aunts, uncles, and fellow cousins) were all trying to figure out what happened to me, crazy scenarios started to be heard.

When police searched the rooftops in a few block radius a day later, they found over 700 spent bullets!

When everyone at the party figured out my condition, they along with the medical staff at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) must have all figured I was dead.  You know you’re a dead man when the hospital has a priest sitting with your parents in the Emergency Room to wait for bad news.

Joe was 11 when this happened. When I met him years ago at a national meeting he was sitting in a wheel chair with obvious physical disabilities. We have remained friends for years.

Real stories are worth many gun lobby myths.

Closer to home, several things happened in Minnesota. Two men from the Twin Cities area were shot behind a local Superior, Wisconsin bar. One died in the shooting and one was injured. It was not random. Most shootings are not in fact.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced rather quietly that more states were added to the list of those whose carry permits would not be reciprocated in Minnesota. Why? Not strong enough regulations in Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Now there is some common sense.

If anyone can honestly tell me that it is safe for teens under 21 and those without permits to carry will be safe on our streets, then they are not using common sense. For in Minnesota, that is what we have decided we want people to have training and have a permit and be 21. Why would we allow less than that anywhere? Follow the money and the links between the gun lobby which pushes bills to allow anyone to buy and carry guns and the gun industry profits.

And speaking of the gun industry, it looks like gun stocks are falling after the election of the gun lobby’s candidate, Donald Trump. @realDonaldTrump won’t take guns away so no worries- except that people won’t flock to gun stores to buy guns now unless they are afraid of the fear of a President who will confiscate their guns. Now what? Looser laws that will create new markets for deadly weapons.

Of course, Hillary Clinton was not going to take guns away either but the gun lobby said she was. President Obama did not take guns away but the gun lobby said he would. Don’t believe the gun lobby.

Speaking of taking guns away, Congress and the Minnesota state legislatures are back in session. The gun lobby will be busy convincing Congress and state legislators that more guns are needed by more people to keep them safe. They are wrong, according to the facts and reality. But never mind the truth. As I have written before in a previous post, up is down and black is white.

As Mark Twain once said, ” “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”” That is more true today than ever.

One of the first orders of business in the Republican led House ( aside from the insane ethics debacle) was to introduce a measure to fine any House member who live streams from the House floor. Republicans didn’t like it when Rep. John Lewis and other Democrats staged a sit-in last June to ask for a vote on background checks. Now they want to silence members who don’t share the views of the gun lobby lapdogs but rather the majority of Americans.

Shame on them. But they have no shame. They would rather punish opposing views than save lives apparently.

But thankfully there are some in Congress who are not afraid of the gun lobby. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey will re-introduce a bill to allow government agencies to do research on the public health crisis of gun violence.

We will see a lot of gun bills going both ways but the conservatives, Republican lapdogs for the gun lobby and those who are afraid to stand against that group are giddy with the idea that they can weaken gun laws and allow more dangerous behavior with guns than ever before. For the life of my sister, I can’t understand this glee at weakening laws that save lives. People will die as a result. Will that matter to these lapdogs?

Does it matter to them that one toddler a week has shot someone in 2015 and now 2016? If not, why not? Avoiding the truth means avoiding the facts that these kinds of shootings are avoidable.

Maybe if one of their own is struck down by a stray bullet or shot by a crazed or angry person or a toddler who shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place ( when it could have been prevented) one or two of them will realize how wrong they have been.

It will be a busy few months (years). Let’s hope we can keep the pressure on this issue and shed light on those who take money from the nation’s most powerful lobby- the NRA. 1Pulse4America is keeping track. It is not a pretty picture. When North Carolina Senator Burr takes over $800,000 from the NRA in “blood money” we can count on him to oppose common sense gun legislation that could save lives.

For if a legislator or Congress member is beholden to the gun lobby, we are less safe as a result.

Facts matter. Accountability matters. Lives matter more than anything else.

Happy New Year everyone. I resolve to do whatever it takes to prevent gun violence and save lives. How about you?

Conspiracies and connections

conspiracyA lunatic conspiracy theory promoted on the internet brought a North Carolina man with an AR-15 into a popular Washington DC pizza restaurant to check it out for himself. Naturally it didn’t go well.

 

 

 

Police say the conspiracy theory led to violence Sunday when a North Carolina man fired a rifle in the restaurant as he sought to investigate the accusations. No one was injured, and the man was arrested.

Flynn Jr., who has accompanied his father to presidential transition meetings inside Trump Tower and lists the presidential transition website as part of his Twitter bio, tweeted Sunday night that, “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.”

Trump’s team had no immediate response to questions about the conspiracy theory or the younger Flynn’s role in the presidential transition.

Hmmm. How is all of this connected? During the Presidential election there were more conspiracy theories appearing in fake news sights and shared on social media than in past elections. Is it a coincidence that most of them came from the right wing of our country? And is it a coincidence that some of President-elect Trump’s advisors have engaged in writing them, tweeting them, sharing them and promoting them to others?

It was just a matter of time before a lunatic with a gun would connect the dots and react to a fake news conspiracy theory. This could have been much much worse.

But what could possibly go wrong with a gun nut internet troll, a ridiculous and dangerous conspiracy theory pushed by even those in the “mainstream” and easy access to AR-15s? Let’s see what the latest is from this Washington Post article:

She understands freedom of speech, Ousmaal replied in an email, but “derogatory libelous and hateful blogs and emails should not and cannot qualify.”

The officer replied once more, suggesting she ask the other owners if they knew who was behind the “disruption.”

“I don’t have anymore options to give unfortunately,” he wrote.

Ousmaal couldn’t believe it. She feared her family or staff could be harmed.

“Literally,” she said, “death threats.”

This should not be the new normal. But I fear it is. The connection between the hateful election rhetoric, stirred up by the far right and their very own candidate and now President elect Donald Trump, is the connection. The gun lobby is connected to the far right and now to the Republican Congress and our next President. There is no mistaking that. If this is what they have in mind, get ready for a tumultuous and dangerous 4 years. It will not be pretty.

When the free press is threatened by people with guns whose anger is fomented by the man at the top and his advisors, we are not a democracy any longer. The connections are real. Subscribing to conspiracy theories is dangerous and they are not real. But when fact becomes fiction and fiction becomes fact as I wrote about in my last post, this is what we have. Is this what we want? I know I don’t and I know the majority does not. But the majority apparently didn’t care about this when voting for Donald Trump. Or did they even understand that this was the world we would inherit after Jan. 20, 2017? I doubt it.

Dana Milbank wrote this for the Washington Post this morning:

There was a time when threats against journalists, like threats of any sort of political violence, were exceedingly rare. But in Trump’s America, such threats are neither rare nor idle.

If you doubt that, consider the events in recent days at Comet Ping Pong, the family pizza place in Northwest Washington I’ve been frequenting with my daughter ever since she was a toddler a decade ago. Lately, the owner and staff at Comet — and those of other businesses on the block — have been getting death threats, spurred by radio host Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist with close ties to the president-elect. (…)

Trump is not directly responsible for every violent word or action of his followers. But he foments violence. As The Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, has noted, when Trump refers to journalists as “the lowest form of life,” “scum” and the enemy, “it is no wonder that some members of our staff [at The Post] and at other news organizations received vile insults and threats of personal harm so worrisome that extra security was required.”

Trump, during the campaign, fantasized about Clinton and her judicial nominees being assassinated. He boasted that “I bring rage out” in people, and his violent rallies proved it. Since the election, Trump has falsely accused the media of inciting violence. At his speech in Ohio last week he denounced the “dishonest” media no fewer than six times. (…)

Now we are beginning to see the consequences of the rage and paranoia Trump has encouraged: A disturbed man fires an assault weapon in a place where tots play ping-pong. The only “crime” of the owner, James Alefantis, was to be a Clinton supporter who had, the WikiLeaks hack exposed, discussed with Clinton aide John Podesta the possibility of hosting a Clinton fundraiser.

Frightening.  Dangerous.  Outrageous. Deplorable.

We are living in a new world full of guns, violence and threats by people with guns. It is not the world of our founding fathers who saw fit to add the Second Amendment to our Bill of Rights. Those founding fathers did not anticipate the types of weapons now on our streets. The connection between the meaning of the second amendment to the reality of everyday life has been hijacked by those who want profit and control.

Let’s take a look , for example, at the connection between the sale of high powered handguns and an increase in these kind of guns found at crime scenes?:

Data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and obtained by The Trace, shows a sharp uptick in the number of high-caliber guns recovered by police in just the last few years. From 2012 to 2015, the number of 9mm and .40-caliber weapons found by police at crime scenes and during investigations grew by 30 and 39 percent respectively. Those were greater increases than any other commonly recovered kind of guns. While .22s are still the second most frequently recovered pistol, the quantity of these guns confiscated by police stayed virtually flat.

Criminals are obtaining powerful, higher capacity weapons in greater numbers for the same reason as police and legal buyers, says David Hureau, a SUNY-Albany sociologist who studies the illegal firearms market.

“Demand is shifting because supply is shifting,” Hureau says. “Bigger, badder guns are just more available on the secondary market.”

If you build them, they will buy them. Did the supply come first or the demand?

Why do we need “badder” guns again? Why did the man who walked into the DC pizza restaurant need that AR-15 again? Self protection? Insurrection? Lunacy? Intolerance of others? Taking care of business himself? Taking the law into his own hands?

And do I need to mention again that these type of guns and weaponry are available to anyone who wants them because we do not require Brady background checks on all gun sales?

This is the “new normal” in America. Is this what we bargained for when we left the corporate gun lobby to write our policy laws about guns and gun violence? There is a connection between the ties of the gun industry to the gun lobby and to lapdog politicians who did and do their bidding.

We are not safer now. We ought to be scared enough to be ever vigilant and to hold our leaders responsible when we see the connections to violence perpetrated by weakening gun laws, bad policy and a gun culture that is out of control.

If a free press is threatened by our leader at the top, the outcome will not be a good one. If a restaurant owner is threatened and harassed by gun nut trolls the outcome will not be a good one. When more and more high powered guns are encouraged in more and more public places, the outcome will not be a good one.

Join me and others who are working on gun violence prevention and who will remain vigilant and active in promoting common sense.

For surely what I have written about above flies in the face of common sense and of the public good. The American people have a right to be protected from insidious and dangerous people who would do them harm based on false conspiracy theories and dangerous rhetoric from the NRA and our leaders. If our own leaders will not keep us safe from devastating shootings and violence, who will?

Thanksgiving memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it is in America.

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post election musings

3d image Tolerance issues concept word cloud backgroundWell, I am finally coming out of my post election funk- at least for a while. I was among millions who were shocked and feeling numb after the election of Donald Trump. I know I am in my own bubble as are most people. We tend to socialize and communicate with people who think like us. To say this is a game changer is putting it mildly.

I need a reset in many ways. Not only did my candidate (s) lose, but I have been dealing with a major health crisis of a close family member. So I am feeling pretty out of sorts and in a fog after last week.

All of that aside though, there are a few things I need to say.

The NRA ( and corporate gun lobby) now have a seat in the White House. They spent a lot of money to get that seat. But then again, the NRA does not represent its’ own members. It represents the gun lobby and the gun industry. 74% of NRA members believe what I believe about background checks.  But this is not about the people in spite of what Donald Trump fooled his supporters into believing. It’s about power and control and greed. Follow the money.

The gun lobby did not win everywhere they spent money, however and several gun safety reform measures left to the voters to decide, passed. Washington state,  Nevada and California passed stronger gun laws.  In Nevada a referendum requiring Brady background checks on all gun sales passed (see linked article) and a similar measure almost passed in Maine. Most of the time when voters are asked directly they want stronger gun laws. Voters are not beholden to the corporate gun lobby.

My own Congressman Rick Nolan won in spite of massive spending by the NRA against him. Others won re-election or election running unafraid of the gun lobby.

Interestingly sales of guns and ammunition started dropping right after Trump was elected. What’s that about? No more need to hate the government and be prepared to fight against it? No more need for self defense from zombies that look like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Confidence that guns will not be taken even if they wouldn’t have been anyway? No more fear of the “other”?

Never mind common sense.

Let’s look at the above linked article:

Before the election, “there was a widespread expectation that Hillary would win and some gun retailers began to stock up, expecting strong demand surge from the prospect of tightening gun control under a Hillary Clinton administration,” said Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst for Wunderlich Securites.

“Obviously, that’s not going to happen,” he said. Now that Trump will be president and Republicans will control both houses of Congress, he said demand for guns will probably drop over the next year or two.

Go figure. What’s good for the goose is evidently not so good for the gander.

So far there have been no politically motivated shootings as were threatened if Hillary Clinton won the election. I wrote about this fear in my last postBut one anti-Trump protester did issue some threatening words. This is not OK. There should be no talk about using violence and threatening to kill people over elections from either side of the issue or the aisle. In America, because of the sheer number of guns and people with guns, it could actually happen.

As much as I do not like Donald Trump, I urge people on both sides to put aside talk like this and think about their words. Words matter. Trump knows that because he used all kinds of incendiary words during the election. He made a lot of promises and stoked a lot of fear. Already, he is making noises about walking back some of his promises but the fear he stoked is now a part of our political culture in a way it never was before.

The NRA was right there with him and have been for years in spite of Trump’s support for common sense gun legislation before he became a candidate and had to curry favor with the gun lobby.

So now, Trump has joined with the corporate gun lobby in his statements during the campaign to incite fear and anger. This incendiary and fear filled language has made gun toting Americans afraid of their own shadows. This article from The Trace explains:

It was a pitch that found a welcome audience among Americans primed by years of bilious NRA rhetoric. Rage at elites has long been the crucial context for the organization’s gun rights message, the force it has used to mobilize its membership. It’s not just that gun rights must be protected, NRA leaders argue — it’s that they must be defended from political leaders and journalists who have contempt for everyday people’s values and ideas of how America should look.

“Something has gone terribly wrong in our country,” the group’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said at its 2012 annual meeting, held in St. Louis. “Almost every aspect of American freedom is in some state of decline.” The NRA alone, he declared, stood ready to lead the fight against tyranny imposed by the “global elitists and all their friends in the White House” who were conspiring to “hide the truth we all know in our gut.” Of course, LaPierre sniped, “No politician in any party will tell you that.”

Don’t trust anyone.

And since the NRA is well funded by the gun industry, they were able to spend a boat load of money in this election. More from the above article:

What has gone less noticed is how the group has succeeding in stoking populist furor that spills well beyond the people on its email list.

“Both the NRA and Trump promote a nostalgia for something that has been lost,” sociologist Scott Melzer, author of the 2012 book Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War, tells The Trace. The gun group and its candidate speak to “this white rural conservative population that feels left behind by economic shifts and cultural shifts. These changes pose a threat to their identity.”

Melzer says the NRA has figured out how to mobilize people by fostering a sense that they are threatened by outsiders. “That makes them the most effective social force in conservatism, and they’ve done so with language that Trump used,” he said. The NRA seized on this rhetoric to fuel its interest group politics.

Trump brought it to the larger arena of mainstream politics, then rode it to the Oval Office. (…)

By the Friday before the election, Clinton was considered the overwhelming favorite to win the White House. That morning, the NRA issued a familiar call to its millions of members: Vote for Trump not just to protect gun rights, but to stick it to the establishment.

Yup. The establishment. Who are they? If Donald Trump isn’t part of a certain kind of establishment, who is? Those who voted for Trump were fooled into believing lies and deceptions.

Part of my healing after the election was to spend time with fellow grievers. I knew I would find some at my church. What I found were people concerned about issues of peace and justice, the environment, racism, GLBTQ, violence, intolerance and those things Christians ( at least the ones in my church) care about. I was reassured that many groups and individuals in my church and my community are still planning to work hard to make sure hate doesn’t trump love and tolerance.

I am concerned about some local school students involved in racial slurs and hate speech. Who are the role models for our children? If we have a national bully sitting in the Oval Office, how can expect our children to aspire to better ways of doing thing and respecting their fellow students? If we have a President who surrounds himself with and listens to white nationalists and hate groups ( David Duke, KKK and others) how can we expect our kids and adults as well to respect their fellow human beings?

Calls have been made for Trump to step up to a microphone and speak to the nation to calm the unrest and intolerance. Marches and protests are taking place all over America, including in my own small city. People need to be reassured that Trump’s administration will not operate like his campaign did. If it does the country will be less safe and more unstable. That never leads to good things.

A friend in church who adopted a child from Tibet when she was a baby told me that her daughter, now a college student in Washington state, called home scared of how she would be treated. Her daughter thought maybe should buy some pepper spray for her safety since she was now fearing a backlash against students who look like her.

These are frightening times for your youth and our children. The fear extends to adults as well. We are better than this. We must be for our children and grandchildren. And when fear is felt by both sides for different reasons, it may not lead to peace and civil order. But some students are joining the protests against a Trump presidency and what it will mean for their future.

This gives me hope.

We absolutely need common sense now more than ever. Gun violence prevention groups nationally and at the state level will be fighting battles to loosen gun laws that need to be strengthened instead. People will still be shot- Republicans and Democrats alike and our national public health epidemic will not get better if we don’t take measures to stem the tide of violence. Civility does not come at the end of a gun barrel so making it easier for anyone to access guns will not result in safer and more civil communities.

The idea that armed citizens who are not trained to carry loaded guns on our streets and are barely vetted to do so should alarm us all. But in Trump country, this is what we will have. Please read this if you think we will all be safer. From the article:

Advocates analogize their preferred system of “reciprocity” to drivers’ licenses, which are issued by individual states but accepted by all 50. But this comparison elides how disparate the standards for concealed-carry licenses are from state-to-state — and the fact that, in ten states, you can carry a gun with no license at all.

It’s not clear whether a national reciprocity law would completely gut local gun restrictions. While the legislation would allow out-of-state visitors to flout local firearm laws, advocates for gun control remain hopeful that state governments would retain the power to enforce more stringent regulations on their own residents. The challenge there would be to block any workaround that might allow a New York City resident to take a trip to Virginia, secure a permit, and come home with a legal handgun in tow.

If that isn’t enough for us all to digest, think about the fact that a man who is in charge of one of our nation’s most right wing publications, Breitbart News, will be whispering into the ear of our next President. When White nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan and other alt-right and militia type groups are in charge of our country, it’s time to think about who we are as a country. Groups concerned about anti-semitic sentiments are concerned as they should be.

The Southern Poverty Law Center will be a watchdog and sounding the alarm if things go the way they are hoping it won’t. Read here:

But it’s not just sieg-heiling Nazis and cross-burning Klansmen who should trouble Americans concerned about what a Trump victory portends. It’s also the more polite, suit-wearing extremists who move in mainstream political circles and already have their nose under the Trump tent.

They’re people like Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who birthed the viciously discriminatory, unconstitutional anti-immigrant laws enacted by Arizona, Alabama and other states several years ago; and Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who is now a senior fellow at the rabidly anti-LGBT  Family Research Council. Both are reportedly serving as key members of Trump’s transition team.

As is customary, Trump has pledged to be a president “for all Americans.”

Will we have a President who stands up to hate, extremism, fear mongering, violence and intolerance?

Time will tell.

This is not the country most people voted for. Hillary won the popular vote by almost 2 million votes.

#Enough.

Gunned down in America

Super Bald Eagle Character - 2America- the land of the free and home of the brave. Also the country of guns, guns, guns. The last few weeks have given us another full frontal view of what it means to “bear arms” in a country with almost as many guns as people. So here are just a few of the things that have happened that we need to think about:

So let’s review. Fewer Americans own the majority of guns in the land of the free. People are open carrying these guns in small numbers but have managed to pass laws to allow people without proper vetting to carry guns in public. And in states where standing your ground is considered to be brave, if a shooting should happen while the “law abiding” shooter claims self defense the shooter does not have to face the usual legal process for killing someone.

More mass shootings happen in the land of the free and home of the brave than in any other country and they have increased in frequency. Some lawmakers are willing to sacrifice common sense for their adherence to a powerful gun lobby that represents a distinct minority of Americans. Follow the money. Conceal and open carry laws allow for the proliferation of guns on our streets and in our neighborhood public places. And we have learned from a study cited in an article above that people who own and carry guns do so in fear of other people. Law enforcement officers can’t tell “good guys” with guns from “bad guys” with guns. And are black men legally carrying guns more likely to be deemed “bad guys” with guns than white guys with guns? I’m just asking.

“Law abiding” gun owners are not locking their guns safely away from being stolen by those who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns. We don’t pass laws that include mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns and we have no laws requiring that guns be locked securely away from ammunition. Guns make it to the streets and the illegal market when they are stolen. Of course the fact that we allow those very same people who are deemed to be prohibited purchasers at a federally licensed firearms dealer to buy those very same guns from private sellers on-line or at gun shows and flea markets is ludicrous and dangerous.

We are free to own and carry guns in America. But we should be free from devastating gun violence as well. We don’t have to sit by and let this happen. The corporate gun lobby, through it’s lapdogs in Congress,  has suppressed research about the causes and effects of gun violence. Luckily for the brave amongst us, there are non-government researchers who are showing us the real problem with guns. They are a risk to those who own and carry them and become a risk to other innocent people as a result. We know, thanks to research and surveys done by credible sources, that fewer Americans own guns but own a lot of them on average. That being the case, how do we get our elected leaders to stop bowing to a very well funded and vocal lobby which represents mostly themselves and not average gun owners in the land of the free?

Maybe exposing their votes and their acceptance of campaign contributions from the gun lobby will help. The Brady Campaign has released a new lapdog scorecard showing who are the lapdogs for the gun lobby in Congress. Check it out. You can click on your own state and find out. The thing is, the majority of Americans, gun owners or not, and even NRA members, support strengthening our gun laws. If this is the land of the free and home of the brave, the brave need to speak out and do the right thing in the name of saving lives.

The model of fear is a bad idea when dealing with deadly weapons. Some in our country have ramped up fear of others, fear of those who don’t look like us, fear of shadows lurking in every corner awaiting a chance to get us. If you don’t believe me, you can look at this new campaign ad made by the NRA about why gun owners should fear Hillary Clinton and vote for Donald Trump. It’s another big lie but it gets people to the gun stores. Follow the money.

Fear is not a good way to make laws and change the conversation. It is counter productive and leads us to fear the wrong things. Why are we not fearful that just about anyone can gain access to a deadly weapon and carry it around in public or use it for bad intentions? Why are we not concerned that those on a no-fly list are not on the no-buy list for guns? Though not a perfect solution, it sure seems like we ought to be able to stop at least some dangerous people from being to get guns.

If you think all of this is insane, please get involved to make the changes we all deserve. That would be changes to gun laws to make them stronger so we can prevent some of the daily carnage. It also means changing the conversation to make people think twice about whether or not a gun for self defense makes sense for them. And if it does, at the least, make sure these folks have good training in using a deadly weapon designed to kill other people and have the common sense to lock up their guns unloaded to avoid stolen guns or someone, like a child or teen, accessing the gun. And make darned sure that dangerous people or those who could become dangerous to themselves or others either can’t get guns or have them removed until the danger is over or permanently, whichever happens first.

We have work to do. But we also have to counter erroneous claims by the corporate gun lobby that have become common talking points in our country. If we are the land of the free and home of the brave, we need to be brave enough to stand up for the truth and against those whose claims about freedom do not reflect reality.