A close call

close callA few weeks ago, my daughter called me late in the evening to share some text messages from parents of kids at her own children’s middle school. The messages were in regard to a possible threat by a new student at the school who had apparently told other students that he intended to bring a gun to school and shoot kids. Naturally the reaction was panic and concern. Some parents had decided not to send their kids to school the next day. I advised that parents needed to speak with the principal to insure that he had done what he needed to do to deal with the situation. He had received many phone calls that night and actually, during the day some students went to him with their concerns about the student.

This is exactly what is supposed to happen. Students need to Speak Up and tell someone that a student is talking about shooting kids. Too often students try to protect other students or just don’t tell out of fear or indifference or thinking that it won’t happen. But in most school shootings other students knew ahead of the shooting. The Brady Campaign has a Speak Up program for students to report anonymously that another student intends to shoot other kids:

Although the hotline provides the mechanism through which students can report potentially life-saving information, it is critical that students are also provided with the motivation to do so. Our comprehensive public awareness campaign works to combat destructive social norms, such as the fear of retaliation or being labeled a “snitch.” The campaign sends the powerful message that students can and should “SPEAK UP” against violence.

Let me get back to this story. The principal had phoned the parents of the boy who had made the threat and the decision was that the student would not be in school the next day.

As the incident unfolded, my daughter chose to send her kids to school but did not tell them about the incident, trying not to panic them. But once they got on the bus, this was the topic of discussion. My grandson texted my daughter to ask if she knew that a boy intended to shoot kids at the school that day and my granddaughter asked her to come and pick her up because she was going to die. Some of this can be chalked up to pre-teen and teen-aged dramatic behavior and a tendency to overreact to things. But much of it can also be chalked up to the real fear that a school shooting  could, and does, happen anywhere.

During the day, she reassured the kids that they would be OK and I even got in on a group text exchange. Eventually my daughter went to the school during a break from work and spoke with the school resource officer. That officer was there on site as were other officers just in case. She was calmed by this discussion and nothing happened that day.

But it could have. We are a family who has already lost one loved one to a shooting. This close call was more upsetting to my daughter and to me because we know how it feels to hear that a loved one has been shot.

Too many school shootings have taken innocent children from their parents leaving them living around the hole left by their deaths. Since Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and the many other school shootings, parents understand the risk is all too real.

Only in America do parents have to be regularly concerned that an actual shooting could take their children away or leave them injured or forever scarred by witnessing a shooting. We are all suffering from PTSD from all of the shootings we see directly or indirectly on news media stories.

In 68% of school shootings the shooters get their guns from home. That means keeping guns away from potential school shooters is in the hands of parents or another responsible adult.  Adults can make school shootings less likely and less frequent by thinking about what they are doing with their own guns and how they are stored. Guns are deadly weapons designed to kill.

Just a little bit of common sense can stop shootings and stop kids from getting a loaded gun to take to school. Unless we change how we talk about potential and actual threats and think differently about the risks of guns in the home, the media will continue to report on school shootings. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We are better than this. The incident I described above was of concern to my family but ended with some lessons learned. Kids can speak up, adults must listen and act, parents talk to administrators and administrators call law enforcement. Authorities and school officials did their job and students were brave enough and scared enough to know what to do. Sometimes kids are smarter than the adults.

And I will end by suggesting that all parents find out more information about the ASK campaign so they can feel comfortable asking if there are loaded, unlocked guns in the homes where their children play and hang-out. Kids are curious; just telling them to stay away from guns does not work. It’s up to the adults to be responsible. It’s easy to do and asking can save lives. Millions of our children live in homes where guns are present.

Our children are both the victims and perpetrators of avoidable shootings in numbers that should alarm us. The corporate gun lobby is not alarmed. Many in Congress are not alarmed about something that should have all hands on deck to solve a very serious public health and safety epidemic. It is “not an accident” when children and teens gain access to guns and avoidably shoot or injure other children or even adults. Or to bring a gun to school, which happens on a regular basis in America. This article from The Trace has tracked how many times children and teens brought guns to their schools:

From August through mid-June, there were at least 269 incidents in which elementary, middle, and high school students were caught with guns on school grounds. That figure is an update to the March tally of 185 such incidents in the first five months of the school year. (Some incidents involved multiple students and multiple guns.)

In 2016, 269 incidents of kids bringing guns to school and this does not include any intentional school shootings:

Swanson, like many other gun safety advocates and researchers, believes government policy should focus on addressing Americans’ easy access to guns. Preventing tragedies like Sandy Hook requires more than expanding resources for mental health, he said ― the U.S. needs more laws restricting guns in households that include “at-risk” individuals. Swanson cited Lanza, who used his mother’s guns to carry out his attack, as an example of why this matters.

“A law like that would allow police officers to take away some of these guns,” Swanson said. “We shouldn’t have to live in a society where people have such easy access to such an efficient killing machine.”

Yet gun violence prevention efforts will likely encounter even more resistance under the incoming Donald Trump administration, with its close ties to the National Rifle Association, the most influential gun lobby in the country.

The NRA was Trump’s largest outside financial backer during the 2016 presidential race, spending more than $30 million to help his campaign.

“[The NRA] is going to expect something in return for that investment,” Watts said. “They’re going to have a champion in the White House.”

I referred to the Children’s Firearms Safety Alliance in my last post and I will refer to it again. From the site:

AS OF MAY 10, 2017, THIS YEAR:
37 KIDS KILLED
68 KIDS INJURED
5 ADULTS INJURED
1 ADULT KILLED

2016 TOTALS:
121 KIDS KILLED
176 KIDS INJURED
21 ADULTS SHOT….ALL BY KIDS

There are far too many close calls with guns involving children and teens. And there are far too many actual shooting incidents involving our children and teens.

The real tragedy here is that too many in Congress, and now our very own President, don’t care about the children. That is an American tragedy.

Follow the money. Money and power over our children.

Children go to school to learn, form relationships with other children, participate in enriching activities and to become responsible future adults. They should not have to be concerned for their own safety or that another student threatens to bring a gun to school to shoot them. Children are anxious enough about far too many things. This should not be one of them.

Who is protecting our children?

Keeping our kids safe is the primary job of parents and other adults. It’s one of the primary jobs of our elected leaders as well. If it isn’t, shame on them all.

It’s past time to step up and do the right thing.

Happy April Fools’ Day- Hypocrisy as far as the eye can see

Cure for Hypocrisy - Blister Pack of Pills.It’s April Fools’ Day. Let’s not be fooled by the corporate gun lobby. They have fooled our nation and our nation’s elected leaders for far too long.

Yes, guns do contribute to our economy, no question about that. This article reveals some very large profits for the gun lobby’s most profitable group- the NRA. They also contribute to deaths and injuries- many of which are avoidable. And that is no joke. There is, as it turns out, a lot of hypocrisy that comes with the money and power of the corporate gun lobby. Is there a cure for that hypocrisy? Action, changing the conversation, making sure our elected leaders are dealing with facts, organizing the public who is already in favor of doing something about gun violence and much more.

Money buys power and influence. When it comes to the gun lobby, the big money is there to stop reasonable measures to prevent gun deaths. Even common sense measures that won’t affect their own members are resisted fiercely. The majority of Americans and even gun owners agree that we should, at the least, support requiring background checks on all gun sales. But that, of course, won’t prevent all gun deaths. That is understood.

But some common sense about the risks of guns in the home would lead to fewer gun deaths. The gun lobby does not adequately address the risks and instead pushes for more people to own guns and have them at home, loaded and ready for whatever action people mistakenly believe might lead them to have to shoot someone. Instead, those very guns are used to kill someone in the home in a domestic homicide, or a child who finds a gun and shoots him/herself or someone else or a teen who is distraught and has a bad day, or an adult with severe mental illness whose actions may be suicidal. The list goes on an on and so does the carnage from guns.

Let’s take a look at the hypocrisy pushed by this well funded gun lobby. In Florida, the same state pushing for guns on campus and K12 schools to supposedly make students safer, there is an outcry over requiring helmets for girls’ LaCrosse team members. From the linked article above:

Boys’ lacrosse teams nationwide have worn hard-shell helmets for many years. Girls, who play by vastly different rules that generally forbid contact, have historically spurned most protective gear. In Florida, where lacrosse is a new sport, state officials instead reasoned that all lacrosse players are at risk for head trauma and defied the sport’s traditionalists by mandating a soft form of headgear for everyone in a girls’ lacrosse game or practice. (Goalies in girls’ lacrosse have worn helmets for several decades.)

But in a volatile example of how thorny and tangled the debate can become as communities nationwide implement new rules to protect the brains of young athletes, Florida’s mandate has created a combative firestorm that has reverberated across the country. (…) But proponents of the rule point to data that shows that girls’ lacrosse has the fifth-highest rate of concussions in high school sports — only football, ice hockey, boys’ lacrosse and girls’ soccer rank higher. As the Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors was deliberating on whether to approve headgear, it heard emotional testimony from a mother whose daughter had sustained a devastating head injury while playing lacrosse.

OK. I guess everything has two sides. But it is in the interest of safety for our kids that these proposals are made in the first place- not to harm anyone or make things difficult. My son played LaCrosse as a club sport while in college. Helmets were required. There was no questioning whether or not players should wear them. LaCrosse is a contact sports with injuries coming with the game. My son once had an injury that sidelined him for a month- not to his head, thankfully.

But back to the gun lobby push for more guns where kids and teens live, hang out or go to school…..

According to this article, 20 children ( up to age 18) a day are hospitalized for gunshot injuries. About 8 of these die every day from intentional or unintentional injuries.

How many kids and teens are hospitalized every day from sports injuries? It turns out, according to this article- about 8000- a significant number.  We all know that traumatic brain injuries from concussions are a real concern for both kids and adults when it comes to sports injuries. A lot of attention is paid to this issue and in fact, one promising NFL player has announced that he is leaving the game because of fear of permanent disabilities from potential head injuries. This is serious stuff and we owe it to our children to pay attention and keep them as safe as possible while playing sports.

How many kids and teens die from sports injuries every year? It looks like 39 in 2011 according to this article. So many more kids and teens suffer from sports related injuries than from gunshot injuries. But guns are lethal weapons and they actually kill many many more children per year than sports injuries. About 2920 or close to 3000 kids and teens die every year from gunshot injuries.

What are we doing about sports injuries? Making sure kids wear the proper protective gear. Examining the rules of the games to keep kids from hurting each other such as no checking from behind in hockey which has caused a good number of terrible injuries ( one recent one right here in Minnesota). Also coaches receive a lot of training about injuries and rules of the games to make sure kids are safe.

What are we doing about gun injuries and deaths? Good question. Gunshot injuries take the lives of thousands. And yet, we sit in the stands and watch instead of cheering for preventive measures. The gun lobby should not be the loudest voice in the arena of gun safety reform and gun violence prevention.

What is the cure for the hypocrisy? One obvious one is to keep kids and teens from easy access to guns in homes and on our streets. Gun suicides account for the majority of gun deaths and teens are among the highest age group for death by gun suicide. From another article about teens and suicide:

Twelve or more U.S. case control studies have compared individuals who died by suicide with those who did not and found those dying by suicide were more likely to live in homes with guns.

For example, Brent and colleagues studied three groups of adolescents: 47 suicide decedents, 47 inpatient attempters, and 47 psychiatric inpatients who had never attempted suicide. Those who died by suicide were twice as likely to have a gun at home than either of the other two groups:

                                    Adolescent                 Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatients
                                    Suicides                    Attempters            Non-attempters
Firearm in home:            72%                              37%                        38%

And further, from the article:

Ecologic studies that compare states with high gun ownership levels to those with low gun ownership levels find that in the U.S., where there are more guns, there are more suicides. The higher suicide rates result from higher firearm suicides; the non-firearm suicide rate is about equal across states.

For example, one study (Miller 2007) used survey-based measures of state household firearm ownership (from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) while controlling for state-level measures of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and other factors associated with suicide. The study found that males and females and people of all age groups were at higher risk for suicide if they lived in a state with high firearm prevalence. This is perhaps most concrete when looking not at rates or regression results but at raw numbers. The authors compared the 40 million people who live in the states with the lowest firearm prevalence (HI, MA, RI, NJ, CT, NY) to about the same number living in the states with the highest firearm prevalence (WY, SD, AK, WV, MT, AR, MS, ID, ND, AL, KY, WI, LA, TN, UT). Overall suicides were almost twice as high in the high-gun states, even though non-firearm suicides were about equal.

I don’t know about you, but there is pretty strong evidence that restricting access to guns by kids and teens can save lives. Another cause of gun death is young children shooting themselves or others after gaining access to guns. This appears to be happening on a more regular basis all over our country. Either that, or the media is reporting on what’s happening out there so we are aware. It’s pretty sobering to see the actual numbers of incidents. A study by Everytown for Gun Safety  has collected data and revealed the problem quite graphically:

About a third of American children live in homes with firearms, and of these households, 43 percent contain at least one unlocked firearm. Thirteen percent of households with guns contain at least one firearm that is unlocked and loaded or stored with ammunition.6 In all, more than two million American children live in homes with unsecured guns — and 1.7 million live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked.7 Children in these homes are at elevated risk of being injured or killed in unintentional shootings.8 Studies have shown that a majority of unintentional gun deaths of children occur in the home, and that the highest numbers of unintentional child shootings take place in the late afternoon hours, when children are home from school but their parents may still be working.9 Parents underestimate the extent to which their children know where their household guns are stored and the frequency with which children handle household guns unsupervised. A Harvard survey of children in gun-owning households found that more than 70 percent of children under age 10 knew where their parents stored their guns — even when they were hidden — and 36 percent of the children reported handling the weapons. Thirty nine percent of parents who thought their child was unaware of the location of the household’s gun were contradicted by their children, and one of every five parents who believed their child had not handled the gun was mistaken.10

I don’t know about you but this seems like strong evidence that restricting access to young children by gun owners will save lives. We need much more discussion about this. In Texas, after a rash of child gun deaths due to easy access, this article was written:

This should never, ever happen. There are some simple gun-storage rules that, if followed, would all but eliminate the risk of unintentional child shooting deaths in this country. If the gun is loaded, it should be on your person. Otherwise, it should be in a gun safe. It is never OK to leave a loaded gun on a table, or under a bed, or on a high shelf, and simply assume that your kids won’t find it, or that they know better than to touch it if they do. That’s not just bad parenting; that’s willful self-delusion. Anyone who has ever spent more than three minutes around kids knows that kids don’t know better, about anything. They lack the self-control, life experience, and emotional maturity to reliably stop themselves from making bad decisions.

Parents should know better. And when they don’t—where gun storage is concerned—they should be held responsible. Some states agree. According to the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 28 states (plus D.C.) have passed child access prevention laws (known as CAP laws), which make it a crime to store firearms in a way that makes them readily accessible to children. While there isn’t much data to draw from, the data that exist suggest that strong CAP laws correlate with declines in child-shooting deaths in those jurisdictions.

“Houston, we have a problem.” I could write reams about this and should. We should all be focusing our attention on this national epidemic as well as sports related injuries. Let’s do what makes the most common sense and make sure guns are stored safely away from the hands of children and teens and ammunition is stored in a separate place from the guns. Why don’t we? Good question. Too many people purchase guns for self defense and don’t have any training about how to use or store them. The gun lobby promotes guns for everyone everywhere. When that is the national gun culture, we will continue to see children and teens dying needlessly from avoidable and preventable gun deaths. Until we adequately address the actual risks of guns in homes, we won’t be doing enough to protect our children and teens from avoidable deaths and injuries.

This is insanity. We can do something about this but we don’t. Why? The national gun lobby has undue influence on our culture and our elected leaders. For years, theirs is the mantra we hear. “More guns make us safer” or “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.” These things don’t make any sense given the actual numbers of gun deaths and injuries and proof that in states with high gun ownership, both gun suicides and homicides are greater than states that have strong gun laws and fewer guns. The proof is there.

But what we get from the corporate gun lobby is proposals like these:

In Alabama- allowing kids under 18 to own and carry guns.

In Illinois- teaching young kids to shoot guns at a gun range.

In many states- pushing guns in schools and college campuses

North Dakota and Montana have rejected the guns in schools idea showing some resistance to ideas that make no common sense given the actual facts of the matter. I wrote in my latest post about what a Michigan school district has concocted to deal with an armed visitor to a school.

Here is one common sense measure that everyone with kids and grandchildren can take- ask if there are guns in the homes where kids play( ASK campaign). One mother wrote this about the ask:

That question I would ask over and over, “do you keep guns?” ended some friendships before they ever began. A couple of old friends were motivated to buy gun safes. It was as if the possibility of something bad happening had never occurred to them before the question was asked. Parents believe that because they have told their child not to touch a gun, that they won’t. But studies say that simply isn’t true.

Once, when Chloe was in second grade, a mother called me apologizing before I could even get out hello. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “Alex would never harm Chloe, I just want you to know.” I had no idea what she was talking about. But it turned out that her son, Alex, had been teasing another girl in the class, and Chloe had told him to stop. “I’m going to shoot you dead,” 8-year-old Alex had said. “I know where my grandfather keeps his gun, I’m going to bring his gun to school tomorrow and kill you.” Chloe had come home and never mentioned it to me, but she had ratted Alex out to her teacher, who had mentioned it to the mom. The school never called me.

Another is to take a public health approach to gun safety reform. This gun owner has some good advice when it comes to that- do what the NRA did- change the conversation but change it back to making this about public health and safety as it should be. From the article:

At the same time that public health researchers argue that the risks of guns outweighs the benefits, the NRA pushes the opposite point of view.  And while research clearly supports the public health position on gun risk, the NRA continues to use a bogus telephone surveyby Gary Kleck and some thoroughly-discredited statistical nonsense from John Lott to sell the idea that guns are essential tools  in protecting us from crime. Using the fear of crime as a justification for guns is a master stroke of marketing because a majority of Americans now agree with the pro-gun point of view.

Know why the NRA and its allies have been so successful selling the positive utility of guns?  Because they have adopted a public health strategy for convincing the public and the lawmakers that what they are saying is true. First, identify the disease, which in this case is harm caused by crime.  Then identify how the disease is spread, in this case contact with a criminal.  Now develop a vaccine, i.e., the gun, and immunize as many as people as possible with concealed carry, now legal in all 50 states.

The problem in trying to sell the public health solution to any medical problem, as David Hemenway reminds us, is that unlike medicine, “the focus of public health is not on cure, but on prevention.” This usually requires a long, comprehensive strategy combining research, education and laws. Recognizing that most people aren’t usually responsive to solutions which don’t immediately work, the NRA has fast-tracked the process. The real problem in the gun debate is that the side which is totally resistant to an honest, public health approach to guns has shown itself remarkably adept at turning that same approach on its head and getting exactly what it wants.

Mike is right. It’s time to turn the conversation in the right direction. Gun rights and gun safety reform are not mutually exclusive. Don’t be fooled into thinking so. Even though the corporate gun lobby tries to make us believe the opposite, don’t believe it. Evidence comes down on the side of public safety and common sense. Please join me in changing the conversation and changing gun laws to make our communities safe from the devastation of gun violence that affects far too many. If we can pass laws about LaCrosse helmets and rules about checking from behind, we can pass reasonable gun laws for our own good, safety and health.

Gun deaths and injuries are nothing to fool around about.