Virginia Tech remembered as shootings continue in America

Virginia Tech Shooting AnniversaryTomorrow is April 16th ( one day from the late tax day deadline this year)

I want to first remember the victims of the Virginia Tech mass shooting which happened on April 16, 2007. It was the worst mass school shooting after Columbine and still remains one of our country’s deadliest mass shootings. 32 died and 17 were injured. The effects of that shooting, even 11 years later, live on for those who were there, those left behind and the entire community. Gun violence has a ripple effect. No one forgets. The corporate gun lobby wants us to forget. They are not succeeding. If anything, we are remembering more and more as more and more of these kind of shootings and every day homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings continue apace.

The young man who got his hands on a gun and shot up the Virginia Tech campus should not have had a gun and was clearly irresponsible with his gun. Not only was he irresponsible, he intentionally murdered innocent people. He was a supposed “legal” gun owner as his name was not in the FBI database flagging him as prohibited to buy a gun. It should have been but our loose gun laws allowed him to purchase that gun and kill people. Why did he want his gun? For self defense? No. To kill people.

Many gun owners are responsible with their guns and own them for hunting or sport. Many gun owners are not interested in shooting at people who they believe might do them harm because they are not paranoid. Most gun owners don’t just shoot first and ask questions later. In fact most Americans don’t do this because most Americans don’t own guns in their homes for hunting, sport or self protection. And they are more safe than those who do as it turns out.

I write all the time on this blog about the rare instances of needing a gun for self protection in your home or in public and the rare incidents of said uses of a gun. NPR posted this article a day ago about this very topic.:

The latest data show that people use guns for self-defense only rarely. According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011.

David Hemenway, who led the Harvard research, argues that the risks of owning a gun outweigh the benefits of having one in the rare case where you might need to defend yourself.

“The average person … has basically no chance in their lifetime ever to use a gun in self-defense,” he tellsHere & Now‘s Robin Young. “But … every day, they have a chance to use the gun inappropriately. They have a chance, they get angry. They get scared.”

The gun rights advocates beg to differ with little evidence or actual facts- from the article:

But the research spread by the gun lobby paints a drastically different picture of self-defense gun uses. One of the most commonly cited estimates of defensive gun uses, published in 1995 by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, concluded there are between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually.

One of the main criticisms of this estimate is that researchers can’t seem to find the people who are shot by civilians defending themselves because they don’t show up in hospital records.

“The Kleck-Gertz survey suggests that the number of DGU respondents who reported shooting their assailant was over 200,000, over twice the number of those killed or treated [for gunshots] in emergency departments,” crime prevention researcher Philip Cook wrote in the book Envisioning Criminology.

Kleck says there is no record of these gunshot victims because most instances of self-defense gun use are not reported.

Hmmmm. Really? Why not report these incidents if it is so important to you? Because they are not happening, that’s why.

“The researchers who look at [Kleck’s study] say this is just bad science,” Hemenway says. “It’s a well-known problem in epidemiology that if something’s a rare event, and you just try to ask how many people have done this, you will get incredible overestimates.”

In fact, Cook told The Washington Post that the percentage of people who told Kleck they used a gun in self-defense is similar to the percentage of Americans who said they were abducted by aliensThe Post notes that “a more reasonable estimate” of self-defense gun uses equals about 100,000 annually, according to the NCVS data.

Check out this chart from the Gun Violence Archive for facts:

You can see for yourself how often guns are used defensively and how many end up being used to kill or injure someone by comparison.  Not even close.

The NRA extremists in the form of their leaders and their minions, have ratcheted up the fear and paranoia for so many decades that they have convinced a certain segment of gun owners that they should be afraid of their own shadows. They are afraid of the wrong thing.

Three incidents from the past day or two prove my point.

 

This one involved a black teen who got lost while looking for his school. He innocently knocked on the door of the home of one of those aforementioned paranoid and racist homeowners:

A black teenager was nearly shot and killed by a racist homeowner after missing his bus and trying to ask a neighbor for directions. (…)

“I got to the house, and I knocked on the lady’s door,” Brennan told the TV station. “Then she started yelling at me and she was like, ‘Why are you trying to break into my house?’ I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High, and she kept yelling at me.”

“Then the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the gun,” the teen added. “I saw it and started to run — and that’s when I heard the gunshot.”

The shot missed the fleeing teen, and Brennan said he kept running until he found a hiding place, and that’s when he broke down crying.

His crime was being Black and lost and knocking on the wrong door, apparently. And more from the boy:

“My mom says that black boys get shot because sometimes they don’t look their age, and I don’t look my age,” he said. “I’m 14, but I don’t look 14. I’m kind of happy that, like, I didn’t become a statistic.”

He was one of the lucky ones who did not become a statistic. But way too many do.

This gun owner should be held accountable for, at the least, reckless discharge of a gun and at the most, intent to injure or kill someone. Let’s see how this one turns out.

Another teenaged Oklahoma boy did, however, become a statistic. His own father shot and killed him in his haste to shoot first and ask questions later. Without that gun in his hand, his son would be alive today. And what did he do wrong? Let’s look:

When Tony Rutherford, 47, arrived in the middle of the night, he saw his older son’s pickup truck cut across a field. It was supposed to be parked.

According to the release, Rutherford “gave chase and fired his rifle at the driver several times.”

At least one of those rounds hit the driver, who was pronounced dead at the scene. That driver, found slumped over in the driver’s seat of the pickup, was later identified as Rutherford’s 13-year-old son.

“What is unique about this case is that we have a father who thought he was protecting an older son’s property, and in fact, he shot and killed his younger son, not knowing it was his younger son,” Jennifer Brown, OSBI spokeswoman, told KOAM.

Unique? No actually, incidents like this happen often enough in America as to be of grave concern. I have written many many times in this blog about family members “accidentally” killing each other when they mistake them for someone else and don’t use an ounce of common sense.

The boy’s death was totally avoidable and senseless. How will that father be able to live with what he did?

And then there is this, all too common stupid and dangerous use of a gun- an 8 year old had a loaded gun and fired it off while walking home from school with friends!:

Detectives said the gun is legally owned by a family member of the child.

Police said that the child took the gun that morning without the owner’s knowledge, and carried it to Harper Elementary in his backpack.

Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult.

Lock up your darned guns everybody. Safe storage can save lives. Where is common sense?

Do I have to remind you all that these two gun owners were “law abiding” until suddenly they weren’t? And the parents of the 8 year old? I have no words. They were the “good guys” with guns that NRA VP Wayne LaPierre loves to talk about. As recently as the CPAC convention, mentioned in the above linked article, La Pierre was using the same old unprovable and nonsensical argument about those good guys out there with guns. And this happened just a week after the Parkland school shooting that shocked the nation and caused everyone to take a different look at the National Rifle Association. Take a look at the continuing rants of this man who represents a group that represents a very small minority of Americans- about 1.5% of us.

Wayne- we actually hate the shootings.

Gun ownership is going down. The NRA’s reputation is in the toilet. They are now part of the Mueller investigation.

What LaPierre and others sometimes talk about but don’t often do much about is that gun ownership requires not only common sense but responsibility, training, and restraint. Guns are lethal weapons designed to kill. And kill they do. They are the only product on the market not regulated for safety. There are no training requirements to own a gun and very few for carrying one in public.

We are changing the culture and the conversation more slowly than we should since the body count is increasing every year.  

Finally the messaging of the corporate gun lobby is falling apart. It’s well past time for that to happen. Just as with gay marriage, the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke and driving while drunk changed laws and the culture, so too will allowing loose gun laws to lead to a national public health and safety epidemic.

Candidates and lawmakers are now publicly stating their support for measures that will save lives and claiming their “F” rating from the NRA proudly.

Yesterday I attended my congressional district convention as a delegate. Not one of the democratic candidates running or current sitting lawmakers were against passing reasonable laws to protect our kids and communities from the devastation of gun violence. Even those in districts where many gun owners and hunters live agreed that something has to be done. I had many conversations with these leaders and candidate as did many in the room. Gun violence prevention was on the top of the list as issues of concern.

The Parkland students and students all over this country are telling lawmakers that they are no longer willing to listen to their BS representing gun lobby speak. Students and others in the Virginia, Maryland, DC area came out for a rally at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia yesterday.  They ( we) are not going away any time soon. We are more committed than ever to getting things done to save lives.

We are better than this and the public has had about #enough.

#Neveragain.

 

 

Gun lobby distractions

Motivational speechThis post has been edited to update it since it was first posted.

 

Ever since Donald Trump was elected, chaos and distractions have been the rule and the name of the “game.” Lies, tweets, providing false news stories, ignoring or denying some very real dangers to our democracy from the Russian interference in our election, National Security Advisor fired, failed immigration orders, failed health care plan, etc. Not one department or policy area has been left alone. The long tentacles of those in absolute power are reaching far and wide. Gun policy is no exception. Licking their chops, the corporate gun lobby has pursued with some success an agenda that includes getting more guns into the hands of more people in more places. On the face of it, you have to wonder why anyone would want this. It makes no common sense that as a culture and civilized society we would choose to have loaded guns everywhere carried by just about anyone.

Executive VP of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre knows the rules well. He once said this and he meant it:

No Wayne. You made up the rules. This is not how Americans want our gun culture and our gun policy to be.

It seems to be of utmost importance to a minority of Americans who make claims that the second amendment gives them a right to do whatever they want with their guns because…. inalienable rights to own a gun.

Let’s talk a minute about rights. What are they? Is the meaning of the word clear to us all? I took a look at this Wikipedia article about the word rights:

There is considerable disagreement about what is meant precisely by the term rights. It has been used by different groups and thinkers for different purposes, with different and sometimes opposing definitions, and the precise definition of this principle, beyond having something to do with normative rules of some sort or another, is controversial.

And herein lies a basic problem with the arguments over gun rights. The several sides of the issue of gun rights and gun violence prevention would meet in the middle of the issue because that is where the majority stands and has stood for decades at least. In the interest of saving lives, the two sides approach it from different angles. One side, the majority, believes that people can have rights to own their guns but those rights come with responsibilities and common sense. The other side, claiming rights to the same life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness believes that that includes owning and carrying guns in order to protect their rights and lives.

Unfortunately for the one side, gun deaths are not decreasing and instead are staying the same year to year or increasing. More guns in more places carried and owned by more people who should not have them has not made us a safer nation. Those are facts. In states with more gun ownership and weaker gun laws, gun deaths are higher than in others on average. From the report from the Violence Policy Center:

“Year after year, the evidence is clear that states with fewer guns and strong gun laws have far lower rates of gun death,” says VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “States with strong gun violence prevention laws consistently have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. In states with weak gun laws and easy availability of guns, the rates of death by gunfire are far higher.”

The nationwide gun death rate in 2014 was 10.54. The total number of Americans killed by gunfire dipped to 33,599 in 2014 from 33,636 in 2013.

America’s gun death rates — both nationwide and in the states — dwarf those of other industrialized nations. The gun death rate in the United Kingdom was 0.23 per 100,000 in 2011, and in Australia the gun death rate was 0.93 per 100,000 in 2013. (These are the most recent years for which data is available. Data for these countries is available at GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.)

State gun death rates are calculated by dividing the number of gun deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

Another report from the Violence Policy Center about the impacts of gun violence:

VPC research finds that in 2014, gun deaths even outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, motor vehicle deaths are on a steady decline thanks to proven public-health based injury prevention strategies informed by consumer product safety regulation standards designed to reduce death and injury.

To reduce the toll of gun violence in America, a similar public health approach is urgently needed. Today, guns are the only consumer products in the United States that do not have to meet federal health and safety standards. The federal government should regulate firearms for health and safety just like any other consumer product.

I met with a young man last week who had attended a meeting at which I spoke in January. He was interested in the issue of gun violence prevention from the point of view of a gun owner who agrees with background checks on all gun sales and other reasonable  measures. Several people he knows and even relatives have died in hunting accidents and gun suicides. He did not think of these as gun violence but has changed his thinking and understands that his involvement would be instructive for the cause of gun violence prevention.

On the same day as this man attended one of the Protect Minnesota trainings he also attended a conceal carry permit class. His take? He never wants to carry a gun. When the permit trainer and a lawyer explained the responsibility of a gun carrier if they decide to aim their gun at someone or actually shoot someone, he determined that that was not for him.

This gun owner does not see things as black and white but rather he sees the world from the point of view of someone who likes to hunt and own guns but understands that his rights are limited in the interest of public safety.

But some do see this as black and white and getting their way. A recent article from The Trace does a good job of outlining why the gun absolutists want to trample on the rights of the rest of us to be safe:

“We’re the Trumps,” he said. “We’re the grassroots.”

Like President Trump and his top advisor, Stephen Bannon, constitutional-carry activists are unconcerned by any wider distress their agenda may cause. Like the new White House, they see the trampling of existing norms as the removal of obstacles.

“Once you cross over this PC concept,”  Harris said, “then you have an enormous number of issues that come out of the gate.”

Those issues include the abolition of gun-free zones in schools, and deregulation of tightly controlled weapons categories, like suppressors and machine guns, which have been subject to strict laws for nearly a century. Rather than a drastic break with current public safety standards, he said, such changes would merely represent government “getting back on sound fundamental principles.”

This sums it up. Like Trump and his extreme advisors who want to disrupt just about everything our country has done or stood for in the last few decades, these gun absolutists want their way no matter what. No matter the lives lost as a result. No matter that public safety will be in danger. No matter that the majority of Americans don’t want what they want. No matter that over 32,000 Americans die every year from gunshot injuries. No matter that about 90 Americans a day die from gunshot injuries in gun suicides, homicides and “accidental” gun discharges.

No matter common sense.

This is where we are now. No compromising. No discussion. Executive orders or bills passed with no hearings, no expert testimony, no input from citizens. Just pass things and get your way no matter whose rights you trample or what process you didn’t follow.

People identified with severe mental illness and can’t manage their affairs can now purchase guns. People who don’t have permits to carry loaded guns around in public being able to carry everywhere and anywhere. Does any of this make any sense even with rights?

The answer, of course, is NO.

We are being distracted from the gun violence epidemic before us that we can actually address with strong gun policy and good research about the causes and effects of gun violence. We are being distracted by the agenda of the gun absolutists whose view of the world and the gun culture is far different from what Americans actually want and need.

Here is a great article from Peter Ambler of Americans for Responsible Solutions about the need for research and understanding the risks of owning guns:

It’s time for Congress to stop serving at the will of the gun lobby and to start providing the resources our institutions of public health need to understand our country’s gun violence epidemic so that we can do something about it.

Gun violence robs communities of their leaders, schools of their students, and families of their loved ones. We know that if we gave our scientists and researchers the opportunity, they would produce results. How much longer will we have to wait before we let them try?

That is what we should be talking about now.

With their very own nominee , Neil Gorsuch, about to take the oath of office for the next Supreme Court Justice, the gun lobby and gun abolutists must be feeling jubilant at getting their way once again. Time will tell if that works out for the absolutists.

Meanwhile, we need to work on the real problems and not the solutions looking for a problem.

We are better than this.

Let’s get to work. Join an organization that is working on gun violence prevention and gun safety reform. Listen to the facts and act when you see that your voices are not being heard. Make noise. Speak up. Stand up for the victims and their families and friends and ask your elected leaders to do the same. Ask them to hear the real stories of victims.

Just as Trump seemed to have changed his mind about his policy in Syria after seeing the photos and videos of children strangled after exposure to serin gas, show your leaders photos of those whose lives were lost to senseless gun violence. Here is my photo (of my sister who was shot in a domestic related shooting incident by her estranged husband):

photo of Barbara

 

 

Responsible gun owners?

Clipboard with Rules And Regulations Concept. 3D.All gun owners should be responsible with their deadly weapons. Unfortunately for way too many victims, they are not. With rights come responsibilities but you wouldn’t know it by the actual incidents of gun deaths and injuries. And, of course, the dangerous and false insinuations and rhetoric coming through the corporate gun lobby makes the situation worse. 

Most countries recognize the dangers and risks of guns in the home and/or carrying loaded guns around in public. As a result, there are many laws and regulations making sure that those who do get permission to buy guns know what they are doing and are not those who shouldn’t be able to come near a firearm.

And gun deaths are few and far between in countries that have strong laws and regulations.

Not so in the good old U. S. of A. Shamefully and tragically, we let just about anyone buy and carry guns. What’s the big deal right? Until suddenly it is a big deal.

Take this one example ( and it IS just one of thousands). A Portland, Maine columnist and physician was showing a teen-ager his gun and is now dead as a result of his carelessness:

Harmon, a steadfast defender of gun rights and champion of conservative viewpoints, was a longtime Maine Sunday Telegram and Press Herald editor and columnist. He worked for the newspapers for 41 years before retiring in 2011, although he continued writing a weekly column.

The teenage boy and his father, both from North Berwick, were visiting Harmon’s home at the time of the shooting, police said. Detectives said they have been cooperating with the investigation and will be undergoing more questioning on Thursday.

Harmon’s wife, Margaret Harmon, declined Thursday to discuss details of the shooting, calling it an “accidental tragedy.”

There are no accidents when it comes to gunshot injuries. Or at least they should be at a minimum instead of almost every day stories in the news. Guns are the only product on the market designed specifically to kill another human being ( or an animal). What is it that we don’t get about that in America?

Actually most people do get it and want more strong regulations on gun owners and the guns themselves. They don’t want them taken away. They just don’t want people getting shot to death.

When there are so many guns around there will be so many gun deaths and injuries. This is not rocket science. It is real and it’s common sense. In this crazy and frightening world of fake news and denial of actual facts that make a difference to our health and well being, we just can’t afford to have irresponsibility with deadly weapons.

Until we change the conversation and make it perfectly clear to anyone who walks out of a gun shop that what they do with that gun could affect their own or someone else’s life forever, there will be irresponsible behavior with guns. But then, folks who get their guns on-line or at a gun store from a private seller don’t even undergo a Brady background check, for goodness sakes.

What kind of country and what kind of communities do we want? Do we want to excuse the death of a loved one because he/she was reckless or irresponsible with a gun and just say it was an accident so never mind?

Do we want shootings in our urban neighborhoods to become normalized and pretend there is nothing we can so let’s not? I don’t think so. Check out this article about the uptick of shootings in some Chicago neighborhoods:

“We should be embarrassed as a city, every single one of us, that we’ve allowed this city to become the poster boy of violence in America,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist and pastor of a Catholic church on the South Side. “Are we just going to shake our heads and say, ‘What a terrible year in Chicago?’”

Father Pfleger, who often spars with elected officials, said he was searching for fresh ways to draw attention to the plague of gun violence. He is planning a rally on Saturday on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a downtown avenue lined with high-end shops and restaurants, that will be attended by marchers carrying two-foot-high wooden crosses bearing the names of victims. Some victims’ relatives are expected to attend.

And yet, where is the shame? Where is the embarrassment? Where is the action? Where are the responsible gun owners and elected leaders?

Where is common sense?

Responsibility means passing laws that will keep us safer from gun violence. Responsibility means stronger regulations on people who can buy and own guns. Responsibility means not letting your brother have a gun if you know he is experiencing alcoholism, severe mental illness, a marriage or relationship break-up, anger or some other problem that may cause him to use a gun to “solve” whatever it is that is bothering him. Responsibility means safely storing guns away from the hands of small children and teens. Responsibility means making sure all who carry guns in public are regulated to make sure they are not prohibited persons and properly trained to carry  deadly weapon in public. Responsibility means stopping “bad apple” gun dealers from getting away with selling guns knowingly to those who shouldn’t have them. Responsibility means asking if there is an unlocked, loaded gun where your children play. Responsibility means not handling your gun inside of your house or letting someone else who doesn’t know anything much about guns handle one in your presence. Responsibility means knowing where your gun is at all times.

I know that our next President rails at rules and regulations. But they are there for a reason. Mostly it is for the health and safety of the public. Regulations on businesses are there so we don’t get screwed. Remember the financial crisis of 2008? I do. All too well. Regulations on energy companies are there so we don’t have the kind of pollution seen in Beijing almost every day. Regulations on speed limits, seat belts, air bags and other car safety measures are there to stop and lower injuries or deaths from auto accidents. Regulations about smoking in public places are there go protect us from deadly diseases. Regulations on poisons, outlet covers, cribs, toys and other products that could harm young children are there for a reason.

Without regulations, laws and rules, it’s a free for all. Leaving it up to private industry to regulate themselves only serves their own bottom line and interests. What happens to the rest of us?

The Trace has a year-end report with some gun violence statistics that should make everyone understand that we need to do much more about our gun culture and guns in our country. This publication is responsible for a good deal of research in the area of gun violence that others cannot or are not doing. If we are to do the responsible thing and try to prevent and reduce gun deaths and injuries, these are to what we need to turn our attention. There is no denying these facts:

We’re hungry for the data that can help us better understand gun violence in America, and when we find something that informs our thinking, we are eager to share it with our readers. Here are 10 facts and figures that helped shape our reporting this year.

You can read the ten facts, including about domestic gun violence and the effect on women, the effect of shootings on black communities, many Americans falsely think background checks are required on all gun sales, why people buy guns, etc.

Unless we are allowed and/or demand to have hearings and discuss this national public health tragedy, things will not change. You may remember that some Democrats in Congress held a sit-in last June to call attention to the fact that the Republicans had not allowed discussions or votes on gun violence prevention. The result?  A lot of attention to some brave leaders who actually went against the rules in desperation to try to get some new laws and regulations.

But the Republicans ( House Speaker Paul Ryan) want to silence them and any kind of protest regarding controversial issues. Shame on them. What goes around may come around. Representative Ryan doesn’t want a vote and he doesn’t apparently want to do anything about gun violence. He is willing to silence those who do. And those who ar making noise are speaking for those who have been silenced by a gun.

These same leaders have been shamelessly blocking the usual rules in the House and Senate for the last 8 years to try to keep President Obama from governing and doing something about gun violence and a whole lot of other important issues. I guess they only like their own rules.

Surely we are better than this. If you believe as I do that no one wants to be shot or have a loved one or good friend shot to death or injured, then you ought to be making noise and not being silent or being silenced.

Let’s get to work. Lives depend on it.