Carnage in Minnesota

Bloodshed Word Represents Wordclouds Bloodletting And FightingThis past week-end was a stunning example of our urban gun violence epidemic. It happened in Minneapolis and St. Paul where 17 people were shot and 2 of them died of their gunshot injuries.:

 

 

So far this year, 229 people have been struck by gunfire citywide — roughly 21 percent fewer than this time last year — most on the North Side. If the pace continues, Minneapolis will log 283 shootings this year.

Many of the assaults have been attributed to gang disputes.

In 2016, Minneapolis had 341 gunshot victims, after averaging 243 per year over the previous decade, according to department figures. The number of juvenile gunshot victims has also risen in each of the past five years. Four of the 14 people shot in Minneapolis last week were 18 or younger.

Meanwhile, on a national level shootings continue unabated. Check out the Gun Violence Archive’s latest information.

2545 Americans have been shot since the Las Vegas massacre according to the Gun Violence Archive.

As with other causes of death, injury or illness, we must deal with the evidence and the facts in order to understand what is happening. In Minnesota the facts are that urban gun violence is killing and injuring too many people.

Sigh.

772 have been killed.

Sigh.

Why does this carnage not get the attention it deserves? Simple- the NRA and corporate gun lobby are extremist organizations that have a hold on our country and our leaders. Why in the world our leaders are afraid of a distinct minority of Americans is not a puzzle. Follow the money. Follow the influence.

But the puzzle is solvable.

Corporations, including that of the corporate gun lobby, are in control of our Democracy. They are eroding our freedoms, our dignity, our rights to be safe and to solve the most important problems facing us as a country. As long as we continue to elect people who are beholden to these minority interests, we will contribute to the demise of the country our founders envisioned.

And those very people who are beholden and who influence our leaders blame everything on gangs. Yes, gangs are responsible for much of our urban gun violence. And black men account for 50% of homicide victims according to this 2015 report from The Trace. I recommend reading the linked article for other statistics about gun violence in the year 2015 since it addresses the issues I have mentioned as concerns and puzzles that we can solve if we make some new laws, improve old laws and change the culture and the conversation around gun violence in America.

But to just cast blame and then claim that their lives don’t matter is cynical and mean. Much of the urban gun violence is due to gang activity. It is among people who know each other for the most part except when an innocent person gets caught in the crossfire like the Birdell Beeks whose daughter I have come to know.

Domestic violence is also in urban areas as are suicides. Children find guns they shouldn’t find in urban areas as well as rural areas.

The bottom line is the easy access to guns. That we can change by changing the conversation, getting involved with efforts to intervene in urban areas by offering services that will help our youth get out of poverty, make sure they have access to health care, education and other basic needs and to interrupt the cycle of violence.

And we can pass stronger laws to make sure all gun sales have a background check, to strengthen straw purchasing, stolen guns and trafficking laws and Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

Finally we can and should elect politicians who actually care about public safety and saving lives lost to gun violence. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American public health epidemic being ignored by our leaders.

Make the gun issue one of your issues. Demand answers from candidates about what they will do to prevent some of the gun violence in America. Don’t let them hide behind the second amendment. This is not about the second amendment and gun rights. This is about the rights of Americans to live free of insidious and devastating gun violence that affects dozens of families every day and it comes as a total shock.

After the Las Vegas shooting it should be a no brainer to do something about the carnage. If candidates avoid the issue, you will have your answer. Vote for the other person or persist in asking the question. What will he/she do about urban gun violence? What will he/she do about gun suicides? What will he/she do about small children getting access to guns and shooting themselves or others? What will he/she do about stolen guns that contribute to crimes and violence? What will he/she do about easy access to guns on our streets? What will he/she do about assault weapons? What will he/she do about high capacity magazines and accessories like silencers and bump fire stocks?

And then expect answers.

Gun violence is destructive to families and communities. People should be able to sit in their cars, walk in the streets, go to work and school, play on playgrounds, go to public places and be in their homes without encountering bullets.

It wouldn’t take too much common sense to change things. The current atmosphere, however, is far from common sense.

As a country, we are better than this.

 

 

 

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.

Halloween frights, elections and violence

skullHalloween is upon us. And it’s scary out there. In a few days, kids will be going door to door and hoping for lots of candy in their bags. Older kids like to scare people with their costumes and haunted houses and other haunted things are scaring people. This “older kid” was asked to remove his mask of a face with President Obama with a noose around his neck.He was attending a football game at the University of Wisconsin. Not funny. Scary and intimidating. We know what he meant.

Last night we were at a movie theater which is near a haunted ore boat that dresses up every year with all kinds of haunting music and displays of “brains”, “eyeballs” and other such scares inside. It is very popular with residents and visitors alike.

I am not so scared of things like that though I don’t particularly enjoy these kind of displays. I’m afraid of some of my fellow Americans. It’s just not funny or clever when hateful people display inappropriate halloween displays that mean something other than they look. Or maybe they do look exactly as intended.  A Florida resident got himself into some trouble by hanging 2 dummies from a tree:

There needs to be a hell of a lot of hate in your heart to think lynching people on Halloween is funny. And yet, here we are, Miami. A homeowner in Three Lakes, a small community in suburban Kendall, is celebrating the holiday by lynching two black-looking dummies in his or her yard. It’s also impossible to ignore what’s just in front of the display on the same lawn: A “Trump/Pence 2016” sign.

The Trump sign just seems to go with the display doesn’t it? Donald Trump is one scary man whose frightening rhetoric has reduced our election to its’ lowest point in decades.

I think it’s safe to say that this has been one of the craziest and mind blowing elections in modern memory. With 10 days to go, “bombs” are exploding all over the place with misinformation and total melt-down of some in the media and most on the Republican side of the aisle over a report issued by FBI Director James Comey.  Reasonable people can argue about this but there are also facts. The scary thing is that Trump and his GOP buddies are distorting it out of all proportion and as we learn more we learn how wrong they have been. It’s downright scary that a lie can travel this quickly and that this late election cycle report happened in the first place.

But there are a lot more scary things going on this election season.

Trump says the election will be rigged with no evidence to support the allegations. This has led to some of his supporters believing they can resort to violence if their candidate doesn’t win. Or, as an aside, actual voter fraud by Trump supporters. An Iowa Republican voter tried to vote twice, fearing that her first vote would not be counted. She was arrested for fraud. Now that is a rigged election.

But back to the potential for violence in this election. Some Americans are talking about taking up arms on election day and the day after they will start the revolution. And with so many militia and other hate groups already formed, that is certainly a possibility.

Americans in general are heavily armed with some owning arsenals:

Overall, Americans own an estimated 265 million guns – more than one gun for every American adult, according to the study by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities. Half of those guns – 133 million – were in the hands of just 3% of American adults, so-called “super owners” who possessed an average of 17 guns each, it showed.

It is not difficult to imagine that those with hyped up fear of their own government are ready to fight against it or start a revolution when they don’t believe in the results of a democratic election. The corporate gun lobby has promoted this kind of fear and paranoia for years. And, militia groups and hate groups are at an all time high.

 

Former Illinois Representative Joe Walsh, not known for his subtlety or  common sense, said this past week that he would be taking up his musket the day after the election if Hillary Clinton wins. He tried to excuse his hyperbolic and threatening comments by saying this:

The former Illinois congressman said he’s used the phrase “grab your musket” multiple times over the past several years but never meant that Donald Trump supporters should literally reach for their firearms.
“If I wanted people to take up arms, why would I recommend people take up an antique like a musket?” Walsh asked. “That’s just silly.”
We know what he meant. It was a not so subtle suggestion that he would take up arms and that he wanted others to do the same. There are no excuses for this kind of talk during an election. I wonder how closely he will be watched by law enforcement authorities? I’m just saying.

I’m pretty sure this kind of public talk about violence and taking up arms during and after a democratic American election is not a first but its’ frequency and boldness is. And it has never been promoted by a major party candidate for President before. But Trump is no ordinary candidate.

Which came first, Donald Trump’s paranoid and frightening rhetoric or the rhetoric of his supporters, some of them white supremacists and racists?   What we are now seeing is encouragement of these types of groups and sentiments rising to the surface. It’s an ugly side of America that has the rest of the world worried. Other countries have seen the result of these kind of dangerous despots and “patriots”.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, militia and insurrectionist groups are on the rise. Check out the hate map on their site. 894 hate groups are living amongst us. Just last week I came across this article about a group of folks fomenting fear and possible violence in my own state of Minnesota:

“Are you prepared?” Guandolo called out. “Are you prepared for the two or three dozen jihadis in, pick a city in Minnesota, with mortars or shoulder-fired rockets? You don’t think they can get those in the United States?”

North and central Minnesota have become fertile ground for traveling speakers who have built national careers spreading alarm about the danger they say Islam poses inside U.S. borders. At dozens of rural churches and schools, speakers have warned crowds about refugees and called on them to be prepared to oppose Muslims in Minnesota. This comes at a time of mounting political tension over immigration ahead of the contentious presidential election.

Thanks to Donald Trump, the anti-Muslim fear has risen to the surface and been exaggerated to the point of possible violence.  And more, from the article:

“Islam is not a religion,” he said, highlighting one of his frequent talking points. “It’s a savage cult. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for a Muslim to practice Islam in America.”

Dakdok argues for the mass deportation of Muslims from the United States. He wears a Donald Trump pin on his suit jacket. He warns of the end times.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Guandolo often works with ACT!, which they call the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.

Dakdok holds the bulk of his Minnesota events in small northern towns — places with few, if any Muslims. So does Guandolo, and he said that’s intentional. The Twin Cities, he told the Warroad crowd, are overrun with Muslims.

Where is common sense? Why do Americans believe such hyperbole and fear? Without proselytizers like Trump and Dakdok, this would not bubble to the surface but be held at bey by those with integrity and the best interests of our democracy in their hearts and minds. But when hatred and venom against and fear of someone who could become the first  woman President in a free and fair election take over hearts and minds, this is what some believe is justified. From the linked article by above: by Bill Moyers:

A Democrat running for president is going to be smeared by the Republicans. This goes without saying. But a Democratic woman running for president gets extra layers of smear, though the smear required new material to work with. Clinton could still be viewedfavorably when she ran for the presidential nomination in 2007-08 — consistent, overall, with how she was viewed during the more than two decades between 1992 and 2014. Benghazi and emails were not yet in the picture. Now, should Clinton get to the White House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) will be ready: He’s sharpening his pencils and knives, planning “years” of hearings on Clinton depredations. (…)  So much for the traditional political niceties. I suppose it’s remotely possible that a male potential president would be treated this way — but none has been. Ever.

Moyers is right. No male candidate has been treated to the abuse that Hillary Clinton has endured. President Obama was certainly treated to racism and a fear of our first Black President in addition to the decision by Republican leadership to refuse to work with him. We will look back on this time period in our history and hang our heads in shame.

Its no secret that I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I agree with her policy statements and her embrace of the gun violence issue to represent the majority of Americans who want stronger gun laws. I find what is happening now about Wikileaks and James Comey’s letter to Congress to be frightening for our democracy. This Washington Post article gets to the core of why the email “scandal” should be an eye opener to all of us and not because of anything Hillary did wrong but because of an invasion of privacy that could affect all of us. From the article:

A question we need to ask is why the leaked emails have been embraced as acceptable contributions to public discourse, rather than shunned as stolen property, and what this means for how we think about politics and privacy. Richard Nixon faced impeachment as a result of his coverup of the Watergate break-in, a parallel attempt to steal private communications from an opponent’s campaign. Somehow, a physical break-in sparks visceral repugnance in a way that hacking into computer accounts does not. That should give us all pause, because it is a testament to a frightening new reality: That communication technology has steadily amplified the breakdown in the line between public and private. Without a zone of privacy in which we can talk freely to those who are close to us, no one is safe. That’s the sense in which WikiLeaks is a threat not only to the presidential campaign of a particular candidate, but to us all.

I get this one. My computer has been hacked and there are people in the gun rights community who hate what I write and stand for. Some years ago, one of them threatened to post my home address. Someone tried to take over my blog as well. And I have been on the receiving end of some not so subtle comments intimating violence and threats. Many people working on gun violence prevention have had this experience. Why? Take a guess. This kind of invasion of privacy and intimidation is scary. There are actual trolls out there waiting to do harm and not just on Halloween.

Social media has made all of this even scarier. There are obvious benefits to the use of social media and email to organize people and voters. But when it is used to intimidate and interfere with free and fair elections, that is scary.

And speaking of scary, some elementary school polling places have canceled classes on election day because of fear of violence and whatever the far right element of our country have in mind for the day. Our kids and teachers should not have to be scared on election day. That is for third world un-democratized countries.

And speaking of third world countries, some Americans have given notice that the revolution will begin if the vastly under qualified Donald Trump does not win. You can’t make this stuff up. But here, from the above linked article:

Jared Halbrook, 25, of Green Bay, Wis., said that if Mr. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton, which he worried would happen through a stolen election, it could lead to “another Revolutionary War.”

“People are going to march on the capitols,” said Mr. Halbrook, who works at a call center. “They’re going to do whatever needs to be done to get her out of office, because she does not belong there.”

“If push comes to shove,” he added, and Mrs. Clinton “has to go by any means necessary, it will be done.” (…)

 

No question about what Mr. Halbrook means here. These are the guys with the guns talking  big and making threats. Their fear and paranoia, stoked by the NRA and the corporate gun lobby and now their very own candidate Donald Trump, have taken over any reasonable thinking about the issues of the country and what democracy means. It’s frightening stuff at the least.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We are a democracy. Power is passed from one party and one President to another without violence or threats of violence. It has been since the birth of our democracy. What makes the people whose thoughts are so contorted believe that democracy includes this kind of violence? What makes them believe that our democratic election will be rigged causing them to want to overthrow the results? We know the answer to that. Donald Trump. His suggestions about voter intimidation and suppression have now been legally challenged by the Democratic National Committee.  This is not what we do in a democracy. Why do they believe they can get away with this?

Arrogance? Fear? Ignorance? Paranoia? Desperation?

On this Halloween eve, let us all hope for non-violence and common sense. Working together towards peaceful and reasonable solutions is the way to solve our nation’s most pressing problems. We have been treated to some pretty scary tricks during this election season. Violent solutions would be frightening to say the least.

We are better than this.

This election can’t be over soon enough. But even after it is over, I am scared that threats against our first woman President and total obstruction to her agenda will lead to an inability to work together and make our country worse.

I want my country back.

After publishing this post, I ran across this amazing song written by Sara Barreilles and Leslie Odom, Jr. for This American Life. Please watch and listen:

Under the gun- getting our heads out of the sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guns for terrorists, lies and elections

pinocchioThis post has been edited since first posted to include new information.

It’s no surprise that we are in the middle of the 2016 Presidential election. Candidates are posturing about all issues before them but in light of the Paris terror attack, the rhetoric has become hysterical and downright deceptive. The lying is absolutely stunning to me and the fact that Americans are buying it is what I am truly afraid of. When Donald Trump can drum up the fear and anger of Americans to get elected, we have a serious problem that we should all fear. How can we believe someone who claims that there were people in New Jersey who cheered when the Twin Towers collapsed? This claim received a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact. 

When we elect a President, among other things, truthfulness should be at the top of the list. This person will be the leader of the free world that is now more dangerous and complicated than ever.

One area of discussion that most of the Republican candidates don’t want to have is the ability of terrorists to be able to legally buy guns in America from licensed firearms dealers. An article from Media Matters sums it up nicely: 

NRA: Rep. King “Is Pushing A Scheme To Deny Your Second Amendment Rights” With Terror Watch List Legislation. The NRA’s online magazine America’s 1st Freedom misidentified Rep. King as a Democrat in an article opposing the legislation, writing, “Amid the horror and outrage over last week’s Paris terrorist attacks, on the pretext of stopping terrorism, New York Democrat Congressman Pete King is pushing a scheme to deny your Second Amendment rights — and deny your right to due process in the bargain — by banning firearm sales to anyone on the FBI’s so-called Terrorist Watch List.” [America’s 1st Freedom, 11/20/15]

Anyone can get a gun through a private sale with no Brady background check. So the argument that terrorists will just get their guns somewhere else is true but ludicrous. We can prevent that as well as most Americans understand and want us to do.

And let’s get this straight. Republican Congressman Peter King is pushing for a bill that would keep terrorists from having guns. He’s not a Democrat. Are the people who write this stuff ignorant or clever?

Why in the world would the gun lobby oppose a bill like this? It would not deny law abiding citizens’ right to bear arms or due process. And yes, there are problems with the list:

So, clearly, the watchlist itself needs improvement and that ought to come first. But nonetheless, there surely are many thousands of people who are legitimately on the list. And those who are should surely be barred from legally obtaining firearms.

But as usual, the National Rifle Association has stood in the way of legislation that is designed to prohibit terrorists from purchasing firearms legally, and that obstructionism goes back to 2007.

Naturally, one the NRA’s arguments is that terrorists will just acquire firearms illegally, so such a law would only hurt “law-abiding citizens.” The gun lobby also trots out its standard rap about this kind of legislation being “sponsored by gun-control extremists.”

We just don’t need those kinds of false statements. It’s all hands on deck right now. Let’s fix the problem in a bill that will prevent those who are actual terrorists from being able to buy guns. If we truly care about the safety of America, we will get to work post haste and get this done. We can’t wait for the politicians who are clueless, deceiving us or so in bed with the corporate gun lobby that they are afraid, to get on board. The time is now to act.

The New York Daily News has been on the attack against the NRA’s opposition to closing the terror gap and now going after their fearless leader, Wayne LaPierre in this latest publication. So where is Mr. LaPierre? Where is a statement from the NRA about a bill that could save Americans from a terror attack? From the article:

At issue is the NRA using their overwhelming influence with lawmakers to block a law that would ban anyone on the terrorist watch list from purchasing a gun.

The bill, known as the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, was proposed in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 people in Paris dead and hundreds more injured. Gun control advocates say that a legal loophole allows suspects on the terrorist watch list to purchase guns while the same list prevents them from flying on U.S. airlines.

The bill was originally proposed in 2007, but has been blocked by conservative lawmakers who are heavily backed by the NRA.

According GOP House member and bill co-sponsor Rep. Peter King of Long Island, the NRA is opposed to any bills that might stop anyone from purchasing a gun.

“Anything which they feel restricts the use or the ability to retain a gun they’re opposed to,” King said.

The Daily News doubled down on their attacks on the NRA for their intransigence on sensible gun legislation, with a lead story Monday morning that began: “Under the gun, with its leader nowhere to be found, the NRA faced a fusillade of new criticism Sunday for prioritizing gun rights over prevention of a Paris-style massacre in the U.S.”

I found this response by the NRA-ILA to the discussion about the terror gap:

Regardless of whether the transaction is given the green light to proceed or is denied, the encounter is noted at the time and its import is assessed in the same manner as all newly discovered pieces of intelligence about the subject of the investigation. … What the attempt to buy a firearm means in a counterterrorism investigation, and as a result the subsequent actions it warrants, necessarily must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Of course, just because and individual is allowed to purchase a legal item doesn’t mean that person is thereafter beyond the reach of law enforcement. If authorities knew, for example, that a person were buying fertilizer to make a bomb, they obviously wouldn’t sit on their hands simply because the fertilizer purchase was legal.

The same would obviously be true of the otherwise-lawful purchase of a firearm by a person who officials had evidence intended to use it to commit a terrorist act. In this regard, current law, coupled with the FBI’s procedure, could actually produce useful and actionable anti-terrorism intelligence.

On the other hand, prohibiting every purchase by a watchlisted individual gives real terrorists under investigation or surveillance an easy way to determine whether their acts have drawn the government’s suspicion. All they would have to do is go to a gun shop and attempt to buy a gun. If they were denied and knew they had no other basis of denial, they would know the denial was watchlist related.

What? So we shouldn’t try to stop them at the point of sale because our system will get around to investigating who they are later? Really? And within hours, we could have a terror attack. And if a terrorist were denied a gun sale at a licensed dealer, he/she would know the denial was watchlist related? And so?…. What then? The terrorist would be stopped and would have to find another way to get a gun which is, as we know,  far too easy in our country. That is also why we need to require a Brady background check on ALL gun sales.

If we stop terrorists at the point of sale, just perhaps a terror attack would be averted, at least for a time. Meanwhile, the FBI would know for sure that that person was attempting to buy a gun. If someone on the Terror Watch List buys a gun, it just can’t be for sport. This kind of faulty reasoning by the gun lobby is ludicrous and potentially dangerous for us all.

It’s not time to be making things up about guns and terrorism in the silly season known as election time in America. Donald Trump appears willing to say just about anything to pander and ramp up the fear and hysteria. One of his latest deceptions is that black Americans commit the most murders in America. From the article:

The statistics, purported to be gathered by a Crime Statistics Bureau in San Francisco this year, appear to be fabricated. The Crime Statistics Bureau cited in Trump’s tweet does not exist. The FBI, which does gather official crime statistics for the U.S., has not yet released them for this year.

Last year’s FBI statistics show that the numbers in Trump’s tweet are incorrect and appear to be aimed at perpetuating racist myths about black people and crime.

In 2014, about 82 percent of murders involving white victims were committed by other white people, while only 14 percent were committed by black people, according to the FBI.

Among murders involving black victims, just under 90 percent were committed by other black people, while 7 percent were committed by white people.

Crime experts have concluded that homicides are most likely to occur among people of the same race because people are usually murdered by someone they already know, and most people primarily know people of their own race.

What we absolutely don’t need is Trump’s hyperbole and fabrications because it gives excuses for Americans to feel terror and fear that is unwarranted considering the facts. The rhetoric is leading to armed Americans “patrolling” the streets because of fear of “the other”. In Texas armed open carriers appeared outside of a Mosque making dangerous claims:

“We tried to talk to the mosque before we did this, but they wouldn’t return our messages,” said David Wright, dressed in black all the way from his backwards baseball cap to the barrel of his tactical shotgun. “So here we are.”

Wright said he organized the rally in the wake of an Islamic terrorist group’s massacre of Parisian civilians this month. Like millions of Americans, he wants to block Syrian refugees from U.S. shores, lest they replicate the attack here.

But like a fraction of those millions, he was convinced that Irving’s mosque had established the country’s first Islamic court earlier in the year—a false rumor that started online but grew in popularity after Mayor Beth Van Duyne made it the focus of speeches to Tea Party groups.

“They shut the illegal court down,” Wright said, incorrectly. “And then, they threatened to kill the mayor.”

Thus, the guns. A protester with a bandana over his face showed off his AR-15 to traffic. A 20-year-old who wants to join the Army and ban Islam in the United States carried a Remington hunting rifle while his mother held the sign.

“They’re mostly for self-defense or protection,” Wright said, eyeing his 12-gauge. “But I’m not going to lie. We do want to show force. … It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves.” (…)

“My initial impression was they were using them for intimidation,” Palmer said. “I doubt that they’d be happy if some of the Muslim churchgoers here showed up at their Christian church, their Baptist church, their Methodist church tomorrow morning with rifles slung over their shoulders.”

Palmer said the police chief personally warned mosque leaders about the rally. They in turn urged their worshippers to steer clear of the group, which calls itself the Bureau of American Islamic Relations and had recycled some of the signs it took to a Richardson mosque last month, on a national day of protest against Islam.

The worshippers largely took that advice, ignoring the protest until it broke up after a couple hours. The Muslims in the tiny audience declined to share their opinion — instead offering praise for freedom of speech and variations on “no comment.”

But back on the sidewalk, a man who wore a name tag that read “Big Daddy Infidel” and was afraid to give his full name worried about the day he would be forced to use his hunting rifle to take a human life.

It’s just a matter of time before some of these folks, armed to the teeth, will act on their fear and cause our very own terrorist incident. And that is exactly what Daesh would love to have happen. I wonder if that is what Trump and other candidates would love to have happen? Because if they don’t stop their own dangerous and false claims, they will be igniting a group of Americans who are ready to fight on the streets against their own and/or against those they fear will hurt them.

This is why we have a military and National Guard. We don’t need untrained and uneducated heavily armed people patrolling our streets with their military style assault weapons ready to go to war.

These are complicated and dangerous times. We need common sense and the facts. Potential and actual insurrectionists with guns are dangerous and have no common sense. We have our own home grown terrorists and mass shootings that need our attention. For example, 16 people were just shot and injured in a New Orleans neighborhood. From the article:

A manhunt was underway across New Orleans on Monday after 16 people were shot during a gunfight at an impromptu music video recording at in a city park, authorities said.

The victims were all in stable condition.

The shooting broke out late Sunday at Bunny Friend Park in the Upper Ninth Ward where about 500 people were gathered for the video shoot, officials said.

“At the end of the day it’s really hard to police against a bunch of guys who decide to pull out guns and settle disputes with 300 people between them,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference.

Why isn’t this a terror attack? Where is the outcry over this mass shooting?  No one died, thank goodness. But does the scene look familiar? Two or more gunmen opened fire at a crowd of people. Chaos and panic.

Sigh.

Also in New Orleans a Tulane University medical student was shot by a robber when the student attempted to help the woman being robbed of her purse. Yes, it’s scary being on the streets of America. What the gun lobby wants us to do is arm ourselves as if this student could have stopped the robbery had he pulled out his own gun. It would have been another gunfight on the streets with potential collateral damage.

Since I posted this, I came across this article about the New Orleans shooting:

Landrieu said the shooting that erupted in a crowd of nearly 500 people is akin to terrorism.

“Dead is dead, whether it’s national terrorism or domestic terrorism,” he said.

“This is senseless. We will never stand for it,” NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said.

The answer is not more guns on the streets. It’s fewer guns on the streets carried by those who shouldn’t have them. We are ignoring what is before our very eyes every day.

Where are our priorities?  There is a lot of work to get done. Let’s get together and make it happen.

UPDATE:

Vox has done some research on the topic of discussion- terrorism. They found what I have been saying and many have been writing about. The chances of a Syrian refugee committing an act of terror against America are far far slimmer than an American radicalized citizen shooting up a bunch of innocent people. And many of these are labeled right wing extremists- they are radicalized by religion and ideology. Let’s look at what Vox wrote about:

Domestic terrorism kills a small number of Americans each year; far more die from gun violence annually. But what gets lost in the national conversation on domestic terrorism is that terrorist acts are largely perpetrated by American citizens already living inside America’s borders. Radicalization — whether it’s jihadist extremism or right-wing extremism — more often than not starts at home in the US rather than entering the country from abroad.

When will we admit to the facts? The safety of Americans depends on our getting this right.