A summit of gun violence prevention leaders and advocates

There are so many things to talk about.

I have just made a trip to Washington D.C. for the joint Brady Campaign, Americans for Responsible Solutions summit- A Nation United for a Safer Future.  I have been involved in this movement long enough to have met many leaders and victims from all over the country. Many of us met and continued our friendship through the Million Mom March and now Brady Campaign. I also have met and know people involved with Americans for Responsible Solutions. Social media has allowed us all to connect and become friends. Many victims and survivors attended the summit.

Here were just a few of the victims and survivors in attendance.

A mother whose daughter was shot at the Aurora Theater; a mother and father of a young woman reporter shot on live T.V.; a young woman whose mother was shot in the Clackamas Mall shooting just days before the Sandy Hook shooting; a mother and a father whose college students survived the Virginia Tech shooting; a father whose son was shot when a friend was handling a gun; a mother whose 13 year old daughter was shot by a gun stored openly and loaded in the home of a friend; a man whose mother shot and killed herself; the woman who kicked the ammunition away when the Tucson shooter stopped to re-load his gun; a father whose son was shot in the Isla Vista mass shooting; several women whose family members had committed suicide by gun; a woman whose brother was shot and killed many years ago; me- who lost a sister to bullets during a domestic shooting; Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign whose brother was shot and injured in the terror attack on the Empire State Building; a woman who had lost two children to shootings; two women whose children were shot and injured in the Jewish Day Care Center in Los Angeles; a man whose mother was shot and killed when a shooter was looking for someone else and mistakenly shot and killed her and wounded his father…….

Aside from victims and survivors, attendees included law enforcement officers, interested advocates, leaders of national and state organizations, clergy, staff members of the two organizations, politicians, lawyers, health care providers, NAACP leaders, film makers, a founder of the Women’s March, and many others.

Politicians who spoke to and with us:

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly.

Senators Cory Booker, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Connecticut Representative Esty, California Representative Mike Thompson, Rhode Island Representative Dave Cicilline, Representatives Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy from Florida and others.

Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General

Valerie Jarrett, former advisor to President Obama.

But we didn’t just listen and react to these amazing speakers. We took action.

Hundreds of participants lobbied on Capitol Hill and had great visits, “armed” with information about two concerning bills that would make us all less safe if enacted:

H.R. 38- Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 ( Arm Everyone bill). This bill would, if it became law, override steps that states have taken to protect public safety and put citizens at risk. It would leave states with no power to decide who carries hidden loaded guns ( or openly carried) within their own states and communities.

H.R.367- cynically called the Hearing Protection Act. This bill is meant to do what the gun lobby loves- increase sales of accessories to guns ( gun sales are down right now) and attempt to undo the 1934 National Firearms Act which requires individuals who purchase gun silencers and machine guns to undergo strict background checks, fingerprints, payment to register and license the gun/silencer and a waiting period. These regulations work. We just don’t see silencers used in crimes since that act became law. If this bill were to pass, we could expect to see silencers sold without Brady background checks through private seller internet sales and private sellers at gun shows. It also creates threats to law enforcement and would make it more difficult to respond to mass shooters as the sound of gunfire would be muffled and dispersed. There are many items sold to protect hearing while using firearms that make more sense.

Can we just talk about the fact that conceal carry weapons holders DO kill and threaten people with their guns even after going through a permitting process? Read the Violence Policy Center‘s report- Concealed Carry Killers. And can we also talk about the fact that 11 states now allow people to carry guns with no training or permit requirements.?Without a system of universal background checks, these people could be prohibited purchasers who will be allowed to carry their guns everywhere. How will we know the “good guys” with guns from the bad guys with guns? I have not heard an answer that makes any sense. The idea that it’s OK to normalize the carrying of guns everywhere by anyone is not only ludicrous, it is irresponsible and dangerous.

On “The Hill”, we had some great conversations, a chance to thank those who have voted against the gun lobby sponsored bills and who have led the charge and the conversation about the need to prevent gun violence. And we had a few victories when Congress members changed their positions after meeting with our groups of victims and advocates.

The importance of the summit and visits to Capitol Hill cannot be overstated. Advocates who had never attended a summit before were engaged and energized. They now know they can do this. People like me came away re-energized and encouraged that, in spite of the Republicans in charge, the issue of gun violence and the prevention of it has more support than ever before. It’s only Congress (doing the bidding of the corporate gun lobby) who stands in the way of common sense. And while they are doing that, 32,000 Americans ( give or take)- real people- someone’s family member or good friend- are killed by guns. It happens every day.

During the summit we all engaged our minds about legislation, other actions, and changing the conversation about this public health epidemic. There was much to think about and actual incidents that reminded us about why we were there. Among just a few:

Americans continue to die by bullets in alarming numbers. The Gun Violence Archive keeps track of shooting incidents. It’s not pretty.

And here are the reasons people get shot in Aor shoot others from Parents Against Gun Violence::

reasons people shot in April

And ISIS is telling its’ members to buy guns in America because it is so easy:

“The acquisition of firearms can be very simple depending on one’s geographical location,” the article read. “In most U.S. states, anything from a single-shot shotgun all the way up to a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle can be purchased at showrooms or through online sales — by way of private dealers — with no background checks, and without requiring either an ID or a gun license.”

The Rumiyah article specifically touted gun shows where these unregulated sales are often easiest.

And the officer who shot a black teen in Texas was fired and charged with murder. 

And Gander Mountain management bet wrongly on gun sales and lost. (Go figure. When Democrats are in office, the gun lobby scares people into buying guns in high numbers. When Republicans are in charge- no worries.)

“In 2016, at a rate of more than twice a week, a child under 18 years old was shot and killed with a loaded, unsecured gun”. This is from the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance, a new organization that presented information at the summit. One can look up current information of  shootings of and by children on this site. Who cares about the children?

And in just another average day in America, two young people are dead in a murder/suicide at a Texas college campus. Domestic disputes often spill over into public places and also way too often are the cause of mass shootings.

Asking about loaded, unsecured guns in homes can save lives. (ASK campaign)

And a health care bill passed in the House that will leave millions of Americans with no health care and lower taxes on the wealthy.

And those those with mental illness will have easier access to guns than health care.

Gun violence is a public health epidemic.

Many gun deaths and injuries are preventable and avoidable.

If we are to have the serious conversation we need and deserve to have, recognizing that there is a problem in the first place that can actually be fixed, or cured, or prevented or reduced in severity and frequency, is the most important thing we can do. Using some common sense in arguments and discussions will lead to responsible solutions.

On my plane back home from DC were at least a half dozen members of Congress, including my own, anxious to get back home for the recess ( didn’t they just have one?). While waiting to board, I spoke with my own Representative who introduced me to a Senator from a neighboring state- a Republican. We had a good discussion about health care and gun violence. We did not agree on much. But his main reason for being skeptical or against common sense solutions to save lives is one of the gun lobby’s myths. He actually believes that organizations such as the Brady Campaign and Americans for Responsible Solutions are out to get his guns. He is a lapdog for the gun lobby and will do their bidding no matter what anyone says to him.

As long as some of our politicians are in the pocket of the corporate gun lobby, we can expect to see bills that could become law that will actually make us less safe and lead to an increase in gun deaths and injuries. Is there anyone who thinks that is a good idea? The American public agrees that passing strong gun laws is a good idea.

Please make sure your own elected leaders are doing the bidding of the people and not the corporate gun lobby. We can make a difference if our voices are loud and clear about saving lives. For that is the bottom line.

Bullets are flying

flying_bulletYes they are. It’s getting more difficult to explain the gun culture in America. When there is an auto accident and the one at fault gets out of his rolled car and shoots and kills the woman in the other car, we have to wonder what in the h#$% is going on? I just can’t wrap my head around this kind of violence and stupidity. Why did this happen? The accident was enough wasn’t it? Maybe alcohol? Maybe a whole lot of anger directed at the wrong person? Maybe just a gun at the ready to use just in case one causes an accident and needs to get rid of the evidence?

Where is common sense?

But even worse than this is the shooting death of a young mother in Chicago while bullets were flying intended for others:

Nykea Aldridge, 32, a mother of four, was pushing a baby stroller Friday afternoon on Chicago’s South Side when she was shot. Police said she was not the intended target of the shooting. Aldridge’s child was not struck by the gunfire.

Police said the two men charged with murder — Darwin Sorells, 26, and Derren Sorells, 22 — were both on parole and affiliated with the Gangster Disciples gang. They appeared in court Sunday and were ordered held without bail.

This is such an awful tragedy. I watched a news show with an interview of the woman’s mother who talked with tears streaming down her cheeks.

It’s insanity. Yes, the shooters were gang members. Yes a lot of gang members are armed. And yes, they shoot other people. Why? How do they get their guns? Legally? From people who sell guns from the trunk of their cars like these opportunistic gun buyers at a Minneapolis gun buyback?

Or from this guy who was trafficking guns from Indiana into Chicago. Indiana has lax gun laws. Illinois’ laws are stronger. And this man was supplying guns to gangs. From the article:

A suburban Chicago man has been sentenced to nearly 17 years in federal prison for buying hundreds of firearms and high-capacity magazines from gun shows in Indiana and selling them illegally in Chicago. (…) The 24-year-old is from South Holland. He was convicted of dealing firearms without a federal license, illegally transporting firearms across state lines and interstate travel to sell guns without a license.

The woman was doing what she was supposed to be doing on a week-end day- walking a baby in a stroller. Mothers walking their babies in strollers should be safe from stray bullets flying in their neighborhoods.

And let’s address the real problem- guns and the easy access to them. But Presidential candidate Donald Trump doesn’t want to talk about the guns. It’s all about himself and not the victims. He wants votes and thinks he can get them by letting people know that he predicted things like this would happen. He says he can protect people from being shot but he doesn’t say how. Nothing but empty rhetoric seemingly addressed at people of color in neighborhoods like this one in Chicago and in large urban cities all over America.

What about the guns Mr. Trump? What will you do about the guns and the bullets? How will you protect young mothers walking their babies? This great article from the Star Tribune quotes the Chicago Police Chief asking Mr. Trump what his plan is ,if he has one, to stop the killings:

On Monday morning, Trump posted on Twitter about crime in inner cities “reaching record levels,” which is untrue. While killings have increased in major cities across the country this year — as they did last year — crime rates still remain far below what they were just a few decades ago.

Facts matter. Yes we have crime but the rates are lower than they have been for many years. Conflating crime rates with shooting rates is an old trick of the corporate gun lobby used to deflect the real problem with guns and bullets in our country. Shootings are not just about criminals with guns. Some of the gun rights advocates who read my blog tried to tell me that my ex brother-in-law was a criminal because he shot and killed my sister. He was not a criminal until he pulled the trigger and the bullets ended up in my sister’s body. People who commit suicide by gun are not criminals. Small children who find their parents’ guns and shoot their siblings like this incident ( for just one of many) are not criminals. Domestic shootings like my sister’s are not often committed by criminals but by angry, jealous mostly men upset with a spouse or partner trying to leave the relationship.

How will we all protect anyone from an angry divorced guy who decides to shoot bullets into the air in mid-day in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan? How?  He was shot and killed by police. How do we protect our families from crazies with guns? Why do so many people think they can do things like this in the first place? Without the gun, what would have happened? He would be alive most likely. Was this a suicide by cop? We don’t know. He endangered the lives of many innocent people while shooting those bullets around near the apartment building.

Where are our values when it comes to the ease with which people take another human life and we do nothing about it? Isn’t this something that rises to the top of our agenda? If not, why not?

The fact that I am writing about this and these incidents even happened shows the serious public health and safety problem we are facing. And these are only just a few of thousands happening every year everywhere in America. Note that the apartment tenants in Eagan, Minnesota were surprised that this could have happened in their neighborhood. Don’t people know that with over 300 million guns in America things like this are inevitable? From the article about the Eagan shooting ( above):

The incident shocked residents in what some described as a peaceful neighborhood.

“I am a lifelong Eaganite, and we rarely have an incident like this,” said Jim Carlson, the state senator for District 51, which includes Eagan. Carlson was knocking on doors with a group of volunteers when the shooting erupted nearby.

And yes, those volunteers could have been injured or worse by flying bullets.

When will the gun lobby help out with this? Why do they convince just about everyone that owning a guns is an OK thing without making sure everyone has a background check and proper training to operate a deadly weapon? Why do we have such a cavalier attitude towards deadly weapons? Rights? Why are we not discussing the inherent risk of owning a deadly weapon and making sure they are not only stored safely but that those who have them can be responsible with them? We legislate safety with cars so that everyone has to be trained properly and take a test to get a license. Cars are registered and when transferred to a new owner, paper work is required by the state and kept on file.

What we need is to break down the resistance to sensible measures to make sure we are safe from devastating gun violence in our neighborhoods; and that people who shouldn’t have guns aren’t shooting bullets off with them on the streets in our neighborhoods. I think we can do this. We have done it with many other things we deem to be potentially dangerous to our safety or our health. We sent people to the moon and into outer space. We can figure this out.

Let’s get to work. We’ve had #Enough of the denial and inaction.

UPDATE:

Just after I posted this I saw this article from The Trace which gives us some hope:

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s top trade group, is partnering for the first time with the leading suicide prevention nonprofit organization in the U.S. The ambitious goal of the collaboration: averting nearly 10,000 deaths over the next decade.

The program, initiated by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will strive to educate people on the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, and provide guidance on how best to talk to someone who may be considering trying to end his or her own life, says Robert Gebbia, the chief executive of AFSP.

Notably, the program will also recommend blocking family members who are suicidal from accessing firearms by, for example, emphasizing the importance of securely locking guns away. It is not clear whether the AFSP guidance will include specific suggestions about how to remove weapons from potentially suicidal people. The NSSF, which represents thousands of gun dealers and manufacturers, provided input into the program and is also promoting it.

It is past time for this to happen but acknowledging the public health problem of gun suicides is a big step forward from this gun industry leader. We can hope that the corporate gun lobby will follow this group and get involved in reducing and preventing gun deaths. Common sense may just be breaking out.

 

Road rage in Minnesota

RoadrageIt’s happened again. Someone decided to take out their anger over a traffic problem with a gun. Why do people carry guns in their cars? That is the question. Let’s look at what happened in Minneapolis yesterday:

 

A 39-year-old woman who honked at a vehicle that cut her off was shot four times in rush-hour traffic on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis Tuesday.

Police spokesman John Elder said the woman was southbound near Groveland Avenue at 5 p.m. when she was cut off by a beige four-door Jeep Cherokee with tinted windows.

She honked at the car, which then slowed down next to her driver side, and a passenger shot at her multiple times with a black handgun, Elder said. The victim, who was shot three times in the arm and once in the stomach, drove several blocks and called 911. She is hospitalized and expected to survive her injuries, police said.

The shooter has not been found yet but no doubt he will be. When he is, many questions need to be asked. Was he a law abiding permit holder? Was the gun legally obtained or illegally obtained. How did he get the gun? And the biggest question- why shoot someone over a honk?

This is not the first time road rage incidents have ended in injury or death by gun and not the first time in Minnesota. Five women were shot at in January as they were being driven on a freeway in an Uber car- just in January of this year. The shooter has not yet been found.

I could list many more in Minnesota and in states all over the country but you get the picture.

So shouldn’t we be able to drive on roads and freeways without fear of being shot? I say the answer is a resounding YES. So why allow guns in cars in the first place? Before Minnesota passed a law in 2005 to allow “law abiding” gun owners to carry guns around with them wherever they go, this was just not happening. Or if it was, it was pretty rare. Sure, some who have illegal guns have likely been carrying guns around all along. But now we have made it part of our every day culture as if it is normal. It’s not.

Further, we have not even discussed children finding guns in their parents’ cars or permit holders shooting themselves while fiddling with guns in their cars. It happens often and I have written about this before. Most recently a Florida child found his mother’s gun in her car and shot it off “accidentally” sending a bullet flying through the front seat, injuring his gun loving mother in the back.

Senseless.

If you look at the image in this post, you can see a man shaking his fist. No one died or was injured as a result. But when a gun is there at the ready, the result is very different. And that is the problem with allowing guns everywhere we play, drive, live, learn, work, eat and walk.

No wonder 141 public health institutions, including the Minnesota Public Health Association, have signed a letter to Congress asking for an end to the funding prohibition for the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes and effects of gun violence. It is the health care providers who treat the injured and deal with the deaths. They understand perfectly well that bullets cause death and injury. They deal with health risks every day and they want some answers. They also understand that, like other public health epidemics, we can do something about it if we understand how it is caused. That is the American way. It’s all about common sense. We all deserve the questions and the answers and most importantly, the victims deserve a chance at live so their families will not be left with a large hole in their lives due to the shooting of a loved one.

If you believe its normal for people to be shooting at innocent drivers and passengers while they are going about their daily business, you are part of the problem. But since I know that most of you agree with me, the time is now to express your frustration and concern over a public health and safety issue that many of our leaders have chosen to ignore. Lives can be saved. And lives are taken every day in senseless avoidable incidents like the ones above.

If you’ve had #Enough of this craziness, let your legislators and Congress members know that you expect them to stand up for the victims and not the gun lobby whose interest lies in profits over saving lives. Get involved. Speak up. Write letters. Send emails. Make phone calls. Join a gun violence prevention group. That is how change will happen. A bill to require background checks on all gun sales is sitting in the Minnesota legislature waiting for a hearing. Protect Minnesota supports this legislation and is asking legislators to sign on and bring it to a hearing. It won’t get a hearing if you don’t make some noise. Similar background check bills are sitting in Congress waiting for enough co-sponsors to bring them to committee hearings. That won’t happen if you don’t make noise.