Memorial Day warning for Veterans

Every year America celebrates Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day. A little history

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.

My family is at our cabin for the week-end preparing for the summer season after the long winter. The dock is in, the pontoon is in, tables and umbrellas are up and the grill has been going. We had a cabin association meeting yesterday. There I heard that a man with a cabin on our lake ( not at the meeting) drove by my next door neighbor’s house and just past the house, he stopped and shot his gun out the window. Really? How stupid and dangerous is that? Another cabin owner, a lawyer, said that was illegal, of course. The next time I talk to him, I will be mentioning this incident and reminding him of my grandchildren and all of the other people he could put at risk with his carelessness.

But back to the point of this post, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are identifying more veterans with PTSD. My brother, who served in Viet Nam, suffers greatly from PTSD and Parkinson’s Disease,both attributed to his service years. It is sad and upsetting that his life is so limited now. He talks of suicide at the Veterans’ Home where he lives. I know that if he were living at a place on his own, he would have tried and maybe succeeded to use one of his guns for suicide. I removed his guns from his house after he moved to assisted living knowing that he could never use those guns responsibly again.

Guns are a risk to our Veterans.

In the wake of an increase in Veterans’ suicides, we can’t run away any more. And, a new study shows that Veterans are not opposed to removing their firearms during crisis times:

In 2016, the suicide rate for male veterans was about 40% higher than non-veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The rate for female veterans was even worse.
Many of those suicides involve firearms, and research has shown that reducing access to means of suicide can help prevent what is sometimes an impulsive act.
And there’s a growing body of research that people like Rolf should be talking about guns – with their doctor.

Lynn Rolf III said rumors that a PTSD diagnosis could endanger his security clearance were one reason he delayed seeking mental health treatment.Chris Haxel / KCUR
“It’s very clear that veterans are at higher risk to die from suicide (than the general population,)” said Dr. Marcia Valenstein, a researcher, psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. “Veterans with mental health conditions are at even greater risk.”
Many doctors worry their patients will get mad if they try to talk about guns, Valenstein says. For VA doctors working with patients who were in the military, that concern is amplified because veterans are perceived as being more conservative and unwilling to part with their weapons.
Valenstein and a team of researchers surveyed VA patients who had already received mental health treatment. They asked how open the veterans might be to a series of interventions, ranging from basic screening questions and free gun locks to temporarily storing their guns with family members or in a VA-managed program.
The results were surprising: 93% of respondents were open to a low-intensity technique, such as talking about guns with their doctor. About 75% of veterans also endorsed at least one of the more intensive options.
“I think this is pretty clear that this is a positive response from veterans and high-risk veterans in mental health care,” Valensten said.
The key factor, she says: making these interventions voluntary.

We can make the intervention voluntary which may work for some. But for others it could be too late. That is why background checks on all gun sales and Extreme Risk Protection Orders bills are so important to get passed wherever we can. 15 states now have Red Flag laws. They save lives because family members can report that a veteran or military family member ( or non veteran) could be dangerous to themselves or others and should not have access to a gun.

Also remember that the extremist corporate gun lobby does not want health care providers talking to their patients about the risks of guns? Why? Follow the money and influence. According to the NRA, physicians should “stay in their own lane.” Of course talking to patients about risks in their home is exactly their own lane, prompting many physicians and other health care providers to tweet #thisismylane. Really the NRA should stay in their own lane and leave the rest of us alone.

It turns out that many lives could have been saved if the Air Force had reported the veteran who shot up the Sutherland Springs, Texas church and killed 26 and injured 20 in a matter of seconds. From the article:

The service failed six times to submit records to the FBI that would have barred the troubled former airman from buying the guns he used in the November 2017 massacre at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., a Pentagon inspector general’s report concluded.
On at least four occasions during and after criminal proceedings against Kelley concerning domestic violence, the Air Force should have submitted the former service member’s fingerprints to the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, the 131-page report concludes. On two other occasions, it should have submitted to the FBI the final disposition report — which states the results of a case, after proceedings occur.

Why? What are they afraid of? As the previous article mentioned, even military health care providers are afraid to bring up the subject of guns. They should be more afraid not to. Part of the reason for this is the current gun culture which scares people into thinking that mentioning the risks of guns to themselves or others might trample on their rights. Good grief. What about the rights of those 26 whose family members celebrate Memorial Day much differently today than they did before the shooting.

And now the families of the victims can sue the government over the shooting. Often courts are the abiters of what makes common sense and what is right no matter what the extremists believe is right. From the article:

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez’s Thursday ruling is a huge victory for the nine families in the case, which allows them to put federal authorities on trial for alleged negligence. Rodriguez dismissed the government’s motion to throw out the case and said the families can begin the discovery process, which allows their lawyers to gather documents and seek interviews with which to make their case.

Victims deserve to be heard and deserve to have some peace after horrific mass shootings like the one in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The shooter should not have been able to get a gun. He got it from a licensed dealer and his name should have been on the FBI’s list of prohibited purchasers. But let’s also talk about how easy it would have been for the shooter to get a gun from a private seller had he been turned away by the licensed dealer.

We have a serious problem in America. Veterans are dying by suicide at an alarming rate:

Veterans are twice as likely as civilians to die by suicide, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday in its latest report on suicide.
Veterans make up more than 14 percent of all suicides, although they account for only 8 percent of the total population, the VA report said. (…) Guns were used in two-thirds of suicides by veterans in 2015. Having access to firearms raises the risk of suicide, experts have found.

Another recent article highlights a suicide emergency among young veterans:

Veterans aged 18 to 34 have higher rates of suicide than any other age group, the VA says in its National Suicide Data Report. The rate for those young veterans increased to 45 suicide deaths per 100,000 population in 2016, up from 40.4 in 2015, even as the overall veteran suicide rate decreased slightly, according to a copy of the report reviewed by the Guardian.
Many vets in that age group served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(…) Veterans were also more likely than other Americans to kill themselves using a gun. In 2016, 70% of veteran suicides were by firearm, compared with 48% of non-veterans.

This is serious. Some of our lapdog politicians are shrugging it off because…..????? Rights? Campaign contributions? Drinking the gun lobby’s kool-aid? Whatever the reason, they are negligent. Much like the Air Force was negligent in not reporting a name of a potentially dangerous service member to the NICS database, politicians are failing us and acting as if gun deaths and injuries are just a normal experience in America.

It is NOT NORMAL for so many people to die from bullets.

Background checks on gun sales and Extreme Risk Protection Orders are constitutional. The extreme gun lobby makes up nonsense about the laws claiming all sorts of fake facts leading to fear and paranoia amongst a few who make a lot of noise. We can’t listen to them.

Whether suicide, domestic shootings, gang violence, unintentional shootings, mass shootings, something must change. People can’t even attend a Memorial Day party without being shot up as did 10 in this New Jersey mass shooting yesterday. 9 were injured and one has now dies as a result of a drive-by shooting. Why do we let so many people carry guns around in public? It’s leading to blood running in our streets. Since I wrote my last post, another 3 or 4 stupid and dangerous incidents by “law abiding” gun owners have occurred. They are becoming more frequent. It took time before the result of loosening conceal and carry laws started having consequences.

Please have a safe memorial day and honor those who have died in the service of our country. But as you honor them, remember the ones who have died as a result of bullets here at home. If we are patriotic, we will do something about this national public health and safety epidemic.

Be a patriot.

The Brady Campaign on the march

tipping pointI have been away from my blog while attending the Brady Summit in Washington D.C. hosted by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Public Health Association. Hundreds of attendees were inspired, saddened, educated and energized by like minded people on a mission. The tide is turning. We can feel it and we know it by the public responses to the recent tragedies. We see the testimonials. We hear the speeches. We watch as the news media is changing what they are saying about the issue and at least some politicians are finally speaking the truth about our national gun violence epidemic. Thank goodness. It’s far far too late for way too many. But it’s a step. And I hope it will be the slippery slope towards common sense.

I wrote in my last post about the article on the CNN website written by Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign. We have reached a tipping point on the issue of gun violence.

A recent shooting in Virginia which ended with the murder of 2 journalists on live TV was a tipping point. At the Brady Summit, one vey inspiring and emotional moment came when Andy and Barbara Parker, parents of Alison Parker, one of the Virginia journalists, spoke to the attendees. Here is a video of Andy Parker’s remarks:

Let’s do this for Sarah and Jim Brady and for Alison. Let’s not let our mission be derailed by those whose interests are in keeping gun industry profits high and keeping gun lobbyists in business. For too long, those voices have drowned out the voices of victims and survivors. Not any more. We will not be silenced.

Meanwhile, as advocates were learning from the experts in public health and safety, suicide prevention, physicians, attorneys, elected officials, victims, state advocates, and others-   these are the things that went on in our country while we weren’t paying attention:

Insanity.

You can read much more about the world of firearm accidents and intentional deaths at several good sites:

Accidents Happen Guns Kill

Ohh shoot blog

Gun Violence Archive

The Daily Kos- Gun Fail

Don’t you find it amazing that there are so many sites reporting on accidental and intentional gun discharges? Only in America. But much of the research and reporting is coming from sites like this. Since the NRA owned Congress members made sure government agencies can’t research the causes and effects of gun violence, it’s good news that others are stepping up.

One of the best sources of information outside of the public health researchers is the on-line publication, The Trace. In one of today’s articles, we learn that the ATF only monitors 7% of gun dealers in a year. That is a crime, actually.

Where are crime guns coming from? Many from “bad apple gun dealers”. You can read more about that in this piece from the New York Times today:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has pledged to throw his weight behind the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the country’s most prominent gun control groups, in an as-yet-unannounced effort demanding that the Justice Department more closely scrutinize so-called bad apple gun merchants, according to people familiar with the campaign.

Mr. Cuomo, in an interview about his plans to work with the Brady Campaign, promised that his involvement in national gun politics would continue to deepen. He said he would hit the campaign trail in 2016 to emphasize the issue of gun violence, which he repeatedly called “the big issue” in national politics. (…) To start, Mr. Cuomo will be among the chief signatories of a letter to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, to be released as early as next week, urging the Justice Department to punish what the Brady Campaign describes as a small fraction of gun dealers who sell an overwhelming share of weapons used to commit crimes. He has promised to lobby other governors around the country to join in the push.

Yes, we can do something about gun trafficking and crime guns and we will.

And you can watch 60 Minutes on Sunday for information about Smart Gun technology that has the potential for saving lives. The gun lobby opposes Smart Gun technology. Why? They need to explain how they can be against new technology that could prevent a toddler from pulling a trigger to kill or hurt themselves or somebody else. They need to explain how they can be opposed to a technology that could keep a teen from accessing a gun to use in a suicide or a school shooting. They need to explain why they oppose technology that could prevent a robber from using a stolen gun in a crime.

But I digressed. I sat at a table with a BBC reporter at the Brady Summit on Tuesday. She was doing a story on America’s fascination with guns and the lack of ability to change the minds of Congress when so many Americans want change. She was stunned at the American gun culture and our seeming tolerance for the carnage. It was unfathomable to her that we have failed to act. These things are just not happening anywhere else in the world. But she was also encouraged that groups were working state by state to change the gun laws that don’t get passed in Congress. That was news to her. As Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy spoke to the summit attendees, she paid attention to his remarks about how hard it was to get new laws passed even in the state where the massacre of 20 small school children occurred.

I explained to her about the insidious corporate gun lobby and the fear of said lobby affecting too many of our elected leaders. The lies and deceptions keep coming as the influence of the gun lobby wanes. You can read about the latest from the NRA’s own Mr. Wayne LaPierre in this Media Matters article:

The NRA’s lie is brazen given widespread reporting explaining how the gun group interferes with ATF operations. As USA Today reported in 2013, “lobbying records and interviews show the [NRA] has worked steadily to weaken existing gun laws and the federal agency charged with enforcing them.”

According to The Washington Post, “the gun lobby has consistently outmaneuvered and hemmed in ATF, using political muscle to intimidate lawmakers and erect barriers to tougher gun laws. Over nearly four decades, the NRA has wielded remarkable influence over Congress, persuading lawmakers to curb ATF’s budget and mission and to call agency officials to account at oversight hearings.”

The NRA’s opposition to the ATF has been extreme. The gun group has threatened to attempt to abolish the agency all together and LaPierre infamously called federal law enforcement agents “jack-booted government thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.”

Sigh.

While lobbying on Wednesday at the Hart Senate office building, a group of us were standing with our”Background Checks Save Lives” stickers on and managed to attract attention and comments from quite a few people. One of them was a Senate staffer who was not American born but worked for a Senator who he said did not agree with us. The thing was- he himself agreed with our views and shook his head as he tried to figure out why America is so gun crazy and so violent. I told him that the majority in his Senator’s state agreed with us and he should go back and check the polling date to share with his boss.

For if our own leaders fail to represent us- the majority and the victims, survivors, experts, researchers, law enforcement, clergy, youth, gun owners, health care providers, educators, hunters, and others who want gun safety reform, what else is there? Congress must act. Our state legislators must act. They are now hearing from the millions who want to get this job done in the name of the victims.

We are marching forward towards saving lives in spite of stiff resistance. We are holding our elected leaders responsible and asking them to commit to measures to keep us all safer in the halls of Congress and state legislatures. The tipping point is here.

We have had #enough. If you have also had enough, check out the #enough campaign on the Brady Campaign’s website.