Hearings in Congress

Congress has finally, after 2 years or more, begun the work they were elected to do. Previous Republican led committees have failed us. Democrats tried in 2013 after the shooting of 20 first graders. But the NRA choked that effort and Republicans refused. The issue of gun violence has turned partisan even though gun deaths take the lives of anyone no matter what their political stripe is. The NRA became an arm of the Republican party and made sure that Trump got elected. And Trump failed to even mention gun violence in his state of the union address. Unbelievable given the numbers and the mass shootings.

The Democrats are in charge of the House now and this week there have been hearings on just about every major issue of our times. Thank goodness we are going to hear the truth and from expert witnesses. Some in Congress have not wanted the truth because it exposes inconvenient facts.

Of course my interest was on the H.R. 8 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. It was, as one could expect, not without some fireworks and angry exchanges. It was the first hearing on expanding background checks to all gun sales since 2011. The first witness was Aalaya Eastmond, a Parkland shooting survivor. Aalaya saved herself by staying hidden under the dead body of a classmate. Just imagine that, if you can. This is a teen-aged girl who testified like the calm, articulate young adult she has become. You can watch the hearing here.

Other witnesses laid out the reasons why requiring a background check on all gun sales is one very good way to stop people who shouldn’t be able to get guns from getting guns anyway. Many other things can be done to stop this inane public health epidemic. Dr. Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon, survivor of a shooting and board member of the Brady Campaign testified to the committee using his experiences and expertise:

Firearm injury and death in America is not only a disease,1 but a public health crisis in the United States. Every day, an average of 109 individuals are killed and more than 240 people suffer injuries secondary to firearm violence.23 While the United States is a world leader in many arenas, we are failing when it comes to firearm injury prevention. Firearm-related injury and death is a public health problem creating a vast burden of disease across the spectrum of ages and socioeconomic groups in this country. Additionally, firearm-related violence has a substantial economic burden of over 229 billion dollars per year to the United States health care system.45 Most concerning despite advances in trauma systems and health care capabilities, the fatality rate secondary to firearms has not significantly changed or improved.67  (…)We have both the opportunity and responsibility to comprehensively address gun violence as the true public health crisis that it is. This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s a uniquely American issue and it is uniquely in each of your hands to help fix it.
The America I’m fighting for is one where parents no longer have to fear the phone call that my parents received, that the Parkland parents received, and literally hundreds of others in communities across this country are receiving every single day. As a trauma surgeon, I have to look into the eyes of these parents and it’s nothing less than heartbreaking. The medical community implores you: the time for action is now. There is no one solution to this complex health problem, which is why we must come together as a country to build consensus and support and develop a research informed, data-driven, approach so that we can help you, as our policy-makers, to ensure the public safety of Americans all across this great nation.

One would never know that the issue is not a Republican vs. Democratic issue during the hearing. Republican committee member Matt Gaetz threw in specious comments about illegal immigrants shooting Americans and even went to “the wall”. This set off a series of interruptions by some of the Parkland parents in the hearing room. In turn, Representative Gaetz pointed his finger at the aggrieved parents and wanted them thrown out. This was a low point of the hearing. The one year anniversary of the Parkland shooting is next week. Where is any kind of empathy or concern for those people?

Does Rep. Gaetz understand that if background checks on all gun sales are required, those illegal immigrants will have a much harder time getting their hands on guns. Since they are prohibited purchasers, they would no longer be able to get guns through private sellers. Yes, there are guns out there to be had but where do they come from in the first place? They don’t fall out of the sky. All guns start as legal purchases ( even those bought from private sellers in states that allow that since it is not so far illegal) . From there, they get into the illegal market or in the wrong hands through straw purchasing, through “bad apple” gun dealers, by being stolen, or trafficked on the street. Requiring background checks on all gun sales will stop some of these other ways that guns get into the wrong hands.

And further, of course Rep. Gaetz is wrong to try to compare any shootings by illegal immigrants with the overall shooting deaths of American citizens by American citizens. There is no comparison.

Other specious comments from committee members and expert witnesses alike caught my attention. In fact, outright lies were told. The following are those lies and deceptions:

Background checks on all gun sales will lead to gun registration. Actually since the Brady Law was enacted and started working to require background checks on sales at federally licensed firearms dealers, there has been no gun registration. The expanded background checks will be the same ones now already in existence. There will be no gun registration.

Background checks on all gun sales will affect law abiding citizens who want to carry guns for self defense. How would that happen? If someone who is law abiding wants to carry a gun, they should not be affected by the requirement to get a background check on said gun. It’s only those who shouldn’t have guns in the first place who will be affected by H.R. 8.

There are millions of defensive gun uses every year, therefore guns are needed to protect people. Actually no. This has been debunked over and over and over again. It’s not true and it’s never been proven. But the gun rights advocates trot it out frequently. Professor Joyce Malcom of George Mason University School of Law came to the hearing with this information for the committee. If there were millions per year we would know about it and hear about it in media and police reports. The Gun Violence Archive is actually keeping track of these numbers and here is what they have found. So far this year there have been 130 defensive gun uses. These are the ones actually reported and verified. That’s the best way to use data. The professor who testified at the hearing admitted that her numbers were mostly anecdotal. Hmmm.

The reason gun deaths decreased after the mid 1990s is because so many states passed conceal and carry laws.  This was also claimed by Professor Malcom ( see above). There is no proof of this either. Those on the side of gun safety reform can also say that the Brady Law was enacted and began to work to require background checks on all gun sales during that time as well.

This great article published in the Scientific American ( yes-science, evidence, facts) counters most of the corporate gun lobby’s specious arguments about defensive gun use and crime and more guns leading to less crime and violence. From the article:

A closer look at the who, what, where and why of gun violence also sheds some light on the self-defense claim. Most Americans with concealed carry permits are white men living in rural areas, yet it is young black men in urban areas who disproportionately encounter violence. Violent crimes are also geographically concentrated: Between 1980 and 2008, half of all of Boston’s gun violence occurred on only 3 percent of the city’s streets and intersections. And in Seattle, over a 14-year-period, every single juvenile crime incident took place on less than 5 percent of street segments. In other words, most people carrying guns have only a small chance of encountering situations in which they could use them for self-defense. (…) The belief that more guns lead to fewer crimes is founded on the idea that guns are dangerous when bad guys have them, so we should get more guns into the hands of good guys. Yet Cook, the Duke economist, says this good guy/bad guy dichotomy is a false and dangerous one. Even upstanding American citizens are only human—they can “lose their temper, or exercise poor judgment, or misinterpret a situation, or have a few drinks,” he explains, and if they’re carrying guns when they do, bad things can ensue. In 2013 in Ionia, Mich., a road rage incident led two drivers—both concealed carry permit holders—to get out of their cars, take out their guns and kill each other.

This one I know for sure. An everyday ordinary argument during a contentious divorce and an armed estranged husband led to my sister’s death. A road rage incident in Minneapolis along the I35 freeway led to the shooting and injuring of a school bus driver. The shooter is claiming self defense which law enforcement has found to be totally untrue ( and I would say insane) This man is the poster child for what is wrong with our gun carrying minority of citizens who believe they need these guns for self defense and they are lowering the crime rate by having their loaded guns with them at all times.

Clearly the gun lobby and their spokespeople are wrong about what they are saying.

Women need guns to protect themselves from being raped.  A young woman testified to this at the committee hearing. She also claimed that expanding background checks would be a “financial burden”. She is wrong on both counts. Her first argument has also been debunked over and over again. The financial burden argument is also specious. Why is it not a burden to get a $25 (on average) background check when buying at a federally licensed firearms dealer. If one can afford to buy a gun, one can afford to get the background check. Just as if one can afford a car, one can afford to get the title, registration and insurance. If not, don’t buy one.

Just this one article explains:

However, since rape seems to be Dana Loesch’s main concern, we can focus more on that. When it comes to rape, well, it is most likely to occur in states that have the most relaxed gun laws. For every woman who could, theoretically, fend a man off with a gun, there is a man who could intimidate a woman into having sex with a gun. One woman, during debates about whether or not guns should be allowed on college campuses, claimed, “If my rapist had a gun at school, I have no doubt I would be dead.”
Even if the manufacturers make them a cute shade of pink, guns are not tools that are helpful to women. They kill far more women than they save. But Dana Loesch is right about one thing—the world can be a dangerous place for women. Rape is horrible. And one way to help make the world safer for women is to make weapons like guns harder for dangerous people to get.

Also in this article is the commonly known fact that” Women are 100 times more likely to be fatally shot by a man with a gun than use one for self defense.”

There are facts. There are too many gun deaths. Too many guns are leading to too many people dying from gunshot injuries. Stronger gun laws have been shown to reduce and prevent gun deaths. It is undeniable.

In the end, common sense will lead us to stronger gun laws and safer communities. That is what this is about. It is not about registration, or charging people too much, or taking away the right to use a gun for self defense, or owning a gun to reduce crime and shootings. It is about making sure that guns are not used to harm others- mostly known to the shooters- or are used in absolutely senseless deaths like the many mass shootings, the “unintentional” shootings of and by children, suicides that can be prevented, in domestic disputes, to kill young men of color, in road rage and all of the other preventable uses of guns.

It’s about the guns. It’s about gun violence. It’s about public health and safety. It’s about facts and evidence. It’s about saving lives. Even one life. It could be someone you know or love next time.

Brady background checks- why not?

6 years ago about this time a group from the Northland Brady Campaign/Protect Minnesota chapter braved sub zero temperatures near the location of a gun show. The reason we came out for this in the freezing temperatures was because then, and now, private sellers at gun shows don’t have to do background checks on gun purchasers.

The photo shows our group holding our signs. We asked then and we ask now:

Why would we not make sure that every gun sale occurs with a background check? Since most do, why not all? About 1 in 5 guns are sold without a background check. It used to be more than that but because more states have passed laws to require background checks on all gun sales, we have made it harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get their hands on them.

One of the interesting things about our protest on that cold day was the man who had been to the gun show and approached our group to talk to us. He claimed he had never talked to “gun control” activists before. Eventually the conversation turned to his worry that if a universal background check bill passed, the government would take his guns ( for sure). He had told us previous to this comment that he was a member of the National Guard. A friend in our group asked if he realized that he actually was the government who would go around confiscating guns if that gun lobby myth ever came to fruition. That was a surprise to him as he had never thought through what it would mean.

We need to make decisions made on facts and evidence, not myth.

Of course requiring the very same Brady background checks on private sales that are now required when purchasing from federally licensed firearms dealers would not result in confiscation. It hasn’t so far as long as the FBI’s National Instant Check system has been in existence- for the last 25 years.There is no logic to this gun lobby argument. But for too long this is what has persuaded our elected leaders to run away from passing a stronger background check law.

And therein lies the problem. There are myths rather than truths around the issue of requiring background checks on all gun sales.

Gun safety reform advocates understand that universal background checks will not cure the entire epidemic of gun violence. But that is no reason not to pass a law. Just as any law doesn’t solve the entire problem it is intended to fix. But we pass strong public safety laws for good reasons. And, as it turns out, most people follow the laws. Those who don’t get into trouble.

We also understand that lax gun trafficking laws, lax laws about stolen guns, lax laws about assault type rifles, lax laws about who can carry guns in public, lax laws about the sale of bump stocks, etc. contribute to the problem of too many gun deaths. Congress passed a law to deny funding for federal research into the causes and effects of gun violence. Congress passed a law to give immunity to the gun industry against lawsuits. Those, too, have contributed to our national gun violence epidemic.That’s why we are where we are- with close to 40,000 Americans a year losing their lives to bullets in the U.S.

That being the case, why would we not want to make everyone do the same thing when it comes to buying a gun? Lives can be saved. Every teacher gets a background check. No exceptions. Every health care provider gets a background check. No exceptions. Every person who works with children in a church or pre-school gets a background check. No exceptions. Everyone goes through the TSA check before boarding a plane- no exceptions. There are good reasons for these background checks. Why have any exceptions for buying a deadly weapons designed to kill people?

On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee will have an official hearing on H.R. 8 to require background checks on all gun sales. This is the first hearing on a background check since 2011. There will be actual testimony about why requiring background checks on all gun sales is a really good idea. There will be evidence. There will likely be victims and survivors.It will likely pass out of the committee on a partisan vote unless a Republican on the committee decides to vote the way his/her constituents actually want. They will be held accountable by their constituents.

Common sense will happen this week at long last. I, for one, will be celebrating the hearing. I am quite sure that the corporate gun lobby will do their best to get their supporters to believe the usual myths about background checks on all sales leading to confiscation or registration. That’s a stupid and ludicrous untrue argument. But they will do it anyway. We will expect it.

Since most people understand that background checks on all gun sales make a lot of common sense, they already support the majority of the committee members. And the majority of the committee members will represent the 97% of Americans who want them to pass stronger gun laws.

Yesterday morning at my church I made an announcement and passed out stickers for members of the church to call our Representative to support H.R. 8. People couldn’t take them fast enough. I ran out. There were gun owners, parents, grandparents, community leaders, health care providers, educators, students, clergy- all who are sick and tired of letting the corporate gun lobby lead the conversation and intimidate their Congress members. They hate the daily carnage due to gun violence.

There are examples every day for the reason why we need to strengthen gun laws in our country.

A few days ago, a man in New Ulm, Minnesota gave his dying wife meth and had a death party for her. Clearly he is a man who should not have had any guns by the account in the article. But nonetheless, several guns were found in his home. The man reported that he had 47 guns, many of which were stolen. If true, why? Also from the linked article:

He has prior convictions for assault and DWI and is on probation for driving after license cancellation. A blood test taken after his DWI arrest in 2014 showed he had used methamphetamine, according to court records.

There really are people who should not have guns. Most likely this man could not purchase guns legally, explaining why most of his guns were allegedly stolen. Though he is under arrest for what occurred with illegal drugs and whatever else went on at his house, having guns accessible seems like a really bad idea. That is why we need stronger gun laws.

I just read this great editorial from the Star Tribune about the efforts of the Minnesota Medical Association to address gun violence. It’s heartening to see that health care providers are speaking out about gun violence as a public health issue. From the editorial:

Many cars now have backup cameras, which might have saved the child, the surgeon said. But when it comes to firearms, where are the technological advances and societal improvements — such as the widespread recognition of drunken-driving risks — that could prevent gun deaths?

The provocative question relayed by McClain provided just the right kickoff to the pioneering Minnesota workshop on gun-violence prevention put on by the state’s medical association. The MMA, which represents over 10,000 state physicians, merits praise not only for organizing it but for channeling members’ passion toward finding realistic solutions to a public health scourge. Beginning the discussion by considering the changes that have reduced motor vehicle deaths both inspired members and focused them on the workshop’s goal — proposing practical reforms.

The MMA has already taken a courageous stance on gun-violence prevention, one that not all members approved of. It issued a statement last March calling gun violence a “public health crisis” and then backed much-needed state reforms — such as criminal background checks on all purchases and transfers or exchanges of firearms. “Failure to intervene in the face of this significant epidemic is not an option,” the MMA said.

Exactly. It is not an option to not deal with gun violence. We have a crisis facing us and something has to be done about it. 

We will be a better country with the passage of H.R. 8. Will the Senate, with a Republican majority, many bought and paid for by the corporate gun lobby, hear a Senate similar bill?  Would the President sign any bill to strengthen gun laws given that the NRA spent more money on getting him elected than on any previous candidate? He owes them. If the Senate and the President want to be in partnership with an increasingly compromised organization they will be held accountable in the end.

Have a good week everyone. I will enjoy watching something positive happen for a change.