25 years later- unhappy anniversary

crying womanThis will be a long post. But then again, 25 years is a long time since the death of my sister. It’s a long time to have worked on gun violence prevention. It’s a long time living with the fact that we seem to be febile in the face of the gun lobby influence and have allowed lapdog politicians to do their bidding. And while the fight to prevent gun violence continues so do the deaths due to firearms injuries.

Too many families  mark the anniversaries of the death of a loved one to gun violence. What an unhappy anniversary. It brings back the memories of the phone call and/or the visit from law enforcement announcing that a shooting had taken the life of your child, parent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandchild or grandparent or a good friend. Gun violence has a ripple effect so the broader community and sometimes the entire country is affected by heinous shootings. It is in our consciousness and our collective memories and our collective culture.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the shooting death of my sister, Barbara. She was a beautiful lively, talented artist and pilot. She was a biker, a very good downhill skier, a tennis player, a beauty queen, a mother and step-mother, very involved in her community and a world traveler. In high school her friends called her Bugs. I still am not sure why. Because she grew up in Duluth, some of her friends still live here and I run into them occasionally. They always have fond memories to share of her as she was loved by many.

In spite of the fact that her estranged husband ( 2nd husband) killed her, the adult children from her first marriage and adult child from her second marriage along with the adult children from his first marriage remain close to each other. His first wife has taken on the role of grandmother to the grandchildren my sister never met. My husband, my children and I all remain close with all of them. It was because of my sister’s ability to love and draw people together that we have remained a close family.

We could have been angry and divorced ourselves from his family, but my mother was forgiving to a fault and kept them all close. The thing is, we loved them all and had no idea that my soon to be ex brother-in-law was capable of shooting and killing two people. That is how it often is. Family members are surprised proclaiming that the shooter was such a nice person or a quiet guy or the family seemed to be so happy. What went wrong? It was so unexpected. That is the risk of having a gun so accessible in situations of anger and domestic disputes.:

DID YOU KNOW?  Keeping a gun in the home raises the risk of homicide.

    • States with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114 percent higher firearm homicide rates and 60 percent higher homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership (Miller, Hemenway, and Azrael, 2007, pp. 659, 660).
    • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms (Kellermann, 1993, p. 1084).
  • Higher gun ownership puts both men and women at a higher risk for homicide, particularly gun homicide (Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Injury Control Research Center, 2009).

Stunning.

I will always remember the night of the phone call about my sister’s death- actually on August 6 because her body and that of her friend were not discovered until the next day. When my nephew told me that my sister had died I assumed it was a plane crash since she was a pilot. Or anything else besides a shooting. How can one imagine that happening to a loved one? The violence. I often wonder how it would have been for her in the seconds before death after 1,2 and then a third bullet entered her body. Unimaginable. I can’t go there.photo of Barbara

Guns are deadly weapons designed to kill people. I won’t repeat the figures here again but we know that a lot of people die needlessly from firearm injuries. We also know that we are NOT helpless to change the trajectory of the number of gun deaths. More guns means more gun deaths. That is just a common sense fact.

We are not dealing in common sense though. Tragically we are dealing with a powerful and well funded corporate gun lobby that has become an arm of the extreme right wing of our nation. They use the second amendment as cover for their ever increasingly extreme agenda, aimed at arming anyone everywhere. We will not be safer as a country.

On this 25th anniversary of my sister’s death, I want to also remember the 5 year anniversary of the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin,   6 died that day because of a hate filled white supremacist who killed just because. That is the American tragedy playing out regularly every day, week, month and year.

This shooting was just one of the very many mass shootings in America. Only in America is this a regular part of a nation’s culture. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have some suggestions:

Stop making this about the second amendment. It is about preventing gun deaths and injuries.

Stop the ludicrous assertion that passing a universal background check to require Brady background checks for all gun sales will inevitably lead to gun confiscation. That is a lie.

Challenge the NRA and other extreme gun rights groups when they cross over a line and stoke up lies and fear. Take this latest from Dana Loesch of NRA TV, for just one example:

Dana Loesch, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, is yet again making headlines for controversial reasons. On Friday, during an interview with Grant Stichfield on the NRA TV channel, Loesch equated penalizing gun owners with shaming rape victims. Her comments were in response to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress indicating an increased rate of gun thefts in Southern states — with most of the stolen firearms ending up illegally trafficked and utilized in robberies and violent crimes. Texas, Georgia, and Florida topped the list with over 8,100 thefts of licensed firearms between 2012 and 2016. The Center for American Progress suggested implementing laws enforcing stricter storage guidelines for gun owners.

Loesch argued that focusing on gun owners rather than on those stealing the guns is analogous to shaming victims of sexual assault:

Good grief. What nonsense. No wonder some gun owners are moving away from this organization.

So we should encourage more reasonable gun owners who generally agree with the gun violence prevention groups to raise their voices. Many believe the NRA has become too extreme for them and have left the organization. Here is just one who wrote about his displeasure with the NRA:

As a gun owner and defender of the Second Amendment, I’m here to tell you the NRA has lost its ever-loving mind.

The nation’s largest firearms organization began its slide into moral degeneracy as late as the early 2000s, when actor Charlton Heston became its five-term president (a feat for which the NRA’s rules had to be changed to allow him to serve longer), before going public with his battle with Alzheimer’s disease and retiring. Under Heston’s firebrand leadership, the NRA’s rhetoric shifted its focus from working with lawmakers across the country to defend Second Amendment rights, to recasting the group as the front-line warrior in a crusade against the entire progressive movement in a culture war that they claimed had engulfed the country. (…)

A responsible NRA would be working for, not against, universal background checks on all firearms sales. As a responsible gun owner, it’s my job to ensure anyone I transfer a weapon to is in fact legally permitted to possess one. That’s the bare minimum due diligence that should be expected of me, and the vast majority of Americans and even gun owners agree. But not the NRA.

Pass the law to close the gap with Brady background checks that now allows private sellers to sell guns without knowing whether the buyer is a felon, a domestic abuser or someone dangerously mentally ill.

Pass laws to require safe storage of guns.

Strengthen gun trafficking laws.

Crack down on straw purchasing. The Brady Center won a settlement against a Florida gun dealer and announced it today. The message from the gun dealer who sold a gun through a straw purchase which was used in a fatal shooting:

“We must exercise great caution and due diligence with great responsibility in preventing firearms from getting in the wrong hands of people who seek to harm us all. I support laws that protect our Second Amendment and the laws that protect our society from criminal elements who would abuse that right to the detriment of others. I encourage all gun dealers, including the new owner of my gun shop, to implement such measures.”

Hold every gun dealer and every gun owner responsible for being safe with guns and business practices. Lives can be saved.

Educate parents about ASKing if there are loaded, unsecured guns in homes where their children play. One big question could save a life.

Form coalitions of like minded people who are interested in keeping people from shooting themselves or others such as faith groups, gun owners, law enforcement, mental health organizations, domestic violence associations, health care providers, communities of color, LGBTQ community, educators, parents, business leaders and other gun violence prevention groups.

Crack down on irresponsible gun dealers. (See above article about the Brady Center settlement against an irresponsible gun dealer)

Don’t loosen gun carry permit laws. New research suggests that the passage of the conceal (and open) carry laws have led to more gun violence.

Change the conversation about the risks of guns to families and communities. Push back when bad advice or faulty information is in the public domain like the recent Dear Abby column about kids and guns. After the Brady Campaign and other organizations and volunteers weighed in Abby wrote a column with new advice and changed her mind. 

Remember the victims and survivors and make sure their stories are told. They are the voices of the movement to prevent shootings.

Stop saying our thoughts and prayers are with you and do something about the gun violence epidemic. TAKE ACTION.

Join one of the many gun violence prevention groups working to end gun violence at the local, state and national level. Join them in sending emails, postcards, making phone calls, lobbying at offices, tabling, speaking out, going to rallies, bell ringings, other events. They need you.

Work together for common sense.

I will end by suggesting that the current culture of incivility, sometimes including our own friends, on social media is disturbing. It starts from the top. With a President who has mentioned violence at rallies and said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing supporters, we have hit some new lows in civility. With trolls making rude and offensive comments when they disagree with someone, how can we have a civil society? It’s a frightening trend.

With members of both parties attacking each other and then the other party, how can we expect civility? With more armed people walking around with loaded guns in public, can we expect civility?

Social media allows a platform for organizing and promoting causes as well as keeping in touch with each other. But when it also becomes a platform for open criticism of even other friendly organizations or candidates or friends and family members, how can we expect people to settle disputes peacefully and without use of force? With the wide gap between Americans politically, the fear and paranoia is real. What we don’t need is ramping it up to include the idea of violence against each other and particularly with guns. Gun rights and the second amendment go only so far. The NRA’s leaders and lobbyists and other gun rights organizations have increasingly associated themselves with one political party in our country. The rhetoric has become more violent and suggestive of “second amendment remedies”. Why? The question should be asked and answered.

We are better than this. I am sure we all want to leave our country and the world a better and safer place for our children and grandchildren. That is what my sister would have wanted and that is why I am persisting. In her name I carry on. I stand on the legacy and lost lives of the 825,000 Americans who have died from gunshot injuries since 1992. That’s right. 25 multiplied by 33,000 is that much. In 1992 when my sister was shot and killed gun deaths were actually higher than 33,000 per year.

And last, I want to pay tribute to Jim Brady who died 3 years ago yesterday. I met him once and immediately was taken by his sense of humor and engaging personality even as he suffered from the decades long firearm injuries he suffered in the assassination attempt on the life of President Reagan. Jim and his wife Sarah persisted in spite of the terrible situation in which they found themselves, and got the Brady Law passed. Lives have been saved as a result.

I honor all victims of gun violence on this anniversary of my sister’s shooting death. Many things have changed since her death but one thing has not- gun violence is a thing. It’s a thing that needs fixing.

Shed a tear. Ring the bell. Light a candle. Pick a flower. Think for a minute the horror of losing a loved one in a shooting. And then take action and do something about it.

In memory of Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady
This photo is from the Brady Campaign.

America lost a treasure yesterday with the death of Sarah Brady. She was a courageous woman who was tough and persistent while at the same time caring and a true friend to those who knew her. From this article:

“In the history of our nation, there are few people, if any, who are directly responsible for saving as many lives as Sarah and Jim,” Brady Campaign and Center President Dan Gross said in a statement.

Brady became a gun control activist after her husband, White House press secretary James Brady, was shot in the head during an assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

James Brady died in August of last year.

The Brady Campaign says the legislation Sarah Brady championed after James Brady’s shooting has prevented the sale of more than 2.4 million firearms “to criminals and other dangerous people.”

At the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago, Sarah Brady was invited to speak because in the preceding term President Bill Clinton had signed the Brady bill. Brady called that moment “the proudest moment of our lives,” but she also called for continued work on gun control.

“This battle is not about guns; it’s about families, it’s about children, it’s about our future,” Brady said. “You can’t have stronger families without safer children. The gun lobby likes to say that Jim and I are trying to take guns away from hunters and sportsmen. The gun lobby is wrong. To the hunters and sportsmen of America we say, keep your guns. But just give us the laws that we need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and out of the hands of children.”

Her advice to those who knew her was that we should never give up. She and her husband Jim who died last year after living with the consequences of his shooting in 1981, never gave up in their fight to get the Brady Law enacted. Because of their efforts, lives have been saved. There is no question that stopping people who shouldn’t have guns at one of the points of sale will also make it harder for those people to get guns to use in crime and shootings. Since the law was enacted about 2 million gun sales have been stopped when prohibited people have attempted to buy guns at federally licensed gun dealers.

But we have not yet finished the job started by Sarah and Jim Brady. Until we require background checks for all gun sales, we will be allowing felons, domestic abusers and adjudicated mentally ill people (and others) to legally purchase guns they should not have. There are markets for guns through private sellers at gun shows, on the Internet and other venues who don’t require background checks on buyers. The American public knows this and agrees that background checks on all guns sales are a very good idea for public safety. Sarah understood this well and worked until the end of her life on efforts to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales.

Sarah was not afraid of the gun lobby. Gun violence prevention advocates are not afraid of the gun lobby. It’s our elected leaders who are so afraid of the corporate gun lobby that they give in to their false claims that background checks on all gun sales will only affect law abiding citizens and inevitably lead to gun registration. In the 20 years that Brady background checks have been in existence there has been no gun registration. But never mind the facts.

This is backwards logic but the gun lobby gets away with this talking point with our leaders. Not so with the public who can understand that if you are a legal buyer, a background check won’t affect you. Legal buyers go through background checks every day to purchase guns from licensed gun dealers and are barely inconvenienced as a result. It will be those who should not have guns who will suffer from the inconvenience of being turned away by a seller. And that inconvenience may just stop a shooting. The inconvenience of burying a loved one after a shooting is an actual inconvenience. The other one is fabricated by a group whose getting their way means profit, power and influence.

Sarah and Jim Brady knew that inconvenience well. Their life changed in the instant the bullet hit Jim’s head in 1981. An armed man who shouldn’t have had a gun shot that bullet that killed one and injured not only Brady but President Reagan. This happened in spite of armed security and police at the scene lending the lie to the NRA’s ridiculous statement that only good guys can stop bad guys with guns.

Jim Brady lived with the paralysis and other problems that come from a head injury from a bullet. Bullets do serious damage to body tissue and organs. Jim Brady’s sense of humor, though, was not lost in the shooting but as his life progressed, it was difficult to understand his speech. He, along with Sarah, were relentless in their cause to keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them. Sarah was his loving partner and his legs in her visits to the U.S. Capitol to get the Brady law passed.

After the Million Mom March in 2000, Sarah Brady recognized the value of grassroots organizing and advocates in states all over America. The Million Mom March merged with Handgun Control, Inc. in 2001 to form the now Brady Campaign/Center and Sarah continued working with chapter members all over the country on gun violence prevention measures. In the 15th year of the Million Mom March, chapter leaders and members will not only continue the work begun by Sarah and Jim Brady but will renew our efforts to change the conversation about guns and expand Brady background checks. In Sarah’s memory, we are energized to get the job done.

I had opportunities to work with Sarah and knew of her intellect and her well thought out remarks about gun violence prevention. She was wise and listened well. She was also feisty and fought for what was right if she thought someone was doing the wrong thing. Sarah was also charming and opened up her life to other advocates, making them her friends immediately.

Sarah Brady will be missed by many. Her dreams of finishing the job will not die because she did. Those of us who knew her and those who didn’t will continue in our efforts on her behalf and in her memory. Sarah knew what common sense was all about. To her it meant that gun laws can co-exist with gun ownership and gun rights. In fact, she and Jim came at the issue from the side of protecting their young son from a gun to which he was accidentally exposed by a friend. She grew up in a home with guns but when her young son found a gun in the truck of a friend, she realized that something had to change. She knew that gun safety reform was about children and families.

Here is the official statement from the Brady Campaign about Sarah Brady’s death:

“All of us at the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence are heartbroken over the passing of Sarah Brady. Together with her husband Jim ‘Bear’ Brady, Sarah was the heart and soul of this organization and the successful movement it has become today. In the history of our nation, there are few people, if any, who are directly responsible for saving as many lives as Sarah and Jim. There are countless people walking around today who would not be were it not for Sarah Brady’s remarkable resilience, compassion and – what she always said she enjoyed the most – her hard work in the trenches with this organization, which she continued right up to the very end.

“Sarah and Jim are responsible for the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (the ‘Brady Law’) which has prevented more than 2.4 million sales of firearms to criminals and other dangerous people and remains, by far, the most significant achievement in the history of the gun violence prevention movement. Our nation has lost a great hero, and I have lost a dear friend. I am certain that she would want nothing more than to know we are carrying on her and Jim’s legacy with the same fiery compassion and dedication that made her so remarkable.”

The Brady Campaign/Center are named for Jim Brady and will continue to work in their name to keep our communities safe from gun violence and to change the conversation about the risks of guns. We mourn the loss of a great woman who has left behind an amazing legacy for the rest of us. She was a mentor and role model to many and we loved her for her kindness but also her fierce advocacy.