(I have edited this post at the encouragement of a reader and also to mention a mass shooting that occurred on this day as well.)
23 years ago today, my sister, Barbara Lund, was shot and killed by her estranged husband during difficult and protracted divorce proceedings. Actually the family learned about the shooting on August 6th after the bodies of my sister and her friend, Kevin, laid in the house of the shooter for 24 hours before he admitted to what he had done to his lawyer.
Barbara was vivacious, beautiful, adventurous, a loving mother, sports minded, an artist, a pilot, and many other things. She was loved by many and made an impact on those who knew her. I admired her and loved her deeply. When she was around, life was never dull.
The memories never go away but over time, the pain becomes weaker. The hole left by her death is one we live around. Her name is mentioned less. But we can see some of her in her grandchildren, who she never met. We can laugh about happy memories. We remember the last time we all saw her. We try not to think about the phone calls and the immediate aftermath of her shooting. We try not to remember the media coverage and how awful it all was at the time. And most of all, I try not to remember the phone call we had to make to my mother who was at her cabin tucked far away on the scenic Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota.
Many of us have these memories and the pain and the grief. Little things remind us of our loved one or our friend. That can be both good and bad. In July, my sister’s birthday passed us by with little notice but it was always close to my own July birthday.
Over the years, I have met the loved ones of many other people whose memories are strong and painful. There are too many of us. I see and hear their pain and we hug and share our grief.
And we share our resolve to work hard so that other families won’t go through what we all go through. But we are met with strong resistance from a corporate gun lobby who don’t share our pain or our grief. They share in their profits and their way of life that includes having lots of guns and their false belief that the second amendment is under some sort of attack. The gun lobby tells them this. Right wing extremists tell them this. They tell them we are coming for their guns. They tell them Hillary Clinton will take away the second amendment ( which can’t be done without a constitutional amendment to do so). They tell them their rights will be taken with any common sense measure to keep people from being shot.
It makes no sense. None of it.
Today I read that gun rights extremists won’t adhere to the new California laws passed there requiring registration of assault rifles and restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines sold. They won’t follow the laws on the books. California’s gun death rate is low compared to other states. We don’t have to guess why.
I am leaving for a vacation on a train trip with my family tomorrow. We will board the train in St. Paul and travel to Glacier Park through North Dakota and Montana. And then, after some days at Glacier enjoying the park we will again board the plane for Seattle where we will spend some time before flying home to Minnesota.
As I always do when I travel, I explore gun laws in the places we visit. Let’s look at North Dakota first. From the link ( Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence):
North Dakota does not:
Now let’s look at the gun death rate in North Dakota:
In 2013, North Dakota had the 24th highest number of gun deaths per capita among the states. This represents a significant increase from its position as the state with the 33rd highest gun death rate in 2010. North Dakota had the 35th highest rate of crime gun exports among the states in 2009–meaning that crime guns originally sold in North Dakota were recovered after being used in crimes in other states at the 35th highest rate among the states.
Not so good.
Now for Montana ( also from the Law Center):
Among other things, Montana does not:
And as for gun death rates:
In 2013, Montana had the 5th highest number of gun deaths per capita among the states. Montana also had the 14th highest rate of crime gun exports among the states in 2009–meaning that crime guns originally sold in Montana were recovered after being used in crimes in other states at the 14th highest rate per capita among the states.
Gun suicides are high in Montana:
Suicide is the leading cause of gun-related deaths across the country in recent years. Of the 33,636 firearm deaths in 2013, more than 21,000 were suicides. In fact, suicide accounted for more than half of gun-related deaths in all but one state with the most gun violence. In three states — Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming — suicide accounted for more than 80% of all firearm deaths.
It turns out that the suicide gun death rate in Montana places it in the top 20 states for gun death rates.
At the request of a commenter, I am including Idaho gun law and death information. Our train will also travel through a small area of Idaho on the way to Glacier National Park. Here it is ( from the Law Center):
Idaho does not:
As to gun death rates in Idaho:
In 2013, Idaho had the 14th highest rate of gun deaths per capita among the states. 227 Idahoans died from firearm-related injuries in Idaho that year. Additionally, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, in 2009, Idaho supplied the 18th highest number of crime guns to other states per capita, and the state exports more than twice as many crime guns as it imports.
And finally, the state of Washington (from the Law Center again) where a referendum changed the laws there (by 60% approval)to require background checks on all gun sales. From the first link:
Among other things, Washington:
- Requires a background check prior to the transfer of a firearm between private parties;
- Requires firearm dealers to obtain a state license, and imposes a background check on all dealer employees;
- Prohibits certain domestic violence misdemeanants and persons subject to a domestic violence order of protection from purchasing or possessing any firearms; and
- Requires that all firearms dealers have a state license in order to transfer ammunition.
Gun death rates are lower in Washington:
In 2013, Washington had the 11th lowest number of gun deaths per capita among the states. Washington had the 17th lowest rate of crime gun exports among the states in 2009–meaning that crime guns originally sold in Washington were recovered after being used in crimes in other states at the 17th lowest rate among the states.
Gun laws matter.
In states that require background checks on all gun sales, there are fewer gun homicides, fewer domestic shooting deaths and less gun crime.
Facts matter. Laws matter.
I want to point out that today is also the 4th anniversary of the heinous hate crime that occurred at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin:
On August 5, 2012, a massacre took place at the gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where 40-year-old Wade Michael Page fatally shot six people and wounded four others. Page committed suicide by shooting himself in the head after he was shot in the stomach by a responding police officer.
Page was an American white supremacist and Army veteran from Cudahy, Wisconsin. Apart from the shooter, all of the dead were members of theSikh faith.
We have continued to endure mass shootings like this one all over America without doing a thing to stop them. The families of those shot at the Sikh Temple have told their stories. I have heard them. Stories matter. That is why I tell my story and why so many of us who have lost loved ones tell our stories. For if our leaders can’t look at our photos and hear our stories and still refuse to pass stronger gun laws, then who are we as a nation? Who are we if we don’t do whatever we can to stop and prevent devastating gun violence in our families and our communities.
Life goes on for those of us who have lost someone to bullets. It goes on in a different way. I can write about my sister’s death without crying now. I can take trips with my family and not think about her. But gun violence doesn’t take a trip or a vacation. In the 10 days I will be traveling, 900 people will die due to bullets.
We are better than this. Our gun laws have gone “off the rails” thanks to a corporate gun lobby more interested in making profits than in saving lives. There is no excuse for this. We need to get back on track and do the right thing. By the right thing, I mean to change laws, change the conversation, change the culture where we can and stop people from being shot. All of this can be done without taking away the rights of law abiding gun owners.
My purpose is to keep the attention on gun violence and urge support for reasonable measures to prevent families from losing someone in a very sudden and violent death, often avoidable. If we do the right thing, we can lessen the impact of gun violence on more families. We can hear fewer stories and keep our children and families safer.
Let’s get to work in the name of my sister and the other victims. That is the least we can do.