Memories

MemorialMemorial Day is a day to remember those who died while serving their country. It has turned into a different kind of holiday now. We remember all those who served and I remember my own father who did not die during his service in World War II but died decades later of natural causes. I remember my brother, who served in Viet Nam, and struggles still decades later with PTSD and Parkinson’s Disease and all that comes with those insidious conditions.

If we fail to remember those who have died before us we fail to think through the results of war and sending our service members into danger to ostensibly protect us all from harm. Some argue that wars in Iraq, Viet Nam and some others did not accomplish that end.

What about the war on our streets and in our homes? Evidence abounds that that is happening. Look at what just happened in New Orleans, as just one example of the hundreds and hundreds:

After the shooting stopped, the witness said, he saw one victim stumble out of the passenger side of the white car and collapse beneath the sign for the walking trail. A man exited the Kia, looked at a man slumped over the passenger seat of the white car, returned to the Kia and drove away.

Only then did the man in the white car move. “It was like he was playing dead until the shooter left,” said the witness said. “As soon as the burgundy car was gone, the driver opened the door and stuck his leg out, and I was just like, ‘Thank God’.” (…) “You have to be really bold to shoot someone in the middle of the day, with all these neighbors around, and drive off all slow and smooth,” the witness said. “I got a good look at that car, and the guy driving it. I was on the phone with 911 and told the dispatcher his license plate and everything. That’s a bold move, for real.” (…) “Never in a million years would I have expected to see something like this,” he said. “It’s scary. You never see anything like this. Stuff like this you see in movies and TV.

Bold? Crazy? Unthinkable? Senseless?

What kind of memories will these children have now?

And how about this child who narrowly escaped with a shrapnel wound when someone decided to go bowling while wearing his pistol? 

You just can’t make this stuff up.

There are no “accidents” when it comes to weapons of war or weapons carried around by everyday Americans in places where people should be safe.

It’s real life right here in America on the day we celebrate the heroes and victims of wars.

Grabbing children to save them from incoming bullets?

All of the above and worse.

We have guns by the thousands and people by the thousands with those guns gunning innocent people down in places where we should be safe from this kind of war-like violence.

More Americans have died from bullets right here on our own soil than American service members have died in wars in defense of our country.

Where is common sense?

Who will save our children?

There is none when it comes to gun violence. Lapdog politicians play with us every day. They issue thoughts and prayers and think that is enough. In fact, the town of Santa Fe in Texas where 10 were gunned down by a teen using his father’s guns got together and tried to pray away the violence.

I am a Christian but I understand that prayers are just not going to do it.

It is a shameful Memorial Day when politicians will attend services for fallen service members but refuse to act to save us all from devastating violence right in our communities and schools.

We need action and we need it now.

#Enough

Memories are painful for too many on this day. For our veterans. For our service members lost in wartime. For our children lost to school shooters. For our women lost in domestic shootings. For the innocent gathered in movie theaters, bowling alleys, hospitals, shopping malls, churches and in homes all over America.

There are memorials for our war heroes in our nation’s capitol and in cities all over America. And increasingly there are memorials now for victims of mass shootings. 

We leave flowers. We ring bells. We light candles. We march.

We remember.

Memorial Day and remembering Isla Vista victims and gun violence victims

the memoriesIt’s Memorial Day week-end. We all know that this holiday is meant to remember our fallen military members and also to those now serving. We have a lot of people to remember given the American war victims. Let us all also remember the victims of gun violence on this day of patriotism. It is our patriotic duty to do all we can to prevent more victims of gunshot injuries. The bodies are piling up with numbers of dead increasing in recent years.:

Car crashes killed 33,561 people in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Firearms killed 32,251 people in the United States in 2011, the most recent yearfor which the Centers for Disease Control has data.

But this year gun deaths are expected to surpass car deaths. That’s according to a Center for American Progress report, which cites CDC data that shows guns will kill more Americans under 25 than cars in 2015. Already more than a quarter of the teenagers—15 years old and up—who die of injuries in the United States are killed in gun-related incidents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This is stunning information. Will we remember it when we remember others this Memorial Day?

I will remember my father who served in World War ll. I will honor by brother who served in Viet Nam and now has PTSD and other related illnesses. And I want us also to remember that more people have died from gunshot injuries since 1968, the year of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, than all Americans who have died serving our country since the Revolutionary War. We need a national day of remembrance for those victims as well. Everytown is promoting that we hold June 2nd as that day starting this year. Other gun violence prevention organizations will join in this day of remembrance.

So let’s start by remembering a shooting that took place one year ago. It’s been a year since a young mentally ill man got himself a gun and shot up a bunch of people at the Isla Vista campus. Just as with most mass shooters, the young man who took so many lives one year ago knew what he was doing when he bought his guns and ammunition. From this article by Josh Sugarman of the Violence Policy Center:

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, states: “The tragedy in Isla Vista is just the latest example of the human price paid on a daily basis for an unregulated gun industry that has embraced ever-increasing lethality as the way to make a profit. The gun industry is marketing weapons originally designed for military and law enforcement to the civilian population. Its financial beneficiaries in the NRA then fight to stop any and all effective gun violence prevention policies. The rest of us are caught in the crossfire when these weapons are used in mass shootings.”

Key facts on the guns used in Isla Vista:

  • The Austrian Glock 34 pistol has an extended barrel for greater accuracy. Glock pistols are frequently used by mass shooters, as explained in this 2011 VPC backgrounder The Glock Pistol: A Favorite of Mass Shooters.
  • Elliot Rodger, the Isla Vista shooter, wrote in his manifesto: “I had already done some research on handguns, and I decided to purchase the Glock 34 semiautomatic pistol, an efficient and highly accurate weapon. I signed all of the papers and was told that my pickup day was in mid-December.”
  • The shooter also owned two Swiss Sig Sauer P226 pistols. Rodger wrote that the Sig was “more efficient” than the Glock.
  • Both Sig Sauer and Glock are “Corporate Partners” of the National Rifle Association. As detailed in the VPC’s 2013 study Blood Money II: How Gun Industry Dollars Fund the NRA, since 2005, Glock has given between $250,000 and $499,999 to the NRA (the range is due to the giving levels defined within the NRA’s “Corporate Partners Program”).

There’s more. And it’s more of the same old stuff. The corporate gun lobby is helping with the easy access of guns to mass shooters and people who just want guns for self defense but end up using them in intentional or unintentional shootings. It’s a travesty and an American tragedy.

But some states deal with tragedies differently than others. California almost immediately acted to get a law passed called the Gun Violence Restraining Order meant to temporarily remove guns from those deemed potentially dangerous to themselves or others. Read this commentary from a Brady Campaign activist about the importance of that law.

The shooting spree left 6 innocent people dead and 14 injured and terrorized the Isla Vista area. Three of the dead were shot, and 3 stabbed. Some of the wounded were hit by his car and others by bullets.

The shooters’ parents knew of his mental illness and other problems which he posted about on a You Tube video. Some weeks before the shooting they asked law enforcement to check on Rodger’s status and try to do something to stop what they knew could be coming. From this article:

“Police might have done more to find out about access to firearms, just given the family’s concern about Rodger’s emotional state. There’s no reason that police responding to people in crisis couldn’t routinely address gun risk–talk about it, try to remove guns in various ways–instead of focusing on trying to predict when exactly somebody is going to be violent; that’s very difficult even for experienced psychiatrists.” (…)

Swanson is now planning to study a training intervention for CIT police officers to routinely inquire about guns in mental health crisis calls. When guns are present, officers might use de-escalation skills to temporarily remove weapons from individuals at-risk of violence or suicide.  If one happens to be in a state such as Indiana that has a preemptive “dangerous person” gun seizure law, police can remove firearms without a warrant, pending a judicial hearing, even if the person with mental illness is not imminently dangerous at the time and wouldn’t meet criteria for involuntary commitment.

The Consortium for Risk-Based Firearms Policy has issued many recommendations in this area. One recommendation concerns the idea of a gun violence restraining order (GVRO) to restrict access to weapons among individuals who might pose a temporary danger to themselves or others. As Swanson and collaborators describe it, the main idea is to “create a new restraining order process to allow family members and intimate partners to petition the court to authorize removal of firearms, and to prohibit firearms purchase and possession temporarily based on a credible risk.”

An ER Physician who attended to the injured after the Isla Vista shooting has written this moving and poignant piece about what it was like that night and why we continue to have the gun carnage that so devastates our families. “Sometimes You Hear the Bullet”:

Over the next few weeks, I was left with haunting questions. Questions that remain unanswered.

Why is it so much easier and so much less expensive to acquire a firearm and large quantities of ammunition than it is to get an appointment with a mental-health professional within three months? Why is the wait longer to see a psychiatrist than to acquire a gun?

Why are there so many more discount gun stores than psychiatric hospitals and mental-health clinics in our country?

Would a well-armed Isla Vista, armed teachers, armed students, or armed fire fighters and EMTs make the body count higher or lower?

Why do we invest so little in mental-health surveillance and mental-health interventions in our schools? Why do so many of the perpetrators slip under the radar? Why are we so often caught off guard?

For all my friends who are responsible gun owners, how do we keep guns and ammunition out of the wrong hands? Would a tax on ammunition to fund mental-health resources be reasonable? What if it were necessary to have certification of having met with a mental-health professional prior to obtaining a permit to purchase a gun?

Why is there so much hate and anger in our society that drives young men mad with feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and rage? What can we do as a community to limit people acting out this anger with violence?

We can actually prevent gun violence. The corporate gun lobby loves to tell us that passing any new laws will only punish their own. They are wrong of course and that kind of “logic” goes against all common sense. Of course laws can matter. They matter for all kinds of things in our every day lives. Under pressure from Ralph Nader and other consumer watchdog groups, and law suits after auto accident deaths and injuries that safety features could have prevented, the car industry started spending more money to add seat belts, air bags and other safety features to cars. And yes, the price of cars increased. That is the price we pay for safety and customers understand that now.

Law suits and public pressure led to bans on smoking in public places because we now understand that we can prevent diseases related to smoking and second-hand smoke. Restaurant and bar owners resisted laws that required them to ban smoking in their establishments but guess what? People are still going out to eat and frequenting bars and restaurants. The fear of loss of business didn’t happen and we are all protected from the effects of inhaled smoke from cigarettes. We are healthier as a result and we are seeing a decrease in health care costs for those impacted by conditions and diseases related to smoking.

Laws matter.

Driving without seat belts or speeding are now illegal. Fewer people are dying.

We know now that we can reduce deaths and injuries from driving while drunk. Why did this one take so long to happen? It took lawsuits and public pressure from MADD and other consumer watchdog groups to get the attention of our lawmakers. Laws that penalize people for driving with blood alcohol levels above a certain limit have reduced auto accidents related to drunk driving. And our awareness of the problem, along with fear of arrest and the desire to save lives has been a change in social mores.

Laws matter. Drunk driving is punishable and we have learned to use designated drivers instead of driving drunk.

So how does this work for gun violence and the laws that do or could make us safer? Not so well. We do know that in states and countries that have strong gun laws, fewer people die of gunshot injuries. That should be good proof that we can change laws and get good results right? Not so much actually. For the corporate gun lobby is all about profits over saving lives. And the corporate gun lobby is famous for buying the influence of political leaders all over the country. Sometimes this is so obvious as to be egregious.

Take the Lawful Commerce in Arms law passed by Congress in 2005. In contrast to all other industries, the gun industry was granted immunity from lawsuits that would require safety features on firearms and safe practices by manufacturers and dealers. This had clearly not led to anything good. From the article:

In 2005, former President George W. Bush signed into law the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – the “No. 1 legislative priority of the National Rifle Association” – which immunized gun makers and dealers from civil lawsuits for the crimes committed with the products they sell, a significant barrier to a comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy. Despite recent reporting on proposed efforts to prevent another tragedy like the one in Newtown, a Media Matters search of Nexis revealed major newspapers and evening television news have not explained this significant legal immunity.

Faced with an increasing number of successful lawsuits over reckless business practices that funneled guns into the hands of criminals, the 2005 immunity law was a victory for the NRA, which “lobbied lawmakers intensely” to shield gun makers and dealers from personal injury law. As described by Erwin Chemerinsky, a leading constitutional scholar and the Dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law, by eliminating this route for victims to hold the gun industry accountable in court, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a complete deviation from basic “principles of products liability“:

Laws matter. Loose gun laws do not save lives.

One egregious example of this kind of pandering to the gun industry is a recent law suit filed by the parents of one of the victims of the Aurora Theater shooting. This one is on vivid display because of the current trial of the shooter of that tragic incident. The parents of Jessica Ghawi filed a suit against the ammunition company that provided the drum magazine to the shooter.  A Colorado District court judge recently decided in favor of the ammunition company and ordered the Phillips to pay back the legal costs for the law suit. Yes, really. This happened. From the article:

Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was one of 12 people killed in the July 2012 attack, had sued four online retailers that provided bullets, gun magazines and body armor alleged to have been used in the shooting. They accused the retailers of selling the items without concern about the mental fitness of the buyer or the items’ intended use. (…)  In an order issued Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled state and federal laws protect ammunition sellers from such lawsuits. He dismissed the case. (…)

And to make this all the worse, the judge ordered the Phillips to pay back the legal costs of the lawsuit. Last night’s Rachel Maddow show highlighted the outrage over the idea that a victim’s family had to pay the legal costs back to the ammunition company they attempted to sue on behalf of victims everywhere. We should all be very outraged by this. It’s time to call out this kind of insane fealty to the gun industry which represents a decreasing number of Americans who own fewer and fewer guns.

The thing is, there are real victims who were real people with real families whose potential will now not be realized. In their memory we ought to realize that we can’t continue along the road to more and more gun deaths without doing something to prevent them. So why can’t we? The NRA and the corporate gun lobby.

So let’s get this straight. A new study by the Violence Policy Center tells us that the NRA/corporate gun lobby represents only 1 in 5 Americans. The big question is why a minority group representing an industry has the ear of many of our elected leaders. It’s very important that we let our leaders know that they don’t have to be afraid of the incendiary rhetoric coming from a group that does not have the best interests of our children and families in mind. When people can be massacred in a movie theater and the parents of one of the victims are ordered to pay back the ammunition company from which the shooter ordered his bullets of death and destruction, something is very very wrong.

From the above article:

One of the greatest successes of the NRA and the gun industry has been their ability to act as if they represent a majority of Americans. This is in spite of the fact that the NRA represents only a tiny fraction of gun owners, let alone all Americans, and gunmakers are a relatively small industry compared with other manufacturers of consumer goods. Yet this mistaken belief in their own popularity — based on nothing more than chest-thumping and false assertions — is what drives the NRA and itsfinancial backers in the gun industry as they push for policies and legislation that benefit only them, from one law after the next that expands concealed carry in public spaces to a militarized product line that facilitates public mayhem.

The facts are these. A clear majority — two thirds — of Americans don’t have guns in their homes. Almost four out of five Americans don’t personally own a gun. And as the gun-owning population continues to age and die off, fewer Americans are taking their place.

After the carnage at the “biker gang” shoot-out in Waco, Texas, many are asking questions about our armed society. The gun lobby loves to claim that an “armed society is a polite society”. How could they be more wrong? A great article from the Dallas News examines our armed society and raises the questions and concerns we all should be raising:

There is simply no need for a civilized society to tolerate the type of gun-related violence that Americans seem to accept as normal. Other modern industrial countries have realized, in some cases long ago, that it is unnecessary for people in a free society to have easy access to guns.

The solution to gun-related crime is not further arming the public. It involves enacting comprehensive gun control laws that prohibit many forms of gun ownership, significantly curtailing or eliminating access to and the ability to purchase guns, and implementing programs in which the government confiscates or purchases illegal guns already in circulation among the public.

For those firearms that are legal, ownership should be tied not only to background checks, but to extensive and mandatory training in the safe use and storage of weapons. Evidence from other countries shows clearly that these types of measures will significantly reduce gun-related deaths and lead to a safer and more secure society.

In an era of extreme concern about national security, Americans need to recognize that one of the greatest threats to national security is their own heavily armed population. We need to enact legislation that will greatly reduce gun-related crimes and protect people from the dangers associated with widespread gun access and ownership. Unfortunately, our proven inability to handle widespread gun ownership suggests strongly that the way to do this is to deeply restrict access to and ownership of most types of guns.

Americans should ask themselves whether they want to live in a society that is secure because everyone is ready to shoot one another or one that is secure because people have peace of mind and experience freedom from violence and the freedom to pursue their lives in safety and happiness rather than fear.

We need the freedom to pursue our lives in safety. Many have lost that freedom due to gun violence. Yes, Americans have their gun rights but they don’t have the right to make the rest of us unsafe in our homes and communities. We can do better than this. Let us remember the many victims of gun violence on this Memorial Day. They have given their lives as well to the insanity of the American gun culture and the spineless cooperation to the gun lobby by our leaders. It’s time for all of that to change. And we will change it by continuing our own efforts in the pursuit of stronger gun laws, educating the public about the risks of guns in homes, programs to get parents to ask about guns in homes where their children and teens play and hang-out, holding the gun industry responsible for bad actions, and supporting the many victims whose stories are so compelling and poignant that they should change the conversation about the role of guns and gun violence in America.